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Two rival Palestinian groups outline a plan for sharing power. NATO airstrikes accidentally kill up to a dozen Libyan rebels. And the violent crackdown in Syria escalates. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Mark Landler White House correspondent, The New York Times.
- Yochi Dreazen senior national security correspondent, National Journal magazine.
- Courtney Kube national security producer for NBC News.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us, I'm Susan Page of U.S.A. Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. The Syrian government continues its brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. At least 500 people have died in recent weeks. In Libya, NATO steps up its air strikes on Gadhafi's headquarters. Earlier in the week, NATO war planes mistakenly fired on rebels killing at least a dozen people and rival Palestinian factions reach a reconciliation deal that ends a four year rift.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me in the studio to discuss the week's top international stories on our Friday News Roundup, Yochi Dreazen of National Journal, Courtney Kube of NBC News and Mark Landler of the New York Times. Welcome to the Diane Rehm show.
MS. COURTNEY KUBEThank you.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENThank you.
MR. MARK LANDLERThank you.
PAGEWe invite our listeners also to join us later in this hour. You can call our toll free number 1-800-433-8850, send us an e-mail at email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Courtney, you have spent a lot of time with Defense Secretary Bob Gates and General Petraeus in the last few years. Changes afoot in their jobs and others, tell us about the shuffle that happened this week.
KUBEWell, it's not a surprise that Secretary Gates is stepping down. He acknowledged last summer he'd be out by the end of this year. It was sort of a Washington parlor game for how long he'd last. But we all pretty much assumed he would stay through the budget, which would be the end of June, which he is. Now, he's stepping down June 30th and assuming -- he makes confirmation, CIA Director Leon Panetta's going to step in. Secretary Gates was actually the first person to put forward Panetta's name about six months ago.
KUBEAnd he was heavily involved in convincing the CIA director to take over the helmet at DOD. It's going to be an enormous task for Leon Panetta to take on, in addition to the fact that there's massive budget cuts coming in DOD in the next 10 to 12 years, about $400 billion in proposed budget cuts over 12 years. Leon Panetta also is taking over the war in Afghanistan at a time where things aren't really going very well right there. He's well versed in the situation in Pakistan.
KUBEHe was just over there recently meeting with the Pakistan Intel chief. But he also has other challenges. He's going to be drinking from the fire hose at the beginning, dealing with some policy issues, don't ask, don't tell, Guantanamo Bay and then, of course, as I said, the massive budget cuts that they're going to be facing.
PAGEAnd General Petraeus goes to the CIA, Mark Landler. Does that signal change us here or what kind of -- what signal does that send that he goes to the CIA?
LANDLERWell, General Petraeus, of course, was one of the largest consumers of intelligence in his job as commander in Afghanistan. And in his stints in Iraq and Afghanistan, he obviously has been deeply immersed in intelligence. So from that point of view, there's -- they're putting a man in who knows that business. What it does sort of suggest is a trend that's been going on for some time. Which is a sort of a miniaturization of the intelligence business. You've now had a couple of CIA directors and Intel directors, generally, that come from the military.
LANDLERAnd indeed, if you look at Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, a number of places around the world where the U.S. is engaged, there is a blurring of the line between what the military does and what the pentagon -- what the CIA does. Notably, in Pakistan, where the CIA has been greatly ratcheting up, it's use of covert drone strikes to kill insurgents.
PAGENow, General Petraeus is retiring from the military to take this job. Is he required to do so?
LANDLERHe's not required to do so. He could be a CIA director and continue to serve. He's chosen to do so. This may be because as a four star general who's arguably held the two most important commands that one could've had in the last decade. It's not clear where else in the military, General Petraeus could have gone. I suppose he could've become the chairman of the joint chiefs. But for him, he's really had such a celebrated career.
LANDLERAnd for the Obama administration, it's also an interesting choice politically. There were democrats who expressed a few qualms that General Petraeus, with his enormous reputation could be a political rival down the road to President Obama if he chose that course. This, sort of, takes that off the table, at least as far as 2012 is concerned.
PAGEYochi, let's talk about what this might mean in Afghanistan. We have some other changes, Ryan Crocker goes back to the region as ambassador to Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Allen replaces General Petraeus' commander in Afghanistan. Does this -- what does this tell us about what's going to happen ahead in terms of the war in Afghanistan?
DREAZENWell, a few things. There's already signals that you pick up in the Pentagon. We also pick it up in talking to the NSE, that the draw down in July have hit a lot of people and the military had long assumed would be token at best, may actually be bigger, somewhat substantially then the convention wisdom it held. During the long debates about the Afghan policy last year, Leon Panetta was someone who had, on the one hand, argued that al-Qaeda and the Taliban had to be seen as one joint entity, which was very much in line with what became the, kind of, final (word?) of it.
DREAZENBut he was someone who was also very skeptical, both about the idea of a troop search and about the idea of a full on, large scale, extended counter insurgency campaign. Given the budget cuts, given that the war is not showing clear results, he's now in position to change that. What these moves do, in a sentence is, they take the two architects of the war, Gates and Petraeus, they're the architect of the surge, they're the architect of this approach and they both leave. They're both off the scene now.
DREAZENAnd they bring in different people.
PAGE...what kind of -- you talked about the draw down. A lot of Americans are very hopeful there'll be a significant draw down of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. What kind of draw down do you think is likely.
DREAZENI think, that you're going to see at least one very -- what I'm hearing is at least two brigades coming out this year. Which would be somewhere in the area of 10,000 troops, maybe a little bit more, which would be significant. I mean, Petraeus had hoped that you'd have -- a brigade is typically around 3,500, occasionally up to 5,000 troops. He was hoping it'd be on the lower end of that and they'd be mostly support. What I'm hearing is that'll be bigger and will include combat troops.
DREAZENThe other notable thing is that General Petraeus, for all of his many skills, the one thing where he failed, and he would admit this himself, where he failed as a wartime leader was to build a relationship with Hamid Karsai. Their relationship was toxic, to the point that last year, Petraeus, in a meeting with Karsai's national security staff, said, in Petraeus' words, his position had become untenable because if Karsai's constant criticism of the way the U.S. was conducting the war.
DREAZENAnd he said to the Afghans and to his own aides that he was prepared to resign unless that changed. He later told his staff that he was fully prepared to resign on the spot had the Afghan criticism not died down. So this long, long standing question of, how do we deal with Hamid Karsai, Petraeus, our best general, our most diplomatic general, wasn't able to do it. The question now is, Ryan Crocker, the best of diplomat the U.S. has, can he do it?
PAGEWhat do you think, Courtney?
KUBEWell, on the draw down, I've been actually told that it's going to be more of a thinning out of forces than an actual drawing out of forces. You know, less -- more of a restructuring, moving troops around the country and drawing out -- someone described it as, squeezing out the excess. Not to say that there won't be combat troops, you know, that would be leaving, but that it would be -- it will still be a smaller element that will be leaving by the end of this year, that will be announced this summer.
KUBEIt could be upwards of a couple brigades, though. As far as the transition from Petraeus -- to Petraeus in the CIA, you know, as Mark was saying, he has been a consumer of intelligence for the past several years. But I think -- I look at that as an asset to him in the CIA because he can now look at the intelligence and say, well, here are the holes in that. And here's what we need. Where he does have a problem, though, as being a consumer of intelligence is, now he's going to be analyzing the work that he's been doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the last year, year and a half by the time he leaves.
KUBESo I think, you know, that's one of the problems he's going to face. As far as the overall transition of this national security team, though, I look at this as more of a reshuffling. And I think President Obama even used that word. You know, they really are moving people around to have very similar views, in my opinion. And I think that's going to be an asset. Leon Panetta is a pretty safe choice considering the President's so close to an election in 2012.
KUBEAnd he can really have a seamless transition into DOD so that there's a steady hand on the wheel from the American public's perspective, you know, throughout the transition.
PAGEAnd, Mark, you mentioned that General Petraeus had been mentioned as a possible new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That job does come open later this year. Who is likely to get that position, do you think?
LANDLERWell, the name that I've heard, and I'm not a Pentagon correspondent, is Cartwright and maybe some of my Pentagon colleagues can either confirm or dispute that. I did want to make one related point about General Petraeus as relates to Pakistan. Yochi talked about his difficult relationship with Hamid Karsai. He's also had a difficult relationship with Pakistani government. And more broadly, the CIA, as an institution, has had a very difficult relationship with its counterpart, the ISI as well Pakistan, more broadly because of its role in these drone strikes.
LANDLERSo from the Pakistan point of view, indeed some Pakistani officials have been telling my colleagues this, they're viewing General Petraeus going to the CIA with some suspicion and, I think, a major job for him in the early going will be to try to mend fences between, not just Pakistan and the U.S. broadly, but the CIA and the ISI, more narrowly.
DREAZENYeah, I mean, I totally agree about that. One of the things that Panetta did at the CIA that surprised a lot of people, frankly, was not just keep the joint campaigns steady, but escalate it really sharply, such that it doubled from 2009 to 2010 and is more than triple where it was in 2008. And they want to expand it further. This will be the first big choice Petraeus faces in that job.
PAGEBut Petraeus has been an advocate of these drone strikes...
PAGE...from his previous position.
DREAZENHe's been a very, very strong advocate of them.
PAGEYou know, while we're talking about Afghanistan, there was this extraordinary prison escape in Afghanistan, just nearly 500 people escaped from prison. How is that possible, Courtney?
KUBEWell, I mean, there's no question it was an inside job. In fact, several people have already been arrested. The warden has been taken into custody. But what's really remarkable about this is this took months to not just dig this tunnel, but to construct it. It was a constructed tunnel. And it went for, I think, 400, 500 yards. So when you consider that, it's over several months. There were large amounts of dirt. There were trucks pulling in and no -- not just -- no guard stopped them or prison official. No police. They were right near the Afghan police station, right near there.
KUBEAnd no -- disturbingly, no local said anything. There was no local that stepped forward. And this comes at a terrible time for coalition forces down in Kandahar, that right -- this is going right into the fighting season there. And now they've got several hundred new foot soldiers and some operational commanders who are on the battlefield now.
PAGEWell, plus what does it say about the Afghans? They're supposed to be our allies in this America's longest war that no one spoke up, even people who were supposed to be law enforcement types.
DREAZENI mean, the parts that I found most striking about this, one, as Courtney said, the size of the tunnel, two, that it had fans, lighting and pre-positioned water, which is just remarkable because most Afghan construction projects that we fund don't have that. But three, there had been a prison break from the same prison just a few years ago, the same size, same place.
PAGEYochi Dreazen, he's senior national security correspondent for National Journal. And we're also joined this hour by Courtney Kube, national security producer for NBC News and Mark Landler, he's the White House correspondent for the New York Times. We're going to take a short break and when we come back, we'll talk about those developments in Israel and how that might affect the peace process. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. It's the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup with Mark Landler, Courtney Kube and Yochi Dreazen. And we're going to take your calls soon. You can give us a call 1-800-433-8850. Our phone lines now are open. Or send us an e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Well, we had an announcement this week of a deal reached between two rival Palestinian factions. Four years they had been governing different parts of the Palestinian areas. Mark, what's the agreement that they've reached?
LANDLERWell, it's an agreement between Fatah and Hamas, which are the two major Palestinian political groupings to form a unity government. And it was a deal broker by Egypt. And it's interesting on several different levels. One, it shows that the new Egypt, the post-revolution Egypt is beginning to flex its muscles as a foreign policy power and clearly wanted to bring these two factions together, something the previous efforts had failed at, as you said, for years. Secondly, it may show a belief on the part of Hamas that with the president of Syria Assad under so much pressure and such fierce unrest in his own country, that the Syrians as the protector, as the overlord for Hamas may not be something that Hamas can count on long term. So they needed to throw in their lot with their fellow Palestinians.
LANDLERAnd lastly for the Middle East peace process, which has by all accounts been really on the shelf for the past year-and-a-half, it's further bad news. The Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu came out immediately and said that the Palestinians had chosen Hamas over Israel as a partner. That it would be impossible to have a peace negotiation with the Palestinians if they were affiliated with Hamas a terrorist group. And for the United States it also raises a difficult question. The U.S. funds, the Palestinian Authority for state building in the West Bank. But the U.S. has nothing to do with Hamas and has always said they wouldn't unless Hamas foreswore terrorism.
LANDLERSo there may be a question of whether the U.S. can continue to fund the Palestinian Authority and there are many voices on Capitol Hill that are already calling for funding to be cut off.
PAGEWas this deal a surprise to U.S. officials, Yochi?
DREAZENI believe it was. I believe both the timing and the substance. One point in particular, I mean, I think Mark laid it out really, really smartly. The only thing I would add is that as part of this, Salam Fayyad who's the Palestinian Prime Minister who is beloved both in Washington and frankly in Israel as a former World Bank technocrat who is in more to build up the institutions of what will be Palestine than any other Palestinian leader before him, professionalized his security forces to cut down on corruption. The Palestinian economy is booming. Ramallah, if you've visited it, is a boomtown. As part of this deal he'll step aside so the partner that Washington trusted most, the partner the Israelis trusted most won't be part of whatever emerges from this peace agreement.
DREAZENAnd that's a deep source of concern not just in a sort of broad general sense, but people like this guy, they trust him and he won't be there anymore.
PAGESo what is the U.S. role going for, Courtney?
KUBEWell, that's one of million dollar questions here. You know, as Mark was saying I think it's really interesting, this is another result of the Arab Spring. But like many other areas in the region -- other nations in the region it's still unclear how it's going to come out in the end. Because, you know, not to be a cynic here but these two groups have, in the past, come together allegedly and then things have fallen apart at the last minute. So it still remains to be seen if they will sign. I think it's going to be in Riyadh this weekend if they do sign some sort of an agreement -- or, I'm sorry, in Cairo this weekend if they sign this agreement.
KUBEBut regardless, the U.S. is going to face a very difficult choice here. If in fact they do unite and form this unity government with a group of independents, whoever that may be, the U.S. has renounced Hamas as a terrorist organization. And they already face -- the administration faces increasing pressure from Republicans on the Hill about funding the Palestinian Authority already. This will virtually end that. There's -- I can't envision a congress that would allow the U.S. to fund a Palestinian Authority that has any elements of Hamas in the leadership there.
PAGEDo you think we will see a third intifada, Mark Landler, as a result of the Palestinians coming together?
LANDLERWell, this had been and has been a great fear of both the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis that an intifada would break out inevitably as the latest hopes for a peace process basically subsided. And that frustration inevitably, when there's inertia in the Middle East and frustration builds up in that part of the Middle East it tends to result in an intifada. I mean, one thing you can say about this agreement -- this tentative agreement is that the Palestinians -- the Palestinian Authority is very sensitive to the fact that there are political aspirations being built up among their own people who are watching Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and other places. And this is a way for the Authority, I think, to respond to what they believe are the aspirations of their own people.
LANDLERIt puts the U.S. in a difficult situation on another level, which is that the Palestinians appear at this point to have decided that there's more hope to obtain recognition of a Palestinian state from the United Nations than there is through brokering a deal with Israel. And there's a new calendar that's been set up that leads to a meeting at the U.N. general assembly in September where the PA is expected to ask the general assembly for this recognition. The United States needs to figure out, and the Israelis need to figure out even more acutely, how to head that off before it assumes a momentum that becomes unstoppable.
PAGEAnd, Yochi, what are the other policy issues that Israel needs to decide? What does Israel need to decide in response to this? Or what can Israel do?
DREAZENThere are two. One on the strategic level, one on the sort of battlefield tactical level. The strategic level is to figure out what this means by its ties to Egypt. I mean, the big concern in Israel since the Mubarak regime fell was exactly this, that you'd seen Egypt that was friendlier to Iran. There was a statement yesterday from the new – one of the new senior members of the Egyptian foreign ministry saying, the previous regime saw around us an enemy. We don't. We see it as neither an enemy nor a friend who want to build a new relationship in Israel. That's alarm bells blaring.
DREAZENSo one concern is what do you do about an Egypt that potentially will form closer ties to Iran, flex its muscle politically, build closer ties to Hamas. It's already said it will stop blockading the border with Gaza, which Israel had wanted to do to prevent weapon smuggling. So that's one question. The other question is what do you do if a third intifada breaks out? My colleague Jeff Goldberg pointed out that the first intifada was with stones, the second one involved busses blowing up in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The third one might involve rockets, which has been the case both in the Gaza Strip but also from Lebanon. If you have a rearmed Hezbollah and a rearmed Hamas in any way firing rockets into Israel, what's the response to that?
PAGEAnd what's the U.S. response to that?
DREAZENExactly, especially when the whole region is already at a low simmer, if not at full flare.
PAGECourtney, you mentioned the continuing repercussions of the Arab Spring. We see that in Syria, demonstrations there, more shooting on -- by security forces onto demonstrators today. Tell us what the latest is from Syria.
KUBEYeah, there's been new reports just this morning of Syrian forces opening fire on civilians in Deraa, which is -- has been a site of -- down in the southern part of the country a site of terrible violence against civilians who have been protesting in recent days. The protests there started about six weeks ago. They were relatively small, they were somewhat isolated and they really have continued to grow almost every single day in Syria. And they've become increasingly violent against the civilians there.
KUBEAnd I don't -- I think that it's sort of lost on us as Americans how tremendously courageous it is for these Syrian people to be out there demonstrating right now. And I'm not -- not to take anything away from the people in the other -- the nations in Egypt and Tunisia and whatnot who have been -- but for Syrian people to be out there demonstrating is really remarkable right now. The problem right now, you know, President Bashar Assad, he came out in recent days. He announced a bunch of reforms. It's just too little too late for him at this point.
PAGEAnd yet the United Nations was -- there was a proposal for the United Nations just to condemn the violence against -- of Syria against its own citizens, which couldn't get through. Why, Mark?
LANDLERWell, the Russians and the Chinese suggested that they would block it. The Lebanese who are currently members of the Security Council are unable to vote for something like that in any event because of their deeply close ties with Syria. So it didn't get off the starting blocks. And what we were talking about, by the way, was not U.N. Security Council sanctions or condemnation. It was the lowest level of public response you could extract from the Security Council. And even that, they failed to get consensus.
LANDLERAnd it shows how difficult it'll be for the West, for the U.S. or Europe to build the kind of coalition around action towards Syria that they were able to build around action toward Libya. In that case the Russians and the Chinese are certainly not taking part in the military operation, but they abstain. They stood aside. They let this process proceed. With Syria, because of Syria's ties to Russia and its very different position in the Middle East, it's going to be extremely difficult to build up that kind of coalition.
PAGEWell, let's talk about what's happening in Libya. We see stepped up NATO attacks. Yochi, what's happening?
DREAZENYeah, there's been more of an effort to sort of officially begin targeting Gadhafi in a way that NATO hadn't done before. They still insist that they're not trying to kill him, but they simultaneously say they're trying to hit his palaces, his homes, his -- so it's -- and (unintelligible)
PAGE(overlapping) So they wouldn't mind if he...
PAGE...happened to be hit. Yes.
DREAZEN...if one of those bombs happen to fall on his -- directly into his bedroom for instance. But what's so interesting and also very deeply depressing is that strategically Libya does not matter. I mean, this is what you hear when you talk to U.S. officials but on the civilian side. On the military side Libya is a side show. Syria matters, Egypt matters. Libya is largely irrelevant to our broader concerns. But at the same time we have this very faltering military effort with the goal we won't stay to take a war that has no name. We know we want Gadhafi to go but we won't say this war is meant to get Gadhafi out.
DREAZENMeantime in Syria where the enduring image of the Arab Spring may not be unfortunately jubilant people in Tahrir Square waving a Egyptian flag and chanting Mubarak's gone, it may be hundreds if not thousands of people being mowed down by Syrian tanks across Syria with no talk of military action and almost no talk of economic sanctions by anyone, including the U.S.
PAGEWhen President Obama announced the U.S. was going to participate in the sanctions of Libya, he tried to assure Americans that it was going to be a very short term thing. Has that turned out to be the case, Courtney?
KUBENo, not at all. I mean, it's -- the front line has not moved in a month right now. The war in Libya right now is being fought on three major fronts, along the coastline between Ashdabya (sp?) and Tabrega (sp?) and that has not moved in a month. There has been no progress. Misrata - in and around Misrata there are tremendous civilian casualties there every single day. And then now on the western -- in the mountains near Tunisia along the western border. The problem is Gadhafi has an ironclad hold on Tripoli right now. No one is moving him.
KUBEAnd I spoke with my colleague and my dear friend, who's very courageously been reporting from Libya and Benghazi, Nancy Youssef. I spoke with her this morning and she said that residents in Benghazi have now prepared them self both mentally, physically for a protracted stalemate in Benghazi. They don't think that this is going to move anytime soon. And they're getting ready for it. They don't have weapons, they don't have an organized opposition at this point, they don't have an organized leadership. You know, the TNC is somewhat fractured. They have -- they can't even agree on who's going to be the leader of the Transition National Council.
KUBESo I think the situation there right now is a stalemate and it's -- the problem is it's become a ground war and no one is willing to send in ground forces to fight it.
PAGEWhat about the U.S. role? You covered this from the perspective of the White House, Mark. Is -- what is the United States -- what is the Obama Administration going to be willing to do in Libya to address this stalemate, and what is it not going to be willing to do?
LANDLERWell, President Obama was very clear at the outset what he wasn't willing to do. And I don't believe he'll deviate from that. There'll be no ground troops. And indeed in these most recent airstrikes the U.S. has not been directly involved. He's been briefed on them. He holds a daily 45-minute meeting on Libya with his top advisors but he continues to stick to the idea that the Europeans are going to take the lead run by NATO, the French and the British. And I think he will try to ride that out and frankly hope that they get a little bit lucky and that one of these air strikes may be -- succeeds in cutting off Gadhafi's contact with his troops, which could change, you know, the equation significantly.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to go to the phones. We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. We'll start first in West Branch, Iowa and talk to Ricky. Hi Ricky.
RICKYHi. Good morning.
RICKYThanks for taking my call. Hey, I'm sorry -- this is pretty interesting, but I want to take the (unintelligible) Afghanistan. My question is I want your guys' opinion on if we -- why can't we -- the Americans just take our troops out of Afghanistan and bring everybody -- well, leave Karzai and the Pakistanis and the Iranians and the Chinese to solve those problems? What is our interest? Why we spend all this money? Recently you heard how the Chinese are looking after the mines there. They're the ones who are making money. We are spending money. Why can't -- why should we stop? Why should we help these people anymore? They don't like us and yet we keep spending all this money there. (unintelligible) ...
RICKY...I'll hang up and take your comment off the air.
PAGEAll right, Ricky. Thanks so much for your call. So, Yochi, what is the answer to Ricky's question?
DREAZENI can tell you what the answer of the administration is. I mean, frankly I happen to share a lot of the same questions, not necessarily about pulling all troops out but this is a war that we now have record numbers of casualties, record numbers of Afghan casualties, record numbers of attacks, record numbers of every metric you can find that's measurable is bad. We're spending more than we've ever spent there before and we're losing more than we've ever lost there before.
DREAZENThe argument in favor is that this is where the 9/11 attacks were planned, that this is an area that has been central to Al-Qaeda's mythology for decades, which they believe that their predecessors defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. That they will defeat the United States and that will be sort of another step in their -- as they see it, their successful ability to rebuff and ultimately destroy infidel western powers. That said, in this difficult budget climate it's hard for me to imagine that there won't be many people on The Hill especially to begin to wonder, can we afford this war? Separate the question out, should we be there. Separate the question out, if we're winning but just financially can we afford to spend $100 billion a year into the indefinite future on a war that we may well lose.
KUBEYeah, I think what Ricky may have been referring to was there were reports that Pakistani Prime Minister Gillani this week said to President Karzai, the U.S. has failed us. We should forget about them, get them out of your country and let's go on and move with -- work with the Chinese and forget about the Americans. The reason that the U.S. is not leaving and really couldn't leave at this point is because it would just create a tremendous vacuum. President Karzai does not have control over the country. There's no real governmental structure throughout the country.
KUBEA pentagon report came out this morning, the biannual report to congress that was pretty detrimental about the Afghan security forces and their inability to lead or to in any way even support themselves. They've no logistical structure. So the notion -- it's not even just the concern an internal threat within the country. The Pakistan -- or the Afghans cannot protect themselves against any kind of external threat. It would only be a matter of time before the safe havens that frankly are already even popping up in parts of Kumar and Nuristan right now would just expand and it would become once again a safe haven for terror.
PAGEEven back in the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama talked about Afghanistan as the right war as compared to Iraq where he wanted to pull U.S. troops out. Has -- do you think his commitment has changed at all, Mark, in the wake of all these distressing developments in Afghanistan? Or is he continuing to be very committed to the U.S. effort there?
LANDLERWell, I think on a very basic level, it hasn't. I think he does continue to be committed. I think the debate over what means to use will get more and more sharpened over time. And we might even see sort of a return to this debate that was very vigorous two years ago between the ambitious counterinsurgency strategy that General Petraeus champions and the more narrow counterterrorism strategy that Vice President Biden and others argued for.
PAGEWe're going to take another short break. When we come back we'll go back to the phones, 1-800-433-8850 and we'll read your e-mails. You can send us an e-mail at email@example.com. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio for the international hour of our Friday News Roundup, Courtney Kube, national security producer for NBC News, and Mark Landler, he's White House correspondent for The New York Times, and Yochi Dreazen, senior national security correspondent for National Journal magazine. Well, we saw tens of thousands of protestors marching yesterday in Yemen's capitol. Courtney, what are they demanding?
KUBEWell, initially they were demanding that President Saleh step down within a certain amount of time. He came out last week and said with the help of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the GCC, they brokered a deal that would have him stepping down in 30 days. He would submit his resignation in parliament in about 30 days. There would be new elections in about 60 days after that. But then within about 24 hours of him saying that, he said, oh, well, I'm only gonna step down if the majority of the country actually wants me to. So the protestors who are already kinda lukewarm on the deal anyway because it granted full immunity for him, his family and his inner circle, the protestors of course just went crazy. And so there were new violent protests yesterday. There's, you know, additional protests again today.
KUBEThe real problem here for the United States, this is a strategic disaster if Yemen falls. President Saleh, for all his faults, has been a reliable partner to the United States in fighting al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP. He's allowed U.S. strikes in the country. He's even -- there was a famous WikiLeaks cable where he even said, oh, well, I'll take the heat for this one. I'll tell them it was my drones that hit, you know, so and so. So this could be a tremendous problem for the United States if there is a some sort of disorderly transition of power that causes anything but a seamless transition in the U.S. counter-terror operations that are still going on in Yemen all the time.
PAGEWell, what are the prospects, Mark, do you think that Yemen doesn't get a new government, it just kinda descends into chaos?
LANDLERThere's a reasonable chance that that is the outcome. And that explains as Courtney said why it's such a quandary for the United States. The thing about the Arab spring is that Egypt had sort of a satisfying clarity to it. We had ties to the military. There was sort of a cycle of unrest that led to an outcome that on many grounds was as good as one could've hoped for. Almost none of the other countries are gonna go that way. They're either more complicated, they're tribal or sectarian. The alternatives to the existing regimes are in most cases less friendly to the United States than the existing ones.
LANDLERAnd the United States also has much less influence in many cases. Syria's a good case in point. Far less influence than they had in Egypt for example. And Yemen where we have this very important counter-terrorism relationship is -- it's almost impossible to conceive of an outcome that's more stable and pro American than what Saleh for all his faults offers. So that's why you see the White House in case after case, Bahrain, Yemen and now Syria, seeming to be so hesitant. And it's partly because the strategic calculus is so complicated and generally speaking most of the outcomes are worse than what we have now.
PAGEIt's hard to calculate. And also the U.S. ability to affect events seems to be so small when it comes to these tectonic shifts in the Arab World.
DREAZENAnd some of that is just a pure accident of geography. I mean, if you look at the big concern about Yemen is that it neighbors Somalia. And if Yemen -- Somalia's already a failed state. Much of Yemen frankly is already a failed state. You know, it's not clear how far Saleh's writ extends. It has a raging civil war in the north, somewhat of a civil war in the south. So the fear is that Somalia, a failed state, with a long coastline, Yemen becomes another failed state with a long coastline.
DREAZENBahrain and Saudi Arabia, the concerns there are again because of where they happen to be located, the Saudis will not let a Shiite government take power in Bahrain which is less than a mile effectively from its own border for fear that it'll threaten its own stability. So you have a domino effect that is driven, as Mark indicated, tribes and sectarian pressures, but also driven by pure geography. The countries that surround each country look to what's happening next door to them and say we don't want that.
PAGEWe look at the period after World War II when the face of the world changed and the power structure changed. It was so fundamental. When the Berlin Wall fell, a similar kind of fundamental shifts in the U.S. role, in U.S. relationships. Is this equivalent to that, Mark, do you think? Are we seeing the kind of fundamental changes in the shape of the world that we see perhaps once in a generation?
LANDLERWell, I think that on one level, absolutely. I think you're looking at one of these -- and the White House will tell you this. You're at one of these once in a generation changes and Eastern Europe is probably the obvious analogy. The difference, of course, is that the countries in Eastern Europe, and I'll leave out the Balkans for a moment, but many of those countries were far more developed politically with much more -- much greater institutional development than what we have in many of these countries, which have been starved of any development politically and institutionally. So the outcomes are not necessarily going to be as good or as favorable to the United States.
LANDLERAnd for that matter, we're talking about a region that still commands the bulk of the world's oil, which makes it economically far more important that we get it right arguably than Eastern Europe was. And so I would say that for the U.S., yes, it's every bit of important, but it's far less predictable and arguably far more dangerous.
PAGEWe have an e-mailer who's written us, Dev, from Charlotte who says, "Why the complete media blackout of coverage of Bahrain? Contrast that with Syria, Libya and Iran, leads one to conclude that the media is much more subservient to the administration than the public understands." Courtney, what do you think?
KUBEWell, Bahrain is a strategic partner. My personal opinion on this, the violence in Bahrain hasn't been as widespread or as hideous as we've seen in Yemen and in Syria. I mean, that's one of the reasons right there. Also the -- it's so difficult. People in the administration keep saying you can't compare all the different countries, and they're right. It's so difficult to say, well, Bahrain is just like the situation in Libya. It's just not. Bahrain has a much more stable government. They don't -- the monarchy is not despised by the people as widespread as we saw in other places. It's just -- it's really apples and oranges. And the fact is the protests in Bahrain have been localized and they haven't been as -- frankly as violent, you know. The media, if it bleeds, it leads unfortunately.
LANDLERI just wanted -- I would just point that one of my colleagues was involved in unrest in Bahrain where there were helicopters shooting down on the crowd and he risked his life. So I just would reject outright the assertion that we're making editorial decisions based on the political agenda of the U.S. government.
PAGEAll right. Let's go to Shirley. She's calling us from Alexandria, Va. Shirley, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
SHIRLEYHi, thanks. I just wanted to make a comment about -- I thought the discussion on the tunnel in Afghanistan showed why we have such problems there. Because the comments about essentially surprise of its sophistication and why didn't anybody, the neighbors, tell us sort of that it was going on, I think that's so unrealistic. First of all, they are sophisticated people. They know how to do building. And their view -- the Afghan view of Americans is you took out al-Qaida, that's great, now give us security. And we don't give it to them. And then we're sort of blaming them for not giving us information. And it's such a -- I mean, it's just -- it's an endless circle because they're waiting for us to give security before they really trust us. And we say, well, we can't trust you and give you security until you give us information.
PAGEAll right. Shirley, thanks for your call. You know, Yochi, I think it was a comment you made, but you were contrasting this I think with the difficulty that the West has had in building electricity, building roads and that sort of thing in Afghanistan.
DREAZENYeah, I mean, the point was not to make a value judgment that implied that Afghans weren't capable of building. Obviously they are. The point was that the project that the U.S. funds with tremendous sums of money are usually rampant with corruption and they usually take years behind schedule and they are very rarely done well. This project was -- and I was project obviously facetiously, but this was extraordinarily well planned, extraordinarily well carried out. It's worth noting though to the caller, this prison was broken into before. Hundreds of prisoners were freed before. And just in the last few months there's been a U.S. base built on the grounds of that prison. So it's not just that the Afghans were either caught sleeping or in cahoots, there were U.S. troops there as well who also didn't know this was happening.
PAGEIt's like a made for TV movie. Brad I think wants to also talk about the tunnel. He's calling us from Cincinnati. Hi, Brad.
BRADHello. Thank you for taking my call.
PAGEYes, go ahead.
BRADYeah, yes. My question was exactly that. Let's see. The tunnel could not have been done overnight and these prisoners were not, my gosh, I suddenly decide to want to leave, a huge exodus. I mean, was it a drawdown gradually? And finally, who took the initiative and found the prisoners, hey, we're missing a few, someone might want to come over here and look at this?
PAGEYou know, Brad, those are great questions. Courtney.
KUBEWell, there are some reports that prison guards actually had the cell -- the cells were open, so -- and some of the prisoners allegedly who were fleeing that night didn't even know that there was a prison break going on. They kinda walked up to them and tapped them on the shoulder and say, hey, you want to get out of here? And they all took off. But you're absolutely right. It took about five months allegedly for the Taliban to construct this tunnel and it took over four hours and convoys of vehicles to get the 400 to 500 Taliban fighter, insurgents out of the prison. So this was not a small undertaking. And the notion -- again, the notion that no one saw this convoy of vehicles leaving the prison with hundreds of people is ridiculous.
LANDLERI just was gonna add one point, which is that sort of on a very basic level our challenge in Afghanistan is persuading people that the Afghan government, their own leads, care about them more than the Taliban, for example, or other insurgent groups. And an interesting comment I read in one of our articles on the subject said that the way this was planned, the care, the diligence, the planning would make you think that the Taliban care more about their fighters than the Afghan authorities care about the security of the people around that prison. And when you think of it in those terms, that's why it's such a damaging development for the war effort.
PAGEHere's an e-mail from Dan. He's writing us from Silver Spring, Md. He says, "Since we became involved in Libya, the media's spent a lot of time discussing the rebels, who they are, what they want, et cetera. We have not, however, asked the same questions about Gadhafi supporters. Who are these people fighting for Gadhafi? Are they all on his payroll? Do they support him on ideological grounds? Are the rumors or Gadhafi importing African mercenaries true?" Yochi, what are the answers to Dan's questions?
DREAZENIt's a great series of questions. I mean, to answer them somewhat in reverse order, there's no question that there have been mercenaries. There's footage on the internet right now that -- it's actually very disturbing. It was a shot by a French camera crew, showing a crowd of people in Benghazi beheading an African mercenary that had stumbled into the city or had been captured. He's hanging by his feat and it's really graphic. But there's no question there are African mercenaries fighting.
DREAZENThere's also no question though that Gadhafi has people who still support him, who are willing to fight and die on his behalf. And he's an easy person to make fun of. He's an easy person to mock his sunglasses and his fashion choices and the bizarre things he says as if he's sort of Charlie Sheen, like that level crazy. But this is a canny person who has people willing to fight and die on his behalf and we shouldn't underestimate that.
PAGEWe have another e-mailer, Jay, who says, "How much money is Gadhafi burning through each day and how much cash does he have on hand? The international committee has imposed harsh sanctions, but it seems to me that the Libyan rebels can declare victory when his checks start to bounce." Courtney, do we know how much money he has?
KUBENo. And there are some very early preliminary reports that there may be some early signs of fracturing, that maybe he's starting to run low on money. He's paying these African mercenaries that Yochi mentioned enormous sums of money to fight for him. But we just don't know. We don't know how much money he got out of the country into other places before the sanctions were imposed on him. I think that one of the administration's hopes is that he will start to run out of money and that the people around him who are less loyal to him than they are to their pocketbooks will start falling away.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to John. He's calling us from Danielson, Conn. Hi, John.
JOHNYes. Hello, how are you folks?
JOHNThis is a great discussion on the Middle East and North Africa. And listening to your guests, it seems like there are several countries, well, lots of them, that are strategic. And you have these old tyrants, they don't seem to want to give up power, but the youth want to be free. And how do we -- what do we choose, the old tyrants or to be free -- or the youth that want to be free, get employed, have some sense of democracy? And are we backing the wrong people?
PAGEYou know, it's such a fundamental issue. Do we go with kind of our values or with your strategic interest?
LANDLERWell, and it's -- and you can see the tension in President Obama almost day by day as he responds to each upheaval in turn. There's a tension within him. He really felt a deep sympathy for the people on the street Tahrir Square. On the other hand, Mubarak had been an ally of the U.S. for three decades. And that accounted for this sort of hesitant nature of his response.
PAGEWe've covered and discussed violent news from around the world this hour. Let's talk for a moment or listen for a moment to some news from London just this morning.
PAGEOkay. Who got up and watched the royal wedding? Yochi?
LANDLERNick of time.
LANDLERI turned it on to hear him say I do.
PAGESo why the interest? You know, there was a suggestion that 2 billion people would watch this wedding. We don't know yet if that actually happened. But why would 2 billion people or such huge numbers of Americans and people from around the world watch this wedding this morning?
DREAZENPart of that I think is just the pure pageantry of, like, watching people on horseback and guys with funny hats and wondering how thin would she be, what kind of dress would she be. In the Dreazen household, the very parochial reason is I'm getting married in less than a month and my wife to be wanted to see what Kate was wearing, what kind of dress it was and what her makeup was like.
PAGE...to you on your wedding. Are you modeling your ceremony on the wedding we saw this morning?
DREAZENPicture that, but Jewish and smaller...
DREAZEN...and you'll have exactly.
PAGECourtney, why do you think it got so much interest?
KUBEWell, as the only one on this panel who probably dressed up as a princess as a young lady, you know, I think we've watched William and Harry grow up. We all mourned when they lost their mother and the tragic vision of them walking behind her casket years ago. And I think that day they became less sons of Britain and more sort of sons of the world. We all have sort of an ownership over them. We want them desperately to be these real people, to be real guys. And today when William walked -- or when Mr. Middleton walked Kate up and William said, well, you know, I was just planning for a small family affair, you know, I looked at that and thought, okay, that's what we want. He personifies the real guy that we all him to be.
KUBEAnd, you know, I mean, if I can take a point of personal privilege here, as far as the ceremony went, I thought it was great how they really melded the traditional stagy monarch values and whatnot with their more modern views. Her dress was very modern. Her sister's was. You know, she had her shoulders covered, but it was a very delicate lace. She looked gorgeous as always. You know, the -- but then they also had the more traditional British hymn "Jerusalem" which everyone joined in singing.
PAGEAll right. Well, that's a great way to end our News Roundup. I want to thank our guests for being on this hour. Courtney Kube from NBC, Mark Landler from The New York Times, Yochi Dreazen from National Journal magazine. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane. Thanks for listening.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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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