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The U.S. sends CIA operatives into Libya for intelligence gathering. Syria’s president blames unrest on foreign plots. And high radiation levels are found in seawater near Japanese nuclear plants. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- David Ignatius columnist, The Washington Post; co-moderator of "PostGlobal" on washingtonpost.com.
- David Sanger chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times.
- James Kitfield senior correspondent, National Journal magazine.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Rebels in Libya called for a cease fire if certain conditions were met. The U.S. sent CIA operatives to that country. Defense Secretary Gate said putting U.S. troops on the ground was not an option. Syria's President spoke to the public for the first time since unrest began. He blamed the turmoil on foreign conspirators. And Japan found heightened levels of radiation in the sea near damaged nuclear reactors.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio for the week's top international stories on the Friday news roundup, David Ignatius of the Washington Post, James Kitfield of National Journal, David Sanger of the New York Times. And don't forget, if you're not near a radio and you're in front of your computer, you can always stream the show live. So just go to drshow.org and hear all these good people and their thoughts and comments. If you'd like to join us by phone 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSGood morning.
MR. DAVID SANGERGood morning, Diane.
REHMDavid Ignatius, I know you've been traveling with Defense Secretary Gates. He testified before a congressional committee this week. He said no boots on the ground -- U.S. boots on the ground while he's in office, but we already have CIA people there.
IGNATIUSWell, when is a boot not a boot? I don't know whether CIA officers wear Gucci loafers, but I think Gates was talking about the thing that's concerned him most, which is uniform military involvement in this operation. He was a skeptic about the no-fly zone. He said publicly that -- you have to understand this is military invasion -- this is an attack on Libya. I think he reluctantly came to support the policy. He told me, when I was traveling with him, that it was the decision of the Arab league to call for this, that finally convinced him that it was genuinely multilateral.
IGNATIUSBut Gates is now -- and his testimony this week, trying to make sure that the limits on U.S. ground forces are understood and observed. He -- I think, he's weariness is still very strong about this.
REHMBut, you know, I'm old enough to remember that this is precisely how Vietnam began. With CIA involvement in that country, James Kitfield.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDThis thing was designed -- custom designed for Mission Creep. Because you had a strategic goal, getting rid of Gadhafi. And you had military means that are -- would not achieve that goal, which is a no-fly zone. So we've seen it already morph into a no-drive zone. We've seen it -- we're getting very close to allied air powers, the Air Force for the Libyan rebels. And if he -- if that doesn't knock him out, then we'll have to figure out about arming and training the rebels.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDYou're on one side of a civil war whether you like it or not. That was the warning that people said, going into this thing, that concerned them. But we are in it. And, you know, basically, as we look forward, you know, there have been some promising defections from Gadhafi's inner circle this week.
REHMAnd even this morning we've heard...
KITFIELDEven this morning (unintelligible) ...
KITFIELDRight, a former -- his former -- well, his foreign minister and a former -- another foreign -- former foreign minister and U.N. ambassador have both defected. There have been reports that his sons are -- have emissaries in Britain talking about a way out of this. A way that he might go into exile. He still hasn't, you know, tipped his hand about what he would accept. So this may come to, you know, a happy conclusion. And, I think, him leaving would be a happy conclusion for the people of Libya.
KITFIELDBut we shouldn't have any, sort of, doubts that we're in this thing and we need -- we're not going to get out of it until he leaves.
SANGERWell, you know, when Jim says, this was custom design for Mission Creep, I think, he's exactly right. And it's for two reasons. The first is, that the U.N. mission, of course, is simply to protect the population whereas the President of the United States stepped out, more than a month ago, and said, Gadhafi has to go. And as much as the White House has tried to talk around that and square the circle and so forth, the fact of the matter is that if you've you declared he has to go and yet your forces, as we heard again from Secretary Gates yesterday, are not there to oust him.
SANGERYou have a strange mix of your means and your declared goals. The second reason I think that Mission Creep is very possible here is that the incentives for Gadhafi to leave are really, really low. Now, you know, I'm the guy who a couple of days before Mubarak left said, I didn't think he'd leave. So, you know, discount this for that, but if Gadhafi leaves, he faces the almost certainty of an international criminal court prosecution. His money has been cut off.
SANGERAll of the incentives are there for him to stay and fight it out 'til the end.
REHMDavid Ignatius, how many CIA personnel are there and what are they doing?
IGNATIUSI'm told, Diane, that the number is in dozens and not hundreds. They're doing a range of things. First they're trying to get to know this opposition. One of the problems that the U.S. has had is that these rebels are really an unknown quantity for us. So they're making contact with them. In many cases they're providing them with covert communications devices. So they can be in touch with the outside. They're also, I think, working to identify the Libyan armies ammunition dumps.
IGNATIUSIf it has chemical weapon supplies, find them. Help with targeting by identifying lasering potential targets. They're doing the things that paramilitary operators do on the ground. You can argue that this Libya situation is sort of what intelligence services are embedded for.
IGNATIUSBut, I think, the final thing that I'd say which is a key part of this and I would disagree a little bit with the idea that we simply have intervened on the side of the rebels. One thing that the U.S. is doing aggressively is contacting members of Gadhafi's regime. We've contacted his chief intelligence, Abdullah Senoussi. There is one more member of the cabinet who I'm told is already agreed to defect, they're just waiting for the time and place.
IGNATIUSAnd also there are range of people in Tripoli, professional people, doctors and lawyers, the kind of people that you'd want as part of a transition government who, because they're in Tripoli, seem to be part of the regime, but really aren't. And we're trying to make contact with them. So it strikes me that, although there was a big hubbub about, oh my gosh, the CIA's involved, they're doing pretty much what you want to have happen now, which is reach out and find out, who are these people?
IGNATIUSWhat do they want?
SANGER...this is not entirely new territory for the CIA. Remember it was 2003 when Libya gave up its nuclear weapons program and had they not, this would be a very different situation today because we'd have the doubt about whether that had been successful. But as a result of that, there was a lot of CIA interaction with the Libyan leadership during the period of time of the removal of the weapons and so forth. So it's not like they're dropping into completely unknown territory.
REHMAnd how much dissention is there among NATO members about who's going to do what and who takes the lead, James?
KITFIELDWell, NATO took the lead this -- yesterday, as a matter of fact. And, you know, I've been shocked at how they've gotten over their dissention. Actually I thought that after Afghanistan, which was their signature out of area operation if you will, that they would be very, very weary of getting involved in something like this. But they, you know, with a strong leadership of France and Britain, NATO has assumed total control over this.
KITFIELDI got all the Turkey's objections about actually controlling the part of this that attacks his armored forces which is the most aggressive part so far. So, you know, surprisingly, I think, that NATO has actually stepped up to the plate here and taken this operation. I will say on the CIA involvement, I wouldn't be willing to bet that a lot of those CIA guys are former special forces guys who had just retired and now joined the forces as the CIA's paramilitary arm.
KITFIELDAnd what found is, in Afghanistan, especially, in 2001, you really need guys on the ground when you're talking about armored forces that move around not fixed sites, like, air defenses. When you have armored forces that are moving around and have to distinguish between friend and foe, you really need boots on the ground to help that. And the British are not being very shy about saying, their special air service guys would -- equivalent of our special forces, are on the ground, our lazing targets, are doing all the things that you see that the military does when it attaches our air power to a indigenous force.
REHMSo why did the rebels call for a cease fire, David?
IGNATIUSI think, it's an early effort to signal to elements in the Gadhafi regime who might want to bail out. And there are more and more of them every day, it appears. That this won't be a fight to the death if they're willing to make compromises. It's interesting that the White House, when you ask, where are we going on this, says, well, in the lead is going to be the United Nations, the contact group that's centered around the British and the French.
IGNATIUSAnd in particularly they point to the U.N. special envoy to Libya who is a Jordanian diplomat. And his assignment right now, specifically, is to facilitate contacts between the rebels and elements of the government. So, you know, that's his job. It's something that, I think, is intended to take the air out of Gadhafi's fight to the death rhetoric. I -- there's one more point to note. A part of this strategy is to cut off Gadhafi's access to money.
IGNATIUSThis is a machine -- Libyan regime is a machine that runs on cash. And people talk sometimes, oh, my gosh, we'll be there for years and years. If he doesn't have access to money to pay off the tribes, to pay off the retinue of supporters that he's had over the years, the machine isn't going to work.
REHMWell -- but if we're freezing that money, I mean, isn't he sort of caught between Iraq and a hard place?
SANGERWell, that's the difference between how President Obama hopes to achieve regime change and how President Bush attempted to achieve regime change. When President Obama has a candidate analyze what was wrong in his mind with Iraq and we could spend the entire show talking about what went right and wrong, and mostly wrong in the early days of Iraq. He concluded that there were two big problems.
SANGEROne is there was no international participation. And the second was, it was the U.S. seen as knocking off the leader.
SANGERIn this case, he wants to make sure it's the Libyan seen doing that.
REHMDavid Sanger, he's chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMThere are an awful lot of people concerned that we may be on a slippery slope in Libya but we've got to move on now and talk about Syria. What did Syria's president have to say in a Taliban's address to the nation, James Kittfield?
KITFIELDThat all his problems are the result of foreign spies and an Israeli connection. It's the usual Middle East despot's argument for focusing internal unrest on the outside trying to sort of get out from underneath the pressure. It didn't work. I mean, the – in the next day he actually gave another speech where he says, well, I'm going to lift this 40 years of emergency rule, but we're going to do that only after I've reinstated some anti-terrorist laws. So he's totally muddling the message in a way that's not -- it's not doing anything to tamp down really the objection of the protestors, which is that he's been around too long, he's been very repressive and they want him out.
SANGERYou know, what I find fascinating, that Syria is -- the fact that we've been looking for the longest time for some form of common ground between the United States and Iran and we might've finally found it. In that the U.S. is not terribly eager to see the Syrian leadership upended. They still have hopes. I'm not entirely sure why, that Syria would be part of a broader Mideast peace deal. And the Iranians certainly don't want to see Syria overturned. And, in fact, I think Iran would have a lot more to lose if that happened.
SANGERBut it's this -- tells you what a strange moment we're at in the Middle East right now, that there is something on which Washington and Tehran have at least some commonality.
REHMBut David Ignatius, what chance is there that Syrian government itself could fall?
IGNATIUSWell, as we've seen this is the season in which all bets are off. Predictions that you make about the durability of regimes tend to be shown to be wrong. What's fascinating about Syria -- and this is acutely true now, but it's been true really since Bashar Assad came to power in the early part of the last decade -- is that he has understood correctly that he needs to reform what is a corrupt aging inefficient country with a rotten-to-the-core ruling Ba'ath Party.
IGNATIUSAnd yet every time he goes up to the lip of that in making a decisive decision he pulls back. And I've watched that, I've interviewed him a number of times. I'll just tell you, Diane, that when Bashar Assad talks privately, he gives an account of what's wrong that you and I would think is -- you know, is pretty much spot on. He says the same thing to visitors like John Cary and other Americans who go to see him. But it's in the nature of the Syrian regime and indeed in the nature of his family, which is (sounds like) sharply sweaty as -- he has the cousins who control of the most corrupt businesses. He has half brothers who are in charge of the security forces. And so there's tremendous pressure on him not to make concessions.
IGNATIUSOne final point that's really interesting -- it goes a little bit against what David was saying a moment ago -- I'm told that in the last few days as Assad's been making these bizarre speeches after seeming to promise reforms not doing it, that one thing that's going on behind the scenes is intense pressure on him from Iran not to compromise. Because the Iranians feel that if he gives ground inevitably this way will keep rolling...
IGNATIUS...and it's going to roll towards Iran.
KITFIELDI think that's right. I mean, I'm not sure that we would miss Assad too much, but I take the point in all of these issues -- and I think even more so in Yemen -- it's what comes after Saleh in Yemen's case or after Assad in Syria's case that you have to worry about and I don't think we have a good handle on that. But I do think that -- you know, I was -- talked this week with an Israeli just retired as their head intelligence who was saying that the most hopeful thing here is this arc of radicalism that stretches from Tehran through Damascus to Hezbollah and Lebanon and to Hamas in the Gaza, that this could break that chain, that arc. And Syria's the weak link. It's secular. It's not an Islamist government.
KITFIELDSo I think there could be some hope here and I'm sure that Iran is saying, you know, dig in your heels 'cause we don't want this weight to be on our border.
SANGERAnd it's not just the weight. If Syria goes Iran's way of moving arms, moving money, moving almost all of their tentacles out through the Middle East, that's a serious problem. And that's why I said I think the Iranians have a lot more to lose here than Washington does.
REHMIt's interesting that we also saw protests in Yemen -- in Yemen's capitol yesterday and today. What's happening there, James?
KITFIELDWell, I mean, it's looking -- Saleh's rule is looking very, very rickety right at this moment. His top right-hand man, the general, has just sort of defected after this horrible situation where snipers killed, you know, 40 plus demonstrators -- General Ahmar. And it looks -- there's been reports that he's talking about, you know, relinquishing power, then he goes back on that. The problem with Yemen though is that this general is of sort of an Islamist fundamentalist who's got ties to Al-Qaeda. So -- and there is a very strong strain of Islamic fundamentalism in Yemen. It's obviously the home of the most active Al-Qaeda franchise -- Al-Qaeda in the Saudi Arabian Peninsula. So we worry very much. I think that we would rather Saleh not fall. I think we would like to see some transition be built up so we would have a more orderly transition. 'Cause we worry a lot about what happens if Yemen falls into chaos.
IGNATIUSI think Jim put it right in the phrase orderly transition. I think there's an understanding in Washington that President Saleh has been in power too long, like Hussein Mubarak in Egypt, that he's on the way out, that there have been defections from his inner circle, and this General Ali Mohsin is the most prominent example, but there are a number of others. Major tribes have been defecting and Yemen is an especially tribal country. But the U.S. wants -- because our counterterrorism interest in Yemen is so strong we wanna get to know the future government, the opposition if you will, but the future government as well as we can. And so U.S. officials have been...
REHMBut how do you do that?
IGNATIUSWell, we've been working on this, in truth, for a year or so. There have been a range of contacts talking with senior commanders of CENTCOM, the military arm that's responsible for us. Their focus has been on getting to know people in the army outside the president's circle, on getting to know civil society groups, on getting to know a range of politicians. I'm happy to say that, in this case, they have known that the Saleh regime can't last. And so they've been trying to figure out who's -- you know, who's on the other side of that divide. And we'll see over the next few months how well they did.
REHMBut there is something of a stalemate, isn't there, David Sanger?
SANGERThere is and, you know, I think that what you heard David just describe about the U.S. effort to get to know the -- these (word?) absolutely right, we see it -- we saw it in the Wikileaks cables. When you went through these, at moments, hilarious conversations between General Petraeus and others and President Saleh, where the whole conversation was, you know, we'll bomb Al-Qaeda, you guys take credit for it. It was this effort to try to boost him up as a significant leader. I think the difference between when those cables were written and today is everyone in the administration's pretty well come to the conclusion that Saleh is out the door. And Saleh himself has said he's not -- he's out in three years. And if he made it that far I think we'd all think it was a miracle. So this is a question of adjusting yourself to the inevitable.
REHMAll right. And there is a report this morning from the AP that Afghan officials say eight people have been killed at a U.N. office in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif where a Quran burning protest turned violent, David.
IGNATIUSWell, it's a dreadful report. It illustrates the way in which the Taliban is fighting back as we pound them. The New York Times has a very good report this morning by Carlotta Gall that says just what a beating the Taliban has been taking. How unsafe it is for Taliban commanders, how frustrated they are. But their response as we've poured forces into their traditional strongholds in the south has been to move in other areas. In Mazar-i-Sharif where this U.N. bombing took place is in the north. It's in an area that hasn't traditionally been associated with the Taliban. And so this is a smart adversary.
IGNATIUSOne other thing to say, things began to go really dark in Iraq when the U.N. compound was hit and when the U.N. really wasn't able to operate in Iraq any longer. And if that happens in Afghanistan, if it becomes a no-go zone for anybody but armed U.S. and Afghan troops, it will be a much rougher place.
KITFIELDI was just going to say that, you know, yesterday six U.S. troops died in Afghanistan as well, in which -- on that border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And I think what we're seeing is this long anticipated spring offensive that John Petraeus has been warning about that was going to pick up. We're starting to see a pickup already. The Taliban has been -- as David said, has been hammered by our forces, but they have regrouped, as they will, in their sanctuaries in Pakistan. And I expect the bloody spring to come.
SANGERCarlotta's piece this morning I think laid out very starkly that on a military scale the surge has been successful, which -- or at least is enjoying some successes, which is going to be an interesting point of debate as the administration heads into this question about how fast you begin to withdraw troops starting this summer. But that begs the question of whether or not the overall strategy, which was, beat the Taliban militarily they will then be willing to negotiate, is really the right theory. Because so far, at least -- at least what we have seen in public and what you hear rumors about, there isn't a serious negotiation that is underway. And it's very possible that as David suggested, the Taliban theory right now is move north, move to the areas where the Americans aren't and just wait for this troop withdrawal to begin.
REHMAnd of course we cannot forget what's happening in the Ivory Coast with Mr. Gbagbo fighting, it would seem, to the death, David Ignatius.
IGNATIUSHe has been hunkered down ever since the November elections in which he lost and has been refusing to leave Abidjan, the capitol of the Ivory Coast. The winner, Mr. Ouattara, and his forces -- his forces are now as of this morning said to be on the -- in the capitol -- on the outskirts of the capitol. And there's a sense that we're finally maybe reaching the end game. There have been defections from Gbagbo's own military command. And so, you know, we may be in the last hours of this. It is interesting to note that the comparison between embattled rebels in Libya who get, you know, U.N. and international support, bingo, and embattled rebels in Cote d'Ivoire have been fighting this bloody battle since November.
SANGERThey got a presidential message this morning.
IGNATIUSWell, you know, that's a step up from what they had.
KITFIELDWell, that's exactly right and his top General Philippe Mangou defected this week, went to the South African Embassy with his family. That was a huge blow. It's hard to imagine him holding out much longer. I will say, you know, as we talk about all these events around the region, it's a bad, bad week for despots. You know, if you look at Assad in Syria or Gadhafi in Libya or Saleh in Yemen or Gbagbo in the Ivory Coast, this Arab Spring, whatever you want to call it, is having a really bad time for despots in that region.
REHMAnd the only problem is we don't quite know what could come next. James Kittfield of National Journal. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I want to ask you all about Japan and whether we are getting truthful statements from TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Company. What's happening, James?
KITFIELDWhat we know is happening is the radiation continues to leak and to spread and in very worrisome ways. It's showing up, you know -- they took a measure at the scene of some of the groundwater there and it was 10,000 times above the legal limit. As far away as 25 miles away you're seeing villages that have two times the legal limit of radiation. So it's spreading. And are we getting, you know, the straight shoot from the Japanese government? A lot of the Japanese don't think so. There is...
REHMThe CEO of TEPCO ended up in the hospital.
REHMThey say that when Japanese officials have this kind of problem they either commit suicide or they go into the hospital.
SANGERThere is this reticence in their culture to lose face and we've seen that, you know, in many instances. And that causes people to wonder whether people are actually being honest. Now, they are -- to their -- you know, I have a lot of empathy for the Japanese government. They have just confronted one of the worst disasters we've ever seen. You know, a triple disaster with the earthquake, the tsunami and now this disaster at the reactor complex. So I'm sympathetic, but they're clearly not handling this in a way that's inspiring a lot of confidence in their own people.
REHMAnd there is some concern about milk now and radiation showing up in milk.
IGNATIUSThere have been unacceptable levels detected in milk. One new worry is that cesium has been found in the area surrounding this plant some distance...
REHMTell me what cesium is.
IGNATIUSCesium is a -- I'm no physicist, but it's an element that basically takes forever to decompose. It's not like radiation. It doesn't disperse quickly and so there's a danger. If cesium has been released it goes into the groundwater and persists so you can get whole areas, if they're contaminated with cesium, that are essentially uninhabitable for a long time.
SANGERWell, the good news about the cesium, if there is any good news here, is it's a very heavy element so it hasn't been found that far from the plant. The iodine -- the radioactive iodine 131, which has made its way into the milk has gone much further, but has a much shorter half life, just about eight days. Let me go back to your TEPCO question. I lived in Japan for six years and dealt with TEPCO regularly because they were bringing in some of the mixed oxide fuels that we're now worried about for these plants. They are not a utility that you would initially think of as the most transparent operation on earth, even in the best of times. So the freezing up that you've seen happen here did not surprise me. And I have a lot of friends in the Japanese government who believe that they have not been told the straight story by TEPCO.
SANGERNow, that said, several of the reactor buildings are so radioactive on the inside that TEPCO workers who quite heroically have been going in, you know, can't get in or stay in for long enough. So what do we know right now? We believe that at least one of the four reactors had a 70 percent meltdown or damage to the core. That's probably where much of the cesium and -- that we're seeing come out is coming from. The good news it they've cooled down a lot. It's three weeks today from the beginning of the accident and so some radioactive decay has just sort of set in.
SANGERThe other thing we were very concerned about were the spent fuel rods which were stored in each of these sites. And in those cases it looks like most of those are covered now and the temperature data I've seen on those in recent days has been pretty good.
SANGERSo we may be getting toward the end.
REHM...David Sanger. He's chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times. When we come back we'll open the phones for your calls, take your e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMWelcome back. It's time to open the phones first to Miami, Fla. Good morning, Robert.
ROBERTYes, how you doing, ma'am?
ROBERTI just wanna say I'm glad there was somebody on your panel to debunk this whole notion Bush and Iraq is the same thing as Obama and Libya, because it's not the same. And also as you recall three weeks ago -- three to four weeks ago when Gadhafi was marching towards Benghazi, everyone was asking where was the president, where's the president, where's the president. The president got everybody together, international coalition, got everybody together and went in and did the no fly zone and then now he's receiving all this criticism. These -- you got the progressives who feel that you could (unintelligible) Gadhafi down and then you got the ones who were hawks, now they're acting like doves. So I'm trying to figure out what's the problem. In Gaza you have 700,000 individuals there, so we gonna risk having a massacre of 100,000 and then what happens then, he gets the criticism.
REHMAll right. James Kitfield.
KITFIELDWell, he raises a good point. If you take a middle ground on a military intervention, you're gonna get criticized from both the left and right.
KITFIELDAnd that certainly has happened here. I will say that, you know, and he's accomplishes a lot of multi lateral bars he's jumped over with the Arab League and then with the UN Security Council and then with NATO talking control, so kudos there. He's done it in a very reluctant way though that people are not used to seeing U.S. leadership. If you recall, we started this military operation on the eve of a trip of his to Latin America. He wasn't around to answer questions about this. We didn't even hear from the president for nine days. And he has to describe this situation where we intervened for humanitarian -- to avert humanitarian disaster. However, we're not willing to go much further, even though we'd kinda like Gadhafi to leave. It's a fairly muddled message. So I think there is some criticism about the way he's done it.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Mark on Moussa Koussa, the Libyan defector. He says, "you describe him as being in talks with the British. What a revolting thought. This man is a mass murderer directly responsible for the deaths of more than 200 on Pan Am 103. Will he be given millions and a nice house in the country or will he be convicted and shot as he should've been 20 years ago?" David Ignatius.
IGNATIUSI think the listener is right in describing Moussa Koussa as a killer. He ran Gadhafi's intelligence service for decades. His fingerprints are on every dirty thing that that regime has done. He is a smooth killer. He is a very polished man, very American, has charmed many of the people he's dealt with. The British say that he won't be given immunity for any of these crimes, even though he's defected. And I must say his defection is the most important weakening of the Gadhafi regime. I just don't -- I don't believe it. I don't believe that he didn't cut a deal. Moussa Koussa is too smart and smooth a guy not to make his best deal coming up.
REHMDo you agree, David Sanger?
SANGERI'm sure he tried to cut a deal and maybe he managed to do so with the British. I think there's a good chance that an international court could well indict him. His connections to Pan Am 103 are supposed to be quite deep, but that was not by a long shot the only crime that I think he can well be -- he can well be charged with. The British are in politically a difficult spot here because having sent back the one convicted bomber who allegedly was suffering from a terminal disease and then seemed to recover quite nicely by the time...
SANGER...he -- miraculously, yes, by the time he arrived in Tripoli. I don't think any British government right now could afford to treat Moussa Koussa terribly liberally.
REHMFool me once and not twice. James.
KITFIELDI kind of agree with that. I mean, I'm sure David's right, why would he defect if he thought he was gonna end up, you know, charged with all these crimes. However, it's gonna be very tough for the -- for Britain to sort of, you know, support this guy in exile. And I do recall that Slobon Malochovich (sp?) cut a deal with Richard Holbrooke and ended up at the criminal court in The Hague where he died. So I don't think this guy's out of the -- out of the woods.
IGNATIUSI think it's an unpleasant reality that settle conflicts like this you end up having to make deals with people that you abhor.
IGNATIUSThat's how wars end and that's how this one's gonna end.
REHMAll right. To Clearwater, Fla. Good morning, Joanne.
JOANNEGood morning, Diane. My concern is this, actually I think even though the United States is -- along with allied forces, my belief is that it was a bad move on the United States. My reasoning is this, we are concurrently fighting two wars, one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. And as far as I'm concerned, our military is exhausted. I'm wondering where we are getting the funds to fight another war. And it also troubles me as other nations and also those nations in the Middle East see the United States as being meddlesome.
KITFIELDShe raises an interesting point, exactly all the points that Secretary of Defense Roberts Gates raised about -- in his concern about this. And the thing -- to answer her last question, was the thing that got him over the line and in support of this, which was the Arab League had done something that it had never done before, ask for foreign intervention to depose of basically or against one of its own rulers of a member of the Arab League, Libya. So I think at that moment and after the UN Security Council resolution passed, which the Obama administration did not twist anyone's arm to get over reluctance of the Russians and the Chinese who abstained, I think they were stuck in a position where it was gonna be them standing against an intervention that could've -- that could facilitate a massacre.
KITFIELDYou know, Bill Clinton and I'm sure Hillary Clinton's been a supporter of intervening here. She recalls being in the White House when we stood by and didn't even let the UN stop the slaughter in Rwanda and that was, as President Clinton has said, he thought that was his worst mistake. So I'm sure he was getting advice that, you know, there's no good choice here left. He chose to intervene.
REHMDavid Ignatius, how many of the nations of the Arab League agreed to the no fly zone?
IGNATIUSWell, I only know that it was a majority. There were some who dissented. There has been a defection from the Arab League consensus since the action started. I mean, people got cold feet when they saw U.S. planes operating in the air. I was in Egypt with Secretary Gates last week and I'll never forget a young Egyptian journalist standing up and asking Secretary Gates, why is America attacking another Arab country? This is Iraq again. So I think there's a deep anxiety. I think the Saudi's in particular are unhappy with what the U.S. is doing. That said, Qatar is gonna host the next meeting of the contact group. There are Qatari planes in the air and there are said to be UAE planes on the way.
SANGERYou know, your caller raised all the right questions and, as James said, the questions that Secretary Gates was raising. There was another side to this debate in the White House though, which was if the United States stayed out, particularly after the Arab League made this statement, what message does that send elsewhere in the region, that the U.S. would never commit forces on the side of the rebel groups or to depose despots. Particularly what message would it have sent to the Iranians who are constantly measuring and testing Barack Obama to figure out when he says that the United States is not gonna let Iran get a bomb, does he really mean it?
REHMTo Upper Marlboro, Md. Hi there, Paul.
PAULGood morning, Diane, and your guests. Back to the same question you brought up. My understanding the Arab League met once to make this discussion and they only had 11 members out of 22 that were in the meeting, and only 7 out of that 11 voted to have this no fly zone. My question is how 7 out of 22 considered the Arab League?
KITFIELDI don't believe that's correct. As I recall, it was a vast majority. In fact, I only remember Syria being the one vote no. I thought it was a vast majority of the Arab League. Now, whether they were all present in the room, they all sent emissaries and let their vote by known. I don't think it was just seven.
IGNATIUSPaul has details that I don't about this. There was a formal decision by the Arab League with whatever numbers that supported this was linked to the UN actions specifically referenced. I think the point to note is that since that vote there have been countries that appeared to be supportive that have been pulling back.
REHMAll right. To Fort Worth, Texas and to Mark, good morning.
MARKGood morning, Diane. My question is how will the president's ability to galvanize international support for the no fly zone and the good news with the job reports affect his approval rating?
IGNATIUSWell, there was a great job report today. The jobless rate I think falling to 8.8 percent. That's gonna make the White House very happy. This is trial and error presidency. And I'm struck as I watch Obama how he gets it wrong the first time, maybe gets it wrong the second time, but it gets better. I thought his Libya speech was a pretty coherent explanation of what he was doing. You could disagree with it, but the president laid forth the reasons why he did what he did, why he's not gonna do more, why it would've been a mistake to do less. I think he can argue that his economic policies that have attacked and attacked are finally beginning to show some fruit. So this is a week in which I would think the president would say, it's going pretty well.
SANGERYou know, what strikes me about this presidency and I think David's phrase of trial and error is absolutely right is I think this is an incredibly pragmatic presidency. I can't remember since I ended my days as a foreign correspondent and came back to Washington of seeing less ideology in the Oval Office than I do today. And I know that is a controversial view and there are some on the right who call President Obama a socialist and there are some on the left who question whether he is going off in the direction of George W. Bush.
SANGERI actually think that when you look at both what they did on the economic side and what they're doing in the Middle East, their insistence this past week that there wasn't really a doctrine out of this speech, it was country by country. I think that's their way of trying to convey the thought that he groping his way in extraordinarily pragmatic form. And I actually think that's probably the case from what we recreate out of the -- out of the discussions.
KITFIELDI think that's right when David said this is a trial and error presidency. But what trials this presidency has had, it's unbelievable really the amount of crises that he's had to confront, you know, just in the first couple years of his presidency. And I do believe -- I think one of our reporters, Ron Brownstein, wrote this, that he most seems like Eisenhower to a lot of people. He's very pragmatic. He doesn't have a -- you know, there was a comment made that this wasn't an Obama doctrine because Obama's not doctrinaire, and I think that's exactly right. He is a -- he's a pragmatist.
REHMWhat did you make of John McCain's criticism of the president's decision to go into Libya even with this no fly zone, comparing it to Vietnam?
KITFIELDMy understanding of John McCain's position was he was pushing Obama to go in and go in hard, not just with the no fly, but go in and basically act as the air power for the rebels. McCain and Lieberman have been leaning way forward I think on this one. I'm not sure who made the Vietnam analogy, but I don't think it was McCain.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Louisville, Ky. J.C., you're on the air.
J.C.Good morning, Diane.
J.C.Kudos to your panel.
J.C.Kudos to your panel. You always have the best.
REHMI sure do. Thank you.
J.C.Yes, you do. I have a question about Japan's nuclear crisis over there. Here in America we're freaking out and popping our iodine pills and we don't ever hear anything about what China or Korea or Vietnam or any of the Eastern countries are reacting, how they're reacting to this problem over there. Can any of your panel address that?
SANGERWell, you've seen the Chinese and I believe the Koreans, I'll have to go back and refresh my memory on this, begin to impose some restrictions on the import of food that is right around that plant or in the prefectures that are right near it. What they have been blessed by is that the winds by and large have been moving the other direction, out to the Pacific. So by the time they've hit the United States, the levels have been trace levels that you can barely read above normal background radiation. If the wind shifted, if you began to see significant accumulation of radioactive materials and detected in either China or Korea, given the long and ugly history between those countries and Japan, I suspect you'd see a much bigger political issue.
KITFIELDI think I read that China basically turned back a Japanese ship full of automobiles 'cause they were worried that they had level of radiation, which gets at something that we haven't even come to grips with, which is what is the economic long-term impact of this. You know, I don't know if Americans are gonna wanna buy a lot of Japanese cars until they understand what sort of radiation exposure there's been. So I think there's a fair amount of nervousness in Asia over this.
IGNATIUSWell, a lot of the Japanese cars, of course, are made in the U.S. now. The question that I'm intrigued by is whether this incredibly traumatic experience will in some ways change the political culture of Japan that David Sanger, who really knows this subject, was referring to earlier. Japanese must be shaken not simply by this catastrophic event, but by the way in which their culture of reticence has often suppressed the truth and so people haven't really known what's going on. And I keep waiting for Japan to become more modern as a political culture. Maybe this will be a trigger for that.
REHMDo you think?
SANGERYou know, people have often hoped for that and I suspect that we will see some marginal changes. But if you go back and you read the histories of the last year or two of World War II in Japan, again, the people were kept largely in the dark about how bad the news was which was why the emperor -- it was such a shock when the emperor came on the radio and said what he said on the days just around the surrender.
SANGERAnd, you know, every history that you read of Japan since the Meiji Restoration has always gotten an introduction. I've got one on my shelves from the 1880s talking about how I knew younger generation of Japanese are going to be, you know, far more open than the previous one. I think that is happening and has happened, but it happens at a pace that we would consider glacial given our society. What's different in this case is that you've had internet reports that are going abroad and then coming back into Japan. And you've got, you know, a young population that's reading all that.
REHMLast word, David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times, James Kitfield, senior correspondent for National Journal magazine, David Ignatius, columnist for the Washington Post, co-moderator of PostGlobal on washingtonpost.com. Thanks for listening all. Have a great weekend. 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.
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