What's on Congress' agenda in the final weeks before the August recess? Our panel takes a look at what needs to happen, and what can realistically get done.
The E.U. and the U.S. step up efforts to improve air cargo security. Greece continues to investigate a series of parcel bomb threats. And Brazil elects its first woman president. A panel of journalists joins guest host Frank Sesno for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Abderrahim Foukara Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic.
- Anne Gearan national security correspondent, Associated Press.
- Thom Shanker Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times.
MR. FRANK SESNOThanks for joining us. I'm Frank Sesno, host of "Planet Forward," director of The School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University and I’m sitting in for Diane Rehm today. She will be back on Monday. While the U.S. and European union step up efforts to improve air cargo security, Greece continues to investigate a series of parcel bomb threats there. As we see that national security in homeland security remain issues globally as -- and we have Brazil taking a big step electing its first female president, former Marxist guerilla.
MR. FRANK SESNOSo joining me in the studio for the international hour of the Friday news roundup, Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic, Anne Gearan with the Associated Press and Thom Shanker of The New York Times. Good day to all of you.
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAGood morning.
MS. ANNE GEARANGood morning.
SESNOWe'll get to all of these issues, but Anne, I'd like to start us off with a conversation that you can propel because of an article that you wrote. As we look back on the week, certainly a major event are the elections that took place here. And you write about some of the foreign policy implications that they may have, specifically you write -- and I'm quoting from your article here, "The big Republican gains in Congress make it harder for President Obama to keep his pledge to start bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan by next summer." What's behind that lead?
GEARANWell, strictly speaking, troop levels are an executive decision, a presidential decision, so the Republican gains in Congress don't have a direct lever -- direct effect on the president's decision about whether to bring home some troops next summer or not, but the pressure is gonna go way, way up on the White House this spring as the new Republican led House holds hearings that they've already promised to hold, probably bringing in General Petraeus, who we haven't seen, you know, since he -- in Washington since his confirmation, ringing in his new boss, General Mattis, bringing in others to make the argument that if, as General Petraeus says, things are starting to maybe turn around a little bit in Afghanistan, now is not the time to start pulling people out in the summer.
SESNOThom Shanker, major foreign policy implications of these election results?
MR. THOM SHANKERWell, I think the narrative is not exactly crystal clear. I mean, Anne's assessment is right on the Afghanistan question, but when you look at the Republican surge and the Tea Party successes, I mean, as my colleague Tom Freedman wrote so eloquently, I mean, the choice is there's now. Are they a real Tea Party that has a vision for government or are they just a tea kettle movement that's gonna let off steam?
MR. THOM SHANKERAnd here's an exact example where that comes into play. The Tea Party movement talks about cutting federal spending and smaller government. How will they apply that to national defense? At a time when we're fighting two wars, terrorist threats, ascendant China, North Korea and Iran, you can't cut both federal spending and have strong defense in this environment and the Tea Party movement hasn't really answered that question.
SESNOAnd how about international aid?
SHANKERWell, it's the same question, exactly right. It costs money to keep this country safe. The Tea Party wants to keep the country safe, but cut federal spending.
SESNOAbderrahim Foukara, how did you, as you were reporting on Al Jazeera and how do you as you think about this larger question, the implications for American foreign policy digest these results this past week?
FOUKARAI think the implications obviously vary from one part of the Middle East to another. Take Afghanistan, for example. I think there's a general feeling that yes, the fact that you have a Republican dominated House now may have implications for what the U.S. may do in Afghanistan, but I think the overwhelming sense is that regardless of what has happened, the United States is facing an extremely difficult situation in Afghanistan and neither the two options that people keep talking about are going to be easy.
FOUKARAThe Obama option of scaling down U.S. military presence, not just -- it's going to be difficult. It's going to be very difficult. It's going to be impossible. It's not gonna solve the situation or the U.S. actually deciding to stay indefinitely in Afghanistan, that's also going to be a very difficult option. And I think if the from the point of view of people in Pakistan and Afghanistan watching this election, I think a lot of them will just, you know, shrug it off. Okay. Obama or somebody else, even in 1012, that's not gonna change much. It's not gonna change much in the quandary that they think the United States is in with regard to Pakistan, Afghanistan.
FOUKARAIf you look at the situation elsewhere in the region, let's take the Israeli's and Palestinians. I think there was a sense -- I don't know to what extent it is misplaced, but there was certainly -- there has been a sense that the Israeli's perhaps saw more benefit in having the Republicans back in power, more so than the Palestinians. It seems to me that the Palestinians look at what happened with Bill Clinton in the early '90s and they saw that the resurgence of the Republicans back then did actually give them leverage over the Clinton administration.
FOUKARASo the Palestinians may have placed their bets on the Republicans. They've decided to give Obama a little bit more time to see what actually happens in the election. It's gonna be very interesting now that the Republicans control the House, where he goes with the peace process.
SESNOAs American politics echoes overseas, so does, obviously, American economic discussion and there's a very interesting notation in this front page Wall Street Journal story today under the heading "Dow Hits Pre-Crisis Levels," reporting the movement of the markets recently, yesterday following the federal reserve's injection of $600 billion into it. And then there is this, It says, the fed's buying binge raised alarms, too. Officials in Brazil and South Korea criticized the move saying it could spark inflation in their economies. How great is the concern overseas? Brazil and South Korea, among other countries, China that the -- what the United States is now -- has done in just announced this past week is going to ripple in a negative way their way.
GEARANWell, there is a greater concern in some of the countries you mentioned than there is in the United States. I mean, I think a lot of people in the United States don't -- aren't really familiar with this term or what's behind it, quantitative easing, but in the negative, it's basically printing money and for countries overseas that have less of an inflation risk than we do. I mean, right now the inflation risk in the United States is rather small. It's much larger in other countries and everything the Unites States does, it is, you know, the preeminent economy, if not always the most efficient or influential one. It is the preeminent economy in the world and everything it does affects those other countries.
SHANKERBut we're also...
SHANKER...we're also the preeminent military power in the world and I think, you know, Frank, wrapped up into all of this financial matter is we have to remember that, you know, Britain and France, this past week signed a deal to sort of unite their military operations. And while they talked about it as a great, you know, move forward, I mean, we've all forgotten (word?) Court, I guess, but it really means that don't have the money to do what they were doing, which means global security, whether you like it or not, whatever your perspective, will now fall more to the American view.
SESNOWell, the United Kingdom is in the process of cutting vastly and deeply into all of its spending, including its military, and the French were just taking to the streets because they're trying to raise the retirement age a little bit to 62 because they can't afford the commitments they've made.
SHANKERThat's exactly right. And when you look at military strategy, better than reading doctrine, look at military budgets. You can only do what you can pay for. And again, we have not answered what America can do less around the world as we fight this global crisis.
SESNOOn the Friday News Roundup, looking at the world we're talking to Abderrahim Foukara from -- he's the bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic. We're talking with Anne Gearan, she's correspondent -- national security correspondent with the Associated Press and Thom Shanker, Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times.
SESNOA number of things took place this past week that took our attention very dramatically back to the issue of terrorism, transport and national and homeland security in a variety of countries. First, AP is reporting, Anne, that each of the bombs that was on this -- related to this Yemen cargo transport, was attached to a syringe containing lead azide and a chemical initiator that would have detonated the PETN explosives. And there are some reports that some of these things were sort of set to go off imminently. What do we know?
GEARANWell, the construction you described is a pretty sophisticated one and one of the things we think we know is it points to a particular bomb maker who has participated in -- allegedly in other attacks or would be attacks, failed attacks actually, against western targets and against the Saudi prince. The question of where the bombs were intended to go off is a really interesting one and some of the latest reporting shows that the bomb makers themselves couldn't have known exactly because the bombs were attached to a cell phone and the cell phone had been disabled to the point that you couldn't call it.
GEARANSo it was some other function within the cell phone, like the timer, the alarm, you know, you set your alarm to go off at three o'clock it goes off at three o'clock wherever that thing is in the sky, but they couldn't have known precisely where it was. They would know what time, but because of, you know, it could've been on this plane it could've been in that, you know, store room, whatever, it -- they wouldn't have known exactly where it went off.
SESNOThom Shanker, what do we know about this?
SHANKERWell, the challenge now, of course, is what is to be done. You know, Al-Qaeda operating in Yemen is certainly the most active of all the franchises inspired by Al-Qaida central leadership. The government there is, you know, trying to work with U.S. We're giving them millions of dollars in military aid, but at the risk of alienating a population that has a large and growing core of unemployed men, economic decline there as well. And so even though the forensics is identifying the bomb and how it was going to work, there isn't a forensic analyst smart enough to tell us exactly how to solve the problem.
SESNOAbderrahim Foukara, the U.S. and the British are playing down a bit this French claim that the -- that this bomb was only minutes away from exploding, detonating.
FOUKARAYeah, absolutely. I mean, if you allow me before I go into that, just a quick -- yeah, a very quick remark on the financial crisis and how this actually ties into it. I mean, to the extent that the Greeks are facing economic woes and to the extent that the Greek authorities are saying, it's left wing organizations that are -- who are responsible for the -- for sending the bombs to officials in Germany and so on and so forth. There is an election coming up in Greece that percolates into that, so it's interesting how the financial crisis has timed itself with the threats emanating, at least out of Greece.
SESNOWe'll come back to more on the threats from Greece, from Yemen and in our cargo transport when we continue our conversation on the International News Roundup.
SESNOWelcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Frank Sesno sitting in for Diane today on the Friday International News Roundup. Our guests today, Abderrahim Foukara, he's the Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic, Anne Gearan, she's the national security correspondence with the Associated Press, Thom Shanker's Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times. If you'd like to join our conversation or send a question our way about developments this past week around the world, you can reach us at 1-800-433-8850, that's 1-800-433-8850 or you can e-mail us your question at email@example.com. Abderrahim Foukara, you were in the process of connecting some of the dots with these terrorist attempts that we saw this past week.
FOUKARAYeah, absolutely, at least as far as Greece is concerned. Now, I think the threat was -- I feel like there was a double jeopardy in the threat. There was the obvious part of it, which is the bombs exploding and causing damage. But the other danger is this lack of clarity about what actually has been happening. You have several governments saying different things. And the danger in that is that you create the perception -- at least in parts of the Middle East, including Yemen, you create the perception that the United States is doing this, Al-Qaida is doing this.
FOUKARAI mean, there are two schools of thought in Yemen, for example. One's saying that yes, Al-Qaida is trying to bring the United States to actually engage militarily in Yemen, so as to rally the Muslim world around it and say, look, the Americans are invading another Muslim country, but there's another school of thought which is saying that the U.S. is trying to open up a third front in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan in the Muslim world. I think as far as the United States is concerned, that's the challenge that the Obama administration faces now, the problem of perception, in addition to the terrorist threat.
SESNOThom Shanker, a third front. Isn't this an ongoing front? There's been concern from the very get go about these franchise movements that can take place in these other states. Great concern about failed states like Somalia. Is this what we're seeing?
SHANKERVery much so, but the challenge is the U.S. government, despite the billions we spend on national security, you know, is really under resourced for global counterterrorism.
SESNOWell, how can you do that? You can't be everywhere at once.
SHANKERThat's exactly right. It's the metaphor of the four-year-olds playing soccer, they all glaum on the ball. We look at Afghanistan and then we look at Iraq and Afghanistan goes bad. We look at Pakistan, Yemen goes bad. We focus on Yemen, look what happens. And it's a bit of a cliche by now, but one we ought to remember is the asymmetrical advantage of terrorists. The underwear bomber at Christmas failed, the two package bombs were intercepted. The bombs sent out of Greece only slightly injured one postal worker, however tragic that is.
SHANKERDespite the fact that all of them are failures in the tactical sense, the strategic victory handed terrorists by the abject fear, the cancellation of international trade, they won.
SESNOYou see these international terrorists winning here, Anne?
GEARANWell, in some sense, yes. I mean, if one of the effects of this is a whole new level of screening of cargo, which it will happen in some form, it's a question of how extensive it is, that is a pretty significant economic and trade impact that goes far beyond the theoretically intended target here.
SESNOWas the world lucky in finding this ticking needle in the haystack -- these ticking needles, because there was more than one, or does this suggest that there really is a remarkable level of intelligence and focus that can be brought to this incredible challenge when need be?
GEARANSome U.S. officials would tell you both of those things. It -- in some sense, it was luck. I mean, the needle in the haystack analogy is a really good one. You know, on the more encouraging side, a lot of the reason that these bombs were caught was because of a tip that came through Saudi intelligence. This is a channel that United States has relied on for years. Sometimes it's been not that reliable. Our relationship with the Saudis has been troubled and it is a -- counterterrorism officials are cheering the fact that this really worked this time. I mean, someone came to them and told them something was about to happen, it jibed with information U.S. intelligence already had, that there was such a plot perhaps out there and they were able to act.
SESNOAbderrahim Foukara, Al Jazeera, I was at a talk this past week with a senior official from the Gulf Region who expressed what appeared to me to sound like intensifying concern about violent extremism in the region. How are these events that we witnessed this past week driving officialdom in these countries?
FOUKARAWell, I mean, you were just discussing the issue of who is the actual winner. I don't think there's an actual winner in all this because if you look at Yemen, for example, Yemen is one of the losers. Yes, you bring down the level of all the volume of flights, you cause economic havoc if you're Al-Qaida, but if you look at Yemen, already a failed state, if you look at the prospects that Yemen may stop being a failed state, that's not going to happen anytime soon because the threat -- what do you do -- if you're in a country like Yemen, what do you do in this situation?
SESNOWell, what are the regional leaders saying should be done?
FOUKARAWell, I mean, look, Yemen is in a situation where it faces, in addition to the issue of Al-Qaida and foreign intervention, it faces domestic problems. The conflict in Yemen has a local domestic dimension. You have people in the south who are trying to succeed. You have the Houthi movement to (word?). They actually take -- as we saw a few months ago, they took the trouble all the way to the border with Saudi Arabia, so this is obviously a very potentially destabilizing situation for the whole region.
SESNOLet me ask you all, what -- what does this kind of terrorism suggest needs to be done and is now being done with respect to air cargo? Where do we go from here with all of this?
GEARANWell, there will be some heightened level of screening. The technology exists to more fully -- in fact, very fully screen all cargo, which means breaking down pallets and so forth, but that won't happen because it is far too expensive and it takes far too much time. I mean, air cargo and air transport would grind to a halt. There's simply not going to -- the world is not going to make that bargain, so there will be some heightened level which stops short of full screening.
SHANKERFrank, here's the fundamental question to you, to my colleagues on the panel and to everybody listening today about this question. What is our tolerance for another terror attack in the United States? If it's zero tolerance, then there is no kind of victory or satisfaction. Our country and the political leaders need to be a little more forward leaning perhaps in discussing this beyond the agenda. How resilient is this nation? Because sooner or later, something else is going to happen and the goal is to prevent it, to disrupt it, to minimize it, but, you know, full success is never possible in this kind of fight.
SESNODo you think that conversation has not taken place?
SHANKERI think whenever has taken place, it has been immediately cast as a political argument. Oh, you're fear mongering, oh, this is ahead of the election, oh, you wanna take votes. I do not believe -- and I'd love to hear what the panelists say -- I don't believe it's been held at a fundamental rational level. It's always been part of the political dialogue.
GEARANWell, it hasn't been held on an economic level. I mean, it -- what is it going to cost us? What are we willing to pay? What are we willing to give up? I mean, the cargo situation is actually a pretty good place to start that argument.
FOUKARAI think in terms of cost for the United States, whatever the cost the United States pays up to its preventing another attack, in the long run, it's obviously better than having an attack -- another attack on the United States' soil happen. My sense is that should an attack 9/11 style -- another attack 9/11 style happen in the United States, all this stuff that Obama has been telling people around the world, particularly in the Muslim world, that he wants to improve relations with the Muslim world, start another page with the -- all that stuff is going to go out the window.
FOUKARABecause I was here when 9/11 happened and I know that should another attack like that happen, there is absolutely no way, whether it’s a Republican or a Democratic in power at the White House, there's absolutely no way you can stop this country from taking military action -- the kind of military action that we saw in Afghanistan, we saw in Iraq. We haven't solved that mess yet. Can you imagine the prospect of a third conflict on that scale?
SESNOWhy is our -- why is our discussion about this so different than the discussion in Europe where there's been a Madrid, where London has been bombed, where Germany faces this threat all the time? Is it because our two best friends have been so reliably the Atlantic and the Pacific and we feel that we're somehow immune from this or are we just being irresponsible in the way that we're taking this on intellectually?
SHANKERWell, I think historically, we have been an island, you know, a nation that's been very (unintelligible) not just in Europe. Think about nations in the Middle East whether, you know, Egypt or Israel or Lebanon, where levels of violence are an accepted, however regrettable, part of life.
GEARANAnd the United States is still -- although it's been a long time now -- but the United States is still unaccustomed to being anyone's enemy. I mean, there is still an impulse politically and socially to think, well, why would -- who wants to be mad at us? I mean, we go out and do good in the world. And even though that has been, you know, a -- that impulse itself has been certainly a target for lots of world anger.
SESNOGo to some phone calls in just a minute, but Abderrahim, there's been very notable upsurge and violence in Iraq in the past week. Tell us what happened at that church in Baghdad.
FOUKARAWell, basically, a lot of Christian Iraqis were held hostage at that church. And when the Iraqi security forces tried to free them, the carnage ensued, basically, and many of the hostages themselves were killed. Look, we're talking about failed states. Yemen, in a lot of books, is a failed state. Somalia is certainly a failed state. There is a theory which says that Iraq is also a failed state.
FOUKARADon't know if a lot of people would agree with that, but it has been described before as a failed state with oil. Iraq is at an impasse. I think the way it has been described to people in this country, it has been described as a country that has been brought under control, but the violence in recent days has shown us that in addition to having spent seven months after the election without a government, Iraq remains a powder keg. Now, the question is, what happens down the road when the U.S. completes its withdrawal of its -- of its forces?
SESNOThom Shanker, you call the Pentagon your office (laugh), that's your beat.
SESNOHow is the U.S. military viewing what is happening in Iraq, both in terms of what's actually happening on the ground and the status of stability there?
SESNOAnd in terms of how it might affect the continued withdrawal of U.S. forces?
SHANKERI mean, that's certainly the essential question and not just at the Pentagon, but I spent a couple of days talking to commanders in Iraq. They're on the ground, we're here and to the very good point that was just made, what they are saying, it's much like our discussion, what level of violence is acceptable? They still maintain that Al-Qaida and Mesopotamia has been knocked back. It doesn't have centralized commanding control. Most importantly, it doesn't hold territory as it did in '05 and '06 when Anbar was the seat of power, Fallujah was the capitol. They are now a cellular organization somewhat shattered, but still capable and always will be of violence and so the American plan, as it draws down from 50,000 to a lower number by the end of next year, the counterterrorism troops will be the last to leave.
SESNOThis is our Friday News Roundup. We're gonna go to the phones now for some of your questions and Ian is standing by who's calling in from Charlotte, N.C. Hi, Ian. Thanks for calling.
IANHello, good morning.
IANMy question for the panel is, are we seeing an adaptation on the part of Al-Qaida with regards to its tactics? And this, I suppose, is related to the issue of the costs of combating terrorism. It seems they're no longer going to use people or suicide bombers as a way of delivering explosives on aircrafts and so forth and now that they're going to go for these remotely detonated bombs, which would be, I suppose, a bit more difficult to track than, say, the people, because I think their deduction is that either the people they're offending are not capable, they're not well trained to detonate the explosives or they are easily caught and detected.
SESNOAnne, you want to start us?
GEARANWell, Al-Qaida hasn't given up on the idea of suicide bombers. I mean, the Saudi prince example, which U.S. investigators think is the work of the same bomber as these Yemen-based package bombs, involved a suicide bomber, but it does show -- the latest package bombs do show that Al-Qaida is willing to look at pretty much the entire range of -- you know, go through the entirest terrorist tool bag. I mean, package bombs are a very old idea.
GEARANAnd they have figured out a way to adapt them...
SESNOYou talked earlier about the technology and the components of these devices. Do you think they're -- that we're seeing some new more sophisticated, more aggressive tactics coming to play here?
GEARANYeah, sure. I mean, they're using plastic explosives and an accelerant. I mean, that is not, you know, a little trip wire IED, you know, that blows up a Humvee and kills people. As terrible as that is, that's a pretty simple construction. That's -- you know, hit this, it goes boom. This involves a much higher degree of sophistication to build and it can be much more difficult to detect.
SESNOAnother caller from Dublin, N.H. Russell's on us -- on the line with us. Hi, Russell.
RUSSELLMy question to you all is that in the last issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, September/October, the lead article was about the U.S. military after McChrystal and the author's postulation was that the U.S. military had subcontracted out everything, including the translation of manuals and even the making of policy, and I'd like some comment on that because if that's true, we aren't going to have much of a U.S. military within a generation.
SESNOOkay, Russell. Thanks very much. Thom Shanker, you've covered the military.
SHANKERWell, that's a nice turn of phrase and it certainly indicates a problem. Contracts are certainly on the rise, but for the most part, they're doing jobs that the American military doesn't and shouldn't want its troops to do. I mean, mowing lawns, serving meals and all of that with the very well trained all volunteer force. They should be engaged in war fighting. The issues that are of great concern is where contractors have taken up local security tasks that might have at one point been done by the military, but are now not even military related. It's contractors who are defending American diplomats in Iraq and Afghanistan and it's those contractors who've been accused of abuses of power.
SESNOAbderrahim, while I've got a second here, there's a little lead here that's just moved on the Associated Press from Peshwa. Police say a second mosque has been bombed in northwest Pakistan and several people have been wounded. It seems every time you turn around, or virtually, there is some terrible report from Pakistan about another bombing or more violence. What is going on in that country now?
FOUKARAWell, I mean, it really has become very difficult to tell what's going on in a place like Pakistan. I mean, these two bombings that you were talking about, at least one of them, the attack targeted a Sunni mosque. And, you know, it just has become part of a pattern of sectarian violence in Pakistan, which needs to remind people that the real story is not necessarily Afghanistan, it's Pakistan.
SESNOYou're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show," the Friday News Roundup. I'm Frank Sesno sitting in for Diane today. A short break, we'll be back with more conversation and your questions.
SESNOWelcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Frank Sesno sitting in for Diane today. Our Friday News Roundup looking at events in the world this past week and what they mean. You can join our conversation at 1-800-433-8850 or you can e-mail us a question at firstname.lastname@example.org, that's email@example.com and Diane will be back on Monday. Folks, we were talking about Yemen earlier and we have this question from David, who comes to us via our e-mail. "Yemen is about money, not politics," he writes, "It's been the source for mercenaries for years. Unemployment among its young men is over 25 percent." So he writes, "Let's not demonize Yemen or something like drone attacks. We're on the brink of creating an even more anti-American attitude in the Middle East."
FOUKARAYeah, absolutely. I agree that the situation in Yemen is extremely complex and it's often described in very simplistic terms. I mean, the problems that Yemen faces -- well, some of the problems that Yemen faces, you have economic collapse, you have a tribal society in which the government -- central government is very weak and this cuts right into this issue of Al-Qaida because the strategy of Al-Qaida in Yemen is obviously very different from the strategy of Al-Qaida in Iraq. Al-Qaida has become part of the tribal system in Yemen and it makes it extremely difficult for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to go after Al-Qaida because if he does, he goes after tribes.
SESNOSo Anne Gearan is national security correspondent, Thom Shanker is Pentagon correspondent. When you talk to senior sources in your areas of expertise, how do they explain the strategy toward Yemen, this very fragile, maybe failing or failed state?
GEARANWell, some acknowledge that there's sort of a secret war going on there already. I mean, we are...
SESNONot sure how secret it is.
GEARANWell, it's an unacknowledged war. There are U.S. counter-terror assets there doing things that by in large most Americans don't really know about.
SESNOAnd that's the strategy and what they intend to stay with?
GEARANWell, yes, that and to plus up the money. There's a proposal to greatly increase military aid to...
SESNOTo do what, to support the Yemeni armed forces?
GEARANTo support President Saleh and his efforts to do that very, very hard task of going after Al-Qaida from within.
SESNOBut is he capable of doing that? Are those forces, Thom Shanker, capable of successfully going after those internal forces?
SHANKERThey are not now and there's also no guarantee that they'll be used against the bad guys that we say are the bad guys. He has a set of bad guys that really aren't a threat to the United States and so even the senior military people and Pentagon strategists acknowledge there's no military alone answer, but how you help them with the economic development to make it a unfailed state is very unclear.
SESNOBack to the phones and Byron, who calls in from Blanco, Texas. Hi, Byron.
BYRONHi. How are you doing, Frank?
SESNOVery, very well. Thanks for calling.
BYRONOh, thank you for having me on the show. I have a question and it's about Iraq. When they put all these insurgents on the payroll, it seemed effective up until now. Maybe they took them off the payroll. Do you think that would be effective in places like Yemen? They're just desperate for some jobs.
SHANKERThe problem with Iraq is that most of the insurgents who were brought into the program, the sons of Iraq, are Sunnis and they have become rather disillusioned with the Shia majority government right now. That's what's the problem there. It's unclear whether such a program would work in Yemen today because there's not really a broad based insurgency that's a threat to America. It's the Al-Qaida in Yemen is thought to be some number of dozens of people, so it's a different problem.
SESNOAnd John joins us from Charlotte, N.C. Hi, John, go ahead with your question.
JOHNHey, thanks for taking my call. I guess my question is how much is enough spending? I mean, you know, we're already spending more on our military than the rest of the world combined and if you factor in Homeland Security and all the other intelligences agencies, we're talking about 10s of billions more and it seems like how is that stopping, you know, a terrorist bombing or a bomb on a plane? It's just -- it's madness to me. I mean, it seems to me, we could cut our defense budget probably by 25 percent and not suffer any -- be any less safe in terms of terrorist bombing attacks against our country, so I just don't understand this narrative that we can't possibly cut our defense because someone might put a bomb on a plane. It's -- it's madness to me.
SESNOOkay, John. Thanks for your comment. Anne Gearan?
GEARANWell, that goes back to the resources question that we were talking about earlier. I mean, after 9/11, it was Katy Bar by the door for defense budgets and essentially anything that had to do with Homeland Security and national security and the Pentagon got used to that and its leaders now know that those days are over. There will be some restriction of spending, if not an actual cut. It's really a decrease in the rate of growth and Secretary Gates has tried to prepare everyone for that, Congress, Defense contractors, the people...
SESNOIt's not 25 percent he's preparing anybody for.
GEARANHe certainly isn't. It's 2 percent or something like that. It's very -- it's miniscule.
SESNOWell, is it just a down payment on further cuts, do you think? I mean, is our caller onto something here that at the end of the day, maybe we don't go 25 percent like Britain's doing, but that there's gonna be little choice, but to make much deeper cuts? And if that's the case, what are the implications for the projection of American power and national security?
GEARANWell, we'd be talking about a worse economic problem than we're in right now before he got to that -- to the point where that calculation would be made, but yeah, it's conceivable at some point, that we could be making the bargain that Britain did. And Britain does it with the knowledge that it reduces its ability to project power. I mean, Britain has very specifically taken away some of the things that it has used before to project power.
SESNOThom Shanker, last thought on this and then I'm gonna take us onto another topic.
SHANKERSure. Well, I mean, the caller has a legitimate question. That's something that the voters can decide, but when you talk about cutting the Pentagon budget by 25 percent, what quarter of the responsibilities that the military carries out is the caller willing to sacrifice? And that's a very difficult question to answer.
SESNOLet's spend a couple minutes on another part of the world and another event that's very, very significant. You know, we talk about the BRICs -- the BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India and China. Well, one of those BRICs did a little building last week in electing a new president. Brazil elected a female president, Dilma Rousseff. Who is President-elect Dilma Rousseff?
GEARANShe was the current President Lula da Silva's Chief of Staff. And long ago, she was a Marxist guerilla. She's an interesting person.
SESNOA Marxist guerilla to president of one of the fast growing countries in the world. What do we know about her?
SHANKERWell, this is her first elected office, but, you know, clearly, her policies and those of her mentor, the current president, have appealed to the public in ways that the American voters can understand. You know, economic stability earns you votes. Elevating the lower class to the middle class and the middle class to the upper class wins you votes, so guerilla or not, they've simply delivered.
SESNOAbderrahim, this is really interesting. Fareed Zakaria writes about the rise of the rest, China, India. Well, Brazil is part of the rise of the rest. They're economy is doing very, very well. The world's fifth largest economy. They've largely escaped the global downturn. They're gonna host the World Cup in 2014. They're gonna host the Summer Olympics in 2016. They profess to be energy independent, partly because of their ethanol industry, but also because of their offshore and other oil industry. I mean, it's a booming place. What's the influence that's gonna take place under this new president, continued growth?
FOUKARAWell, I mean, she has certainly promised continued growth. She has promised that the same policies that former President Lula had pursued, she would pursue. What's interesting about this is that the Brazilians, very close to the United States, now have a woman president, something that has happened in the United States yet, but in terms of Brazil projecting its power, we're talking about defense cuts. That's one of the things that countries like China, Brazil and the other rising powers do not necessarily have to contend with. They are not so -- they are not stretched so thin militarily, in terms of dealing with security threats, as the United States does.
SESNOAnd there are inevitable places where American foreign policy and these rising democracy's foreign policy are gonna cross. Iran comes to mind, for example, and Brazil has said -- has had ties with Iran. The newly elected president says, those ties are going to continue, but for peaceful purposes. But she said in an interview with CNN, we don't believe that the war method is the way to solve conflicts. You will never see Brazil occupying itself with war. Meanwhile, the options continue to be weighed in this country about what to do about Iran's nuclear program. Thom Shanker, what role for Brazil in the Iran situation?
SHANKERWell, it's one of those interesting points that Brazil and to extent China, as well, have been able to sustain their economic growth under the American security umbrella around the world, whether they like it or not. All of the global straights, the sea lines that China requires, are protected by American military ships and our coalition.
SESNOSame for Brazil.
SHANKERSame for Brazil. Not by China, not by Brazil, so I would never argue that our all volunteer force should become the Prussians of the 21st century, but maybe we ought to charge a service fee.
SESNOAnne Gearan, (laugh) I don't know about the service fee, but what do you see is Brazil's emerging roll in the Iran situation? Very, very interesting, very tense and where intervention by -- involvement by other powers sometimes isn't welcomed by U.S. policymakers.
GEARANNo. But in the case of Brazil, it has tried to play a role in Iran in a practical way, along with Turkey, and from time to time, other countries in attempting to be sort of a third party to handle some of the technical part of the nuclear problem. I mean, the fundamental problem is will Iran build a nuclear weapon and there are some countries that think one way to diffuse that tension with the West would be to take hold of parts of Iran's nuclear program, essentially do things for them. And Brazil has tried to do that in the past.
SESNOAbderrahim, many in the United States are hoping that this new president will distance herself from Ahmadinejad. Any chance of that?
FOUKARAI -- you know, I personally don't think that's gonna happen, because, you know, part of the context in which this is happening is that there are very close ties between Iran and a country like Venezuela. And, you know, you have very different countries in Latin America jockeying for leadership in the region. I do not see Dilma and Ahmadinejad, you know, being close bodies on everything because, I mean, she -- as has been said before, she's a former Marxist guerilla.
FOUKARAPresident Lula was very, very strong on the issues of human rights, for example. So the Iranians and the Brazilians will not see eye to eye on some issues, but on the issue of Iran's nuclear program, at least for the foreseeable future, especially if this alliance between Brazil and Turkey continue over Iran, I don't think the United States will be able to split or to uncouple Brazil and Iran.
SESNOLet's go back to the calls. We've talked about a lot this hour and let's come back to your part of this conversation. Reggie joins us from Cleveland, Ohio. Hi, Reggie.
REGGIEHello. Good morning. Thank you for taking my call.
SESNOYou bet. Go ahead with your question.
REGGIEMy question is when you look at the decisions that we've made in the war on terror, you know, to go to Afghanistan, to go to Iraq, a possible, you know, future involvement with Yemen and I specifically wanted to focus on Iraq. Say we hadn't gone there and we just stayed in Afghanistan and we've been there, we've been in Iraq and, you know, Afghanistan for basically 10 years. So, like, how do you, you know, see the conflict against terrorism, you know, the problems of, you know, trying to centralize and stabilize Afghanistan and just the general war on terror panning out differently if we hadn't been in Iraq?
SESNOOkay, Reggie. Thanks so much. One of the great what if questions. Thom Shanker?
SHANKERWell, that's really one for the historians, not those of us who write the rough draft of history in 800 words every morning. The fundamental question is really one that the Obama administration wrestled with when they came into office. President Obama decided to adopt the orphan war of Afghanistan 'cause he, of course, opposed the war in Iraq. And there's no doubt whatsoever that resources in Afghanistan were shifted to Iraq so prematurely, that the early victory in Afghanistan was allowed to slip away.
SESNOTo the phones, Harvey in Clemens, N.C. Go ahead, Harvey.
HARVEYGood morning, thanks...
HARVEY...for taking my call.
SESNOThanks for joining us.
HARVEYThere -- one of your panelists made a -- one of your guests made a comment earlier about Iraq and about when we finally draw down all the troops that are in Iraq and I've heard that comment from several people before. I don't think that's ever gonna happen. I don't think that was ever the intention of the previous administration. I think we're gonna have a presence in Iraq similar to what we had in Korea and Japan for decades, for maybe generations to come.
HARVEYOtherwise, why would they have built -- I think that was their intention all the time when they undertook building that embassy that they have there, which was the largest and most expensive embassy that we've ever built anywhere in the world. And it's going to have, according to what I've read, I believe somewhere in the neighborhood of around 3500 employees and cost this country billions of dollars a year to operate. Now, why would they do that unless their intention was to have a military presence in Iraq for generations?
SESNOOkay. Thom, let me let you answer that...
SHANKEROf course. The large embassy is specifically designed to take over many of the responsibilities now carried out by military forces. Things they probably shouldn't be doing. Your question's a valid one. Right now there is a treaty between Washington and Baghdad that calls for the full withdrawal of all American troops by the end of next year. That can be amended, it very likely will be amended. What we do know is there will be an office of military cooperation with Iraq that will endure, so I think the model will be a little bit less like Korea with 10s of thousands of troops and more like with Kuwait, where there's a military office that coordinates training and procurement.
FOUKARAI think the listener is absolutely right. The United States has invested a lot of money and lives -- American lives and Iraqi lives for the United States to just pack up and leave. I think 50 years down the road, the United States will still be holding its way in Iraq, but I think the United States, and I'll say this very quickly, needs to redefine its presence, its influence throughout the Middle East because they seem to have lost influence, some influence in Iraq. They've lost some influence in a place like Lebanon and other places. The Iranians, on the other hand, have gained influence in Iraq and they've gained influence in a place like Lebanon, so a redefinition of that role is definitely in order.
SESNOAnd Anne Gearan, let's come full circle. Back to the election of this last week and how you think that's going to influence the overall debate about American foreign policy and America's role in the world.
GEARANWell, one thing we talked about a bit at the beginning was the influence of the Tea Party and I think the wild card factor there is going to be a really interesting thing to watch. The -- they have -- there is a strain within some of those elected with Tea Party backing, away from a very traditional sense of American primacy and American power that comes with military and spending a lot of money around the world and to what extent that affects Republican priorities will probably also affect what Obama will be able to do.
SESNOThom Shanker, you get the brief last word.
SHANKERI agree with what Anne said.
SESNOThat may have been too brief. You can say a little bit more than that.
SHANKERWell, again, I think the real challenge is balancing the available money with strategic goals and that debate has not been engaged and we don't know the answers.
SESNOWell, maybe that debate now will begin and we'll be here to track it, of course. To Thom Shanker, Anne Gearan and Abderrahim Foukara, thanks to all of you very much on this Friday for this News Roundup. I'm Frank Sesno sitting in for Diane Rehm. Have a great day, great weekend.
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