ISIS takes control of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. Several nations agree to take in Southeast Asian migrants. And the U.S. and Cuba move closer to full restoration of diplomatic ties. A panel of journalists joins guest host Indira Lakshmanan for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai seeks to limit U.S. involvement in corruption probes; the first American soldiers are killed in Iraq since the combat mission ended; and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Mexican drug violence is like Colombia’s two decades ago. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Nancy Youssef Pentagon correspondent, McClatchy newspapers.
- Susan Glasser editor-in-chief, Foreign Policy.
- Martin Walker foreign affairs writer, United Press International.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Two U.S. troops were killed and nine wounded north of Baghdad when a gunman wearing an Iraqi army uniform turned his weapon on them. Iran said it will release one of three American hikers who've been detained since last year. And Secretary of State Clinton said Mexico has begun to resemble Columbia at the height of its drug wars 20 years ago.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio for the week's top international stories on the Friday news roundup, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine, Martin Walker of UPI and Nancy Youssef of McClatchy newspapers. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to email@example.com. Feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MR. MARTIN WALKERGood morning Diane.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERGood morning.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFGood morning.
REHMSusan Glasser, tell us what's happening in Iraq where two U.S. soldiers were killed and others wounded.
GLASSERWell, I think this is one of many reminders that we're going to get that just because we've declared a moment in time to have occurred, which we did last week, of course, with the formal change of the U.S. mission in Iraq from a combat to something different, doesn't mean that there isn't combat still occurring in Iraq. And there are 50,000 U.S. troops still present there and, of course, they are going to come into hostile situations. And I think it's a good reminder that we're going to be seeing more stories like this, especially at a moment of political instability and uncertainty in Iraq. After all, there is still no new government that has been formed and that's very much in the news right now as well.
REHMAnd this Iraqi soldier had a uniform on, which should have meant he was friendly to U.S. troops fighting side by side.
WALKERWell, the report suggests that there was some kind of argument between him and the security detail -- this is around Mosul up in the north, with a visiting American, and that that escalated. And that the Iraqi soldier, who is from their fourth division, which is supposed to be one of the better units, the better trained units, then opened up upon the U.S. patrol or the U.S. security forces and killed two, wounded nine and was then shot himself. I think it's a reminder of three things, not just, as Susan said, that we're going to probably get more casualties as this mission goes on. Secondly, the violence is not just hitting American troops.
WALKERWe're seeing something like two to three hundred Iraqis being killed per month in ongoing bombs as Al-Qaeda or whoever its sympathizers might be or local forces trying to make it clear that they're still in action. And the third thing is that, as Susan said, we have got an absolute morass of incapacity of inaction on the political front in Iraq. And that's something that the U.S. government is now trying to fix. It's trying to cobble together some kind of alternative government to get through this stalemate between the Iraqi political forces.
REHMBut explain this power sharing arrangement that's in place now, Nancy.
YOUSSEFWell, as Susan mentioned, in March there was an election for government and the Iraqis have still not been able to form their government. And so there's an effort to get the two top winners, the slate led by Nuri al-Maliki, the outgoing or current Prime Minister, depending on your take, and Ayad Allawi, a former Prime Minister, who sort of sold himself as a secular candidate, to agree on some kind of government. One that would, frankly, leave everyone weaker, primarily the prime minister, but hopefully sort out -- one of the basic questions in front of the government is who gets what ministry and who gets power throughout the government because that's what's really been holding this back. Because who controls key ministries, like the Ministry of Interior and Defense, someone actually controls the country. And so that's the debate going on.
REHMHow long do you think -- how much longer is this gonna take?
GLASSERWell, you know, I think that, Diane, is really -- the key question that you've honed in on. You know, there's a very interesting report in the New York Times this morning that discusses the possibility that -- of the power sharing arrangement that Nancy was discussing. And there's an interesting quote in there from an American saying, as we've seen many times before, oh, we think this can be hammered out sometime in the next month. And then, we'll have Secretary of State Clinton travel there to sort of bless the arrangement and I think that's, frankly, wildly optimistic.
GLASSEROnce again, you know, in fact, you could probably go back and find similar background quotes from officials every month for the last six months saying exactly the same thing. And what this highlights is a couple of things. One, the incredible instability. No matter what our wishful thinking about this, it's very hard to proclaim any kind of true success in Iraq when we've walked away from a long term mission in a country that doesn't have a functioning political succession plan. They've had an election without the thing that's supposed to happen after the election, which is the transfer of power to the winners, so that's number one.
GLASSERIt's hard to call that election a success as American officials were quick to do when they haven't been able to. Elections are only successful if they produce governments, right?
GLASSERSo I think that's a really important thing.
YOUSSEFYou know, I was in Baghdad for the hand-over ceremony last week. Vice President Biden was there. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was there. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman, was there. And I was talking to the Iraqis and this was the cloud that was hanging over the ceremony. And really the problem with sort of setting artificial dates for withdrawal -- you know, the United States had said this was a conditions-based withdrawal and the Iraqis were saying, these are acceptable conditions for the United States military to draw down, no government?
YOUSSEFAn Iraqi military force that may or may not be able to handle the threat? We're seeing an Al-Qaeda purposely attacking their military installations in an effort to check that and rising instability. And the real question or at least the response the United States military, frankly, says is, we're not sure what more we can do. What more can we do? So we're gonna keep the 50,000 there and sort of monitor and transition and train these Iraqis and work side by side. And that's happened, by the way, in the U.S. military in the attack on the Iraqi compound. It's been the United States military that's come through and kind of helped get the Iraqis out of these predicaments.
WALKERIt's not just the U.S. government that's involved with the Iraqis in trying to put together some kind of government. There's another player, which of course is Iran. And the Iranian's have made no secret of their partiality. For -- in effect for the shear (word?) group, in effect for Maliki and Maktad Alsada's group, who are -- made a kind of an alliance. And that is something, I think, that for the United States is probably a bottom line to stop.
WALKERThe other point to bear in mind is that when we're talking about a new government, we're also talking about money. To be in charge of a ministry is to be -- have patronage to give people jobs, to reward your supporters and above all, it's about who's gonna be in charge of the new dispositions of what seems to be the beginning of a boom in the Iraqi oil industry.
REHMAnd Afghanistan doesn't seem as though it's too much further along. President Karzai says he wants the U.S. out of all anti-corruption investigations. I mean, how can this go on, this continuing corruption, the bank drain, everything else that's happening, without some outside force looking in on what's happening, Nancy?
YOUSSEFThat's how you keep the outside forces from looking in and I think that's why President Karzai made his announcement. You know, the United States is in bit of a predicament because on one hand, it calls for sort of openness and transparency and aggressiveness in going after these issues, like corruption and in doing so, exposed not only to the international community, but to Afghans themselves the depth of the corruption that's plaguing their country. Remember, by some estimates, Afghanistan's the most corrupt country, behind Somalia, and the United States is backing this government.
YOUSSEFIt the hurts the U.S. relationship with Afghans and so, as these problems are coming up -- most recently the collapse of the Kabul Bank, before that, a presidential aide who was arrested on charges of corruption. Karzai responded by, you know, saying, we're a sovereign government and I'm going to be in charge of the corruption inquiries. And of course, he's at the nexus and his supporter at the nexus of the corruption problem. It's put the United States in a difficult position.
WALKERWhen you go to Dubai these days, they will point out to you little Kabul, which is a part of this massive building boom that used to be taking place in Dubai, that was being funded by Afghan money. And in fact, some of them, Mohammad Solahe, the aide who you were talking about who was arrested and then released by Karzai's order, is alleged to have given an okay for something like $3 billion in cash to get out of Kabul and go to Dubai.
WALKERWell, an awful lot of the money has been lost in the crash of the Dubai property market. And I'm afraid that this includes people like Karzai's own brother and it's -- and who is surprised? I mean, Afghanistan is a knuckle state. Its biggest single industry, apart from violence, is opium. I'm afraid it's very sad, but the U.S. has repeatedly turned something of a blind eye to this in order to have some kind of functioning government inside Kabul.
WALKERIt's a miss.
GLASSERWell, that's right. The context there, too, is so extraordinary. $3 billion perhaps flowed out that bank. This isn't a country where the government collected in revenue last year only $1 billion. So you know, basically, it doesn't -- it's this terrible vicious cycle. There is simply not enough of a functioning government and, therefore, the lack of government creates this corruption, we fund it by putting our money in our backing into somebody. But then, we stick to our values and we anger the guy that we've put into power. It's this terrible cycle that's taking place, unfortunately. It's the war fighting dilemma, also, versus the governance dilemma.
REHMBut explain to me what's going to happen with this bank, with all these funds being withdrawn, Martin.
WALKERWell, something like 60 percent of the funds inside the capital inside the bank has now been withdrawn. The government -- Karzai has said he will make good the losses from the central bank or from the national ex-checker, which frankly, at the end of the day, means the American tax payer.
REHMMartin Walker, foreign affairs correspondent for United Press International. We'll take your calls when we come back, 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd welcome back to the international portion of our Friday News Roundup this week, with Martin Walker of UPI, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy newspapers. Just before the break, we were talking about the bank in Afghanistan, the money that's flying out the doors.
YOUSSEFThat's right, and about 500 million. And it's worth pointing out the history of the Kabul Bank. It was formed in 2004 in the post-Taliban Afghanistan as a way to bring finance reforms to Afghanistan. Along the way, Karzai's brother, Mahmood Karzai, was a key shareholder in it. He brought a colleague of his whose brother ended up becoming one of Karzai's vice-presidents. And that bank ended up financing Karzai's campaign, largely financing. Millions of dollars poured into the Karzai campaign.
WALKERThey also lent money to Karzai's brother so he could buy his own shareholding in the bank.
YOUSSEFThat's right. And so I point that out to say the United States has often brought these things in to bring about reforms and they end up being vehicles for corruption because they get used. I mean, the sort of simplest example is on military installations, they put in ATM machines so that soldiers could collect their pay without having to pay a bribe, except that they couldn't read the numbers on the ATM machine and so they would find someone who could read, who would take his share of the money from his pay.
REHMAs he should.
YOUSSEFThat's right. So things that on the surface look like great reforms and ways to mitigate corruption, end up being used as a form of corruption.
GLASSERWell, that's a really powerful example, I think, that Nancy has. You know, if you spend any time in Afghanistan, you realize that A, you're in a non-literate society. And, you know, I think the number of Afghan women -- the percentage of Afghan women -- and this holds true to a lesser extent in Pakistan next door as well -- is significantly over 90 percent. So imagine all of the...
WALKERIlliterate, you mean.
GLASSER...who are not literate...
GLASSER...who are not literate. Exactly. And so, you know, all of the institutions that we have are not built to interact with a society like that.
WALKERAnd at the same time, although General Petraeus said in a recent interview that he thought the violence was flattening, in fact, in the last four months, we've seen allied deaths and woundings by roadside bombs going up by about 40 percent. A year ago, it was right about 250 a month. It's now over 1,000 a month.
GLASSERI do think the Obama administration faces a broader problem. As I mentioned, I was flying overseas and we were reading the speeches on the Secretary of Defense's trip to the region and we were reading President Obama's speech to the nation declaring the end of combat operations in Iraq. And he suggested that it was time to move onto Afghanistan, but only to a degree because we've got economic problems. Now, this went from being a war that was critical to U.S. national security, one that warranted increase in U.S. troop presence under the Obama administration by 250 percent, to something we have to begin to get out of by next July because of the economic problems plaguing this country.
GLASSERIt's a conundrum. It's either a vital national security interest or something that doesn't need to be a priority anymore. And they're trying to walk a very, very fine line.
REHMWell, and especially with elections coming up in November, people are focused on the economy and they have sort of, you know, tired, weary completely of what's happening in Afghanistan.
GLASSERWell, you know, I think it's really striking. Remember, tomorrow we're going to mark the ninth anniversary of September 11 and I think that really is the context in which this conversation about Afghanistan, and Iraq for that matter, is taking place. There are some extraordinary public opinion polls that have just come out, showing that something like well over 40 percent of Americans right now have even soured on the idea that the Afghan war was worth launching in the first place. That was never the case.
GLASSERAnd so the spillover effect, which started, of course, with not supporting the invasion of Iraq, has broadened into a much more sour overall sense of why are we engaged in these overseas missions? Are they really perceived as critical to our national security anymore? It's a very, very sort of angry time.
GLASSERI also thought that President Obama's speech was striking last week in its linkage of the economic situation and these overseas missions, which is not something that he has employed before. It's certainly not something you would have heard from President Bush. So it's really a different time. And, of course, then we have this extraordinary debate playing out over the burning of the Quran and you know that this is the 9/11 anniversary context in which we're operating here. And that's going to have a spillover effect in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well.
WALKERIt's not just you guys, either. The same thing's happening with the NATO allies. The Canadians are pulling out. The Dutch are pulling out. The British are pulling out. The U.S. will be left on their own. Why? Because the European governments have got their own economic problems as well and to the same degree, the European electors and voters and opinion polls have just sort of said, we've had enough with pouring money and lives and treasure into this corrupt stink hole of Afghanistan.
YOUSSEFThat's right. Counter insurgency, one of the basic tenets is that you must have a reliable local government to hand over responsibility to. And the United States is backing someone who everyone can see cannot leave this country. He's been in charge for eight years and the corruption problem's only gotten worse. I was struck when -- he was at a press conference with Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, last week and I was struck by just the sheer, frankly, arrogance that came from him. And he carried himself like a man who did not fear the United States, that he was in control, that the United States didn't have an option and that he could do what he wanted. And that's how he carried himself within feet of the Secretary of Defense.
REHMWell, and it seems to me the American people are picking up on that and recognizing that they don't have a partner for peace there and saying to themselves, if we don't, why are we there?
WALKERAnd why have we spent over a trillion dollars...
WALKER...on these two wretched wars?
GLASSERWell, Nancy mentioned counterinsurgency, the key tenet of which is to think about the hearts and minds of the population you're trying to win over. But what's happened is that the hearts and minds back in the U.S. have walked away from supporting the war in a way that is going to influence Obama's decision-making going forward. There's no question.
WALKERAnd we're not winning too many hearts and minds with -- I think it's now over 160 predator missions that have been flown as a result of these strikes.
REHMAnd while our attention has been focused over there, now it turns to what's happening in Mexico. The Secretary of State's saying that what's happening is that Mexico is becoming what Colombia was 20 years ago and then the president of the United States rebuts her.
YOUSSEFThat's right. The word that she used to describe what's happening in Mexico was an insurgency. And now, on one hand, it might appear that way. 28 thousand Mexicans have been killed since 2006 using tactics that insurgents commonly employ. But I think the difference is, in insurgency, the insurgent group is trying to make political gains in that country or take over a government, whereas in Mexico, it's really a criminal problem. These are drug traffickers trying to make money. So I think that was the problem with the use of that word. Either way, it certainly angered Mexico and our allies and the Mexican government. And the following day, President Obama gave an interview to a Spanish news organization that said, well, not so much because Mexico's got a thriving economy and strong democratic values and so...
GLASSERWell, just quickly, though, in terms of the parallel to Afghanistan, though, it's hard not to look at this and see a somewhat analogous situation. The fusion of narco-trafficking, after all, and people who are opposed to the current government, you could argue as -- is what's taking place in Mexico. And it's certainly what's taking place in Afghanistan. You could call Afghanistan a drug war. And this fusion of corruption at the local police level fusing with the cartels in Mexico is clearly what's driving a lot of the violence.
WALKERWell, let's put this into some sort of context. As you pointed out earlier, Susan, the three -- Afghan, I think, collected something like $5 billion out of the opium trade, whereas the government actually had revenues of about $1 billion. In Mexico, the best estimates we've got of the value of the cocaine trade is around about $20 to $25 billion. Mexico's got a GDP of over $1,000 billion, moreover. Well, though we...
WALKER...billion dollars a year.
WALKERIt's one of the world's top ten economies. Now, on top of that, we talk a lot about this figure. It's right around 28 thousand deaths apparently linked with cocaine in the past four years. That's 7 thousand a year, which is to say it's about one-third of Mexico's road deaths. Let me put it another way. The current murder rate in Mexico is about 11.6 per 100 thousand. In El Salvador, it's 51 per 100 thousand. In Honduras, it's 60 per 100 thousand. In Venezuela, it's 50 per 100 thousand. Mexico's murder rate is a lot lower than Brazil's.
WALKERSo, in other words, what we're saying about this is that Mexico has got a rather smaller scale problem than, I think, the Secretary of State was suggesting. But equally, Mexico has got a huge police challenge. And part of the reason for that is that, because Mexico is a federal system, it's got some of the weaknesses that the U.S. has got in trying to coordinate a national response with a series of localized state police forces.
YOUSSEFYou know, maybe this is the Pentagon correspondent side of me coming out, but when I hear someone suggesting there's an insurgency, it suggests to me, too, that this demands some sort of military solution.
YOUSSEFAnd that's a controversial suggestion. I mean, in Colombia -- playing Colombia has had a lot of controversies about too heavy military presence and human rights abuses, the Merida Plan, 1.3 billion imported to Mexico since 2008. Again, it's been -- it's had some effect, but clearly not enough. So the question in my mind is, can a military solution bring any results in Mexico, such that we start to see this drug problem go down? And I'm not sure yet.
WALKERThere's another factor here as well, if I can just say this, which is that the one state which seems to have got a real handle upon its own narco problem and to have reestablished the authority of the state over that of the local drug barons and so on, has been Colombia. And what was the response by a great deal of American public opinion? That this awful President Uribe who reestablished the authority of the state was, in fact, dealing with death squads and was a wholly improper and unworthy ally of the United States. You can't have it both ways.
YOUSSEFWell, in fact, that's the point that I was going to make is that, you know, this all comes about from President Calderon unleashing this metaphor on the politics of his own country. You know, he launched a war on drugs and he has used that military term, right, because he wants to invoke a call to action. There's a robust and growing debate, I think, in Mexico City itself, about whether that was, you know, a very fatal strategic error to have called it a war on drugs and to have mobilized it in that way.
YOUSSEFDid that provoke an escalating spiral of violence is one question. But there's no question that you want to call it a war on drugs to get attention, to get resources from the United States, your giant neighbor to the north who can -- and ask them to spend a billion dollars coming to your aid in a war. But then, you take umbrage if your giant neighbors who send you all that money say it's a war.
WALKERBut it's your giant neighbor who's sucking in the drugs.
YOUSSEF...no question, no question. (laugh)
REHMExactly. And Mexico blaming it appropriately on the U.S.
WALKERAbsolutely, which was the first country to declare a war on drugs back under Richard Nixon in 1970.
REHMMartin, I knew you knew that. (laugh) And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show. Let's talk about this fascinating interview that Jeffrey Goldberg had with Fidel Castro. And, as a matter of fact, Jeffry Goldberg will be here on Monday and he's going to talk about his encounter with Fidel Castro. He told Jeffrey that the Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore. What's he saying, Susan?
GLASSERWell, you know, who knows, right, on some level. But I find it very fascinating that we're seeing sort of the re-rollout of Fidel Castro. And, you know, what does it mean? Does it mean that he's going to be, you know, playing a more active role? He's sort of officially stepped away from his governing post, but, you know, I think, you know, is it the whiff of internal modernization? I mean, I'm not going to be the person who says, we're looking at a new moment in Cuba because we've all been waiting for that for so long. You know, I think we've all been weary of making predictions (unintelligible)
REHM(sounds like) Elder statesman?
WALKERWell, I think that's part of it. I mean, here's a man who's had a very close brush with death with his stomach operations. I think whenever you look at Cuba, it's important not to look at it through a lens of U.S. Cuban relations, but through a Latin American lens. And for any Cuban, the real fact about Latin America is that, in the course of the past decade, most of Latin America's been growing at 5, 6 percent a year. And that is the contrast for somebody like Castro when he looks at booming Brazil, when he looks at the Mexican economy, which is recovering very well from the recession, when he looks at almost any other part of Latin America, apart from, perhaps, his buddy's state of Venezuela.
WALKERThe failure of Cuba, within the Latin American context, is particularly haunting, I think, for Castro. And of course, what he's saying now about the Cuban model is simply echoing what Raul Castro, his brother, has been saying for the past year.
YOUSSEFThat's right. And just to put some numbers behind it, there are 11 million people in Cuba. They make, on an average, $25 a month, to give a sense of sort of the...
YOUSSEF...economic suffering that's going on there. What I thought was interesting is he can't blame the -- he's not blaming the U.S. embargo anymore on his economic problems, which he had done for years and years and years. He's saying it's an internal problem. Now, how much reform does that lead -- and communist economics -- we'll see. It's in Raul's hands, at this point. But just that Mr. Goldberg was there was extraordinary. That he invited him in there, it appears to be an effort at revisionist history. It's the first of a series of comments, right? He regretted asking President Khrushchev of the Soviet Union, at the time to consider nuclear attack during the Cuban missile crisis. I mean, he's had a lot of takebacks, if you will.
REHMWhy do you say it's revisionist history, if he is simply saying, I made mistakes?
GLASSERIs he saying that, though, that clearly?
REHMIs he? Yeah.
YOUSSEFThat's what I have questions about.
WALKERWell, we haven't had full details yet...
WALKER...from Mr. Goldberg's interview. We've just had some very entertaining accounts of watching the dolphins...
WALKER...and a few snippets of what he said. I'm looking forward to hearing what he has...
WALKER...to say on your show.
WALKERBut (laugh) I think that -- as well as that point about the Cuban missile crisis, when in effect, he walked away from this letter that he had written to Khrushchev, which actually seemed to imply he wanted nukes to drop onto the USA. I think that one or two of the other things that he was saying, not just about the American -- about the Mexican model, very important. One of them I'm going to be looking for is, what is going to happen to this American Jewish human rights worker who's been arrested in Havana for handing out fax machines and cell phones to members of the Jewish community in Havana? My guess is that one of the signals we're going to get is that person will be released on the eve of Yom Kippur.
REHMWell, it's very similar to what's happened in Iran.
REHMYou've got one of the three being let go.
WALKERAnd in North Korea. Nasty regimes, dictatorial regimes, tend to trade in human beings, as North Korea did, as Iran is now doing by letting go one of the three hikers. Ironically, this is -- I find really something the way in which Iran is almost as clever as that pastor down in Florida in manipulating the media. The Iranians are going to let go one of these three hikers just as one of the highly reliable, in the past, Iranian opposition groups has pointed to a brand new secret nuclear installation just outside Tehran.
YOUSSEFThere are no accidents in international politics.
REHMAbsolutely not. We should say that there is some sense that the young woman Iran is releasing does have some health problems.
REHMAnd that may be why they're letting her go and yet, not the other two. Too bad. It would've been better to let all three go. And when we come back, we'll open the phones. Stay with us.
REHMAnd now, it's time to open the phones. First to Baltimore, Md. Good morning, Neil, you're on the air.
NEILIt's wonderful to talk with you.
NEILI think your two guests are just doing a spectacular job today and...
REHMI have three, as a matter of fact.
NEILThank you. Excuse that. I just wanna talk about the war on drugs. I don't think it's a war. I think it's really corruption. I don't think the Pentagon should be involved in Afghanistan the way it is. I really think the State Department needs to be there. It's -- the corruption is there in Mexico and Columbia and Afghanistan as the international drug cartel, the international drug market.
NEILAnd the one thing that's absent from the conversation in my hearing of it is that there is -- with corruption, there are two sides and they're cooperative. There's, you know, to say it's extremely understated. There's an unhealthy co-dependence in that sense of corruption, in the same way that there's an unhealthy codependence between an addict and a pusher. And when we talk about Columbia and Mexico and Afghanistan, that's just one of the two parties in that corruption. The other side has to be named.
NEILAnd I can't help but think that it's the United States and its misuse and abuse of drugs. And in money laundering internationally, I just think, you know, there's a second party that's not being named. And as much as we say that the corruption is evident and clear in Afghanistan, Mexico, et cetera, there are two parties in this.
REHMAll right. Susan?
GLASSERWell, I think your caller makes some excellent points. He's clearly a very thoughtful guy. Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions. If there were, I think governments on both sides of the border would've taken them by now. There's a recognition, perhaps, that the United States is a part of the problem, which is why you've seen the effort with the Plan Merida to make a substantial U.S. contribution to President Calderon's efforts. The problem is that the scale of the drug crisis, and it is a crisis, exists on both sides of the border. And what you don't have is a unified policy on both sides of the border.
WALKERIt's not the U.S. -- the U.S. role here is not just that of being the enabler of these narco states by being the big market for drugs. In the case of Mexico, the U.S. is also the one feeding many of the guns into the system. And it's -- an awful lot of the guns being used by the Mexican cocaine cartels are being bought at U.S. gun fairs and shipped back over. And the Mexican government has complained about this. What I find interesting is -- I know there's no instant solution. But in Mexico City now, even from officials in the government, even from the former president, you're now having suggestions, let us just legalize drugs and get criminality out of this.
REHMThanks for calling, Neil. Here's a very, I think, important e-mail from Melissa. She says, "I'm an Arab American and I am so tired of the news. My family has been American longer than the families of many other Americans who try to tell me what American really means. And they mean not me. My children are asked to renounce and apologize for terrorism when we haven't done any terrorism to renounce or apologize for. I think the world has gone crazy." She says, "My birthday is this weekend and I can't even go out to eat with my husband and kids for fear people will think we are celebrating 9/11. I feel my life has been hijacked, not only by terrorists, but my fellow Americans, like Terry Jones referring to the pastor in Florida." Nancy?
YOUSSEFThat is a powerful e-mail. And, Melissa, I'm an Arab American, too, so I have some sense...
REHMAs am I.
YOUSSEF...some sense of what she's talking about and I feel what she says. It's seeing your culture and your religion being hijacked in the name of an invented Islam or an invented form of Arabism or what have you. You know, I was thinking about it, some of these Afghans who are protesting Terry Jones and stuff, I think it's sort of become an extremist versus extremist and being allowed to be -- define what it is to be Christian from the Afghan perspective and that extremists have been allowed to define what it is to be Muslim for non Muslims. And so I think Melissa's appeal is for moderate voices to prevail. And I think it's one that's increasingly being called upon. And this story, in a way, speaks to extremism kind of run amuck.
GLASSERWell, in fact, that's -- it's a really poignant e-mail. Not only is it the anniversary of 9/11 this weekend, but today is the holiday that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. And, you know, how much American awareness of that is there in the context of this, you know, extraordinary level of public debate for a marginal figure running a small obscure church in a small part of Florida? Why is that we've given him a national and even international platform to define our national conversation about Islam in America? It's very sad.
REHMAnd one postscript to that, Elaine writes that, "On MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' today, there was discussion on the panel that newspapers in Europe, apparently mainly in England, have written about Pastor Jones' time living in Germany and that he had quite a history there of manipulating the media and causing controversy. If this is true and if our government and our news media had known this, this situation might've been handled differently."
WALKERThat's right. We've seen these stories in the British press and the German press. He lived in -- This Terry Jones lived for awhile in Cologne in Germany where he tried to set up his own small church. He was fined by the German authorities for breaching various regulations and also he became a controversial figure when it turned out that the doctorate he claimed to have in theology was fake. So this is not just a media manipulator of a tiny church of 50 people, but he's a guy who's got a certain kind of form. I cannot understand why we've made such a fuss about him.
YOUSSEFBut it's reached the highest levels of government. Yesterday...
YOUSSEF...Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called him and appealed to him to not go through this burn of Quran day tomorrow. And it's unclear whether he is or is not. You know, it was sort of stunning to be at the Pentagon and hear that he had made the call. And yet, you understood it because the relationship that the United States has in the Muslim world is so fragile and such a thing would spark such violence and really reaffirm people's perception in that region, a big perception that the United States has declared war on Islam broadly.
GLASSERYes. At the same time, though, it's an extraordinary act. The president of the United States has, in effect, directly addressed this controversy. Gen. Petraeus has addressed this controversy. This is an obscure guy who doesn't in any way represent, I think, mainstream American thinking. And so you face this incredible dilemma on the part of policymakers, whether to engage with it or not. I'm surprised that they did, actually.
REHMAll right. To Fort Worth, Texas. Ken, you're on the air.
KENYes, Ms. Rehm, thank you for taking my call.
KENSimple question. I worked in the Middle East in the '70s for three years. I was an American ex-pat in aviation. And do we -- there's a lot of discussion about the corruption and things that go on there in Afghanistan. We know how much money we've given to Afghanistan. Do we know how much has left the country, you know, to foreign bank accounts?
YOUSSEFWell, there's one report that over a billion dollars went out in suitcases in the airport in Kabul. As Martin mentioned earlier in the show, there are $100 million worth of homes in Dubai in which some of these top government officials reside in. And to stress how big $1 billion leaving is, this is a country that generates $800 million of total revenue. So the idea that $1 billion has left speaks so clearly to the level of corruption.
REHMI wanna go back to something you said, Susan, that you're surprised that Secretary Gates called the pastor in Florida. Are you surprised Gen. Petraeus did as well?
GLASSERLook, of course it's not surprising that they would express and hold very strongly...
REHMDo you think they shouldn't have?
GLASSERI think that it is a surprising decision. There are French people who make such public statements all the time. In fact, I believe the New York Times is reporting today it was just a little bit more than a month ago a very similar incident occurred with no notice in the national and international press. And perhaps this was already elevated to such an international issue, they felt a different set of decision-making criteria and a need to intervene in a way they hadn't before. But I think, clearly, not all of these incidents are being handled in the same way.
GLASSERAnd when the president of the United States -- remember the controversy when President Obama got involved in the Cambridge police incident last summer? That was a big thing. And he had to invite the people for beers. And there was a huge backlash against that, right, because why was the president using his bully pulpit to open up this very agonized national conversation about race and police officers? I think, in a way, there's an (unintelligible) situation here.
YOUSSEFYou know, on the face of it, you would think the president coming out and speaking, Gen. Petraeus coming out and speaking would say to the Afghans, this is not the United States. The problem is you have a largely illiterate society. There are people in Afghanistan who don't understand what happened on 9/11. And just the image of a western-looking person burning their Quran would live on in Afghanistan in ways that I don't know that we can...
WALKERYou know, it's worth recalling back at the 9/11 in 2001, immediately after that when the entire country came together, they came together in an extremely ecumenical kind of way, lead, in a sense, by President Bush himself, who stressed that there was not going to be a war on Islam, that American Muslims were not being seen as responsible or as a target. Tragically, I think mainly because of the Iraq war, the Afghan war, that has been turned around.
WALKERBut somehow, this country's got to come back to its original constitution, which is that Congress makes no laws abridging the freedom of religion, that Congress -- and that people who take their oath to the U.S. Constitution, like the president, like senators and congressmen, including the congressman who took his oath with his hand upon the Quran, have got to uphold that principle.
REHMAll right. To Bridgewater, Mass. Good morning, David, you're on the air.
DAVIDGood morning, Diane and guests. Thank you for taking my call.
DAVIDI wonder if your guests could comment or if they have any opinion on the -- given that the United States is a military might and significant player in the world stage, as far as foreign aid to many countries, respondent to calamities throughout the world, why are we so ineffective in reaching out to countries that have kidnapped or imprisoned our citizens and asking for some sort of humanitarian gesture in releasing them? Now, you mentioned some earlier, Korea and Cuba and Iran. And Laurie Berenson is still in Peru. And I just don't understand our ineffectiveness given our, for a lack of a better word, might.
GLASSERWell, I think that's sort of the point in a way. Arguably, the might and the big footprint that we carry in the world is what encourages countries to hold onto these American citizens when they stumble into trouble. So I think it's almost the reverse in a way of what the caller's suggesting. It is our very power in the world that leads to many of these incidents.
WALKERNo, hang on. It's not just the power. It's the fact that America has all of this power, but does usually tend to deploy it with great restraint. America is not the kind of country that the Soviet Union used to be, which very famously in the Middle East that you'll probably recall when the son of all the Soviet diplomats in Beirut was kidnapped. The KGB went out, picked up all the family members they could of people involved in this particular gang and sent back body parts and said, we'll continue to do this until you release our person. The U.S. does not behave like that. In fact, the U.S. operates a different system. It uses former presidents to go and ask publicly for the return of these people.
REHMMartin Walker of UPI. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Brunswick, Md. Good morning, Perry.
PERRYGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
PERRYThanks, Martin, for that little glimpse of reality. Maybe we should use our power differently. Anyway, first of all, my -- the lady who complained about her religion, it's not what I called about, but I couldn't help hearing what she said. I just wanna state that the gentleman -- not even a gentleman, the man in Florida's not really Christian. I consider him a heretic. And maybe 500 years ago, he would've been burned at the stake by other Christians. Anyway, thank God for the reformation.
PERRYSo what I called about was the concept of sovereignty. And when I studied briefly at Georgetown University, it stuck with me that there's de jure sovereignty and a legal right to exercise exclusive control over ones subjects and de facto sovereignty whether, in fact, control exists. And the generally accepted concept that I'm aware of is that both types have to exist in order for a state to be sovereign, which leads me to my question. Why did we grant Iraq sovereignty after we invaded? Clearly, they aren't even capable of exercising both today. Afghanistan is not either. And it looks like -- it seems to me that Mexico is beginning to fall into the situation where they can't either.
GLASSERWell, I think the caller is right, that this is what our conversation about what is a failed state has really grown out of this question of the legal definition. Actually, that's where the term comes from. Back in the mid-'90s, it was coined a failed state, very much looking at the issue of when is a state seeded its sovereignty for the purposes of international law. In other words, what's the obligation of the international community and other actors when a state is not able to effectively, say, control its borders, for example, or maintain the functions of a government.
GLASSERThe problem is we haven't, as an international community, come up with a formula for what to do when there is a failed state. The most prominent example being, not the ones that the caller mentioned, but Somalia, wherefore, you know, coming up on three decades, we've had no real functioning government. And that hasn't lead to -- it's not like, okay, well, we can declare Afghanistan a failed state and then we're gonna implement X, Y and Z international plan. It doesn't work like that.
WALKERThere is one formula, which is the old Colin Powell Pottery Barn formula, which is true in the case of Afghanistan and Iraq. If you broke it, you own it.
GLASSERWhat happens when you don't want it?
WALKERWell, if you broke it, you have to pay for it. That was the Colin Powell rule. And the tragedy of both Afghanistan and Iraq is that whatever kind of a mess they were in before, it's a much more complicated and difficult mess now as a result of this. But I think to put Mexico in that kind of category is just (word?).
REHMWell, and I think that that was precisely why President Obama said what he said after Secretary of State Clinton said what she said. Wanna thank you all so much for being here. Some final words from President Obama at his news conference. He's asking the country to observe September 11 anniversary as a day of service and remembrance. He says Americans should find a way to serve their fellow citizens and rekindle the spirit of unity and common purpose felt in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Good words. And I think we shall close on that. Susan Glasser, Martin Walker, Nancy Youssef, thank you all.
REHMThanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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