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 U.S. says it’s considering arming rebels in Syria. President Barack Obama talks trade and other issues with his counterpart in Mexico. Iraq is hit with the worst violence in five years. Afghanistan’s president admits to receiving bags of cash from the CIA over the past decade. Bangladesh makes more arrests in the factory collapse that killed hundreds. The U.S. demands North Korea release an American citizen sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for unspecified “hostile acts.” And Europe’s central bank cuts a key interest rate as the region struggles with recession. Guest host Steve Roberts and a panel of journalists provide analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us. I'm Steve Roberts of George Washington University filling in today for Diane Rehm and she will be back on Monday. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel says the administration is considering providing military support to the Syrian opposition. The U.S. calls on North Korea to free an American sentenced to 15 years of hard labor and President Obama travels to Mexico.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSJoining me for the international hour of the "Friday News Roundup" Moises Naim of El Pais, Courtney Kube of NBC News and Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic. Welcome to you all, thanks for joining us.
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAThank you.
MS. COURTNEY KUBEThank you.
MR. MOISES NAIMGood morning.
ROBERTSHappy to have you and all of you please join our conversation here on "The Diane Rehm Show" at 1-800-433-8850. Email us always, firstname.lastname@example.org, and of course you can contact us through Facebook or Twitter. Let's start with Syria and Moises, this is an evolving story here.
ROBERTSThe president has talked about it this week in his press conference saying he didn't want to rush to judgment about the mounting evidence that the Assad government used chemical weapons. What's your reading of what he had to say and what was important about it?
NAIMThey seem to be rethinking their position about Syria. As you know, the world is looking in horror at the murders and the massacres that are taking place there. just yesterday there was a raid in a coastal town, in Bayda, where 50 people were killed, many of them in execution style. Then there is of course the revelation of the possible use of chemical weapons.
NAIMThat has been a red line as President Obama defined it. he was very clear to the Syrian government, if you use that then you will force us into taking action and this is simply not acceptable. Now, we have the information that some kind of chemical weapon was used. The problem for President Obama and the administration is it's not clear who used it, when, and to what extent.
NAIMSo is it a red line or is it not and what to do? but certainly the situation, the evolving situation as you said, Steve, that is in flux. Plus this information, plus changes on the ground seem to be forcing the administration to think again and change their posture. Even yesterday Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stated that they are, again, assessing all options and rethinking what they should be doing.
ROBERTSAnd Courtney, one of the options he specifically mentioned was, under consideration, was arming the rebels. An easy thing to say, far difficult to put into practice including defining who are the rebels.
KUBEAbsolutely. You know, one of the common themes for the last two years since this conflict began is that the opposition has never really coalesced around one unified command. Now, there's this Free Syrian Army that has really provided some stability. They have a general who's in charge who coordinates with the United States, with the international community.
KUBEBut that being said there are still vast numbers of rogue elements that exist within fighting, in some cases side by side with these opposition elements, largely the all new al-Nusra, which is an al Qaida affiliate. So the biggest concern is that these weapons whatever they would be either, you know, I think the notion that surface to air missiles or some larger weapons coming from the United States is still very far off and probably not a reality at this point.
KUBEBut the notion, the concern is that those would fall into the hands of al-Nusra and then be used even beyond Syria. You know, surface to air missiles falling in the hands of al Qaida think about those going into Iraq or going into Lebanon.
ROBERTSAnd Abderrahim, al Jazeera has better sources on the ground than most Western news organizations. What's your best read as an organization as to the makeup of the rebel forces and how real is this concerns that Courtney's talking about? That they are, it's a group that includes some enemies of the United States?
FOUKARAI mean, it depends who you talk among the opposition because there is some parts of the opposition are really concerned about the presence now of Jabhat al-Nusra, al Qaida and others coming into Syria from Iraq. But other parts of the opposition say that those fears are exaggerated and because they say that they have been exaggerated that has hampered international help to the opposition including military help from the United States.
FOUKARABut I think what we have seen over the last couple of months and this may also be behind the new impetus here in the United States to deal with Syria. What we have seen over the last couple of months, we have seen the regime on some levels regain the initiative.
FOUKARAThey have, the regime has made gains by recapturing some parts of territory that the opposition had captured in the past including in Homes which is the birthplace of the Syrian, the so-called Syrian Revolution.
ROBERTSNow, you mentioned that part of what is inhibiting the impulse to arm the rebels is this concern but, about who the rebels are, but there's also history here as Courtney implies. You go back to Afghanistan where the United States armed rebels to help throw out the Soviets and a lot of those arms were then used by the Taliban against American troops. So there's a history here that hangs over this decision.
FOUKARAI mean, it certainly is a quandary for almost everybody, the issue of arming the opposition or not. If you arm the opposition, yes, there is that risk as Courtney said, that those developed sophisticated weapons may end up in what are described as the wrong hands. They could be al Qaida, they could be Hezbollah.
FOUKARAYou've listened to concerns by the Israelis, for example, saying that they don't want those weapons to end up in the hands of Hezbollah or some of these groups described as radical groups. The question remains then what? Do you just leave the opposition without any military support, especially given the progress, as I said earlier, that the regime seems to be making now on the ground.
ROBERTSAnd Moises, one of the phrases you hear a lot this week is no-fly zones to try to protect some of the rebel held areas. Again, like arming the rebels an easy phrase to say on television, much harder to implement in practice.
NAIMAnd General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, last Wednesday was very precise about this. he said we have options for that, we are discussing options. But let's be careful about what we do here because there are several things first. It's not as easy as to declare a no-fly zone.
NAIMYou first will need to take out their air force and their anti-aircraft capabilities which are quite sophisticated, some of the most sophisticated in the Middle East. They are Russian made and so that's first. Second, the United States and its allies would have to develop the capabilities to rescue the pilots in case they are shut down or in case there is malfunctioning or for some mechanical reason.
NAIMSo how do you protect your personnel, your pilots? The third is that you should not assume that the government will just watch and do nothing. The government may react either by gassing the populations or show, sending in their own rockets somewhere this. There may be an escalation from a government that feels that its air space is going to be controlled by an outside power.
NAIMAnd then General Dempsey said, "I don't know. I'm not sure that this will bring us closer to the hopes of having more reconciliation to stop the violence and to have a more stable Syria. It may in fact create even more violence and it may destabilize." So the central, I think, what I read from his messages, if we are asked to do it we will. There are, it's not as simple as people think and it may not be the solution.
ROBERTSAnd Courtney, another word that Moises mentioned that is critical here is Russia. The president had conversations with Vladimir Putin this week. Secretary Kerry is about to go to Russia and what, this is one of the critical elements in the larger strategic picture. Bring us up to date on that.
KUBEWell, I think, you know, there was some hope after the U.S. announcement last week that there's evidence that chemical weapons had been used in Syria because the Russians had at one point said that they didn't go so far as to say chemical weapons use was a red line but they did say that they were against it and they should not be employed in Syria by the regime.
KUBESo there was some hope that maybe that would be some sort of an inroad to a UN Security Council resolution that Russia would get on board. that does not seem to be moving in the right direction or perhaps senator, excuse me, Secretary Kerry will be able to make some inroads in that.
KUBEBut just also, going back to the no-fly zone, there's one another, you know, I think people, people keep comparing this to Libya, Syria to Libya. And there's one key point about a no-fly zone in Syria and that's that Syria has five times as many air defenses as Libya had.
KUBEThink about the prolonged days of firing off TLAMs into Libya to take out their air defenses. There were like 300 fired off in the first couple of days or week or so. It's not just that, they're also very densely populated, they're in the West, they're among sort of the more civilian areas.
KUBEThe notion of a no-fly zone I think is much more complicated than most Americans realize and the majority of the causalities right now happening in Syria are not from aerial bombardment anymore. It's like 10 to 15 percent so you're really not taking out the major threat against the civilian population with a no-fly zone anyway.
ROBERTSAnd a final point, Abderrahim, is the humanitarian crisis, one of the impetuses for a no-fly zone is to try to create some safe havens inside the country because the outpouring of refugees is straining resources particularly in Jordan.
FOUKARAAbsolutely and it's not just the refugees outside Syria, it's also the displaced inside Syria who face a humanitarian catastrophe in many parts of the country. But certainly the flow of refugees into countries such as Lebanon and Jordan in particular, much more so than into Turkey. It's a, the Jordanians and the Lebanese feel that that flow is a threat to their stability in so many different ways.
FOUKARAIn Lebanon, for example, because of the ethnic complexities of that country having Sunnis in the majority as refugees flow into Lebanon that aggravates the situation. Jordan just does not have any money to deal with. Now, they're dealing with Zaatari, the refugee camp Zaatari in Jordan is now, I think, the third or fourth largest city in Jordan.
ROBERTSAnd the fastest growing.
FOUKARAAnd the fastest growing. So despite help from the United States and others the Jordanians feel that they are still, that they have a huge challenge on their head. And I may say just one quick thing about the no-fly zone. I think the concerns that Courtney talked about are real but you also have to remember that when the Israelis suspected trouble a few months ago they did fly in under the radar and the Syrians were unable to do anything about it.
ROBERTSWe're going to be right back with more on your "Friday News Roundup." Stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. And this is the second hour of the International Hour of our regular Friday News Roundup. With me Moises Naim of El Pais, Courtney Kube of NBC News and Abderrahim Foukara of El Jazeera Arabic. You can join our conversation. We've got some lines open, 1-800-433-8850. Email at email@example.com. And Moises, Mexico, President Obama there over the last two days, now heading for Costa Rica where he will meet the presidents from the entire region. What's this trip about? What does the president want to accomplish?
NAIMSeventy-two hours in Latin America is the story here. And the three big issues that President Obama -- in Mexico of course -- were trade, immigration and drugs. The Mexican government was very keen to denarcotize the agenda. They want to say, we are something more than drugs and immigrants. We are in the midst of very profound reforms. And, in fact, they have a -- they are trying to change their telecommunications industry and deregulate it. And they're fighting against monopolies. They are changing their energy policies. They are -- they recently jailed the head of the teacher's union, which is widely -- has a very bad reputation as a highly corrupt operation.
NAIMSo there are things happening in Mexico. And here comes President Obama. And, in fact, the two -- or the three issues, trade, immigration and drugs, drugs and immigration were mostly ignored. There were the big two guerillas in the room. Each one of them had very good reasons not to want to dwell on them. President Obama and President Pena Nieto from Mexico didn't want to create any accidents in the very delicate negotiations that are taking place in the United States concerning immigration reforms. And President Pena Nieto did not want to dwell on the security issue.
NAIMSo they dealt essentially with trade. The U.S. is Mexico's biggest trading partner and Mexico is the U.S.'s third largest. Mexico is also the second largest market for U.S. exports. And they had a wide agenda. And they agreed to create a consultative council made of cabinet members of the highest level. Vice-President Biden will be part of that. And so it's not going to be a shattering meeting and very consequential. And we still see that the Obama Administration does not have a highly developed refined policy towards Latin America.
NAIMIn 2008, President Obama -- candidate Obama said this about the Bush Administration's Latin America policy. He said, we have not offered a clear and comprehensive vision backed up with strong diplomacy. We are failing to join the battle for hearts and minds. That was candidate Obama in 2008.
ROBERTSAbderrahim, but two of these issues at least are linked together, trade and immigration. Because the growth of trade and the growth of the Mexican economy has had a significant impact on immigration to the United States. Pew Research says it's basically flat over the last few years. And Obama said something very interesting. He said, if trade flourishes, if the economy flourishes, it helps solve other problems. And clearly one of the things he was referring to is immigration. Talk about that.
FOUKARAWell, obviously if trade improves for both countries, the logic is that that would help create jobs in -- more jobs in both countries. We have seen a trend in recent years as the economic crisis has taken hold in the United States. So hearing these reports that many of the people who immigrated from Mexico and other parts of Latin America were actually heading home. So if the economy improves...
ROBERTSAnd fewer people were coming in...
FOUKARA...and fewer people coming in the opposite direction into the United States. So I think that's the logic of it. I'm not sure how the immigration reform plan will finally pan out here in the United States, particularly in light of what happened in Boston. That has raised some questions about who is allowed into the country, who is naturalized and who is not. And I'm sure that by the time we get to the nitty-gritty of it in congress, the echoes of what happened in Boston will have lessened somewhat. But the question about how do we reform it, the security concerns will be at the heart of that debate.
ROBERTSAnd Courtney, Abderrahim says the security concerns very much a part of this debate. The price, the threshold for many Republicans signing on to any kind of immigration bill is security along the border. And so if trade has the effect of reducing the flow, this is a very key part of the politics of immigration.
KUBEAbsolutely. And from the very beginning of the -- when the White House started talking about this trip, they immediately were deemphasizing the security aspect of this relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. They were talking about economy, talking about trade, as Moises was saying. But that's because by deemphasizing any security concerns along the border, it really reinforces their immigration -- their push for immigration reform here in the U.S.
KUBEIt's interesting because this is the second time that President Obama has met with this new Mexican president. And the Mexican president is at sort of a higher -- has a new level of strength behind him because his economy is growing, immigration across the border into the United States is down. He's really -- he's started to take more control over the intelligence along the border. He's tightening the intelligence that was once shared very freely with the United States.
KUBEAnd now he's in a stronger position to really push behind the scenes for immigration reform in the United States. I don't think we'll see any of that in public. We did not see any of that in public yet, but like many of these overseas trips, what's happening behind the scenes is really the interesting thing to all of us.
ROBERTSAnd what about this point that you raise about sharing intelligence and the reorganization of the Mexican antidrug law enforcement? That's caused some concerns here in the United States.
KUBEYeah, absolutely. And under President Calderon there was -- I mean, the U.S. had drones that flew across the border and collected intelligence. There was this very open intelligence-sharing mechanism so that the United States and Mexico could both track drug trafficking and criminals across the border. And this new president has curbed that. Now all intelligence has to go directly through the Interior Ministry.
KUBEThere's some on the United States side who are saying that they're not getting anywhere near the level or detail of intelligence. That's another issue that I can't imagine is not coming up behind the scenes in these meetings, but we haven't heard talked about as much in public. President Obama was asked about it and he said that -- and he kind of scoffed it off.
ROBERTSNow, Moises, I know you keep a close eye on economic issues abroad as well. And in Europe an important move by the European Central Bank to cut interest rates down to .5 percent, the lowest in -- that's virtually flat -- I mean, it's virtually zero, in an attempt to stimulate European economies. Unemployment there far greater than in the United States, one out of four workers unemployed in Europe. What's this all about?
NAIMA region that cannot recover and this is having a very, very hard time getting over the crisis. They have tried everything and nothing seems to work. They have tried austerity. They have tried now cuts in interest rates, very lax monetary policy, putting money in people's pockets. Nothing seems to work. Spain, for example, has 28 percent unemployment. Unemployment amongst the youth in Europe is soaring. Many of them are leaving.
NAIMSo this is another attempt to try to steer -- to try to stimulate the economy. This is the first time in ten months that the European Central Bank cuts rates. And there was another very important change here, which is that Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, said that he now has an open mind with respect to the possibility of having negative interest rates. A negative interest rate is where you have to pay me for me to keep your money. So if you're a bank and you give money to the European Central Bank, you'll have to pay the Central Bank to keep your money.
NAIMSo this is essentially a way to tell banks, don't give me the money, but just lend it. Give it away. Put it in people's pockets. Very -- just recently Mr. Draghi was completely against this view. And now the fact that he declares that this is something that they are considering is very interesting.
ROBERTSWell, and to pick up a scene we were just talking about, the health of the Mexican economy has a tremendous impact on jobs in the United States, immigrant flows. It's a cliché but we live in a globalized economic world. This is true for Europe too. They're major partners -- major trading partners with the United States. And one of the things that is pulling down the United States' attempt to grow out of our recession is this slumping European economy and the shrinking markets there for our goods.
NAIMRight. And he's not there, the contagion -- the economic contagion of Europe around the world is having consequences. I was talking with Abderrahim before the show about the consequences that the European recession is having in North Africa, for example. A lot of people -- a lot of North Africans and people from the Middle East that were working in Spain, for example, are now going back to their countries and creating unemployment there. The remittance is that they used to -- you know, a lot of these countries depended on the remittances of Middle Eastern people working in Europe. They're not coming anymore. So the situation in Europe has many facets that are spreading around the world.
ROBERTSAnd, Abderrahim, let's talk about Bangladesh, the tragic collapse of an apparel manufacturing facility there, over 500 deaths. But again, it's a global economy. There are a lot of American companies that bought goods from this factory and from other factories in Bangladesh. And some rethinking now about whether this is the kind of production system these American companies really want to be involved in. Give us an update.
FOUKARAWell, basically the building that was used as a factory collapsed. About 500 people are reported dead. The government has launched investigations to try to establish why the building has collapsed. And I think generally it boils down to one thing. Not just in Bangladesh but in a lot of the other countries -- so-called third world countries, which is corruption. Because the license was given -- apparently there was foul play. There was foul play in the license to add three floors to the building.
FOUKARASo now the owner of the building is in jail. But you have to remember the sewing business is so important to Bangladesh. They make about $19 billion -- comes out of the sewing business in Bangladesh. So that's the balancing act that, you know, Bangladesh and similar countries have to do. Safety, yes. Fighting corruption, yes. But ultimately, a lot of livelihoods in that country depend on those very conditions that many people in the West now feel very uncomfortable with, which is basically almost slave labor in terrible safety conditions.
ROBERTSAnd, Courtney, this is -- poses a dilemma for American companies because on one hand they profit from the low-cost of producing these goods. But then there's the moral question of at what cost.
KUBEAnd in reality, you know, the Bangladeshi people, there are about 4 million of them who work in the garment industry And despite the fact that their wages are pretty appalling, it is an opportunity for them to actually make a living, that they wouldn't necessarily otherwise have. So there does need to be reform. You know, as Abderrahim was talking about the corruption, it's not just the corruption. In addition to that the government has no enforcement mechanism for ensuring that these companies are making sure that they have not just, you know, fair wages and rights, giving any of their workers any rights, but that they have the least safe working conditions.
KUBEThere were cracks discovered in that building just the day before and the owners demanded that those people come to work, 2500 people. And think about that, 2500 people were in this building and it collapsed.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And staying in Asia, Moises, North Korea, the situation where we've seen this movie before. An American tour operator of Korean origins arrested, sentenced to 15 years hard labor. The pattern has been that Bill Clinton or Bill Richardson or some other envoy goes and North Korea gets a burst of publicity out of it. But I don't meant o be flip about it, but what's your reading of this situation?
NAIMIt's exactly like that. Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American was detained actually for no good reasons, accused of spying. And then in a trial -- after a trial he was just sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. As you said, we have seen this before and it's just a pattern in which the North Korean government uses this mechanism to get to talk to some important American that then travels to Pyongyang. And sits down and conveys messages back to the United States.
NAIMAnd this is also a pattern now that has to do with North Korea's attempt to call attention and to break the embargo. The young leader Kim Jung-un, one of the first things that he realized after being appointed to his -- as the successor to his father and grandfather, was that he had an economy that is in ruins. And that the international sanctions were biting in a way that had not -- were as damaging as in the past. So he is very convinced, together with the other regions that handle and manage the government there, that it is a priority to soften the sanctions. And the United States is the main target.
NAIMSo they attack so -- and the heightened rhetoric, the attacks, the weapons, the nuclear -- all of that has just one goal, which is soften the embargo. Let us stabilize our economy. And this is just one more incident, a more tragic incident in the story of this very, very damaged country.
ROBERTSWell now, Abderrahim, there is concern that the saber rattling from North Korea, as they acquired more and more military capacity, missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads at larger distances, that this is not just rhetoric. That this is a real military threat.
FOUKARAAbsolutely. And I think everybody's taking that threat very seriously, including the Chinese who are the main backers of North Korea. Obviously on the one hand, they want North Korea to remain kind of stable, because the collapse of the regime in -- the Chinese that is -- the collapse of the regime would have all sorts of implications for them, including the flow of refugees into China...
FOUKARA...something that the Chinese do not want. And they don't want the North Koreans to drag them into a conflict with a country like the United States where the economic and strategic stakes are so high with the United States.
FOUKARABut so they do take the risk of a nuclear attack by North Korea very seriously, not just if and when it happens but even talking about it, even the increased -- the escalated rhetoric in Pyongyang is of concern to countries like the Chinese, not to say anything about the United States.
ROBERTSAnd quickly, Courtney, we were talking about American companies in Bangladesh -- a tiny fraction compared to American investment in economic stakes in China -- can't be good for business with that kind of rhetoric and that kind of instability in that part of the world.
KUBENo. And speaking of business just in that region, the Caseon Industrial Complex, which we were told -- for years we've been told is that's the one telling point that when that closes down that means North Korea really means business. Well, the last of the South Korean workers left the Caseon Industrial Complex this week.
ROBERTSThat's Courtney Kube of NBC, Moises Naim of El Pais and Abderrahim Foukara of El Jazeera Arabic is with me. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in for Diane. We're going to be back with your calls and your questions. So stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. She'll be back on Monday. This is the international hour of our "News Roundup" and I have three experts with me, Courtney Kube of NBC News, Moises Naim of El Pais and Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazerra Arabic.
ROBERTSAnd I have some emails I'd like to read. This one comes from Emily who writes: "Great discussion on Syria. When I traveled to Jordan in 2008, the country was already overwhelmed with refugees from Iraq. While lack of funds is a problem in Jordan, the real crisis is one of resources, i.e. a critical shortage of water." Courtney, there was a report on NPR about that exact issue yesterday, talk about that.
KUBEYes, I was actually in Jordan last week for a very quick trip, but I don't think that the United States can really -- Americans can really get their heads wrapped around this immense problem that the Jordanians are facing right now. It's 15 to 20 percent of the entire population right now are Syrian refugees so think about that.
KUBEThe United States has been funneling money, several hundred million dollars to try and help them, but there needs to be some other big move here. There's some talk of maybe creating some sort of a humanitarian zone right inside the border of Syria along the border with Jordan to try to provide some safe area where refugees can go that they won't necessarily be taxing their Jordanian government and that the international community can come in and provide some sort of assistance.
KUBEBut I don't think that Americans really recognize just what an immense problem this is for the security and the government.
ROBERTSAnd also for the natural resources as our listener pointed out, it's basically desert country and it already, its water resources are already strained to the breaking point by its own economic growth. Now this is just a tremendous crisis.
KUBEAnd it's not a wealthy country either. I think that we take for granted that a lot of those countries in that area have money that they can throw at a problem but it's. Jordan is not a wealthy country.
ROBERTSIt doesn't have oil?
ROBERTSSpeaking of that here's another email from Iliana who writes: "I would like the discussion to be broader than just what the U.S. should or can do. If there is a humanitarian crisis, why don't Jordan and Lebanon appeal to Saudi Arabia," which does have oil, my words, not hers, "which has plenty of money? What can other countries do especially those most affected because they are in the neighborhood and we are not?" Abderrahim?
FOUKARAWell, I mean, first of all, let me just add one quick thing about the plight of refugees in those countries. It's not just the terrible conditions often in the camps it's also the rape. It's the forced sale of young girls to be wedded to people from other parts of the Muslim world.
FOUKARAIt's the insecurity, children go without schooling. You know, all sorts of -- it's a lost generation or two that we are talking about here. Now I think...
ROBERTSWe saw that with the Palestinians.
FOUKARAWe've seen that with the Palestinians and others. I think there is money coming from different parts of the world including the United States but that money also gets tangled up in the politics. If you're talking about Jordan and Saudi Arabia, for example, the Jordanians and the Saudis have not always seen eye to eye on the position, on the situation in Syria.
FOUKARAAnd that tends to hamper aid and how it's used for the benefit of refugees. And I think that it's, yes these refugees they do need money but the long-term solution is that they need a solution in their own country so that they could go back.
FOUKARAAs Courtney said, Iraqis from ten years ago still live in Jordan waiting for a solution back in Iraq and it hasn't happened yet.
ROBERTSAnother email on this subject, this is from a different point of view. Our caller writes: "Based on U.S. experience in Vietnam and Iraq, I urge a halt to any U.S. or any foreign plans for military intervention against Syria and instead they act in good faith for a ceasefire and peace negotiations.
ROBERTSThe U.S. should continue humanitarian aid to refugees but external military interference is absolutely not the way to protect civilians in human rights." This is a reflection of an important dimension to the story which is this war-weariness in this country. We're winding down two lengthy military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan and what the caller is saying is no more.
NAIMAnd the Obama administration's posture on this reflects that concern and it's very aware of that idea. And that idea is also connected to something that Abderrahim just said and that is that regardless, it's not just military intervention that may not be an effective solution to the situation it's also that aid may not be a solution.
NAIMThere is no money in the world that a government, no public money that is going to be the permanent solution to these camps and to this. The United States is giving $385 million for emergency humanitarian aid to that region and it's growing but this is just not the solution.
NAIMThe solution is to create some sort of stability and it has to be a political agreement. It has to come from some political reconciliation from some ways of getting them at the table and live together. No guns and no weapons and no military intervention and no foreign aid are going to solve that.
ROBERTSA number of our callers want to speak on this very subject so let's turn to Steven in Raleigh, N.C. Welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show," Steven.
STEVENHey, how are you doing? First thing I want to bring up is that you can look at the Guardian on the internet, the Guardian newspaper that says that the opposition has been funded by the CIA years before the Arab Spring. And we can also look at General Wesley Clark who went on "Democracy Now" in 2007 and said that the U.S. wants to take out Syria.
STEVENThey want to take out Libya and they want to take out Iran. You know, wars have never brought freedom and it certainly didn't bring freedom to Libya. It didn't bring freedom in Iraq and it certainly is not going to bring freedom in Syria.
STEVENYou know, the place we should have a no-fly zone, we should have a no-fly zone over Palestine. We should have a no-fly zone over Afghanistan, you know.
ROBERTSOkay, thanks for your call. Courtney?
KUBEWell, Steven, you know, it's interesting you bring up Iraq because I was with Secretary Hagel last week in Abu Dhabi when he made the announcement that the U.S. had some small amount of evidence that chemical weapons had been used in Syria. But, you know, of course, since then we've all learned that there's very little chain of evidence of where they -- when they were, excuse me, who used them and in what capacity.
KUBEBut immediately after that U.S. officials, defense officials we were talking to started talking about Iraq and the lessons from Iraq. And then again it was echoed by the British defense minister who was at the Pentagon yesterday with Chuck Hagel, Secretary Hagel and he brought up Iraq too and said, listen, we're not going into -- I'm paraphrasing.
KUBEBut we're not going into another country, another Shiite country, unless we have very strong evidence and intelligence for going in there in the first place. So Iraq has been a common theme since this chemical weapons acknowledgement of use has come up.
ROBERTSAnd it's just been an accident in a sense that the opening of the George W. Bush Library right at this moment has reignited a lot of talk about how we got into Iraq in the first place. And so it's not just history, it's being discussed again.
KUBEAnd I think that historians, we know -- who knows what is going to happen with Syria at this point, but historians one day will argue over whether the lessons that the United States learned from Iraq and how they've been used in this right now with Syria, whether they were applied in the correct fashion or not with inaction or action.
ROBERTSLet's turn to Bob in Flushing, Mich. Do I have that correct, Bob?
BOBYes, sir, you do, Steve.
ROBERTSWelcome, nice to have you with us.
BOBI'm happy to be here. I've been on Diane's show a few times in the remote past. But I called today with a -- she said that the lessons learned in Korea and Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan we should apply to Syria. I wonder why every time there's a question of some morality or immorality in a country like the murdering going on in Syria, why is it that other countries aren't the ones listed as opposing it like Switzerland or Sweden or Norway, Canada?
BOBWhy don't they say these people in these countries cannot tolerate the deaths and immorality going on there? Why is it always America that supposedly steps up to either be damned if you do or damned if you don't? And we are always going to be the bad guy. Why aren't other countries stepping up and saying these things that happen in the world that are just tragic should not be going on?
BOBAnd don't just say America is saying that. You know, other countries should be involved or step up. We are not the morality police and I think going to Vietnam which I did in '68 was a waste and this going to Syria would be another waste, particularly if it's just seen as America doing it and not a bunch of other big-name allies like Sweden and Japan and Canada. Those people are not happy with what's going there, either.
ROBERTSThank you very much, Bob. We appreciate it. Abderrahim?
FOUKARAI totally understand what the listener is saying. I mean, if you look at what people have been saying for a long time in many parts of the Middle East, that they don't want the U.S. to interfere and they want a reduced U.S. role. And when these revolutions happen, including in Egypt, well, who did they come to? They came to the United States and they're asking the United States to get involved.
FOUKARABut other than that, obviously the answer is the obvious answer which is that the United States is the global power that has the wherewithal to actually impact what happens inside Syria or inside other countries. And I think that the challenge that the United States faces with regard to Syria in particular is that when events started in Syria President Obama went out there and he said Bashar al-Assad is no longer legitimate. He has to step down.
FOUKARASo he took a position and people are holding him up to that. And I just want to say a quick comment about the previous, what the previous caller said. I also understand what the previous caller said but you have to remember that if you talk to a lot of Syrians they say when we started this revolution the regime cracked down hard.
FOUKARAHe could have handled it in a different way. And they also add that these revolutions, yes maybe the United States as the Guardian is claiming, did have a role in them and has helped plan to make them happen but these people are not robots programmed to go on a revolution whenever the United States wants them to go on a revolution.
ROBERTSAnd, Courtney, the word Iraq has been spoken several times in the news from Iraq this week as well. Deadliest month in that country in several years, give us an update.
KUBEYeah, and it's been the most deadly month, April, in five years in Iraq for Iraqi civilians. And I think what's -- it was sparked recently when there was a raid on a Sunni area by Iraqi security forces. A bunch of civilians were killed and we saw a turning point which was somewhat disturbing that some Sunni sheikhs started talking about rising up whereas before there was a lot of talk of peace and working with one another.
KUBEI think that this is all coming, it's coming at the same time of the elections in Iraq which is also particularly concerning. The Sunni population feels like they've been disenfranchised in large part. In many of the Sunni areas, the parliamentary elections have been delayed. They're not going to happen until July now.
KUBESo there's a population that feels like it is being disenfranchised. It's not being, having its voice heard in this "new Iraq" and now we're seeing sectarian tension and clashes and it's not just in the Shiite areas. It's Shiite and Sunni areas that we're seeing it.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's turn to our caller Dan in Pittsburgh. What's on your mind? You want to talk about Afghanistan?
DANHi, yes, with the reports that came out saying that the CIA was giving large payments to President Karzai, I just wanted to see what your panel thought about the legitimacy of the Karzai government, if this would have any major effect on international relations and what they thought about it.
ROBERTSGood question, thanks. Moises?
NAIMWell, here, the report is that the, that President Karzai acknowledged that for many years the CIA had been giving him and his government actual cash in large quantities. He said that it was not that big an amount, but it looks like it was like tens of millions of dollars.
NAIMAnd the theme here is that we should be surprised at the surprise. There is no surprise here. Wars and politics are often won as much by money as they are won by troops and boats. Money matters and all intelligence services, all spy agencies in the world use money in great quantities. We will never know if that money was squandered, if that money was at some point used by Karzai effectively in turning around situations that would have been bad for Iran and stability.
NAIMBut we know that that's part of the story and we know that the Karzai government, in terms of the question about legitimacy, there are great doubts about not just the CIA money, but in general, the rampant corruption that surrounds the government in that country.
ROBERTSAnd not the only country, the United States was not the only country that was giving money to the Karzai government. There were also reports, Courtney, of Iran giving them money?
KUBEYeah, Iran was giving them money and Karzai believed at the time and the palace said that it was for operations at the palace. They were funding operations. Iran stopped giving them the money recently when the U.S. signed a bilateral agreement with Afghanistan that Iran tried to get Afghanistan not to be a part of.
KUBEBut, you know, what's interesting about these bags of cash is again, it's not surprising. The United States, the CIA has been giving money to Afghan warlords since, to the Afghans since 2001. They essentially paid some of the Afghans to overthrow the Taliban in 2001 and so the notion that Karzai is getting money isn't so surprising.
KUBEThe fact that he acknowledged it so carelessly was somewhat surprising. And I think what's really disappointing about this entire story in the end is that the U.S. has spoken out so much against the corruption, the rampant corruption that exists in Afghanistan and in the end it looks like the U.S. was essentially complicit in it.
ROBERTSA final point, Abderrahim, a neighboring country to Afghanistan, Pakistan also a country where corruption is an enormous issue and also where violence is an enormous issue, the assassination this week of a prosecutor who was looking into the killing of Benazir Bhutto as well as the Mumbai massacre, the significance of that news story here?
FOUKARAWell, it's very significant in so many different ways but you'll have to put that in the context of the other killings that we have seen in Pakistan. And I think reportedly we have seen over 60 killings in Pakistan since early April. Most of the people who have been caught up in those political killings are secular figures including the prosecutor that you're talking about, including the leading candidate of a secular party who I believe was killed also yesterday, including a bombing outside the headquarters of a secular party.
FOUKARAAnd that raises the question of who has an interest in undermining the election in Pakistan? I think the Pakistani Taliban have made no secret that they don't want that election to go ahead. There are Pakistanis who are now saying that this is the last chance for Pakistan to make a choice between whether the future is going, the problems in the future will be solved through the ballot boxes or through the gun.
FOUKARAI'm not sure how much credence I give to some of the politicians who were saying that. But the interesting thing about this election that's coming up later this month is the huge number of young people participating in it and that looks hopeful in terms of taking the country in the direction of the ballot box.
ROBERTSThat's going to be the final word. Thank you, Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazerra, also with me is Courtney Kube, the national security producer for NBC News, Moises Naim. He is the chief international columnist for El Pais and he's the author of a new book "The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be."
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. She'll be back on Monday and thank you so much for spending an hour of your morning with us.
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