The Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of "Bloom County" on the revival of his beloved comic strip after a 25-year hiatus and a new book about the origins of Bill The Cat.
A new audio tape of Osama bin Laden threatens French citizens. An Iraqi court sentences Saddam Hussein aide Tariq Aziz to death. And Afghan President Hamid Karzai admits his office has received ‘bags of money’ from Iran. A panel of journalists joins guest host Steve Roberts for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Martin Walker foreign affairs writer, United Press International.
- Roy Gutman foreign editor, McClatchy Newspapers; author "How We Missed the Story: Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban and the Hijacking of Afghanistan."
- Susan Glasser editor-in-chief, Foreign Policy.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us, I'm Steve Roberts. I'm sitting in today for Diane while she's visiting WMFE in Orlando, Fl. She'll be back on the show on Monday.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSOsama Bin Laden threatened France in a new audio tape deemed authentic by French officials. The Al-Qaeda leader warned France against keeping troops in Afghanistan and banning face veils. French unions staged nationwide strikes, again, to protest a pension reform bill approved by lawmakers. An Iraqi court sentenced former foreign minister Tariq Aziz to death. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Asia to lay the groundwork for President Obama's upcoming tour of that continent.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSJoining me in the studio to discuss the week's top international stories on our Friday news roundup, Roy Gutman of McClatchy Newspapers, Susan Glasser of foreign policy, Martin Walker of UPI. Welcome to you all.
MR. ROY GUTMANGood morning.
MR. MARTIN WALKERGood morning.
ROBERTSGood to have you here.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERThanks for having us.
ROBERTSYou can join our conversation, 1-800-433-8850 or send us an e-mail, email@example.com. Roy, let's talk some about the strikes in France. A dramatic move by the French government to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, full pension rights from 65 to 67. Unions, as they often do in France, taking to the streets to protest this. Significance of what we're seeing?
GUTMANEurope, in general, has supported welfare statism really since WWII. And France has been one of the most advanced countries in that regard with terrific benefits, both in health care and in retirement and pension benefits. It just can't be paid for any longer. And I think Sarkozy -- President Sarkozy, in demanding changes, really was telling the French what they already knew, but hadn't been willing to admit.
GUTMANNow, it's quite interesting that the strikes in -- the French are really good at staging strikes and are very proficient and certainly have tremendous experience doing it. Really, this time, didn't carry it off. The latest strikes, I guess, yesterday -- on Thursday, in fact, the numbers seemed to be fairly low in Paris and other major cities, including Marseille. I think probably the French public itself has had enough of that, you know, street democracy. It's certainly not a modern thing and it's inappropriate when everybody else is trying to tighten their belts.
ROBERTSAnd when you talk about everybody else, Martin, you follow politics in the UK very closely. This Sarkozy move dove tails with, in some ways even more harsh or sterner measures, the Cameron government in Britain. Link these two stories. What's this pattern we're seeing?
WALKERWell, the irony of this is, that the two great dramas over the funding of the welfare state and Roy's absolutely right about that, are taking place in the two countries, Britain and France, which have got the healthiest demographic profiles in Europe. In other words, they've got enough young people or high enough birth rate that they're going to be able much more easily than, say, Germany or Italy, to finance pensions and welfare way into the future. I mean, for example, by 2030, 36 percent of all Germans will be over the age of 60 and at that point there'll be about 27 1/2 percent of Brits and about 22 percent of Americans. That's the key demographic figure.
WALKERAnd the British and the French are doing this, I think, because they have got a much stronger tradition of a powerful centralized government, whereas Germany is a very federalized system. In Britain, the cuts are going to be in almost all departments, except for defense. Health and foreign aide, about 25 percent of budgets. They're going to be cutting about 10 percent all together on public spending over the next three years. This is the toughest austerity that Britain has seen since WWII or that any European has or any western European country has seen for the last 60 years.
WALKERIn France, Roy is absolutely right, the strikes have been fading, but the reason for that is twofold. And the important one is that the law was changed. And since the last great attempt to reform the French social system was under Prime Minister Juppe in '95, a law has been passed which requires all unions to maintain a skeleton basic service in things like transport health care and teaching and so on. So you can't have the complete close down. Even with the old marine corps of the French labor union, which was the CGT; the Confederation Generale du Travail, which was the communist union and they run the railroads, even they weren't able to bring the railroads to a halt this time.
WALKERAnd Roy, I think, is right that, broadly speaking, a majority of the French seem to realize the game was up. There were majorities both in the Senate and in the Assemblee nationale, the French parliament, to pass this law and by most European standards, it's a pretty feeble law. It doesn't really do the trick.
ROBERTSWell, Susan, to that point, also this week, the EU meeting on this very subject onto the prodding from the Germans primarily, committing themselves to a tougher regime of imposing the rules on budget austerity on -- you know, you've got 27 countries in the EU. Bring us up to date on that dimension of it.
GLASSERWell, I think that's a very important development. What you're seeing is, you know, certainly different manifestations in Britain and in France, but, you know, across Europe, you're seeing a level of austerity and belt tightening, if you will, that is really unprecedented in the history of the EU. And I think it also reflects a very interesting divergence with where the politics in the U.S. are at, you know. As you were saying right before we went on the air, you know if Britain and France can do this, you know, it's a pretty different path than the one taken so far here in the U.S.
GLASSERObviously, we have an election coming up on Tuesday and I think one big question is what is a new, more Republican-dominated Congress going to do? But what's extraordinary, right, is that you have the people that brought in democratic socialism in western Europe, they're the ones giving up on state spending as a means of, you know, longer term stimulation of their economy. You know, they're the ones who have thrown canes, you know, over the bus. Whereas here, there's still a very robust argument among our economists and our sort of thinking chattering classes about whether the problem is insufficient stimulus to restart in an aggressive way, a more robust American recovery and jobs recovery.
GLASSERSo I think you see, number one, a real different path being taken by Europe and the United States right now and that's something we haven't seen so starkly recently. Number two, I think it is important to remember, yes, they're tightening their belt in France. They have a big belt. They have a lot that they can tighten. They're talking about raising the retirement age to 62.
WALKERFull retirement age is going to 67. At 62, you can take a very, very small share of your pension.
GUTMANBut, you know, two of the key differences, Martin mentioned one of them, the demographics of the United States are different, in part, because we have more immigrants. Younger immigrants who will pay into the Social Security system and then also, the dollar is a reserved currency. And we kind of will finance our debt in ways that will kind of not finance some of the European debt. So the pressures on the EU, as we saw just this week to put in belt tightening measures, partly as a result of the fact that they don't have that flexibility in the international financing of their debt.
WALKERWell, this is what yesterday's European summit in Brussels was all about. It was trying to keep going this kind of huge rescue mechanism they set and trained back in May because of the Greek crisis. That funds at about $900 billion. I mean, it's very nearly a trillion dollars as the money putting into it when you're count in the Euros and IMF's share. And this meeting yesterday was -- the Germans were saying, we will not fund this beyond 2013. And because one needs some kind of mechanism for the future, the huge argument has been, can a new mechanism be brought about without a new European treaty?
WALKERThe last one took ten years to negotiate. So there's been a kind of deal between the French and the Germans under which there won't be particularly tough sanctions, but the Germans will come up with the money.
ROBERTSNow, Roy, two other stories involving France this week. One, Osama Bin Laden, an audio tape which has been deemed authentic by most experts. And speaking to what we were just mentioning, the issue of immigrants, in Europe and French law, cracking down on the use of face veils, burkhas, by Muslim women and Osama Bin Laden threatening reprisals against the French because of this law. Tell us about that story.
GUTMANWell, it looks like, I’m just guessing, that the tape was made some weeks ago because it refers to the kidnapping of some French citizens in West Africa. And the essence of it is threats, warnings to the French, telling them, as you kill, you will be killed. As you take hostages, we will take hostages. If you insist on banning burkhas, we will slit the throats of your soldiers. So it was, you know, vintage Osama. What's rather interesting is that he directed it at France specifically, which hasn't happened, I don't think, before and that he's out there threatening. The French government has taken it somewhat in stride, but I think they've also heightened security measures all over the place.
ROBERTSAnd Susan, another related story, within a day after this threatening message, Sarkozy government announces they are going to start removing troops from Afghanistan. They have about 3,500 troops there now. They've suffered about 50 casualties as part of the NATO detachment in Afghanistan. They insist there's no connection. Susan, what's your read on that dimension of the story?
GLASSERWell, I can't get inside their mind there, but there's no question that, in a broad sense, you know, all of the Europeans are looking for, you know, their own way to the exit. And in fact, that's part of the concern that some inside the U.S. government had with the July, 2011, framework that President Obama laid out for at least the beginning of a drawing down of the U.S. presence, is that, of course, it is much harder to ask your allies to remain for an indefinite period of time when you're starting to put a framework of time on your own presence there. Not to mention the potential consequences that, you know, inside the Pentagon are very much feared in Afghanistan and Pakistan by, you know, just saying basically, hey, guys, you can outlast us here.
GLASSERBut going back to your Osama Bin Laden point, I do think it's interesting that he's explicitly taking on France in a way that he hasn't done before. What you are also seeing, right, are a lot of Al-Qaeda online messaging right now that's very focused on the West, actually, that's very focused on potentially activating that sort of electronic jihad. Right now, it's easier than ever, of course, to participate, whether you're in the United States, Allah the underpants bomber or, you know, that sort of thing, the Times Square bomber. And I think you're going to see more...
GUTMANAnd foiling a plot, a Metro plot here in Washington.
GLASSERWell, exactly, that's what I was thinking of. This sort of westernization and also Americanization of the electronic jihad is something to watch.
ROBERTSMore as we turn our attention to Asia and Afghanistan as our news roundup continues. Stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in for Diane today. And my guests for this International portion of our Friday News Roundup, Roy Gutman of McClatchy, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy, formerly of the Washington Post, Martin Walker of UPI.
ROBERTSAnd Martin, as we move our focus from Europe to Asia and talking about the Osama bin Laden tapes and the drawdown of French troops in Afghanistan, one of the news stories this week relating to Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, after first denying the story, then confirms that his government has been getting bags of cash approaching, you know, a million dollars from Iran. And he says, well, I use them for my expenses. It sounds sort of like walking-around money in American politics. But give us an update on that story. What's the significance of what we're hearing here?
WALKERWell, talking of France, there was a rather good commentary. I think it was in France Soir, one of the French newspapers, which said, we never thought that George Bush's attempt to export American Democratic practices to Afghanistan would have such success. The point being that they see this as par for the course for U.S. campaign finance.
WALKERI think the importance of this is that it's a bit of a storm in a teacup, in that since the Karzai government really is restricted to Kabul and a few roads outside it, they've got very little tax raising or fund raising capability. If that presidential office is going to keep going it's got to get cash from somewhere.
WALKERMost of the other kinds of aid are pretty thoroughly accounted for because of western government practices. But that doesn't stop, say, U.S. government and some of the other NATO governments from handing out sacks of cash. Moreover, if you go to Kabul, if you talk to some of the local contractors, it's par for the course to bribe the local Taliban or the local bad guys with bags of cash to give an okay for your trucks to go through.
ROBERTSWhat is Iran buying with that cash?
WALKERAccess. Access and perhaps influence. It's probably particularly trying to secure the loyalty of Jacob (sic) Daudzai, who is the chief of staff of Karzai.
ROBERTSAnd former Ambassador to Tehran with links to Iran already.
WALKERYeah, but don't forget Dari is the language of the upper class Afghans, is very, very close indeed to Farsi. I mean, there's a very long traditional historical link between the two countries. And geography means whatever happens in Afghanistan is going to be very, very important to Iran.
ROBERTSAnd also, Roy, as a dimension of this, the Karzai government had issued an edict saying they were going to throw out foreign security contractors. People don’t realize there are 30 to 40,000 of them operating. And there was a protest by Hillary Clinton and others saying, you get rid of these foreign contractors and we can't protect all of the infrastructure projects, all of the aid projects, a clear vote of no confidence in the Afghan police and military forces themselves. Karzai backs off slightly. What's that story?
GUTMANThe security contractors perform a really vital role. They provide protection, especially for convoys traveling through the country. They charge per truck, like, at least $100, sometimes (unintelligible) .
ROBERTSAnd as Martin was saying, the government really doesn't have a writ beyond a few roads outside of Kabul.
GUTMANNo. And these contractors pay off the Taliban. They also annoy the local population because they run rampant, just like any security contractors and sometimes armies do as well. And I think Karzai has a very strong point that this should be under the control of the Afghan government. Unfortunately, the Afghan government cannot, as Martin said, deliver the security that is needed.
GUTMANAnd the other interesting element of it is that, at least in the case of some of the bigger security contractors, major stakes are owned by relatives of President Karzai himself. So if he's really going to close them down, it would probably be a good thing. And if they could really turn this over to the state itself, would be a terrific thing. I think it's highly unlikely they can accomplish this by March, but it is an aspiration that any self-respecting state should have. And we should support it in that regard, but I wouldn't say by that timetable.
ROBERTSBut, Susan, the fact that Secretary of State Clinton felt compelled to step in, this is a part of a much larger question, which is how able is the Karzai government to take over in the military and police functions? Should these timetables we were just talking about, with the French and others pulling out, and the American pulling out by mid 2011 -- I mean, this reveals -- just by that phone call, reveals her lack of confidence in this infrastructure, right?
GLASSERWell, absolutely. I think, you know, two things. One, the U.S. relationship with Hamid Karzai has been in a state of deep crisis, you know, for at least the last several years. And this is one more sign of it. They've been pivoting back and forth between sort of publicly slapping at each other and behind-the-scenes slapping at each other, then publicly making up. And why is that? Because they don't have a viable alternative to Karzai.
GLASSERThe political process is sort of gridlocked and broken down. Since the presidential election and the widespread fraud that led to President Karzai's next term in office, you know, basically relations have never recovered since then. And it has really showcased the U.S. dilemma there, which is to say, you're stuck with him. You don't have an alternative to him, but you can't really work with him anymore.
ROBERTSAnd part of what is so -- you know, when people say, well, why does America continue to care about Afghanistan? What is our national interest? Often it comes back to the question, this is the place where the 911 bombers plotted. These wild mountainous border regions with Pakistan continue to be incubated. We talked about the Osama bin Laden tapes. We believe that Osama bin Laden, I guess -- you're the expert, Roy -- but still a guess that that's where he is.
ROBERTSAnd just now, coming over the AP, is a story, law enforcement officials are investigating reports of suspicious packages on cargo planes in Philadelphia and Newark. TSA spokesman Kristin Lee says the planes landed safely in Newark and Philadelphia. They've been moved to a remote location so law enforcement officials can investigate. And this is just one small bit of evidence that this remains an important issue for the United States. What could be plotted and planned in these (unintelligible) .
WALKEREverybody's assuming that -- certainly in Europe and all of the countries like Britain, France, Holland, Canada that are talking about pulling their troops out as soon as possible -- they're all assuming we're in the end game in Afghanistan. And the key signifier of that has been the way in which talks are now clearly underway, of some kind, between Karzai and Taliban. There's even been reports of the U.S. facilitating the movement and flying people in for some of those talks -- some Taliban people in. So it's a reminder that although the politicians and NATO seem to think it's an end game, as far as the Taliban or as far as Al-Qaeda is concerned maybe it isn't over.
GUTMANI'm not sure if those talks, if they are going on -- at whatever level they're going on are anything serious. You know, it's true, as Richard Holbrooke has said, there are many different branches of the Taliban and maybe some of them are talking to parts of the government. But Omar himself, who is the man, you know, at the top of that particular pyramid, is in no sense participating.
GUTMANAnd you have to look at who the Taliban are. It's a messianic sect that basically sees God-given right to rule Afghanistan and exclusively. You can't actually negotiate with a group that refuses to respect a constitution, elections, rights of minorities, rights of women, you know, unless you want to give away the store. And I think that the administration -- you know, I think they're talking about negotiations. I'm not sure whether they're going on and I'm not sure whether they can actually withdraw on that schedule of July '11, if they're very serious.
GLASSERBut it's also -- I think it's important for American, you know, listeners, in particular -- this notion that the Taliban is some external force or it's just some small group, I think that perpetuates some of the, you know, political debate here in a way that might not really get you to understand. This is part of the Pashtun tribes of Afghanistan identify themselves with this political movement.
GLASSERAnd as you said, those may be some of the folks who are talking to the Karzai government. Another part of the Taliban, as we would define it, are the ones who are still closely enmeshed with and working with Al-Qaeda along with a network of other groups, including Pakistani extremist groups. So, you know, it's a very complicated fabric of different tribes and ethnic groups and, you know, splinter groups that are all working together there, but...
WALKERAnd one of the things that Karzai has done has been to put together -- or try to put together this peace council, which does seem to contain various sections of people who are ex-Taliban or close to the Taliban who seem rather more moderate. And that...
GLASSERRight. But those aren't probably the people who are sheltering Osama bin Laden.
ROBERTSYou mentioned Pakistan. And one of the other stories that we're following this week is Secretary of State Clinton on a tour of the Fareast to help prepare for President Obama's trip. Among his stops, a primary stop is going to be India. And you cannot talk about India without talking about Pakistan and the delicacies here. And we've talked many, many times about the borderland between Pakistan and Afghanistan and how aggressively -- if the Pakistani officials really tried to control exactly what you're talking about, the search for Osama bin Laden, control the Taliban which has sanctuary in these hills.
ROBERTSBut, Susan, talk about the delicate balancing act for the United States here trying to curry good relations with India, a major economic force in this area and stable democracy allies. And yet anytime you do anything nice to India, Pakistan goes nuts. So talk about the problem that Secretary of State Clinton and the president will face.
GLASSERAbsolutely. I think you're right to spotlight that as a huge issue and a delicate one for Obama. Right after the election, he's going to head off on this big trip. And, you know, India has really resisted the Obama Administration's efforts, which they made -- especially from the get-go, President Obama -- when he was a candidate, Obama was very outspoken in the idea that you needed to have an India/Pakistan solution in order to move to a more stable regional solution.
GLASSERHe wanted to talk about Kashmir, the disputed territory that has fueled several outright wars between India and Pakistan. He wanted to link those two up. He didn't want it to be an AfPak conversation. He wanted it to be an Indo-Pak conversation. The Indians were so offended by this. They see themselves as a burgeoning global superpower. And, you know, Pakistan is a sort of festering problem next door, but they're not on the same level with them.
GLASSERThey didn't even want Richard Holbrooke, who Roy mentioned, to come to India because his brief was AfPak. And so I think even talking with the Indians about how do you contribute to a new regional stability with the Pakistanis, Kashmir has erupted over the last few months in some of the worst violence in several years. So you're not necessarily even going in the right direction, at this point.
GUTMANAnd the Indians certainly have an interest in the U.S. success in Afghanistan. I think they're petrified of more terrorism coming out of that AfPak region. And, you know, the problem is so much bigger than just Afghanistan. The...
ROBERTSAnd they did suffer a terrorist attack and...
GUTMANYes. And it's just exactly two months ago -- two years ago this month that the attacks occurred in Mumbai and they really were traced to Pakistan. Maybe not to the government as such, but certainly to Pakistan. And the truth is that in that border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, you have all sorts of plots being hatched and forces being trained against Pakistan, as well as against the current Afghan government, and also against India. And so the idea of the U.S. withdrawing -- or starting to withdraw in July of 2011, and the rest of NATO doing it, I think is, for the Indians, anathema.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Martin, I want you to pick up on another dimension of Secretary of State Clinton's trip...
ROBERTS...and what we're going to see when President Obama goes. 'Cause the other major countries he's going to visit is Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, a place where he spent part of his youth. And we're hearing from the White House that he's going to use this trip to sort of revive and extend a theme that we heard early in his presidency, which is using his own story, his own Muslim relatives, his youth in Indonesia, to reach out to the Muslim world, that important speech he gave in Cairo. We're led to believe he will extend this message. Talk about that strategy from the White House and why it's so important to the president.
WALKERWell, there's been, as it were, a double set of briefings from the White House. One is, as you say, this one about the president trying to make a personal reconnection with the Islamic world and particularly with this part of southeast Asia with the ASEAN countries, which are, of course, neither China nor India, they're in between. The other part of it, which has always been very striking, is the way in which they're saying this trip is about jobs, and this is about U.S. exports and about trade. And, in fact, the president is taking with him next week to India the biggest ever delegation of U.S. CEOs ever to go on a presidential trip. It's an entire jumbo jet load. It's over 250 CEOs.
WALKERThey're talking about tens of billions of dollars in trade deals, which they -- and they've even come up with a rule of thumb that every billion dollars in exports is worth 11,000 jobs. And so it's -- on the one hand, it's being packaged for domestic U.S. consumption, this is a jobs trip. On the other hand, it's being packaged as this is Obama showing his ability to make a personal connection with people around the world.
WALKERBut the final, I think, really, really big point is that as far as the Indians are concerned, is Obama really going get serious about the burgeoning strategic alliance that George W. Bush tried to build with India, which is going to mean things like technology transfer on nuclear power. And also what's going to happen with the big trade deal -- the big arms deal over India buying fighter jets. Will they buy American? We know they're going to be buying big Boeing C17s and C130s. But we'll see just how close relationship gets.
ROBERTSAnd anytime you talk about an arms deal, that's when you start worrying about the sensibilities (laugh) ...
ROBERTS...in Pakistan as well. Because historically, the enmity between those two countries is number one on both countries priority lists in terms of military readiness. Let me read an e-mail from Alan who's talking about Iran's bags of money. He says, "Given the state of the Iranian economy and past charges of Iranian economic sabotage, does anyone bother to check that these bags of cash aren't counterfeit?" (laugh) What do you think, Susan? And talk -- and bring us up-to-date on Iran because there are a number of stories relating to Iran this week as well, including the EU putting newer and tougher sanctions on the Iranian economy in terms of nuclear development.
GLASSERYeah, first of all, on the cash, I think it's probably fair to say that if Karzai's been accepting it all these years, than he's been checking pretty carefully to make sure his money's good somewhere.
WALKERThey were euros, by the way, not dollars.
ROBERTSYeah, that's right, yeah.
GLASSERWell, that's right. It's always a good test what cash does an insurgency want to take (word?) , you know. And the U.S. government, which also does pay out bags of cash in these situations, you know, they were...
ROBERTSPresumably they pay dollars.
GLASSER...no, but they were famous for also paying out in Pakistani currency in the south of Afghanistan where that was sort of common currency and not the dollar, or certainly the euro, I think, is not really in use in Kandahar, at least these days. Iran and sanctions, I think it will be interesting to see over the next few months. There are some interesting signs that there might be more willingness on the part to return to negotiations.
GLASSERClearly, the U.S. has not entirely given up on that. I think what they want to do is do it in the context of the Security Council's great powers, the so-called P5-plus-1. Obviously, they were very unhappy when Brazil and Turkey were going on their own in the effort to make a fuel swap deal with Iran. But I do think there's some interesting indications that you might see a new round of talks begin. And, you know, clearly in that context perhaps the European move has something to do with that.
GUTMANI thought I'd mention something about Iran and Afghanistan. They do have a legitimate interest in that country and the U.S. should actually cultivate it and try to encourage them to be constructive.
ROBERTSThat's Roy Gutman of McClatchy, Susan Glasser at Foreign Policy, Martin Walker of UPI. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane and we'll be back with your calls. Stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. And for the second hour of our Friday News Roundup focused on foreign policy, Roy Gutman of McClatchy, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy, Martin Walker of UPI. And let's turn to some of our callers and get their views. And Jim in Charlotte N.C., you're first. Welcome.
JIMThank you. I was thinking -- my question was in regard to the war and an early call to war is almost to do dishonor to whatever honor resides in the world war. But what's going on in Afghanistan, I mean, you're paying -- I heard talk of this a few months ago where they were paying warlords to not attack them -- to not attack the troops. It seems to me that every dime spent there is wasted. As soon as the U.S. troops get out of there, it's gonna collapse. It's already collapsed.
JIMI mean, there's no -- whatever things sustain there, whatever little sustainability there is, is going to disappear. I mean, they're comparing this thing to the Vietnam situation, but really that's an -- it's an unfair comparison because at least in Vietnam, you were dealing with some sort of rational government. At least there was some sort of situation where you'd say, we promise to do this. There's not even -- there's not even a guise of a promise in this case. As soon as the United States leaves, the place is gonna go crazy again.
ROBERTSThank you. Thank you very much, Jim. Roy, you've studied this a lot. Answer Jim's question and talk about whether this is a mood we're seeing more and more that is helping to erode public support for continued U.S. deployment, not only from the point of view of the mission there, but the cost. I mean, the caller says all of our money's being wasted. Are we hearing that more and more?
GUTMANWell, the picture on the ground is not very attractive. And Jim is completely right about, you know, we have a government that is in many ways corrupt. You have -- and it's ineffective. Its writ doesn't extend very far. And it doesn't -- its support in the country is questionable because it really used fraudulent means, at least in part, to get elected. But for the United States, you know, you have to take the long view.
GUTMANThis -- we are the sole super power out there. And if you look at that region and what happens when the United States pulls out, then you see a disaster. I mean, the whole 911 event occurred after a decade in which the United States completely withdrew from Afghanistan and from -- actually from even supporting Pakistan.
GUTMANDon't forget in the 1980s, the United States was the principle supporter of the so-called Mujahideen, the fighters who resisted and eventually chased out the Russian occupation. It's one of the greatest events, in fact, of the late 20th century when this happened and it helped lead to the end of communism. It helped lead to the fold of communism certainly in Eastern Europe.
GUTMANAnd the U.S.'s reaction to that was after 1989, after the Russians pulled out, after you had the fall of communism, was to leave. It was to pull out. And so all in the 1990s, that's when you had a civil war. We had no participation, no involvement, no support for any side and al-Qaeda arrives. Do we want to see that film one more time? I don't think so.
ROBERTSYeah, well, the question that our caller was raising was not the geopolitical one, geopolitical in terms of the situation in Afghanistan. But what he was raising was whether Barack Obama really wants to run for reelection with an open-ended commitment, in terms of troops and money to a country where Americans are increasingly dubious about the legitimacy and the success of the mission.
WALKERIt's not just Americans. I mean, remember next month -- after his India trip next month, President Obama's gonna be in Lisbon for a big NATO summit. And one of the biggest views there with the NATO leaders is gonna be how long will they carry on...
WALKER...and what they...
ROBERTSWe talked earlier about the French already starting to get cold feet.
WALKERThe French, the Dutch, the Canadians, the Brits, they've all started to draw down.
ROBERTSLet's talk to Bill in Edwardsville, Ill. Welcome.
BILLYes. I was interested to hear the topic come up of how the United States funds the contractors and then the contractors in turn, you know, fund the Taliban. There's another way that the U.S. government funds the Taliban. That's when we fund Pakistan's military, which funds their intelligence agency, the ISI, which then turns around and funds the Taliban.
BILLSo we have the bizarre situation where American tax dollars and American debt is being used to fund the very people who our troops are fighting. So how are troops supposed to succeed in Afghanistan when the government of the United States is funding the enemy?
ROBERTSBill, good question. Susan Glasser?
GLASSERWell, look, I think the caller is right on the mark in suggesting the nature of the cycle of this sort of corrupt and very violent situation we find ourselves in. You can think of it almost as a sort of money bubble in a place that otherwise wouldn’t have any of these funds. So our own money is, in fact, clearly being used to support the insurgency. It's being used to support the Taliban.
GLASSERIt's being used to support the drug dealers because this money wouldn't otherwise be in Pakistan or Afghanistan. We've flooded it with billions and billions of dollars in a system where the power relationships are such, the nature of corruption is such, that the people who put their hands on those dollars are the very people who are causing the situation in the first place.
ROBERTSA couple of other stories that have been making news this week that we wanna touch on. Roy, the -- a court in Tehran sentenced Tariq Aziz to death, a familiar figure to many Americans who follow international politics. He was on TV often as a spokesman and defender. Saddam Hussein -- just interestingly, the only Christian in Saddam Hussein's circle. He was sentenced to death this week. Your take on that story.
GUTMANWell, I don't know quite what happened in the trial. I didn't see in all of the news articles I searched for and read -- and we ourselves carried a Christian Science Monitor story from Baghdad, just what happened in the trial itself and whether due process was violated, whether, in fact, there was, in any way, a fair trial, whether the facts came out and what the facts really are.
GUTMANBut I will say from everything I know of Tariq Aziz, he was a fairly, you know, he was the front man for the Saddam Hussein regime. But a major player in terms of ordering the killings of various minorities and certainly the Shiites in the party of now Prime Minister Maliki, I don't know that he actually played that role.
GUTMANAnd one does have the feeling that -- of a kind of a political revenge. It's like Saddam Hussein sentencing itself several years ago. They put him on trial for one major incident and that was the killing of people in Prime Minister Maliki's Dawa Party. But they failed to come to account with him on some of the other major things, for example, the killing of Kurds and many other terrible atrocities. And the whole system doesn't look, from the outside, like it's functioning in a due process manner.
WALKERAnd the judge was Mahmoud Saleh, who's a member of the Shiite Coalition.
ROBERTSWe have an e-mail on a topic -- I know, Martin, you wanna talk about this -- from Greg Ferrand. "I was wondering if the panel could speak about the death of former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner early this week very suddenly at age 60 from a heart attack, how this would -- may impact politics in society in Argentina."
WALKERWell, immediately, not a lot because his wife is currently the president and is running the country and doing reasonably well because of the (unintelligible) .
ROBERTSBut he was always -- but he was always considered her closest advisor and potential successor.
WALKERAnd potential successor and to have the power behind the throne as you...
WALKERBut I think he was also a very important figure in South America, more generally. He was made Secretary General of this new union of South America that the Brazilians were promoting and that Chavez of Venezuela was promoting. He was seen as somebody who would defy the IMF and got away with it, somebody who had defaulted upon Argentina's sovereign debt and got away with it.
WALKERAnd I think it was very odd that we saw, I think it was, a 13 percent jump in the rise of Argentine shares on the world markets yesterday when the news came out of his death when, in fact, I don't think there's any chance at all of Argentina's policies changing, certainly not this side of next election. And if there is to be a successor, it's probably gonna be a fairly unsavory trade union thug from the Peronist movement who are now once again the dominant force in Argentina. Poor Argentina, once again, it's got a real deficit of decent political leadership.
ROBERTSLet's turn to some more of our callers. And Tom in Falmouth, Mass., welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show," Tom.
TOMYeah, thanks. I'm trying to clear up exactly who attacked us on 911 here. Mr. Roberts, you mentioned that it was all hashed out in Afghanistan. But I'm in the middle of a New York article right now called "The Mastermind," and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad has claimed responsibility for masterminding. I think it's general knowledge. I'm wondering what his relationship was to Osama Bin Laden. He, actually in the article, says he actually never even swore allegiance to Osama Bin Laden or al-Qaeda. And now you and your guests have a comment on that and try and just clarify exactly where this thought was hashed and why we're in Afghanistan if KSM was the one who was responsible.
ROBERTSOkay. Go ahead, Susan.
GLASSERWell, I think what the caller is referring to is the fact that KSM, as he's known, was, in fact, a well-known terrorist operator on his own before he joined forces with al-Qaeda. And so he already -- there's some testimony that several years previous to this he had already been contemplating a plot involving airliners. There had been an important meeting in Asia. But at that point, he -- after that, he joined forces with al-Qaeda.
GLASSERThere is ample documented evidence. You can go back and look in the 911 Commission Report, for example, and you will see a fairly detailed account of how Bin Laden himself and his other chief lieutenants were involved, as well, in the plot, although there has not been evidence to dispute the fact that KSM was the overall sort of architect and leader of this plan.
ROBERTSOkay. Let's turn to Douglas in Herndon, Va. Doug, welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
DOUGThank you very much. It's a first-time call and I'm sorry I'm missing Diane, but Roy and the rest of the guests are terrific. And my question is this. Won't France's withdrawal at this time embolden Osama Bin Laden and these other terrorist groups to issue these public threats? And secondly, will other soldiers be put in their place or will the Americans have to step up and add the additional 3500 or more troops? And maybe did Bin Laden even know about the timing of the announcement by the Sarkozy government?
ROBERTSOkay. Thanks. Roy?
GUTMANWell, the problem, as Martin also pointed out earlier, for the United States is by setting a date for the beginning of the withdrawal, you basically tell the allies that it's safe for them to say the same thing. And that's really what the French are doing. If the U.S. decides, come July, 2011, that, in fact, it's got to be a much slower process, it will have to convince its allies also to follow suit.
GUTMANAs I say, the July 11th date was probably arranged or decided largely for domestic political reasons rather than for the strategic aim of changing the equation in Afghanistan. You know, at that -- and I think, at that point, they're gonna have to make a political judgment whether the traffic -- the political traffic here can bear an extension.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We also have news coming over the wire just now related to an earlier topic that says that the French Union says they have voted to end strikes at oil refineries in major ports. Martin, you were talking about the power of French Unions. Is this an indication that the Sarkozy government is gaining traction with some its changes here?
WALKERI think so, yes. The numbers of people turning out on the strikes have been dwindling. The ability to try and bring life to a halt by trying to close the refineries and some of the petrol stations seems to have failed. And the Unions seemed to have accepted that. What's been really interesting has been the way in which the French Socialist Party, which is the official opposition and it wants to eventually replace Sarkozy, have been very careful not to throw all of their weight behind this trade union action.
WALKERAnd indeed, when Secretary Royal, who was the Socialist Party candidate against Sarkozy for the presidential election last time, when she was asked where she stood on this issue, she simply said, well, if you'd elected me, then we wouldn't have been in this mess (laugh) in the first place.
ROBERTSLet's turn to Jeff in Framingham, Mass. Welcome, Jeff.
JEFFHi, and thanks for taking my call. I wanted to speak about -- again about Afghanistan and about one of the panel's explanation of what occurred there. But it was, in fact, at a point where Russia was being totally demolished and could no longer keep their troops there that there was a general agreement of leaving Afghanistan neutral. And there's this strange recurrence, as in Vietnam, the French get trounced, they leave. We come in and we receive the same results.
JEFFNow, we're in Afghanistan following the Russian's defeat, fighting the people who we supported, the Mujahideen, who've been transformed into various other sections and who we armed and who we supported. And now, we are in that same position. There is no explanation of why we are in Afghanistan. If it's for 911, that's absurd. Because if you wanted to attack the place where the plot was hatched, it was hatched in Germany, in the United States.
ROBERTSThank you. Thank you very much, Jeff. Susan, this is about the third caller we've gotten and there are several others on the line voicing similar feelings about what really is America's national interest at stake in Afghanistan. Is it continued to be worth the casualties? Money, as one of our callers pointed out, you know, when you start having stories about bags of cash at a time of great budget crunch in the United States. This is part of a growing dilemma for the Obama administration in terms of, as Roy was saying earlier, balancing the military needs and security needs on the ground with the political situation here.
GLASSERThere's no question that the clock is really ticking here. The military has made some efforts, I think fairly unsuccessfully, to reposition it and say, well, it's not that we've been fighting nine years unsuccessfully in Afghanistan, it's really only in the last year or so that we've embraced a counter insurgency, a method that we've taken it seriously. They've tried to, you know, without too explicitly in effect today, we were distracted by the war in Iraq, now we're concentrating on Afghanistan.
GLASSERClearly, as these callers reflect, a large swath of the American public is not buying it. President Obama himself, if you read the fairly stark portrayal in Bob Woodward's new book, for example, you get a real sense of a president who feels trapped and unhappy with his options and working, scrambling even, behind the scenes to produce a different menu of options than his own advisors and his own Pentagon offered him when it came to the Afghan war. This July, 2011 thing, what's so striking in Woodward's account is that President Obama himself came up with it. He wasn't offered it.
ROBERTSThat's Susan Glasser from -- the editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine. Also with me this morning, Martin Walker writes for foreign affairs for United Press International and Roy Gutman, he's the foreign editor of McClatchy and also the author of "How We missed the Story: Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban and the Hijacking of Afghanistan." Thank you all for being with us. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. And thank you, our wonderful audience, for spending part of your morning with us.
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