Nine years ago, former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran while on a mission for the CIA. The story of his secret journey to Iran, the CIA cover-up that followed and efforts to rescue the longest-held U.S. hostage.
Chile celebrates the rescue of all 33 men trapped for two months in a coal mine. A former Afghan president says the Taliban is ready for peace. And Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes his first state visit to Lebanon. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Gordon Lubold defense reporter, Politico.com.
- Kevin Whitelaw defense and foreign policy editor, Congressional Quarterly.
- Nancy Youssef Pentagon correspondent, McClatchy newspapers.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Several of the 33 rescued Chilean miners have been released from the hospital to rejoin their families. Their 69 day ordeal trapped in a mine ended with their rescue yesterday. In Afghanistan, 17 U.S. and NATO troops have been killed over the last three days. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a controversial state visit to Lebanon. And Beijing barred Chinese Christians from leaving the country to attend an Evangelical conference in Africa.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the week's top international stories on the Friday news roundup, we welcome Gordon Lubold of Politico. Thanks for being here.
MR. GORDON LUBOLDThanks for having me.
REHMNancy Youssef of McClatchy newspapers, she's an old-timer.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFI am.
REHMGood to see you.
YOUSSEFIt's great to be here.
REHMAnd Kevin Whitelaw of Congressional Quarterly, welcome back.
MR. KEVIN WHITELAWGood morning.
REHMAnd to all of you out there, if you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to email@example.com. Feel free to join us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, there was a lot of hubbub this week about what the U.S. is doing to promote peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government. This morning, Richard Holbrook, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that Taliban associates have been reaching out for talks about ending the war, but that formal negotiations are not taking place. What's happening, Nancy?
YOUSSEFWell, we're starting to hear details or, I should say, not details, but statements that the negotiations have begun between the Taliban and the al-Karzai government. The problem is we don't know which Taliban and how. What's being offered on either side? It appears to be an effort by the U.S. to show that we're getting to an end state, in the face of the July, 2011, deadline that we're close to coming to some sort of resolution in this war. It's interesting because the U.S. is saying that this is in response to the increased air strikes and drone strikes that the Taliban is feeling the pressure even, as you mention, on a week where the U.S. and NATO lost 25 troops.
YOUSSEFSo the question is, are these drone attacks pushing the Taliban to negotiate or are they pushing to Taliban to attack NATO forces more. I thought the other interesting thing was that the Taliban said that they weren't negotiating at all. They call this baseless propaganda. So it appears to be an effort between – on the U.S. to sort of replicate the Iraq model, where you negotiate and you try to improve security. The problem is that it's a lot more fragmented, the Taliban, than the Iraqi insurgency. So we'll see what happens.
REHMKevin, how do you see it?
WHITELAWWell, I think Nancy's right. You look at the make-up of the insurgency in Afghanistan and it's extremely complex. There are multiple Talibans. There are multiple Taliban leaders and there are a whole set of other warlords that are also violent, many of whom are thought to be irreconcilable. So that -- even to the degree there well might be talks going on with certain Taliban commanders, we have no idea how many fighters -- what percentage of Taliban fighters they represent. And we know they don't include some of these other warlords that the U.S. has been fighting, particularly in the east of Afghanistan.
REHMBut could this, Gordon Lubold, be propaganda on the part of the U.S. to pave the way for a definite exit strategy?
LUBOLDSure. I think what's surprising about it right now is that we had expected this wasn't going to come until later. I think there may even be some divisions currently in the military about, is this the right time to be doing this or not. General Petraeus clearly believes that it is. And I think that he'll take whatever he gets, but I think the thrust of the sense was, let's wait until security is at a point where we really are in a position to negotiate. And that doesn't seem like that's the case right now. I mean, the narrative in Afghanistan has been that there is no narrative. But these talks, if there's any substance to them at all, really are the first significant developments since General Petraeus took over this year.
YOUSSEFGordon raises a great point because just a few weeks ago, Secretary Gates, General Petraeus and others were saying that security had to be brought under control, first, before we could talk about reconciliation negotiation. That the Taliban had no incentive to come to the negotiating table until the security situation was under control. And now, all of a sudden, we're hearing a burst of talk about reconciliation, that these things can be done simultaneously.
LUBOLDWell, I, you know, think, to a certain degree, this might represent a lot more about what the U.S. is trying to do to help build up the Afghan government a little bit. I mean, this is something that the Afghan government needs to do. They want to show, you know, they're trying to show some level of legitimacy with their people. They're trying to find some way out of this, too, and to the degree that this might well have been an initiative that sort of started with folks inside the Afghan government.
LUBOLDI think the U.S. is trying to find ways to support it, given how critical folks, both in the administration and Congress and elsewhere, have been about other aspects of the Afghan government's capacity, you know, corruption and all these things. We're seeing some very, very tough pressure on certain parts of the government so I think, you know, the effort to try to support whatever talks might be going on here or, at least, the impulse to talk is one way of trying to say, hey, look, we're not all against the government here. We're trying to help out wherever we can.
REHMAnd surely the economy here in this country has to be playing a role.
WHITELAWWell, I mean, the fact of the matter is we've got elections here in this country in a few weeks and the wars do not resonate in any way really. It's not part of the conversation that any of the members of Congress and opponents are having at all. So I don't know if people are even focused on any of this really. I think the next step for us is the December review on Afghan strategy to see where it goes. And my own sense is it will pass right by and go into next summer before we really have a conversation because nobody's paying -- nobody needs to pay attention to the war.
REHMNancy, what do we know about Linda Norgrove, the British aide worker who died?
YOUSSEFIt's a heartbreaking story.
YOUSSEFShe was kidnapped September 26th in Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan and there was U.S. and British and other forces were monitoring the situation. There was a feeling that she was in immediate and grave danger, that her captors were about to execute her or move her across the border to Pakistan and so U.S. Seals tried to go in and rescue her. As she was coming out and as they were killing her attackers, she was in the fetal position trying to protect herself. A Seal didn't see her, threw in a fragmentation grenade and ended up killing her.
YOUSSEFWhat was, I think, most disturbing and particularly damaging to U.S. and British relations is the initial report was that she was killed by a suicide bomber by the Taliban. And the soldier, or the SEAL, excuse me, that threw the grenade didn't say anything until the following day, until after the United States had told the British that she had been killed by the Taliban. General Petraeus visited the Prime Minister and told him that the investigation is a personal commitment of his and to looking at why this wasn't reported accurately in the beginning. But it certainly does put a strain on relations and, on a personal level, it's heartbreaking since they came so close to rescuing her.
LUBOLDBut General Petraeus has made it a point that this is a personal mission for him to get to the bottom of it, to make sure that they come clean to the Brits.
REHMGordon Lubold, he's defense reporter for Politico.com. Nancy Youssef, she's Pentagon correspondent for McClatchy newspapers. Kevin Whitelaw, defense and foreign policy editor for Congressional Quarterly. And we will take your calls, 800-433-8850. Kevin Whitelaw, Pakistan reportedly foiled an attempt on the life of the Prime Minister. What's happened?
WHITELAWWell, you know, I think we're all still trying to understand exactly what happened here.
WHITELAWWhat seems to have happened is that Pakistani police stopped a car and the occupants of this car fired upon police. And when they managed to catch, you know, subdue most of them, I think one or two escaped. In the interrogation, it supposedly came out that they had been in the final stages of plotting attacks on the Pakistani Prime Minister, as well as some other officials.
REHMWho are the suspects? Do we know?
WHITELAWWe don't really know much about them. They were paraded in front of cameras, but with cloths over their face. So to the degree that these guys are militants of some kind, you know, that's pretty much what we know. Now, again, all we have right now is the word of the Pakistani authorities that they were in the final stages. There's no particular evidence or other kind of proof that's been offered to show that this is the case. So I think, you know, there's probably a little bit of wait and see to figure out how much of a threat this really was. Having said that, we have obviously seen a number of attacks on Pakistani leaders. We've seen assassinations of Pakistani leaders. So the threat is real and all of these leaders take incredible security precautions all the time.
LUBOLDI just think, from the American perspective, it's a reminder of -- as the way Americans see it there, that Pakistan does have an existential threat to its own security. And this is the kind of thing that the American military is over there constantly kind of reminding them, that it's not India, it's this, you know, you're real threat is on your own soil.
REHMNancy, Pakistan reopened a key NATO supply route into Afghanistan. The U.S. had to apologize...
YOUSSEFWe talked earlier about the increased use of drone attacks and a lot of those are happening in Pakistan. And in one of those attacks at the end of September, two frontier corpsman soldiers were killed. And this outraged Pakistan because it was seen as an attack on their sovereignty and certainly an attack on their troops. And so they shut down the gate as a message to the United States, that the United States needs Pakistan as a key supply route.
REHMNancy Youssef of McClatchy news. Short break, right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the international hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Gordon Lubold of Politico.com, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers, Kevin Whitelaw of Congressional Quarterly. Iranian President Ahmadinejad arrived in Lebanon Wednesday. What was the response to his visit and what did he have to say?
WHITELAWWell, he was on a state visit to Lebanon and he was received quite warmly by certain folks. First of all, he met with a number of different leaders from a number of the different sects in Lebanon. So he didn't just meet with Lebanon Shiite leaders, but also Christian leaders and others. So he did have sort of a wider program there than, I think, U.S. officials would like to have seen. But to the degree he made public appearances, he obviously had huge throngs of cheering Shiite supporters.
WHITELAWAnd most interestingly, he went down to a border town in southern Lebanon, which was a town that had been bombed very heavily by the Israelis when Lebanon and Israel fought in 2006. And so he went down to this border town, which has been rebuilt in large part with Iranian funding, and stood there. And as one might expect in that case, was received extremely warmly. And even though he had made some various threats to actually -- or there'd been rumors he might even throw rocks at the Israeli border, he contented himself with merely saying that, you know, Zionism was going to end in Israel and a number of the sort of the usual inflammatory statements that we've heard from him in the past.
YOUSSEFAnd yet, it comes at a fragile time for Lebanon because the U.N. tribunal, looking at the assassination of Rafic Hariri as increasingly pointing towards Hezbollah as a possible reason behind the assassination. And also, Sunnis and Christians are worried that Ahmadinejad's visit is an effort to push Lebanon into a conflict with Israel because of his position with the Shia. It seems to me, it was Ahmadinejad trying to redeem himself at a time when his country's economy's in peril and this is probably the only place he would receive such a welcome. And so it seemed as much about Iranian politics as anything else.
REHMWhat about this story that Iran may be going back to the table on nuclear talks, Gordon?
LUBOLDThey seem interested in returning. We just saw that today. It's still unclear, though, how serious they would really be. And I just think that this whole episode the last couple -- few days just points, again, to how far Ahmadinejad can play this card. There's this kind of quiet conversation in Washington, and especially on the Hill, about what do we do. And I don't think anybody really wants to go there because there's too many other wolves closer to the door.
WHITELAWWell, you know, to the degree that the Iranians have at least -- as the foreign minister who put forward the statement about an interest in restarting talks, it's also a reminder that the Iranian government is not, you know, run solely by Ahmadinejad. And so to the degree that he goes out and makes that kind of public rhetoric in one place, you know, he is actually facing a lot of difficult pressure at home, economic and otherwise. There's a lot of political rivals.
WHITELAWHe's not actually as popular throughout Iran as he might've been at one point. So he has pockets of popularity and he's got a lot of other folks in Iran who are fed up with what they see as his embarrassing antics. And so you have him -- on one side, you have -- you know, it's almost a good cop, bad cop thing, except it's probably not intentionally that way.
YOUSSEFThose are all great points. I would just add to that that it's hard, I think, for many here to get excited about talks of new talks because, remember, it was just last October that this issue was visited and led to, frankly, nothing. And so...
YOUSSEF...I think there's a real reticence to get too excited about it.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about China, which apparently is still very angry over the Nobel Prize going to a peace laureate. And they have put his wife under house arrest, Gordon.
LUBOLDThis does not bode well for anything. But, you know, as you know, Secretary Gates was just in Vietnam, accepted the invitation to go visit Beijing. In terms of these human rights violations that we would care so much about, I just don't know that the conversation is there yet because we barely know if they'll answer the phone when we call. So I don't know how far any of our concerns about any of this can go.
REHMHow long would you expect they would keep his wife under house arrest?
YOUSSEFThat's a great question. Remember, her husband received this while serving -- he only served one year in an 11-year sentence...
YOUSSEF...for trying to promote democracy. And she wanted to go and pick up the award on his behalf and all of this began. I mean, China put up quite an aggressive campaign to try to make sure that he wasn't awarded this prestigious prize. They threatened their relationship with the Norwegians. They tried everything they knew to do. So how long do you bring this to the worldwide stage? I don't know. I mean, it seems to me, it's a very precarious situation China finds itself in because it's now on the frontlines -- in the front pages of everywhere, this conflict that China's in.
REHMExactly. And the U.S. and the EU trying to persuade China to let her move about freely. China's also forbidding 11 people from traveling to South Africa for a Christian conference, Kevin.
WHITELAWYeah, and this gets to what's always been a deep sensitivity in China about the activities of some of these religious groups. We've seen it against, not just, you know, I mean, not just this Evangelical Christian group, but other religious and organized groups as well. I mean, basically the Chinese government just does not like any kind of organized group that could eventually have -- you know, that could potentially have some political aspect down the line.
WHITELAWSo this is, yet again, part of this -- it's a group they've condemned in the past for its activities and they've threatened people. They've taken passports away and possibly imprisoned or put some under house arrest and warned them that if they gather, even inside China, in any way during this period that that will be met with some punishment. So, you know, you look at, you know, that, you look at the sensitivity over this Nobel Peace Prize. It's really interesting the Chinese are still extremely, extremely sensitive about their image.
REHMI should say.
WHITELAWBut they continue to be even more sensitive about any kinds of organization that somehow challenges their political status.
REHMWell, I think, at this point, it would be great to talk about the good news story of the world this week.
LUBOLDWe don't get to do that often, do we?
REHMWell, exactly. And I keep saying, bring me some good news. Thirty-three miners rescued safely in reasonably good health after almost 70 days. What an extraordinary story.
YOUSSEFMiraculous and made to look almost effortless. Just one right after another, not one little mistake along the way. And some American companies can take credit for helping with that.
YOUSSEFWell, two Pennsylvania companies were involved. One provided drill bits and one provided a drill rig, which helped drill the half-mile shaft that led to the troops.
REHMBut what about the planning that went into it? Was that Chile's work?
YOUSSEFIt was a worldwide effort. Now, NASA was a key part of it. They helped -- I don't know what they call it -- the tube, develop that. They also helped think about some of the reintegration efforts that would need to be done after those 33 miners were underground for 69 days.
YOUSSEFAnd even the fine folks at Oakley got involved and helped provide some of the sunglasses that were used to protect their eyes because people really didn't know what affect this would have on them. This was so unprecedented. I mean, how often are people trapped in such a dark space for such a long time? But, you know, you didn't see any of it because it just came off so -- other than the miner whose mistress showed up, it was a quite effortless operation for everybody involved. It seemed like it.
REHMHis mistress and the wife.
WHITELAWWell, I do think, you know, that's right. This was an interesting example where worldwide cooperation was sought, accepted and used well. But this also really shows the Chilean government which -- you know, I think this was an example -- this was a situation in the early days that obviously was a very tough story for Chile. There were questions about whether the mine should've been operating and...
WHITELAW...the oversight of that whole industry. But the government and the president, in particular, really sees this. When they saw that the company just was in way over their heads on their last financial legs, they took over the operation. They said, we're going to take care of it. We're going to fund it and we're going to worry about all the details of the payments later. We're going to make this work and I think that really is a pretty remarkable thing. So at the end of this, it really has, I think, you know, sort of created a whole new image of Chile for, you know, all around the world. It's remarkable.
YOUSSEFTo me, the only outstanding question is, who's going to pay that $20 million bill that the Chilean president has estimated the rescue cost and how much do you put on the company and how do you pay it? But overall, I think it was a miraculous thing to watch and something that captivated the nation.
LUBOLDI just think it was really sweet that the foreman was the last guy to come up. I mean, you almost didn't get tired of watching each guy come up through that tube.
LUBOLDAnd it was like he won the, you know, the lottery each time and it never got old. And then, the foreman was the last guy.
REHMTo stretch out the food that they had to two teaspoons of tuna fish every other day until they were able to get food down there. I mean, that foreman, that leader, extraordinary.
WHITELAWWell, absolutely. And everyone now wants to hear what it was like from them. And I think it's really quite interesting. They apparently made a pact and said, all right, we are not going to talk about our story to the media yet. We're going to wait and we're going to figure out how we can do this in a way and get paid for it and...
REHMThat's the part that worries me. Doesn't it worry you that, you know, money can separate people?
WHITELAWWell, but to the degree that they apparently had banded together and want to try to find it in a way for their mutual benefit, it's an interesting thing. These guys had a lot of time...
REHMI hope so.
WHITELAW...they had a lot of time down there to talk about this and think about this, particularly in the last couple weeks where they actually really -- you know, they had real genuine reason to hope that they were going to get out. And they obviously said, look, you know, we have something here. This is a story and...
REHMWhat could it mean, do you think, in terms of their celebrity? And what could come from Hollywood, from book publishers? I mean, you could be talking, I hope for their sakes, about lots of money.
WHITELAWAbsolutely. I think you are talking already, you know, movie deals, TV deals, whatever. And not to mention, simply, you know, there are some international news outlets that will pay quite generously for interviews. It's more of the European media. The U.S. media doesn't really have that practice, for the most part. But I think they're going to be entertaining all kinds of offers. And I just found it interesting that, so far, that the discipline has held.
WHITELAWThey've said almost nothing about any of the details of those two months yet.
YOUSSEFBut the real test will be once they're all released from the hospital...
YOUSSEF…it's already started...
YOUSSEF...which is wonderful and another great part of the story, that they’ve already started to leave the hospital. But the real test will be when they're sort of out in the real world and people are able to knock right at their front door.
REHMNancy Youssef of McClatchy Newpapers. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Terry. Good morning. You're in Detroit?
TERRYYes, ma'am. Good morning.
REHMGood morning, sir.
TERRYI thought that you asked a fairly compelling and pertinent question when you asked what the wars and the prices of the wars were going to do for the midterm election. And with all due respect, I think the response that this will manifest itself next summer might be a little naïve. Because those of us who are tax payers recognize that the war's cost billions of dollars and considering the state of the economy, at present, I think this will become a bigger deal in the midterm elections.
LUBOLDWell, I don't disagree, but it's just that you are not hearing that as part of the conversation. Even the veterans who are running for seats in House are not -- that's not resonating. People aren't paying attention to the fact -- and this is different from two years ago when the -- and the surge in Iraq was topic A, everybody wanted to weigh in about it. It's just not as much of an issue.
YOUSSEFMaybe we're talking about two different things. I think it's the war itself that's not resonating. I mean, it's the details of the war, it's the tactics of the war. I mean, we don't talk about that, but I think broadly, sort of Pentagon spending, defense spending, may be resonating, in a way, more than the actual war itself because the costs keep on going and have gone up exponentially since 2001. Remember the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are budgeted for $159 billion this year and at a time when the bale out cost 50. So...
LUBOLDBut even so, I mean, you know, it's quite instructive. We really don't know where a number of the candidates, particularly Tea Party candidates, even stand on the war with Afghanistan. Most of them have either not addressed it or done their best to avoid speaking too strongly one way or the other. We're certainly not seeing that many campaign against defense spending, per se. Although it's sort of hard to imagine that a whole bunch of candidates who are swept into office on a platform of trying to cut the federal deficit won't, at least, have to grapple with that, given that defense spending is 50 percent of the discretionary budget.
REHMAll right. To Pueblo, Colorado. Good morning, Jack.
JACKHi. I wanted to just comment on what a great example the Chilean disaster was for handling these disasters that happen quite frequently. The BP disaster, the earthquakes and the -- that happen, the tsunami. They wanted to help the miners primarily and so the government got involved. They asked for help from other nations -- the worldwide effort, rather than closing down and saying, hey, we're not going to let anybody else help us for liability reasons or political reasons. And I just think that was a great example for future handling of disasters like this. Thank you very much.
YOUSSEFIt's a great point that Jack makes. And we forget. I mean, Japan provided the video, Germany provided the cables. I mean, this really was a true international effort. I couldn't help but think, as Jack was talking, about the flooding in Pakistan and sort of the difference in response. In that there was a plea from the international community, but what's been lacking is a response within Pakistan. Hillary Clinton, this week, appealed to wealthy Pakistanis to help their brother in this disaster. And I think Jack raises a great point. But, you know, it's funny. We're finding ourselves increasingly, with natural disasters and disasters like this, having to rally together. So maybe this will be a model for going forward 'cause it seems like we need one.
LUBOLDI just want to pick up on that one point about, um, about what Hillary Clinton said about Pakistan and flooding. I think that there's a real internal cultural issue in Pakistan, that's -- they don't necessarily want to be seen as asking for help. And that's part of the problem. And from the American perspective, we're seeing that because we want them to be focused on, you know, fighting militants. But their stretched thin because of the flooding and they don't necessarily want to be seen as asking for more help.
REHMGordon Lubold of Politico.com. We'll take a short break now. We'll take more of your calls, your e-mail when we come back.
REHMAnd we're back. We'll go right back to the phones. To Zane in Washington, D.C., good morning, you're on the air. Zane, are you there?
REHMYes, go right ahead, sir.
ZANEYeah, I'm just so -- I'm glad that the reporters you have on right now have a more nuance with what's happening in Lebanon. I wanted to point out that having Ahmadinejad visit included a signing of trade agreements and things that relating to the repair of the water and electric distribution systems in Lebanon. There's over 14 agreements that were signed and none of those agreements were signed with Hezbollah itself. They were actually signed with the government -- the Lebanese government.
ZANEAnd for those of you who don't know, the Lebanese government's composed of Christians, Sunnis and Shias and Jews. So this is a sign of the diminishing influence of the United States on this model country, Lebanon, that was supposed to set an example of collaboration with the United States.
ZANEAnd lastly, in terms of the tribunal investigation which -- the international tribunal investigation into the assassination of Rafic Hariri, at first the tribunal accused Syria and now it's accusing Hezbollah. And in turn, Hezbollah had turned things against Israel because they said there's as much evidence that Israel did it as any of those entities that are being accused.
REHMAll right, sir. Kevin?
WHITELAWWell, you know, I think the concern about the rise of Iranian influence and role in money in -- and it's not just in Lebanon. It's in a number of different countries. But in Lebanon, it is an issue. And this visit really highlights something else. In the U.S., there's -- in the Congress, there's already been a fair amount of concern about U.S. military aid to Lebanon and several members of Congress have put holds on this money. This has been part of an Obama administration and before that, Bush administration effort to try to rebuild and build up the capacity of the Lebanese army to go after militants inside the country. But that's money's being held up in -- for this exact reason, concern about ties to Iran and Hezbollah's role in the government. So this only serves to highlight some of those concerns.
YOUSSEFI wanted to address some of the points Zane raised about the tribunal and the fact that Syria was initially blamed and some believe that -- conspiracy theories mainly, that Israel was involved. You know, one of the ways that Rafic Hariri's son, who's now in charge, could pacify Hezbollah is to declare that tribunal not credible. But it would be an impossible thing for him to do. And it really gets at the fragile state that Lebanon is in, vis a vis, the tribunal.
REHMHere's an e-mail saying, "It seems to me our military and the administration initially were against President Karzai talking to the Taliban. Now, there's been a change of heart. What led to the change of heart?" Gordon?
LUBOLDI think the clock started ticking louder. I think that it's -- there's more and more fear that we don't have any time to show progress. I do want to make one point about how we see Afghanistan maybe in the next three months, this review that we've talked about before. We've seen the lag time before when we were -- when I've traveled to Iraq and stuff in terms of security progress there. A lot of times the conversation in Washington is different from the conversation or what you see on the ground.
LUBOLDAnd there are some indicators that that's true in Afghanistan as well. When we get there in another few months and whether Gen. Petraeus returns to Washington to testify in front of Congress or not, we may have a better sense that there is more progress there. But I still think that the clock's ticking and if this -- if some kind of reconciliation, or the beginnings of it, can begin to occur, that's a really good thing for Obama.
YOUSSEFIt's funny that we were talking earlier about whether the United States' public is paying attention to Afghanistan or not. I think one of the reasons the United States is able to visit this issue now is precisely because people are not paying attention to the details of what's going on in Afghanistan. And so maybe a few months ago, talking about negotiating with the Taliban would've landed a lot worse than it is now. At the end of the day, people want to see a resolution to this conflict.
REHMLet's go to Rochester, N.Y. Good morning, Mike. Mike, are you there? Hello?
MIKEYes. I'm here. Hello?
REHMYes, go right ahead.
MIKEHello. My question was kind of like the one right before it. I'm not quite understanding why we're negotiating with the Taliban. I don't see that we've had any kind of victory and they've only disappeared into Pakistan. And I'm just wondering, is it this deadline that's pushing it?
WHITELAWWell, I do think, you know, we've talked about the deadline and there's clearly some -- you know, there's clearly time pressure for the U.S. and the Afghan government to show some results. But, you know, you also have to look at the man who's in charge of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Petraeus. And from his time in Iraq, where he implemented the so-called surge strategy, the accommodations that the U.S. was able to make with Sunnis in western Iraq were one of the -- were probably the single most decisive factor in turning around the dynamic there.
WHITELAWSo to the degree that he can come into this situation and look at opportunities to peel off maybe some of the less extreme elements of the Taliban and diminish the numbers and divide that group a little bit, that obviously makes the U.S. task easier. It is not gonna be easy to do. It's not clear it's going to work.
YOUSSEFOf course not.
WHITELAWAnd there's a lot of doubt about it, but that's sort of what's motivating this. There is at least a chance that you are going to weaken the enemy.
LUBOLDAnd I think that Americans are going to have to understand that there are some queasy moments we're gonna be confronting here. But ultimately, unless we're gonna stay in Afghanistan for years, you're gonna have to end it in a diplomatic way. And this is how it's gonna unfold.
REHMHere's a rather downer e-mail regarding Chile. He says, "I've been quite disappointed at the coverage of the trapped minors. Their rescue was a wonderful thing, but the problem is something that should never have had to happen. The mine had a history of safety issues and was missing essential safety equipment. The 800 mines in the region are overseen by only three government inspectors. The rescue was funded by the government, as a well choreographed PR effort, to keep eyes from the fact that it should not have been necessary. And with very rare and small exceptions, the media played right along."
WHITELAWWell, I think in the early weeks of this, there were a lot of stories about the violations, about the fact that this mine had been closed for safety violations and maybe should never have been allowed to reopen. I think there was a lot of coverage. And obviously, by the time weeks and weeks passed and they come up, that is the story for a couple days. But I think it's a very legitimate question to ask. What happens now in the weeks and months ahead? Will the media pay attention to whether there are any efforts to reform that sector and will the government follow through on that? Or will they sort of live off the euphoria of this and move on?
REHMAnd what about our own mining managers, our own safety regulations? I fear we do not have a sufficient number of managers or regulators out there to take a look. Let's go now to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Good morning, Jose, you're on the air.
JOSEYes, good morning, Diane. I love your show and thank you for having me on.
JOSEYes, Diane. I just wanted to ask the opinion of the panel regarding the relationship between Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, with Iran's and Russia's presidents. There have been reports in Venezuela that Chavez is providing uranium to Ahmadinejad. And also, he just came about two days ago and he proclaim, according to him, that Russia is gonna help him develop nuclear energy in Venezuela. And this is so ironic when his government cannot even maintain hydroelectric turbine for the major dam in Venezuela. Thank you so much, Diane.
REHMThank you. Kevin?
WHITELAWWell, I mean, Hugo Chavez actually now has his own share of domestic woes. So the degree that he's going to be looking for ways to distract from that, I think some of these announcements are aimed more at that than anything else. It's not clear how much substance is behind various offers of uranium and other things. I think this is more Hugo Chavez being Hugo Chavez and trying to make people at home forget about all the damage he's done to the economy and...
WHITELAW...the political system there.
REHMAnd to Peter who's in Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, you're on the air. Peter, are you there? I think we lost you. How about Terry in St. Augustine, Fla.? Terry?
REHMYes, go right ahead, please.
TERRYHi. My question is why we're in Afghanistan at all because it bankrupted Russia and destroyed communism completely. And that if we were to have gone in there at all, it should have been at the beginning at 2002 instead of going into Iraq.
REHMAs I recall, what happened?
WHITELAWWell, you know, it was nine years ago this month when the U.S. first went into Afghanistan. And so with the, you know, the war is entering the 10th year. And I do think that a lot of Americans are starting to ask, you know, what are we still doing there? What are we trying to accomplish? What can be accomplished? And how do we get out? And there's just no question that the Iraq war distracted from this effort. It's obviously, in the past two years, a lot of new focus on the Afghan war. And President Obama's under a heck of a lot of pressure to show some real progress by probably the middle of next year, which is when his July, you know, the July deadline that he set to begin the drawdown again. So it's gonna be really tough for him to show something's fundamentally changed.
LUBOLDI still think people need to remember that part of Obama's platform when he ran was we're gonna get out of Iraq, but we're gonna fix Afghanistan. And he is trying to do that. It's not gonna be an overnight success. It may never be. But this is, you know, the guy that U.S. elected and he said that this is what we're gonna do. And it was never -- the narrative from the military is it was never properly resourced and now it is.
YOUSSEFI think the most important question going forward is, what is the current relationship between al-Qaeda and the Taliban? You know, it's interesting. The United States...
YOUSSEF...military will say that al-Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan is actually quite small. And I think that's one of the reasons that some are willing to explore some kind of relationship with the Taliban because it's not clear that, if the Taliban had any sort of control, that they would necessarily welcome al-Qaeda back or that al-Qaeda would want to come back from a nuclear armed Pakistan where they are now. It's very interesting. You know, we -- I think what Terry's question is really getting at is what is the current threat to the United States coming from Afghanistan? And from the United States perspective, it hinges on al-Qaeda and whether it would find sanctuary in Afghanistan.
REHMNancy Youssef. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's take a caller here in Washington, D.C. Good morning, Chris, thanks for joining us.
CHRISOh, good morning and thank you very much. I have a comment about the way the deaths in the war have been reported recently. We're being told very quickly and it seems (word?) that another three NATO soldiers have died. Aren't these mostly Americans? Why aren't we being told who they are and the countries from which they come? Isn't this just another effort to avert our attention and concern from the war?
LUBOLDWell, you know, it's funny it becomes a question because we've noticed that more officials, who we know to be Americans, generally are referred to as NATO officials. I mean, this is also part of -- we're making an effort to try to get NATO countries to come do more training.
LUBOLDAnd this pitch is being made now. I think a lot of these countries are clearly still weary because fooled once -- you know, the first time, they're not sure about it now. But the idea that we're all kind of one big group of NATO trying to fight in Afghanistan goes over better.
REHMBut I gather that the military does not give the nationalities of those killed until after each country has been notified...
REHM...and that's why we've said NATO, not American, not British, et cetera.
LUBOLDBut it's clear that we're gonna be -- we're entering a phase. The surge of forces -- U.S. forces that just arrived last month, you know, completed. We are gonna see an increase in fighting. We're gonna see an increase in deaths.
REHMOf course, yeah.
YOUSSEFTo get to Chris' question, I think, as of yesterday, it's 1,228 U.S. deaths in Afghanistan. So that's the number -- that's the most up-to-date number we have.
REHMAnd the number in Iraq was 4,000 some?
REHMOkay. Let's go to Peter who's in Cincinnati, good morning. Peter, are you there? That's very...
REHMYes, sir. Would you...
PETERDiane, I have this huge concern about Pakistan going forward. It seems everywhere we turn, we have to deal with Pakistan. And our apology to Pakistan was particularly infuriating. Could the guests comment on the role of Pakistan in U.S. policy going forward?
LUBOLDIt's central to the...
LUBOLD...U.S. policy going forward. And for all the frustrations, you know, people, I think, feel about what Pakistan does or does not do, we're kind of wedded to them in one way or another anyway. I mean, some would maybe argue, but in the end, whatever resolution we find in Afghanistan is gonna be hinged on what happens in Pakistan. And we can't afford -- I think Secretary Gates has made the point several times, cannot afford to walk away from Pakistan again. And -- but anyways, that's the fear in Pakistan constantly every day.
REHMThat the U.S. will walk away.
LUBOLDWill walk away again, right.
YOUSSEFIn terms of the apology, I just want to stress how critical those -- that ground transportation is to the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. Fuel trucks -- it's not like Iraq where you can get equipment in a little bit easier by air or even conceivably by sea and a bus. It's a very hard country to travel. And the United States needs Torkham gate. The amount of fuel -- the United States wouldn't say how much they could go with that gate closed, but it seemed to be a matter of weeks before it would really have a real impact on U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. And so we may not like it, but that's the reality.
REHMNancy Youssef of McClatchy newspapers, Kevin Whitelaw of Congressional Quarterly, Gordon Lubold of Politico.com. That's our Friday News Roundup for this week. Thank you all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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