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A review of President Obama’s Afghanistan war strategy supports American troop withdrawal beginning in July, though the pace remains unclear. The U.S. tries to build a case for conspiracy by WikiLeaks. And we remember Richard Holbrooke. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Nancy Youssef Pentagon correspondent, McClatchy newspapers.
- Jay Solomon foreign affairs correspondent, The Wall Street Journal
- Daniel Dombey U.S. diplomatic correspondent, Financial Times.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. A year in review of President Obama's war strategy in Afghanistan is setting the stage for troop withdrawals next July, but the pace remains unclear. WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, is free on bail in England, but the U.S. Justice Department is trying to build a case against him here and we remember ambassador Richard Holbrooke. Joining us for the international hour of our Friday News Roundup, Daniel Dombey of the Financial Times, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy newspapers and Jay Solomon of The Wall Street Journal. I do look forward to hearing your questions and comments throughout the hour. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet or join us on Facebook. Good morning to all of you.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFGood morning.
MR. DANIEL DOMBEYGood morning.
MR. JAY SOLOMONGood morning.
REHMAnd, of course, this is the last Friday News Roundup of the year so that we will be looking at 2010. First, the Afghanistan review. Nancy Youssef, what does it say?
YOUSSEFWell, it's interesting for what it says and what it doesn't say. This was the highly anticipated report President Obama had promised in his speech at West Point a year ago. A thorough assessment of the policy. There were sort of two reports. There's the classified 40-plus page report that we weren't allowed to see and a summary five-page unclassified one that was put out late this week.
YOUSSEFAnd that really was less of an assessment and more an affirmation of the policy. Simply put, it says that militarily there have been security gains, but politically and economically, there haven't been gains in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It also gave an assessment of Al Qaeda, saying that the Al Qaeda leadership had been weakened, as has been the Taliban. The problem with the report was that lacked any details. There wasn't one statistic about backing up these claims and so it was very hard to really assess the strategy in Afghanistan and so what it emerged as, the case by the Obama administration, about why to proceed with the strategy as is.
DOMBEYWell, I thought about a lot of interesting things about this report. One of the things is the odd way the Obama Administration sometimes makes a decision before it ends its whole process of studying an issue. We saw that the very first Afghanistan review of it being cared out at the beginning of 2009, where halfway through that review, he sent 17,000 troops. So the decision in the end kind of fit the facts at the end and the judgments fitted the decision they'd already made.
DOMBEYThis time around as well. We already had, last month in November, all of NATO signing up to plans to stay into Afghanistan to 2014 and beyond. With that decision under their belt, it's not really surprising that they decided that both the withdrawal plans for the beginning -- for next year, for July and indeed the plans to stay on 2014 were on track. So that's really rather unsurprising, to be honest. But one final thing, if I may, the thing they singled out as the biggest success was the campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan. That's carried out by the CIA, that is to do also with diplomatic pressure as well. That has nothing to do with the Afghan troop search.
REHMJay Solomon, how on track or how flexible does the administration want to be about this timetable to withdraw troops?
SOLOMONI think they're trying to stay pretty flexible. I mean, Clinton, wherever she goes, is saying it's just a target date, you know. It depends upon facts on the ground. I think they still have that wiggle room. I mean, it's pretty clear. They did it -- to me, what was most kind of striking about it is still Pakistan. I mean, that is such the center of it, the worst violence is coming out of these border areas in eastern Afghanistan. And, you know, there's no real way to deal with it yet and the violence keeps getting worse in those areas.
REHMWe did a program on this on Thursday. Jessica Matthews was here. She talked about the continuing, ongoing violence in the north when all the success that the administration keeps talking about is in the south. Is this a balloon being squeezed and it just keeps popping out elsewhere, Nancy?
YOUSSEFIt appears that way. The report says that violence is lower in Helmand and Kandahar province where the bulk of the surge troops went to, longtime Taliban strongholds. And yet, the violence is growing in the north and west areas that were inconceivable holding grounds for the Taliban just a few years ago.
YOUSSEFNow, the administration's argument is let them try to build themselves in the north and west long term. They won't be able to do so. And as long as we destabilize them in the areas where they've operated strongest and with the most freedom, then that's some measure of progress. It remains to be seen, though, if that's, in fact, the case.
DOMBEYWell, there's just also the flip side argument, which is this was supposed to be a year where the Afghan government made progress, cracking down on corruption, establishing better government, more support for people so that people felt some kind of loyalty to its distant government. We haven't really seen that at all. In fact, General McChrystal the former commander in Afghanistan, said there was going to be government in a box.
DOMBEYThere hasn't been any kind of government presence like that in Helmand or in -- more particular in Kandahar and that remains the biggest problem, why there isn't that improved services. There's really no reason to believe that this will prevail over a longer term.
REHMAnd what about the death of Richard Holbrooke? How is that going to affect the ongoing efforts in Afghanistan?
SOLOMONI think Holbrooke, I mean, he was kind of the architect of this civilian surge. It really hasn't kind of -- I mean, they got the people on the ground to the numbers they were hoping to, but because of the violence, they still, you know, they aren't getting the projects finished. They're not doing the development they wanted. I mean, I traveled to Pakistan with Holbrooke a few times.
SOLOMONIt really seemed like Pakistan was the area he had the most influence because inside Afghanistan, it really was the Pentagon driving things and he was trying to play that game of getting the Pakistanis to, you know, fight the Taliban and to stop supporting the Taliban. And, you know, I think he did do some good things, but I think in the end, he didn't succeed and people haven't succeeded in 20 years of trying to get them to pull their support.
YOUSSEFYou know, it's interesting. I went back and read Bob Woodard's comments and -- that he attributed to Holbrooke and Obama's war. His documenting of the debate in Afghanistan and Richard Holbrooke is quoted as saying that he opposed surging troops, that he really believed this was not a military solution but a diplomatic one. And he was the one who really led that push and led that argument.
YOUSSEFRemember, he's been involved in every major foreign policy decision since Vietnam and I think he was really seen as a giant in the state department. And it's interesting, with his death, we're seeing more and more the people who were so key in crafting in this strategy walking away. Jim Jones, a former national security advisor, is no longer there. Rahman Manuel has left to go campaign in Chicago. So we're seeing the key decision makers on the strategy disappearing and new people cropping up.
REHMAnd what do we know about Frank Ruggiero?
YOUSSEFYou know, we don't know...
REHMAt least acting successor.
YOUSSEFThat's right. And there's actually been some question about whether they will even name a fulltime successor.
YOUSSEFI don't think he has sort of the big personality that Richard Holbrooke had and was known for, but he may be more successful in terms of reaching out to Hamid Karzai and talking to him. There were times that Hamid Karzai refused to meet with Richard Holbrooke. It remains to be seen.
SOLOMONIt seems, too, like that job never really became what it initially -- people thought it would be. I think when Obama came in, he was like, we need a regional approach. We need -- and Holbrooke, you know, he traveled to Russia, but I think most people thought he was going to get involved in India and try to deescalate on Kashmir. The Indians didn't want it and it never happened. And the Pakistani's see an even bigger U.S. tilt towards India and that's, you know, creating the same dynamic that lasted for the last 50 years.
DOMBEYYeah, I completely agree with Jay there. I mean, Obama's initial idea of envoy was very much about Kashmir and that just didn't fly. And in the end, to be honest, Holbrooke was neither an envoy -- because if there is an envoy now it's Petraeus, who meets with Karzai every week so he's the primary interlocker with Petraeus. And Holbrooke never had a chance to coordinate U.S. policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's the White House's job and that one of the reasons why he had such furious rows with Jim Jones.
DOMBEYSo I think in a certain sense, Holbrooke's position was really at the margins. I would, however, I think, slightly disagree with Nancy about how he saw a force. You know, speaking to some of the people who were closest with him this week, they pointed out he was really a partisan of U.S. threats to bomb Manovich in the 1990s over Bosnia. I think he supported a surge of about 20,000 troops rather than 30,000 troops. But he did believe that you needed to use all parts of U.S. power.
DOMBEYAnd the problem is, to be honest, that this was so much more complicated than the Balkan situation. You couldn't just go in and bully these guys in an air force base into submission in a way that you could in the 1990s with Bosnia. And to be honest, people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and certainly India felt almost insulted to be treated in the same sort of way as Balkan despots.
REHMWell, especially if you don't know whose side Pakistan is operating on, Nancy.
YOUSSEFWell, the truth is that Pakistanis are hedging their bets right there. They're keeping their sort of Taliban presence, if you will, in case the United States isn't as committed to Afghanistan as it claims. And at the same time, promising to work with the United States to thwart the Taliban threat. I want to go back to the Richard Holbrooke. I don't think he was an opponent, but I think he was the leading voice to say this will be solved diplomatically and not militarily. And I think that was key because this was at a time when the military was really pushing for, essentially, a military solution to this.
YOUSSEFAnd I think that's worth pointing out. The other thing is, I thought, the most interesting observation, the Taliban of all things The New York Times reported, put out statement about Richard Holbrooke's death. And they said that they listed Russians before him who had put their lives into trying to break Afghanistan and had been unsuccessful and died doing so. And their message was that this war will kill the key minds of the United States diplomatic community. I thought it was an interesting commentary.
REHMAnd finally, so interesting on Richard Holbrooke, his last words apparently to his Pakistani surgeon before being wheeled into surgery were reportedly, you got to stop this war in this Afghanistan. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here in the studio for the year end Friday News Roundup, Daniel Dombey of Financial Times, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers, Jay Solomon of the Wall Street Journal. You, Daniel Dombey, want to go back and correct me and I stand corrected on that last comment that Richard Holbrooke apparently made, but perhaps to someone else.
DOMBEYI wouldn't say correct. I would perhaps say nudge. People made a lot of the fact that Holbrooke supposedly said these last words to his -- to a Pakistan insurgent. In fact, the Washington Post itself admitted several hours later he didn't make this to a Pakistan insurgent. He made this to Hillary Clinton's personal doctor who's an Egyptian American. And the Post itself said that this was really much more banter than it was a serious policy recommendation.
DOMBEYIn fact, I mean, I think most of us have talked to people who were with Holbrooke in the hospital and who came out with an account which is pretty similar to what the state department itself said, which was that Holbrooke was -- on the Friday when he'd been taken in (unintelligible) state department in intense pain, very, very stressed. His aorta being ruptured, he'd been rushed to hospital. Clinton had arranged for her personal doctor to kind of comfort him.
DOMBEYAnd his doctor would say, you have to calm down, you have to get your blood pressure down so that you can go under the anesthetic. And he said, I can't calm down, I can't calm down. I've got Afghanistan and Pakistan to worry about. And he said, look, don't worry about that, we'll manage those. Just you relax. And he said, well, if you can fix those, then okay.
REHMOkay. So that's the official report.
SOLOMONI think officially it sounded like his last words were, get out now. And I think the state department and others kinda massaged it. It was more like, I'm obsessed with this. This is something we need to deal with. I can't relax. But it wasn't this very strong...
REHMYou gotta get out now.
SOLOMON...you gotta get out now, which is how it was kind of initially reported.
YOUSSEFBut at the minimum it says that this war was his life and that's something that he was committed to 24 hours a day right up until the very end. However, whatever he said, how much he had thrown himself into solving this seemingly intractable conflict.
REHMAll right. Here's an e-mail -- no, it's a message on Facebook. "Can any of your guests comment on the view that Mr. Holbrooke militarized U.S. diplomacy, i.e. he made open threats of bombing a diplomatic tool. Was this a Holbrooke innovation? Was it a good or bad move for U.S. interests around the world?" Daniel.
DOMBEYI don't think threat of force in U.S. diplomacy is a Holbrooke innovation. I mean, I think it was something that Holbrooke, to be honest, did not feel uncomfortable using. He felt he was dealing with someone in the shape of (word?) who he despised and who represented people who were even more beyond the pale, the Bosnian Serbs with whom the U.S. refused to talk directly. So he felt, I think, very strongly that you need to use force to bring these guys to agree to end the war. Remember this was a time straight after ii just months after the (word?) killings when 8,000 people were killed. And just months after Holbrooke had seen his own number two, right-hand man, killed in a traffic accident because the Serbs denied a safer route.
DOMBEYSo I think he felt that you needed to use these sources of force and it was seen as particularly important at the time because it was also seen as reestablishing American power. That's also what Holbrooke said, at a time when the U.S. seemed to be quite weak, given what was going on with Haiti, what was going on in Somalia, a sense of the weakened president. And in that sense actually (word?) which was enacted largely because of those threats of force did have a little America's back subtext to it.
REHMAll right. Let's move on and talk about Julian Assange, who is free on bail. He's in England, he's speaking out. He posted bail with the help of good and wealthy friends of $315,000. He's being allowed to stay at a mansion in Suffolk. He is saying, we can see that by how certain people, who are allegedly affiliated with us, were contained at the U.S. borders had their computers seized and so on. He went on to say, I would say there is a very aggressive investigation that a lot of face has been lost by some people. Some people have careers to make by pursuing famous cases, but that is actually something that needs monitoring. Jay.
SOLOMONWell, it is going to be interesting to see how the U.S. pushes forward with this case. I mean, at first it looked like they were going to move under the espionage act of 1917,, which would basically charge him with receiving classified documents. And I just remember last year that there was a huge case in Washington against APAC, these two former APAC guys, which was very much kind of a -- it would've been under this -- it was going to be under the same law, and the case got thrown out. And then, basically, any of us under this law, if you get classified information, could go down.
SOLOMONSo it does seem like it's still being worked out how this case is going to be hooked up. I mean, it looks like a lot of ways they're trying to show that he was actively involved in getting the information out of the state department through this private.
YOUSSEFI want to back up and talk about why this has become such a hard case to prosecute. Because the United States never has really defined what a journalist is and how it goes about defining these laws. And part because I think the congress was reluctant to put any limitations on the freedom of the press and also on the First Amendment specifically. And so we find the Justice Department trying to legally fit the laws to this sort of unusual crime,, in that these are documents that were electronically passed. Not like in the Elsburg (sp?) case where he had physically removed them and copied them. That is, the government always had access to them. So it's hard to say sort of theft, right.
SOLOMONAnd there's questions about whether he's a journalist or not. What I find interesting is that he's increasingly trying to brand himself as one. He's calling himself a journalist more. In addition he's saying that -- today he said he never had any direct contact with Bradley Manning. That's important to any conspiracy charge that he was trying to solicit information from Bradley Manning. So you can see in his statements he's trying to present himself as a journalist and as such protected under the First Amendment.
DOMBEYI entirely agree with that. I mean, there's a little touch -- perhaps more than a little touch of a conspiracy theorist to Julian Assange. He comes out with a whole series of packs and then connects them with a rather odd theory. But to be honest, he perhaps should feel rather less persecuted than he does right now because the hurdles for the United States are immense to get this guy extradited and prosecuted. Immense. The 1917 Espionage Act is flawed, as we said, because it has this fundamental conflict with the First Amendment. The idea that it's theft of government property is troubled because of what Nancy said.
DOMBEYBut beyond that and beyond any other statutes that they can manage to uncover, they've got to prove a extradition case in a court of law in either the UK, where the judges are very, very resistant to the extradition treaty with the U.S., which they see as far too encompassing. Or in Sweden, which have problems of its own and has a less advanced extradition treaty. And all extradition treaties or almost all extradition treaties have an out in terms of if it is a politically motivated prosecution, it really can't go forward. You don't even need to spend two seconds to find all these sub political subtexts to this prosecution and the difficulty that they have in trying to bring these charges.
DOMBEYAnd that's why I think in their heart of hearts, the Americans would just really rather that the Swedes manage to get him and prosecute him and put him away. Their trouble is that case is hardly straightforward either.
YOUSSEFEven if they overcome all of that, these documents are going to continue to come out. They've made mirror sites while he was held those nine days in London. The documents continue to come out, even if he charged. Wikileaks has put in a number of provisions to ensure that these documents come out and that's the challenge, in addition, for the United States. Because at best, what prosecution would prevent is copycats or future Julian Assanges from coming forward and publicizing these.
REHMAnd what about these new releases on BP and Chevron and Castro and, I mean, all kinds of new stuff coming out?
SOLOMONIt keeps coming out but I kinda get the feeling it's kind of getting watered down or the impact doesn't seem to me as having just traveled. I was just in Europe interviewing a guy who was Wikileaked on stuff he was doing in Iran. And he just didn't seem like that was that big a deal for him. He was still able to operate. So maybe...
REHMAt least on BP secret cables revealed. BP narrowly escaped another tragedy involving a drilling blowout. Cables show BP actively tried to cover up the accident after the fact. Chevron was interested in developing oil reserves straddling the Iran/Iraq border. Fidel Castro almost died in 2006. What?
DOMBEYWell, I agree with everyone, I'm afraid, which is terribly sad. But, I mean, I think if you look at these cases they're interesting nuggets. The BP nugget is not so much the accident that was reported at the time in (word?) . But the U.S.'s embassy's impression that BP was trying to really restrict information. Perhaps not quite a cover up but not far short of it. In terms of the Chevron case, Chevron has denied any idea of breaking the law by investing in Iran. But those border regions are very unclear in terms of where oil deposits actually are. And there may have been some outreaches to the Iranian side, although they said -- they insist they didn't break the law in any case.
DOMBEYIn terms of Castro almost dying, well, I don't think that's news. But I think what was interesting after that -- he's almost dying for a long time. I think what's interesting out of that is the U.S. perception that nothing much would change if Castro died, which really puts (word?) decades and decades of hopes. But I also agree with Jay. Some of this stuff. We're 1,600 cables into this and already, to be honest, it's a pretty daunting thought that there are 250,000 more to come. Because some of this stuff already is pretty, pretty dull.
DOMBEYI mean, I'm British, right? But a 2008 cable on the liberal democratic party's hopes in the UK doesn't even get my heart beating.
REHMSo why is Eric Holder pursuing this at all, at this point?
DOMBEYBecause this is a huge, huge embarrassment to U.S. diplomacy, because there've been enormous problems of classification, because it shows a weak link in the law and in the -- as it does in the safeguarding processes. And I think the damage to U.S. diplomacy has been clear. I mean, it's not so much the public position which mirrors these private positions. It's just the embarrassment about talking aloud in this way and also the compromising of sources. There are a few X-X-Xes in the Wikileaks cable, but some of them are laughable. It says X-X-X who holds this position with this particular minister. It takes -- it's a work of a matter of minutes to identify these people. People from the state department say there are hundreds of people...
DOMBEY...whose cover may be blown.
REHMLet's talk about what else is happening in Sweden. You had a suicide bombing over the weekend. What happened, Nancy?
YOUSSEFWell, it's an interesting case. It was the first terrorist attack that Sweden had seen. A man from -- an Iraqi man, a 28-year-old man who had come to the UK as a student had set up some sort of car bomb with gas canisters, and then killed himself. It appears that he was aiming for some sort of public area to hit as many targets as possible. And I think it's raised a lot of questions about how the UK lets Muslim students into its universities. And also this community where he was from called (sounds like) Letton -- I'm going to leave it to my British friend for...
DOMBEYLutten (sp?) .
YOUSSEF...Lutten, thank you, to correct my pronunciation -- 20,000 Muslims. And really has become a focus in the UK in terms of a hotbed of extremist views coming out of it where a lot of anger is being seen in the streets of that town.
REHMAnd you now have up to 500,000 Muslims in Sweden. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm going to take a call here, 800-433-8850, to Charlotte, North Carolina. Good morning, Frank, you're on the air. Frank, are you there? Let's try it again. Frank?
REHMYes, go right ahead, sir.
FRANKOh, okay. So what I want to say, I was listening -- I mean, reading Wikileak e-mail, okay. And when they were talking about the nuclear attack over there -- I mean, how Iran may have nuclear weapons, okay. But, you know, the thing is that you don't see any other of the e-mails of, like, representatives from England going over there and looking at how the Palestinian children are being beaten inside the jails by the IDS, and other things like that. Child molesting allegations...
REHMWow, you're really off on a tangent, I think, Frank, this morning. The question of just how broadly Wikileaks leaks really are is at issue here, Nancy.
YOUSSEFThat's right. And it's interesting, as a journalist, you find yourself referring to those documents more as you're looking at the major issues of the day because all of us can find something that hits the areas that we write about because it's so broad. I think it's interesting, though. These aren't facts that are being presented. Remember these are cables. This is one diplomat's opinion. Some are more sort of trustworthy or insightful in terms of the U.S. position on issues than others.
DOMBEYYeah, I'd just like to add to that if I may, which is one of the things about these reports is that sometimes they just pass on allegations, and they say they just pass on allegations. It says this is something in the press. They weren't meant for publication. Some people like the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan have been very upset about what they said, but they weren't -- they were meant for other agencies to check out. There's also a huge difference between different diplomats. One ambassador may attack someone very strongly and then another one has a much more relaxed position. We've seen that in Burma, we've seen that in Cuba, we've seen it in Turkey. The personalization of U.S. foreign policy.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Jimmy.
JIMMYGood morning. Thank you for letting me be on your show.
JIMMYMy question is, has anybody (unintelligible) latest information on the Ivory Coast in regards to the parallel governments that are being formed in the defeated president, if he vowed to ever step down and...
SOLOMONWell, it's becoming an increasingly international issue. The state department came out and called for him to leave yesterday. The French Sarkozy came out and said it today and the UN is taking a tough line now saying he's gotta go...
REHMWhat's going on here?
SOLOMONWell, basically he won't leave. I mean, they had an independent commission that said the opposition candidate won. This guy has been in power, I guess, ten years as saying, I'm sticking around and it's becoming a very kind of a challenge to international credibility and law. And the U.S. and the -- I think the UN yesterday said they might actually start charging people in international courts for fomenting violence to prevent a transition to this opposition candidate. So it is becoming very much a challenge to the international system.
YOUSSEFRemember he's been in power for ten years, but he didn't win elections for five -- I mean, there were five years of that where there was no election. And I think what was interesting is the UN said it was limited in what it could do. It wasn't within its parameters to stop this outbreak of violence, which has killed nine and the world's leading cocoa producer. One of the more interesting stories I thought was that African states are now talking about handing over Ivory Coast finances to the opposition winner as a way to wrest control away from the president, even if he won't acknowledge the results of the elections themselves.
DOMBEYThe interesting thing also is that the African union is moving against the kind of deals we saw in Kenya and Zimbabwe to share power. It sees that as really flawed. That was the result in both those countries in moving away from that.
REHMDaniel Dombey of Financial Times. Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers. Jay Solomon of the Wall Street Journal. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMWelcome back. Let's, for just a moment, talk about what's happening in Greece. This week we saw more strikes. What's happening there, Nancy?
YOUSSEFWell, basically in May, the Greeks took a loan, 110 billion euro loan, from the IMF and EU to pick up its economy and there were conditions placed on that. One of them was reducing their deficit. So one way the Greeks are trying to do that is by reducing the cost or the salaries of some of their employees who do work like running airplanes and subways and trains and buses. 89 percent of them are eligible for a 10 percent pay cut. And as you can imagine, this has led to violent protests in the streets of Athens and other parts of Greece.
YOUSSEFIndeed, one member of Parliament was attacked in these protests. And the Greeks are under this pressure from the international community to bring down their deficit and domestic pressure to get their costs -- I think the salary has to be down to 600 euro a month. And so you're starting to see reaction in the streets. In addition, we saw a day long shutdown of all public transportation including flights and buses and subways.
SOLOMONWell, I think the bigger issue is how the Greek in turmoil and instability is gonna fit into this broader European response to the financial crisis. People here are so fixated on Afghanistan, but if Europe goes belly up, if the euro tanks, I mean, it's gonna have huge ramifications and that's what Europe is trying to sort out right now, a unified approach to this financial crisis.
REHMHow much of a prospect is there that the euro could tank?
SOLOMONI mean, they met today in Brussels, the European officials. I think there is a real fear. I mean, you have -- the Germans have been taking positions that people are worried. They don't wanna foot the bill for the...
SOLOMON...bailouts for these other countries. The Greeks don't wanna take these austerity measures. I think there's some of these problems in Spain. So if there -- I think, you know, a few years ago...
DOMBEYYeah, I think that's right about the wider picture. Just remember how difficult this whole situation is with Greece. They're cutting salaries because they can't devalue the currency. They're trying to devalue the currency by just cutting all the prices, so it's a really very difficult situation. But the problem is, the risks of all of this are enormous. Most people think of it in the end Greece is probably gonna have to default, that these austerity measures aren't gonna be enough.
REHMWhat would it mean if Greece defaulted?
DOMBEYWell, if it -- the hope is that if Greece defaults or renegotiates its debts or however you wanna term it, two, three years down the line, things will be quieter so that it will be just something located to Greece. The fear is that if Greece defaults earlier rather than later, it's something that then spreads to Ireland, to Spain, to Portugal and there isn't enough money to bail all these guys out. Some of them have to leave euro. They all have to devalue. And you then have a second wave crisis in a sort of way that you had the 1930s crisis come really at its worst a couple of years after the Wall Street crash.
SOLOMONYeah, and I think, like he was saying, who's gonna foot the bill for these guys if they default. There's a lot of testiness internally in Europe to the Germans as the biggest economy I think people are turning to them. And Merkel's been a little bit uncertain like how much do they want to foot for this if this keeps going. So, like he was saying, you could have a second round of financial crisis which would be much worse than what we've seen in the last two years.
REHMYou know, the other thing here is that when international media report on these kinds of riots with 28 people left injured, 23 policemen, a former conservative former minister beaten in the street by demonstrators, what kind of effect does that have on tourism, which is one of Greece's biggest industries, Nancy?
YOUSSEFYou know, I was in Greece earlier this year in May and I felt like I was going in between protests because remember there were protests on the streets early this year over the economic crisis...
YOUSSEF...and so -- and you could see in the streets and the shop owners that I was talking to complained that the tourism has really fallen in the last year and you just never knew whether you'd find -- you would encounter a protest in the streets of Athens.
YOUSSEFAnd it was a personal experience that I had felt.
REHMAnd think about that protest that Prince Charles and his wife encountered in the midst of England. Let's go to Mary who's just returned from Greece. Good morning to you.
MARYGood morning, Diane. My comment is that unfortunately Greece has no great products -- manufacturing products like Germany does. And my experience is that the EU shoe does not fit all and that Greece needs to return to the drama.
REHMWhat do you...
MARYI think it's just postponing the inevitable.
REHMWhat do you think, Daniel?
DOMBEYWell, that's a very strong school of thought. I mean, you know, a lot of people think that in the end of a day they can't service these debts, that it comes on the heels, I'm really sorry to say this, of a very sorry story about they were admitted into the EU in the very early 1980s, earlier than they should've done. It was one of a more troubled admission procedures. That they submitted correct or mendacious information to join the euro, they haven't developed economy in the way that other countries have and that it is a special case, but that's the good news and the bad news. It's good news because the rest of Europe doesn't suffer from those kind of problems. It's bad news because it makes the predicament of Greece very, very hard to solve.
SOLOMONWell, what also is disturbing or scary is how destabilizing these IMF programs can be once you really start to implement them. I was based in Indonesia in the '90s when, you know, it was maybe -- Greece was probably more developed than Indonesia, but they -- it looked like a modern economy. And then as they started implement their reforms, it was just massive unrest, so hard it fell within about a few months after they devalued their currency. So it's -- you know, these economies look kinda modern on level, but once they're forced to put these policies in place, things change.
REHMLet's take a call from Gil who's here in Washington. Good morning, you're on the air.
GILGood morning, Diane. Thank you. My question is about Julian Assange. I am not sure of any crime which he's been charged with. And if so, why does he have to put bail to get out of jail because there's no crime? He's not accused of any crime. Everything is alleged.
REHMEverything is alleged. Daniel.
DOMBEYWell, technically that's correct. He's not yet been charged by the Swedish authorities. He's not yet been charged by the American authorities. However, the Swedish authorities say they want to question him in relation to allegations that have been made by two Swedish women of nonconsensual sex. And therefore, they're seeking his extradition to Sweden for that questioning, but it is entirely correct. As of now, he has not been charged of any crime.
REHMAnd is there some question about these two women in Sweden?
YOUSSEFThere is. He has -- there was talk that it was consensual at one point and it became nonconsensual. He's charged that there were communications going on between women and lawyers. There are charges that these charges are coming up because of the WikiLeaks document dump, but this is an effort to come after him. And the allegations are coming largely from him and his lawyer to try to refute claims that this is a serious charge, but instead, as he says, a campaign out to get him.
REHMAll right. And let's turn now to North Korea. Jay, I know Russia's called on South Korea to drop plans for new military exercises. What's the significance there?
SOLOMONWell, it places both the US and South Korea in a very difficult situation. I mean, we're seeing kind of a repeat of what happened a few weeks ago. The South Koreans have these live fire exercises. The north threatens to retaliate, and they did. And I think we're in the situation now where we're really coming to a head. Does the north -- the north has repeatedly said they're gonna retaliate again if the South Koreans go ahead with this. And does the US pull back? I mean, the North Koreans seem to be provoking, provoking. And at some point politically inside Seoul the president has to stand up and say, I'm not gonna, you know, allow these guys to keep beating us down.
YOUSSEFYou know, I just wanted to add as a military correspondent, as you know, we have more than 20,000 US soldiers based in South Korea. And the limitation is those soldiers can prevent a full-fledged war. But everything in between, they're very limited in terms -- that presence is very limited in terms of what it can do. And that's what we're seeing this escalation of things just short of war. In that sense, the United States options are limited. Those soldiers stopped the biggest threat, but so far the US hasn't had -- and the South Koreans for that matter, haven't had a means to stop those things leading up to that. And I think that's why you're seeing the frustration and frankly the limitations in terms of US options in South Korea.
DOMBEYYeah, this actually does stem out of those limitations of options. Because what the US would really like is pressure from China on North Korea, both over North Korea's military actions and probably more importantly its nuclear program. We haven't seen anything like that pressure so far. So these signs of military shows of force are perhaps the only things that the US and South Korea can do in the interim. America's hoping to turn that around with a visit of Hu Jintao, the Chinese President, to Washington next month when they're really gonna try and get him to sign up. But, as I say, there's no sign of that.
DOMBEYAnd in the meantime, the US is more concerned because it seems every week now there's more and more reports of extensive North Korean nuclear facilities, particular the uranium enrichment which will be another way to the bomb.
SOLOMONWell, I think what's different than -- I mean, North Korea's a cycle of provocation and then backing down. What is different this time does seem to be the leadership situation. No one really understands who's in charge. Are they gonna take -- do they understand the redlines? It seemed like in the past they did. And not they're sorta moving up. And like Daniel was saying, the proliferation threat is acute now in ways that it wasn't before they showed this uranium enrichment capability just a few weeks ago.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Keith in Silver Spring, Md., who says, "Analyst types like to talk about the political realities of the US getting out of Afghanistan. Of course they are thinking on a regional or global level. Well, here's a local reality. The president could lose the next election by failing to get us out of Afghanistan. The American public do not support this war. We want our troops home. Stop the nation building."
DOMBEYWell, the Americans say they're trying to stop the nation building. Gates -- yesterday Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was quite clear that he said this was (unintelligible) goals. But I have to say I'll probably slightly disagree with the letter writer. The problem I think that Obama sees politically, and this is something that was really driven home to him last year when they did this four month long review, is if there's anything that looks like withdraw, defeat or humiliation, he will be torn apart by the Republicans.
REHMAt the same time, Afghanistan was not really a huge issue in the election.
YOUSSEFThat's right. It was astonishing how small of an issue was in terms of polls. People talked about the economy, healthcare and the war ranked quite low. Daniel brings up a great point. What's interesting is that the biggest threat that the president faces right now in terms of opposition is from fellow Democrats who oppose what they see as an escalation. As a military correspondent, what I find most astonishing is that we went from July, 2011 to the end of 2014 as inspirational in a matter of one week, seemingly unnoticed. And by the way, that happened right around the election cycle, so people will say that it's not an issue up until now. And I think that was rude for a moving deadline if you will.
REHMNancy Youssef, Pentagon correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Daniel.
DOMBEYYeah, I just wanted to say in fact I think it was particularly important they came out with 2014 just after the elections. The 2011 date -- if you really wanted to be a cynic, the 2011 date -- July 2011 date safely put the whole issue beyond the midterms. Within days of the midterms over, they've then come up with the 2014 date which puts it well past the next presidential election. I think the judgment in purely political terms is that by putting these dates, you neutralize it's a political issue. You would turn it into a huge political issue if you started pulling out. And I also think that Obama feels that his opposition from Republicans is much more significant than internal opposition from the Democrats. The Democrats will vote for him in the end.
YOUSSEFThey will. But I wanna come back to this deadline because -- and it also comes back to the report, frankly, we don't see metrics in that report. And by continuing to move the date, there's never a real public debate, is this working, is this not, should we stay the course, should we not. Instead it's let's talk about it in July of 2011, let's talk about it in 2014, let's keep moving that real central discussion because you never have to really answer the question publicly is this working.
SOLOMONNo, I think that's right, the kind of bind he is between the right and the left. I think his real opposition is gonna be coming from his own party if he doesn't define when he's getting out, particularly going into the next election.
REHMAll right. To Trail, Ore., let's try Ed. Good morning, you're on the air.
EDGood morning and thank you for taking my call.
EDJust two -- Diane, I love your program. I have two quick comments. I'm a ambivalent Obama supporter, just like highly disappointed in the last couple of years. But I heard your military correspondent say that -- and maybe I heard it wrong, but that there are 20 to 30,000 American troops that we have left in South Korea are there to prevent a major war. And I guess I take issue with that. If North Korea doesn't start lobbing nukes, but sends their million-man army across the 38th parallel again, our troops are nothing but a speed bump. And they should be out of there.
SOLOMONWell, I mean, technically they are a tripwire. They're supposed to -- they're there to stop a broader North Korean invasion. I don't know. I think most people who watch North Korea don't believe they can sustain some conflict for very long, so the perception from the caller that they just kinda pave over Seoul, you know, they don't have energy. The people are not in a strong position I don't think to continue a long conflict. But how many people would be killed in the first couple of days as any conflict is really what people worry about.
YOUSSEFThat's right. I mean, I think Ed has one opinion, the United States military has another that if North Korea tried, they would not be the one enduring the speed bump. And remember, it's their mere presence there. It's their mere presence there that even -- the military's perception is that stops even the North Koreans from considering coming over the border.
REHMBut what about his point that you've got a million people who could just mow down this 20 or 30,000 troop force?
DOMBEYI think it's perhaps more useful or as useful to look at in a couple of other ways. One is that for 50 years North Korea, because of its conventional artillery, has been in the position where it could cause severe damage to Seoul in a matter of moments. That's just one of the underlying strategic realities in the Korean peninsula and why it's so difficult. The other thing is that North Korea is basically not so much a country as it is a protection record. Here's a country that basically wants to matter in the world, but also to get goodies for not behaving quite so badly.
REHMAnd we have an e-mail -- final e-mail from Mary, who says, "As a Greek and one who is in constant contact with Greeks, they're main complaint is not only that their wages were low to begin with and that their politicians are corrupt, it's also the issue of unfairness. The poor and elderly are asked to sacrifice more than the wealthy. No one is going after the corrupt and the wealthy who've assisted and brought this needy country to its knees." And that's the last word. Daniel Dombey of Financial Times, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers, Jay Solomon of The Wall Street Journal, thank you all. Happy holiday season to you all.
REHMThanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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