Many say the current presidential race is the most uncivilized in modern American history. Civility in public discourse, why it seems to have hit a new low and long-term implications for the democratic process.
Libyan leader Gadhafi draws on hoards of cash to extend the fight against opposition rebels. Sectarian violence in Egypt grows. And a new U.N. report shows an increase of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Jonathan Landay senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers.
- Susan Glasser editor-in-chief, Foreign Policy.
- Yochi Dreazen senior national security correspondent, National Journal magazine.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Libyan military forces battle pro-democracy rebels in a key oil port. France became the first nation to formally recognize Libya's main opposition group. Sectarian violence flared up in Egypt after Muslims attacked a Coptic church in a village outside Cairo. And a powerful earthquake struck Japan, killing at least 400 people causing widespread damage.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the week's top international stories on the Friday news roundup, Yochi Dreazen of National Journal. Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy Magazine, Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers. I hope you'll join us with questions, comments, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENGood morning.
MR. JONATHAN LANDAYGood morning.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERGood morning.
REHMSusan Glasser, the largest earthquake in Japan's history and the death toll is rising.
GLASSERWell, that's right. We're still, of course, trying to figure out exactly what happened today. It looks like it's the largest earthquake since they recorded it in 1900. Obviously, we're starting to see the extraordinary scenes of this wave hitting the shore. The rest of the Pacific region is getting the big waves as a result now. Even the initial tolls are suggesting several hundred casualties, whether that's going to go up dramatically or not, we don't know. It's a tragic day for Japan.
REHMAnd within the past hour, President Obama has talked to the Japanese prime minister offering any kind of help.
LANDAYI'm sure that he's going to accept it. One of the interesting things that's going to come out of this is how well Japan has actually been prepared for this kind of thing. It sits at the border of four tectonic plates. It's not a stranger to earthquakes, tsunamis, nothing of this kind before. But it is prepared -- it has been prepared in the past. It has systems in place. Its architecture is built to withstand massive earthquakes. We have to wait to see whether or not that has an ameliorated, what will be, obviously, a tragic toll.
REHMThis nuclear power plant, Yochi Dreazen, they are very concerned about because the cooling system has shut down.
DREAZENThat's right and Japan is one of those countries similar to some of the ones in Western Europe that have begun, in recent years, to start turning more and more to nuclear as a power source. I mean, this is something that has been discussed in the U.S. because arguably it's much more environmentally -- although it seems kind of paradoxical, it's more environmentally conscious. And this, obviously, is a huge risk when you have a massive nuclear plant, as Jonathan mentioned, in a country that has tectonic plates and has a history of tsunamis.
DREAZENIt is worth also pointing out that one major difference between what will be the U.S. response here and the U.S. response to other similar natural disasters, the tsunami that ravaged Indonesia and other countries in that region, is that the U.S., as we know, an enormous military presence already in Japan. That military presence is controversial. There's been talk about moving it from Okinawa to Guam, which the Japanese government is funding in part because they just want them out of -- as much as possible off of Okinawa.
DREAZENBut this is not something like in Haiti or, like, in Indonesia where we have to figure out how to get military assets there in a quick -- in a hurry. We have military assets, especially air already there.
REHMSusan Glasser, how might this affect international economic markets?
GLASSERWell, there's no question international economic markets have already been very, very jittery as a result of the unrest across the Middle East. We've looked at very volatile -- and rising not only oil prices, but other commodities as well. Food this year has been a big story. I'm sure that Japan, which after all is still, I guess, the third largest economy in the world after China surpassed it last year for the first time -- but still it's an enormous player and I think that, you know, people are going to be wondering what's the scope of the damage.
GLASSERIt's not in the economic heartland, per se, of Japan, but clearly Japan is going to be turning, were then focused on recovery for a long time. It's also worth thinking about last year's terrible disaster, almost exactly a year ago, in Haiti, of course, in the earthquake. And, you know, what differences are we going to see in terms of when tragedy strikes a rich country, as opposed to the devastatingly poor country of Haiti, you know, already arguably the victim...
GLASSER...of a disaster zone before the quake struck. So, I think, that's something we'll be paying attention to in the days ahead.
REHMJust looking back, the Kobe earthquake of 1995 caused $100 billion in damage to the Japanese economy. But it took only days for the Japanese stock market to recover. This looks as though it could be a lot worse. Yochi Dreazen, bring us up to date on what's happening in Libya.
DREAZENLibya's fascinating because, I think, you have three separate things happening all kind of at the same time. One is on the ground in Libya, the fighting there. It's difficult, obviously, for all of us sitting in the studio to go much beyond what we're hearing from our colleagues who are on the ground. But if the reports are accurate and given the quality of the people who are there reporting on it, I think they are. The Libyan military, loyal to Gadhafi, is steadily pushing the rebel alliance backwards.
DREAZENAnd retaking a town called Ras Lanuf, which is a major oil refining and oil production town that was kind of -- it was an important early rebel gains of the fact that they've been pushed out of Ras Lanuf is a problem. Potentially, we're taking Zawiya, which had a big, sort of again, a big symbolic boon for the rebels when they took it. So militarily, there have been thought of a stalemate arguably the last couple of days. It's not so much stalemated as much as Gadhafi loyalists pushing the rebels backwards.
DREAZENDiplomatically, the rebels have had some gains, most notably with France, which recognized the government in Benghazi as the legitimate government of Libya. The envoys who were in France, meeting with President Sarkozy will soon be meeting with Secretary of State Clinton. So diplomatically the rebels have -- even if they're losing ground on militarily some stuff happening diplomatically. And the last thing, which I think is sort overlying all of this, is a realization here in Washington about how little we know about who the guys are who are doing the fighting.
DREAZENI mean, it's very easy to sympathize without gunned rebels, very easy to sympathize with people who are trying but somewhat pathetically to shoot down planes with AK-47s. But administration, particularly within the Pentagon, they admit, "We just don't know very much about these people." And there was a report that had come out from WestPoint a couple of years ago analyzing a trove of secret documents recovered from Iraq about the flow of foreign fighters from Arab countries into Iraq.
DREAZENI had a piece about this that was up this morning, the country that by far on a per capita basis sent the most people to fight in Iraq was Libya and from within Libya, the part of Libya that sent them again, by far, was Eastern Libya, which is where the rebels are now the -- that's the rebel stronghold. So we don't know much about these people and they -- we don’t know much about these people and they -- we don't know the degree of radicalization that could be in their ranks.
GLASSERWell, in fact, I think, that's a really important point that Yochi's making. Especially because it seems like our diplomacy in this case may have gotten far ahead of both our knowledge of the facts on the ground and our ability to effect events in a way that could really come back to backfire. It'll be interesting to see if President Obama addresses this. His own director of national intelligence has come and said that he believes that Gadhafi will hang on and will not be ousted from power.
GLASSERAt the same time the President of the United States is on the record saying he should go. And we also don't know who the partners are and whether these are people we can realistically work with. Our European allies have further boxed us in, President Sarkozy's public advocacy. You see, today, Senator John Kerry advocating the imposition of a no-fly zone. So, I think, things are getting more complicated rather than less with the Libya situation. Not only because of the military pictures seeming to change and sway in Gadhafi's favor, but also because, I think, on the diplomacy side, Obama is looking to be in something of a box.
LANDAYBut, I think, there's one thing that's driving the European response that isn't present in the American response and that is the fear of a wave of more immigrants into Europe where there is rising of tensions with Muslim populations in various countries of Europe. There's -- it's become a major political issue. We've seen Italy talking about how they don't want to see this way -- another way. They're already grappling with a illegal immigration across the Mediterranean.
LANDAYAnd, I think, that's one of the reasons why you're seeing President Sarkozy taking the kind of aggressive step that he took today.
REHMWhy would Secretary of State Clinton meet with rebel leaders if the U.S. is not prepared at this moment to recognize them, Jonathan?
DREAZENI think there's a very good reason. If there's going to be some kind of military operation, military -- whether it's a no-fly zone or some kind of operation, the American military is going to be in the lead and I'd like someone to remind me the last time when there was an operation with the American military in the lead that the Americans didn't demand command of that operation. So they have to maintain, they have put these ties out to these -- to the rebels, the rebel leadership, who the Europeans are already well in the lead in terms of establishing ties with. You know, it's often, in Washington especially, in the TVA to Washington that a soundbite becomes a thing that blows up. So yesterday when James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, as Susan mentioned, talked about Gadhafi prevailing, that blew up and you had calls for him to be fired or to resign.
DREAZENTo my mind, the more alarming part of his testimony was that neither in the questioning, no one is answering, did he give any indication that he or our enormous well funding intelligence community really knows who these guys are. And to me, like, the better question to him, would it not of been is Gadhafi going to win, it's DNI General Clapper, who are the rebels and if you can't answer, why are we spending gobs and gobs of money to fund your community?
LANDAYExcept one of the interesting parts of that hearing was, it sounded to me like, some of the members of the committee were running interference for General Clapper in their introductory remarks saying, well, we can't expect you to know that when a guy sets himself on fire in Tunisia, it's going to erupt in the kind of tumult that we've seen erupt across the Middle East. So my understanding is, there are frictions between the committees and the intelligence community over its -- but I don't know if you can call it a failure, but the fact that they weren't the head of the predictions.
LANDAYBut it sounded like they were trying to smooth those tensions over yesterday.
GLASSERWell, I think what we've seen happen over the last couple of months is a really good example, right, of how you can know something and you can be right and wrong. You know, you can go back and look and find evidence that they said there was going to be unrest in Egypt and Tunisia and all these places and yet, of course, they were wrong when it came to making the big call.
REHMSusan Glasser of Foreign Policy Magazine. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd in this part of our international News Roundup, we were talking about Libya just before the break. Here is an e-mail from Jeff who says, "The rebels will have a difficult if not impossible task as long as Gadhafi maintains air supremacy. And I think," says Jeff, "it would be a terrible idea to impose a no-fly zone because that's an act of war." Yochi.
DREAZENJeff is channeling Defense Secretary Robert Gates who has said very much the same things. We were talking a fair moment ago, personally I think this is true for everyone else, though obviously they'll speak too -- I don't think there is going to be a no-fly zone, at least a U.S./Iran no-fly imposed for a couple of reasons. One, unlike in Iraq where the threat was airplanes primarily, which are very easy to track and frankly very easy to shoot down, Gadhafi's reliance is heavily on helicopters, which are harder to pick up by our radar systems, harder to track. And to shoot them down usually requires our planes to go much lower than they consider safe.
DREAZENThe other thing, frankly I was talking to someone at central command about this a short time ago. If the rebels are, in fact, losing, there's a real question about as a country do we want to back a losing side? And that's sad and that's cold and that's cynical, but it's also realism.
GLASSERYeah, I think Yochi is making some very important points. Let's also look and go back to the politics of this for a second. Why is French President Nicolas Sarkozy all of a sudden turned into the champion of a no-fly zone into the main connection with the rebels? Because his government has been embroiled in an enormous scandal over its not only failure to recognize the uprising in Tunisia when it happened, France historically had a very close relationship with Tunisia, but they're incredibly close contacts between a number of ministers in Sarkozy's government who have been forced to quit as a result of their cozying up to Middle East dictators.
GLASSERAnd so, you know, this is also a chance for Europeans perhaps to score some points as the moral guys forcing the Americans back into playing the role of the realist -- the cynical realist who just can't deliver that help to the rebels.
REHMDelegates at Friday's summit of European Union government leaders also expressed political backing for Libya's opposition council, but stopped short of the diplomatic recognition given the council Thursday by France. France and Britain have pushed to maintain the military option in the face of continued fighting in Libya. Jonathan.
LANDAYI think that it would be premature probably for a lot of countries including -- I think the Obama Administration is thinking along this line -- for the United States or any other country to recognize the rebels before any of the Arab powers do this. None of the regional powers have done this. There is a meeting on Saturday, I believe, of the Arab League where perhaps this is going to come up and perhaps the issue of a no-fly zone is going to come up. I think ultimately what the administration hopes will happen is that they -- that the Arab powers will -- there'll be some kind of recognition from them.
LANDAYThere'll be some kind of offer for them to devote forces, aircraft. Egypt's got a big air force. The Saudis have a very modern air force. For them to take the lead in a no-fly zone, for them to endorse this and then for the United States to perhaps sit in the background and provide the technical support, the intelligence, the air traffic control capabilities. And I also think that the United States would like to be able to do things like bring ships with humanitarian assistance into Benghazi, which is the center of the uprising in eastern Libya. That kind of thing, but I think that there's no question that this is an administration that doesn't want to take the lead in this crisis.
REHMAll right. Let's turn to Egypt where we're seeing sectarian violence flare up on Tuesday and early Wednesday. There was fighting between Muslims and Christians in Cairo suburbs. Thirteen people dead, 140 injured. Why?
GLASSERWell, what we're seeing is a revolution that's still very much in the middle of the story. And I think that's important to remember. Our attention has been focused on Libya, but across the Arab world, in Egypt in particular, but also in Bahrain, in Yemen, you're seeing events still very much unfolding. And in Egypt, you have not only the sectarian issue of what is the role of minorities -- religious minorities...
GLASSER...in the new Egypt going to be? Really the whole constitutional order has been upended. We don't know what that really means, who's going to mediate in the absence of the old strong hand of the state. We -- those are all complete unknowns to us.
REHMHow at risk is the Christian minority in this uncertain climate, Yochi?
DREAZENThe last few years actually have been very bloody, even when Mubarak was still in power for the Cops. I mean, you've seen a multitude of Coptic churches burned or blown up, you've seen Coptic funerals. This is something actually akin to what's happening in Pakistan, where there's been very serious violence there, too, between both Shiite and Sunni Muslims, but even worse than that, between Muslims and the very small Christian minority in Pakistan where the tactic is sometimes to blow up a church and then to attack the funeral and try to kill more people at the funeral. And I think Susan's exactly right. It's easy to sort of think that history stops when we turn away. Like with Schrodinger's cat. Once we stop observing it, you know, it goes back to something else. Egypt is nowhere near remotely close to finished.
LANDAYAnd yet I think it's really important to point out that during the occupation or the sit-ins that's actually going on still to a certain extent in Tahrir Square in Cairo at the height of the movement against -- to push out Mubarak, the fact is that Christians and Muslims were there together. The Christians...
LANDAY...defended Muslims as they prayed in that square from Mubarak's thugs. And indeed there are -- there's a great deal of suspicion right now that what we see in terms of these tensions and the frictions between the Christians and the Muslim -- this sectarian violence is actually being instigated by the remnants of these thugs of the...
LANDAY...fomented by security forces who remain loyal to the hated internal security forces. And that indeed what they're actually trying to do is disrupt the entire reform movement that we see that is going on in Egypt.
GLASSERWell, I think that goes back again to what is our understanding of what's occurred here. It's probably inaccurate at this point in time to talk about a revolution. In fact, you've had a partial but not full regime collapse. And actually it is the remnant of a security regime who are still in power in Egypt today. There's the possibility of them now transitioning and exiting after elections, but that is not assured yet. They're actually running the country.
REHMWhat about ElBaradei who has said he would be willing and plans to run for president. How much support does he have?
GLASSERWell, that's a very interesting question. I think in the course of the protests it became clear that he is not a populace leader. And he is not someone -- he's the Nobel Prize Winner who of course was heading the international atomic agency. But he's not really a politician in the American sense of the word. He doesn't command a large and loyal street following. He's an effective potential mediator in the midst of a political crisis. That's a role with which he's comfortable. It's not entirely clear that he can rally a large popular majority to his side. And also he caveated that announcement in an important way. He said assuming that the political reforms are really followed through on, I'm willing to be a candidate for president this fall. And again, I think that's very important. It's still not clear that that's going to occur.
REHMAll right. And in Afghanistan the U.N. came out with civilian casualty figures. Nearly 3,000 civilian deaths in 2010, which apparently was a 15 percent rise over the number killed in fighting in the previous year. Awful lot of people from the U.N. are saying that this is the work of the Taliban. How can we tell?
DREAZENIt's a great question. I mean, the U.N. -- if you look at the methodology they admit that it's difficult to often determine precisely who is responsible. And they also acknowledge that their numbers are not precise, that because Afghanistan is so rural and so hard to reach, if you have reports of deaths in a more remote part, it's not safe for them or the people who work for them to go out there to investigate.
DREAZENBut what's interesting to me about these numbers is that kind of the big number, the 3,000, or the other big number, that 80 percent were caused by the Taliban have been overshadowed by three smaller numbers, one, 64, which is the number of people who were killed in an American air strike that is very much under dispute. And the Karzai government, backed by people who live in the area, say these were American war planes killing civilians. Local Afghans say these were -- sorry, the U.S. says these were insurgents, local Afghans say these were civilians. You have nine, which was the number of children killed. First the U.S. said these were insurgents. Only later did they admit that they were, in fact, children gathering firewood. And one, which was the most recent of these attacks, a night raid by special operations forces that killed a very distant relative of President Karzai.
DREAZENAnd, I mean, that's going to hit Karzai, each one of his buttons. One, he despises special operations raids large. He particularly despises the ones that take place at night and he particularly despises the ones that kill civilians so this one is guaranteed to sort of pound his buttons.
GLASSERWell, the timing couldn't have been worse, right, as you think about what's happening and the question of the United States very much committed to the idea that it wants to begin drawing down its surge forces starting this summer. Karzai and Obama, they don't have a good relationship. They're barely, it seems, to be on speaking terms at this point. General Petraeus obviously coming here to Washington next week to testify a crucial moment, it seems, when his tactics are going to be increasingly under question.
REHMWhat are you hearing, Jonathan, about when General Petraeus might step down and who might replace him?
LANDAYI have not heard anything along those lines. It may well be one of my colleagues would know.
LANDAYIt's an interesting question.
GLASSERWell, yeah, Tom Ricks reported on our site yesterday through his sources that there was increasing high-level speculation in military circles that General Petraeus would be moving on sometime in the next few months and that actually a successor, someone that is very close to Petraeus, General Allen, I believe, would...
GLASSER...would be named (unintelligible) ...
REHMAnd NPR's Tom Bowman...
GLASSER...also recorded that yesterday.
REHM...recorded that as well. He said that, what we're hearing, Petraeus likely to leave in the fall and the key person to replace him, a Marine Lieutenant General John Allen, First Marine Corp General at the helm.
DREAZENRight. John Allen, among other things, was Petraeus' deputy when Petraeus was running -- briefly running central command. It is worth pointing out this is one of those stories that could very, very easily be sort of misplayed. And I think some -- not in this room but some of our colleagues have misplayed it. Petraeus, if he leaves by the fall or the winter, will have been there for well over, by that point, a year or 15 months, potentially 18 months depending on when he leaves. That's a very long tour.
DREAZENParticularly when you piled it on top of five years in Iraq. So it's not -- this will all, I think, be -- as the stories speculate of him being pushed aside and that's not the case.
REHMHe apparently also said that fighting in Afghanistan could be a lot worse this coming year.
DREAZENYeah. Now, he's been saying that kind of steadily and it's a tough argument because the argument becomes this sort of weird circular argument that fighting is worse because they're moving into areas we weren't in before, and therefore they're gonna fight us there. So therefore we're moving to other areas and therefore they fight us there. And what he doesn't offer is any sense of how do we gauge progress...
REHMAnd how do we...
DREAZEN...if violence continues to rise.
REHM...get out ever, Jonathan.
LANDAYI think it's really interesting to look at what he's been saying and look at the back story of the numbers that you raised about these -- the new civilian deaths. That there's been this increase in civilian deaths, most of them attributed to the Taliban. A lot of them are attributed to an increase in assassinations by the Taliban of government officials and pro-government religious figures. And the fact is, what that says to me is it contradicts this narrative that we're hearing coming out of the administration and coming out of particular from General Petraeus about how we've contained the Taliban insurgency and we're getting ahead of it. The fact is that those numbers don't say that. Those numbers say the Taliban has decided they're not going to take on this massive increase in troops, particularly in the south, and they're going to revert to what guerillas do. Those are guerilla tactics.
REHMJonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Susan, you wanted to add something.
GLASSERWell, I think that's a very important point. I was really struck this week. One of our colleagues, war correspondent Anna Badkhen returned to the very sort of dangerous and increasingly uncovered north of Afghanistan. She spent a month traveling across this part of the country last year. At the time we thought it was very risky of a journey for her. And she was talking about the potential for the Taliban to come into the north where they hadn't even been before. She came back this week and you know what she found? She found it was significantly worst, which is a real difference from the official version of what's been happening in the north. And the idea that the Taliban pushed north has largely been contained. In fact, she found the exact opposite which is to say villages and towns that she'd been in just one year ago that actually seemed -- she wrote, it was as if I was in a different country.
LANDAYI've spent a lot of time in northern Afghanistan over the last two years. Two years ago I went up but you were able to drive from Kabul pretty much all the way up to the border where there's Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. I went back this past fall and you couldn't drive more than about five hours out of Kabul before you were told, don't take that road. It's not safe. And a lot of people believe that what has happened is that Taliban fighters confronted by this massive surge of U.S. troops into southern Afghanistan simply put their rifles down, got on buses and traveled north to very large Pashtun pockets. This is the ethnic group that makes up the majority of the Taliban, went up north where they were welcomed in these Pashtun pockets and they're fighting up there just waiting for the American surge to start being reduced in the south.
GLASSERThere's also the almost toxic level of corruption and abuse among the Afghan government forces in the north and the real misrule of the country, which is feeding in many individual villages that have gone over to the Taliban. It's not so much even about broad ideology or the national picture, as it is about, you know, here's this corrupt situation right here on the ground, or here's these forces that are exploiting us. They're still ruled by a warlord throughout the vast majority of Afghanistan outside of Kabul itself, and that influences this picture.
REHMAnd today, a day of rage scheduled for Saudi Arabia, Yochi.
DREAZENNow, Saudi Arabia stuff is absolutely fascinating and totally, totally overshadowed by what's been happening even in smaller places like Bahrain. I mean, Saudi Arabia, the oil fields almost entirely are under lands that are inhabited by Shiite Arabs who make up a majority of Saudi Arabia, depending on virtually all people who look at the country, even though the Saudi government to a degree denies this. But the lands themselves, there's no question, the oil fields are under Shiite territory.
DREAZENAnd the Shiite in Saudi Arabia -- I mean, I've been to these -- it's -- they live in what is by Saudi standards just abject poverty and have been second class citizens for decades. And so the feeling among the Shiites were the majority oil's under our land. Give us some of it. And for the Saudi royal family who are beset by their own corruption and their own kind of infighting, the fact they have this huge unemployed radicalized population they don't really know what to do with, other than subsidize with some of the oil money. They don't have any clue what to do with the Shiite or any idea of when this is going to explode, as it seems likely to eventually do.
LANDAYAnd it's not just the Shiite, you know. This day of rage is also being called by Sunni -- young Sunni Muslims in places like Jeddah and other towns who are also -- who are demanding -- for the most part these are people who are demanding kind of democratic reforms. They're not demanding an end to the monarchy, but they would like to see a constitutional monarchy, the election of the cabinet that advises the monarchy. Those are, for the most part, the largest part of this group but there's also the radicalized segment. The people who want to get rid of the monarchy altogether and replace it with Islamic rule.
REHMJonathan Landay. He's national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. Short break and when we come back, your calls. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd we'll open the phones now going first to St. Petersburg, Fla. Good morning, Kay.
KAYGood morning. I wanna get back to Libya, please.
KAYI'm concerned that while the U.S. NATO and Europe dithers over what to do, no one is thinking about the future of Gadhafi if he retains power. Namely, he will no longer feel obligated to honor his nuclear free status and no doubt will send a buying expedition to North Korea.
GLASSERYou know, actually I think the caller raises an important point. What does the Gadhafi stays in power scenario look like? Think about Saddam after 1991. Arguably, the ties that try to bind him to the international community have all been broke one by one. What does that mean? That a rogue actor can become significantly more rogue potentially.
REHMHere's an e-mail, let's see, from Rex, who says, "To heck with a no-fly zone. Better idea would be to get the so-called rebels supplied with modern anti-aircraft weapons like Stinger missiles to give themselves a fighting chance." Yochi.
DREAZENTwo things, and it's -- trying to say them as diplomatically as possible. The first is that the big threat, again, is not airplanes so much as helicopters. So Stingers, I mean, you don't need them. The much more important point is we're talking about a part of Libya we know very little about with one glaring exception. That exception is this a very, very Islamist part of Libya. This is a part of Libya that has been known for extremism, that did an uprising against Gadhafi in the '90s that prompted a very bloody put down of it by Gadhafi. So to give Islamic -- potential Islamic extremists missiles that could be used against -- sold easily, are easily portable and could be used against civilian airliner strikes is a very, very bad idea.
REHMAll right. To St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Clint.
CLINTGood morning, Diane. My question is, yeah, we have the time when this question of a no-fly zone in Libya comes up and at the same time, we are allegedly in a debt crisis in our country and we can't spend any more money on anything so -- and a lot -- it seems the people that are pushing for the no-fly zone in many cases are also pushing for billions upon billions of dollars of cuts to our spending. I've not heard anybody discuss how that's going to be reconciled and how we're going to pay for this. And obviously, it could very easily turn into more than just a no-fly zone. I'd like...
LANDAYAnd I think that's one of the reasons why you see -- a very big reason why you see the Obama administration being extremely reticent about this idea of imposing a no-fly zone. It does put additional strain on a military budget that's already under strain. It does put additional strain on forces who are already under strain. But it also doesn't play very well politically here in the United States for a president who is under pressure from his opponents as a big government spender and who is planning to run for reelection. And therefore I think that's why you see the American resistance to this idea.
LANDAYAnd there's also the other point and that is that the no-fly zone will not be effective against the bulk of Gadhafi's forces who are very well trained. There are a couple of very well trained units, one of them commanded by one of his sons. They are the best equipped, the best trained. They have tanks, armored personnel carriers, heavy weapons, artillery and a no-fly zone is useless against that kind of weaponry.
REHMAll right. To Nashville, Tenn. Good morning, Abraheem.
REHMYes, go right ahead, sir.
ABRAHEEMYeah, I'm -- my name is Abraheem from Nashville. My question is here, well, the Arab people or the Muslim people in the Middle East have really less trust in the Western government since they supported many of the dictators. And now we think, what you call, some of them have been radicalized by al-Qaeda or whatever. Remember, these people are desperate, so anybody who comes and try to help them, they will just go with the flow. And when Libya sitting in such oil and the people are not getting any of that money, so whatever Bush did with Gadhafi just took all the (unintelligible)
GLASSERDid economic desperation drive the revolutions in Tunisia, in Egypt and other countries the Middle East? There's already a big debate about that among the experts. Some people say that actually it was Tunisia's relative middle class status versus other parts of the Arab World that led to the uprising. I think it's fair to say that across the Arab World you're looking at a failure to develop the human potential of the society and a lack of economic opportunity, intellectual capital being developed there, a sense that they have been left out of the knowledge industries of the 21st century, they're left with resources of course which is why we're stuck there too politically. I think the caller is putting his finger on something that's important to remember.
REHMWhat's happening in Bahrain, Yochi?
DREAZENIt's been quieter. I mean, you had a couple of days of fairly intensive, certainly by, you know, Bahraini standards, violence, which was followed immediately by public apologies by the ruling family and promises to engage in both political dialogue with the opponents and also reform. That's slowed. I mean, so you had the gestures both of apology and of promises. You haven't seen much action on the ground. But it seems to -- the apology and the promise seems at least for the moment...
REHMHas quieted things.
DREAZENAt least for the moment. One thing I just wanted to make briefly about Abraheem's call. I understood his question slightly differently. I understood his question as will you see groups like al-Qaeda take advantage of this violence. And it's an interesting one, because on the one hand there's people arguing that this undercuts al-Qaeda's ideology because their biggest enemy's people close to Mubarak were driven out of power not by Islamic Jihad, but by peaceful demonstrations, including bi-secular parties. On the other hand, if you knock out powerful rulers with powerful security services, that's exactly the kind of environment in which al-Qaeda flourishes.
REHMAll right. To Indianapolis. Good morning, Scott.
SCOTTGood morning. I got the sense from your guests that they were calling the CIA evaluation of the situation a failure. And I thought that probably wasn't fair. I think it's one thing to have a general sense that there's unrest and there's a big disparity between population and wealth. And I think probably many, many people were aware of that. But I think for anyone to have predicted the avalanche that occurred both through the social networking and then also with variables of how the leaders are gonna react, Egypt happened probably because Mubarak wasn't willing to be more brutal and Libya we're seeing what the other side of it is. And I think those are all so hard to predict that I just -- I worry that this is kind of Monday morning quarterbacking at its worst really.
GLASSERGood question. And we are not actually equipped to provide the answer. We haven't seen what the intelligence community privately advised President Obama. It's not fair to conclude one way or the other. I'm sure this is something that Congress is gonna be very interested in pursuing over time, but I think whether or not they were able to predict that a fruit seller in a provincial city in Tunisia was gonna blow himself on fire, I think it is legitimate to look at after that occurred in Tunisia, what was their evaluation of the prospects for that unrest spreading into the rest of the Arab World and to Egypt which is known to be ripe for this kind of upheaval for quite some time. I think that's where it's probably more legitimate to focus inquiry.
LANDAYOne of the interesting revelations in one of the WikiLeaks cables came from the embassy, from the ambassador -- the U.S. ambassador in Tunisia who actually did pretty much predict that that country was heading towards tumult because of the way Ben Ali ran it. And not to toot my own horn, but the fact is that I've got a new boss who asked for a memo about where my partner and I thought the big stories of this year were gonna be, and Egypt was number two on our list for one reason, Hosni Mubarak is a very old ruler. There was no apparent successor who had been named. It was a country where there was a great deal of economic dissatisfaction, a lot of tension and we saw what happened.
REHMAt first wasn't his son in line to be his successor?
LANDAYThere were -- there was a belief that his son was in line.
LANDAYBut it was not confirmed.
LANDAYAnd he was very -- he's a very unpopular young man.
REHMNow, is it true that Mubarak may be in Saudi Arabia?
DREAZENIt's possible. I mean, there...
REHMWe don't know.
DREAZENWe don't know. The reporting on that has gone back and forth for weeks. One thing I would say from the previous caller that I agree with wholeheartedly, it is very easy to poke at Mubarak for all of his many failings. I think he and the military will -- eventually history will figure out who deserves more the credit, but to my mind both of them deserve some credit for averting what could very, very easily have been a blood bath in Cairo.
REHMAnd that's the blood bath you're seeing right now in Libya.
DREAZENSeeing in Libya, but exponentially worse in a bigger, more heavily armed, poorer country like Egypt.
REHMAll right. To Davenport, Fla., good morning, David, thanks for joining us.
DAVIDThank you, Diane. I wanna go back to Egypt and Libya. The situation in Libya, I am praying that the stand we have taken as far as Secretary Gates will hold and that we will not contribute anything towards a no-fly zone and all that. Because we don't know who these rebels are. We don't know. And it's not a similar situation in Egypt. Egypt was a very peaceful demonstration. But in -- how do you call it? In Libya, we are told -- intelligence tells us that there seems to be some al-Qaeda and all these people there. So it's my prayer that we don't -- America doesn't get involved in it.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling.
DREAZENI mean, the closest parallel people are drawing is to the no fly zone that we put in place over northern and eventually southern Iraq after the first Gulf war. But, I mean, the caller makes a great point. I mean, to compare for instance the rebels in Libya about whom we know very little except that they have potentially a tendency to radicalization with the Kurds we knew to be largely secular, very well organized, had a functioning government and a functioning militia. I mean, there are a lot of reasons to be cautious. I think the caller correctly highlighted several of them.
REHMSusan Glasser, what about Yemen? Yemen's president has proposed a new constitution. What effect would that have?
GLASSERWell, he's increasingly boxed in of all these other rulers in the Arab World. I think we haven't talked about Yemen today. That may well be the next focus of our attention. And I think we'd be doing well to pay more attention there. Some of our conversations about al-Qaeda and its presence in Libya are theoretical, whereas in fact they are actual when we look at Yemen and...
REHMIs there a chance that President Saleh is going to step down?
GLASSERWell, you know, he's already tried to placate the protestors in Yemen by agreeing not to run again for another term.
REHMBut that's not enough.
GLASSERExactly. I think that's not enough. The focus of his -- you remember, Yemen is a country that already had an active civil war going on at a low grade level and insurgency already inside the country. Again, a contrast to Libya where this has just broken out. So I think arguably the crisis, the focus of American attention in recent years has been on Yemen. If you look at both from a counterterrorism point of view and our efforts to engage with the government, arguably Yemen has been more central to our focus. They are also of course on the border of Saudi Arabia and a key factor in the regional stability and that even more crucial oil producing region than Libya. So I think we'd do well to probably pay a little bit more attention to what's happening in Yemen. I do not see any signs that Saleh has shored up his position.
REHMSusan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And to Edgewood, Md. Good morning, Mike.
MIKEGood morning, Diane. I just wanted to comment. I heard Ehud Barak of Israel a few days ago say he was going to request $20 billion more from the American taxpayer so that Israel can get more weapons. And I just wanna ask, I mean, what kinda nerve do these Israelis have thinking that they can, one, come ask the United States for $20 billion when this country's bankrupt and then they won't even stop taking Arab land to help the peace process, but yet they wanna come asking the American taxpayer for $20 billion?
REHMAll right. Has anyone else heard that rumor?
DREAZENYeah, I mean, that's been reported in the Israeli press. But I think the caller has part of it exactly backwards. And the point of the request was in conjunction with a future large scale withdrawal from the West Bank. So this isn't money while maintaining control of Palestinian land. This is money to come during and after what will be a very expensive, very controversial and potentially very bloody withdrawal from the West Bank.
REHMAll right. And finally to Moab, Utah. Good morning, Lynn.
LYNNHi, how are you?
LYNNI've got a strange question. We are talking about a very, very troubled area of the world and the countries seem to be falling like dominoes and we are right in the middle of it trying to solve all the Mid East problems. If we would leave them alone, would they leave us alone? I mean, this seems like it's just a never ending battle.
LANDAYOh, in the kind of world that we live in, I think that's pretty impossible. The fact is that the United States -- Saudi Arabia's the third largest provider of petroleum to the United States with its petroleum based economy. It's a much smaller world. I just don't think that they can be -- you can de-link any part of the world from another part of the world.
GLASSERWell, not only is that the case, but I think unfortunately it represents a really very American centric point of view about this. I hate to see it to the caller, but it seems to me that what's happening in the Middle East, somewhat refreshingly by the way, is not about us. And, you know, we Americans, we have the blessings of being here on our continent separated from two oceans from the west of the world. But the bottom line is these folks are responding to conditions of political and economic disempowerment inside their own countries. And, if anything, one of the positive aspects of what's happened in the Middle East so far is that it hasn't been about how America imposed this. Even with our somewhat mixed record of supporting political repression and politically repressive leaders in these countries, so far it really hasn't been about the United States. And we have surprisingly little leverage that we are able to deploy right now I think to shape the outcome in these countries.
REHMDo you agree?
DREAZENI do. I mean, little leverage that we are able and the second, even just a more important part, is willing to deploy. What's been notable about the way that this president is responding relative to potentially some of his predecessors is he very much wants to keep us as much as possible out of the fray. He doesn't want this to be seen as something where the U.S. is intervening. He doesn't wanna have U.S. military assets be deployed too prematurely. I mean, you've seen a degree of, if you're supportive of it, refreshing humility, if you're critical of it, weakness. But what you're not seeing is a leading American role in really any of the current crisis.
REHMIs Hillary Clinton making a mistake by meeting with opposition leaders?
GLASSERWell, we talked about this a little bit earlier in the program. I do generally have the sense that meeting with these folks is probably an important thing to do, if only to gauge them because we know so very little about it. But I think this is definitely President Obama's policy that we're seeing and not necessarily Hillary Clinton's.
REHMSusan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine, Yochi Dreazen of National Journal and Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers. Thank you all so much.
REHMAnd have a great weekend everybody. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is drshow.org.
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