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The Taliban in Afghanistan threatens to disrupt parliamentary elections. Iran releases an American hiker. And Palestinian leader Abbas affirms continuing peace talks. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Tom Gjelten correspondent, NPR, and author of "Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause."
- Elise Labott senior State Department producer for CNN.
- David Ignatius columnist, The Washington Post; co-moderator of "PostGlobal" on washingtonpost.com.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Afghanistan prepares for weekend Parliamentary elections amid worries of voter fraud and Taliban threats. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Israeli and Palestinian leaders are committed to making peace, but the issue over settlements still looms large over the talks. And Cuba's government announced planned layoffs of over half a million people from public jobs in hopes they'll enter the private sector. Joining us for the international hour of our Friday news roundup, Tom Gjelten of NPR, Elise Labott of CNN and David Ignatius of the Washington Post. And, of course, you are part of the program. I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning, everybody.
MR. TOM GJELTENHi, good morning, Diane.
MS. ELISE LABOTTGood morning.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSGood morning.
REHMThese Parliamentary elections tomorrow, it would make me wonder considering the conditions and threats that we've already heard about. What kind of turn out -- what kind of effect can these elections actually have? David, you've just come back from Afghanistan.
IGNATIUSI was just there on a brief trip with Secretary Gates. There was some talk of the Parliamentary elections. The main hope is that these elections will not be marred by fraud in the way that last year's presidential elections were to the great embarrassment of the United States. And I hope President Karzai, who is said to have sponsored much of the fraud -- the Parliament in Afghanistan is an independent voice. It doesn't have a lot of power. It is a symbol of the fragile Afghan democracy that we're trying to build. We'd love to see a big turnout in Afghanistan.
IGNATIUSThere's no question that in Iraq the first Parliamentary elections after Saddam Hussein's overthrow that were attended by enormous numbers of Iraqis were really an upbeat moment. And so every election in Afghanistan, if you can get a good turnout, people are encouraged by that. But I wouldn't put too much emphasis on this, in terms of the real effect on the security situation.
REHMYou've got 10.5 million voters eligible and you've got 249 seats. You've got 2,500 candidates, including 406 women. They've had to close certain polling centers because of security. You've just returned from Afghanistan, Elise.
LABOTTThat's right. I thought what was really interesting is because of the security situation, the campaign season, if you will, is not like we would think of here in the United States. People can't -- the candidates can't get out a lot. A lot of it is done by these posters of these candidates that you're really campaigning on a face. A lot of people can't get out. They're doing phone calls. They're sending women. Especially, we mentioned the women candidates, they cannot get out. The intimidation of the women by the Taliban has been extreme and so this where the security situation can affect voter turnout.
LABOTTIt also can affect whether people can -- what they're gonna do with their vote because they don't know that much about the candidates. So that makes it ripe for people to buy votes. If you send, like, a bag of rice or some, you know, boiling water to a village, that could buy you the votes. And people are already talking about -- to their candidates, well, I was offered this much for my vote. And some candidates are willing to pay it. Some candidates are willing to not pay it.
LABOTTAnd one of the big questions now -- officials that I've talked to say, is what about the turnout for women? The Taliban are really making an issue about women turning out, women candidates, their constituencies really being intimidated. And they're worried that this will all lead to voter disenfranchisement. This election, while not important, as David said, in terms of what it's going to do -- the Parliament -- obviously, President Karzai wants a favorable Parliament to him, which he hasn't always had. But in terms of dashing Afghans hopes in the democratic system and Afghanistan is very important.
GJELTENYeah. Diane, this is one of those elections where process is more important than outcome. What's at stake here is not so much who's gonna be elected, but how the election is perceived. It's really a question of whether this election is seen as legitimate by those Afghans who haven't really made up their mind yet whether their own government is legitimate. And this is particularly true for the Pashtun population, you know, which, of course, is the main driver of the insurgency. And I think one of the unfortunate facts is that a lot of these polling places that have been closed out of a fear of what might happen there are in Pashtun areas, which is not an encouraging sign.
REHMWhat can be done to limit fraud and to safeguard these polling places David?
IGNATIUSI think Tom has put his finger on the -- really the key issue, not just in terms of this weekend's elections, but this phase of our efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, which is intimidation by the population -- of the population by the Taliban. Traveling in Kandahar two weeks ago, this issue of people who stick their heads up, who try to work with coalition forces, who attend the shures that we're trying to develop to get some better governance in these areas where you have corrupt Afghan government officials, people who are getting involved in those are being threatened. In some cases they're being assassinated.
IGNATIUSThe number two commander there, General Rodriquez, said flat out to a group of reporters traveling with Secretary Gates, that the only way the strategy that is going to work is if people look and see their cousins, their uncles getting assassinated, that they have the resolve to continue to take risks. But, you know, that's something to watch. What are the efforts of intimidation this weekend and do people stand up to them?
REHMAnd what about this joint U.S./Afghan operation in Kandahar, Elise.
LABOTTWell, most of the recent effort was focused on the Malajad (sp?) area of Kandahar, which is really a Taliban stronghold. And the Afghans, you know, had basically told, you know, General Petraeus and the U.S. that it's time for the Afghans to take the lead. There's been a lot talk about this lead-up to the Kandahar offensive as the Taliban has grown stronger in the area. There's been, you know, they've delayed it a lot. But the Afghans said, it's time for us to take the lead and the Americans have kind of said, even if the Afghans are gonna get bloodied up a little bit, we really need to let them take the lead. We need to let them show to the Afghan people that they're going to be the ones taking the lead in these operations.
LABOTTIt was truly a U.S./Afghan joint operation in the true sense of the word. You hear that a lot of times, but usually it's the U.S. that's leading and the Afghans are coming along. My understanding is that, you know, from the inception to the planning, the Afghans are really taking the lead. And this presented a challenge for the U.S. because it's not like the U.S. generals would have done it. And so they were looking at the Afghans and saying, oh, my God, is this a train wreck waiting to happen?
LABOTTBut in the end of the day, no, it wasn't. It wasn't how the U.S. would've executed it, but there are some signs that the Taliban is being cleared out of some of the areas. And the U.S. is trying to present this as a success for the Afghans growing into their own. They have a long way to go, but this is the future of the Afghan led operation.
REHMAnd Tom, your wife, Martha Raddatz, was with General Petraeus this week talking about Kandahar and this operation going forward. She implied that it was going to be pretty messy.
GJELTENWell I'm happy to quote my wife at any time. You know, I thought one of the interesting questions that she asked him, General Petraeus has been on the record as saying that a counterinsurgency campaign takes about ten years. Well, we've been in Afghanistan for ten years. So she asked him, so when did the ten year clock begin? And he essentially said it has just begun, which is not a very promising, you know, assessment of this situation.
GJELTENOne of the things that strikes me about this offensive around Kandahar, in fact, is the way the United States has been lowering expectations in contrast to the Mazar offensive in the spring, where there was so much great promise laid out there about that offensive. And, you know, news organizations were invited to come along and see it. And, in fact, we were -- the United States was able to clear out a lot of the Taliban from the areas around Mazar during the offensive. But as soon as the U.S. forces began retreating, the Taliban came back.
GJELTENHaving seen that, I think that the United States, General Petraeus and others, are being a little bit more modest in what they're claiming on this offensive.
IGNATIUSDiane, when I was in Kandahar two weeks ago in Malajad (sp?) , the area that, as Elise said, has been one of the initial focus points of this campaign, I came away with two concerns. You know, yes, you hear upbeat stories from the commanders, but first, we're fighting for a government in Kandahar and nationally that is corrupt and unpopular with this Pashtun population. So the harder we fight on behalf of this government, in a sense, the more we alienate the population from ourselves, which is the opposite of what this counterinsurgency strategy's all about. So that's the first worry.
IGNATIUSThe second is, despite the talk about how we're partnering with the Afghan forces, you know, the idea in Kandahar, we're gonna set up 17 joint security stations. When you talk to the enlisted soldiers who are grabbing a smoke in the shade after the big fancy briefing that you had and you say, how are these Afghan soldiers holding up in combat? You hear some pretty negative comments. I mean, you know, I had one sergeant, who's a very experienced combat veteran on his second or third tour, say, these Afghans are still shooting their AK47s in the air when they're under fire. So that -- we got to worry about that.
LABOTTYou hear this phrase in Afghanistan -- and I'm not sure, David, if you've heard it, but I've heard it quite frequently and I've heard it from General Petraeus. And the phrase is, Afghan good enough. This is as we talked about lowering expectations in Afghanistan. It's Afghan good enough. It may not be how U.S. commanders or U.S. politicians would be laying out an operation, but if it's good enough for the Afghans, we have to give them a chance.
REHMElise Labott, she's senior State Department producer for CNN. Short break. We'll talk about the Middle East peace talks and take your calls.
REHMAnd welcome back to the international portion of our Friday "News Roundup" this week with David Ignatius. He's a columnist for the Washington Post, co-moderator of "PostGlobal" on washingtonpost.com. Elise Labott is senior State Department producer for CNN. Tom Gjelten is correspondent for NPR, author of "Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause." We'll talk about Cuba a little later on in the program. Right now, let's look at what's happening in the Middle East. How is Secretary Clinton doing, Tom?
GJELTENThe reports that we've gotten after three or four days of very intense negotiations are that there are some signs of modest progress. I think in the context of Middle East negotiations, that means the talks haven't broken down yet. There's no evidence of any agreement or any sort of narrowing of differences on the key issues, but they're still talking. And the big issue in the short run is whether Israel's going to be willing to continue the moratorium on settlement construction...
REHMFor another three months.
GJELTEN...for another three months. The Palestinians were saying that if Israel does not do that, that they're going to pull out of the talks. Now, Israel has not yet agreed officially to that moratorium. Secretary Clinton is pushing hard for them to do that, but the Palestinians have not said they're going to walk out. So a little sign of optimism there.
IGNATIUSI would agree with Tom that the fact that they met, that they talked about a range of issues, is itself about the best you could hope. One small sign that people are looking for compromise in the settlement issue is the deadline used to be September 26. September 26. And that's it if we haven't got a deal. Well, now, they're saying September 30. They're talking about a formula that would allow you to look at the question of settlements in the context of borders. And once you decide what the borders of a future Palestinian state are, then you can, in effect, allow settlement expansion in the area that's not going to be part of the Palestinian state, but will stay Israel. That's sort of the key to unlocking this issue. They're working very hard on that and we'll just have to see.
LABOTTWell, that's right. They're making headway on those core issues and American mediators are hoping that by infusing some kind of substance into the talks and they can show President Abbas some headway on the border issue, that eventually the settlements are going to be a moot point. Now, I think that there's not going to be a full moratorium on settlements. As David said, there could be some kind of, you know, leeway, some formula where it's not 100 percent. Also, Prime Minister Netanyahu needs something to go back to his cabinet to say, why did I extend the moratorium? What did I get for this?
LABOTTAnd so there are a lot of ideas being discussed, such as President Abbas agreeing, in principle, that the discussions will lead to recognition of the nation state of Israel as the home for the Jewish people. A few other things that can have Prime Minister Netanyahu give him a little credibility to say, this is worth it to keep going.
REHMYou still got some violence going on with Israeli soldiers killing a Hamas militant on Friday. Earlier, you had four Israeli settlers killed. So, I mean, it's as though those who are against these talks will do anything and everything to try to disrupt them.
IGNATIUSWell, and more specifically, these talks do not encompass Hamas and the Gaza Strip. You've left out a substantial part of the problem. And Hamas has the ability, by firing rockets, by intensifying that fire. One just missed an Israeli kindergarten last week. Hamas has the ability to blow this up so I think everybody's nervous about that.
GJELTENAnd the other side of that is that President Abbas is politically weak. I mean, even within his own portion of Palestinian territory, he is not seen as a really strong leader. And it's not clear. One of the big concerns is that whatever President Abbas agrees to, will that then become a commitment for, you know, the whole Palestinian authority. And I think there are real serious concerns about that. And the fact that he has got basically no standing in the Gaza Strip, you know, just underscores that.
REHMAnd, of course, one very important reason for striving toward peace there in the Middle East is Iran. And this week, Iran released one of the American hikers. What happened behind the scenes, Elise?
LABOTTWell, basically, the Omani government had been talking to the Iranians for the last eight months. There've been a lot of fits and starts. At some points, thought that there would be some kind of a release. This really reflects a division within the Iranian regime. You have on one hand President Ahmadinejad and his supporters who were trying to get, at least, Sarah Shourd released as a goodwill gesture, which would give him some credibility to deal with the international community over the nuclear program.
LABOTTThere were some -- in the last few days, there were some indications that she would be released. The judiciary pulled back, said, unh-unh, not so fast. We're going to do it our way. And then, they released her a few days later. So the Omanis were very involved in this. At the request of the United States, they were really reaching out to anybody that had any kind of influence with Iran. And I think it reflects the role of Oman, not just with the United States, but with Iran. A very quiet player, but at the end of the day, the Omanis got it done. They flew her out on a royal jet and she should be returning home shortly.
REHMAnd why not the other two who are being held, David?
IGNATIUSWell, one assumes that they're continuing bargaining chips in this standoff between us and Iran. You've got to bargain for every piece every day.
REHMIs Sarah sick? Is that why they...
IGNATIUSYeah, part of it is that she had a breast lump and she had other, apparently, serious medical issues and the Iranians did not want to be embarrassed. The worst thing for them would be for a hostage, in effect, to die while in captivity. So I think that played on them. I think it's important to note that the Iranians are engaged in a range of more positive signals in the last few weeks. I have a column this morning in the Washington Post in which I talk about the Iranians signaling their interest through various channels in working with the U.S. to begin this -- try to stabilize Afghanistan.
IGNATIUSAnd they've signaled this to the German AFPAC representative when he visited Tehran. They've signaled it to the Italians. They've appointed their own special coordinator for these negotiations. And this is very much up for decision at the White House today and in the next few days. How will we respond to these Iranian feelers?
REHMAnd, of course, we've got the U.N. starting on Monday, Tom, with Iran's presence.
GJELTENThat's right. And Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is going to be there for the general assembly session. You know, there have been reports that he actually wanted to have Sarah Shroud (sic) released sort of in conjunction with his appearance there to kind of give it, you know, a little more grandiosity. And as Elise said, he was undercut by the judiciary of his own government. And what this underscores is the dissention within the hard line elements in Iran.
GJELTENAnd David's column was terrific this morning. I think the problem for the United States, as this administration considers more engagement with the government of Iran, is how possible is it to do that when you've got real dissention within the -- even within the hard liners of Iran. And we saw that in the case of Sarah being released. But, you know, I think that one of the hardest times to negotiate with a government is when that government can't decide by itself what its position is.
REHMAnd then, there are reports this morning that Iranian security forces raided the office of Iran's main opposition leader, Mousavi.
LABOTTThat's right. And this is part of a kind of stepped up campaign, the opposition believes, over the last few weeks. Because, you know, the opposition, for the most part, was crushed by the Iranians publicly. But that doesn't mean that they haven't been working underground, working quietly. And now, the opposition has been speaking out a little bit about the economy. The Iranian economy is very bad. And with these additional U.N. sanctions and international sanctions, the Iranian economy is likely to tank even further. And so the opposition feels this is a preemptive strike by the Iranians to quash the opposition. And this just shows that even though the Iranians were able to crush the opposition since the election last year, they're still concerned about the opposition.
REHMAnd let's talk about China and Treasury Secretary Geithner who seems to be taking a tougher stance on the Chinese. What difference can his tougher stance make, Tom?
GJELTENWell, the United States is certainly hoping that China will allow its currency to appreciate a little bit more, which would have the effect of making Chinese manufactured goods more expensive in U.S. stores and therefore less attractive. And that would be a way to ease our trade deficit. Half of our trade deficit globally is with China right now. So this is a serious issue. Now, in the long run, United States cannot compete with China on a cost basis, you know, regardless of what the currency is. So that's very much a short-term issue.
GJELTENI think that we need to see what Secretary Geithner said this week more in a political context than in a trade context. I mean, what is the number one job -- what is the number one issue in these midterm elections is jobs. And if this administration is not seen as being tough on China, that is not a good sign. And as tough as Secretary Geithner tried to be yesterday, and he was tougher than he's been before, he was immediately surpassed by both Democrats and Republicans who wanted him to be even tougher.
REHMYeah, you had Tim Ryan from Ohio saying he's sponsoring a bill supported by 143 House members from both parties that would allow the U.S. to take action against countries that skew trade policies. I still want to know what kind of action we are prepared to take against China.
LABOTTWell, we've talked about it on this show before. And a few months ago, when China said that it was going to let its currency fluctuate a little bit, the United States pointed to this great progress and said, see, look what we were able to do. When we talked about it, we see that it was going to go a lot slower than we thought.
REHMAnd very minimally.
LABOTTThat's right. And so I think, on one hand, the administration does want to, you know, reduce the cost of U.S. imports into China, wants to increase the cost of Chinese exports to the United States, as Tom was saying. But at the same time, this is a very delicate balance with the Chinese because we need the Chinese on so many other issues. So it wasn't until he got a lot of criticism from Congress and was really being beat up on the hill that he said, okay, we're going to take this to the G-20. This is going to be a big issue and we're really going to raise this. It's going to rumple a lot of feathers before the G-20 when we meet with all these leaders.
LABOTTAnd so it really remains to be seen, on one hand, what they're going to do. The administration has really resisted doing anything to antagonize China, trying to coach this very delicately, trying to persuade. But it remains to be seen whether the voters and the U.S. economy is going to win out or whether the U.S. relationship with China, which is equally important, is going to win out.
IGNATIUSWell, I think for all the Chinese protests about the pressure that Geithner and other people in Congress put on them, it was interesting to note that after Geithner's statement on the hill on Thursday, the Chinese currency did appreciate slightly. And that happened because the Chinese allowed it to. What infuriates Geithner and the U.S. is that after this Chinese statement, we will let market forces gradually push our currency up to where it ought to be, not in terms of some abstract calculation, but in terms of market forces. The Chinese are intervening, it is said, to the tune of a billion dollars a day. They're buying up dollars to keep their currency pegged to the dollar at this artificially low rate. And that infuriates people.
REHMDavid Ignatius of the Washington Post. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's talk about Cuba. Tom, the government announced they plan huge layoffs from the public sector. Talk about what's going on there.
GJELTENWhat's going on is that Cuba is going bankrupt. The economy's in worse shape than it's been in in a long, long, long time. And as little as Cuban state employees are paid, that's still -- those salaries are still a drain on the treasury. So the Cuban government has announced, as you say, that a half million workers will be dropped from the state employment roll by next March. The big question -- and they're suggesting -- they're saying they should go into the private sector. The problem is there really isn't a private sector in Cuba.
GJELTENI mean, you have these tiny sort of one-person operations, people selling pizza on the street or working as, you know, self-employed handymen or something like that. But there are so many restrictions on the development of a real private sector in Cuba that, to me, it's almost inconceivable that they can find places for a half million workers. I mean, it would almost require the doubling of employment in the private sector. And that's...
GJELTEN...and unless there are changes in policies toward that sector, I just don't see how it can happen.
REHMAnd this came after the interview that Jeff Goldberg did with Fidel Castro, when he apparently said that the Cuban model wasn't working anymore, then he backed off that. But this is what follows, the laying off of half the workers.
GJELTENWell, I know you touched on this earlier this week on your show, Diane, but the truth is that what Fidel said is not all that significant. Raul, his brother, three years ago, gave a very important speech in which he said that the Cuban economy had to change structurally. I mean, that's saying that the Cuban model doesn't work. And, you know, I've spent a lot of time in Cuba. You can't find anyone in Cuba who would say, in any seriousness, that the Cuban model works.
GJELTENSo Fidel is finally -- you know, if he meant that. And now we have to wonder what he did mean? But if he did mean that, he was only catching up to what everybody else in Cuba's been saying for years.
REHMSo what happens if there's no private sector, if you lay all these people off? Do you simply create a greater group of those who are poverty stricken, David?
IGNATIUSWell, I think the hope is that this is a kind of shock therapy. That you create a private sector by suddenly creating an army of people who need money and who are going to organize new businesses and who are going to find entrepreneurs who'll invest. The interesting question is whether the Cubans will allow investment from the outside to kind of create businesses that would take up these fairly low-wage workers. But I think Tom's point -- he's the expert on this -- is right, that Raul Castro talked about economic reform. Everybody assumed it was in the cards and it didn't happen. And I just have to assume they finally decided to...
REHMDo it all at once.
IGNATIUS...do a shock.
IGNATIUSJust, you know, just push people out and...
IGNATIUSIt is shock therapy.
LABOTTBut the government is really going to have to kind of give its hand to help this work. I mean, you know, since taking office, Raul Castro has introduced some things to make the economy more efficient, more opportunities for people. He handed, you know, a lot of land to farmers, hoping that they would be able to free up a market for agriculture. But then, you couldn't get fertilizer. Then, you couldn't get, you know, the kind of equipment that you needed to come in. And so whether the resources are going to be available for this kind of private sector is a big question.
LABOTTAnd then, also, what about the whole Cuban ideology of socialism? Okay. They're going to open up opportunities for people to make money. What if they get rich? How does that threaten the Cuban ideology of one man, you know, in the state?
REHMElise Labott. She's senior State Department producer for CNN. When we come back, it's time to open the phones.
REHMWelcome back. It's time to open the phones. First to Morgan County, W.Va. Good morning, Andy, you're on the air.
ANDYHey, good morning. Peace be with you. And possible models, I think, that Cuba might wanna be interested in looking at is the original Yugoslavian model which was quite successful until they went to the World Bank and IMF to expand their economy and they were forced to break it up. They were socially owned worker -- collectively operated businesses. And they had about a 6 percent growth rate in -- of GDT in the economy when they went to the World Bank and IMF. And they had to break up -- in order to get their loans that they wanted, they had to break up their socially owned businesses.
REHMOkay. The question becomes, how might this work in Cuba, Tom?
GJELTENWell, I'd say, first of all, that I don't think that economists are exactly of one mind in thinking that the cooperative model in Yugoslavia was a big success. I know there are a lot that would say it was not a big success, which is why Yugoslavia was forced to turn to international institutions for more help. This is part of the plan in Cuba, however, that a lot of these big state owned enterprises are theoretically to be converted into cooperatives. Now, the problem with that is that my experience, and I think this is the experience in other socialist countries as well, when you're talking about big cooperatives, they don't really feel that that's different from a state run enterprise.
GJELTENI mean, it's not as though workers have this great sense overnight that they are the owners of the enterprise. I mean, these are big enterprises. And they've continued to sort of operate, basically, the way the state run enterprises did and have -- the difference is that if they lose money, the workers are less likely to get paid. So I'm not sure that that actually is, in the long term, a good model for Cuba.
REHMBut here's an e-mail from John in New York. He says, "500,000 state employees, 10 percent of the workforce to be laid off March 11. They're immediately supposed to be gainfully employed in the tiny private sector, highly restricted, burdened with high taxes. They have no credit. Only source of funds are and will be reminisces from Cuban Americas -- Americans. Does this not let U.S. NGOs support this embryonic private sector? After all, the U.S. governor -- government through USAID has sent laptops to the Cubans."
GJELTENThe problem is the Cubans are extremely sensitive about any kind of aid that comes from the U.S. government, indirectly or directly. Now, he talks about NGOs and, you know, it's possible there is NGO assistance in Cuba. But the Cubans are pretty sensitive about that kind of outside assistance.
REHMSo where -- how is this going to work, Tom? What's gonna happen to these people?
GJELTENIt's not as though -- it's not as though things are working right now. I mean, you know, it's -- the Cubans have a very, very difficult existence. And, you know, they will scrape by. They will find a way to scrape by. I think that it is entirely possible that, you know, that if -- and I have to assume that the Cuban authorities are serious about making more opportunities for the private sector. So if they loosen some of these restrictions -- ridiculous restrictions...
GJELTENWell, for example, I know a guy there who makes beautiful little toys out of soda cans and beer cans that he goes around and collects out of the garbage. He makes beautiful little toys. Under the current system, he has to sell each and every toy he makes personally. So rather than stay home and make more toys and hire somebody to go to the market...
REHMHe's gotta be out on the street.
GJELTEN...he's gotta be out in the street selling them because you're not allowed to have an employee. Now, if the rules were to change and say, okay, you can have two or three people working for you, you would have that kind of opportunity. Maybe the Cubans will do that.
IGNATIUSI think we should send Tom Gjelten to Cuba...
REHMI think so, too.
IGNATIUS...and make this work.
REHMJust to take over. Here we go to Coral Springs, Fla. Good morning, John.
JOHNYes. As a resident of Florida, I'm concerned that this may be some type of veiled threat by the Cuban government to put pressure on us to lift the U.S. embargo. I'm concerned about another Mariel style boatlift. Because if our faith is in the Cuban government to, all of a sudden, develop some type of private sector, well, I'm not gonna get on my knees and pray for that one. So -- and what's your ideas on...
IGNATIUSI think the caller raises the right point. If you suddenly throw this many people out of work, some of them are gonna, you know, look for work not in Cuba in new entrepreneurial ventures, but look for work in America. Somehow try to get out and you'd have -- you would have a danger of another boatlift. I think that the interesting question that people in Florida -- the wonderful Cuban American community in Florida should be thinking about is, is this an opportunity for us to find ways to help build the businesses that are gonna be transforming in Cuba? The door's opened a little bit. The caller is right to be skeptical, but you could say, here's an opportunity to invest, to create new businesses, to work with people on the ground in Cuba. Let's see how far we can go. And that's what's gonna really change the place.
REHMAnd an e-mail from Dito in Little Rock, Ark. for Tom Gjelton, "Should President Obama consider returning Cuba's five heroes?" You'll have to identify them. "Or would this be unwise during a midterm election year or ever? Julia Swage has written that they were, in fact, helping the FBI and CIA in anti-terrorist activities before they were arrested."
GJELTENThe caller's referring to five Cuban agents who were, in fact, carrying out espionage in the United States on behalf of the Cuban government. There's no, you know, doubt about that. They were agents of the Cuban state security system and they were found to be guilty of espionage. The Cubans are outraged. There have been some reports, as Julia has suggested, that they -- that the Cuban government, I don't know about these five individuals in particular, were pass -- they were spying on so-called extreme Cuban American groups that they suspected were planning terrorist attacks against Cuba and they were passing some of this information indirectly on back to the United States government.
GJELTENI think it's going to be -- I think it would be very hard for the United States to release those five individuals. I mean, it's not just the matter of Cuba that -- you have the case of Jonathan Pollard, the Israeli agent who was found guilty of espionage. Israel's a close U.S. ally. The United States has not been able to -- not been willing to release him, in spite of repeated demands from the Israeli government that he be released.
GJELTENSo it would be harder to release the Cubans, I think.
REHM...here's an e-mail from Kevin in Boston, who says, "We've been following the same strategy in Afghanistan for nine years with minor changes in tactics. Madness is repeating the same actions expecting different outcomes. So what are the strategic changes now that make us less mad?" David?
IGNATIUSWell, that question is gonna be before the president in December when he -- his scheduled review of his strategy to see if the concepts that he embraced in November when he decided to add 30,000 U.S. troops are working. And it's a time for questions, creative thinking. The White House officials say, we're not gonna change the channel here. In other words, we're not gonna abandon the strategy. We can do some fine tuning. What should it be strategically? I think one really interesting straw in the wind is the idea of drawing the Iranians into efforts -- Iranians are the dominant force in western Afghanistan. They could play a key role with the other regional powers in beginning to provide more stability. If, you know, if that was taken up, this might look a little bit different a year from now.
LABOTTAnd then, there's also this idea of how to deal with the corruption issue. And...
LABOTT...this week, there was a lot of discussion at the president's national security meeting. And now, you're gonna have a lot of talk as we approach the review about how to deal with corruption and what really constitutes corruption and how much should the U.S. be banging the corruption drum. At what point does it become counterproductive? What is the most constructive way to deal with corruption? The pervasive corruption through the police and the army and the things that impact Afghans daily lives is important.
LABOTTShould the U.S. be screaming about a little, you know, baksheesh, as they call it, in the region about some little payments? And is this the kind of corruption that should be, you know, sucking up all the air, that we divert our focus from the big picture in Afghanistan? And does this affect the strategy? No. And I think you're gonna have a more realistic look at what really constitutes corruption, how to deal with President Karzai on this issue. On one hand, yes, there is a lot of corruption in the government. On the other hand, officials are saying that President Karzai does have some legitimate gripes about the humiliation he says he suffers when everybody's talking about what a backwater basket case of corruption that Afghanistan is.
REHMThis follows on that. It's from Frankie in DeKalb, Ill. He says, "After nine years and all those lives lost, we're looking at a choice between a corrupt regime with little credibility or a gang of thugs who hate women and human rights. Is it remotely possible to build a modern democracy in this mountainous tribal region that supplies much of the world's opium? This so reminds me of my youth and the Quagmire in southeast Asia." Tom?
GJELTENWell, they say that Afghanistan's history is one of being ruled, not governed. And I think that's the issue. We're really trying to change history here to make Afghanistan in a place where there actually is a government that has legitimacy, as opposed to, you know, an area that -- where warlords and tribal chieftains are the ones that are in charge.
REHMBut how can we impose that, Tom? I mean, that's the question all of us are asking.
GJELTENHow can we impose that, especially when there are tremendous political pressures to get out of there just as soon as possible?
LABOTTIt goes back to this whole Afghan good enough strategy that the U.S. is trying to work on now. If the Afghans can have some kind of functioning government where, on the corruption issue, they're investing -- investigating corruption and prosecuting. Maybe it's not going to be a perfect system. But if it's good enough for the Afghans, the U.S. has to stop imposing its high expectations, you know, as a UN envoy. Stefan Demistor (sp?) said this week, this is not Switzerland. We have to be a little bit more realistic about what we can expect from the Afghans and be able to resolve this.
IGNATIUSIn answer to the question that was posed by your listener, we can't impose this modern Democratic governance. I think it will evolve. Countries who have all the notion that Afghanistan or anywhere else is stuck in a frozen permanent history, I think, is wrong. Secretary Gates said something to me that was very powerful on the way back from Afghanistan, which was that as he -- he's a former intelligence analyst. As he looks at the country, he thinks we have to understand that for reasons of culture, geography, all these factors, central government of the kind that we know is not gonna work. And so whatever our strategy is, it has to be premised on decentralization, working with smaller units, districts, tribes. And I think there is an effort with Secretary Gates and Gen. Petraeus to move our policy more in that direction, more bottom up than top down.
REHMDavid Ignatius of The Washington Post. You're listening to the "The Diane Rehm Show." And this week, on Thursday, the Pope made his first trip to the UK. And his meeting with Queen Elizabeth was symbolically very important because of the divide between an officially Protestant nation and the Catholic church. I was fascinated with the Pope's statement that he was talking about Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society. He seemed to associate Atheism with the Nazis. And that prompted a fair amount of criticism from humanist organizations. In fact, weren't the Nazis very religious in their own way, Tom?
GJELTENWell, I hate to say it as a lapsed Lutheran, but I think that sort of the official religion of the Nazi state was Lutheranism, you know, was something like that. I mean, it was this sort of old German Protestant tradition. There was discrimination against Catholics during that period. But, you know, it wasn't from an atheistic perspective. On the other hand, Britain -- you know, it's kind of a funny place to make that argument because Britain is one of the most secular humanist countries in Europe.
GJELTENVast majority of Brits in polls say they don't feel any religious sentiment at all. So it's not exactly -- it's a place where, you know, where the Pope cannot expect to get a real welcoming atmosphere, you know, a warm welcome. Not even to mention the fact that, you know, it was in Britain that the reaffirmation, in a sense, began with Henry the Eighth rejecting the rule of the Pope in his own case. So -- and this is not a great place for the Pope to visit.
LABOTTAs he was coming to the UK, the polls show that the Pope -- this Pope is completely out of step with the Catholics in Britain and indeed in Europe. This is a very controversial Pope. He doesn't have the kind of charisma and affection that he had around the world, not just by Catholics, but Jews, Muslims. There was some talk about whether there would even be enough fundraising for him to make this trip because people just weren't as interested as they were in the previous Pope.
LABOTTAnd then, you also have the whole issue of the sexual abuse by priests that this Pope has been very criticized for not doing enough. He tried to make some statements on his way over, criticizing the Catholic Church. But he, in particular, has been singled out as someone in his career who hasn't done enough. And he -- this trip was supposed to be his way to assert himself on the world stage. It's really unclear that he was able to do that.
IGNATIUSWell, this may sound like corny ecumenism, but I -- not disagreeing with anything my colleagues have said, but that there's gonna be an open air mass, a Eucharist, celebrated jointly by the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, I think is a good thing.
REHMThere's already been an attempt on his life.
IGNATIUSWell, I don't -- Yeah, they -- I'm against that. (laugh) But my only point is that in this world where you get, you know, new divisions every day in an effort to unite feuding Protestant factions with the church in Rome, you know, well, that's a good thing.
REHMI think there was also more than a little criticism about the money spent to bring him there. Half of it paid by the Brits, half of it paid for by the Vatican, but a lot of money.
GJELTENWell, I don't know if it was that much money, Diane. I think it was something like 12 million pounds sterling which is, what, 15, $18 million. I mean, that doesn't strike me as a tremendous amount of money.
REHMTom Gjelten, he's correspondent for NPR. Elise Labott, senior State Department producer for CNN. David Ignatius, columnist for The Washington Post. Thanks to all of you. And thanks for listening. Have a great weekend. I'm Diane Rehm.
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