ISIS takes control of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. Several nations agree to take in Southeast Asian migrants. And the U.S. and Cuba move closer to full restoration of diplomatic ties. A panel of journalists joins guest host Indira Lakshmanan for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
An international arrest warrant is out for the founder of Wikileaks as world leaders brace for more disclosures. And European nations seek further measures to contain the debt crisis. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- James Kitfield senior correspondent, National Journal magazine.
- Nadia Bilbassy senior U.S. correspondent, MBC TV -- Middle East Broadcast Centre.
- David Loyn foreign correspondent for the BBC; author of "In Afghanistan: Two Hundred Years of British, Russian and American Occupation."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Wikileaks was forced to switch to a Swiss domain name after a hacker attack prompted its American provider to withdraw service. Wikileaks has released nearly 700 of the 250,000 classified U.S. documents it says it has on file. The U.S. told the U.N. nuclear watchdog North Korea may have built more than one uranium enrichment facility and momentum appears to be growing for ratification of the new START treaty. One additional item we've just learned from the Associated Press, that President Obama has slipped unannounced into Afghanistan this morning, one year after widening an ever deadlier war and just days before a pivotal review about the nine year plus conflict.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us in the studio for the international hour of the "News Roundup," David Loyn of the BBC, Nadia Bilbassy of the Middle East Broadcast Center and James Kitfield of National Journal Magazine. Your comments are always welcome. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook and Twitter. Good morning to all of you and happy Friday.
MR. DAVID LOYNGood morning, Diane.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDGood morning, Diane.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYGood morning, Diane.
REHMJames Kitfield is surprised that President Obama would show up in Afghanistan.
KITFIELDYeah, I am surprised at that. I would've probably expected to see General Petraeus come here, but there is this big review. When he announced his Afghan surge last December, said there would be a review at the year mark. So we're at the year mark of the surge. Everyone's looking to see what General Petraeus is gonna say. I think we pretty much -- it's all been telegraphed, at this point. He's gonna claim that they've shifted the momentum.
KITFIELDThe momentum, he's gonna say, is now with the U.S. forces. They have continued this sort of slow motion offensive in Kandahar trying to kick the Taliban, basically, out of their stronghold. But obviously Obama wanted to get a little ground truth himself. He's gonna meet in Karzai. As we've learned from these Wikileak cables, that relationship remains extremely tenuous. Those leaks told us what we already knew, but there was just an unremitting negative view of Karzai and the Afghan government being awash in corruption and graft and that could be a fatal flaw, as Ambassador Eikenberry says, in our counterinsurgency strategy there. Because without a government to fill that vacuum, you never get beyond clearing a place.
BILBASSYI'm actually not surprised. I think at this time of the year, the commander of chief normally goes to where the troops are in the battlefield and show its support. We've seen that with President Bush. We've seen that with President Obama before. I think the security issue is he wanted to have a cover before we come closer to Christmas time and then he's busy in Washington. So the timing, I don't think, is surprising. At the same time, I think it's very important for him to go and to see what's happening on the ground considering for the...
BILBASSY...for himself. And this is a president, by the way, who's being criticized very often that he hasn't been to Afghanistan as many times as he should have been. So this is his second visit, I think, after being a president and it's important for him to be there on the ground to see the generals, especially as James just said, after the Wikileaks information that came and assure the American public of his stand.
LOYNYeah. It's been the toughest year for U.S. troops. A third of U.S. casualties in 2010 -- and I agree with James absolutely that General Petraeus' review be upbeat. I mean, there's been more violence because the momentum of the war is far tougher. But I think the Wikileaks stuff shows really a problem with U.S. policy right at the heart of it. The stuff in today's leaks and the fascinating thing about these Wikileaks is that they've been issued day by day by day so you get a whole story every day.
LOYNAnd today's story is an Afghan story from Wikileaks and it shows that American officials are willing to work alongside the most corrupt Afghans, effectively putting warlords in place, if those...
REHMWho's carried $53 million out.
LOYN...if -- all of that, if those guys turn out to be the people who can have some kind of stability against the Taliban insurgency. Just a quote from one of the leaks, "Western officials now walk a thin tightrope when walking with this allegedly corrupt official, one who's named, who's also a security stabilization force." The dilemma is, how do you stabilize? How do they ultimately begin to get out? You know, there's a political imperative now to begin the surge reverse by 2011, which is, of course, you know, coming up very soon and to stop all combat operations by 2015.
LOYNNow, if they're gonna do that, then they need credible Afghans in place. But the Wikileaks revelations reveal that the people that they're putting in place are some pretty unspeakable characters.
KITFIELDYou know, we -- it's not really news, but to see it in this sort of unfiltered, unvarnished way can't help but give you pause that this is going to -- if there is a fatal flaw in this, as I said, in this strategy, I think it's been identified as the Karzai government and the level of corruption that is just endemic there -- you know, 'cause the coin strategy is pretty -- excuse me for using that acronym, hanging around the military too long -- counterinsurgency strategy is really holistic and requires that to win the population to the government.
KITFIELDIf the government's this corrupt and it's viewed by even the top American officials that way and that's come out, you know, it makes it difficult.
REHMAll right. How does this change the American public's view of what's happening in Afghanistan? On the one hand, you may have General Petraeus saying, things are going fine, we are making progress. On the other hand, you have reports of this kind of corruption direct, first hand, from Wikileaks. How does that change the picture? It sure does in my mind.
KITFIELDWell, the American public's gone south on this war already.
REHMLong time ago.
KITFIELDThe majority just don't support it anymore, but no president wants a sort of Saigon rooftop imaged on his watch, i.e. pulling out of there and letting the thing fall apart. So we're...
LOYNBut there's a level of engagement in interest and understanding in Afghanistan in a way that there wasn't before. I mean, this is already America's longest war. It's the longest invasion of Afghanistan, the longest time foreign troops have been in the country ever, I mean, even now as long as the Russians in their period in the 1980s. And there are increasing signs of the U.S. administration -- and, of course, the British government have many troops there as well, the second largest number of troops -- looking at how the Russians got out in the 1980s and beginning to try and learn the lessons of history...
REHMHow did the Russians get out?
LOYNWell, interestingly enough, from about 1985, they did exactly the same thing that the Americans are saying. We'll have one last big push of a lot of troops and then we'll -- and if we don't win then, then we will leave. I mean, the Americans are not quite saying the same thing. They're not saying if we don't win, we'll leave. They're hoping to win. I mean, my day job is with BBC, but I'm actually over in the U.S. in connection with a British drama company who have put on a series of plays that are opening in New York this weekend called "The Great Game" at the Skirball Center in New York.
LOYNYou've already missed them in Washington, Diane, but they're in New York at the moment. And I tell you, the people who've come to those plays are interested in the history. People are now beginning to try and understand what's happening in Afghanistan so there is much more engagement. Although, as James said, the opinion polls are moving very fast against any further foreign engagement in another country.
BILBASSYI think one point that I will add here. The problem is not exposing these corruptions. We all know about it and Wikileaks only confirmed what everybody knew. The problem is, what's the alternative? What you going to do? Who's the alternative to Karzai? And that's the dilemma that Americans have to deal when every level that they have -- also they have a bad example. We didn't have the CIA having senior officials being on the payroll of the American government. They are also corrupt.
LOYNThe tragedy is there are plenty of non-corrupt Afghan officials and these cables show that they've been dislodged one after another after another. There are plenty of good individuals. And Karzai and his cronies are beginning to emerge as sort of a really corrupt and quite cruel elite at the top of Afghanistan, buttressed by, frankly, by U.S. tax dollars. And the unsavory bit is that the good Afghans have either been killed or dislodged.
REHMI want to get to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange because British intelligence is said to know where he's hiding. There is the Swedish government saying that he's charged with rape. How much of this do you believe has been made up because all these governments are so angry that he has released this material, James?
KITFIELDIt's a very good question in the back of my mind. I mean, the Swedish government's a fairly liberal progressive government. You wouldn't think if there was no evidence that they would have this arrest warrant out for him. However, he says this has all been trumped up by foreign intelligence services. That's absolutely possible. But I would be feeling very uncomfortable if I was this individual, at this point. We have the Justice Department, who has launched a criminal investigation whether he can be, basically, charged for spying under our espionage act. You've got this rape charge out there.
KITFIELDHis own home country says it will arrest him and extradite him on the rape charge if he goes home. You have his sites begin attacked by unknown hackers...
REHMAnd now, he's forced to change the domain.
KITFIELD...but very sophisticated attacks. From Amazon.com, from the American domain, I mean, he is...
REHMAnd Friendship kicked him off as well.
KITFIELDWell, I mean, he has not made any friends, basically, except there is a few people who think, let all the light in, everything should be in the open here and he's a hero, sort of a media hero. But there are a lot of governments in the world who see what he is doing is very dangerous.
REHMBut what has surprised you most about what has been released?
KITFIELDWell, if I had to point to two things -- my major surprise is that I'm not surprised. I mean, almost everything he's done has been reported. We've reported it and it gives you some confidence that what you get on the background sometimes and sometimes on the record from some people is the unvarnished truth, although filtered a little more diplomatically than some of these cables which are very snarky and in some cases kind of amusing. We learn that Sarkozy is arrogant. Well, you know, big wow, we didn't know that.
KITFIELDWe learned that Berlusconi's a bit crazy. Well, yeah, we knew that, too. We learned that Karzai's corrupt. Yeah, again, all this has been reported. But two bits of information kind of struck me. China, apparently, does understand that the reunification of the Korean peninsula is likely and will not oppose that forever. That's a little bit -- I haven't heard that before. I thought they were really against that. And secondly, our concern about Pakistan's nuclear weaponry is much more acute than I thought it was.
REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal Magazine. We'll take a short break here. Your calls, your comments in our next segment.
REHMHere's a comment from our website about Wikileaks from Al who says, "I'm a retired Vietnam vet, retired military officer. Wikileak is the best thing to happen in a long time. The only damage done is damage to the pride of our diplomats by exposing their lack of confidence and the fact that they use the secret label to hide behind that incompetence. Obviously, volumes could and have been written on the subject. It's time to bring all the facts into the open. And, David Loyn, I gather you have seen Julius (sic) Assange recently.
LOYNYeah, he spends a fair amount of time in London. He spends some time in a journalist club, which I happen to be a member of. In fact, we had our annual party last week. We had a charity auction and one of the things we auctioned was dinner with Julian Assange, which went for just 200 pounds. You could've had -- I don't know whether he'd still be able to deliver on that. That's some $300. And we also auctioned a wig which he said to have worn because he moves around under various false identities.
LOYNSo Julian Assange's wig actually went for more than dinner with the guy . But he's the – I mean, but he's not a journalist. He's a hacker. And what's been really interesting about the material that's come out this time, is that it is now being discerned by some pretty good media organizations around the world, The New York Times, The Guardian, the more serious journals which are looking at the material. And the frank and real reaction of the U.S. administration is -- in Hillary Clinton's comments at her press conference, when she said, well, you should see what they say about us.
LOYNAnd when Robert Gates, the Defense Secretary, says embarrassing yes, awkward yes, consequences for U.S. foreign policy, I think, fairly modest. And I think that's the frank truth of this stuff.
REHMThat's the question. Courtney in Dallas says, "I'm so conflicted about the Wikileaks matter. By comparison, I did not think the outing of Valerie Plame was right. It put peoples' lives at risk. Wikileaks does the same thing at the same time the democratic society demands transparency. Perhaps a distinction between the two leaks can be made on the basis of the intent behind the leak. I don't think anyone would say Valerie Plame's identity was leaked as means of holding the government accountable." James.
KITFIELDI share her sense of confliction, I must admit. As a journalist, you want to shine the light on everything, basically. But I was -- in reading through some of these cables, reminded of the Jim Cary movie "Liar, Liar" where he is forced in that movie to tell the truth all the time. And it becomes dysfunctional and in some cases dangerous. Because we have many layers in our human discourse where we are polite on the surface, say things slightly more frankly in private, and then amongst ourselves are brutally honest. And that's there for a reason. And if the going in assumption now is that everything people say in private to U.S. Diplomats is going to hit the light of day, I think it'll lead to less frankness and actually less openness than you have now.
LOYNPerhaps it will lead to better security. I mean, much of this stuff -- much of this stuff shouldn't have been secret. But the stuff that should've been secret wasn't kept under lock and key. I mean, 2 million U.S. citizens had access to this material. And the fact that a guy can put a Lady Gaga CD into his computer and download quarter of a million documents privately (unintelligible) .
REHMThat's the part that I found interesting.
BILBASSYI think what's interesting about the Wikileaks is not just information that we didn't know. We knew the information, but now we have evidence. There is a time, there is a name, there is a place where these things have been said. And I think the difference when you have the Gulf State's leaders talking about bombing Iran -- we have him on the record now as opposed to say we think that he did, Number one. Number two is this information is no longer limited to the foreign policy ones, to the politicians, to interested journalists like us. It's made available to millions of hundreds of millions of people across the world.
BILBASSYI think the two points that I found interesting about it, number one, is the U.S. diplomats have been asked to spy on U.N. officials in the United Nations to collect personal information about DNA data, about the credit card transactions, about passwords (unintelligible) ...
REHMCourse we don't know, asked by whom.
BILBASSYWe know because I was at the State Department and I asked this very question and they said that the intelligent services basically have been telling the diplomats to do it. They're not obliging them. They tell them if they have this information they can pass it along. And I think this is learning the line between diplomacy and espionage. And in the process, I think the word security is paramount now after a word of 9/11. We have to look at it differently because everything is viewed from the prism of security. Everybody wants to collect this information and I think this is really an important point.
LOYNYou mentioned the one story which I think journalistically made the Wikileaks stuff justifiable, which is the fact that the Arab countries have been putting such pressure on the U.S. to bomb Iran. Now, if that's happening, if there's a likelihood of a new war in the Middle East, then I think we have a right to know about that stuff. And there must've been a way of divulging that without embarrassing or keeping their sources secret. I mean, that's not like secret talks. That's not like, I mean, things like peace in Northern Ireland...
LOYN...was made because over 15 years British secret service had secret channels of communication with the insurgents, with the terrorists. Now...
BILBASSYAnd you know somewhat...
LOYN...if those had been made public, we'd never have made peace in Northern Ireland.
BILBASSYAnd you know what? Some will argue...
LOYNBut the fact that the King of Saudi Arabia wants to bomb Iran is not a secret like that. It's a sort of thing that we actually, as the public, have a right to know...
LOYN...and journalists need to report.
BILBASSY...some will argue that if we have the same information, if we had Wikileaks before the invasion of Iraq, we might have not had that war because people will start questioning actually the evidence against Iraq, isn't that...
REHMInteresting point. James.
KITFIELDWell, I'll be the devil's advocate here. I take all those points and I agree. I was -- interesting to see Saudi Arabia cut the head off the snake and try to encourage us to bomb Iran. However, we knew that the Arab governments were encouraging us behind the scenes. I mean, our diplomats have been telling reporters this, that whenever they go over there, their biggest friend is Iran and it's got everyone scared. And all those countries are supporters privately. But even if we did bomb, publicly, they'll come out against it.
KITFIELDWe knew that. It's a granularity you get when you see their actual comments. It's useful -- I'll tell you a place where it's possibly not useful. We also know that Zardari in Pakistan plays a double game, where he gives a wink and a nod at these drone strikes, but domestically, for domestic political purpose says, we oppose them. Well, he very cynically comes out and says that in these leaks and says that, well, let them bomb and I'll go up in the national assembly and protest and then we'll ignore it. Well, if he gets toppled for some reason information, then his own public sees what a lying person he is, that could be very unhelpful to us.
REHMI want to go back to what you said, James, about China and the coming together of the two Koreas, if indeed that happens. At the same time, you've got South Korea making these noises that if there are more attacks, they're going to be much rougher in their dealings with North Korea.
KITFIELDThe situation in this Korean Peninsula is very, very dangerous. The reason is this is out of -- this is not normal behavior for North Korea. Normally, it does a one-off provocation, gets back to, you know, as a way to sort of rattle its cage and then we sit down and talk with it and get back to talks over -- six-party talks. It's had pre -- in this last year, it sunk a South Korean boat, killed 46 sailors, it revealed this new uranium enrichment plant. Something we had suspected, but didn't know actually existed.
KITFIELDAnd then, it lobbed artillery shells in the South Korean Island, all at a time when there's a transition going on to this young 27-year-old-son of Kim Jong Un, who's now a general. It makes you wonder whether he's a much more dangerous leader who's coming and showing his oats or the military doesn't like this transition and it's showing its oats. We don't know with North Korea. But we are very worried about this. You know, this is a new kinda volatility that's kind of out of character even for the craziest regime in the world.
LOYNYeah, now this -- it is end game for this regime. Kim Jong is not well, his son is educated in the west but nobody really seems to know him. I mean, nobody knows this Kim Jong. He's not somebody who the international community has had any relationships with. And as an element of North Korea when they revealed in the way that they did showing to U.S. officials that they have this uranium enrichment facility, there's an element to the spoiled child. We too want to play with the international community. And they want to get back into negotiations.
LOYNAnd, of course, in the middle of all this are the poor suffering Korean people who the Well Food program say nearly half of them relies on food aid. And so there's quite a cynical kind of deal every time, which is denuclearization for aid. For it literally is food for behaving better. And the U.S. is not willing to talk about that at the moment...
REHMBut the question...
REHM...becomes how willing is China to try to reign in North Korea?
BILBASSYI think the secret here is China, as you said, Diane. I think China is the strongest, the only ally for the North Koreans. They provide them 90 percent of their energy, 40 percent of their food. And some analysts saying, basically, that the United States and China should get together to talk about how we can solve the problem. Or even they're talking about unification. And if you're going to unify these two Koreas, you have to give China some assurances that they're not going to have a nuclear country on their doorstep and you're not going to have U.S. troops hanging out on their doorsteps.
LOYNI mean, I think we're seeing a historic shift. I think up until now China has wanted a buffer and they're happy to have North Korea between them and South Korea. And remember the Korean War is not formerly over. The 1953 Armistice was a temporary ceasefire. And, I mean, obviously, the prospect of China and U.S. troops getting involved on the ground again seems extraordinarily unlikely. But it's not completely beyond the realms of possibility with a million-man army facing South Korea across a heavily mined border.
LOYNI mean, war is possible, but China now appears to be moving towards this sort of far more pragmatic view. And the Wikileaks, as James said, shows a new pragmatism really and a willingness for the two Koreas to be united.
REHMDavid Loyn. He's foreign correspondence for the BBC, author of "In Afghanistan: Two Hundred Years of British, Russian and American Occupation." Nadia Bilbassy, senior U.S. correspondent for Middle East Broadcast Centre and James Kitfield, senior correspondent for National Journal magazine. And we will open the phones in just a moment. But, Nadia, I want to ask you about Egypt and the pulling out of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and another opposition group out of Parliamentary elections. Why?
BILBASSYWell, number one is we have parliament election that contested all 508 seats in the Egyptian Parliament. The ruling national Democratic Party has won a landslide of 97 percent. All the opposition leaders, including the Muslim Brotherhood, who by the way secured 20 percent of the votes on the last previous election in 2005, boycotted the election. They call it -- the same for human rights organization and international observers who were not allowed to monitor the election by the way. They called it a sham. It was marred with irregularity as there were ballots being stuffed. It was so -- the media was restricted, opposition were not given names 'til the last minute.
BILBASSYIt shows many interesting factors. Number one is the regime is really desperate to hold in on power and consolidate its position. And now the opposition has boycotted. The Muslim Brotherhood failed to secure one seat even. It shows that Egypt now become in fact a one party state, not even a token opposition. And the problem here is we might see serious obstacles and problems to come in terms of the opposition. What do you do with them? If they are not channeled through a political system in peaceful ways they going to resort to other ways, could be violent, to express their grievances and their displeasure with the regime.
BILBASSYAnd the other problem they will have is with the U.S. because the United States is the largest donor to Egypt, $1.3 billion they give to the Egyptian government. They cannot afford just to pay lip service to democracy in the Middle East. They have to rethink their policies.
REHMNadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcasting Centre. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." James, the United States called those elections worrying, but who wants the Muslim Brotherhood to be part of that Parliament?
KITFIELDWell, we're not in sync with the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is an Islamist party, but is trying to work, as my colleague said, through the political system. So you want that. I mean, that is a positive thing. You want these debates to be handled in the political dialogue and not people resort to terrorism and violence. So I think we're disturbed by this. We had hoped -- certainly the Bush Administration pushed very hard as part of his democracy agenda to put some pressure on Egypt, and they found it wasn't very -- and Egypt kind of complied.
KITFIELDAnd that's when the Muslim Brotherhood got this 20 percent of seats in the Parliament and everyone went, oh, my goodness, what are we going to do now. So I don't think the Obama Administration's been pressuring them too hard, but it just goes to show this is not a democratic regime. The succession next year is going to be a handoff from father to son. And anyone who wants to pick Egypt as a functioning democracy hasn't been paying close enough attention.
REHMAnd, David Loyn, I want to ask you about the latest on efforts by European officials to deal with their debt crisis.
LOYNThis is very serious, Diane. I mean, this is -- Ireland, last week, suddenly felt like 2008 all over again. I mean, the Financial Times suddenly doubles its circulation. You have a real sense of unease that our (word?) neighbor is suddenly calling in the IMF. The International Monetary Fund called in last weekend in order to literally bail out the country. And they kept them out for as long as they could, but finally the IMF came in and said, no, no, you've got to take this money. It was like a child not taking its medicine. And they poured it down their throats in order, frankly, to save the Irish economy, which has now an 85 billion euro. That's...
LOYN...130 million, there you are. Thank you very much. James has done the math on this. But basically, it's more than twice the GDP of the country. I mean, the country is effectively bankrupt. They've been trying to hold this off because they are sort of the new high tech place in Europe, that this is, for the first time, the biggest threat to the Euro zone and to the Euro currency.
LOYNAnd all these countries coming together in one currency (unintelligible) .
REHMIt's not just Ireland.
REHMIt is now Portugal, it is Italy. They're all -- and...
LOYNIt's Portugal, Spain, Greece was bailed out last year and the unwillingness of the German taxpayer, who basically ultimately picks up the bill, to carry on picking up the bill is going to be the thing that breaks the euro.
REHMWell, and the question is, is there a chance that the European Union itself is going to break up, James?
LOYNNo. No. It -- well…
KITFIELDI agree with David. The European Union is not going to break up, but I think the euro -- you could conceivably draw the thing -- a scenario where the euro becomes untenable. I mean, and David puts his finger on it. As soon as the German public says no more, who's going to pick up these bails?
LOYNI mean, the problem for all these countries is that they can't devalue their way out to the crisis any longer 'cause they're part of the euro. What they used to do would be to devalue that currency and then be able to export again and therefore to grow. But any countries in -- Portugal, Spain and Greece and you mentioned Italy, which is the biggest economy that's potentially under threat, but people are not talking about it in the same way as those other countries at the moment.
LOYNBut those three countries, and Ireland in particular, the problem for them is that their exporters cannot do the traditional thing, which is to cut the value of their currency because they're stuck into the euro zone. So they can't grow in order to pay this off. And we are seeing now recession type riots right across Europe. There have been major riots in France, there's been weekly student demonstrations getting more and more violent in London. We're not part of the euro, but it's all part of the same picture.
REHMDavid Loyn, foreign correspondent for the BBC. Short break here and when we come back, your e-mail and we'll open the phones.
REHMWelcome back. And it's time now to open the phones. We'll go first to Charlotte, N.C. Good morning, Amir, you're on the air.
AMIRGood morning, Diane. Thank you for a great show, always love listening to you.
AMIRI had a couple quick comments. One, just because you were guys were talking about the corruption charges and Afghanistan and Karzai that were revealed in WikiLeaks. I just had a question because the last hour you were talking about the politics. And if it was a scenario where in Afghanistan there was a democracy and basically they had the same system where LOCs were set up and LOCs were allowed to fund campaigns and channel money to Karzai that way, the way kind of the system's set up here, would that still be called corruption?
AMIROr maybe they just haven't advanced the way the money's being funded and politics is being funded over there to the system here where -- and that kind of shows that -- kind of they're just calling it by a different name. And one other quick comment is, I noticed that after the WikiLeaks came out, the day after, they announced that the next leaks are gonna be about Bank of America or different banks and corporations.
AMIRAnd it's kind of funny to me that as strong and as powerful the U.S. intelligence is, they couldn't be more proactive about this information getting out and stopping Amazon and stopping the servers if they wanted to before. But it seems like now that the next target is the corporations, they're using this kind of excuse to stop what's coming next.
BILBASSYWell, that's interesting, of course. I mean, that's the expectation that the banking industry altogether and some information that is gonna reveal in particular about the Bank of America. And, of course, this is gonna threaten the economy of all countries, mainly the United States. And everybody's gonna act. It's different than talking about the king said he wanted to do this or that or some information about -- gossip about this or that leader. But I think when the information is precisely gonna target something to do with the banking system, it becomes more than national security issue.
BILBASSYYou know, it can lead to collapse of countries. And we're just talking about what happened in Europe and the bailout. I mean, who's gonna bail out the United States if something like this happens?
KITFIELDThat was kinda my point when I was taking the devil's advocate point of view is that if you can hold this belief that everyone should know everything, having seen how complicated this world works, I'm not sure everyone should know everything. I mean, there's a reason why the FBI runs a witness protection program. Should we all know where those people are? Should we all know the codes to the nuclear weapons?
KITFIELDSo this -- you know, this makes us confront the decision, what really is legitimately, for economic or security reasons, something that should be not in the public domain and what is. It's a healthy debate, but I don't think I fall into the side that says everyone should know everything.
REHMAll right. To Nashville, Tenn., good morning, Anthony.
ANTHONYGood morning. On the Afghanistan issue, I know there are no easy answers with the power vacuums and the politics and the infrastructure and corruption in the police, but the one thing we do kind of have a direct hand over is how we take the fight to the enemy, how we continue and consistently take the fight to the enemy and are we at least making progress in that realm. I mean, with the drone strikes and taking out more high ranking members of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, I think a lot of Americans realize the difficulties of it and there are no easy answers in some aspects. But we still want to believe that we're over there taking the fight to the enemy. And I just wanted to see how the panel feels...
ANTHONY...on are we making...
ANTHONY...are we making progress there?
LOYNThe war is on a completely different momentum this year. Thousands literally of mid level Taliban individuals have been killed, mostly with special forces raids at night. It's completely changed in terms of the military tactics on the ground, many of them by British Special Forces during this year. The average life cycle, at the moment, of a Taliban (sounds like) commandrance in Afghanistan is less than three weeks. There's a huge amount of intelligence which is going in.
LOYNThe danger is the U.S. administration suddenly believes, you know, we're back to Vietnam body counts, that actually they're gonna destroy the Taliban by killing that many people. They're certainly disrupting their ability to operate at the moment, but there are very many more individuals who are willing to come across the border from Pakistan.
KITFIELDAnd I agree with everything David just said. And, you know, that part -- that is not -- you know, we're not -- Gen. Petraeus certainly doesn't think he's gonna kill his way out of this war, but he thinks that to have fruitful negotiations with the Taliban, you have to put pressure on them and make -- convince them they're not winning. So this is part of a plan to basically convince the Taliban to come to the negotiating table, which we've been trying to facilitate, but there's been a very dramatic rationing up of going after Taliban leadership. But again, you know, they have sanctuaries so it's not easy, you know, and their ranks can be refilled, but they are on their heels a bit in Nairs where we have, you know, concentrated this effort in the south near Kandar.
REHMWith President Obama in Afghanistan today with an anticipated meeting, we presume, with President Karzai, what do you think that conversation is going to entail, Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, it's gonna be so many topics on the table. I mean, more importantly is gonna be how -- for the president, he has to have a viable partner. And for him, he needs an assurance from President Karzai that he's not the President Karzai of yesterday. He wanted a new leader that he can rely on. It's gonna be a tough battle for him because if nothing's gonna change politically. But militarily I think it's important for the U.S. to make gains militarily to force the moderate Taliban to negotiate. I think the problem for them is not just clearing the areas by killing as many Taliban fighters as they can, but to hold the areas, to clean them and to hold them.
BILBASSYAnd this is important because this will be the evidence that they U.S. strategy militarily is succeeding in Afghanistan. The problem with the drones is really controversial. They might kill a few leaders in the northwest (sounds like) Iristan area. They create more enemies and more civilians are killed.
REHMBecause civilian deaths.
BILBASSYBecause they kill many civilians in the process when they target one person. And these people are able to mushroom and to breed and to bring more people who are even more radical and more hateful towards the Americans.
LOYNHey, but the temper of the war is making things better on the ground. I mean, you know, I was last in southern Afghanistan about three months ago in Lashkar Gah, which is a town you used to not be able to walk around, you know, without a flat jacket and plenty of security. I walked around with an Afghan colleague. The market, the bazaars were working. We walked along the riverbank, you know, had conversations with men who were dressed in those big, you know, black turbans that the Taliban wear.
LOYNThey could well have once been Taliban, but didn't seem to be at all unhappy about me being around. And a real sense of quite a different kind of life. And what Afghans want is what anybody wants, which is be able to bring up their families...
LOYN...in peace and security. And it's beginning to happen.
REHMTo Lenoir, N.C., good morning, Kevin.
KEVINGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
KEVINMy questions involved the hacking of the WikiLeak site. I'm associated or been involved with those who are associated with the security industry on both a professional and nonprofessional level for about 20 years. And I've seen that there are pretty much three types of hackers, those who have been on monetary gain, deception of systems or those who seek to expose information. How is hacking WikiLeaks gonna benefit any of those? I don't really understand who would've hacked it. It doesn't fit any of the profiles, I guess, in short. Any questions being asked about the hacking of WikiLeak site? And I'll take my answer off the air. Thank you.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. James.
KITFIELDI assure you there are some reporters who are on that story. Whether they'll get to the bottom of it, I don't know. It's very hard as we've seen in the hacking done against our systems. It's very easy to hide the fingerprints of who the hackers are. But it wouldn't surprise me at all if this was the U.S. government that was -- I mean, we have an offensive cyber war capability. This is obviously seen -- as our Justice Department's investigation of him for spying, obviously seen as a national security threat. And for them to actually try to take down the sites, I have no proof, no evidence, but it would not surprise me.
REHMFred in Fairfax wants to know how you all understand the journalistic ethics related to WikiLeaks. "It would seem as though," he says, "the press is fencing stolen goods." Nadia.
BILBASSYWell, look -- if you look at WikiLeaks again, they have exposed things that we didn't know about. And I remember being on this show, Diane, when we talked a year ago probably about the killing of civilians in Iraq by an Apache helicopter that including two writers -- reporters. We didn't know. We had evidence. We heard the conversation. WikiLeaks also did an extensive report about corruption in Kenya and Tanzania. So there is good things that they have done.
BILBASSYNow, saying that, I agree, I mean, it's important for us, for journalists, for the public, for any democracies, to know what is going on and especially if the government is planning, you know, an attack on another country. But saying that, I agree that there is certain things maybe it's not in the interest of the public domain all of it to be revealed. And we have to be cautioned about that.
BILBASSYBut even if they hack the site, I think there is ways of trying to send this information. Now we are in a WikiLeak kind of a new life and a new way of dealing with information, even Julian Assange. And by the way, there is news that he might be arrested today, that I read before we came on the show. And he's -- the location's outside of London and the thing is they know exactly where he is, his phone number. Even if he was arrested today, they think that other people will carry on and they will tell us more about what's happening in the world.
LOYNWell, the New York Times and Washington Post have passed what they published in front of U.S. security. And U.S. security's asked them to take the State Department out and to take out certain things. They didn't take out all of the things that they were asked to take out. They only took out things that they believed were genuine security, not things that were politically embarrassing. And so I think the journalists were slightly taking a high handed view in that and saying that we are the people who know what security is. But there has been a genuine honest attempt to try and do this stuff honestly.
LOYNI think American journalists wouldn't go as far as (sounds like) Lemond, which is the other main European publication other than The Guardian, which has carried these. And Lemond had a very slightly pompous leading article which said that they had a duty to publish this material, which I'm not sure is a word that would be used this side of the Atlantic.
REHMHere's a tweet, "Unless we find a way to make Pakistan act like a real ally, our forces will be in Afghanistan indefinitely."
KITFIELDThat points to another potential fatal flaw in this. I mean, if we cannot get Pakistan to act and there is just unrestricted sanctuaries on their side of the border, the insurgency could be self-sustaining forever. That's true. Now, can we create an Afghan army that can handle it and we can get out? That's one question that we will see the answer to in I think the next two or three years. And the second question, I should point out, though, Pakistan has done more than it had done in the past.
KITFIELDIt launched an offensive into southwest (sounds like) Iristan. It has agreed to these drone strikes. So Pakistan is showing -- but it's a grudging partnership. But you have to say that Pakistan has come quite some ways from where it was a few years ago.
REHMLet me ask you all about the START Arms Treaty and whether support is actually building for that. David.
LOYNWell, it seems to be. I mean, you know, when you looked at the Senate hearings last year, there wasn't anybody who came in front of those hearings who said that START shouldn't be signed. And now it seems to have got entrenched in U.S. partisan politics. And if it got stuck there, then that would be a shame. Here we have, you know, the lame duck session of Congress, you know, very simple. You need eight people at the moment. You might -- you'll need 14 with the new Senate, sorry, (word?) Congress has to vote on this, that 14, when it comes to it.
LOYNAnd you can see that my grasp of U.S. Congressional politics is not as good as my grasp of foreign affairs. But the important aspect of this is that if the U.S. does not sign the START Treaty, its global policing role is substantially reduced. The ability of the United States to lecture other countries about nuclear bomb proliferation and the ability of the United States to inspect Russian arms silos finishes now unless this treaty's signed.
REHMDavid Loyn of the BBC. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." James.
KITFIELDThe lesson of START is that what used to be considered a bipartisan issue, national security has become so partisan now that people are willing -- and this has been pointed out, but I'll point it out again. People are willing to play with our national security for short-term tactical political gain. And, you know, every single Republican, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, this last week, Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has come out (unintelligible) .
KITFIELDI mean, everyone who has studied these things over the years has said this makes sense. And it's actually been very critical to our reset of relationships with Russia, which has been very helpful on Iran, been very helpful on our Afghanistan operations that we now re-supplied through Russian airspace, and soon perhaps on Russian territory. So this is a non -- it's a no-brainer and the fact that it can be held up like this.
KITFIELDAnd what the administration saw and worried about was a replay of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1999 where it got stuck over there and delayed and delayed until, like a piñata, it was seen as a bludgeon to knock Bill Clinton upside the head after impeachment. They are very worried if this thing dragged in the next Congress, given the hyper partisanship, it would be used as a bludgeon somehow by people who look not at the issues involved, but just as a convenient way to hurt the president. So they have finally gotten their full core press on during this lame duck and I think it's actually gonna work.
KITFIELDWhen you see John McCain and Olympia Snow and Lamar Alexander and others saying that they could support this in a lame duck session, it seems to me they've finally gotten through. I mean, really, do you wanna stand up at the Joint Chiefs and the head of all our labs and say, you know, for a political reason, I'm gonna vote against this or for some nefarious idea that we're not modernizing our nuclear infrastructure quick enough? I mean, everyone knows this deal is pretty innocuous, but it should get done.
BILBASSYI actually was in an event with Senator Carey two days ago. And the question of START (unintelligible) and he said he's confident still and hopeful that they will pass it during this lame duck session. But saying that, I agree with everything that both of you have said. It became hostage to politics. There is no doubt about it. I mean, when you have Senator, like, Kyle from Arizona linking it to the tax...
BILBASSY...you know, to the Bush tax cuts and saying like maybe I'll think about it, et cetera. And I think it shows that President Obama is weak in international if it is unable to pass a treaty like this that expired a year ago. And now he cannot pass it simply with, as you said, every other Republican person, Secretary of State has already said it's in our national interest. If your Defense Secretary is saying that, if your Commander of Chief of the U.S. Army's saying that and now the president is unable to do it, it shows him very weak.
BILBASSYIn addition to that, you have Putin. We have Prime Minister Putin saying basically, if you guys -- we want to work with you. But if you're not gonna pass it, we have to go our way because we're not gonna allow our security to be held hostage to you as politics and we gonna build something against this defense shield in Europe.
REHMLast word, David.
LOYNWell, remember that what's at stake is reducing Russia's nuclear weapons by a third. There's got to be something worth it in that, isn't there?
REHMDavid Loyn, he's foreign correspondent for the BBC, Nadia Bilbassy, senior U.S. correspondent for the Middle East Broadcast Centre, James Kitfield, senior correspondent for National Journal magazine, thank you all so much.
REHMHave a great weekend everybody. Stay safe. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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