Pulitzer Prize winning author Anthony Doerr talks about his new novel, "Cloud Cuckoo Land," and why he says his job as a writer is to reveal our interconnections as people, and as a planet.
North Korea’s claim of testing a hydrogen bomb sparks U.S. criticism of China for failing to rein in its neighbor and ally. Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of attacking its embassy in Yemen, deepening a rift that began when the Saudis executed a popular Shiite cleric. World financial markets steady after being roiled by China’s stock market plunge and troubling economic news. Terrorism investigators in Belgium find new evidence in the November attacks in Paris. And France remembers victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre a year ago. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Yochi Dreazen Managing editor, Foreign Policy; author, "The Invisible Front"
- Elise Labott Global affairs correspondent, CNN
- Paul Danahar Washington bureau chief, BBC; author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. North Korea is hit with international condemnation after claiming to have detonated a hydrogen bomb. Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran escalate following accusations that Saudi air strikes targeted Tehran's embassy in Yemen. And world markets react to China's stock market plunge and weakening economy.
MS. DIANE REHMHere for the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy, Elise Labott of CNN and Paul Danahar of the BBC. You are, as always, invited to join us. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And Happy New Year to all of you.
MS. ELISE LABOTTHappy New Year, Diane.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENHappy New Year, Diane.
MR. PAUL DANAHARThanks very much.
REHMThank you. Paul Danahar, North Korea claimed it detonated a hydrogen bomb. The announcement met with a lot of skepticism and condemnation. So what happened? Do we know?
DANAHARWell, we don't know, but we suspect that the North Koreans are lying about having carried out their H-bomb test. And the Chinese are very unhappy. Their official response was that they firmly opposed the test, but the response from their newspapers was much more fierce. They talked about having no tolerance for this kind of thing, that it was risky and irresponsible. We've had a predictable response from the Western powers, which were obviously very unhappy about it.
DANAHARBut what it tells us, I guess, is the state of North Korea in terms of where this young man thinks he is in the power structure at the moment. There's a couple of things coming up. We've got his birthday coming up.
DANAHARYeah. Today, you're right, yeah.
DANAHARYeah, we should've had him on the program. And we've got this big seventh party congress, first one in 36 years, which is being held in May. And so people are thinking to themselves, maybe this is his way of showing how big and strong he is ahead of that because in the past, they've always been quite significant. They've normally been about the changing of power structures. Now, the more left field explanation for the bomb is he's very upset that his favorite girl band, who he sent to Beijing to perform for the Communist party elite, weren't going to be given the right kind of reception because the Chinese were unhappy about an earlier announcement that he made that he had an H-bomb so he pulled them back.
DANAHARThe part of the timing now could be an act of petulance. So but who knows? I mean, the guy's 33 and he...
REHMA girl band?
DANAHARA girl band, yeah. They're very, very popular. They're called Moranbong and they dance around in kind of military outfits, short skirts, lots of -- even do Western pop songs. And it's been part of his attempt to try and make himself look a bit more modern and appeal to younger North Koreans who increasingly have access to Western media because the country inevitably is opening up because the internet can't be stopped everywhere. So the rumors and the reasons behind this test are myriad, but goodness knows.
LABOTTWell, I mean, some officials think that's crazy motive even for North Korean standards, but it just does show the unpredictability of this leader. North Korea did not give a warning to China, which it usually does in advance of a nuclear test and that reflects what Paul was getting at, which is this deteriorating relationship with China. China has been increasingly irritated over the North Korean antics since the 2013 nuclear tests when China did support sanctions. And, you know, although President Xi has been warming up to South Korea, has been warming up the United States, he has not formed a relationship with Kim Jung-Un, this young leader.
LABOTTAnd he finds him, you know, irritated by him and increasingly unpredictable and so, you know, even though it doesn't look as if China will be ready to drop North Korea, there are a lot of concerns in China, not just about if the regime were to collapse, refugees coming across the border, but they're looking down the road. They don't want to see a unification of the Korean peninsula where the United States would have a greater hand on their border and so they're kind of playing a double game, the Chinese, not cutting them off, but starting to get a little bit tougher.
LABOTTYesterday, Secretary of State Kerry said that he spoke to the Chinese foreign minister and said, listen, I know your approach is, you know, this double game with North Korea. Your approach is not working. It can't be business as usual anymore. U.S. really looking for China to get tough now.
DREAZENYeah, there's always an element of the absurd that hangs over any discussion of North Korea. I mean, Paul's answer kind of reflected it, this question of a Korean girl band. A lot of people have seen the movie "Team America." It's just the image itself of Kim Jung-Un with his ridiculous haircut and his ridiculous sunglasses and then you remember at times like this, that they have not only a nuclear program, but they also have one of the biggest conventional artillery barrages in the planet.
DREAZENSo in South Korea and in Japan, the fear isn't just that North Korea might one day nuke them. The fear is that they have enough conventional artillery to level Seoul in a matter of hours and to level Tokyo in a matter of hours. So North Korea is always kind of -- we look at it from one extreme, that they come back on our radar screen when they have a nuke. They're on our radar screen when they do something silly. And in the meantime, we tend to forget about them and North Korea always does something, you know, literally designed to remind us.
DREAZENChina's very interesting. So right now, at the United Nations, there's a push to try to get China to sign onto sanctions that would go beyond where China's gone in the past. Much more specifically, that would be designed to have China cut off its oil sales to North Korea. North Korea is dependent on Chinese oil. For China, this is a major market. This is a major source of income for them. China, so far, has not done it. In the past, they've never been willing to do it. There's a feeling that it would be such a nonstarter that if the U.S. put it in as a provision even in the sanctions bill that the U.S. is drafting, China would immediately veto it.
DREAZENBut the action now is at the UN. The action is will China move? Will they do something harsher than the past? Will they just kind of be where they are? And just, as a last point, you know, Secretary Kerry's comments yesterday had a bit of an element of just the absurd, elements of U.S. diplomacy as well 'cause he's pounding the lectern and this is not business as usual and it will be business as usual. At some point, the U.S. will resume talks, whether it's six party, whether it's bilateral. The U.S. will try to figure out some aid package to North Korea like they've done in the past, whether it's more nuclear support to their civilian program, but it is going to, again, be business as usual.
DREAZENThis is just -- it's a game. It's a very dangerous kind of game.
REHMHow are we ever going to know how long is it going to take to know exactly what was detonated, Paul?
DANAHARWell, the last time they did it, it took a couple of months of basically people analyzing the shock waves and the kind of satellite imagery of how the ground was changing, all that kind of thing, so. But the reality is, the size of the explosion suggests that it wasn't a kind of an H-bomb. It was an old fashioned bomb. They may have had elements of kind of a nuclear fusion in it, but it probably wasn't an H-bomb because it would've been a much bigger magnitude. I think the thing that everyone's -- in many ways, this is a big of a side show in a sense of what really worries people is whether or not North Korea's getting to the stage where it can put one of these nuclear warheads on a submarine-based missile because that then means that the whole of the American sort of coast, along with many parts of Asia, are really at a risk.
DANAHARWhile they can't miniaturize it to the point where they can actually put it on something big and fly it, or rather something small and fly it, people feel that they've got North Korea relatively well contained. So that's what the scientists are really looking at, are they really moving towards getting to the point where they can get a weapon small enough to put on a missile they can fire from a submarine and that will be the game changer.
LABOTTYeah. This isn't a major -- whatever happened, it doesn’t look like it was a major advance in North Korean technology, this test. But whatever it -- any test that they make helps further their program along. They learn more for the next test and this is the problem. This is where they're -- they see where they're headed and that's why we get into the idea of what, you know, some kind of new policy needs to be looked at here. You know, the U.S. came to -- the Obama administration came to office with what they call strategic patience.
LABOTTWe're not, you know, they were going to focus on their nuclear deal with Iran and we're not going to overreact to every little North Korean antics and little nuclear tantrum and we're just going to continue sanctions. While a lot of critics of the administration argue that that police has kind of just paved the way for North Korea to continue to develop its program and now, you know, there's real questions about how are you going to just not contain this program, but dismantle it.
LABOTTAnd the question is, is North Korea trying to say something about whether they're, you know, are they reaching out with this test? It sounds so ridiculous, but are they reaching out with the test to say, you know, we would be open to an Iran-type deal? The question is they're not actually saying that they are and the U.S. says they've shown no signs of willing to talk.
REHMAnd meanwhile, South Korea is, again, bombarding North Korea with music, with announcements, with things that drive the North Koreans nuts.
DREAZENYou know, and it brings us back again just to this kind of element of absurdity that hangs over the whole issue, that the South Korean response isn't artillery barrages. It isn't over-flights. It's Korean pop music.
DREAZENWhich, depending on your taste, you either love or find absolutely horrific. I'm kind of in the latter category. But that's sort of where they are. Nobody really wants to risk anything significant with North Korea. The feeling is, do the things at the margin. Blast Korean music, weather, news. Whether it's try to get something at the UN that's small and tailored, but nobody wants to do anything with North Korea because they're so hard to predict. Their conventional military is so strong. Their nuclear program is so far advanced and there's been zero indication that they want to engage in talks that might lead to dismantling their nuclear program.
DREAZENAnd why would they? I mean, if you're a North Korean leader, no matter how irrational, you'd look around the world in countries which have nuclear programs, the West doesn't try to interfere. In countries that don’t, the West does.
REHMAnd remind us, it is his birthday, Kim Jung-Un, but how old is he?
LABOTT33 years old and not a lot of experience before he came to office and so his youth and inexperience and shelter, you know, he spent some time at school in Geneva, but, you know, nobody knows a lot about this young leader. And the feeling is that he is, you know, increasingly unpredictable. You've seen, over the last year or so, a lot of purges of the top leadership so there's a very big concern about him.
REHMElise Labott, she's global affairs correspondent for CNN. Short break here. When we come back, we'll talk about the global effect of China's stock tumble.
REHMWelcome back to the international hour of our Friday News Roundup, this week, with Paul Danahar of the BBC, he's author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring," Elise Labott of CNN, Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy and author of "The Invisible Front." Let's talk about China and what are global stocks doing today, after China went on a wild ride in the last few days.
DREAZENToday stabilizing somewhat, you know, bouncing around a little bit from being up a lot to being up a little. But for the most part, the various indices that we look at in Germany and elsewhere, for the most part, are up. The numbers on the Chinese decline -- and I wrote these down so I didn't forget them, because they're so staggering -- yesterday, the markets in China fell 7 percent in 29 minutes, before China kicked in what are known here as circuit breakers, or they basically just stop all trading -- but 7 percent in 29 minutes. The previous four days, in total, it's 12 percent, which is about $45 billion.
DREAZENNow what you saw yesterday was every global market on the planet, for the most part, get walloped -- the U.S., Germany, Britain. The Dow right now is off to the worst start to a year ever. So there had always been this thought that what happens in China will hit the West. It was never clear how badly. We're now seeing just how badly it is. And one part that's interesting, an aspect of China that's causing all of this is the Chinese currency was allowed to float against Western currencies, which has in turn made the Chinese currency much less valuable.
DREAZENTypically when that happens, it often will help the economy because what you sell is now cheaper, because you're selling, let's say to the U.S. where the dollar is stronger relative to the value of the Chinese currency. That hasn't happened here. Because the Chinese manufacturing sector is seen as so weak, the Chinese economy is slowing so significantly, the Chinese numbers are seen as so fake that the things that might normally kind of help a stock market stop falling, help a currency, help the economy, none of those are working.
REHMYou know, it's interesting. I know everybody has different ideas about the extent to which China's market is or is not affecting everybody else. Yesterday, I had Teresa Ghilarducci on the program, who is one of many advisors to Hillary Clinton. When I asked her about the Chinese market and how it might affect, in the long term, the U.S. She said, not much. Do you agree, Paul?
DANAHARWell, I think that the thing we need to remember about the Chinese economies, they don't know what they're doing. They don't know what they're doing because they haven't been playing this game for very long. Their stock market is only 25 years old.
DANAHARAnd the problem that they have is, they've begun to try and loosen up some of the regulation that they had. It's still very regulated. And they're trying, at the same time, to make a transition from a cheap manufacturing economy into a high-tech services industry. Because they know, at the end of the day, that they're going to be undercut by the Vietnams and the Malaysias and whatnot -- other countries in that area. And they're trying to do too much at one time without the experience they need to manage it and without the capital industries around to help them.
DANAHARIf you look at the Chinese stock market, a vast proportion of the investors are individuals, whereas, in the West, the vast proportion are companies. Now companies know what they're doing. They don't panic. They look at long-term and they kind of work it all out. But when you're an individual and you suddenly go, oh, my goodness, I've just lost my savings, you sell. And so China's much more kind of -- it's much easier spooked than most other stock markets. And you've got all these combinations of a transition, a lack of experience, a really junior and nervous group of investors.
DANAHARAnd they're trying to do all of this at the same time, while they manage with the politics of it. It's a really big mess.
LABOTTIt's true. And I've seen the Chinese stock market is compared to kind of a casino for these wealthy Chinese people who have been, you know, made a lot of money over the growth of the last several years. And so the Chinese -- that's why it's one of the things that are heavily regulated -- the Chinese were trying to insert these circuit breakers to stop the, you know, to stop the freefall. But their plan backfired. And that's why -- because it's not based on, you know, market fundamentals or economy fundamentals, it's based on speculation.
LABOTTAnd so it's not tied to the economy. But then when you look at the larger picture, the Chinese growth is slowing, the World Bank over the last couple of days cut its global forecast for the year for China, and people are wondering, is the Chinese bubble breaking? Is the Chinese growth slowing? And so people don't know necessarily -- they don't have the confidence in China that they used to. And that's when you get into the kind of global markets.
LABOTTThe U.S. economy, yes, it's kind of interconnected to the global economy. But, you know, I think one of the reasons that Teresa said this is because the U.S. economy, even though you look, the Chinese are holding U.S. debt, that kind of thing, our economies are not so intertwined that it doesn't affect it that much. The Chinese stock market is pretty isolated to the Chinese.
REHMWhat about the claim from China that its economic growth has been like 7 percent. And now we find that's based on a little fiction here and there.
DREAZENRight. I mean, and you're finding that in aspects of China, both tangible and in terms of stock markets. You know, China also talks about things it's built, you know, and says that this is the fastest bullet train in the world, that this is the most rapidly built thing of its type -- skyscraper, whatever. And then they find out the quality is terrible, that the bullet train goes off the track or the building collapses, that you have this inept regulation such that you have horrifically, horrifically catastrophic explosions at factories and a mudslide a couple of weeks ago that killed 150 people and could have been foreseen.
DREAZENChina had unbelievable growth, pulled more people out of poverty than any country, arguably, in history. But a lot of it was smoke and mirrors. A lot of the numbers have been fraudulent. A lot of the construction was raced through and the quality of the construction has been terrible. I think we, here, have often tended to look recently at China as this unstoppable force, whose rise couldn't be prevented and we were in decline, China was on the rise and that was going to be the future. And, as often here, we overreact. China's rise is coming, of course. China's economy is gigantic. When you have a billion-plus people, of course, it's going to be the biggest economy at some point.
DREAZENBut China is not perfect. It's government is not perfect. It's economy is not perfect. And the fact that it's rising or declining, that narrative can very easily be false.
DANAHARAnd the thing about it, China was coming from a very low base. So the, you know, having a lot of growth when you're coming from very little to quite a lot, you can expand very, very quickly. I think the important thing also about China is, it needs to maintain these high rates of growth, around sort of at least sort of 7 percent. Because it needs to create enough jobs for the -- each generation that comes through every year -- every year of school leavers -- to keep them busy and maintain the contract or the bargain that they have with their people, which is, leave the politics to us and we'll make you wealthy.
DANAHARAnd if they renege on the, we'll make you wealthy, then increasingly the young people that are not getting their jobs will start saying, well, why not?
DANAHARAnd they'll start getting political. And that's the big nightmare for the Chinese, which is why they fiddle the books to try and keep this whole kind of charade going.
REHMInteresting. Three of first emails' questions on China from the website. How do China's downward spiraling stock market and currency moves impact its bid to have the yuan be a world reserve currency?
DANAHARWell, every time something like this happens, it makes the yuan or the renminbi, the people's currency as it's also known, more and more of a shaky investment for people. The thing about it is that nobody trusts the Chinese to be honest. And if you don't trust someone and don't think they're honest, why do business with them? I mean, most people would not buy a used car from the Chinese government, so they're not going to invest billions of dollars. I mean, you know, that's the way people look at it. So if you can't trust the government and you don't think they're telling you the truth, why would you give them your money?
REHMSecond email, how much influence, if any, did the North Korean nuclear test have on the Chinese stock market response? Both seem to be suggesting China's government doesn't have much control over anything.
DREAZENI mean, the Chinese government -- and, you know, Paul made this point before and I agree with it -- some of the wounds that China is now suffering from are self-inflicted. They've had policies put in place that they then reversed. They've had delays on, for instance, they tried to ban the sale of stock by large shareholders. Then they reversed it. Then they extended it again. So some of the issues that the Chinese government zigzags. The Chinese stock market was falling late last year significantly. Not quite as significantly as this but it had been falling very sharply for quite some time.
DREAZENThe North Korea bomb might have accelerated it. But that's not what caused this. What caused this is unquestionably the numbers they're putting out are false. Whether the Chinese economy -- people still think it is growing but not nearly at the rate China said. That's what causing this. It's not North Korea.
REHMHere's the final email suggesting that we are -- the U.S. and South Korea have addicted the North Korean government to American and South Korean aid. Bob says, what if we suspend U.S. aid to North Korea? It's winter there. A cutoff like this would send hordes of North Korean refugees across the Chinese border, forcing the issue. Then we could negotiate with China, not North Korea, about shutting down the nuclear threat.
LABOTTWell, a lot of people have thought of that but there's a reason that nobody has done that. First of all, the U.S. tries not to tie humanitarian aid to any political motives. So they've always kept that, like, separate. When North Korea has a legitimate, like a famine or a drought or something like that, they work through the World Food Program. They try not to hurt the North Korean people already more than they're already being hurt. I mean, look, these -- the North American people, there is an elite there, but for the most part you go into North Korea and those people are really suffering. So that's one reason.
LABOTTThe other reason is -- and one of the reasons that the U.S. has not kind of cut off all of the financial instruments to North Korea -- is because a collapse of the regime is nothing anybody wants to see. China fears a collapse of the North Korean regime almost as much, if not more, than a nuclear North Korea. Because then you would see, you know, tons of North Koreans coming over the border. As we said, you know, that could lead to a unification of the Korean peninsula, where the U.S. would have a greater hand in Asia. You know, not being able to pay, you know, the senior leadership of the North Koreans and a coup in North Korea is something that, you know, maybe U.S. officials dream of but know that that's a nightmare scenario.
DANAHARAnd at the end of the day, you know, I mean, they may switch the lights off. But before they switch the lights out, they may press the button.
DANAHARAnd you've got, you know, the South Korean capital is not very far across the border. But...
DANAHAR...if you kind of take this gamble, you may -- we're not dealing with people that we understand or that understand us or are rational. And so you kind of -- if you try and apply a logic to, if we do this, then they'll do that and then we can do this and they can do that.
REHMDoesn't work that way.
DANAHARYou're giving them the kind of, you know, you're giving the impression that we understand how they think. And we don't.
DREAZENI mean, there is one thing though that we do understand and we've seen it again and again, which is that the government of Pyongyang is perfectly happy for its citizens to starve, to be impoverished, to suffer through winters without heat or gas. We do know that about them. We -- they are not a rational government. But we do know from past history that if their people were starving and if the lights went out, they wouldn't care. I mean, there's that very famous satellite photo of the South Korean -- South Korea at night, which lit up like the U.S. would be. And then you get to the border and North Korea is almost entirely dark because electricity there is so poor and has been for so long.
DREAZENThe notion that if we made their people suffer, suddenly their government, out of its great humanitarian love for its own people, would change behavior is belied by North Korea (word?) .
DANAHARWhen I was in North Korea a few years back now, but, you know, when you left the capital, what you noticed were that all the trees had been cut down. I went there in a January -- January 2010 -- and all the trees had been cut down, beyond the first ones on the road, because people were looking for firewood. When I sat in my hotel and looked out the window, I didn't see any lights. I mean, when -- the one thing I asked to be -- I asked to be taken to a food market, to a vegetable market while I was there. And they refused to take me anywhere near the food market and the implication being there was nothing to go and see. So even in the capital city, people are struggling. So goodness knows what it's like outside the capital city.
REHMHow long were you there, Paul?
DANAHARI was just there for 10 days. And I had two minders while I was there. I think my greatest achievement was taking the minders 10-pin bowling. And it was just more kind of a way I got to meet some of the people.
DANAHARSo we went 10-pin bowling. And then we were sitting playing bowling for five minutes and the lights went out. And we all sat in the dark waiting for the lights to come on. And it was really uncomfortable. Because I said to the guys, does this happen often? And they were like, hmm, well.
DANAHARAnd because you had two minders, because one was for you and one was for the other minder.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Yochi Dreazen, this week marks the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. President Hollande is suggesting to fight terrorism in new ways. What's he talking about?
DREAZENYou know, he's talking about what colloquially -- and this is overly simplistic, but is in some ways a French version of the Patriot Act -- he's talking about giving the French Presidency, giving the executive branch of the French government and his law-enforcement arms extraordinarily powerful new tools for monitoring communications, in some cases for making it easier to detain suspects, making it easier to interrogate suspects before they have access to lawyers. But he's talking about basically giving France the ability to eavesdrop on its citizens much more aggressively than it can right now.
DREAZENAnd an interesting side not to this is, the French surveillance and intelligence agency -- so the French equivalence to the NSA -- is not very good. It's not seen as very good. So this is not, let's say, the British government, where their version of the NSA is very strong being allowed to use this very powerful tool and this very effective tool more powerfully, France doesn't have that same capacity. But what France is trying to do is make it easier to eavesdrop on communications because of the constant fear of terror attacks.
DREAZENI mean, it's worth remembering that before Charlie Hebdo, before obviously the horror of late last year, there were the spate of attacks on Jewish targets throughout France against a school, against a museum. So the threat Paris is facing and France is facing has been going on for quite some time.
LABOTTWell, and also, I mean, they're trying to have this change to the constitution to add a provision of stripping people who are found, you know, who have come here from another country, who are found guilty of any type of terrorist activity, to be stripped of their French citizenship. And this is just fueling this kind of divide between French citizens and all of these immigrants that have come into France. Which is fueling Islamophobia and fueling anti, you know, Western French sentiment and kind of increasing tensions. And I think we're seeing, in France, a lot of what we saw after 9/11, this kind of, you know, tension between wanting to be a nation that welcomes immigrants and at the same time having real, you know, obviously legitimate fears about security.
REHMAnd on the very day of the anniversary, you had a new potential attacker.
DANAHARYeah. The problem that we've got here is that Europe is in a kind of mental crisis. It doesn't know what to do about the fact that it has a war just across its borders, effectively, in Turkey. And so you have a situation where -- and even in Germany, that has welcomed all these people, you saw these kind of like sexual assaults that happened over the new year in Copenhagen and in Germany, which again have made people think, what are we doing?
DANAHARAnd so there's this real sense now, across Europe, you know, have we just -- what have we done? I mean, we've opened up this kind of Pandora's Box. These people are coming in. We don't know who they are. Some of them don't want to fit in with our society. How many of them have come in to try and hurt us? And, I mean, the French, in particular, feel vulnerable because right at the beginning, when ISIS started talking about lone wolf attacks, they said the French. They picked out the French and said, an particularly go after the French. So the French have been sort of nervous about this all the way along. And then they've seen the Charlie Hebdo attack. Then they saw the attack in Paris late last year.
DANAHARAnd now they're thinking, all the things that people have warned us about are coming true. So maybe we need to look at this whole thing all over again. Because every time they come across, like, you know, the guy on the anniversary that kind of, okay, he was running around with a knife and he was wearing a dummy suicide vest and he was shot. But there was no idea where he came from. And that's what scares people.
REHMPaul Danahar, he's Washington bureau chief for the BBC. Short break here. And when we come back, we'll open the phones. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Just before the break, we were talking about the crisis in Germany, with so many refugees coming and then some disasters going on, Paul.
DANAHARYeah. I said Copenhagen, I meant in Cologne, which was, on New Year's Eve, around 80 women reported sexual assaults. And the police kind of played this down a little bit. But it became apparent that nearly all the attackers were believed to have been migrants, a lot of them refugees. And I was just saying during the break, it was very, very similar to the way that these young gangs of men worked in the -- in Tahrir Square in Egypt, where we had a lot of sexual assaults going on. It's become an epidemic in Egypt now.
DANAHARAnd it -- this kind of process where they basically go along in a gang of 60. They surround women. They attack them. And there's enough other men to -- from their gang to stop any men who are trying to protect these women from doing so.
DANAHARIt's an organized, really, really viscous series of assaults. It began in Egypt and now we're seeing it in Germany.
DREAZENAnd, you know, the politics of this, you know, you set aside obviously the horrific human toll this has taken on -- it's roughly 100 women who have claimed to have been sexually assaulted to some degree, at least one woman who says she was raped -- you set aside for the second the horrific human toll, Angela Merkel has been under fire now for months about what is by far the most liberal refugee policy in all of Europe.
REHMBecause they took in a million.
DREAZENYeah. And she said, we'll take in hundreds of thousands more. You had calls today for her to resign. You've had plans tomorrow for what will be a massive protest in the center of Cologne, near where the assaults took place. And Merkel's critics have been saying two things. One, that if you allow in refugees, you're going to bring in either terrorists or people who don't share our values. And, two, that the government tries to cover up bad news about these same refugees. And what happened in Cologne fuels those arguments.
DANAHARWhat happened in Cologne were the bulk, as far as are known, are North African, Syrian, other recently arrived Arab refugees who committed what is, I mean, when you think about it, a thousand people in the middle of a major German city assaulting and raping women with the police doing effectively nothing. And you did have a police cover up. You had the next morning, when asked about this, a police spokesperson said, it had been a relaxed evening. That was the exact word, relaxed.
DREAZENSince then, police reports have leaked out in the German media where, it turned out that, among other things, the German police were getting so many reports of assaults that evening, they couldn't even track them all. They couldn't write down or log them all as they were coming in. Which means the German spokesperson lied. So for those who say that Merkel, for political reasons, her government, her supporters, are trying to cover up bad news. Without question, whether you want to go as far as cover up, there is bad news that's being downplayed by the police and by the government, which bolsters the arguments of critics of her policy.
LABOTTAnd this comes, as you said, Germany just report that, you know, the number of seeking asylum in Germany have hit a post-war record of 1.1 million. And that's 135 percent over last year, which was the highest in, you know, about 22 years. So -- but, yes, Angela Merkel is facing pressure at home. But she's the kind of poster child now for the debate that's happening in Europe. You know, you remember a few months ago we were talking on this program about the millions of refugees coming in to Europe and a lot of the countries were, you know, trying to cut them off at the border.
LABOTTAnd as they were all making their way to Germany, because they thought, you know, Germany is the country, next to the United States, where a lot of these people think that they're going to have the most economic opportunity. And so, you know, Angela Merkel is not just speaking to the German people but to all Europeans when she says, you know, listen, we need to take care of those people that need help. But, I mean, it's not just the German people that are feeling this anxiety. What happened in Cologne, you know, just reinforces what all Europeans are finding.
LABOTTAnd these fears, you know, some people are saying that they're not legitimate. But when we see what happened in Paris or what happened in Cologne and what -- or what's happening in Brussels, they're rounding up cells. These are not, you know, unfounded fears that these Europeans are having right now.
DANAHARAnd I think, while we've been on the air, there's some reports that the head of Cologne's police has decided to leave his post, which is an illustration of just how damaging this was for the police force.
DANAHARAnd I think, you know, Elise made a really good point. In the U.K. we had a situation a few years back where the politicians ignored the migration into the U.K. from many of the Eastern European countries. They kept saying it wasn't an issue, or it was just latent racism, or these people were xenophobes. They didn't deal with the issue. And when they didn't deal with the issue, you saw a surge in right-wing politics in the U.K. And that's the problem if you don't deal with the issue across Europe. If you don't recognize that people are genuinely worried about this, the more moderate people will gravitate towards the right, they will gravitate towards right-wing parties, and you'll have a political implication.
DANAHARSo there's got to be a recognition that it's an issue that has to be tackled.
REHMAll right. Let's move on here. Last week, in Saudi Arabia, infuriated Shiites in the region, executing a leading Shiite cleric. Now Iran is accusing the Saudis of targeting Iran's embassy in Yemen. What do we know, Elise?
LABOTTWell, this cleric was not only a leading Shiite cleric, but he was, you know, the Saudis call him a terrorist, that he was, you know, trying to fuel an overthrow of the government. But it was a deliberate sectarian decision a lot of people think, to now poke the eye at Iran. Because if you look at what the Saudis have been doing around the region, whether it's in Yemen or whether it's in Syria, you know, they're really saying that Iran is our biggest priority. And this goes back to a decades-long feud that's really been exacerbated since the Iran deal.
LABOTTSo now, you know, the Saudis executed this cleric. There was an attack on the Saudi embassy in Teheran, which the international community largely condemned. The Saudis cut ties with Iran, diplomatic ties. And all of the Sunni nations followed suit. So this is just fueling this sectarian divide in the region, which really threatens to -- all of the conflicts in the region. So we're not just talking about Yemen, where, you know, Saudi-led coalition is going against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. We're talking in Syria, we're talking in Iraq, where, you know, the U.S. really needs Shia and Sunni tribal leaders to work together to hold cities that are retaken from ISIS. And this is really exacerbating a lot of old divisions and sectarian divides.
DREAZENYou're also seeing the manifestation of long-standing and growing and frankly not unjustified Saudi fears that the U.S. has made a decision to pivot from its relationship with the Saudis and the other Gulf States to Iran. And they're not wrong to think so because the U.S. has, very clearly. President Obama sees the Iran deal as part of his legacy. He sees it as a historic accomplishment that removes what could have been an existential security threat to Israel, to the Gulf States. And you're seeing tangible evidence of this.
DREAZENYou're seeing -- if you compare what President Obama said publicly after the British embassy was sacked in Teheran a few years ago, where he said he condemned it, he said the Iranian government bore responsibility for it, compared to what the U.S. government has said now, which has been basically nothing. You had the White House say they were going to be willing to have new sanctions on Iran because it violated U.N. sanctions, clearly violated them through ballistic missile testing. Then a week has passed and they said, well, we don't have them ready yet. And now they're trying to stop talking about it.
DANAHARSo the bigger issue here in some ways is, the Saudis don't trust us. They simply do not trust this White House. They don't trust what's left of the Obama administration for this last year to come, and they're trying to make their own arrangements because of it. They're turning to Russia to a large degree. And when they need to use force, they're going ahead. The Yemen war is going terribly for them. They're killing roughly, so far, an estimated 3,000 civilians. They're losing by almost any military measure. But they're just doing it because they feel like they need to and they don't trust us to help.
DANAHARAnd I think one of the really interesting things about this is you saw Qatar come down on the same side as the Saudis. And in the past, if you look, the Qatari-Saudi relationship has always been very difficult, because one supports the Muslim Brotherhood, the Qataris, and the Saudis hate them. So there's been this big kind of inter-Sunni divide that's been going on all the way through the Arab Spring and before that. And now you're even seeing the bits of the Sunni countries that don't get on coming together against Iran.
DANAHARAnd that is a reflection, just as Yochi was saying, that they just don't trust America anymore to have their back. They're feeling they've got to look -- they've got to gang together and work out who's going to look after their interests, because they can't do it on their own.
REHMAll right. I want to take a call from Nuremberg, Germany. Rebecca, you're on the air.
REBECCAHi, Diane. I'm an American living in Germany for the past 16 years. I just wanted to speak to the overall feeling of what's going on in Germany right now. Everyone is pretty furious about what's going on. It took about five days for the mainstream media to even start to report anything resembling close to accurate as to what happened. And then they tried to minimize it as essentially robberies and that the sexual assaults were a distraction mechanism. Of course, there were rapes.
REBECCAAnd I think Germans are very hesitant to be very vocal because there's a group called Pegida, which is an extremely right-wing and ugly group. And so they're the ones making all the noise and Germans are just starting to feel like they want to organize against what occurred, but they want to remove themselves from the Pegida umbrella. So it's quite complicated. They're upset because really only about maximum 40 percent of the migrants coming in are actually from Syria or war-torn areas. And only about 15 percent are women and 15 percent are children.
REBECCAAnd a lot of people are talking at this point of, you know, we really need women and children and not, you know, masses of people who not only are not coming from war-torn areas and areas that are considered safe, but so many young men.
REHMAnd, Rebecca, what's the overall feeling toward Angela Merkel?
REBECCAOh, people are furious, absolutely furious. And, you know, you have to understand things like social media, posts are being taken down because Merkel's government has made, you know, an arrangement with Facebook to take down things that criticize her. And I would say most Germans actually were extremely open to accepting refugees. But now it feels like, you know, a freedom-of-speech issue, that they've been misled. And now you have -- I am from New York City. I have never felt more safe than I feel in Germany. I can do anything in Germany. And yet, now things have utterly changed.
REHMYochi, you seem surprised with her comments about taking down signs critical of Merkel.
DREAZENYeah. I mean, I thought everything else was utterly fascinating. I mean, Pegida, the group that she mentioned, is the group organizing this rally Saturday, which will without question be heavily anti-Merkel, heavily anti-refugee and heavily anti-Muslim. That's the first I've heard of Facebook having an agreement with the German government to take down posts critical of Angela Merkel. I would frankly be stunned if that was the case. Facebook...
REBECCAThat is the case.
DREAZENOkay. I'll look…
REBECCAAnd, actually, this is first I've heard, and I've been following this very closely, that there's a major march happening in Cologne tomorrow.
DREAZENYeah, it's -- there's some writing about it this morning in the Financial Times. But I mean I'll look into this today. Because if it's true, it's utterly fascinating.
LABOTTI would also be really shocked. First of all, I would be shocked about Facebook because, you know, we've seen, you know, this discrepancy between social media and some of the governments. There's been a big debate over, you know, the right to free speech and these companies who are giving platforms to not just any citizen that can say whatever they want but, you know, there is even a debate on whether to take down some of these terrorism posts. So I would be surprised that they were taking down anything critical of government. I'd also be, you know, shocked frankly if the Merkel government was looking at that. Because Germany has always been a place where free speech and the right of the citizen is really taken very seriously.
DANAHARBut I think one of the points she made, which is very important, and that is if you look at the suspects that they have, nine are Algerian, eight are Moroccan, only four are Syrian, five are Iranian. And so what you're looking at is -- she's let in lots and lots of people that have got -- that are not fleeing war. Now the Algerians and Moroccans are not fleeing war. They're economic migrants. So the questions that people are asking themselves in Germany is, we've let all these people in. How many really should be here for the reasons that we've been told they're coming?
REHMRebecca, I'm so glad you called. And you're listing to "The Diane Rehm Show." Then the question becomes, do you see Germany changing its position on migrants?
LABOTTWell, even before this happened in Cologne, Angela Merkel had kind of softened the policy of this very, very wide interpretation of who can come in as a quote, unquote, "Syrian refugee." I mean, before, it was, you could come in as a Syrian refugee if you lived -- even if you lived in another country that was peaceful for a few years, you could still come in as a Syrian refugee. That seems to be tightening a little bit. And I think that she's going to be under a lot of pressure, as the United States has been under a lot of pressure, to really have a lot tighter regulations and vetting on who is coming in to the country. And I think...
REHMBut was that in part because Germany needs a workforce?
DANAHARYeah, they do. And I think -- it's also, I think, if you look at what happened in -- with the migration from Eastern Europe. Economists said, if you get the first wave, you get the best educated, you get the most dynamic and the most willing to kind of chuck everything and try something new. Now the U.K. got the best of the Eastern European migration. They got all their lawyers and their engineers and everything else. And Germany found itself getting the second wave, which were less educated and less mobile and less skilled. And I think what Germany thought this time around was, let's get in the front. Let's get the best. And what they've got is -- what they've done is opened up, because of the speed in which it happened, and they just got everybody.
DANAHARAnd they had no real chance to look through and say, who's going to help our economy? Who's going to fit in with our way of life? And who should we be saying, we don't really want you because you don't fit the criteria of being a proper refugee.
DREAZENSo, just very quickly, to circle back to the caller. I think what she's referencing -- I was looking it up while we were talking -- in December, Facebook and some of the other social media companies said that they would take down hate speech directed at migrants. So the hate-speech posts that were seen as inciting violence, inciting potential -- well, basically inciting violence against migrant groups, against Arabs, against those who'd recently arrived -- Facebook and other companies said that when a request was made, they would take those posts down.
DREAZENIt's worth remembering that Germany actually has very restrictive laws on speech. You cannot deny the Holocaust, is illegal. Speech that seems anti-Semitic is actually a criminal violation. This is not a country known for free speech. It's speech codes are actually very, very strict. So what I think she's referencing is an agreement which does exist to take down hate speech. But it has nothing to do with criticism of Angela Merkel. It has to do with criticism of refugees and attacks at refugees.
REHMBut, so you're saying hate speech in regard to Angela Merkel would not be taken down?
DREAZENI mean, the deal that was described in December was specifically about hate speech towards migrants, things that were seen as inciting violence.
REHMI wonder if it's being expanded?
DREAZENIt's possible, although I very much doubt it. Because Facebook and Twitter have had, in some cases, similar policies in other countries in which inciting hatred is illegal. I mean, we take for granted in the U.S. you could say pretty much whatever you want to. That's not the case in England. It's not the case in Germany. It's not the case in France. In many of those countries, denying the Holocaust, for instance, is illegal. You've had French designers who were charged on hate crimes because in a drunken tirade he went on an anti-Semitic speech in a bar. So speech is not legal in the way that it is here and some of our allies abroad.
REHMAnd that's the last word from Yochi Dreazen. He's managing editor of Foreign Policy and author of "The Invisible Front." Elise Labott is global affairs correspondent for CNN. Paul Danahar, Washington bureau chief for the BBC and author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring. Thank you all so much. And come back again to better days, we hope.
DANAHARThanks very much, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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