ISIS takes control of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. Several nations agree to take in Southeast Asian migrants. And the U.S. and Cuba move closer to full restoration of diplomatic ties. A panel of journalists joins guest host Indira Lakshmanan for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
The U.S. intensified airstrikes in Yemen. The extent of the war there, had largely been kept secret. The U.N.’s highest human rights official called on Syria’s government to halt assaults against its own people. The U.N. said more than 1100 people have been killed since March. Many Syrians have fled into nearby Turkey. In Iraq, U.S. troops experienced the deadliest single attack in two years. And German authorities said bean sprouts were to blame for an E. coli outbreak that killed at least 29 people. A panel of journalists discuss the top international stories of the week.
- David Sanger chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times.
- Richard McGregor Washington bureau chief, The Financial Times.
- Courtney Kube national security producer for NBC News.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Syrians flee to Turkey to escape political violence. Harsh words for NATO from Defense Secretary Gates, Western and Arab powers pledge more money to help Libyan rebels and bean sprouts are blamed for the deadly E. coli outbreak in Europe.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the week's top international stories on this week's "Friday News Roundup," David Sanger of The New York Times. Courtney Kube of NBC and Richard McGregor, we welcome for the first time of The Financial Times.
MR. RICHARD MCGREGORThank you.
REHMThroughout the hour you can join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you and as I said, welcome, Richard.
MR. DAVID SANGERGood morning Diane.
MS. COURTNEY KUBEGood morning, Diane.
REHMNow, let's talk first about Iraq because it was really a deadly week for U.S. troops there, Courtney.
KUBEThat's right. On Monday, the U.S. military suffered its worst attack there in about two years. This morning Shiite militia claimed responsibility for launching six rockets into a small U.S.-Iraqi outpost in southern Baghdad. Killed five soldiers, there was another soldier killed later this week. Six soldiers -- U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq in one week is much higher than we've seen recently.
REHMAnd 20 Iraqi killed as well in a series of explosions across the country. David Sanger, do Monday's deaths raise questions about troop withdraw plans?
SANGERWell, Pentagon has known, Diane, from the beginning that the withdraw is a very vulnerable period because the troops are not in the position of being out to find these kind of sites. They're relying on the Iraqis to go do that and the whole idea had been that the movement of troops back to these bases would pretty well insulate the U.S. against most casualties and until now, that's worked out.
SANGERBut as the -- as withdraw accelerates and basically all U.S. troops are supposed to be out by the end of the year unless there's an agreement with the Iraqis to the contrary. I'm afraid you could see more of this.
SANGERIt's also got a bigger issue that's lurking behind, which is that the same questions will pervade the slow withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, where there are a lot more American troops now. And of course, that process is supposed to begin next month, probably very slowly.
REHMAnd Richard McGregor, the incoming Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, underwent his confirmation hearings yesterday. He says that Iraq will ask the U.S. to stay beyond the end of 2011.
MCGREGORWell, this is has been a fascinating process because the U.S. has almost been asking Iraq to make a formal request. But it seems there's a lot of internal opposition in Iraqi or inability of some leader to step forward and put that request forward.
MCGREGORI think Admiral Mullen talked about this at least a month ago. Secretary Gates talked about it before so the withdraw time that David was talking about, timetable, is obviously flexible from the U.S. But so far, I don't think they've received the formal request to stay.
REHMAnd do you agree with David, that that could affect the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan as well?
MCGREGORWell, I think anything when the -- anytime when the U.S. withdraws after a major conflict, the aftermath is very important. If they leave with honor, to use a phrase, with certain -- not terrific echoes, then I think that's fine. But if they leave in, which looks like a retreat and without their aims met and without a friendly Iraq behind them.
MCGREGORAfter all the aim was to build a model, Middle Eastern democracy and quite apart from the hit on the U.S. bases this week, I think a week or two ago in Iraq the 17 bombs went off in a coordinated attack. So, you know, I think the withdrawal process is very important.
KUBEYes, I traveled to Iraq with Secretary Gates on his last trip there, about two months ago and he -- I wouldn't say that there is necessarily an appetite for a continuing presence -- for the U.S. to have a continuing presence but there's an understanding, there's an acceptance that that's the need that's going to come up.
KUBEAlso, you know, incoming presumed nominee for Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, he dropped another bomb yesterday during his confirmation. He said there are still 1,000 al-Qaida in Iraq. That's a number we haven't heard for several years of that magnitude still operating in Iraq.
REHMCourtney Kube, she's national security producer for NBC news. Richard McGregor is Washington bureau chief of "The Financial Times." David Sanger is chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times. We do invite your calls, 800-433-8850.
REHMLet's talk about the violence going on in Syria. David Sanger, security forces loyal to President al-Assad have started military operations in the northwest now.
SANGERThey have and Syria has gotten a lot more violent despite all of the warnings and cautions from many in the international community. And among the American allies, particularly the European allies, who had been behind the decision for NATO to go in and create a no-fly zone in Libya and then to act to protect the population.
SANGERThere are increasing questions about how one justifies going into Libya to protect the population and not even discussing going into Syria to protect the population. And the answer to that question, in short, is Russia and China. They will not allow this to go forward in the U.N. and so there has been no real discussion of it.
REHMAnd what about this question of Syria building a nuclear reactor?
SANGERWell, Diane, this is a story that goes back to 2007. It was a story that we broke in The New York Times that in September of 2007, you may remember there was a mysterious Israeli air strike on a remote site in Syria. The Syrians initially said it was a warehouse, that nothing had been harmed and so forth.
SANGERThe Bush Administration at the time did everything it could to cover up what the evidence was. So did the Israelis because they were afraid of a war breaking out between Syria and Israel as a result. About six weeks later, we reported that it was a nuclear reactor under construction that had not yet gone into operation and it was built with the help of North Koreans.
SANGERIn fact, we now believe that there were probably more North Koreans killed in that attack than there were Syrians, which is pretty remarkable. I remember being on this show when we had some of your other guests questioning whether this was once again the Bush Administration making something up.
SANGERWe heard the IEA proclaim a few weeks, no, they think the preponderance of the evidence is that it was a reactor but the Syrians have not cooperated in any way with the investigation and so they've turned it over to the Security Council.
MCGREGORYes, I think the Syria is fascinating at the moment, particularly the situation on the border with Turkey. Turkey has built itself a, you know, a pivotal role in the Middle East. It's got a policy and I'm trying to remember the exact words of friendly neighbors or peaceful neighbors and of course they're realizing that doesn't all work out.
MCGREGORSo, in fact, in the last week we've seen a stream of Syrian refugees pouring into Turkey. They have visa free travel so they can just go across the border and go in there. And so the, you know, the balance is shifting in Syria now. I think most people thought that President Assad -- his security forces would be able to suppress the demonstrations.
MCGREGORBut they've continued to spread, they haven't become -- be in the two bigger cities of the country, Damascus and Aleppo yet, but I think people, you know, the balancing is shifting away from the regime towards the protestors and the fact that the border is being destabilized, I think, is a particularly serious sign.
KUBEYes, another sign that I think that Assad's regime is in problem is if we start to see any elements of the military forces there beginning to fracture or beginning to push away from the regime. But you're right about the border area with Turkey.
KUBEYou know, there -- for decades, Turkey and Syria were in this territorial dispute in that region and then when President Assad took over 2000, 10 years ago or so, Turkey and Syria began to get along. They even had joint military exercises not long ago.
KUBEBut then, several weeks ago with this continuing violence against many Sunis in Syria, Prime Minister Erdogan in Turkey condemned the violence and he actually allied Turkey with the protestors. So there's now this new tension against -- within these two countries, between these two countries that had reached a certain level of diplomatic relations.
REHMThere was a photograph on the front page of the newspaper this morning, it may have been The New York Times, David, of soldiers waiting on this side of the fence as refugees from Turkey came through. Is there any resistance on the part of Turkey to take in more and more refugees? That's what worries me.
SANGERYes, the pictured showed refugees from Syria, who were going across into Turkey. And, you know, the refugee problem has been the consistent issue across all of these different cases. Of course, you saw refugees flee out of Libya, you're seeing the Syria case and the whole reason that NATO is really acting in Libya is the fear that the Europeans have of refugees from Libya coming off into Europe.
SANGERAnd so across the Arab Spring issues, this question has been lurking. And while the Turks may be okay at the beginning while they think that this is going to perhaps begin to resolve the dispute within Syria, over time you know this is going to raise a very big issue in Turkey.
REHMDavid Sanger of The New York Times. Courtney Kube of NBC news. Richard McGregor of The Financial Times. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk about Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya, the world on the international hour of the "Friday News Roundup."
REHMAnd we're back with the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup. We learned this week that the U.S. is intensifying airstrikes in Yemen. Now who knew that the U.S. was carrying out airstrikes in Yemen, Richard?
MCGREGORWell, I think very few people broadly, but I think it's been understood that the -- you know, the al-Qaida in Yemen is very important. I think the U.S. and the Saudi have been cooperating on intelligence for some time. They had a falling out, the U.S. and Saudi, briefly after Mr. Mubarak was forced to step down. But they're talking again now. And the destabilization of Yemen with the destabilization of the 33-year-old -- or 33 years of the Selah presidency, you know, is a great opportunity for al-Qaida to, you know, bunker down there. And I think the U.S. is taking this opportunity, you know, during a very sensitive interim period to kill as many as possible, to be frank.
SANGERYou asked, Diane, who knew that the U.S. was doing these airstrikes? Anyone who read WikiLeaks. Some of the most hilarious WikiLeaks cables are conversations between President Saleh, who's now trying to recover from burns across his body from a missile attack last week that caught him in his palace, and American officials where President Saleh said, it's fine to go off and do these drone strikes as long as you all say and make it appear as if we, meaning the Yemeni government, are doing the airstrikes. And the Americans were perfectly complicit in that, although the concept that Yemen would be able to conduct these strikes was pretty hilarious even at the time.
SANGERThe U.S. is in a very strange position here because a few weeks ago, the Obama Administration decided to basically withdraw its support from Saleh and say he had to leave the country. And, you know, it was commonly said at the time that they threw him under the bus, but it was Yemen and so no bus came along. And he stayed for months on end until this strike happened and he's now off in Saudi Arabia. I think probably the U.S. has no interest in seeing him return back there.
REHMDo you think there's any possibility he could return, Courtney?
KUBEOh, absolutely. I do think it's definitely possible. And when -- we've actually been told that that attack on him was an inside job. I was told yesterday by a couple of defensive -- U.S. defense officials that what it was, he went up to the podium or the lectern at the mosque -- inside the mosque on his compound and there was an explosion from inside. So apparently, the burns on his body also included -- there was also a large shard of wood that struck and may have even punctured his lung.
KUBESo his wounds are substantial. His convalescence will probably be a matter of months but that wouldn't preclude him from coming back to the country. And also, you know, on your earlier question about who knew about the military operations. Well, CIA Director Leon Panetta yesterday during his confirmation hearings acknowledge that JSOC is operating in Yemen and Somalia, which maybe for listeners for the wonky people like me here, that's the Joint Special Operations Command. For wonky people like me, that was an enormous gasp in our press core to acknowledge that they're there on the record. We knew it, we knew the military was operating there, but it was an enormous admission.
SANGERWhat he might've gone on to say but didn't is that in Sanaa the capitol there, there's actually a joint operating center for JSOC and the CIA, which is why Leon Panetta, currently the director of the CIA until he gets confirmed as Defense Secretary, knows about pretty well and has visited.
REHMBut, you know, there's as much of a question now about what happens to Yemen without Saleh, Richard.
MCGREGORWell, it's basically a tribal country. I mean, he's run it and stayed in power by buying off the tribes or winning their support, however you want to put it. It's not unlike in a very broad sense like Afghanistan. There's no sort of history or longstanding central government there which can simply hold it together. The country, of course, was broken in two during the cold war so there's further fissures in that respect. So absolutely. I mean, Yemen could take months, years to stabilize.
REHMSo it -- very much as people said after Saddam Hussein fell that somehow he managed to -- through brutality or whatever else to hold everything together, Courtney.
KUBEThere's already a vacuum down in the south. When -- and it started when the protests really started to intensify and move from the rural areas into the cities in Yemen. President Saleh moved a lot of the troops, some of them even U.S. trained who were technically fighting Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the AQAP, moved them back towards the capitol, back toward the cities. And they stopped going after -- doing the counter-terror operations.
KUBESo that in and of itself has already created this vacuum for AQAP in the south and that, I'm told -- U.S. military officials tell me that that's one of the reasons that they've intensified these strikes in that area, is that they're trying to keep AQAP on its heels. They're trying to make sure that they don't all start to surface and start to regain ground and safe havens in the area that's been abandoned by the Yemenis.
REHMAll right. Let's talk a bit about Afghanistan. Certainly outgoing Defense Secretary Gates had some pretty harsh words about NATO today in Europe. How does what he said relate to Afghanistan, Richard?
MCGREGORWell, I think it relates broadly to burden sharing. I mean, I'm new to the United States, only a few months here, but, you know, you -- one has the impression it's a war-weary nation, that it's under tremendous budgetary pressure. That played out in the debate before NATO went into Europe. It was remarkable in Mr. Gate's speech in Brussels. It actually singled out by name countries in NATO that should do more, Germany, Poland, Turkey, for example, and Spain.
MCGREGORSo the same applies in Afghanistan. The U.S. has been pushing for many, many years for NATO to carry a much larger load. And that, of course, means in NATO, in Europe, high defense spending. And that's a very difficult argument to mount in Europe right now.
REHMBut at the same time, a report from a congressional investigation on nation building efforts in Afghanistan came out. Not a pretty report, Courtney.
KUBENo. And Secretary Gates' response to the report was not pretty either. He said, well, show me a war -- I'm paraphrasing -- show me a war where there isn't a gross misuse of money and misspending. But, yeah, a report came out this week that the U.S. is essentially dumping billions of dollars into Afghanistan. It's an economy that's now 97 percent of their GDP is based on foreign aid, largely U.S. military assistance.
KUBESo they're dumping this money into these local economies. They're building up infrastructure that the Afghans won't be able to sustain after the U.S. leaves. So what they need to really focus on, the report found, is things like roads. They need to build roads and things that won't cost the Afghan government a lot of money to maintain after they leave. They also need to stop inflating the salaries of these locals that they're hiring, the contractors. There's also massive corruption, but, you know, I mean, for eight years now we've been talking about the massive corruption that exists in Afghanistan. It's a broken record at this point.
REHMAnd the report is saying we could be encouraging that corruption, David.
SANGERWell, the report does make it clear because just things like those large salaries, which are large at least by Afghan standards, means that there is huge competition within Afghan society to get at that money and spread it out to friends.
SANGERCome back for a moment to what Secretary Gates said because he was getting at two fascinating points. And, you know, Gates is always a blunt speaker, but never more blunt than when he is three weeks away from retirement, okay.
SANGERSo we've heard some really interesting things on this trip. The first thing we heard was him telling President Obama from far away, from Afghanistan, that it would be a big mistake as he goes through these last weeks of the Afghan review to pull out too quickly. The second thing he has said is, to the Europeans, that they need to go do more. But the third thing is that he believes that after all of this talk of building up NATO's capability of being able to have that kind of burden sharing, it simply hasn't worked.
SANGERHe made the point that after an 11-week air war in Libya, NATO is simply running out of bombs. That a whole of their countries together didn't have enough to sustain a war in a tiny country that right now has no air force for longer than three months. Well, that was pretty damning. And then he said -- well, I just wanna quote from him here -- "The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite impatience in the U.S. Congress and in the American body politic writ large to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners...
SANGER...in their own defense."
REHM...at the same time Defense Secretary Gates has called for a modest decrease in troops. Yesterday, Leon Panetta said he agreed with a recent statement by President Obama that the troop withdrawal should be significant. Big change between modest and significant, Richard.
MCGREGORCertainly. Secretary Gates, as David was saying, is talking on the one hand about budgetary pressures and the lack of appetite in the U.S. for such a commitment. At the same time, he's saying don't rush away. And the amount of money -- I mean, it's not only, as Courtney was talking about, you know, the money spent on salaries, corruption and the like. The whole point of the surge is to build up the Afghan security forces. But, you know, once the U.S. goes, you'll have to pay for that anyway because according to their GDP, they won't have the funds to do it themselves. So get...
SANGERIn fact the training cost is greater than their entire federal budget.
MCGREGORYeah, yes, so getting out of Afghanistan is very difficult particularly for a Democrat president has been very important to protect his back on national security.
REHMAll right. Let's turn to Libya. There was an international conference yesterday in Abu Dhabi on Libya. What came out of it, Courtney?
KUBEWell, this meeting was essentially to talk about the end game in Libya and what a post-Gadhafi Libya would look like. One of the most stunning things that I saw was Secretary Clinton used a very minor distinction when talking about the TNC, the opposition leadership when she basically recognized the mis-legitimate leadership, opposition leadership in Libya. That's a change.
KUBEYou know, for weeks now we've been -- when asking about their legitimacy she'll say things like well, they're doctors and they're lawyers and we're still trying to figure out who they are. For the first time she really gained -- they gained her real legitimacy, her trust. In addition to that, obviously, the International Community came forward, gave about a billion dollars to the opposition. The U.S. gave another 26 million, I think it was. They're funneling it through independent charities and whatnot, not giving it directly to the TNC.
KUBEBut this conference was basically -- it's a series of conferences that they've been having every several weeks about Libya. And this one was basically intended to say, okay, we think Gadhafi's on his heels. I don't know what evidence they have of that, but we think Gadhafi is on his heels and what will post Libya look like and how will the International Community deal with it?
SANGERYou know, Secretary Clinton also said something interesting yesterday, which we're trying to figure out how big it was. But she said that there -- in the beginnings of conversations with people in Gadhafi's camp about what an exit for Gadhafi would look like.
REHMBut haven't we heard that before...
REHM...from other sources?
SANGER...we have. We've heard it from anonymous, you know, administration officials. This was the secretary of state on the record. Now, maybe she was speaking beyond what's really happening or what she really knows. No one can really predict. The Russians went in to try to get Gadhafi out and came back out of this and said, he ain't leaving, so hard to call.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Course the International Criminal Court in The Hague has accused Gadhafi of ordering mass rapes. Is that going to keep him where he is or is Saudi Arabia going to provide a haven for him, Richard?
MCGREGORWell, the Saudis don't like Gadhafi. I'd be pretty shocked if they put him up in the hotel where Idi Amin used to stay for many years. I think Gadhafi and his family seem to have made a decision months ago that they're not leaving. Nobody wants them. The threat of the ICC just reinforces that, which is why you have this sort of semi-comic semi-tragic picture of Gadhafi sort of appearing at a crowd one day, phoning in on his cell phone to a TV station, you know, hiding in underground bunkers. I mean, I imagine he would've prepared many, many years ago for this kind of attack.
REHMWhat about the accusations that Gadhafi has been giving soldiers Viagra to promote rape. Is that supposed to be comical or is there some truth to it?
KUBEWell, Susan Rice first brought this up several weeks ago and then the story kinda died. It's -- the ICC doesn't seem to have direct evidence that he was doing that, that he was giving some sort of a Viagra-like tablet to the soldiers to promote rape. But, you know, now the allegation is back out there, the prosecutor is investigating it. It'd be added to the arrest warrants that are already issued for Gadhafi that are basically useless at this point, since Libya doesn't recognize the ICC.
KUBEBut the real -- what this would show, if true, is just a new and different mode of repression by Gadhafi against his people that it's been seen before. It's a new level of depravity in a regime that you almost wouldn't think could sink any lower than it already has gone
REHMAnd, Richard, I want to ask about what's the latest on the election of the new head for the IMF?
MCGREGORWell, as you'd expect, it's always been a European job and a European is firming for the position. The funny thing about Christine Lagarde, the French Finance Minister's campaign for the job is that she's a European, but she's campaigning as somebody who's not representing Europe. But I think the...
REHMHow can she do that?
MCGREGORWell, I think just by saying it to start with, and she's got the -- you know, she's saying she's not representing Europe as an individual even though she's a European. But I think the most interesting part of this competition is the fact, you know, this has been a European sinecure, if you like. But the emerging market countries made a big fuss individually, the BRICs countries, Brazil, Russia, India, China and now South Africa saying, what about the emerging market countries? But as with so much with emerging markets diplomacy, they make it fast, but then they can't get together themselves and actually choose a candidate.
MCGREGORSo, you know, Lagarde wins by default, as it were. The Mexican Finance Minister is running, but I think his support is pretty thin.
SANGERWell, you know, the U.S. has had a very hard time declaring itself on this. And in part it's because there has been an unspoken understanding since the IMF and the World Bank were created. And something that sort of originated an idea in the Roosevelt Administration and came to fruition obviously after his death, in which the U.S. runs the World Bank and the French have always had a claim on the IMF, or Europeans have, and frequently it's been French, not always.
SANGERAnd so the concern is that if they open up the IMF they may lose the World Bank for -- as a U.S. Post. And that's not something anyone in Washington are sure they want to go through with.
REHMAnd there's some rumor out there that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants to become head of the World Bank. Any truth to that?
KUBEYeah. Reuters broke a story on that late last night about 5:15, 5:30, which for news broadcasts -- for network news is, like, crazy crunch time for a story like that to break. But everyone in the White House and in the State Department that we spoke to all knocked it down completely, saying that even if offered, she would not accept the job.
REHMCourtney Kube of NBC News. When we come back, we'll open the phones.
REHMAnd we're going to open the phones for the international hour of our Friday News Roundup. First, to one of our new affiliates in Houston, Texas, Alphonso, good morning to you.
ALPHONSOGood morning, yes, I wanted to know what you think about if some people in Iraq or Afghanistan want the war to keep going so that the U.S. and Europe stays there and that would be either for, because the ultra-Islamic movement wants to keep going or maybe some of them just want to keep receiving foreign aid money.
MCGREGORWell, there's certainly some kind of incentive for that behavior on a sort of political level and on a purely venal level. I don't know whether I think you'd say it is at the heart of the political system of either country, perhaps in Afghanistan more so than Iraq.
REHMOf course, we can never forget that Osama bin Laden made the statement early on that he wanted to bankrupt this country. What better way to do it, perhaps, than to keep us involved in so many wars on so many fronts, David?
SANGERWell, you're hearing this in Congress and you're hearing this largely from Democrats and allies of President Obama and this may be his biggest problem as he comes to this decision about the pace of the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
SANGERBecause we are in a world right now where we're trying to do the politics of being the leading global power on earth on the cheap and we've discovered that this is very expensive stuff. Britain discovered that, you know, two generations ago. Many other countries have as well. The tolerance in Congress for spending this kind of money has diminished very fast. And in fact, when there was a resolution that came up about two weeks ago on the question of continuing in Afghanistan it was defeated, but it wasn't defeated by much.
REHMHere's an email from Keith in Cleveland, OH who says: "I'm stunned as I sit here and listen to you and your guests describe secret war after secret war that we are waging without any public knowledge or debate, as though it were a normal course of action. We use the excuse of the war on terror to wage secret wars in countries with or without their knowledge or permission. Whatever happened to the Constitution? As a citizen of this country, I am appalled and disgusted with our conduct." Courtney?
KUBEWell, members of Congress raised an issue similar to Keith's with respect to Libya, saying that President Obama went in there and didn't ask for Congressional approval. That was another thing that actually came up at Leon Panetta's confirmation hearing yesterday with Senator Webb.
KUBEYou know there has been a lot of hiding behind the war on terror for these kinds of operations. If you talk specifically about Yemen, as David was saying earlier, WikiLeaks, it exposed that in 2009 President Saleh said that the U.S. military could come in and conduct strikes against al-Qaida in the south in his country and he would even hide some of the attempts. And that was never known. It wasn't until yesterday that I've ever seen anyone on the record acknowledge that there are joint special operations operating in Yemen going after al-Qaida.
MCGREGORYou know, Diane, one of the big debates between the Obama administration and the media, the government and the media over many years is the degree to which the media writes about classified material and we've talked about this on the show before. But as your caller suggests, he may have laid out the strongest argument in favor of a press that can report on state secrets because the only understanding that the American public has about these wars comes from the work that is done.
MCGREGORAnd it's hard and it's dangerous and it's got -- it puts reporters in legal jeopardy as well from large established newspapers and other media organizations, the networks and also from new media. But it's largely the large established media operations that have the time and money to put the resources in to make, prove the case.
REHMAt the same time, look at the low esteem in which major media are held today. Let's go to Canton, Pennsylvania, Darrie, (sp?) you're on the air.
DARRIEHi, thank you. I'm just wanting to switch topic a little to the E. coli outbreak in Germany.
DARRIEAnd I was wondering if there's any worth looking into if they used bio-solid as a fertilizer like they do in America which is, you know, the mix of human waste and chemicals from industries? Because we're finding some links between the E. coli and salmonella outbreaks here in America with the fertilizer use. And I wondered, since this is such a big problem that they're having in Germany, if they're actually doing any work with that.
REHMThanks for calling. I'm not sure we know, Richard?
MCGREGORI don't think we've got any sense of that yet. The Germans have found the source, bean sprouts or...
REHMThey claim they have.
MCGREGORThey claim to have found the source, the bean sprouts and Brussel sprouts, in the words of some people, eaten at a particular restaurant in Northern Germany. I think in the old East Germany. And I think, you know, this is a shocking scandal because this is the sort of thing particularly the Germans would think would happen in a developing country, not in one as sort of tightly regulated as Germany. So the issue raised by the caller I'm pretty sure we should get an answer to that.
REHMI think that what they've done is to isolate a small farm. Is that not correct, Courtney?
KUBEYes, that's what the German authorities said this morning. They found one small farm. They believe that the sprouts have either all been, unfortunately, eaten or destroyed at this point. So they're no longer recommending that people not eat tomatoes and cucumbers and some of the other vegetables that were forbidden for several weeks.
KUBEThe bigger problem that manifested from this E. coli outbreak is it caused a tremendous economic problem in Europe at a time right now when Europe is already facing budget crises. And Spain was initially accused of having had the vegetables, grown the vegetables that were tainted. So it caused a huge problem for Spanish farmers and now the EU is going to have to compensate them for the losses.
REHMBut, you know, it's interesting because as I understand it, Germany said there was not definitive proof, but circumstantial evidence pointed to those sprouts. How do we know?
SANGERIt's very strong circumstantial evidence because the only people affected were people who ate these bean sprouts. So I think that's, you know, stronger than the kind of circumstantial evidence you'd see in the way we usually describe it.
REHMOkay, let's go to Murray Island, Wash., good morning, Lynne.
LYNNEGood morning, Diane, I'm wondering if anyone else has noticed that the United States seems to be conducting wars now with drone strikes, without any Congressional approval, without any knowledge of anyone? It took my breath away this morning when I heard you all talking about a drone strike in Yemen.
SANGERWell, there have been drone strikes in Yemen for many years now and they are there largely on an operation that is run by the CIA. And that means that the president has to issue a finding and those findings started with the Bush administration. And it moved forwarded and has been accelerated in the Obama administration.
SANGERIn fact, I think you could argue that there has been great continuity here between the Bush and Obama administrations and, if anything, President Obama has turned out to be the biggest single enthusiast of the drone program. And the reason for it is very clear. He recognized that the American tolerance for ground presence in places like first Iraq, a war he campaigned against and Afghanistan, a war he said the U.S. had to fight, that that tolerance is very limited. And so if he is going to actually go after these terror groups, the drone strikes become -- if the intelligence is good enough on where you're aiming them, really the only significant weapon he has left. And that's a debate worth having.
MCGREGORI think they've also -- Obama has also accelerated the drone strikes in Pakistan as well, I think, significantly.
SANGERThere were actually -- the numbers in that the last year of the Bush administration, I think there were about 53 drone strikes in Pakistan. By the first year of the Obama administration, that was more than doubled and my guess is that in 2011, the U.S. is well on its way to exceeding those record numbers.
REHMAll right, to Indianapolis, good morning Alexander.
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
ALEXANDEROkay, here we go. Yes, my question was this. I wanted to know how long the president was planning on supporting troops in Afghanistan after, I mean, you know, because of the way he campaigned, he suggested that he would try and have things taken care of fairly quickly. But if the reports are true about him actually killing Osama bin Laden, there's no valid reason for us to be there by his logic, not, you know, how I feel. But if you kill the intended target, what reason do we have to spend?
ALEXANDERAnd how much -- and that's my other question, how much are we spending currently on a daily basis? Or you can even do monthly, if you don't know daily. How much are we spending? And if there's no intended target anymore, what's the justification? Because I'm from Indianapolis, I've got Richard Lugar as our senator here and he said very quickly after the president had planned to spend this money in Libya that there wasn't any. There wasn't a reason and there wasn't a way to suggest that the monies there being spent were accounted for, that we had that money saved to spend.
KUBEWell, Alexander, I hate to tell you this, but the NATO training mission in Afghanistan is going to go until at least 2017 and potentially beyond. And General Caldwell, who is in charge of the training mission in Afghanistan, was in town this week, in D.C., and he said that that's still the plan. So that won't obviously be all U.S. forces, but there will be U.S. forces in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future.
KUBEOne of the debates right now between the White House, between the politicians and the military, is just how significant this drawdown that's going to begin next month. General Petraeus is on his to D.C. He's going to deliver his recommendation next week to the White House. He already sat down with Secretary Gates this week and gave him sort of a read out, but didn't give him the exact recommendation.
KUBEWhat's interesting about that is right after that meeting with Petraeus and Gates, Secretary Gates came out and did a press event and he talked about modest drawdowns.
KUBENow, but one other thing, you know. It's this total D.C. speak where significant, modest, oh, they're clearly different. Nobody has put out a timeline here and I've been told this isn't going to be so linear. What it may be is that they'll talk about a modest drawdown, which will include some support forces, some elements that are like construction brigades from all around the country, as opposed to combat.
KUBEBut what will be interesting to hear is if General Petraeus and then President Obama, if they talk about a specific timeline for this drawdown of troops and then how many.
SANGERDiane, we ran in the Times in Monday's edition, a story that tried to describe the processes that are under way. I think there are two interesting elements that build on what Courtney said. The first is that there are sort of two sets of criteria that the administration is going to be looking at. One is progress on the ground, the second gets to what the caller asked, which are the strategic implications of things like the killing of bin Laden and the budget implications. And these two are going to weigh against each other.
SANGERThe conditions on the ground will argue for a longer presence and that's where Gates and Petraeus are. And the strategic options are going to argue for a faster withdrawal. The thing to look for is not the first month withdrawal number, although that will get all the headlines, I'm sure. It's where the president puts the bookend of when all 30,000 of the West Point troops have to be out and whether that goes well into next year.
REHMDavid Sanger of The New York Times. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Richard?
MCGREGORWell, Alexander has a good point, I think, because obviously the whole purpose initially going into Afghanistan was to go after al-Qaida and bin Laden. Bin Laden is dead. But the funny thing is that most of the terrorists might have left Afghanistan, but many of them are just across the border in Pakistan. So you need to be in Afghanistan to have a base to get into Pakistan.
REHMWhat about costs?
KUBEThe U.S. is spending about $2 billion a week in Afghanistan right now, which is pretty staggering especially as we just spoke about this development reconstruction fund, which I think is $3.2 billion for a year. But also back to Alexander's point on bin Laden. You know, Secretary Gates, he did a bunch of foreign operating base visits this week in Afghanistan and almost every single one had a soldier or marine asking him what's been the impact of bin Laden's death on operations in Afghanistan. And each one, he said, we're not really going to know for a couple more months.
KUBESo he -- I mean there is obviously a lot of interest among the troops if this is going to mean a faster drawdown. But Secretary Gates really hedged that idea.
REHMI have Kathleen in Boulder, Colo. Good morning, you're on the air.
KATHLEENYeah, in the most recent New Yorker, Seymour Hersh wrote an article called, "Iran and the Bomb," where he reports, quote, "that the two most recent national intelligence estimates on Iranian nuclear progress have stated that there's no conclusive evidence that Iran has made any effort to build the bomb since 2003." So I want to ask your guests why we hear members of APAC and some of our Congress people and guests on national news programs continue to repeat unsubstantiated claims about Iran?
KATHLEENAnd I'd also like to mention a website called Mondoweiss that does a lot of great reporting about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, illegal settlements et cetera.
REHMAll right, thanks for calling. David?
SANGERAh very good question, Mr. Hersh has written a really interesting article in The New Yorker. And I think the phrase that you want to dwell on for a moment is the one, "conclusive evidence." There has never been conclusive evidence that Iran is, in fact, building a weapon. But there has been much circumstantial evidence and -- including a fair bit of circumstantial that you'll find in the latest International Atomic Agency report which came out two or three weeks ago on Iran that suggests that work on weaponization, in other words, work that would have no explanation other than working on a weapon, continued past 2003.
SANGERAnd the head of the IEA, Secretary Nubuo, talked about this in Vienna this week at the IEA's meeting. And that all gets to questions that the Iranians have not been willing to answer for the past three or four years about why they were conducting these experiments on explosive charges and triggering devices and so forth. Is it conclusive? No. Is it enough to make you raise a number of questions about whether they are at least creating the option to build a weapon? Yeah, there are a lot of questions there.
REHMAnd doesn't anything that Sey Hersh writes get people's backs up? No question about it, and he does first-rate reporting. So that's in The New Yorker this week. I want to thank you all for being here, David Sanger of The New York Times, Courtney Kube of NBC News and Richard McGregor. He is the newly established Washington bureau chief for The Financial Times. Thank you all, thanks for listening, I'm Diane Rehm.
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