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Guest Host: Susan Page
A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories: Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg announced the formation of a panel to investigate the police response to the Oslo massacre, as the nation tries to recover from one of the worst massacres in post-war Europe; Britain expelled the remaining staff of the Libyan embassy as it officially recognized the Libyan opposition, while the U.S. weighed Libyan rebels’ request to open an embassy in Washington; and the mayor of Kandahar was killed in a suicide blast in Afghanistan, striking another blow to U.S. security efforts there.
- Nancy Youssef Pentagon correspondent, McClatchy newspapers.
- Joby Warrick national security reporter, The Washington Post; winner of the Pulitzer Prize; he is the author of a new book, "The Triple Agent: The Al-Qaeda Mole Who Infiltrated the CIA."
- Jill Dougherty foreign affairs correspondent, CNN.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us, I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. The shooting spree in Norway puts Europe's far right parties on the defensive. Colonel Moammar Gadhafi refuses to budge as Libyan rebels backtrack on an offer to let him stay. And another high profile assassination in Afghanistan. Joining me for a look at the week's top international stories on our Friday News Roundup, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers, Jill Dougherty of CNN. And joining on the News Roundup for the first time, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post. Joby, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. JOBY WARRICKThanks, great to be here.
PAGEWe invite all our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll free number, 1-800-433-8850, send us an email at email@example.com or find us on Facebook or on Twitter. Well, let's -- we talked in the first hour, on the domestic hour of the News Roundup, a lot about these debt negotiations going on Capitol Hill. Nancy, has this affected -- the fact that we haven't been able to resolve the lifting of the debt ceiling, has this affected America's standing in the world?
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFI think so. I mean, we heard this week from the IMF, concerns about these prolonged negotiations. And essentially, the IMF advocated the raising of the debt ceiling out of concerns about the spillover effect on the international markets. And at the same, the world community is having a hard time defining what kind of impact and how much of an impact it will have if the debt ceiling issue's not resolved. And so we saw sort of short term impact and long term impact.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFIn the short term, there was concern about not reaching an agreement. But in the long term, there was a bigger concern about what this means for the world economy, that the United States is struggling so hard and that the legislators debating for so long, such an eminent and an important issue.
PAGEJill, we saw Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, out there trying to do some damage control. What did she say?
MS. JILL DOUGHERTYWell, she said, basically, "this is how an open democratic society ultimately comes together to reach the right solution." That's a quote that I wrote down and I think I'm going to memorize it. But I'm not too sure that that is convincing anyone. I mean, I was talking to a senior diplomat who said we look really bad abroad. And just look at Xinhua, you know, this -- the Chinese News Agency which is definitely a mouth piece for the communist party and the rulers.
MS. JILL DOUGHERTYAnd although they, individually, aren't saying anything, Xinhua, today, said that the world economy has been kidnapped by this brinkmanship that they're talking about. Of course, they're very worried because of the massive holdings that they have in U.S. debt. But I think across the board, you're getting something -- I would go back to what Michael Bloomberg, the New York Major said, our friends are watching this spectacle with amazement. Our foes are watching with glee.
MS. JILL DOUGHERTYAnd I really think that's true. That the people who, you know, Western Europeans who are saying wow, you know, what is going on, and others who have a more malevolent purpose are saying, good, let's bring them down.
WARRICKYeah, I think there's an incredulity out there that this is going to happen. I think people have been waiting for some adults to show up and put on the brakes and make a deal and everything will be happy again. So they've just been waiting with anxiousness to see how this is going to unfold. And as the time gets closer and today we see deals falling apart again, I think there's beginning to be some real anxiety. We're seeing it in the markets around the world and that could get very, very much worse in the next few weeks.
YOUSSEFAnd yet, I think the worst part for the world economy is that there isn't a real alternative to the greenback, given the problems that the euro's going through right now. I think what Joby said is absolutely right. And yet there is this angst. We, the world community, don't have an alternative if the Congress and the president can't reach some sort of agreement.
DOUGHERTYSusan, you know, there's another aspect to this and you have to, I think, take a less American approach to it. But around the world, there are different models and one of the models that some developing countries look at is China. And when they look at the United States, they say, what is this chaos? And, I think, ultimately, you know, it could hurt the image of the United States in the sense that it undermines the belief that America has a functioning democratic political process. And that can really hurt.
PAGEThat would be a -- that would be terribly alarming. Alarming news also from the Associated Press, this morning, just recently reported more bombings in South -- in Southern Afghanistan. This time, two roadside bombs killed 19 civilians and two NATO service members. The situation in Afghanistan just seems to get worse and worse, Joby.
WARRICKIt does and it seems to just with all these recent attacks around the mayor -- around Karzai, excuse me, with the mayor and his half brother and others, it's like all the president's men are dropping one at a time. And it creates this additional level of uncertainty. You already have these attacks, which are making people afraid. The U.S. is looking to get out. And it's almost -- it feels less and less safe to be part of this government. And I think this -- the overall anxiety level in the country is greatly increasing.
PAGENancy, I know you've spent a lot of time in Afghanistan. What do you think the situation is there now? Is it just that there is these isolated incidents of violence or is there something more serious going on there?
YOUSSEFWell, the U.S. argument has been that the Taliban is on the run in Southern Afghanistan where the bulk of the surge troops went. And that may be true, but it's not clear that they're actually weaker. Because in these very areas, they're not only executing these high profiles bombings, but they are assassinating key members of the Karzai government. And I think that there's an argument to be made that, in a sense, the Taliban is mirroring the U.S. strategy with -- the U.S. has been going after mid level and high level al-Qaida and Taliban members with drone attacks.
YOUSSEFAnd I would argue that on the ground, the Taliban's doing the same thing, going after high profile and important members of the Karzai government. And the message being, not only that the Karzai -- members of the Karzai government aren't safe, but that, to the Afghan's, that this government can't protect themselves. They certainly can't protect you. All while it's very clear to the Afghans that the United States is going to leave. So it's created a real sense of instability and uncertainty among Afghans, amongst the more educated.
YOUSSEFWe're hearing -- from my friends, I hear that there is efforts to get visas and get out of the country. People are arming themselves. At the very time that the United States is saying, it's okay to draw down, that things are better, that the path has been set for an Afghan to lead itself, you have Afghans saying they feel the exact opposite.
PAGEInteresting you make that parallel with drone attacks, our drone attacks on their leadership. Jill, one of the highest profile assassinations this week, really, the mayor of Kandahar, a man who you interviewed last year.
PAGETell us about him.
DOUGHERTYWell, I was very impressed with him. He was a man who had -- who is definitely a -- was definitely aligned with President Karzai. He had left as a refugee, went to the United States, lived right here in the suburban Washington, in Virginia and spent about 20 years. And then, Karzai asked him to go back and run and become -- actually, I think he was appointed. And as the mayor of Kandahar, which is the birth place of the Taliban, and he lived -- when we walked in there, it was a fortress. And he knew that two deputy mayors had been killed before him.
DOUGHERTYIt was a very difficult situation. And one of the things that he was really trying to do, which is a point that Nancy's making, he was trying to improve the governance of that city. And so that put him in conflict with the Taliban who really did, for a while, provide some basic services, let's put it that way, when in the absence of a government.
PAGEAnd he had all the security. But this security, in this circumstance, failed because the explosives were hidden in the turban of the suicide...
PAGE...bomber. Not a place, I guess, that -- or is ordinarily searched.
DOUGHERTYWell, you know, when we were there, in fact, a row of men, from the local town were -- was coming in and talking to him, all, of course, wearing turbans because everybody in that -- in the area does. And I don't think they ever searched that. They were people that they knew as well, a lot of times.
PAGEJoby, the Washington Post, your paper had a front page story this week, on Tuesday, saying that top officials at the CIA and other agencies think al-Qaida, the Pakistan based al-Qaida, is near collapse in the wake in the killing of Osama bin Laden. And all these drone strikes that Nancy mentioned, tell us what's happening. Is this very good news for Americans?
WARRICKWell sure sounds good. And we heard some of that this week from Leon Panetta who was basically saying that this is a group on the ropes. That we can, you know, with enough pressure, if we continue what we're doing, let's not slack off, but this could be a tipping point for al-Qaida. At the same time, other members of the administration have been sort of backing away from that and saying, not too fast -- not so fast. Michael Leiter was just testifying this week and which he was saying, look, all it really takes is a couple of dramatic, impressive terrorist strikes.
WARRICKAnd suddenly, they're back in the game. It sometimes is a battle of perceptions. We're also seeing this week, they're continuing to get money from around the world. These rich Arab donors are very happy to send thousands and sometimes millions of dollars to these people to keep them going. And they have affiliates around the world. They're encouraging lone wolf operations. It doesn't take a lot to do something that's spectacular and creates a lot of fear and attention, which is what they want.
YOUSSEFI think it's -- we can't talk about a weaker al-Qaida without talking about the Arab Spring. And this week, we heard from Ayman al-Zawakiri, for the first time, as the new head of al-Qaida. And he talked about the Syrian uprising and tried to align al-Qaida with those who are uprising against the Assad government. And it seemed to be a struggle to really make a connection because, in a way, one could argue the Arab Spring is, in part, a result of a failure of al-Qaida to really reach the masses and bring about the change that the people have been seeking for years.
PAGEFront page story in the Wall Street Journal this morning about a treasury department report linking Iran as being in alliance with al-Qaida. Is this new, Jill?
DOUGHERTYWell, people have believed in the U.S. government that it was happening for a long time. But what they're saying is that now Iran, in order to hurt, damage the United States and also to extend its influence in the region, is providing money, arms and fighters, going into Afghanistan and to Pakistan and most recently, that treasury designating six members of the al-Qaida network in Iran for providing money. So this is something now -- they're getting the facts to back it up.
WARRICKYeah, interesting about this. And I was at some of the briefings on this. The money is not -- it's not -- these aren't just affiliates or some low level operatives. This is money that's been collected from wealthy donors, mostly in Kuwait and Qatar. And it's being delivered to the most senior al-Qaida operatives in Pakistan, including this guy Atiya who's sort of a spiritual advisor to al-Qaida. He's been a close associate with bin Laden for many years. So it's a lot of money and it's potentially really helping them.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we're going to go to the phones just shortly. You can reach us on our toll free number, 1-800-433-8850, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio, Jill Dougherty, foreign affairs correspondent for CNN. Joby Warrick, he's national security reporter for the Washington Post. He's also the author of a new book "The Triple Agent: The Al-Qaeda Mole Who Infiltrated the CIA." And Nancy Youssef, she's Pentagon correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers.
PAGEWell, the first of those victims of the shooting spree in Norway has been just put to rest in Oslo, an 18-year-old Muslim girl who was buried and they had a memorial service for her. You know, we heard the shooter say that he had collaborators. Do we know now, Nancy, whether, in fact, others were involved in this terrible killing spree?
YOUSSEFWell, we haven't heard anything yet. We heard from his lawyer today who described him as very cold and, in fact, used the word insane at one point to describe Anders Breivik. And so what we've heard are little details about how he didn't expect to be able to be as successful as he was. He thought the police would be able to stop him. We've heard a debate going on in Oslo and throughout Norway about arming police officers, as most of them are not armed. And we've also heard debates about the place of rightwing extremist groups, about immigration.
YOUSSEFIt's interesting. It seems that Norway is really trying to debate how much of this horrific incident should spur a discussion about these issues and how much of it should be treated as an isolated innocent of a very mad man. And so you're seeing that push-pull going on in Norway right now. And it's quite interesting to see how they're trying to come up with what lessons to take out of this horrific tragedy.
PAGEBut looking more broadly in Europe, there has been a rise of these far right parties with when the shooter chose to align himself. Although we should add that these parties have pushed back against the idea that they endorse violence. But has it put them on the defensive, Joby?
WARRICKWell, the Norwegians say they don't have a rightwing problem and they also would say they don't have a serious immigrant problem. Norway's been fairly open to immigration and it's tried to help these groups assimilate. They haven't been all that successful about it.
WARRICKBut I think what's interesting is this lone wolf phenomenon and we've seen it so many times, all kinds of groups doing it. But here's someone who did this under the radar, was able to amass a lot of explosives and do something horrific with no one really detecting what he was going to do. So it doesn't take masses of people hating, you know, immigrant groups or anything. It takes one who's dedicated to do a lot of damage.
PAGEHow much concern, Jill, is there in the -- at the State Department here in the United States about the politics of Europe and the appeal that some of these far right groups have had in other places on the continent?
DOUGHERTYYou know, I would say there's a level of concern because you do have not only the immediate situation -- his immediate situation, but one thing -- and you could almost tie this to Arab Spring -- one thing that's happening right now, of course, is massive flows of immigrants and people all over the world. And Arab Spring has actually launched a number of people, you know, a wave of people who are trying to get out of some of those countries and coming into Europe.
DOUGHERTYAnd this is a huge phenomenon for -- it's going to be with us for years and years. How do you assimilate these people, many of whom are refugees, but come with very different cultures? And that coincides with some of the -- let's say the -- dare we say, ultra right, sometimes neo-Nazi people, who are ready to greet them and deal with them.
YOUSSEFYou know, Jill, it's interesting you mention that because I was in Libya for several months and one of the undercurrents of European intervention in Libya was this concern about immigrants or refugees from the Libyan crisis flowing. And as the situation there has gotten worse in Benghazi, the rebel capital, they have less electricity, less water, less resources. We're starting to see that problem arise from people uncertain about the outcome there.
YOUSSEFAnd nobody ever said it directly, but there was an understanding in Europe that one of the reasons that NATO had to get involved was to contain that problem and for that refugee problem to not spill into -- the concern was primarily in Italy.
PAGEAll our thoughts are certainly with the Norwegians as they begin to bury their dead. Nancy, you mention the situation in Libya. We had at the top, one of the top rebel generals killed there this week. Who was he?
YOUSSEFHis name is Abdul Fattah Younes and he was the interior minister to Gadhafi. And, in fact, not only that, he was a really close confidant of Gadhafi's and so his defection in the early days of the February uprising really caught people by surprise and it gave hope to people that this uprising would end quickly.
YOUSSEFYou know, the rebels don't have much in the way of military experience and he quickly became their commander. But he never really gained the trust of the rebel fighters because people had always suspected his intentions. Here is a man who's literally the right-hand man of Gadhafi siding with them.
YOUSSEFAnd yesterday, we heard early in the day in Libya that he had been called back to Benghazi from Brega, which is the new front line on the east, on a military matter in suspicions that he was conducting secret talks with the Gadhafi government. And by the end of the day, Mustapha Abdul Jalil, who is the head of the rebel council, announces that he had been killed by Gadhafi forces. But there's no body and there's no real details about what happened. So it's raised a lot of suspicions and it's put an already fragile rebel effort almost into disarray because they have been struggling already. And there isn't a real big -- the bench isn't very deep when it comes to people who could replace them.
PAGEDo some people suspect it's a ruse that he's not really dead?
YOUSSEFThere's that. There are people who suspect that he was maybe killed by rebels that -- whose trust he never regained. It was very funny. He would -- I'd seen him. He would come through the front lines in his caravan of S.U.V.s and wave his hand and these rebels would shoot the very few bullets they had into the air to celebrate and then go back to stumbling along in their fighting.
YOUSSEFSo he -- but you could feel it. He never really -- he never really gained their trust. And it should be pointed out, tactically, I don't know how successful he was for all these fronts going on in the western mountains and in the east. They haven't led to a real threat to Gadhafi's hold on Tripoli.
PAGEThis has certainly turned into a longer slog, I think, than a lot of Americans expected when President Obama first announced that we were going to help the rebels. Now, this week, we had some diplomats from the West trying to negotiate a deal with Gadhafi that he could stay in Libya if he stepped down. Where does that stand, Joby?
WARRICKWell, that seems to be the new theme. And if you think about it, it reflects, you know, this realization that things aren't going to resolve there any time quickly, that it's going to be very hard to push Gadhafi out. And so we have to make a pretty big concession, one in which might be to let Gadhafi stay in some means, that the rebels have talked about let him stay under some kind of house arrest or close supervision. Now, they're starting to back off on that a little bit.
WARRICKAnd into the middle of this kind of chaos and murk, we didn't see this assassination. There were a bunch of Libyan's senior officials in town this week trying to talk up civil society and how they're going to do this program and that program. And then you see the place falling apart, at least in terms of their senior military commander being killed in unknown circumstances. You know, how does the West give millions and millions of dollars to support this group if there's such chaos?
PAGEJill, there was a story out of Libya this week that really got me steamed that we saw Libyan State television show a video of a rally. And at the rally was the man who was convicted in the 1988 bombing of PanAm flight 103 which killed 270 people, a lot of them Americans. He was released from a Scottish prison in 2009 because he was on the verge of death. There he was.
DOUGHERTYAnd he's not dead yet. He keeps dying. So there he is, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, you know, chanting in support of Gadhafi. So it raises all sorts of questions and you can be sure the people are very, very angry about this. But I think, you know, overall where are we going?
DOUGHERTYWell, with Gadhafi, I think there is slowly but surely a movement in the United States at least, if you judge by Anne-Marie Slaughter's comments to the Financial Times. She's the former director of policy planning at the State Department and she's saying it's time to rethink, time to compromise, that maybe this demand that not only he step down, but he physically leave the country is something that is not enough. That this conflict is turning into a civil war with its own wave of destruction for people. The country is being mined. People are dying, civilians are dying
DOUGHERTYAnd maybe it's time to get back to the basic principle, which was to protect civilians and deal with Gadhafi, marginalize him. Maybe not demand that he leave the country physically as the U.S. so far seems to be doing.
YOUSSEFAnd that's a really important point that NATO and the United States got involved to mitigate civilian casualties. And the question is now becoming, did in fact the involvement create more civilian casualties because it raised people's hopes that this -- that the world community was behind the rebels, that this would end quickly. And here it's approaching its sixth month.
YOUSSEFAnd as you point out, the violence is only getting worse. The quality of life is getting worse. And frankly I think for NATO it's a big problem because this was supposed to be a NATO-led effort and they're running out of ammunition, they're running out of weapons. They're running out of patience to get involved in this and we've got an approaching, I believe, September 24 deadline for the NATO involvement. That's when the UN mandate expires. So what happens after that?
YOUSSEFYou get the sense of a real struggle about how you come up with an acceptable outcome under these really poor circumstances. I can tell you at the pentagon there's a quiet relief that their involvement was pushed back in the early weeks and that they're not as involved. Because, in a sense, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had predicted that this would be the predicament that the World Community would find itself in.
PAGEAnd (unintelligible) while we're not taking the lead there we are, of course, a big part of NATO. It's hard to say we're not involved.
YOUSSEFWell, and that's the irony, isn't it? We try to say that this was a NATO-led fight and put this in NATO's hands. But it was -- we've sort of handed them something bigger than they could handle. And while we're involved, the Pentagon is quick to point out we're using nonlethal force there. So we're trying to marginalize our involvement there. But then begs the question, what is the goal? Is it that Gadhafi leave? Are these NATO strikes attempting to assassinate Gadhafi? And if so, what does -- what is an acceptable post outcome?
YOUSSEFGeneral Abdel Fattah Younes' death only complicates that and the uncertainty of the circumstances. Makes you wonder who exactly are we, as the world community, supporting?
PAGELet's go to the phones and let our listeners have -- make some -- ask some questions, make some comments. Our toll free number, 1-800-433-8850. First, we'll go to Houston, Texas and talk to Edison. Edison, thank you for calling us.
EDISONHello, how are you?
EDISONI'm in the military. I was active duty, now I'm National Guard. And I'm also probably one of your younger listeners. And the people that I know, civilian and military, tend to lean nowadays to taking a more isolationistic -- I suppose I would say. And I'm wondering if your panelists, if they get that a lot from Americans 'cause we listen to these things that happen in Libya, Afghanistan and, you know, some of my friends, you know, get deployed and such, and you don't know what we're fighting for or how exactly Libya's civil war affects us as Americans. And you just feel like we're in everybody else's business for no reason.
PAGEYeah, Edison, such an interesting point. Thanks very much for your call. Thanks also for your service. I know that all of you have been in situations where you've talked to U.S. military deployed abroad. What do you hear from them? Do you feel -- hear from them the same concerns that we just heard from Edison?
DOUGHERTYI think, yes, in fact, and not only military people, but average civilians. You know, what is going on? There is definitely a mood in the country. Things are bad on a number of fronts. And there's a pulling in and, you know, a desire not to get involved in the rest of the world. But I think it's very important to remember how everything ultimately is connected. That it may seem some countries are more important than others and maybe Libya, you know, is not as important. But Syria is very important, big country. And I think that's something that we have to bear in mind.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Well, Nancy, do you think that the troops we have deployed abroad have a clear sense of what their mission is, why they're there?
YOUSSEFWell, I mean, it's interesting. We've heard actually quite a bit from generals on Capitol Hill about this very issue because they'll argue in this climate of budget talks that you can't cut the budget and still have a military that can do all things all the time. I was talking to someone about this earlier this week and he said, what we've learned in all this is that we're not an imperial nation, but an offshore nation. That is, we don't want to be taking over land and doing all of this, but we want to be able to intervene when we think it's the moral or necessary thing to do.
YOUSSEFAnd yet the budget, as it stands now, reflects a military that is expected to do everything everywhere. And at some point that has to be reconciled, doesn't it, that if we're going to spend more on our military than the entire world combined than there's an expectation that comes with that. And so if we want to scale back I think the military has to explain how they can sustain their budget and not have the burden of being the world's policeman.
WARRICKI think another place where you're seeing fatigue is on the Hill because there's, you know, a real push to cut some of these budgets, particularly foreign aid. In just this past week two house committees are beginning to whittle away at the amount of money that we give to support some of these new democracies, Egypt, for example. And the State Department officials are -- you know, see this as being very dangerous because, you know, as dangerous as things are now, as uncertain as they are now, if Egypt collapses economically, if there's, you know, a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood things could get much worse for our interest.
WARRICKAnd so there's a need to sustain at least on a diplomatic level, and sort of an economic level. We have to continue to engage these countries and things will be much worse if we don't.
PAGETo what degree do you think Pentagon spent cuts will be part of trying to control the debt, trying to control the deficit, the talks we see going on now on Capitol Hill, Jill?
DOUGHERTYThat might be a better question for Nancy. I really -- I think obviously there's a lot of money that the Pentagon has, I mean, when you compare it to the State Department. State Department -- you know, an official described it. He said, the budget for the State Department is like pocket lint compared to the Pentagon. But, Nancy, maybe you'd be a better person.
YOUSSEFWell, it's interesting. There's a very lively debate going on on the Hill about this. Buck McKeon who's the House Armed Services Chairman argues you can't cut anything from the Defense Department and, in fact, it has to keep growing. And, of course, on the left we're hearing talks about very serious cuts.
YOUSSEFBut again, there hasn't been a discussion of the kind of military and the strategy that would be behind that budget, that is what is it that the United States would expect from its military at that budget. And I think you can't have one conversation without the other. And so the consequences are trims and cuts but not any real substantive change in the expectations of the military. And that's why you're hearing Pentagon officials worry so much because they feel like when you make these cuts and keep the demand up on us, when we're needed we're not going to have the resources we need.
PAGEWe've got an email from Kevin who writes us from Matthews, N.C. who says, "Based on the economic situation in Europe and the U.S. in a similar situation are we beginning to see the demise of democracy/capitalism?" Have we gone that far, do you think, Joby?
WARRICKWell, let's hope not, but it certainly is the case that our model is being challenged and is by comparison looking perhaps not that great because of just the level of noise and tumult that surrounds this budget debate. It's captivating people all around the world. It's making front page news in Europe and elsewhere. People have to seriously -- you know, from outside, seriously question if we know what we're doing over here.
PAGEJill, you mention everything is connected. We also heard the new head of the IMF warn yesterday that the budget problems here, the debt ceiling problems could have disastrous consequences for economies all across the globe.
DOUGHERTYAbsolutely, everybody is warning about that. And there is no question. I mean, this is the currency of the world. And if they -- if this doesn't get resolved it's going to have serious complications for the world.
PAGEJill Dougherty. She's foreign affairs correspondent for CNN. We're also joined this hour by Joby Warrick, national security reporter for the Washington Post and Nancy Youssef, Pentagon correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. We're going to go back to the phones when we come back online. We're going to read your emails. Drshow@wamu.org is our address. And we're going to talk about the situation in Iraq. Stay with us.
PAGEIn Iraq, there's been another bomb blast targeting police this time in Tikrit. Do we see a pattern emerging, Jill? What's happening in Iraq?
DOUGHERTYWell, Iraq, I guess you'd have to say the big thing is when do the Americans pull out? I mean, we know, according to the Status of Forces Agreement, that they're supposed to be out, the troops must leave Iraq by the end of this year, December 31st. But you do have some movement now among the Iraqis and certainly the U.S. would be open to that to keep the U.S. as trainers for a longer period.
DOUGHERTYBut, you know, with the mood about the war, it seems, you know, in both countries, it could be a problem to try to continue them. And so if, let's say, Afghanistan and Iraq, if the local military cannot take care of the security situation, then things can fall apart. It's a real dilemma.
PAGEAnd, in fact, these -- the bombing came just hours after the Iraqi prime minister was talking on the phone to Vice President Biden about the withdrawal of U.S. troops. What is the issue there? We need Iraqis to make some decisions, Nancy?
YOUSSEFWell, the real issue is that no Iraqi wants to come out publicly and say he asked for the occupation forces to stay on, however beneficial they may be to Iraqi security. And so al-Maliki came out and said the parliament must vote on this.
PAGESo that's a way for him to say I'm not asking, let's have the parliament?
YOUSSEFYes, I mean, let's -- really there's a game of chicken going on where the Iraqis are trying to see how close they can get to not asking and having the Americans still stay. And so we heard from Hoshyar Zebari this week who is the foreign minister. He said something quite interesting. He said, well, maybe we could work out a deal defense ministry to defense ministry. And so I went to the Pentagon and I said, would that be acceptable or do you have to have parliamentary support? And there's a debate going on right now about that and my sense is that no, they'd have to have the backing of the parliament. Because remember, the parliament is the one who approved the Status of Forces Agreement that allows us to stay until the end of 2011.
YOUSSEFAnd so what the Iraqis are looking for is the least they have to do to get the Americans to stay without having the onus of going to the public and saying, I asked for the forces to stay.
PAGEBut do we want to be asked to stay? Or would we prefer to be able to go?
WARRICKYeah, it's there is a push within the administration to try to get some residual force there beyond the end of 2011 because of the regional concerns, because of Iran and all the things that it's doing in the region. We'd like to have a counter-balance to that. And -- but again, we have to be asked and now this, the whole negotiation process appears to be frozen. There's no movement in sight and if we are going to leave at the end of 2011, there's a lot of logistical things involved in that and we have to start moving now.
YOUSSEFYou know, Jill talked about the cost of this and the financial pressures essentially to bring down war costs. The Congressional Research Service released a study earlier this year and they found that with fewer troops, it actually costs more per trooper in Iraq. In 2006 and 2007 at the height of the violence, it cost about $500,000 per trooper and that is the logistics, the equipment and getting that trooper there.
YOUSSEFWe're now in 2010 and it was at $800,000 and so there is a cost factor in this. It is actually more expensive per soldier to keep them in Iraq even if there are fewer of them.
PAGEPresident Obama campaigned as a candidate on a promise to get the U.S. forces out of Iraq. So Jill, what if he fulfils that promise? We see troops coming out and the situation there really deteriorates. Does that mean we would go back in or do we just leave the Iraqis to themselves?
DOUGHERTYI shudder to think what they would do. I'm not quite sure because, you know, you have legal issues governing the relationship between the two countries. You have the financial realities in the United States budget, which -- it's a perfect day to be talking about that. You have the American public. I think the last I looked 30 percent support the war or the conflict. So it would be very, very hard to begin that over again.
YOUSSEFAnd also I think the question becomes what could the U.S. do to mitigate whatever emerges in that period because you're starting to see Iraqis sort of positioning themselves for the post-U.S. period and so the relevancy, the impact of the United States diminishes with every brigade that the United States pulls out. So if you keep 10,000, which is the number we hear tossed around at the Pentagon, what real impact could they have to stopping whatever the momentum ends up being in Iraq post 2011?
PAGEWell, let's go to the phones, talk to some of our listeners. We'll go first to John calling from my hometown of Wichita, Kan. Hi, John.
JOHNHey, how are you doing?
PAGEGood, go ahead.
JOHNI have a question. Can you hear me?
PAGEYes we can hear you, go ahead.
JOHNI thought it was interesting. I did some research on Bush's axis of evil, the countries that he named and cross referenced. I cross referenced it with those countries that didn't have an international bank, grand central, central bank like our federal reserve and Libya is on that list. So I'm wondering our being over there, does it have to do with anything with the money interests?
PAGEOkay, John. Nancy, what do you think?
YOUSSEFWell, I think John brings up a bigger point, which is what is the U.S. strategic interest in being in Libya? And more importantly, what was the threat to the United States if Gaddafi stayed in power? And I think it's a debate we're hearing more and more of. I mean, one could argue he helped get A.Q. Khan, who was a Pakistani terrorist member. He was working on the nuclear issue. He was cooperating with the United States. More so one could argue that in the strategic interests that the United States didn't need to intervene in Libya.
YOUSSEFThe argument was a moral one. But as we talked about earlier, are we really meeting our moral responsibility if, in the end, more Libyans suffer in this rebellion.
PAGEAnd there's also the argument, I guess, that there are lots of moral reasons to intervene in various places where there are despotic governments, there's human suffering and yet not really feasible for us to intervene everywhere.
DOUGHERTYSusan, you know, remember at the beginning of the Arab Spring when the Obama administration was being criticized for not doing enough? They were on the sidelines. Why weren't they doing something? And then they begin to do something and now we have the Arab Spring turning into -- this is, what, six months later, almost seven months later? It's turning into Arab Storm. I mean all -- almost all of the countries where they had the Arab Spring, there are big question marks.
DOUGHERTYEgypt is a big question mark economically. Libya, stasis, nothing is happening. Syria, no opposition. You have an opposition, but they don't have a leader. Yemen, a mess, it's a very, very difficult situation and very complex. And the U.S., in the beginning, the Obama administration said, whoops, let's be careful about getting into this. And now, I'm not saying that they're justified, but it is -- it is a much more complicated than we ever expected.
PAGEJoby, what kind of lessons do you think the administration is taking from these experiences in various parts of the world?
WARRICKI think there's a great deal of caution. We see it in Syria probably most profoundly right now because there's arguably worse things are happening in Syria than happened in Libya at the beginning of that revolution. And yet there's been this reluctance even to say that Assad has lost his legitimacy because there are consequences of that.
WARRICKIf he's lost his legitimacy, then what do you do? Do you intervene militarily? There's no support here or abroad for that. And so this idea of leading behind is -- it's made the administration vulnerable to criticism, but in a sense, it's a safer place to be.
PAGELet's talk to Mark, he's calling us from here in Washington, D.C. Mark, thanks for holding on.
MARKNot a problem, thanks for taking my call. Earlier on, I think one of your guests and I think you as well Susan mentioned something about the Iranian connection with al-Qaida. I, you know, personally, I think, you know, a lot of these reporters and a lot of these well known writers need to come straight forward and say, hey, you know what? Let's investigate this before we jump into conclusion and say there's a connection. If you really look into it there is no connection. That's a Shiite country and al-Qaida is a Sunni organization.
MARKSunni and Shiite do not get along, first of all, and the country that's being run right now, Iran is being run by the religious, zealous people. Those people, they swear they hate Sunni people. How do you have that type of connection? That connection is being made. Let's not forget about how Iraq's war started, The Washington Post and the New York Times, let's not forget about those people who pushed for this war highly. And guess what? After that, they said, oh, we didn't know. We just were going along with what the administration was telling us.
PAGEAll right, Mark thanks for your call. I should note that McClatchy Newspapers, which Nancy works for, got a lot of praise for doing very skeptical coverage about the accusations of weapons of mass destruction in the lead up to the Iraq war, but it's certainly true that not everybody did that. Now, Joby, we were talking before about the Treasury Department's report that came out yesterday alleging this connection between Iran and al-Qaida. What was the evidence they cited?
WARRICKWell, they actually have the names of individuals. They have dates of when these people were operating and there is, of course, other intelligence that's a little harder for us to see from the outside, in terms of intercepts and how they know that this individual was talking to this individual. It's true that -- I mean, and I must say that at The Post as well, we had some disagreements sometimes with our editorial writers, but The Post pushed really hard on the aluminum tubes issue and raised a lot of skepticism and questions about that. And in this case, you know, it is sort of, you know, put up or shut up. Let's show -- let's see what you've got on, you know, in terms of real collusion between the Iranians and al-Qaida.
WARRICKBut we do see that, you know, that whenever it suits Iran, it will help, you know, al-Qaida or anyone else. An enemy of my enemy is my friend and in this case, you know, it does sometimes suit Iran to support some of these terrorist groups that are attacking the United States. It's a mutual benefit for both sides.
PAGEMark, thanks very much for your call. We have an email from another Mark writing us from Little Rock, Ark. who says, "The murderer in Norway sourced much of his manifesto to American right-wing thinkers, please discuss." We did see in this jumbled 1500-page manifesto that he had posted on Facebook. He did reference some right-wing American bloggers. Nancy, who were they?
YOUSSEFWell, he listed several of them and he basically talked about this, that Norway was becoming too Islamic, that it would take 80 years to un-Islamicize, if that's a word even, Norway and that he was going to be martyred and a hero out of all this when it was done and that he was really doing Norway a service. And yet, Norwegian groups who are affiliated with such beliefs really distanced themselves from even what Americans would call a right-wing extremist group.
YOUSSEFAnd so he used this idea that there were too many immigrants, too much Islam, as a real justification and sort of put himself in heroic terms. It's interesting, in Norway, we talk about immigration, 11 percent of the population of 4.6 million are immigrants and many of them are from other parts of Europe. And so it's interesting how big he saw it in his mind, versus the reality.
YOUSSEFBut as Jill pointed out, earlier in the last decade, we've seen a huge influx of immigrants from the Islamic world.
PAGERobert Spencer was one of the influential American bloggers who was repeatedly cited in this manifesto. I saw him interviewed on NBC this week saying it was not fair to tarnish him with that. He never advocated violence. Now we've got an AP alert that just moved that says a special forces member under the command of the Libyan rebels, slain military chief has accused a rebel faction in the killing. He told the AP he was present when a group of rebels from a faction known as The February 17th Martyrs Brigade came to their operations and took the leader away for interrogation. He accuses the group of killing him and dumping his body.
PAGEIt could mark a split the AP reports among the rebel movement. Nancy this is very much what you were suggesting might be one of the scenarios behind this assassination?
YOUSSEFRight, I mean, the (word?) came out and said it was the fifth column of Gaddafi's forces and this happened between Brega and Benghazi, the capital. And yet, it would be pretty extraordinary for them to have the ability to move in and get a commander who was under very tight security and so the circumstances were always suspicious. The fact that there's no body has raised a lot of suspicions in Benghazi. We don't even know if there'll be a funeral for this man and in Islamic tradition that would happen within 24 hours and it hasn't happened.
YOUSSEFBut the fact that he might have been assassinated by one of his own really speaks to the disarray of the rebel movement. And it raises questions about what? They are already faltering militarily before all this. What's going to happen now?
PAGEAnd what should our role be going forward in that situation?
YOUSSEFAnd also should you arm and who are you arming and are those weapons going to get in the right hands? We heard the French providing arms. And you talk to the rebels. They still didn't have enough ammunition. They still didn't have the weapons they needed so it really complicates things. It's a big deal.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Sue calling us from Middleboro, Mich. Hi, Sue.
SUEHi, thank you for taking my call. I was interested in some of the things in Fortune 500 and one of them is on page 84. I think it's the last page of this article on Afghanistan. It talks about the Taliban getting most of their resources from stealing people's bank accounts over the internet. They don't have to be mobile like, I believe, al-Qaida was. I believe al-Qaida went into Africa and other places, but that's neither here nor there, at this point. Some of it comes from religious radio and the testimony of a missionary, but anyway, neither here nor there. At this point, they found out that Afghanistan is very mineral rich, especially in gold. Well, what's gold doing these days?
SUEAnyway, six of the mines, which apparently are not operating, are going to be auctioned off by Karzai. This is according to this article in Fortune 500.
PAGEWell, you know, Sue, thanks so much for calling. I'm not sure we've read that exact article in Fortune, but, Jill, what do you think?
DOUGHERTYYeah, Susan, you know, I actually did do some reporting on the mineral wealth of Afghanistan. They have massive potential wealth. The problem is you have to get to it. You have to have railroads. They don't even -- there's not a lot that they're producing right now. Potentially, yes, it could be great, but I think, you know, Sue is making a point. There are these groups, the Taliban among them, that are out there, so many disparate groups. They can get their financing from many different places and that is the problem for the United States when you talk about the al-Qaida losing its potential. That could be happening, but there are many, many other groups, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Shabaab, you name it, an alphabet soup of groups out there that are taking over.
YOUSSEFI think it's a great point. It's interesting that Sue was concerned about the Taliban because I keep coming back to, as an American, I think the most important question is what is the current relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaida? That is, I'm personally not as concerned about the funding unless that there's a guarantee that a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan guarantees another safe haven for al-Qaida and other extremist groups.
PAGEAnd does it?
YOUSSEFIt's never been established one way or another. The military will tell you it's so and one could argue that one of the reasons that they're working closely together is because U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. And so as we're looking at Afghanistan, that has to be the central question. What is that relationship? What would it be if the Taliban took over as we debate what Afghanistan could look like post U.S. presence there?
PAGENancy Youssef with McClatchy Newspapers and we've also been joined this hour by Joby Warrick from The Washington Post and Jill Dougherty from CNN. Thank you all so much for being with us this hour.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in Diane Rehm. She'll be back on Monday. Thanks for listening.
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