The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter discusses why President Biden's popular policies haven't translated to popularity among voters.
Greece outlines a new proposal for economic reforms, accepting austerity in exchange for debt relief. Iran accuses Western powers of changing demands in nuclear talks as a deadline expires. Secretary of State John Kerry says the U.S. is prepared to walk away if concessions aren’t made. The Chinese stock market experiences a rebound after losing a third of its value. The U.S. led coalition hits ISIS targets in airstrikes. And the Pope apologizes for sins committed by the Catholic Church during the Colonial era in the Americas. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Mark Landler White House correspondent, The New York Times
- Missy Ryan Pentagon reporter, The Washington Post
- Demetri Sevastopulo Washington bureau chief, Financial Times
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Greece moves toward a bailout deal with its creditors. Diplomats negotiating a plan on Iran's nuclear program failed to meet a deadline and the Chinese government tries to halt a stock market slide. Here for the international hour of the Friday News Roundup, Mark Landler with the New York Times, Missy Ryan of The Washington Post and Demetri Sevastopulo with the Financial Times.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd throughout the hour, we'll welcome your questions, comments, 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And Demetri, it's so good to have you back with us.
MR. DEMETRI SEVASTOPULOThank you, Diane. It's great to be back with you.
REHMGreat to see you. Tell us about the new plan that the Tsipras government is offering for a negotiation with the EU.
SEVASTOPULOWell, after five years, we've reached, I think, a crunch point. The Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has put forward a package of reforms yesterday that are actually very close to what the creditors that Greece owes money to were suggesting as a compromise a week ago. However, last Sunday, the Greek people voted to reject that. Now, Tsipras has basically done a U-turn. His government is agreeing to make some concessions on pension payments and on reforming the tax system.
SEVASTOPULOIn return, they want debt relief, which is one of the big sticking points. The Germans don't want to give them debt relief if possible. Over the next two days, the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank will have to look at this package of reforms, decide whether it's sufficient and then if it is, the Greeks will go ahead and start negotiating a third package, which could be as much as $70 billion to essentially bail out their economy.
SEVASTOPULOThe key is going to be whether Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is going to support this. The French have already said they welcome the package. The IMF and the U.S. say they want debt relief for Greece. Angela Merkel is the key person to watch over the next three days.
REHMHere is what I don’t understand. Why did the Tsipras hold a referendum?
SEVASTOPULOI think they held the referendum because they wanted to boost their leverage. They wanted to be able to say to the Europeans and the IMF that the Greek people support what we're doing. You need to budge more. What's interesting is after achieving that vote, that victory last weekend, they've now reversed course. Ultimately, they probably saw the writing on the wall that if they didn't budge a little bit more, there was no possibility of a compromise and the most likely outcome was that come Monday morning, Greece would be out of the euro.
REHMReally a confusing series of events.
MS. MISSY RYANYeah. I would just add, Diane, that the argument that the government is making is that while many of the provisions seemed to be similar to what's been on the table in the past in terms of austerity, they're making the argument that this is sort of leftist austerity designed to protect the Greek middle and lower classes whereas before, it was imposed from the outside with a mind to, you know, without so much a concern for how the ordinary Greeks were going to feel.
REHMAnd that's what I want to know. How are the ordinary Greeks going to feel this new austerity program?
MR. MARK LANDLERIt's the right question to ask because you have to believe that some percentage of them didn't view their vote in that referendum as part of some kind of game of bluff with the EU. They viewed it as a genuine declaration of what they wanted to see their country do. And so the Greek government's playing a very risky game as well domestically. I mean, one of the things that's interesting and sort of gets forget amid all the gamesmanship is that the real world consequences of this are just catastrophic for the Greek people.
MR. MARK LANDLERThere's a series of graphs that I saw this morning on the New York Times website that compares Greece's economic performance by several benchmarks to the U.S.'s performance in the Great Depression and you can now actually make a plausible argument that Greece is in worse shape and may suffer worse damage than the U.S. did in the 1930s. So I think that one of the themes that you'll see play out over the rest of the summer, almost regardless of what happens in the next few weeks, is how the Greeks keep a lid on an increasingly restive population that's facing a future of utter hopelessness.
REHMWhat happens on Monday to the banks, Demetri?
SEVASTOPULOIt depends on what happens over the weekend. If there is no deal, the Greek banks will essentially become insolvent. They don't have enough money to function. They have lost a lot of deposits. The European Central Bank is not going to start providing them with more emergency funding. In fact, that will be cut back. So Greece will not be able to -- the Greek government will not be able to make payments to its employees, to people in the pension system.-
SEVASTOPULOSo essentially, it will have to start issuing IOUs that will be, you know, promises to pay back the Greek people at some point in the future in some currency.
REHMBut IOUs are not going to buy groceries, Missy.
RYANIt's true. There hasn't been so much of hoarding or stockpiling phenomenon, runs on grocery stores or anything like that yet. But pharmacies are already reporting shortages of medicine. Greek shipping firms exchange -- trading firms aren't able to import goods. The country's hugely reliant on imports, obviously for things like medicine, but also, you know, everyday staples, like, you know, flour to make pasta or beans or whatever.
SEVASTOPULOBut the problem is that they won't have a choice because there won't be any money in the system. At the moment, you can only withdraw 60 euro a day from ATMs. Already the ATMs are running out of money. In some cases, they don't have 20 euro notes so you can only withdraw 50. That number will be reduced from Monday, if you can withdraw anything at all. So you will end up in situation where you either take these IOUs and start trying to use them in, you know, supermarkets, convenience stores or you have nothing, if you have no savings.
REHMBut wait a minute. Suppose there is an agreement over the weekend to accept what Greece has offered to do. Would that prompt the European Central Bank to ease a little and put some money back into the banks quickly.
LANDLERI assume it probably would, yes, because I think the bank would like to do that, like to have a reason to do it and this might be the reason. So that would alleviate the immediate financial seizing up of the system. But, I mean, the point that many economists make is that regardless of how you structure this deal, unless it has very, very large debt forgiveness in it, you're consigning Greece to another cycle of brutal austerity, rising unemployment, reduced government revenues.
LANDLERSo the long term economic outlook under either scenario is really terrible, either outside the euro or inside the euro.
REHMYou know, this morning on NPR, Missy, we heard a story about a young woman who says she's leaving, leaving Greece. I found myself wondering how many other people are realizing, this is really crunch time. I'm out of here.
RYANSure. There are reports of people leaving already and I think but more people sort of trying to prepare -- brace themselves and prepare themselves for that eventuality if, you know, as Demetri was saying, they're not able to get more than, you know, 40 or 50 euros a day and then, you know, that suddenly dries up. And I think that, you know, the thing that is hanging over all of this is the uncertainty, even among the financial experts, about what the practical implications of a GREK set, as they're calling it, would be for Greece and then for the EU.
RYANI mean, even if they introduce a Greek currency, it's unclear, you know, how much credibility that would have, how long it would take to really solidify the financial system working, you know, outside of the Eurozone. So there are just so many questions.
LANDLERJust one more point about the European Union. I think Demetri's right, that the decision is ultimately Merkel's. Having said that, the political glue, if you will, behind the euro had historically been Germany and France together. That's a very important alliance. One thing that's happened over the last two days is you've seen that alliance split.
LANDLERFrancois Hollande has said he's open to this deal. Merkel hasn't yet said what she's going to do. I think the other thing that Merkel has to consider carefully is whether she wants an open split with the French on such a profound question because that would really call into question some of the underpinnings of the European Union and the common currency.
REHMWhat do you see Merkel doing in the end?
SEVASTOPULOI think, if I was a betting man, I would say she will support a deal because she is seen as the ultimate power in Europe. She is the European leader who is seen as credible. When people look at Europe these days, they don't look at David Cameron. They don't look at Francois Hollande. They look at Angela Merkel. Germany has been, along with France, one of the two biggest promoters of the European Project.
SEVASTOPULOGreece leaving the euro would not be a huge deal or as big a deal for the European economy as it would be for Greece, but it would be a huge deal for the European Project. It would be a sign that the leaders of Germany and France, but particularly Germany, are not committed to the project long term and if Greece can go, what about other countries when they run into trouble in the future.
RYANI agree with Demetri and there are already signs since yesterday that there may be some increased flexibility on the part of the German government. Merkel's top financial official made some comments yesterday suggesting that a haircut, as they're calling a write-down of the Greek debt, might be acceptable.
LANDLERYeah. I mean, that's the model and, of course, several people have pointed out that Germany in the 1950s got a very deep haircut on its indebtedness and that set the stage for decades of German growth. I think that analogy's not quite right. Greece is a far less important country strategically than Germany was. But, you know, one point about Merkel is she's a tactician and I think a tactician looks for a way out.
REHMMark Landler, he's White House correspondent for the New York Times. Short break here. When we come back, we'll talk about the Iran negotiations. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back to the international hour of our Friday News Roundup with Mark Landler of The New York Times, Missy Ryan of The Washington Post and Demetri Sevastopulo of the Financial Times. Mark, where are we with the Iran nuclear talks. They've -- the deadline's been extended, extended, extended -- now, four more days.
LANDLERAnd it's the third time they've missed a self-imposed deadline. So you'd have to conclude that things are -- perhaps, gone sideways a bit in this negotiation. That isn't to say that it's doomed to fail. I still think the odds are a hair above 50 percent.
REHMBut what do you mean, they've gone sideways?
LANDLERThere are clearly a couple of key issues -- some of which were introduced late in the negotiation, like this question of lifting an arms embargo against Iran, and some of which have been on the table all along, like access to facilities by inspectors -- where they're clearly just -- there's some important distance between them. And this is happening against a backdrop of hardliners -- particularly in Iran, but also in this country -- continuing to ratchet up the rhetoric against a deal. And I think the interesting thing over the past few days is the United States and John Kerry in particular had always appeared very forward leaning, eager to do this deal -- accused by critics of being desperate to do the deal.
LANDLERI think that that's changed over the last few days. I think President Obama's orders to John Kerry have been much more to suggest that we're willing to walk if need be. And I think if you look at the body language of Kerry over the past couple of days, it's different. There's a difference in the way he's approaching the Iranians. And you can see it in the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif's body language as well, that I think he suddenly sees the Americans as a bigger problem than maybe he thought they were going to be.
REHMDo you agree, Missy?
RYANI do. You know, the administration has said all along that they want a good deal, not just any deal. But I think that in the past few days you really do start to feel that that has taken on increased meaning as it comes down to the wire and there appear to be several issues, you know, over which there just may not be a mutual agreement. But the stakes are so high for the Obama Administration politically, with Congress, in terms of regional security in the Middle East, relationship with the Gulf countries, relationship with Israel and then really just all about President Obama's legacy.
REHMSo body language with a broken leg, and you're seeing him somehow behave differently.
LANDLERI am. I mean there was a joint appearance he did with the EU Foreign Minister Mogherini is her name. And she was sort of describing the state with him of where the talks were. And he said, "We're going to keep pushing." And then she said, "Off the balcony." And he looked at her and smiled and wagged his finger. But it was almost an open acknowledgement that things were not going well, that they had reached a kind of a tough impasse. And for her to state that bluntly, I think, sort of captured the mood very effectively. I think Kerry, himself, would never have used that language. But this European official did use it.
REHMInteresting. How do you see it, Demetri?
SEVASTOPULOWell, there's clearly, as Mark said, a distance between them. There are clearly red lines on both sides, which the other side will not want to cross. But I think you can't discount the possibility there's also a last-minute game of chicken being played here, as you come down to the final line.
REHMOn that issue of lifting sanctions immediately and on...
SEVASTOPULOInspect -- well, also in terms of the Obama Administration saying that we are willing to walk. I think they probably are willing to walk. But they also really want to get a deal for political reasons.
REHMAnd how much does Iran want to get a deal?
SEVASTOPULOAnd Iran needs a deal less for political reasons and more for economic reasons. So the question is, who needs the deal more and which one is willing to budge? And they both face hard line criticism at home in terms of the deal.
RYANI would just mention that underpinning all of this, of course, is the specter of potential military action, should negotiations fail and Iran press ahead with its nuclear program. Yesterday, during the confirmation hearing for General Joseph Dunford to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he was asked whether the United States still had the capacity to deal with Iran's nuclear program in the event that the decision was taken to do so. And he said, very clearly, "Yes."
LANDLERYou know, one other point I'd make about the backdrop for all of this is Iran has and continues to support all sorts of terrorist groups and insurgents in other countries, in Yemen, obviously in Syria, in Iraq. Oddly, we find ourselves aligned with them in combating ISIS. One of the reasons this introduction of the issue of an arms embargo is, a significant new development is the belief of the critics of the deal is that if you relax sanctions, give Iran access to $150 billion in frozen funds and then lift the conventional arms embargo, you will empower Iran to buy a lot of weapons, which they will then ship out to the Houthis, to Hezbollah, to people they support in the region.
LANDLERAnd so I think that the other activities that Iran's involved in are a very dark backdrop for what's going on. And the administration, understandably, is trying to narrow this as much as possible and say, "This deal is about a nuclear program. It's not about their other activities. We will continue to push them hard on that." But the bottom line is, if you relax sanctions, give them a lot more money and then allow them to import weapons, you are affecting their ability to cause mayhem elsewhere in the region.
REHMAnd in the background are the hardliners on both sides. You've got members of Congress who don't believe this deal ought to go forward. You've got the Ayatollahs who are saying this deal should not go forward. But you've got the money on the one hand and you've got, presumably, security on the other. Who gives first?
LANDLERWell, I think that it would be interesting -- if Rouhani doesn't get this deal done, his reason for being president ceases to exist. He ran on a platform of relieving the Iranian people from sanctions. If he fails in that pursuit, I think he is not tenable anymore as a political leader. So that's his calculation. President Obama's calculation a few months ago was a little different than today. A few months ago, he didn't have the Cuba opening. He didn't have an Asian trade deal. He had not had the extraordinary experience of Charleston and his speech on race relations. So the president, some argue, is in a different place today than he was even three, six months ago and perhaps could afford to let this one go.
LANDLERNow that's a theory and it's not my theory. Because I think that six-and-a-half years of diplomacy...
LANDLER...is an enormous investment by the president. And he thinks about these things in a longer-term frame. But some people have argued that maybe the president feels in a better position to drive a hard bargain today than he might have six months ago.
REHMSo it's interesting that Secretary Kerry and former Minister Zarif were overheard shouting at each other. What was that all about? Do we know?
LANDLERI don't think we know, specifically, no. Because these things happened in closed doors or down hallways that we're not privy to. But I think we know what they're fighting about in general terms. And I think it's probably some combination of inspections and the arms embargo and the schedule for sanctions relief.
LANDLERAnd just some -- also some, as we talked about earlier, some level of brinksmanship. I don't think they would be doing their jobs very well if there wasn't some theater her in the 11th hour. You've also got to remember that, you know, these negotiations have been dragging on for weeks and months -- American and Iranian officials, not to mention the press corps, away from their families for long periods of time. One of my colleagues, Carol Merlo, (sp?) wrote a great story about the quantity of things like Twizzlers and Rice Krispie Treats that had been consumed by the negotiators in recent weeks as they sit there in endless negotiations. So I think it's a combination of theater intended to potentially get a deal and also just fatigue.
REHMWhat are the odds that we'll get a deal, Demetri?
SEVASTOPULOI think I'm probably close to Mark. I would say slightly above 50 percent. I mean, if the Iranians didn't want to deal, the Ayatollah would not be letting Zarif spend so much time in Vienna. They're not doing this for window dressing. They want to deal. I agree that President Obama is riding a lot higher today than he was a couple of months ago, for all the reasons that were outlined. But I do think he wants that deal as well. So I think the impetus is there on both sides to get it done. The question is whether they can narrow that gap.
REHMWhat are the odds, Missy?
RYANI agree. I give it more than 50 percent. I think there's a real deal bias on both sides of this negotiation.
REHMBy the end of this four-day extension, Mark?
LANDLERThat I wouldn't necessarily say. I don't see any reason why they couldn't blow through that deadline if they had to. I don't think either side minds now letting this drag out a bit longer. They missed -- the administration missed this window with Congressional oversight. If they'd gotten the deal done a few days ago, they would have had a 30-day window. Now, I always thought that was a little bit of a red herring. And I'm not surprised the White House didn't allow it to drive their thinking. But now that they have missed that deadline, it doesn't actually make a huge difference if it's July 13 or July 17.
REHMSo it could be. But doesn't that make it a 60-day...
LANDLERWell, they've missed that already. The 60 days are now in effect.
REHMOkay. All right. Gotcha.
SEVASTOPULOI was just going to point out that it was interesting that last night that Senator Bob Corker, the Republican Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that it was good that the administration wasn't pushing for an artificial deadline. That actually getting a better deal is the most important thing. So that's a positive sign for the administration.
REHMIndeed. All right. Let's talk about China. Missy, after a long slide, the Chinese markets regained like 6 percent yesterday and today. Is that an indication that some of this government addiction to intervention is working?
RYANI think it's worked for -- to a certain extent, you know. Of course, you would expect a sort of interventionist and activist response on the part of the Chinese government. The stakes are quite high for them and thinking about these two major indices and what's been happening, the extreme volatility. But at the same time, the measures that they've taken, you know, which include, you know, a halt to IPOs and nudging the brokerages to buy stocks -- they can only go so far. And it doesn’t really address the underlying issues of potentially overvalued stocks. And then the question of, you know, have ordinary Chinese been investing in the right way?
REHMAnd the ordinary Chinese who got in late have found that, you know, their stocks have tumbled terribly.
SEVASTOPULOThey have. Anyone who came in -- you know, the rally went for about a year -- and then you've had almost a month of huge losses. But anyone who got in at the beginning is still looking at fairly big gains. It's the people who came in late in the day, who thought this was going to continue, who have suffered. This -- I think it's a big crisis for the Communist government. Xi Jinping came in over two years ago. He's been talking about the "Chinese dream" ever since. When you drive through China, you see huge billboards saying, Zhongguo Meng, or "Chinese dream." And he's been very strong for the last two years. And all of a sudden, there's a crack there.
SEVASTOPULOThey've built up the stock market over the past year. Officials said that this was part -- this was evidence that their efforts at reform were successful. The Chinese economy was slowing, as they wanted it to slow because it was growing too quickly. They wanted to change the way the economy worked. And the stock market rising was evidence that this was working, they said. Now, all of a sudden, it's in freefall and there's been very little comment out of the Chinese government as to what's happening, which is not very reassuring for the people.
LANDLERYeah. To me, it's a reminder that I think we sometimes over-personalize things. Xi Jinping, over the course of the past six months or so, has sort of assumed almost a cult-like stature. And I think that what we forget is that underneath him is still this extremely rickety, cumbersome, not well-coordinated bureaucracy. And that he is not probably as firmly entrenched, particularly when he fails to meet the economic aspirations of his people, as perhaps we thought he was. So from the point of view of the U.S., which is the way I intersect with it, I think there was this feeling that the Obama Administration was facing a very assertive, commanding China, that was going to be a security and economic threat.
LANDLERAnd this is a reminder that that's not the way China develops. It develops in sort of fits and starts. And we're seeing a fit at the moment.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." It also proves something that many financial advisers tell you over and over again: Don't try to time the market. You can't ever work the market that way. But the question becomes, is the Chinese government undermining its own economic security and its financial structure by doing all of this intervention? Mark.
LANDLERWell, I think they face a political question. And the answer, economically, may be that they're distorting the market. But they may have no choice. Because if they were to allow the market to fall another 25 percent and wipe out half or more of the stockholdings of millions of Chinese, that might be an unacceptable political price to pay. And one thing about China -- and I recall this from the 2008 financial crisis -- when the Chinese feel that they need to do something dramatic to stabilize a situation, they don't hesitate to act. If you remember, the inter -- the injection of fiscal stimulus that the Chinese did in '08 was stunning. It was huge.
LANDLERAnd it caused the Chinese economy to rebound much more quickly than either Europe or the United States, which, in turn, set the stage for some of the triumphalism of the last few years. You know, someone said to me yesterday that the recovery from the '08 crisis and the crash of the U.S. housing market probably bought the Chinese 10 years in terms of catching up to the United States in GDP and put them in a very powerful position. So the point I'm making is the Communist Party -- the Chinese government is able and willing to take dramatic steps if they feel they need to for political reasons. We've seen it before, which is why I wouldn't be surprised to see it again.
SEVASTOPULOThere's one other really interesting factor in the background here. Xi Jinping has now become the strongest Chinese leader since Den Xiaoping. I think very few people disagree with that. However, the flip side of that is he's got there by taking down, punishing over 100,000 Communist Party officials who have been victim to his anti-corruption campaign -- some of them low-level officials, some very, very senior officials. He has a huge number of enemies in China now. You cannot probably fathom how many enemies Xi Jinping has. So if the economy -- at the moment, it's the stock market that's falling. If that spills over into the economy and the economy starts to slow more than the government wants it to slow, then all of a sudden Xi Jinping has no rationale for his presidency.
SEVASTOPULOAnd the enemies he has built up in the system will be looking for a way to punish him.
REHMAnd what about ripple effects to our own economy and other economies throughout the world, Missy?
RYANThey're actually -- been less pronounced than you might expect, just due to the relative isolation of the Chinese financial sector to the rest of the world. I mean, I think it's producing some choppiness in markets in Asia. But, you know, I think that -- and questions about the overall soundness, the fundamental soundness of the Chinese economy, which is sort of a much larger question, given the fact that China accounts for over 60 percent of -- 16 percent of the global economy. But so far, it hasn't, you know, been a huge drag on American markets, for example.
REHMAll right. And we're going to take a short break here. When we come back, we'll open the phones. We'll also talk about the U.S. approach to dealing with ISIS in Iraq. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Missy Ryan, I want to ask you about the US led coalition hitting ISIS targets and airstrikes this week. And Iraqi forces and militias trying to retake Ramadi and Fallujah. Is this a new push in that direction?
RYANWell, the military focus, certainly, is on Anbar Province, right now, which has been partially under ISIS control since late 2013. And the city of Fallujah has been mostly controlled by ISIS for over a year and a half now. So, it's interesting, because since the fall of Ramadi in mid-May, the United States, the US military has been working closely with the Iraqi government to plan an assault to retake Ramadi, which is an important city and it's not very far from Baghdad.
RYANSo, what the United States sent, additional trainers, to a base near Ramadi, and they're working with the Iraqis to organize a force of Sunni tribal fighters who, that they hope will eventually go into the city with the Iraqi security forces. But at the same time, it seems like the United States and Iran are reading from two different scripts regarding Anbar Province because you've got Iranian backed militias, such as Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq and Badr Organization, openly talking about their coming offensive to liberate Fallujah.
RYANAnd so, there's a lot of confusion about which city comes first, which forces are going to do what, and it really reflects the sort of convoluted nature of this conflict, because you have, you know, the Iraqi government forces who are sort of in the middle, between the United States, which are trying to bring as many Iraqi, armed Iraqis as they can, under the government control. You've also got Iran, which has been supplying its own military advisers and has got militias that pretty much report directly to the Iranian government. So, I think it's -- nobody knows what's going to happen in terms of the sequence of the battle, and then, of course, what the ISIS, how, you know, tough a fight they'll put up when the Iraqi forces go in.
REHMAnd then you have President Obama saying that the Islamic State is losing ground.
LANDLERYeah, well, he points to the -- he said that the Iraqi government had been galvanized by the loss of Ramadi and was beginning to sort of fight back in a much more effective way. But I find that a strange statement. And there's another data point I'd mention, in this regard, which is Ashton Carter, the Defense Secretary, testified the other day, and said that the United States, after investing hundreds of millions of dollars in this train and equip program to find moderate rebels to fight ISIS in Syria had basically found 60 of them were fit to fight.
LANDLERWhich is an extraordinary number. They'd hoped to have about 5,000 by now. But it underlined what, I think, a lot of people knew. Which is that the effort in Syria, which after all, is where ISIS is originated and where it has safe haven, is clearly something that's going to last long after Obama leaves office. And so, these battles in Iraq, while extremely important, still leave completely unanswered the question of how you deal with Syria. And ISIS is a, it's a two country phenomenon.
LANDLERIt's a Syrian and an Iraqi problem and Carter's comments make it clear that we haven't even begun to confront the problem in Syria.
SEVASTOPULOI was just going to add that I've just come back from five years in China where Iraq and Afghanistan are really not issues for very many people. And I've been struck that it's like returning to so much déjà vu when it comes to numbers about how many forces have been trained or the enemies on the defeat or their ground has been taken. If you look back since 2001 in Afghanistan, and 2003 in Iraq, in most cases, the statements that have come from the Bush and now the Obama administrations have tended to be more wishful thinking and optimism.
SEVASTOPULOAnd have, in most cases, turned out to be too optimistic. And I feel like we're going through a same pattern now.
REHMSo, the President has said no more troops now. But did he rule that out for the future?
RYANNo, he said that there were no immediate plans to send additional troops, but administration officials acknowledge that there is a debate going on at the sort of most senior levels about if and when to sort of expand the military task set in Iraq. And that could include sending air controllers or what they call combat advisers. Embedded advisers that would go with Iraqi troops to the front lines. And there, you know, General Dempsey, Secretary Carter, they've said that they potentially would recommend this. And I think that there's a feeling that this will eventually happen.
REHMAnd yet, at the same time, you have US Army troop forces being cut back. So, how does that figure into all this?
RYANYeah, well, I mean, the Army reached its peak size of 570,000 during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And everybody knew that that was too big. We don't need an army that is that big, so there had been plans in train for that reason. And then obviously for cost reasons to make reductions. So the news that came out this week was just sort of detailing the plans that have been out there for a while to cut 40,000 from the Army by 2018. But it certainly underscores the unpredictability of future military requirements.
RYANYou know, at a time in, you know, 2011, 2012, when people started thinking about this, you know, we really thought that our ground involvement in civil conflicts in the Muslim world was coming to an end, and nobody thinks that now.
LANDLERWell, the model that allows you to continue cutting troops at home is a model where you train and equip. And you have the forces in those countries do the fighting with your help and your money and your weapons. The problem is in Afghanistan, as well as in Iraq, that model is deeply flawed. The troops are never trained up to the level that you hope they will be. They often lack political willpower, particularly in a country like Iraq, where there's such sectarian tension. And so, the President's model depends on something that hasn't proven out.
LANDLERAnd this is why Ash Carter's remarks were very significant, too. 60 people.
LANDLERWe've trained 60 rebels in Syria.
LANDLERAnd so, that just shows you what we're up against, and it makes it hard, as Missy says, to rule out introducing your own ground forces.
REHMAll right, we're going to open the phones. First to Cazenovia, New York. Aaron, you're on the air.
AARONI'd like to comment on the possible strategic significance of Greece without getting hung up on whether it's more or less important than Germany. Greece sits on one side, as a bookend to the Straits of Marmara. The Russians have already seized that part of the Ukraine. I'm skipping the name at the moment. And the Russians moved their base from Syria, their naval base, from the coast of Syria, for the most part, over to Cypress. Russia is making deals with Gazprom, as well, to establish facts on the ground.
AARONI doubt that the Turks, where Istanbul sits, between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, would be thrilled to see Russia become Greece's default choice in the event that they are abandoned by the European Union.
REHMSo, all of this regarding the strategic importance of Greece.
SEVASTOPULOWell, Greece is strategically important, but even, let's take the medium case scenario and the worst case scenario. Let's say Greece leaves the Euro, but doesn't leave Europe. Or the worst case scenario where Greece leaves the European Union. It's still not going to open the door to Russia to come in and take over the Greek economy, because Greece relies on Europe to buy its exports. It is very intertwined with the broader European economy and not with the Russian economy.
REHMBut it was interesting that Cypress did go to see Mr. Putin, presumably hoping for a deal on other issues.
SEVASTOPULOWell, if you're in that part of the world, where you straddle, you know, regimes where people are at odds, you have to balance your interests. But you can't afford to jettison the markets that buy all of your products. Because right now, Greece is in big enough trouble. It would be in huge trouble, and frankly, the Russian economy isn't exactly in great shape either. So Greece has to be very careful.
REHMAll right, let's go to Waterford, Connecticut. Helma, you're on the air.
HELMAHi, Diane. I am a resident of the US, but I'm a German citizen. And my question is, with 92 percent of the German population opposing another bailout, I wonder why Germany can't have a referendum. And I'd like to mention, also, hello.
TIMYes. Go right ahead.
HELMAI'd also like to mention the retirement age in Greece is 57. The Germans hiked theirs to 67, so the Germans work 10 years longer. And I read in the paper today that summit of all 20 European Union leaders would be an ideal circumstance to oppose, if there is a new deal, approve it on Sunday. Now, I wonder how much money are the people contributing, like Britain? That kept their pound. Sweden, Norway, they kept their Krona.
REHMWell, you certainly raise some interesting points.
LANDLERWell, I think that's a very effective explanation of German public opinion. And I think it's based on a valid...
LANDLERYeah, and I think Angela Merkel, the last thing she wants to do is hold a referendum, because those numbers probably would translate and make her situation even worse than it is. Look, the Germans have a valid case. The Greeks do many things poorly. It's shot through with corruption. They don't collect taxes. People claim status that they shouldn't. There are many, many valid reasons for the Germans to feel this sense of the unfairness of it. And it is also true that Germany is the paymaster of Europe.
LANDLERI mean, I would make two observations about this. No country has benefited more from the Euro in the last decade than Germany, which it's fundamentally had an undervalued currency. Which has allowed it to export as a tremendous power. So, the Germans have also benefited enormously from the Euro. It's not just Germany subsidizing the rest of the continent. And then, the second point I'd make, and this is not true just of Germany, but of all the countries in the EU.
LANDLERThey admitted Greece, and they knew, even back in the day, that Greece was probably not a qualified member of a currency union. So, I think it's a little bit unfair to just say, well, the Greeks, you know, all the blame should lie on their shoulders. Greece was invited into this currency union, it was a decision of the group, and to some extent, I do think it's the group's obligation to figure out a solution to this.
SEVASTOPULOI agree with that completely. Another point to make is if you looked in the past, for example, France has flouted rules that you shouldn't have a bigger budget deficit than three percent. And when it did that, it essentially wasn't punished. So, there's a lot of back and forth in Greece. The Germans are right in what they say, but ultimately, it's a bigger question about the future of the European Union. And that's the decision that Merkel is going to have to make. I don't think she's a leader who rules by opinion polls. I think she will make, if she makes the decision, it will be a bold decision that she believes is right. Not because she thinks she is going to win an election for it.
REHMWhat about the people around her in the German government?
SEVASTOPULOThe biggest opposition around her, and her too, is to giving Greece debt relief. They want Greece to come up with a plan that they think is sustainable and Greece wants a plan that will allow them to cut some of debt that they owe to the various creditors. That's the biggest sticking point. But ultimately, if they want to keep Greece in the Euro, there's going to have to be a compromise in the middle.
REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. I want to mention to you that Pope Francis apologized to the indigenous people of Latin America during a visit to Bolivia. Give us some background on that, Missy.
RYANYeah, Diane, yeah, I have to say, I love this story. I worked as a foreign correspondent in the Andes and so I feel like, you know, this is the first Latin American pope. The first from the global south, and I just, I don't think you can overstate what this means for Latin America and especially for a country like Bolivia. You can see that the Vatican very carefully selected the countries that he was going to visit. They are some of the poorest on the continent, and for a country like Bolivia, which is largely indigenous and largely impoverished, to have a Latin American pope come there and convey this message of institutional humility is so meaningful.
RYANAnd it really, I think, also telegraphs a sort of possibility for Bolivians and Ecuadorians, in terms of, you know, what they can, what people in those countries can hope to become.
REHMBut why now?
RYANI mean, I just think this is Francis's M.O. He has a very strong, bold social agenda. He's not afraid of ruffling feathers. And you know, this is his backyard. This is where he grew up and he feels like he could be the person who can do this.
REHMAnd he has been talking a great deal about climate change as it affects the poorest in the world.
LANDLERThat's right. And that, and the inequality theme. Which is sort of almost a subtext of some of what he said in Latin America. All of which makes me very kind of anticipatory of his trip to the US, which is coming up in a few months. And will be sort of also happening during a political season in this country. You know, the White House celebrated his comments on climate change. And it left some Republicans, particularly Catholic Republicans in an awkward position.
LANDLERImagine when he comes here in a few months and speaks about inequality and the need for redistribution in the midst of a primary campaign where that's already going to be at the top of everybody's agenda. I think it's going to be very interesting to watch.
SEVASTOPULOHe might even get Donald Trump off of the television.
REHMNow, I've been urged by my producers to ask you all about Omar Sharif. He died today at age 83. My particular love for him began with the Tolstoy book.
REHM"Dr. Zhivago." And the fact that he was born in Alexandria, Egypt where my mother came from. So, I would ask you all about your own memories.
RYANYou know, he just, he was a hero for Egyptians, he was a, you know, had those magical eyes. And sort of very open face that telegraphed emotion and sort of emotional honesty. And I just love that he was the one of the first and few Egyptians.
RYANThat made the crossover into international cinema. And fame and sort of beloved global culture. I think that he was really special for that.
LANDLERMy memory has to do with my mom. I was a teenager living in Paris and my mom was -- my parents were invited to a ball. And Omar Sharif was at the ball, and my mom greeted him by saying, (speaks foreign language) and had a very nice conversation with him. And I think he was officially the first celebrity that any of members of my family had ever met. That's my memory.
REHMLovely. Mark Landler, New York Times. Missy Ryan, the Washington Post. And Demetri Sevastopulo of the Financial Times. Thank you all.
LANDLERThank you, Diane.
SEVASTOPULOThank you very much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. Have a great weekend. I'm Diane Rehm.
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