Russia launches another round of airstrikes in Syria. In Afghanistan, fighting with the Taliban continues in Kunduz. And a Palestinian flag flies at the U.N. for the first time. A panel of journalists joins guest host Melissa Block for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
A new Congress convenes with the GOP putting in new rules for tax and spending bills. President Obama makes changes among his closest advisors. And the Pentagon plans to send an additional 1400 Marines to Afghanistan. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- James Kitfield senior correspondent, National Journal magazine.
- Susan Glasser editor-in-chief, Foreign Policy.
- Nadia Bilbassy senior U.S. correspondent, MBC TV -- Middle East Broadcast Centre.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. A shift in political coalition may help avert the potential collapse of Pakistan's government. More than 1,000 extra marines will be deployed in Southern Afghanistan and Cleric Matata Al-Sadr returns to Iraq. Joining me for the international hour of the Friday news roundup, James Kitfield of National Journal magazine. Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine and Nadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Centre TV.
MS. DIANE REHMDo join us 800-433-8850, we'll start taking your call a little later in the hour. In the meantime you can send us an e-mail, join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning and happy new year to all of you.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDHappy new year.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERGood Morning.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYHappy new year.
REHMJames Kitfield, why are we sending more troops to Afghanistan now?
KITFIELDWell, because the President in his December review said that we -- the strategy was basically working. They'd reversed the momentum of the Taliban in Kandahar and Helmand in the south where it's basically -- it's home base. But the progress was fragile and reversible and this is an indication they still fear, it is reversible. The spring fighting season always picks up after the snows melt and the passes of -- between Afghanistan and Pakistan. They expect the Taliban to come back and try to retake or re-infiltrate into Kandahar.
KITFIELDAnd they want to make sure that they can sustain this progress, keep them out from re-infiltrating back into Kandahar. The central concern is, there's a July 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing the surge troops. They are worried that if there was a reversal in the spring, the White House will say the strategy's not working, we should accelerate that withdraw. And they want to work against that so they want some more troops.
GLASSERWell, I think, that's an important point that James just made because in a lot of ways, this is as much a Washington story, at this point, as it is what's happening on the ground. And, I think, the real struggle in a way is for the soul of President Obama. He's made it clear and if you read the accounts of the internal deliberations, they want out. They don't want to be the President who's stuck in an endless quagmire in Afghanistan.
GLASSERI think, there are some competing interests inside the Pentagon and this may reflect the positioning that's going to come to a head later this year when it comes to, do we keep the surge going? Can President Obama find a meaningful way to say, we're getting out?
BILBASSYBut also, Diane, this number adds to the 30,000 troops that the President authorized. So we're not really adding new numbers if you consider the number that he authorized in December 2009. And these troops and the Marines in particular will go to the sudden area of Afghanistan to Helmand, to Kandahar. And maybe we have seen an example today of the killing of 17 civilians mainly because the Taliban were targeting one police officer by the name of Ramazan in this border area of Spinbaldak.
BILBASSYAnd as a result, we have seen now that the situation is very fragile. It can be reversed overnight and therefore the gains that the Pentagon has secured -- and they talked about it, it has to be a solidified by adding these Marines. So there is this necessity for them in order for them to be able to withdraw as the President said in July, coming the date that expected.
KITFIELDYou know, General...
KITFIELD...General Petraeus talks a lot about putting time back on the clock. That's what he's been trying to do to show enough progress -- and this again, the template, I always say it was Iraq 'cause it's the same General and he's using the same template. He put time back and bought patience in Washington because he could show progress. Their fear is that they've shown that progress is fall without doubt. They made that point in this review, President Obama conceded that point.
KITFIELDBut there -- any reversal, you know, takes that time back off the clock. So they're very concerned that they continue to show a progression of positive progress in the spring, leading up to July 2011.
REHMBut aren't they simply trying to show progress in the south while everything else in the north, for example, is going to hell?
GLASSERWell, I think, that is one of the -- to me, one of the big over looked stories of last year, actually, was the significant deterioration and even encroaching Talibanization of the north of Afghanistan which had never before, even when the Taliban nominally ruled the rest of the country, they really didn't have inroads there and the northern alliance was using the north as a base to fight the Taliban. What you've seen is a combination of things, the lack of meaningful political progress and control over the north.
GLASSERCertainly the U.S. and other forces not focusing their attention security wise in the north and so the results is that even areas of the country that haven't been focused on -- just to go back to this point quickly on putting time back on the clock. It's a fairly audacious kind of spin. It certainly reflects General Petraeus playing the hand he's been dealt. But they want to say, the clock began in 2010. And they want to do that for some very explicit political reasons to have a chance to quote, unquote, "do it right."
GLASSERBut let's be real here. You know, the clock actually started in September of 2001 on this war. And I understand and it makes sense in a political context what the Pentagon is doing, but the clock did not start in 2010. You know, I just saw a senior Pentagon official quoted saying that the other day and I thought, wow, that is such an interesting case of, you know, repositioning here.
KITFIELDYou know, I take your point. It's 10-year war, we're a very war weary...
KITFIELD...country. And so he's having to deal with that hand that he's been dealt. But for nine of those years, it was an extremely under resource effort. Everyone knows this. We were focused on Iraq. We were absolutely had drained all the resources out of Afghanistan, was the most under resourced peace-keeping operation, probably in history. So in a sense that -- we've only had a year of actually having the proper resources in place to try to actually win this thing. So that would be Petraeus' argument. I think there's some substance to it.
BILBASSYAlso why the south, is because it is the stronghold of the Taliban. And, I think, from a military point of view, it's vital for them to clear these areas and to be able to hold them. So once they gain a territory, they have to be able to clean it, to return it to civilian rule et cetera. So Taliban is focused in the Kandahar and the Helmand province and therefore, the Marines were vital for this particular area. And I agree with what you just said about the nine years were neglected.
BILBASSYSo the administration, this administration will say that, we only starting two years. It's not a ten-years battle. And therefore, we have to put the resources in the right place. We have to rebuild the country in terms of everything, development, military, a fight in corruption, et cetera, because the focus wasn't Iraq.
GLASSERThe real stronghold though in a way of the Taliban is in Pakistan next door, right? And that's, I think, part of the, you know, calculation we haven't talked about yet and you look at what happened in Pakistan this week and, you know, you really see. Another bad week for Pakistan, another bad day for Pakistan. You know, the country on top of its incredible political woes, the enormous corruption, the long term toleration of the Islamization.
REHMAnd now we're killing (unintelligible) .
GLASSERNow, it's an economic meltdown as well. And what have they chosen? They've chosen to buy a short term, you know, political re-stabilization at the cost of their international bailout package. And, you know, I don't even think we've begun to digest what this really means for Pakistan. That they have decided to not go ahead with a planned fuel increase that basically caused the turmoil over the last week in Pakistan. They've canceled that in defiance of the international economic community.
GLASSERAnd, you know, again, they're headed for another big crisis.
BILBASSYThat's true. But, I mean, the Prime Minister Gilani was forced to do that. I mean, he took the step back after what happened in the last few days. Considering the killing of the Governor of the Punjab who was the most populist and the most wealthiest provinces of all Pakistan. He's considered...
REHMAnd what is the reason that people speculate he was killed?
BILBASSYAll right, well, Salmaan Taseer was killed basically because he criticized a law in Pakistan, which is a blasphemy law, which is basically -- it came as a result of a Christian woman who criticized and largely said something about Prophet Muhammad. And he has been very outspoken against extremism, for tolerance, for minority rights, et cetera. The saddest thing and most significant, is he was killed by one of his bodyguards. And even to put things into more complicated picture is the lawyers were defending this guy.
BILBASSYHe's being seen as a hero. His name is Mumtaz Qadri. They threw rose petals on him in the court. These very lawyers who stood against General Musharraf in the past are defending him on pro-bono. And if 500 clergy, very well-known clergymen in Pakistan, has supported him. And the problem now, people are liberals have been talking in Pakistan about anybody who is there to criticize these laws or to stand up to the extremist, will be willing lemmings. So the choice now is between extremist and liberals and that will weaken the government.
BILBASSYBecause the Governor was very close friend of President Zardari. He's the PPP activist and he's well known. And problem now is, where do you go from here? And that will tighten the government hands in terms of extremists to the degree that the government almost collapsed.
KITFIELDWe've said on this program before that Pakistan remains the most dangerous place on earth. You know, it's got this confluence of this fight between Islamic extremists and in secular government. You have a fight between -- you have nuclear weapons there and you have Al-Qaeda on their territory. You have all this network of extremist groups. It's a very dangerous place. And there's a struggle going on for the future of Pakistan. One of the champions of a secular modern Pakistan just got assassinated.
KITFIELDWhat worries me is, this guy who killed him was expelled from the security forces two years earlier for his extreme religious reviews. How did he get back into a security detail like that?
KITFIELDHe shot the guy more than 20 times. He himself was not shot by anymore -- any of the other body guards. So it leads me to wonder whether there's more of a conspiracy behind this. And it might be one of these extremist groups.
REHMAnd does that suggest also that other opposition members might be targeted?
GLASSERWell, remember the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto which was...
GLASSER...only a few years ago. I think the message is crystal clear at this point. I was really struck by the fact that, that not only President Zardari, but, you know, many of the leading -- remaining moderate voices in Pakistani politics were too afraid to even attend his funeral.
GLASSERAnd, I think, that really is a metaphor to me. That speaks to where Pakistan is at, at the moment. And...
KITFIELDI think Prime Minister Gilani was there, wasn't he?
BILBASSYBut the President...
GLASSERHe did attend. You know, this is where you have a state that you don't know exactly whose on your side. And, I think, that's what the Americans have been dealing with to their enormous frustration. Go take a spin through some of the Wikileaks cables that have been released so far. And that picture will leap out pretty clearly at you whether it comes to the sponsorship by the ISI, the Pakistani spy agency of elements of both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups.
GLASSERThis is something that, you know, we don't know whose side they're on.
REHMSusan Glasser, she's editor and chief of Foreign Policy magazine. Do join us at 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd welcome back to the Friday News Roundup of International News, our first of the New Year, this week with Nadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Centre. Susan Glasser. She's editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy Magazine. James Kitfield is senior correspondent with National Journal magazine. You can join us on 800-433-8850. Your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. So we have an old friend coming back to Iraq from his so-called exile in Iran. What has prompted Moqtada al-Sadr to come back to Iraq, Susan?
GLASSERWell, you know, after months and months and months of political uncertainty, there's now the formation of a new government in Iraq. And I think you have a moment where we're going to see actually whether the Islamic parties in Iraq take the center stage again, whether they make a full throttle sort of challenge to steer the course of the new Iraq. And I'm curious to see what happens. He was greeted as almost a conquering hero in a way.
KITFIELDYou know, this -- I was actually in Iraq in 2004 with a unit that was given orders to capture or kill him. And that was rescinded. This guy is vehemently anti-American. I think it's less an Islamic issue than a Shiite versus Sunni issue. He is very closely allied with Iran. He's a Shiite. He has his militia, but his militia was defeated twice by the Iraqi army and it kind of went underground and his party kinda joined the political process and they won 40 seats. So he became a king maker in this last election and he was able to throw his 40 seats in the coalition with Maliki so Maliki, the former prime minister, is going to be the future prime minister.
KITFIELDSo he's a king maker and that's why I think he returned. He saw that he now -- he's going to have, I think, eight of the maybe three dozen ministries in the new government. So the time is right for him to sort of come back and play the political champion of his party. I mean, I can assure you the Americans -- the United States is very worried about his ties to Iran. That's the bad news. The good news is, if he's decisively decided to play politics to try to exert influence through politics, that's probably something we can live with. It was when his militia was a Hasbalah-like armed group outside of politics that he was sort of public enemy number one to the Americans. But he's not doing that now, so we'll see.
REHMExcept that you worry whether it could lead to some sectarian violence.
BILBASSYIt could and I think the people who are worried most as well are the Sunnis. Because don't forget that his army (word?) Mahdi has been responsible for some of the most grotesque, terrible massacres in 2006 and 2007. But you asked, Diane, why he returned. I think he returned because of the (word?) of Iran. The day he returned to Najaf as a hero, as you said, he visited the grave of Imam Ali and he was surrounded by all his supporters. And it coincided with a visit of the Iranian foreign minister who the ambassador to Baghdad said that Muqtada al-Sadr is the stabilizing force in Iraq now.
BILBASSYAlso he made peace with his old nemesis, which is Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Let's not forget that Maliki ordered the security forces to unleash a campaign against his Mahdi Army in Basra and almost wiped them out. So he did not forget that. But because of this re-alliance with Iran -- and I think he was given also an assurance that there's not going to be a trial for a killing of another assassination of another Shiite leader. He was allowed to come back.
BILBASSYNow, his self-imposed exile was for religious reasons. He went to Qom, which is the most revered religious Shiite city in Iran, to learn because he wanted to be an ayatollah. He did not reach that degree. He's coming back now, not as a fire band rebel troublemaker, but a respected politician who has -- as Jim said, he has 40 seats in Parliament and he might have influence. And I think he will give every reason for the Americans to be worried of that. But I think his argument will be is he will influence the Iraqi government in not keeping American bases after the withdrawal of 2011. And it also demonstrates that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is showing some kind of independence from the Americans to allow in somebody who is so vehemently against Americans to come back as a hero.
GLASSERWell, I think that's the real point, right, that we'll all be looking at this year is at what price did Maliki purchase, in effect, this renewed seat? Remember, this came after months and months and months of political stalemate. It was only broken by making what some people certainly here saw as a deal with the devil. This is the price of that deal. For now, they're talking reconciliation. For now, they're repositioning Sadr as a political leader and respected parliamentarian.
GLASSERWhat happens if Maliki doesn't do his bidding sufficiently, if Iran turns away, if he's too conciliatory toward the Sunnis? Then, I think, is when you face the renewed violence. Not immediately, but over the course of this year, you face that potential. And I'm glad you spotlighted this issue of the renewed American presence. Things have not worked out as the Americans anticipated they would after the quote/unquote "withdrawal." They expected to maintain a very robust military presence inside Iraq for the foreseeable future, but, in fact, you could see that this was not going to be the case. And that you may actually see almost no American military presence after the end of this year, which would be a big change.
BILBASSYThis is not gonna be South Korea.
KITFIELDThat is the thing to watch. There's two things to watch. Do the -- because he comes back into the government the Sunnis bolt. We haven't seen that yet. If they bolt from the government, that's very bad news 'cause that's the sectarian divide that almost plunged the country into civil war. It hasn't happened yet, although he's got also a lot of seats in ministries in this new government. So if the Sunnis stay as part of the political process, that'll be a good sign. If they bolt, bad sign.
KITFIELDAlso, the American base is an interesting point and we have 50,000 troops still in Iraq. We did expect to negotiate a new status of forces agreement with Iraq so there would be some residual U.S. presence there because they don't have an army that can really defend its own borders. And they've got -- they're in a pretty bad neighborhood. If all the Americans leave at the end, it certainly means that our strategic relationship with Iraq will be damaged. It means -- I don't expect that to happen 'cause we have a lot of leverage with them. They -- basically, their whole arson is now American weapons. They need our air force to -- they don't have their own air force. They don't have a navy.
KITFIELDThey don't -- so basically watch what happens with the American presence. If it goes down to zero, I take the point, it will be a blow to the strategic relationship (unintelligible) Iraq.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about Iran's snub of the United States in this so-called targeted invitation to view its nuclear power plants. They've invited Russia, China, and members of the U.N., some other countries, but left out the United States.
KITFIELDWow, snubbed by Iran. That's really a news line there. (laugh) This happens a lot between us and Iran, and it wasn't just us. It was some members of the EU3 that have been pressing them on their nuclear program. This is the game Iran plays. We haven't actually -- the Obama Administration's been pretty successful at putting them in a tight sanctions box. We got Russia and China onboard with that. Sanctions by all measures are starting to bite in ways that they're causing them a lot of economic pain. They had to devalue their currency recently. They're having a hard time with importing refined petroleum, even though the export -- the oil, they don't have a lot of refining capacity.
KITFIELDSo they've come back to talks, but they've come back to talks on a nuclear program very reluctantly. There's going to be another round of talks in Turkey later this month. And this is the game Iran always plays try to break off the coalition that is surrounding it. And I don't think it'll have much impact. Everyone has seen this trick before multiple times. No one's, I think, going to fall for this.
REHMWhat about the American woman in Iran who was arrested for spying, Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, this woman is a 55-year-old woman that was trying to cross Iran from Armenia. The Iranian press agencies were saying in the beginning that she was arrested because her visa was not in order. And then, they denied the official government response -- well, they denied that they have her. They're saying, actually, we sent her back. The state department now is asking the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, because they are the one who's looking after the American interests, to find out if she's actually been arrested or not. Most likely, my guess is she will be arrested because this is very close to the negotiation.
BILBASSYThey would love to have a westerner, an American, in their hand. And as we get closer to the negotiation in Istanbul that's happening end of this month -- I mean, why these people go to Iran, I don't know, especially from places like Armenia, elsewhere. But they're saying that she was a spy. I mean, the usual thing and she -- what was interesting, they said that she has spying equipment in her teeth and that's officially an Iranian kind of story.
REHMShe's the fourth American arrested for spying in Iran in two years.
GLASSERWell, that's right. Remember we're talking about the hikers who came in from Turkey. And, of course, that was a big ordeal that involved negotiations from many different countries, and not only the United States, to try to get them back. It's become a standard part of the arsenal of the Iranians in dealing with this game that really does involve the nuclear high stakes poker. The Europeans, of course, haven't fallen for this. They're saying they're not going to attend this sort of dog and pony inspection show.
GLASSERI think the real targets are Russia and China. That was a big blow to the Iranians last year when the Russians and the Chinese sided with the Americans at the U.N. Security Council and went along with the sanctions. And I think you're going to see a lot of focus of their diplomacy, particularly on the Chinese. I think they were really surprised by that. There had been pretty firm indications that the Russians were moving in this direction of working with the Americans on the sanctions. So perhaps that was less of a surprise. But I would look to see a focus of the Iranian diplomacy this year on peeling away the Chinese from the U.N. support for sanctions.
KITFIELDThat's exactly right. And we've seen this game. We had the American woman who was an academic in this town, who was also accused of spying, eventually let go. I mean, they trump up these spy charges and they use them as pawns in this game. And I take Nadia's point. Anyone with an American passport, if you're not on official business, should not travel to Iran because you will become a...
REHMWhy are they doing this?
KITFIELDI have no clue, but they shouldn't do it. They become pawns and it really does complicate our own diplomacy. 'Cause we're, at one time, trying to put pressure on Iran to come clean about its nuclear program, at the same time we're having to ask a favor of Iran to release these people and it really does complicate diplomacy.
REHMAnd turning to Egypt, Nadia Bilbassy. Was Al-Qaeda behind the bombing of a Christian church in Egypt, in Alexandria?
BILBASSYSo far -- in Alexandria, absolutely. So far it has a modus operandi of Al-Qaeda or an affiliate of Al-Qaeda. The explosives so far seem to be too sophisticated for a local-made that they think it's coming actually from Iraq. And they haven't determined, the Egyptian security forces, whether it actually is Al-Qaeda or a (word?) group that's affiliated to it. But this is the first attack ever on a church in Egypt. There have been tension between Christians and Muslims, the (sounds like) cops and the Muslims normally over land, over a church, over a woman converted to Islam or vice versa. But this is the first time we've seen Al-Qaeda targeting Christians.
BILBASSYIn Iraq, we have seen the attack in October where 40 people were killed, now in Alexandria where 20 people were killed, including Muslims as well. And I think it shows the insanity of groups like this who are targeting people in worship places. And I'm glad to know that there's so much outrage in the Arab world. So many people spoke out against it, including the Mufti of Saudi Arabia.
BILBASSYTalking about these people do not represent Islam, that they high jacking the religion. And it's good to hear it because now the Christians in the Middle East are under attack. I mean, we're talking about in Iraq, for example, before the American invasion, you had almost one million Christians in Iraq. Now, it's under half a million. It's the same in most other countries. And Christians all over the Middle East have been an integral part of the (word?) and now to see them leaving, it, they enrich the culture.
BILBASSYI mean, just to give you an example of -- in Palestine, there've been leaders of the national movement for independence and when three -- in the 1970s, three of top PLO leaders, Palestine Liberation Organization, were killed in Beirut by the Israelis. They took them to bury them in the church and people were surprised. Why do you bury in the church? 'Cause they didn't know they were Christians. This question of being Muslim or Christian was never a part of any question. But now, the Al-Qaeda's playing on distention and it's so sad to see it.
REHMNadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Centre. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So, James, as you look at this attack, what does it mean or could it mean for the stability of religion in Egypt?
KITFIELDWell, I was heartened to see the Egyptian government take this extremely seriously. They have taken the military and put it around all the Christian churches now apparently 'cause they just celebrated their Orthodox Christmas. But we know, for instance, that Al-Qaeda -- or the Islamic extremist groups have a pretty big footprint in Egypt. The number two in Al-Qaeda Zawahiri is an Egyptian formerly with the Muslim Brotherhood. There is an extremist element there, but they have been pretty much kept under the boot heel of the Egyptian government.
KITFIELDSo I suspect they'll take this very seriously. But, I mean, this is their modus operandi. We saw them in bombing the golden mosque in Iraq. Then it was Sunni versus Shia. They like to sort of antagonize these religious divides to try to create violence and instability.
GLASSERBut the bottom line is, Egypt has a lot of conditions that might suggest its right for some kind of further political and even sectarian violence instability. You have an octogenarian president who has ruled Egypt with a very, very heavy hand for the last three decades. There's a crucial turning point coming up later this year. We don't know yet for sure whether President Hosni Mubarak is going to position himself for reelection again or not. Some people are already speculating that this means that he will try to remain in power in order to potentially crackdown even further.
GLASSERAlmost certainly that is what the groups that sponsored this attack on the church in Egypt were looking for. They were looking for further hasty overbearing crackdowns by the Egyptian government in the effort to provoke the kind of violence and conflict inside the society.
REHMAnd talk about presidents wanting to stay in power, the Obama Administration is putting new sanctions -- trying to put pressure on Ivory Coast president to cede power, Susan.
GLASSERWell, that's right. This has been one of those creeping-over-the-holiday stories that really hasn't, on some level, got the attention that it might deserve. What you have is a pretty extraordinary situation. You have a president of Ivory Coast who lost an election. There's been an absolutely unanimous viewpoint of the International Community that he should go. He's refusing to do so. It's basically a standoff. No one knows, short of the use of force, which the International Community is not yet willing to take this kind of a measure, what's going to happen. It's a real test of the International Order in the Obama era, right?
GLASSERThis is how these tragedies can often occur. We're focused on the war in Afghanistan. We're talking about potential instability in Egypt, one of the crucial countries in the Middle East. All of a sudden, you have offstage in an African country that's not in the center of attention, a complete standoff. What's the world going to do about it?
KITFIELDWell, I mean, that's a pretty good summary of what's going on there. And I think we also have the issue of Sudan. So we've got multiple...
KITFIELD...places where our attention is divided. And this guy's, like many African autocrats, decides he likes power and wants to hold onto it. We've seen that game played many, many times all over Africa. And I don't think it's likely the International Community can summon the will to intervene militarily. So it comes down -- we have an African delegation that went there and tried to convince him to -- and gave him offers of exile, et cetera. He didn't take those. So, like I say, it's a standoff. But we've seen this before. It's a sad commentary about the state of democracy in Africa.
BILBASSYYeah, let me just -- before I come to Ivory Coast, I will say that Zawahiri was part of the Islamic Jihad, not the Muslim Brotherhood. And actually the Muslim Brotherhood condemned the attack in Alexandria. (word?) I mean, the problem here is, like, a classic example of what you see, a repeated scenario, we've seen it in Zimbabwe. Now we have President Laurent Gbagbo refuse to admit the results. The winner of the opposition Alassane Ouatarra was considered the winner by everybody, including the United States and France.
BILBASSYYou have now a terrible situation where you have mass graves of 200 people dead, he wanted to stay in power. The African union doesn't want to use military options to oust him out. And the problem is he's decided to stay there at the expense of more people getting killed.
REHMNadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Centre. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMWelcome back. We'll open the phones now. First to Rochester, New York. Boa, good morning to you.
BOAGood morning, Diane. Quick comment, good panel. It's amazing to me how the international -- how the international community usually approach the problem. Usually the U.S., we tend to -- we present ourselves as good power brokers, but yet when things come, we end up in the wrong part of the thing. We love taking sides. I'm an African and I'm not from (word?), but I have been on both sides, who have said that there were serious violation, serious fraud violation, both in the north end part controlled by Ouattara, whether he's aware of the controls because the (unintelligible) was so low that anybody who knows the area would not be leaving.
REHMNow, I have heard these comments many times in some of the e-mails that we've had, that the UN has taken the wrong position on this election. What do you hear, Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, I heard that at the UN, the U.S., the former (sounds like) colonian power, which is France, both of them and the African Union believe that Alassane Ouattara was the winner of this election. And President Gbagbo refused to accept it and therefore he went and appointed his own commission to validate his own results. As a result now, if you see, Alassane Ouattara is surrounded in a hotel in Abidjan by forces of the government and he's not allowed to move out.
BILBASSYAnd there is talk about a gross violation of the security forces that carried against people in the streets. We have talk about 200 dead. They talked about mass graves of 80 people dumped in one grave. They talk about even genocide. The (sounds like) coduval ambassador to the UN talked about a genocide now that people go and mark houses belonging to this or that tribe. And, I mean, it sounds like a Rwanda scenario again. So the situation is extremely tense and we -- obviously, the United States and France has to do something, but so far, they have failed to do anything.
GLASSERWell, that's right. In many ways, it appears from a great distance, which is what we're at, that the original crisis over the election has now grown into a much bigger crisis subsequent to it. So of course, there may well have been significant violations on both sides in the actual conduct of the election. We're now in a very different phase from that, whether rightly or wrongly. The international community has been unanimous in picking a winner in the election who is, as Nadia just said, a guy surrounded in a hotel and unable even to leave. There are killings. There's a sense that Ivory Coast is now teetering on the brink of yet another civil war in a way that perhaps really has far outgrown the question of who exactly won the election and how fair was it.
KITFIELDMy only point is, I mean, having witnessed a number of these elections in third world countries where the international community comes in as observers, et cetera, they're pretty cautious. And when you see the international community unanimously say definitely this guy won, it leads me to believe -- I mean, I've seen this play out before. It leads me to believe they have pretty good evidence that the opposition figure one.
REHMThanks for your call, Boa. Let's go to Hal who's in Washington D.C. Good morning to you.
HALGood morning. I believe one of your commentators said this, for the first nine years, we under-funded the war in Afghanistan. Would any of your commentators go so far as to say that during those nine years the Bush administration failed in its responsibility to conduct that war in a reasonable manner?
KITFIELDWell, I've had senior members of the Bush administration admit to me that basically they were in a sort of holding action in Afghanistan while -- 'cause they -- you know, Iraq was such a disaster, required more than 150,000 troops at its peak, intelligence services and special forces, all the enablers that, you know, were drained out of Afghanistan. So, yes, they, you know, any commentator who's looked at what happened in Afghanistan will tell you that we -- in 2003, when we invaded Iraq, started to really under-resource that effort. And I think the Bush administration would admit it themselves. They thought Iraq would be a lot easier than it turned out to be. And they didn't plan on doing that, but it was -- you know, we've seen the heroic effort we've had already put our service members through in terms of number of deployments just to do what we did. And that was much too little in the case of Afghanistan.
GLASSERYou know, I do agree with that analysis and that there clearly was a window of time that was simply missed because of the distraction of Iraq. The only point, though, that I would make in addition that goes against this is to say more money doesn't necessarily translate into more success in a situation like Afghanistan. And that exactly is the tragedy of the place. And if you look at the Soviet example, they also fought a decade long war in Afghanistan after all. Pouring super power resources of money and troops into both the civilian and the military fight in Afghanistan does not necessarily translate into winning a conflict. In many ways, it can fuel the conflict and to create more of the cycle of instability and chaos that we've seen in Afghanistan. So I think that's the terrible conundrum that we're here in right now.
GLASSERAnd even Gen. Petraeus I'm sure would agree with the idea that, you know, there's not a one to one calculus. Give me X more money and I'll produce a victory for you. Unfortunately, that's not the case in Afghanistan.
REHMAll right. To Baton Rouge, La., good morning, Ethel.
ETHELGood morning. I have heard that the efforts of the United States to pressure Pakistan into taking stronger action against the Taliban and support the efforts of the U.S. and fighting the Taliban is actually destabilizing Pakistan, and that stronger action on the part of their government against the Taliban there could actually lead to the destabilization of Pakistan, which would be a more dangerous situation than that which exists in Afghanistan.
BILBASSYI'm not quite sure about that. I mean, when the Pakistani government felt that they were threatened by the Pakistani Taliban, they were willing to take action against them, as we have seen the Swat Valley and elsewhere. The problem always remains of how they wanted to use the Afghani Taliban. Whenever it suits them, they can open the border, allow them to go and come back. We know about the ISI and how they've been using the Afghani Taliban for their own purposes. I don't know if they act against the safe havens in northern Waziristan. And this has always been the demand by the U.S. government. Whether it's gonna destabilize the Pakistani government or not, I'm not quite sure about this argument.
KITFIELDIt's the argument that the Pakistanis actually make to us, and it is -- it gets to the -- as usual, your listeners are a very smart lot. She put her finger on the catch 22 of our policy with Pakistan. We're trying to pressure it to, you know, to take, you know, take actions against the Taliban, but not to the point where it actually destabilizes the government, 'cause that's the scarier scenario, especially 'cause they've got nuclear weapon arsenal. So we're always trying to get them to do just enough, but not so much that it, you know, enflames all the extremist groups inside their territory.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling, Ethel. And to Hollywood, Fla. Hi there, Jack.
JACKHi, good morning to you all. Just a couple of quick points. First, I just wanna mention that everybody's making this last incident, New Year's incident, in Egypt as if it's an isolated incident. In Egypt, Muslims have been committing violence against Christians for decades, rape, burning their churches, not allowing people to build new churches or renovate old churches. The government's not really helping them out. And this incident just got the media attention, everybody's talking about that. But for decades, Christians have been suffering in Egypt.
JACKSecond point I wanna make, that the average person in any religion does not fully understand his religion, except for the clergy and their students. Now, in Islam, most Muslim believe that their religion is peaceful and they only hear the early moderate versus of Quran, but they don't really read and understand the remaining, like, late verses that came late towards the era of strength in Islam when Islam became strong. And those verses are full of violence against Christians. Actually, requesting Muslims to kill Christians and Jews until they decide to pay them special taxes for protection. And these groups, like Hamas and all these other groups, terrorist groups, are actually going by their religion to the T. They're not extremists. There's no extremists. And this is their teaching. This is their...
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Susan.
GLASSERWell, I think we got a little bit of a sense there of the passions that are enflaming this discussion in not just Egypt, but across the Middle East. It's a sad story really. I think it is true that there's a history of low level sectarian violence in Egypt and across all the countries in this region. Pakistan is another example actually where not only Christians, but Shiite Muslims have been targeted. The broader question that we discussed earlier, which I think is really the relevant one here, is are we looking at the -- a new campaign by al-Qaeda and its affiliates to destabilize Egypt and to bring this into a scale of conflict that we have not seen up until now.
REHMLet's talk about these elections coming up this week in Sudan. And exactly what could happen from your perspective, James?
KITFIELDI actually think this is the diplomatic dog that might not bark, and that would be a very good news story. You know, in 2005, the deal that was broke to stop a civil war that killed 2 million people had this referendum in it, that the south would be able to vote if it wanted to secede. That vote comes on Sunday. Two months ago, when I was at the UN, the UN Secretary General was very worried that that would lead to genocide and civil war -- a new civil war. The President of Sudan, Bashir, recently went to the south in the past week and said, I will respect the referendum. And if you vote to secede, I will actually even help you stand up your government, very consolatory comments from him.
KITFIELDI think the Obama administration gets a lot of credit for a very difficult diplomatic trick, which is dealing with this guy for the past year to get him to this point, even though he is being charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court. A lot of people have said we should just, you know, use sanctions and try to squeeze him. They actually reached out and tried to cut deals with him. And I think this shows that maybe one of those deals came through.
BILBASSYAfter Sunday, we might see the birth of the newest country in Africa. It will be the 54th state, which is the Southern -- Independent Southern Sudan. Mostly likely, this referendum will lead to independence. For the Sudanese, it's a question of identity. They have been oppressed for so long by the northerners and therefore, for them, it's a question of seeking their own identity. The war that killed, as you said, 2 million people as a result of the actual war or the famine has led to so much of turmoil in the south.
BILBASSYBut this state will have so much challenges, regardless even if the north stayed calm and did not interfere and there was no violence. It might be one of the poorest states. They have no infrastructure. It is -- I mean, in my reporting from Southern Sudan over the years, I haven't seen a least developed place on earth that I have seen it in Southern Sudan. And therefore, it's gonna be -- for them, it's emotional. It's euphoric to have your own state, but there's so many questions about citizenship, about the northerners who live in there up in (word?) has to come and vice versa, about all the resources that they have to fight about. And I think we gonna see two emerging powers fighting in Southern Sudan, the United States and China, watch that.
REHMInteresting. Here's an e-mail from Mohammad in Alexandria, who says, "Sudan was never a nation. It's a foe state with borders drawn by the British Colonials in the late 1900s. The new Southern Sudan has the same multi-ethnic problems and will have the same instability as neighboring Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda.
GLASSERYeah, I think this is a very important point. It might not be the explosive flashpoint on election day that there was a real panic about over the last year, and not since -- James is right that that would be the sort of sky is falling scenario, that might not happen. I think it's over the coming months and years when you look at, A, can they really build a state out of almost nothing and, B, will they be sort of rift from within from the very beginning of this new nation.
REHMSusan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's an e-mail from Pierre, who says, "Your guests are totally uninformed about what's going on in Ivory Coast and continue to repeat what France and the U.S. want everybody to hear. Your guests need to listen to the other side. The AU is under pressure by France." Susan.
GLASSERI think that's correct. There is enormous pressure by France, the United States and the United Nations to come to a solution here. And, look, I wouldn't pretend to have a clear understanding of what did play out in the election itself in Ivory Coast, and that's the tragedy of the situation, I think, that we're looking at, which is to say you have a standoff and an impasse, and that's what the international community is looking at right now. I don't think anybody is focused in the U.S. State Department trying to re-litigate what happened in the election. What they're trying to avoid is the prospect of a serious new conflict in a country that can really not afford it.
KITFIELDWell, I agree with that. And, you know, unless -- I'm not sure what the listener knows that he's not telling us, but, again, it's not my experience that the United Nations, international observers, the United States, the African Union all come into place and pick a side because they have some nefarious agenda.
REHMIt's a matter of trust, isn't it, James?
KITFIELDWell, it is a matter of trust. And obviously this listener doesn't trust that grouping of people, but it's been my -- I don't know what he knows that makes him trust the leader who won't give up power.
BILBASSYBut let me also add that the irony of it, the envoy of the AU, the African Union, is the Prime Minister of Kenya, Raila Odinga. And this very person who quarreled with President Kibaki after 1,500 people were dead in Kenya, that they managed to share power. And he's the one who's gonna negotiate of how President Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara's gonna share power if they come to that agreement. So even the AU is stuck in terms of options. And they don't want to use a military option.
REHMSounds like a pretty terrible situation. Do you expect Gbagbo to give up power any time soon?
BILBASSYWell, we have seen it with President Mugabe of Zimbabwe. I do not think he's gonna relinquish power.
REHMNo, you really do not.
GLASSERShort answer, no. Right. He's got the troops. He's got the other guy surrounded and no one in the international community wants to embark on another war.
REHMStep in, yeah.
REHMSo you're saying that this standoff is just gonna continue indefinitely?
GLASSERIt looks like it could.
BILBASSYI don't know about indefinitely. I think something will happen eventually, whether Alassane Ouattara will give up or whether he will be persuaded to go into exile. It depends of how many people die. As I said, in Kenya it was 1,500 people before we reach an agreement. And unfortunately, it's the number of the civilians who are gonna pay a price for politicians who decided to stay in power because power is seductive and they wanted to stay as long as they can.
REHMAnd I'm sure it also depends on how much money they're willing to give this president who's been defeated.
GLASSERLook at what's happened in Somalia. Can a standoff occur indefinitely despite the overwhelming consensus and will of the international community when the African Union is involved and there are no other significant international tools to bring to bear,? The answer is yes.
KITFIELDAbsolutely. I think Mugabe's actually the exhibit A. I mean, if these guys who have the power don't really push it and there's not enough of a strategic interest for the international community to commit force, they stay in power.
REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal magazine, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine, Nadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Centre. Thank you all so much. Happy New Year.
GLASSERThank you, Diane.
KITFIELDHappy New Year.
BILBASSYHappy New Year.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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