An airstrike on a hospital in Syria kills dozens. A report condemns Mexico's investigation into the massacre of college students. And Donald Trump's "America First" speech concerns U.S. allies. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
Guest Host: Susan Page
The U.S. apologizes for a coalition helicopter attack that killed Pakistani soldiers; Iraq makes progress on efforts to form a new government; and the threat of terror attacks in Europe remains high. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Hisham Melhem Washington bureau chief for Al-Arabiya TV, and Washington correspondent for "An-Nahar"
- Moises Naim chief international columnist, El Pais.
- Karen DeYoung senior diplomatic correspondent, The Washington Post.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's visiting WUNC in North Carolina. Security is tight is southern Pakistan after suicide bombings at a Muslim shrine sparked angry mobs. A key border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan remains closed despite a U.S. apology for the deaths of Pakistani soldiers. Toxic sludge from an aluminum plant in Hungary has entered the Danube River.
MS. SUSAN PAGEAnd a Chinese democracy advocate has won the Nobel Peace Prize. Joining me in the studio to discuss the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Moises Naim of El Pais, Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post, and Hisham Melhem of Al-Arabiya TV. Welcome to you all.
MR. MOISES NAIMThank you.
MR. HISHAM MELHEMHi.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number 1-800-433-8850. Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can always find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, news this morning that the President's national security advisor, General James Jones, is resigning. Any surprise do you think, Karen?
MS. KAREN DEYOUNGNo. I think in many ways this a shoe that's been waiting to drop for some time. It was always expected that there would be a number of departures as we approach the end of the administration's second year. That happens in most administrations. And I think Jones, in many ways, was always the odd man out in the White House. He used to refer to the White House as kind of the epicenter of the Obama Nation.
MS. KAREN DEYOUNGIt's where all the Obama true believers went. And I think that was always an uneasy relationship that he had with them. He's a very upright, older guy, as he always said. And I think he was brought in by Obama to lend some gravitas to the administration to -- because he's a retired commandant Marine general, former SACEUR, he's -- because Obama came in perceived to have very little defense experience, military experience, he was there to kind of calm the waters, calm th3 allies.
MS. KAREN DEYOUNGAnd I think he succeeded in doing that, although you don't see a really big mark -- a strategic mark that he put on the administration.
PAGEWell, the word is Tom Donnell and -- who was originally a political operative before he became a statesman, will replace Jim Jones as national security advisor. Do you think that indicates any kind of change in policy, Moises?
NAIMNo. I don't think so. And in fact, what it indicates is probably also an attempt to have someone that is closer to Hillary Clinton and the State Department that will work with the White House. In all administrations, there are tensions and difficulties between the White House, National Security Council operation and the State Department.
NAIMAnd with this appointment, perhaps, those is going to be easier because Tom Donnell is a very experience operator and he knows the people at State and they know him. As so there may be that there's a more fluid relationship as a result.
PAGEHisham, what do you think?
MELHEMLet me say that, first, that I fully agree with Moises and Karen. But James Jones was not very close to the President and also, he didn't leave his strategic mark, as Karen said. But, you know, the last time a National Security Advisor was worth this salt and who was important in terms of shaping policy was Brent Scowcroft. So the National Security Advisors of both President Clinton and George W. really did not rise to that level of importance.
MELHEMAnd I think that's one of the problems -- flaws, if you will, in the Obama White House, when you don't have really a heavy lifter in terms of shaping policy, being at the same par with two relatively powerful secretaries of state and secretaries of defense. So Jim Jones was lost in a way in this -- in a way in this crowd. But there is a problem how national security operates. And as I said, you know, the era of the great strategic thinkers is gone, it seems.
PAGEWell, Brent Scowcroft was national security advisor for the elder President Bush.
PAGEQuite a while...
PAGE...since he was there. Do you see a problem, Karen, with the lack of a stronger strategic voice in the national security job?
DEYOUNGWell, I think this administration has not seen what many of its predecessors saw, which was a very strong split between the defense department and the state department, which the national security advisor frequently has been -- played a role in smoothing over, or at least collating to be the interface to the President. I think that's what Jones anticipated he was going to do. As it turns out, I think that Gates and Clinton get along very well together.
DEYOUNGBelow them, I'm not sure the relationships are that good. I think that the result has been -- of the perceived weakness of Jones, that, in fact, the White House hasn't had that strong a voice between a fairly united front that's presented by Gates and Hillary Clinton.
MELHEMBut that should be the job of the National Security Advisor...
MELHEM...I think, the way it was designed.
PAGEMoises, the Norwegian Nobel Committee this morning award a Chinese dissident the Peace Prize. Tell us who is Liu Xiabo?
NAIMLiu Xiabo is a 54-year-old Chinese dissident. He has been now in jail for 11 years. He is a proud democracy activist and he epitomizes a group of very, very courageous and great perseverance activists that are willing to take on the massive machinery and the police state that still exists in China. He has been - he was behind the charter document that was presented, asking for increased freedoms and democracy in China.
NAIMHe originally, when he was younger, in '88, '89, he was one of the leaders that persuaded the protestors in -- at the time, that they were (word?) just to -- not to continue and therefore -- thereby avoiding an even bigger larger bloodshed. And so in many ways, this is a recognition for a whole group of people that with great perseverance has been continuing to pressure the Chinese government into opening up and granting and respecting more civil rights and democratic...
MELHEMIt's long overdue recognition of this role -- the important role of these dissidents in China, and I think the people involved in the decision-making process realize that the Chinese reaction -- the government reaction will be swift. And of course, all they have to do is just to remember what happened to Dalai Lama when he got the Nobel Peace Prize, too. And I think we may be seeing echoes in China of what happened in the Eastern Europe before the collapse of the communist regimes, particularly in Czechoslovakia.
PAGEWhat do you mean? What do you see happening?
MELHEMWell, I think the Chinese are becoming very, very sensitive about calls on the part of the Chinese dissidents, as well as an international community to open up. I mean, you have this economic revival and opening and vibrancy, if you will, but it's not accompanied by political opening and vibrancy, too. And it's a question of time, I think, before the Chinese communist system will feel, you know, a greater pressure from within.
MELHEMNow, the Chinese people are becoming consumers. They're happy with the economic gains that China has been reaping the last few years or even few decades. But it's a question of time before people will be asked political questions. We've seen this, you know, in the old Soviet Union and the old Eastern Europe under communism.
DEYOUNGI think that's right. It will be interesting to see, over the medium term at least, how the Chinese responded. They put out a statement in response to this. It wasn't an unexpected event. He was one of the -- one of the kind of finalists, as it were, that people speculate about all the time. They put out a statement denouncing it and saying it was interference. But the fact is that the Nobel statement -- the statement of the committee recognized and kind of acknowledged what they were trying to.
DEYOUNGThey said that China's new status as the world's second largest economy must entail increased responsibility and they were making a political statement which often they don't with the Peace Prize. The Peace Prize often is -- as many of the other prizes, is given for something that -- some crisis or some long-term developments that are finished. And this is one that's in progress, that they made very clear they want to have an impact on.
NAIMYes. As Karen said, the Chinese government reacted not very happily -- clearly very not happily about this. In fact, one spokeswoman for the government, when asked, says the person you mentioned was sentenced to jail by the Chinese judicial authorities for violating Chinese law. I think his acts are completely contrary to the aspirations of the Nobel Peace Prize. So that tells you how the Chinese governments looks at this democracy activist.
NAIMAnd I want also use the opportunity to talk about another Nobel Prize, which is Mario Vargas Llosa, who won as a Peruvian writer who -- novelist who won the prize for literature. But he also not only is a great writer and novelist, he's also a democracy activist, and he's one of the stronger voices in Latin America and around the world in favor of democracy and freedom.
PAGESo does history tell us that the awarding of the Peace Price can actually have an impact on a political process that's going on? Are there any examples where it's really worked in the way the Peace Prize committee was hoping? Silence from the panel. (laugh)
DEYOUNGI'm trying to think.
MELHEMI mean, I was thinking about the Dalai Lama. I mean...
PAGEAnd what happened in the wake of that award?
MELHEMI mean, he was denounced as a traitor, as I remember. But it least it focused the attention on the struggle of the people of Tibet and on how China treats its minorities. I think it helps. But I don't think there's a causal relationship. I don't see one.
DEYOUNGHere's one maybe, which is Arias, the Costa Rican -- former Costa Rican president who won for his work in peace negotiations in Central America. And certainly things are not great in Central America, but you don't see countries at war the way they were before.
PAGEKaren DeYoung, she's senior diplomatic correspondent for the Washington Post. And we're also joined this hour by Hisham Melhem, Washington bureau chief for Al-Arabiya TV. And Moises Naim, chief international columnist for El Pais, that's the leading newspaper in Spain. We're going to take a short break and when we come back, we'll talk about the situation in Pakistan. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm and for the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup. We have Moises Naim from El Pais, Karen DeYoung from the Washington Post, Hisham Melhelm from Al-Arabiya TV. And we're going to take your calls and questions. Our phone lines are open now, 1-800-433-8850. Give us a call or you can send us an e-mail at email@example.com. Well, the situation in Pakistan just seems to get worse and worse, Karen. Now, we have a key border crossing being closed by Pakistan. Why is that happening?
DEYOUNGThe Pakistanis closed it at what's called the Torkham Gate. And on the Afghan side, it's called the Khyber Pass, which is the main passage used by NATO and the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan to send all their supplies. Virtually everything they use, fuel, food, weapons, ammunition, goes through there. There is another pass in the south, but this is the primary one.
DEYOUNGThe Pakistanis were responding to an incursion by two U.S. attack helicopters about a week ago that crossed over the border, they said, in pursuit of a Taliban insurgent post right on the border on the Pakistan side that was preparing mortar strikes on their positions in Afghanistan. They went and took them out. And as they were returning, they saw some shots being fired from the ground and they fired another two missiles.
DEYOUNGIt turned out that those shots were fired by soldiers at a Pakistani military post warning them that they were on the Pakistan side of the border. Two soldiers were killed, four were seriously wounded. And the Pakistanis responded by closing the Torkham Gate and there's a huge backup of trucks. They are stalled around the country. There have been a number of attacks by militants blowing up NATO fuel trucks on the road.
PAGESo does this create a problem for NATO forces in Afghanistan in terms of getting these supplies? Is it already a problem?
NAIMWithout fuel, you can't run a war of any kind. And, as Karen said, this is the main supply line into Afghanistan. And in terms of the logistics aspects of the Afghanistan war, this is crucial. And it has been closed, It has been a very complex situation. There's a new group, or a group that has becoming very important, called Tehrik-I-Taliban Pakistan, who is one of the most active Taliban militant groups that has explicitly declared they're going to go after the supply lines and after NATO operations. And they have been very effective in disrupting the supply and, as I said, the logistics from Pakistan to Afghanistan.
PAGEBut now the United States apologized for this incident...
PAGE...and the deaths of these Pakistani soldiers. Not accepted, Hisham, not good enough? What's the problem?
MELHEMI believe that this decision by the Pakistani government is to punish the United States. This is really a political warning. And it happened immediately after that. They are very unhappy with the increased number of attacks by the drones. There were, I think, 21 last month by the Obama Administration, by the CIA and by the military in Afghanistan. I think there is also a growing frustration in Washington and among the military leaders in Kabul, the American military leaders in Washington, the NATO leaders, that there are indications that the ISI, the Inter-Services Intelligence, which is the Pakistani intelligence, has been involved in encouraging certain elements of the Halkani Network, which is the worst group fighting the American western powers there to attack the Americans.
MELHEMSo we're talking about accumulative, you know, problems here. There's a growing Pakistani frustration with the United States, with NATO powers. And also, if you look at the recent attempts by the Kabul government and the United States to engage certain element in the Taliban, the so-called reconcilables, the Pakistanis also would like to be at the table definitely. Because the nightmare vision of the Pakistanis is that India, in the end, would probably end up with a friendly regime in Kabul that would squeeze Pakistan between India and Afghanistan. That's why the Pakistanis will always, always, always continue to meddle in the affairs of Afghanistan because to them, it's part of what they call existential threat from India and its friends.
DEYOUNGI think that the border will probably be opened shortly, maybe even as soon as today. But it points to a larger problem, which is a fundamental disconnect between the United States and Pakistan. They're theoretically close allies in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. But Pakistan, as Hisham pointed out, has its own domestic interests. Its political system is very weak. Its civilian government is very weak. Its military is very strong. The civilian government is at some pains to show that it is not an American stooge. And so when things like this happen, they’re obliged to take very strong actions, like closing the border. And I think -- as I say, I think this crisis will be over shortly. But it's definitely not the last one.
NAIMAnd this also points to the notion that you don't know who are your allies, who are your enemies. They're all intertwined. Part of the intelligence services in Pakistan seem to be working very closely with the Taliban. The Talibans very often are not Talibans, but just Afghanis and Pakistanis reacting to an occupation or being paid. Increasingly, this is a story of mercenaries that are widely available, whoever pays them to take a gun and start shooting. And so it is a very difficult situation where you have a whole society that is in a state of disarray, confusion. There is terror. There is all sorts of conditions that make it very hard to understand who are your allies and who are your enemies.
PAGENow, here's an e-mail from Curran who identifies himself as a supporter of KGOU in Norman, Oklahoma, and writes about the violent situation in Pakistan, the bombings and et cetera. And he writes, "I try to imagine what it must be like to live day-to-day in Pakistan, a modern country with cities much like our own. What is the day-to-day view of a typical working Pakistani? Do they live in fear, apathy? How divided is the country internally? How should I think of their political landscape?" Hisham, what would you say?
MELHEMWell, I haven't been to Pakistan in a number of years, but definitely Pakistan's going through a tremendous transition. Transition to where, we don't know. I mean, you could exaggerate a little bit and say it's on its way to become a failed state. The only frightening thing for the Pakistanis and everybody in the neighborhood, probably for the whole world, is this could be a failed state with at least 100 nuclear warheads and with an entrenched military, with an extremely, extremely corrupt political system. The fate of Pakistan, which was born at the same moment with India -- and look at India, how developed it is in many ways with their certain aspects of first world, if you will, in India, and look at Pakistan on the other hand.
MELHEMSince '48, they've had this kind of oscillation. Pakistan goes through periods where military juntas are ruling to be displaced by exiting the corrupt landed gentry aristocracy. And every time the Indian army defeats the Pakistani on the battle field, the Indian army goes back to the barracks and the Pakistani army rides a tank to the next presidential palace. The country is divided along ethnic and sometimes religious lines. It was never really put together because in many ways, it's an artificial construct. It was born in war.
MELHEMIt was born as a homeland for Muslims in the subcontinent and it really didn't work that much. Although the founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who is a very intelligent guy, who used to enjoy his bourbon, but he felt, at one time, that one way to save the Muslims of the continent is to have them in one place. It was artificial. There was East Pakistan, at one time, and West Pakistan. East Pakistan is gone now. It's Bangladesh. That's why the future of Pakistan is gloomy and that would make the man at the White House or the woman at the White House have sleepless night.
NAIMThat very eloquent and impressive description of Pakistan that you just heard is a description of the country in which the United States is relying to win the war in Afghanistan and all of that. So this is a nation divided for and with all of the other problems that has to come in support of a campaign that is very, very long and for which there is growing pessimism about the outcome.
PAGEYou know, we heard some of that frustration in a White House report on Pakistan that was leaked this week. And yet, however frustrated the United States is, what are the options in terms of dealing with Pakistan, viewing it as an ally despite all the problems, Karen?
DEYOUNGI think there are no other options. When the White House did its Afghanistan strategy review late last year, although the announcement focused on what was going to happen in Afghanistan, another 30,000 troops and a somewhat altered development strategy, the real crux of those discussions was Pakistan. And I think that they are well aware that they could win the war, however you want to define that, in Afghanistan. And if they don't also make progress in Pakistan, that the long term prospects are not good.
DEYOUNGYou have a country, as has been said, that is very troubled, has a lot of potential, but many poor people who feel disenfranchised, who are easy prey to extremists. You have the India part of the equation, that's also been described, which is the primary strategic concern of the very powerful Pakistani military. And unless the United States gets the balance right with Pakistan -- and the Americans are very, very unpopular in Pakistan and so that influences everything that government does and everything the military does.
NAIMCentral message is there is not such a thing as Pakistan. Never think of Pakistan as a unified entity with which -- you know, there is the Pakistan that is the government and the military and the intelligent services and the fragmented opposition then, the terrorist groups and the Talibans and different layers of society. Each one of them is an entity that has quite some power to derail, to deny options. And so it's very hard to have an ally that is such fragmented and weak.
PAGELet's go to the phones and let our listeners join our conversation. James is calling us from Ann Arbor, Mich. James, you're on the air.
JAMESHi. The news that the Chinese dissident won the Noble Peace Prize brings up, of course, the whole issue of America's relationship with China. And I'm struck again, of course, by the whole idea of profits over people. And I'm wondering just what the panel's opinion is as to what America's relationship...
PAGEOkay, James. I'm sorry, I think we've lost you. Maybe you're on a cell phone. But I think your point is, we have these economic relations with China as well as an interest in democracy developing there. And one feeling I think some human rights organization had was that the human rights side of the relations with China have taken a second -- a back seat to concern about relations with the Chinese economy. What do you think, Moises?
NAIMThe relationships between China and the United States are so wide ranging that it's impossible to have just one issue being paramount. They include what you think about climate change and what will happen there. It includes trade, includes the fact that China owns several trillion dollars worth of treasure bills. It's a leading trade nation in the world. It's a very important ally in trying to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. It is a major player in almost every single issue that you think about the world today. You will have China and China's presence there. So yes, human rights is one of those but that will never be the central issue because there are so many other national interests at stake.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Well, what about these comments by the head of the IMF this week about China's currency. What did you make of those, Hisham?
MELHEMWell, again, you know, the Chinese are losing their currency to serve their own narrow economic interest. Now, obviously, states do that at times, but now, as with the case of the Noble Peace Prize, China now is the second largest economy in the world and you would expect that the Chinese also would play by the rules as an economic political power. And one way is to let their currency float a little bit, at least, if not by 20 or 40 percent as some people argue. But they did float it last year officially by 2 percent only, which is, of course, hurting American exports, hurting European exports. And it's, I think, slowing down the economic recovery of the United States. And that's why you see this growing American frustration with China because the Chinese are not playing ball when it comes to financial decisions.
NAIMYeah, Hisham is right. And then -- but Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Premier retort to these kinds of comments. He's getting pounded by everyone, by the head of the IMF and the Brazilians and the Europeans. And everyone that meets with him asks him to please do something with his currency and, you know, they don't. And so this is a very telling story about one of the poorest countries in the world, China, being able to tell all the powers of the world that they are not going to follow their advice or their wishes.
NAIMSo Wen Jiabao recently said in Brussels to the Europeans that were insisting -- morally, he said, be careful what you wish. Because if we do that and our companies become less competitive and there is less employment and all of our migrant workers are not employed in China, they, you know, have to go back to their towns and there is social turmoil and political turmoil in China, that would be a disaster for the world, not just for China. So again, you can see the connection between exchange rate and what is the price of the Yuan, the Chinese currency, and social stability in China and the repercussions of that for all of us.
PAGEWell, the IMF had talked about a currency war. What would that look like? What would a currency war be?
NAIMThat is -- because the Chinese are using the currencies to make their exports cheaper and their imports -- importing to China, products from abroad, more expensive, they have an advantage. Other countries are doing the same. So they are devaluing their currencies, they are lowering the value of the currency and so this is called competitive devaluations. And it's a teat-for-tat kind of thing. And during the 1930s, it was done with tariffs. You increase your tariffs and made it harder for your products to enter my country and I did the same to yours and that created a big problem. Now, instead of doing it with products and tariffs, it is being done with currencies.
PAGEAnd the IMF comments, was that a result, do you think, of the U.S. pushing the IMF to take a stronger stand?
MELHEMIt's the U.S. and it's Europeans, too. I think, you know, the European economists also have a problem with export to China. But I think the Americans are really hurt the most by the Chinese decision because we import a lot from China. And I think what Moises was saying is correct, but at least one could say that this is one form of Chinese blackmail. If you push us too hard, we will have turmoil in China.
MELHEMAnd China is a billion-plus human being and the Chinese economy touches not only East Asia, but the international, you know, the whole market in the world -- the world market. And so be careful how -- don't push too hard. And I think, you know, Europe -- nobody's asking them to embark on drastic decisions. Everybody's saying you can float the currency gradually, but not by 2 percent, as they did last year, and not necessarily by 40 percent. There's a middle ground here.
DEYOUNGBut I think that that also points out the larger truth that when you have a relatively open economy and a quite closed political system, you have a government that has very different priorities than the rest of its trading partners in the world.
DEYOUNGAnd as it gets bigger and comes to dominate international trade, they feel they have the wherewithal to dig in their heels and they just don't need to respond.
PAGEAnd of course, even from the earliest days of the U.S. opening to China, there was a hope that political development would follow economic development, and that's been a very slow road indeed. Well, we're with Karen DeYoung from the Post, Hisham Melhem from Al-Arabiya and Moises Naim. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about all those terrorist threats in Europe. Please stay with us.
PAGEAnd Afghan Peace Counsel met on Thursday. What happened, Karen?
DEYOUNGThis was the first meeting of the counsel that President Karzai had appointed. He has delegated power to them to conduct reconciliation negotiations with the Taliban. It's the latest in a series of steps through the year, conferences, his peace jargon, promises to the west. And it's important for -- not necessarily in and of itself, because I think this was a very preliminary meeting, but because I think the United States and other partners in Afghanistan have come to the realization that what they've always said, but I think not meant, that there will not be a military solution to this war.
DEYOUNGThere will have to be a political solution, now mean that they are quite eager to have some kind of political solution. There's a deadline looming next July. And while the argument has been, in this country at least, over how many troops will be withdrawn, at what pace and from where, I think the real meaning of that deadline is that everybody in this country and within the coalition sees that as a deadline to really show that something's happening, that there is an endpoint out there somewhere.
DEYOUNGAnd now that they believe they're not gonna win militarily, the endpoint has to be political. And so there have been preliminary talks between people close to the Karzai government and senior Taliban representatives. There were some talks last year, but I think it was never clear whether the Taliban there really represented the Quetta Shura, the senior leadership of the Taliban. Now, they think that they actually do.
PAGESo we feel that the Taliban are really participating in the start of this process.
DEYOUNGSome of the Taliban.
PAGESome of the Taliban. Hisham?
MELHEMExactly. Look, you're not going to win the war by 150,000 troops from the United States and NATO. Everybody knows that. Last time I was there in March, we heard McChrystal at that time, before his encounter with Rolling Stones, telling us actually there's no clear cut, conventional, classical, military victory here. What we want to do is to convince the Taliban that they cannot win militarily, that it is impossible for them to win militarily as long as we are here and want to force them to sue for some sort of an agreement, a settlement.
MELHEMNow, they talk about the so-called reconcilable Talibans. These are the people who are driven, you know, I mean, to war, either, as Moises said, because they're hired guns or because there's no employment. And you're talking about a country that for the last 30, 35 years knew nothing but chaos and killing and bloodshed and invasions. Some people may be reconciled. Some people may accept the constitution. Some people may accept to play a role. I'm not sure about Moama. I'm not sure about the Halkani Network.
MELHEMBut I think you cannot continue like that unless you try to engage as many Taliban as possible, according to certain conditions; accept the Afghan constitution, renounce violence, cut any kind of relationship with al-Qaeda as is the case with the Halkani network in particular. But you have to test it. And it is difficult, as Moises also said, to distinguish between who's your enemy and who's your friend in a place where shifting alliances. But anybody who watches Afghanistan carefully will tell you that sometimes forces underground engage in fighting shift -- sometimes they win or lose, not by decisive battles, but by political shift of loyalty and alliances. And you have to be cognizant of this.
MELHEMAnd I think the American military there, this was McChrystal's case and definitely for a general like Petraeus, who's driven by political instincts, too. That's what makes an interesting general. And all the great generals in history are usually great statesmen. So I'm plugging Petraeus now, I guess. And I think you have to put that theory to test, but you have to test it seriously. Because as Karen said, everybody is looking at that date that the president set next year for the beginning of the draw down.
DEYOUNGI think, too, that -- I think the Taliban, by in large, does still think that they're winning. I think, though, what is happening, according to some analysis, is that some of the Taliban, at least, are pretty good political strategists themselves. And they look at what the balance of power is inside Afghanistan. They see that. Right now they have a Postune president. They see a Northern Alliance.
DEYOUNGTheir much more traditional enemies in Afghanistan getting stronger. They see that if there's going to be some kind of negotiated settlement, that now may be the time to begin talking about it to give them a place in the government. And they see if that doesn't happen, a return to civil war down the road.
PAGEBut if the Taliban had a chance to -- in order for this to work, has to accept the constitution, renounce violence, break ties with al-Qaeda. What would the United States have to be willing to accept? What kind of compromises if you actually had a deal with the Taliban?
NAIMWell, remember that the essence of the story here is one in which you wanted to make sure that Afghanistan would not be the base from which terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies would take place. That was a paramount objective. That was initial model for a war that started seven years ago, I think it is.
DEYOUNGWe're in the 10th year.
NAIMAlmost ten years ago. And so that's the reason why the United States and NATO are there. And that hasn't changed, except that now the mission and the reasons have become more complicated. I think it is true that you negotiate any (word?) with Taliban, except that in the same way that we discussed it in Pakistan, the same applies with the Taliban. We don't know who the Taliban is. There is not such a thing as the Taliban. So whenever one tells you the Taliban this and that, please remember that they are like 10 different groups that call themselves Taliban. And as Hisham said, they switch alliances and change their positions and take different strategies and move across the border and so on.
NAIMAnd final point, do not underestimate the role of money in Afghanistan. Money is playing a huge role. Both the money coming from the United States, in terms of aid, and money that comes from the narco traffickers and the exporters of poppies and opium. Money is a very important factor, as important as religion, as ideology and as nationalism. And that is -- also explains the shifting alliances, the fact that you never know who you're talking to. And one person tells you one thing one day and the next day is allied with somebody else.
PAGEYou know, we -- of course, the fundamental goal of the United States was to keep Afghanistan from being a staging ground for attacks against Americans. But we also heard a lot of talk, at one point, about better treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan. For instance, those kind of goals, are they just by the board now, Karen?
DEYOUNGYou've seen Secretary of State Clinton, who used to talk about this a lot, and then more recently hasn't talked about it very much. But very recently, it was noticed that she hadn't been talking about it that much and so she started talking about it again. The bottom line however...
MELHEMAnd the president did at the UN.
DEYOUNGYes, that's right. But I think the bottom line is that that is not at the top of the list of American objectives. Yes, they will continue pressing for it. Yes, they will talk about it. But when they say that these are Afghan led negotiations, I think they are by necessity and by reality, Afghan led negotiations. We can push all we want for things, but the Afghans will decide what they're going to do. And I think this is not the highest priority for them. As I say, we will continue to talk about it. There has been some progress made. It is not something that is naturally part of the power structure in that society.
MELHEMI mean, it's one thing to push for respect for basic human rights. It's another thing to go to Afghanistan and say we're looking for (word?) Democrats. Unfortunately, they are not there. Or not to push for full fledged democracy in a place that probably will need generations before it becomes even open to some of these issues. So I think there is room for the United States to push for some of these things. But if the final choice for the United States is to have a situation that is less brutal than when the Taliban were there that allowed the United States to withdraw with honor, if you will, from Afghanistan, I think they will jump on it.
DEYOUNGI think they call it, in the administration, Afghan good enough.
PAGEWell, let's talk about Iraq. It's been seven months since those elections in Iraq, still no government. Some signs, though, that the country may be finally on its way to forming a new government. Moises, are you hopeful?
NAIMIt looks that way. It looks like Nouri al-Maliki finally got the long awaited approval of the radical Shiite movement lead by Muqtada al-Sadr. So these are individuals and protagonists that keep popping back. You know, we thought they had disappeared, like Muqtada al-Sadr and all of a sudden, he's gone.
MELHEMHe disappeared in Iran and then came back.
NAIMYeah, he was in Iran. And now, he is the kingmaker. He's the one that we were -- the person we were waiting for after an election, seven months. And so apparently, that has now happened. They had an election, which is a very welcome situation. They then had to spend seven months deciding what was the outcome of the election. And meanwhile, the country continues to -- in a complex dynamic surrounded by the situation in Iran and its own internal security situation.
PAGEWhat are the consequences for it having taken so long to get a government formed?
DEYOUNGThat's not clear yet. There have been a lot of things that have been put on hold. Maliki has been running a caretaker government. The Kurds are still waiting for a lot of issues to be resolved concerning internal borders, the status of Kirkuk, the city in the north that both the Kurds and the Arabs claim...
DEYOUNG...oil law that has really stopped -- not totally stopped, but has really curtailed international investment. And the Iraqis simply are not producing really more oil than they were producing before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
MELHEMLess actually. They're producing less.
DEYOUNGYes. And although they, just this week, announced estimates of much higher reserves, they simply can't exploit it. The economy can't get on its feet until these issues are resolved. And they can't be resolved until there's a recognized government in place, there are agreements with the Kurds. The companies simply are not gonna come in there and spend a lot of money.
PAGELet's go back to the phones. Let's talk to Rudolfo, who's been very patient and holding on. Rudolfo, thank you for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
RUDOLFOThank you for having me. I'm gonna, you know, veer the attention elsewhere. I was wondering if I could ask the panel, and specifically Mr. Naim, if he thinks that this newly awarded prize for literature to Mario Vargas Llosa and his manifest opposition to regimes like the one in Venezuela lead by Hugo Chavez is gonna put maybe what's going on in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador on the international attention and is gonna provoke some movement spearheaded by the United States to take care of what's going on here in America. And also, I wanted to ask Mr. Naim, how does he see things playing out in Venezuela with the elections that passed a week ago and the new elections on 2012 and the permanence of Hugo Chavez and the regime?
PAGEAll right, Rudolfo.
MELHEMIn half a minute, Moises, in half a minute.
NAIMWhen Mr. Vargas Llosa was interviewed yesterday after getting the prize, somebody ask him what -- if he had any message to President Hugo Chavez. And Vargas Llosa reply was, yes, he should go away. So that tells you where he stands. And unfortunately, in the Nobel Prize winners in literature or anything are not known to be very important actors in terms of political change. So political change even as well will have to come from inside.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have a caller who asked about Israeli settlements resuming. And the practical effect, does that affect the prosperity? And while being a Palestinian, positively or negatively, this caller says, there'd be more money circulating, maybe that would help everybody. What do you think, Karen?
DEYOUNGWell, just to sort of outline the issue. The Israelis, last spring, had suspended the growth of new settlements in the Palestinian territories. They had continued construction on existing settlements. That suspension expired late last month. The -- President Obama kind of jumped in, as many had urged him to do for a long time, early in September saying, before this expires, let's really get these talks going with the Palestinians. They had a couple round to talk -- rounds of talks. The Americans and the Europeans very much wanted the Israelis to extend the suspension when it expired at the end of September. The Israelis have not done that.
DEYOUNGPrime Minister Netanyahu is under a lot of pressure from his coalition not to do it. The conservative members of his coalition -- there's fears that if he did it, the government would fall. The -- it's an issue that's still under discussion. There was some word late last night that the Israelis actually -- that the Palestinians actually had accepted an Israeli offer that would allow the suspension to continue for another 60 days. I haven't seen a confirmation of that yet. The Americans have offered the Israelis lots of incentives. I think if the settlements resume -- if the building constructions resumes, that it will be very difficult to get those direct talks back on line again.
PAGEMeanwhile, we have the Arab League opening its meeting, I guess, today in Libya. What do we expect that to achieve or do?
MELHEMWell, I mean, there are divisions among the other states on this issue. I think the Egyptians would like to advise the Palestinians to go back, even if there's no moratorium on settlement. And as Karen said, the moratorium was limited to new ones in the West Bank and did not include Jerusalem. It will be difficult for Mahmud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to go back to negotiations unless there is a deadline, for instance, to reach an agreement on delineating the border, which will implicitly deal with the settlement issue in the area as these Israelis are building settlements. But, look, in the end, it's not the question of money, as the caller said. It's a question of whether the Palestinians will have the chance to determine their own future on what was left of historic Palestine, which is practically less than 20 percent of historic Palestine.
PAGEMoises, finally, Europe continues to be on alert for a possibly terrorist attack. Is there signs that there's something very serious afoot?
NAIMPrimarily there is. The State Department issued a warning for Americans traveling in Europe to be aware and alert about using airports and train stations and so on. There were three arrests in France that were made. People connected with another man in Naples who were carrying supplies for bomb making. And so there is -- obviously, there's something significant going on. The Deputy Secretary of State stated that the measures were going to be in place as long as necessary. So obviously, the intelligence community and the security services seem to think that there is something brewing.
PAGEAnd yet, with these general warnings, I'm not sure what Americans are supposed to do, Karen.
DEYOUNGWell, it's been interesting just listening to the broadcast interviews, you know, all the radio stations and TV have gone into airports here and in Europe and ask people, well, you know, are you postponing your vacation? Are you scared? And the response, at least the ones that I've heard, have been pretty uniform saying, you know, we hear these things all the time. What are we gonna do?
PAGEKaren DeYoung with The Washington Post, Moises Naim of El Pais and Hisham Melhem of Al-Arabiya TV, thank you all for being with us this hour...
PAGE...on "The Diane Rehm Show."
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back next week. Thanks for listening.
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