"My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante is the first of the mysterious Italian author's Neapolitan novels. The series tells the story of a life-long friendship between two working class girls in Naples. Critics have called Ferrante “one of the greatest novelists of our time.” Yet nobody knows her true identity. Join Diane and her guests for a discussion of “My Brilliant Friend.”
Libyan rebels become increasingly frustrated with NATO. Opposition forces besiege the residence of Ivory Coast’s defeated president. And Portugal asks Europe for a bailout. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Nadia Bilbassy senior U.S. correspondent, MBC TV -- Middle East Broadcast Centre.
- Yochi Dreazen senior national security correspondent, National Journal magazine.
- Jeffrey Goldberg national correspondent, The Atlantic Magazine, and author of "Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror"
A National Journal article by Sara Sorcher and Yochi Dreazen explores the aftermath of the Egyptian uprising:
A National Journal article by Yochi Dreazen explores the U.S.’s decision-making process following Libyan rebels’ request for access to some of Muammar Gaddafi’s billions in frozen assets:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. NATO generals acknowledged their air power was not enough to help insurgents remove Libya's Muammar Qaddafi by force alone. Yemeni President Saleh said a Gulf-Arab plan to end his 32-year rule in the face of mass protest was a "belligerent intervention." And Defense Secretary Gates said the U.S. could stay in Iraq beyond the end of the war withdrawal deadline. Joining me in the studio for the international hour of our Friday News Roundup, Yochi Dreazen of National Journal Magazine, Nadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Center TV and Jeffrey Goldberg of Atlantic magazine.
MS. DIANE REHMI look forward to hearing your questions, comments. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENGood morning.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYGood morning, Diane.
MR. JEFFREY GOLDBERGGood morning.
REHMAnd, Yochi Dreazen, these NATO air strikes that apparently hit some rebel forces in Brega, what happened?
DREAZENWell, what happened was there was a line of tanks moving, sort of for the first time, actually, that rebel tanks were moving towards front line positions. The rebels say that they told NATO ahead of time that there would be tanks moving. NATO hasn't really responded yet to that specific charge. Regardless, NATO tank -- NATO planes bombed that line of tanks and killed several rebels. I think, in some ways, what's more interesting is not the rebel targets that they're accidentally hitting. It's the Qaddafi targets that they're not hitting.
DREAZENI mean, what we've seen over the past week is Qaddafi react the way that any smart dictator would, that he would move his weaponry into civilian areas and sort of dare NATO to bomb a civilian area and risk civilian targets. And we're seeing the fact that this is not Kosovo. This is not something where air power alone is going to knock them out of power. I mean, from the start, Libya has been the war that dare not speak its name. This has been a war that Obama didn't even announce, a war that we went into, clearly, not wanting to do it for very long. And what we're seeing is this war is going to go longer and take more than we thought it would want to take.
REHMWhy is NATO saying, we don't need to apologize, Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, because they said it was friendly fire. It could be an accident. It wasn't on purpose, and there seems to be a lack of coordination between the rebels and the NATO forces. And there's a bitter complain now from the rebel forces against NATO, saying it takes them eight hours to answer a call. It's not just that, but also the rebels themselves don't seem to have a coherent strategy. They don't seem to be organized. And it seems that after the United States, as Yochi just said, that administration doesn't seem to own the war in Libya that they handed over to NATO because they wanted to give it an international cover.
BILBASSYIt seems NATO, as an organization, is very bureaucratic, so trying to reach a decision very quickly in the war situation is almost -- seems to be impossible somehow. So I think the situation now looks like, you know, at one day the rebels hold a city, whether it's Brega or Raz Lanuf or any other place, and the next day Qaddafi forces is taking it over. So the situation is really -- is very, very complicated for the time being. Unless something is happening to overturn, the military situation is going to continue like this.
REHMAnd, Mark (sic) Goldberg, to what extent is the U.S. participating?
GOLDBERGThe U.S. has stepped back in a fairly serious way, much to the happiness of some people in the administration, certainly in the Pentagon. You know, it's interesting, Yochi made a point that's very, very good. He said this is the war that doesn't speak its name. There's also a strategy here that's probably necessary that won't dare speak its name, which is regime change. We went into this with very, very ambiguous goals. There was a hope that this would be some sort of immaculate operation.
GOLDBERGThe U.S. would send in some C1-30s and warthogs and take out the tanks and take out some of Qaddafi's fixed positions, and he would melt away. That hasn't happened. But they don't want to, nor does NATO for that matter, want to talk about the inevitable problem that we're facing, which is that the regime has to go. And until it goes, there will be no success.
REHMAnd, Jeffrey, forgive me for saying Mark.
GOLDBERGIt's my middle name.
REHMOh, is it really?
GOLDBERGI thought you were referring to me by my middle name.
REHMNo. It's Jeffrey Goldberg of Atlantic magazine. I want to ask you, also, Jeffrey, about these letters that President Obama has received from Qaddafi.
GOLDBERGI think, according to Qaddafi, his name is Baraka Hussein Obuamama (sp?) or something like that, according to the latest letter. This is -- I mean, if we needed proof that Muammar Qaddafi is a completely unhinged character who lives in his -- obvious, a world of his own creation, this is it. He's wishing Obama success in his -- in politics. He's treating him as a son of Africa, which, of course...
REHMBut doesn't he also say, my son?
GOLDBERGIf you're looking for a logical analysis of what has provoked him to say these things, he is out of his mind...
GOLDBERG...I think, is the technical term.
BILBASSYOh, completely. I mean, it shows that he's completely disconnected from reality. At one stage, he thinks just writing a letter to President Obama is going to alter the state of affairs and, all of a sudden, they will withdraw NATO forces and he will be back in power. But, I think, even writing his name as -- as he meant -- Baraka Hussein Obuamama, which is the Arabic translation to his name. And, I think, it was not a misspelling or a grammatical mistake, but he wanted to refer to him as somebody from Arab or Muslim descent and, therefore, you're closer to us, you understand our problems and this is why I'm appealing to you. And I wish you well in the next election, but you have to listen to me.
GOLDBERGThis is a guess because we can't know. We'd love to get him on the couch...
GOLDBERG...preferably in The Hague, but the guess is that Qaddafi is such a megalomaniac and he believes that he is a senior figure to Barack Obama, A, and, B, he thinks that, psychologically, he is signaling to Obama, you are a son of Africa. You shouldn't be doing this. And this is going to somehow have a magic effect on Obama's approach to the Libyan problem.
REHMJeffrey Mark Goldberg, he is national correspondent for Atlantic magazine. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Yochi, an Atlantic magazine reporter and three other journalists were captured in Libya. What's the latest?
DREAZENThere hasn't been much coming out since the news yesterday that they were captured. It is worth noting, though, that thankfully what appears to have happened -- these are not the first journalists in Libya who have been captured by either side. I mean, most famously there were four New York Times journalists captured by Qaddafi forces, mistreated, but otherwise unhurt and ultimately released. Thankfully, so far, this does not appear to be a situation like Egypt where journalists in the early days of the Tahrir Square uprising were specifically targeted, beaten, assaulted.
DREAZENWhether it was Lara Logan from TV, the TV side, whether it was print journalist who were also hit and hurt, this appears to be the chaos of war. So far, there have not been journalists from the West who have been intentionally targeted, intentionally killed, intentionally assaulted. We hope, obviously, that that will be the case here, too.
REHMWe hope for the best.
BILBASSYBut, also, I think, it shows how much they want to control the message. There was a time when all of us as journalists were desperate trying to get Tripoli. It was impossible to get a visa. And, all of a sudden now, the Qaddafi regime is encouraging journalists to come to Tripoli. They put them in this hotel. There is satellite equipment to put pictures out. So it shows how important was the message and how many interviews Qaddafi himself or his son Saif al-Islam or other of his sons has given to the press to put their point of view across.
BILBASSYBut also, saying that, now, there seems to be turning. There is a time when the calculated thing, whether the journalist would be good to have or not to have. And, I think, they start to target journalists, and saying that, also, it was also local journalists who was being targeted, Arab journalists has been arrested, threatened with death, some camera crew were killed as well. And there is this famous case of Iman al-Obeidi, this Libyan woman who came out to the press who were in Tripoli and said, I was raped -- gang-raped by Qaddafi forces. So they don't want this kind of publicity. So I'm not surprised. I hope that the journalists will be fine, but don't be surprised. More journalists will be targeted in Libya.
REHMJeffrey Goldberg, what's going on to cause a policy shift on the part of the U.S. in regard to President Saleh in Yemen?
GOLDBERGWell, you know, there's -- there are two views. There's a sort of a grandiose understanding and a more practical understanding. The grandiose view is that we're moving beyond our 9/11 -- post-9/11 posture in national security, that we're saying, you know, what, even though Saleh is our guy in the fight against al-Qaida, we are going to take the side of democracy, no matter what happens. And I've heard that view expressed. I tend to go with the latter view, a more pragmatic view, which is that American officials -- intelligence officials have made the judgment -- the sound judgment that the guy has no future in Yemen's politics.
GOLDBERGAnd, therefore, the U.S. is sort of getting ahead of the curve a little bit in saying, you know what, he has -- there's no sustainability to this regime. We are going to gradually disassociate ourselves from this and work to replace him with something sustainable and not radical.
REHMAnd, Yochi, what about the Gulf-Arab nations in their statement that they believe it's time for a change?
DREAZENYeah, there's been a proxy war for years and years between Saudi Arabia and between Iran. One of the places where that's flared in the past is Yemen. I mean, the Saudis who share a border with Yemen have been terrified for decades that Saleh would fall and be replaced by something that could threaten them. So when you have a statement coming into them from the Gulf-Arab states, it's not a surprise. I mean, it's part of this long history of the Saudis really wanting to see Yemen be stable. They don't particularly care who's running it, provided that it was a stable government that didn't threaten them.
DREAZENThey're going to have to make the same calculation the U.S. is, as Jeff indicated. If he has no future, they will want him replaced by something that won't simply be anarchy. So, I think, you're seeing both the Gulf states lead by the Saudi Arabians and Washington, as Jeff indicated a moment ago, come to the same place which is, A, Saleh has no future, B, he has to be replaced by something, rather than simply by a (word?).
REHMAnd apparently the AP is reporting that the President Saleh rejected a mediation offer by Gulf nations, denouncing a proposal in a speech before tens of thousands in the capital on Friday, an even larger group of demonstrators nearby. Hundreds of thousands of protestors across the country are demanding his ouster. Short break, and we'll be right back.
REHMWelcome back to the international hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Jeffrey Goldberg of Atlantic Magazine. He's also author of "Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror." Yochi Dreazen is senior national security correspondent for National Journal magazine. And Nadia Bilbassy is senior U.S. correspondent for Middle East Broadcast Centre. And we will be opening the phones very shortly, 800-433-8850. Nadia, just before the break, we were talking about Yemen. But there's more to say on that.
BILBASSYWell, basically, I'm saying that this meeting that was supposed to take place in (word?) by the GCC, it seems to be sponsored mainly by Saudi Arabia. They're very, very worried about what happened in Yemen. And then his position -- Ali Abdullah Saleh's position became unattainable when they realized, both the U.S. and the Saudis, that he is uncapable (sic) of reform, that he has to leave. Thousands of people have been demonstrating in each city, and thousands of people have been -- well, not thousands, but probably hundreds of people have been killed so far. So, basically, they -- what he's doing now is he's negotiating his exit.
BILBASSYThe problem with Arab dictators is not just one person, as you know. It's when they leave, they have their sons and they have their entire family -- in this case, in Libya, in Syria, in Egypt, everywhere -- so, also, there is -- key military figures are in the Yemeni army, and for the President Saleh, who wants to secure that he's not going to be persecuted and his sons and his relatives are not going to persecute him. And, therefore...
REHMWho's going to take him? Where is he going to go if he leaves?
BILBASSYI mean, there's so many other places. I guess Saudi Arabia's one of them. If they sponsored the deal, I think they're going to end up there.
REHMYou think, Yochi?
DREAZENYeah, I mean, again, the Saudis have had this relationship with him going back since the beginning of his rule, and they've -- they are this sort of, you know, the negative Statue of Liberty, give us not your poor but your rich, give us not your huddled but your sort of (word?) fleeing.
GOLDBERGThey already have the Tunisian dictator, so they know how to process these guys.
DREAZENThey've taken everybody.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about this week's trip to Iraq by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Certainly sounded like his swan song number one, and then his statements, Jeffrey.
GOLDBERGWell, yes, it was a swan song. He talked almost wistfully. He doesn't seem to be an overly emotive person in public, but he talked wistfully about this being his 13th or 14th visit and probably his final one and that, when he came into the job, he talked about how people would judge him on Iraq, and he feels pretty good about where Iraq is. But the buried news in all of this was a statement that, oh, by the way, if the Iraqi government wants to keep American troops around ad infinitum, fine with us.
GOLDBERGAnd the Iraqis are, as Yochi very well knows, debating this right now. And you have a situation in which it's almost going to be a necessity for American troops to stay because the Iraqi army is not ready to stand up, particularly some of these sophisticated weapon systems alone. And so the big anticlimax is, well, we're going to be staying for a long time.
DREAZENAnd the -- I agree. The Iraqi army's also not fully trusted. I mean, it's better than it was during the worst days of the civil war, but kind of lost the news 'cause we're so overwhelmed by bad news from everywhere else is the fact that Kirkuk, which everyone had worried for, you know, since the beginning of the war in '03, that eventually Kirkuk would blow up the country, and it didn't happen. Kirkuk now really does threaten to blow up the country, and the situation there is awful. You've had arms standoffs between Iraqi soldiers who are Arab from the south, Kurdish (word?) coming in from the north, broken up literally in a case of physical intervention by U.S. forces nearby. If those U.S. services weren't there, you'd have had the two sides shooting at each other.
DREAZENSo it's easy to be alarmist by Kirkuk. I mean, people have been alarmist about it for going on eight years, and it hasn't blown up. But Kirkuk right now is really, really dangerous. And if that blows and this sort of very fragile Kurdish-Arab alliance in Iraq blows with it, the Iraq war will be back on the front page, instead of where it is right now, which is buried on page 832.
BILBASSYI mean, I agree. Kirkuk always been a point of contention in Iraq, but also the caveat into the U.S. troops staying in Iraq is an agreement with the Iraqi government, which is most likely, they will say yes. We don't know how it's going to go, but the fact that you're going to have some U.S. troops staying beyond the date of exit, and -- which is in August, I think, with the summer of 2011, it's almost a foregone conclusion. Everybody believes that. But that's going to create a problem for President Obama and his campaign. The promises that he made before, one of them is already -- we forgot about, which is Guantanamo, that's going to be closed. Two years have passed.
BILBASSYAnd now it seems it's going to be opened, the trial's going to be in Guantanamo itself under military courts, and, now, Iraq. I mean, this is his selling point, basically, that U.S. troops is going to come out, and, therefore, you're not going to fight two wars. But it seems that they're going to stay there. And I think the danger as well (unintelligible) that Secretary Gates discussed is Iran. He wanted to verify that Iran is still not supplying weapons and explosives to the rebels there. Although the security situation has improved and the level of violence has gone down, but there's still -- every now and then, you hear of explosion, suicide attack, 30 people dead here and there. So the situation is not all completely clear.
REHMTwo things, how many troops do we have in South Korea? How many troops?
GOLDBERGI think it's somewhere around...
REHMFifty thousand or so.
GOLDBERG...something -- 40. I think it was lower than 50, but...
REHMYeah, I mean...
GOLDBERGWell, we have it in Germany. I mean...
GOLDBERG...you know, that goes back to World War II.
REHMAre we dealing with another situation that will look similar to that?
GOLDBERGThis is what's so fascinating about the moment, is that the salient point is never how many troops do we have in a particular country. It's how many are dying in that particular country. We are -- we still have occupation forces, if you want to call them that, in Germany, in Korea 50, 60 years after those wars ended.
REHMBut this is different.
GOLDBERGThis is different but it is -- I mean, to be fair...
GOLDBERG...it is remarkably quiet in Iraq, considering what we thought could be happening in Iraq these days.
BILBASSYBut this is very different. This is not South Korea. This is the heart of the Arab Muslim world. To have American troops there, whether it's peace or war, is going to be a target for Al-Qaida, for jihadists, for people to say the United States, they're wanting to leave military bases in our country. And they doubt even the best of all intentions, so I think this is not a matter of just having an ally and having troops later on in the region to keep peace, whatever. I think American troops need to leave. If they leave some 2,000, 3,000, but if they leave boots on the grounds with thousands, hundreds of thousands -- I mean, tens of thousands, it's going to be a big problem.
REHMAll right. Let's look at what's happening on the Ivory Coast. The U.N. Secretary General has urged Gbagbo, who lost the election to cede power, leave the country. He's hanging tough.
GOLDBERGHe's hanging tough in a basement as far as we can -- he's literally in his basement bunker surrounded by family -- talk about the model of dictatorship family that doesn't want to leave -- some aids and some security forces. And, you know, there's -- again, I mean, the parallels are interesting between Ivory Coast and Libya, not only because neither really poses a national security threat to the United States, but because you have a situation in which the West is engaged but not engaged all the way, that they're not going to necessarily go and drag this guy out. And so you have this terrible stalemate. You have the other side, the guy who won the election, Ouattara and his party and his people also seeming to be involved in massacres. I mean, they're -- it's a very, very sad story.
REHMSo I think you're talking about the relationship between Yemen.
GOLDBERGNo, no, no. I -- no, Qaddafi. I mean, the fact is that the West, the French are in the Ivory Coast, not wanting to pull this guy all the way out.
GOLDBERGWe're in Libya...
GOLDBERG...except we're not really pursuing regime change. It's, again -- we get into these open-ended engagements...
GOLDBERG...in these civil wars, and we don't know the end points. We don't know the end game.
BILBASSYThat's true, actually. The power is very well thought here because if you look at -- in Libya, they wanted to hit the armory of President -- of Qaddafi because they wanted to stop him from launching attacks against civilians. It's the same for President Laurent Gbagbo. The French actually led the assault because they are there, they are former colonial masters, and, also, the U.N. has authorized them to go there. They have U.N. peacekeeping forces there. So they hit his -- outside his presidential palace, they hit so many times essentially to stop him from attacking civilians.
BILBASSYAs you know, there was a peaceful demonstration -- I think it was March 13 -- what turned violent because they opened fire, and it killed so many people. But the problem is -- I think the French said -- a French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe said a while ago that we're almost very close for him to hand over power, and he's again negotiating whether he's going to be prosecuted. The ICC, the International Criminal Court now gathering evidence -- preliminary kind of evidence, whether they've been involved in crimes against humanity, and it's not just him, but also (unintelligible) as forces, as you just said.
BILBASSYSo maybe there's not good guy versus the bad guy -- I suppose the least bad guy against a really very bad guy.
GOLDBERGWell, there's a bad guy who won the election and a bad guy who lost the election.
REHMHere's an e-mail, though, on the Ivory Coast, saying, "Last Bastille Day, all of France's former colonies attended celebrations in Paris. Ivory Coast was the only Francophone country that didn't participate. Why isn't the International Press questioning what France is doing on the Ivory Coast? The French have started a civil war in (word?) because they don't like Gbagbo's attempts to free the Ivory Coast from France." Yochi.
DREAZENTwo sort of obvious and somewhat cynical answers, one is the American journalism world and the journalism world worldwide can only focus on so many crises at a time. And Ivory Coast, it's just not going to knock Libya off the front page. And, frankly, if you're going to question France about anything, in this country in particular, you're going to question about how France effectively dragged the U.S. and NATO into a war in Libya they didn't want to fight.
DREAZENI mean, you had -- from the beginning, the French were the most belligerent towards Qaddafi, from the beginning you had French government demanding air strikes, you had the French government recognizing the rebels, you've had the French government talking about arming the rebels inside of Libya. So if you're going to question anything, it's, how did Sarkozy manage to drag the entire western military alliance into a war it didn't want to fight?
GOLDBERGThose French, who would think they'd be so belligerent, huh?
BILBASSYBut at one stage, actually, Africa used to be the battleground between the interests of the United States and France. In Djibouti, for example, both had military forces there or installation and in many other places, but it's obvious for France to be drawn back to its former colonies, especially when there is war torn places like Cote d'Ivoire. The civil war started in 2002, long time ago, and President Gbagbo -- they all, by the way, start as the good guys and, at one stage -- turn in their presidency, they mess up the country completely. So there's corruption, allegation, human rights, abuses, et cetera.
BILBASSYBut the fact that you have an election that's been postponed, almost for five years, that it was testified by the United Nations, by the European Union, by the United States, by the African union to say that Alassane Ouattara won by 9 percent points -- by 9 points ahead of Gbagbo, and he refused to leave. And that's the problem of so many African dictators. They don't want to leave office.
GOLDBERGIt's an excellent point. I mean, this is -- part of the problem of leaving is what you just mentioned, which is that there are international criminal courts, there are human rights investigators who are waiting for you to leave. And so the incentives for leaving are not very high. But, going to the point of your e-mailer, I'm not so sure that this slots so easily into this kind of French colonialist framework that they're suggesting. I mean, the Ivory Coast has been a tragedy also of its own making, not just of France's making.
GOLDBERGI mean, you do have huge tribal split, you have a religious split. I mean, this is a religious conflict, to some degree, between the north, which is more Muslim, and the south, which is more Christian. You have a lot of different things in this mix, and there are profound humanitarian reasons and causes for going in there and trying to limit the damage that both sides do to civilians.
REHMJeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for The Atlantic Magazine. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Yochi, was Portugal's call for financial aid from Europe a big surprise?
DREAZENNo. And what's fascinating is that there's this wonderful acronym that's been used in kind of finance circles for the better part of two years now, PIGS, referring to Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain as the most dysfunctional of all European countries, the ones likeliest to need a bailout. Greece already has one. Ireland already has one. Spain is sort of tottering. Portugal was the next one to go. So, no, it's not a surprise. What's a surprise, in some ways, is just that they held out as long as they did.
DREAZENI mean, these are countries that are massively, massively, massively -- we think we're in bad shape here. The debt levels in some of these countries are just beyond belief. And in Ireland -- you know, again, part of the PIGS -- the Irish banks, which were nationalized by the Irish government -- just the nationalization of the Irish banks is more than the GDP of the entire country. So you're talking about just debt levels that are almost incomprehensibly high.
BILBASSYBut, also, Portugal is one of the poorest countries in Europe, and the economy hasn't been doing well for the last decade. I think the growth was like 0.7 percent, and it was a matter of time before they asked for the bailout. And the prime minister didn't want to do that, and then the opposition forced him basically to resign. And now he's a caretaking prime minister. Meanwhile, they -- going back to these countries to say, lend us some money, we want to be bailed out. You know, the biggest giant of all is Germany, who was going to come to the rescue just like they did with France and -- just like they did with Ireland and Greece. But I think the writing has been on the wall for a while, and it's going to create even more problem because they have to implement the austerity measures.
REHMAnd, in the meantime, you have the European Central Bank raising its interest.
GOLDBERGMaking it harder for everyone.
GOLDBERGYou know, the interesting thing about the PIGS acronym is the S. If Spain goes -- and Portugal is a smaller -- a much smaller economy than Spain...
GOLDBERG...but if Spain, which is teetering, goes than you're really going to hear from the Germans and other powerful economies asking this basic fundamental question. Why are we -- why do we have this eurozone as an albatross around our necks? And that's what -- that's where we're moving to if this isn't gotten under control, especially in Spain.
BILBASSYBut they're saying Spain is too big to fail, so -- and the economy is slightly better than Portugal...
REHMI think that has an echo, doesn't it?
REHMWhoa. All right. Let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Lakeworth, Fla. Good morning, Carmen. You're on the air.
CARMENYes. Is there any specific data on who the Libyan rebels actually are? And, if so, how was the data obtained and by whom?
DREAZENYou know, some of the most interesting data about who some of these rebels are was actually found in a certain safe house in Iraq in 2007 in a place called Sinjar, which was a weigh station for foreign fighters who were coming into Iraq. And what they had there were these meticulous records of who was coming in and from where. And when these records were found, translated -- it was when they were published, they're available briefly on the internet -- they had a fascinating thing in them. Libya sent the second most number of people in raw numbers of any Arab country. Per capita, it sent the most. And the city of Benghazi sent more fighters than any other Arab city in the world, including Riyadh.
DREAZENSo this is a part of Libya that is known, to the degree that it's known at all, for having very well established, very strong Islamic extremist presence. That's not to, in any way, say that all the rebels who have risen up are either loyal to these fighters or fighting for these causes, but it is to say that this region is a region where militant Islamists have been in place for decades.
GOLDBERGLook, just because Muammar Qaddafi says that the rebels are al-Qaida doesn't mean it's necessarily not true. But there are -- I would say, probably ultimately, a very small percentage of the rebellion is al-Qaida. It could -- the influence could grow obviously. But I was just in Cairo meeting with some of the leaders of the Libyan rebellion, and this was kind of a mishmash of different -- I mean, you know, a philosophy professor who had just come off the front, certainly not, you know, a big fan of Jack Kerouac, he was telling me. I mean, this is not -- this is a very, very diverse, almost kind of absurdly diverse, rebellion in the sense that it's drawing people from all kinds of lines of work, many of which have nothing to do with military affairs.
BILBASSYAnd this is why they're not succeeding very well, and they don't have a strategy. And I agree. It's a consortium of different people who are opposing the Qaddafi regime. The tribes, again, who are completely against him because they're from the east side of the country. But, I mean, according to NATO and Algerian intelligence, they said there is elements of al-Qaida, but low level. But I'm not quite sure actually if this is entirely completely true.
REHMNadia Bilbassy, she is with Middle East Broadcast Centre. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd lots of e-mail about Libya. This one from Nelson in McKinney, Texas, who says, "I have no affection for the man Qaddafi, and I don't understand or condone his methods. But I would not call him insane. It's too easy to dismiss his actions as those of a madman with the result that we underestimate his capabilities or fail to anticipate his next atrocity." Yochi.
DREAZENI completely agree. I mean, whether Qaddafi writes letters that are funny to read, it's sort of irrelevant. This is a man who has held power in a fractious, messed up country for decades, and there's a reason why he was able to do it. There's a reason why he's beating the rebels militarily. There's a reason why his government, despite predictions to the contrary, has not splintered. There's a reason why his military hasn't splintered. And there's a reason why his soldiers are willing to fight and die on his behalf. He may be unbalanced, but it's not relevant, in my mind, to whether he will hold power or whether he'll be pushed out of power. Right now, he is fighting well and handling this crisis relatively adeptly, I mean, much more so than someone who was totally unhinged would handle it.
REHMAll right. More on that from Bill in Cleveland, Ohio. You're on the air.
BILLOh, I didn't think you'd come to me since he addressed that question. But my point was, when your guests earlier interpreted Qaddafi's salutation in the letter to Obama, it sounded absurd to me 'cause, to me, it just sounds like it's condescension in the service of defiance, you know. And, also, I wanted to ask -- it seems like Qaddafi's image has shifted through the years. It seemed like, for awhile, he was redeemed, you know, 'cause he admitted to bombing Pan Am flight 103, so his image in the media in the U.S. seemed to be reformed. And then, all of a sudden, once we decide to go in there, he's crazy again, so...
BILBASSYYeah, it's true. I mean, he was a pariah for so long and then he decided to make that deal where he will give up his ambition to have biological weapons or chemical weapons, and they would embrace him again. And they said this is a good example of how you can deal with a dictator or the erratic behavior leader, and we can bring him into our side somehow. So he was rehabilitated and came to the U.N. recently -- actually, last September -- where he addressed the U.N. with this rather rambling, very strange, bizarre speech. But, coming back to this character, yes, in a way it is true that he held a country for so long because he played the tribal card, and there's people who swore allegiance to him.
BILBASSYAnd it's true this proves to be -- Qaddafi proved to be more resilient than we thought. The more that he's pressurized, the more he is more defiant. And this is very true. But, also, he's very similar actually to Saddam Hussein, more than a similar situation to Mubarak or (unintelligible) in Tunisia because there is a clique of people around him that they created, whether it's ideology or politics or tribal leaders that are willing to fight for him. But, yeah, what I said about his name in his letter -- of course, I mean, he is seen as a megalomaniac character. He has grandeur of illusion. He lives in a completely different world. He's thinks he's an emperor even, you know, that controls Africa and the Arab World.
GOLDBERGLook, his paranoia and megalomania and various other mental afflictions -- part of the reason why you can't deal with him in a stable sort of way -- yes, out of self interest in 2003, 2004, he gave up his nuclear program, and we thought that would be the end of problems with Qaddafi. But the man is unstable. To be -- to say that he's unstable is not to dismiss his malevolence. You could be unstable. You could be mentally ill and also malevolent at the same time and (word?). I mean, we've seen that with dictators throughout history.
DREAZENThe only thing that is worth pointing out about Qaddafi -- and, again, this is not to in any way sound like it will probably sound as if it's a defense of him -- but the word atrocity is thrown around a lot in connection to Qaddafi. Thus far, as horrible, as violent, as bloody as his attempt to crush the rebellion has been, this is not Kosovo, this is not Yugoslavia, this is not Hafez al-Assad flattening the city of Hama with tens of thousands of deaths. It's been bloody, but it has not been that level.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Jim.
JIMYes. I'm sorry to belabor the issue, but I'd like to just follow up one more time on the characterizing Qaddafi as completely nuts. You know, he does have two incredibly educated sons. My understanding is, from my reading, that he relies on their advice. Does any of your panel perhaps think that perhaps that Qaddafi was returning the favor politically to Obama by trying to create some problems for him domestically by alluding to his African and Muslim background and everything like that, knowing full well that that doesn't -- those continued bringing that issue up in the United States certainly doesn't help Obama domestically from a political standpoint?
GOLDBERGSo the question is, is Qaddafi a Birther, I think, is the way you would want to phrase that. Anything is possible. The internet is a wonderful thing.
REHMYeah, you bet.
GOLDBERGMuammar Qaddafi can find out all about the Birther movement in America -- and he could be trying to give them a little bit of a poke -- but I think it might be significantly more obvious than that.
REHMAll right. To Jacksonville, Fla. Good morning, Katie.
KATIEGood morning. I had a quick question about Yemen.
KATIEKnowing the sort of seasonal war that's been going in the north, the unrest in the south, their poor economy, how do the Arab States, especially Saudi Arabia, which is so close, plan to deal with the power vacuum that Saleh's going to leave if he does leave?
BILBASSYWell, this is precisely why the Saudis are trying to broker this deal, whereby it's going to be a vacuum of power and it's not -- the country's not going to descend into a sudden chaos and collapse because they have vital interests. I mean, let's not forget, it wasn't a while ago before the Houthis, which is a Shiite oriented movement, were fighting very close to the border of Saudi Arabia, that the Saudis send troops over. So it threatened them directly, let alone al-Qaida. And we know in certain places now, we have the infamous Anwar al-Awlaki who was a U.S. born citizen, who now is in Yemen and wanted by the CIA and probably every other Arab intelligence, that he threatened, also, the Saudis because there is a kind of creation of Waziristan inside Yemen.
BILBASSYAnd the climate and the mountainous areas allow them to operate almost in the semi autonomous regions that even the central government or President Saleh or whoever will come after him won't be able to control.
REHMAll right. To Brunswick, Md. Perry, good morning.
PERRYGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
PERRYI came in late so I understand the conversation's mostly about Libya, but I heard the brief discussion of the French intervention in Ivory Coast. And all I -- I just have two phrases to repeat. Vive la France, because if France hadn't come and helped us in our revolution, we'd still be saying, God, save the queen. And so...
REHMYochi, do you want to comment?
DREAZENYou know, it was interesting in the -- right after the Iraq war when there was so much French bashing, that aspect of our history was forgotten, as was the fact that...
DREAZEN...the first world leader to visit New York after 9/11 was Jacques Chirac, so, Vive la France.
REHMViva La France. To Maurice in Rockford, Ill., good morning.
MAURICEWhen all is said and done and the dust settles and there's talk about a democracy, will America's influence prevail? Will -- there are CIA operatives now. Are they looking for leaders? Or will -- or are they just looking for another Shah of Iran that will even be a worse dictator?
GOLDBERGIn Iraq, you mean...
REHMIn Libya, yeah.
GOLDBERGIn Libya. In Libya. In Libya. I don't think -- and this is a key problem. I don't think we know even what we want...
GOLDBERG...in Libya. I don't think we know who would take over. I think we -- the current fear -- I mean, the fear of this week is that you're looking at a semi-permanent division of Libya into two Libyas, which is not better than one. And so we're not that advanced in the conversation.
BILBASSYBut the fact that President Obama authorized the CIA to go there, it shows that they didn't know anything before. And I was even surprised it took them that long to go and find out who are these people, who are they fighting for, is it true that al-Qaida elements have infiltrated them, how important they are in terms of taking the regime down. But the problem here and the dilemma is President Obama said, and many Western leaders, that Qaddafi had to go. He's illegitimate. And the problem is they're going halfway, trying to get rid of him, as Jeffrey said. They talk about -- they did not talk about regime change. They're not calling it war. And I don't know how they -- what plans they have to end the chaos in Libya.
REHMGen. Barry McCaffrey was on this program, just earlier this week, talking about Qaddafi's removal and talking about Libya. And what in the world can we do at this point?
DREAZENYou know, we've been -- we were talking earlier today about Bob Gates -- Robert Gates who's stepping down imminently from the Pentagon. It's worth remembering that he spent decades before there at the CIA. And there have been a couple of times where he's been asked about Qaddafi and what should happen. He's made these kind of offhand references to, well, wouldn't it be great if someone in his inner circle took him out or someone in his family took him out. And he said it with a smile, and it sounded kind of jovial, like it's the musing of an older policymaker getting ready to leave.
DREAZENThis is a cold-blooded guy who spent decades at the CIA. Clearly, there are many in the administration who would love and would give their right hand to have one of Qaddafi's sons kill the father, one of Qaddafi's cousins kill Muammar Qaddafi, to have some type of regime change that would be relatively quick, relatively bloodless. And then we could turn our attention away from Libya like we have before.
REHMBut would we embrace one of these sons, Jeffrey?
GOLDBERGI don't imagine that we would, but anything is possible and depends on what else is going on in the world. Again, coming back to Yemen, which is actually important from American national security perspective, we have to remember that this isn't actually important. So anything is possible. I sincerely doubt that any arrangement could be made with one of Qaddafi's sons that would be acceptable to the -- certainly, to France to come back to -- to come back to our favorite country.
BILBASSYBut, also, I mean, the most important people are the Libyan people here who have a say in the matter. And the opposition said -- clearly, they laughed at the proposal that Saif al-Islam can take over, and he said, oh, I want to do the reform. I mean, don't forget, this was the plan before people died and before the war started and before the rebel took control of the east part because they said that was his plan, is to phase Qaddafi out and to bring Saif al-Islam who was Western-educated, a reformist, inverted commas. But even Qaddafi himself plotted against his son and kind of distant him for awhile.
BILBASSYSo nobody's going to accept any of his sons. They are ruthless as he is.
GOLDBERGOn that point, and referring to something that Yochi just said, Hillary Clinton and other American officials have done something pretty clever in the last couple of weeks, which is to float this idea that, well, we hear that there's some dissention in the inner circle and, whether or not they're hearing it, that's a classic sort of psychological operation...
GOLDBERG...just to create more paranoia...
GOLDBERG...inside the bunker. And maybe that will come out.
REHMYou know, no wonder nobody in this country knows what to believe anymore. I mean, what you just said, Jeffrey, is indicative of the way various governments, not only our own -- various governments operate, creating that doubt, creating that possibility by saying, well, it could happen.
BILBASSYTrue, Diane. But, also, it's not our wishful thinking. We have the foreign minister Moussa Koussa already defected to the West, and they interrogated him. We have also the former energy minister who managed to leave Libya -- guess how -- by a fishing boat. He went to Malta. And he said there are many people close to Qaddafi who want to defect, but they're too scared because they have family members inside. And he's very ruthless, and he'll kill the entire family. And I won't put it beyond Qaddafi that he will burn Libya to the ground for his own survival.
REHMNadia Bilbassy. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Gaithersburg, Md. Good morning, Ted.
TEDHi, how's it going?
TEDBasically, my comment is, with the bailout of Portugal and the other countries in Europe and in the U.S., I'm wondering what can be said about the neoliberalism -- I mean, economic philosophy that's kind of driving the Western world. Is it really the best?
DREAZENThat's what people in China are now saying derisively. That's what people in Singapore and Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are saying derisively. They're saying, for decades, you and Washington with the -- backed by the World Bank, backed by the IMF, lectured us about how we should run our economies and look where it led to. They're saying that state-directed enterprise, which is certainly the case in China, can be more effective than Western economists can argue.
DREAZENThey're saying that sovereign investment funds, where the government funds a shareholder and let's them go buy things on behalf of the government, which is what a lot of the Arab States have done to be more effective -- so, yeah. I mean, there is a sort of fundamental questioning of decades of Washington consensus about how a country should structure its economy and try to oversee its economy.
REHMThere was a fascinating report on "Morning Edition" this morning about the wealthy in China and the extent to which they are buying very high-priced items.
DREAZENIt's the birth of a luxury culture on a scale that...
DREAZEN...is unimaginable. I mean, you've got, potentially, millions of millionaires. I mean, it's -- the level -- if you're in Beijing now, the amount of wealthy you see on the street of Maserati dealerships, Ferrari dealerships, every luxury clothing chain in the world, every luxury jewelry chain of the world.
REHMHow did that happen so quickly?
DREAZENIt's been building. I mean, it's -- when you think about how much we import from China and then you think about who runs and owns all those factories, it builds like a snowball picking up snow.
REHMBut what proportion of that population would you put into that ability to buy luxuries category?
DREAZENA small one. But it's also worth mentioning that, in our own country, if you look at the 400 richest families, they control more wealth than, quite literally, 200 million Americans combined. So, you know, pot, kettle.
BILBASSYComing just to another point talking about the economy in Europe, one of the countries who wanted to join the European Union is Turkey. And, funny enough, with all this collapse of economies in Europe, they're the one who survived because they were not linked to any political mechanism that's in Central Bank in Europe.
REHMSo are you all suggesting pulling away from the Euro, pulling away from that European economic union?
DREAZENI mean, it's plausible just to envision in the near future the collapse of the Euro. I mean, Germany which has been -- for decades, has this funny image of these kind of doughy, stouty (sic) people, saving their money, not splurging, not being flashy like the French or the Italians. Germany's not going to keep bailing out other countries. And if Spain goes down, as Jeff said earlier, and suddenly Germany's being asked to pump in hundreds of billions of Euros...
GOLDBERGPolitics is politics. I mean, if you're a German taxpayer -- middle class German taxpayer, do you really want to be bailing out the profligate Greeks and the profligate Portuguese? No. The answer's simply no.
REHMSo what's the result?
GOLDBERGWell, we'll see. I mean, it seems to -- it seems to us that we're at a kind of a precipice. And if Spain, for instance, goes over, flops over, needs a -- Portugal's going to get about $100 billion bailout, maybe a little bit more. Spain will be -- need something much bigger, perhaps. Maybe we're seeing the first chapters of the beginning of the Euro.
REHMJeffrey Mark Goldberg. And, boy, did I luck out there. National correspondent...
GOLDBERGYou knew it. You knew it.
REHM...for The Atlantic Magazine, author of "Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror." Nadia Bilbassy is senior U.S. correspondent for MBC TV. Yochi Dreazen is senior national security correspondent for National Journal magazine. Thank you all so much. Have a great weekend.
BILBASSYThank you, Diane.
DREAZENThanks, you, too.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. 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. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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