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President Obama and European leaders escalated pressure on Syrian President Assad, calling for him to resign. World stock markets tumbled on fears of a new global recession. Opposition fighters in Libya’s western mountains claimed control of the country’s last functioning oil refinery. Turkey launched a heavy air and artillery assault on Kurdish guerrilla targets in northern Iraq. Insurgents staged an attack on a British Council office in Kabul. And India’s leading anti-corruption campaigner won the right to stage a public hunger strike. A panel of journalists joins Diane for the international hour of The Friday News Roundup.
- Thom Shanker Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times.
- Nancy Youssef Pentagon correspondent, McClatchy newspapers.
- David Ignatius columnist, The Washington Post; contributor to “Post Partisan” blog on washingtonpost.com. His latest book is titled "Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The Obama Administration called for Syria's president to step down. Major European nations followed suit as Syrian security forces continued their violent crackdown. Rebels in Libya claim control of a key oil refinery and appeared closer to moving on Tripoli.
MS. DIANE REHMIraq was hit by the deadliest militant attacks this year. France and Germany pressured Eurozone nations' own austerity and huge anti-corruption protests in India unsettle government leaders. Joining me for the week's top international stories on "The Friday News Roundup," David Ignatius of The Washington Post, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy newspapers, Thom Shanker of the New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMDo we have enough to talk about or what? Good grief. David, let's talk about Syria first and the impact of finally the president's, then the secretary of state's statements, other nations following suit.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSPresident Obama's announcement yesterday calling for President Assad to leave office was seen, I think, by U.S. and other officials as a sign that we're really beginning the endgame in Syria, that Assad has become so weak, the coalition opposing him is so wide. The Syrian army, which has been brutally suppressing protests in Syria, is said to be stretched thin to the point of cracking. It's having difficulty keeping up with all the places that protests are taking place.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSPresident Obama has been criticized for not moving more quickly, but I think his counterargument would be better to work behind the scenes. One thing that struck me, Diane, was that this was coordinated so carefully with European allies. President Obama spoke, then Sarkozy, Merkel, Cameron and Clinton spoke.
REHMEverybody came on.
IGNATIUSAnd this was also coordinated very closely with Turkey. Turkey's had kind of last minute intervention with Assad to see if something could be arranged, and so many people called for the U.S. to work more closely with allies during the Bush presidency that I think we should salute the attempt by the Obama Administration to work in coordination -- to be careful, to work behind the scenes, not to do diplomacy by public relations announcement, but to do diplomacy in the background. That's probably a good thing.
REHMAt the same time, sadly, thousands of people have been killed in the meantime, Thom.
MR. THOM SHANKERThat's exactly right. They've even taken to shelling some of the coastal cities with the Navy, which is a new problem and, in fact, the UN is thinking about referring Syria and its leadership for war crimes. There's one interesting thing. Yes, the Obama Administration probably waited until there was a critical mass of support, but I think your listeners should know, Diane, that there's still one major sanction not in place. While the U.S. froze Syrian assets and banned all imports, most of Syria's oil goes to Europe. And that ban is not in place yet.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFI wanted to add, one of the -- well, as we talk about this coalition, one missing country was Iraq. And I think it's notable Nouri al-Maliki's comments about the Syria uprising this weekend, which he continued to call for time for reforms and it signaled that in the choice between the United States and Iran, essentially, that the Maliki government will side with Iran. And I think that was an important side development that came from the news this week out of Syria.
REHMInteresting that Assad's wife and children, don't know how many he has, but they are in London. Is that any indication that he might be on his way out?
IGNATIUSWell, Assad himself spent his formative years in Britain studying ophthalmology. His wife, I believe, is British born so it's not surprising...
REHMShe worked here in the United States.
IGNATIUSWell, she's a very cosmopolitan person...
IGNATIUS...and I think her demeanor was one of the reasons that Europeans, Turks began to think that Assad was a man of reform, a man looking West, traveling with this stylish, secular wife. And I think there's a general feeling that even if that was so, even if Bashar Assad wanted that, he's not been able to, by the situation which he finds himself -- he has a family that's a lot more bloodthirsty it's said, than he is himself. And that he just has never been able to escape this sort of Assad family style of ruling, no matter how sophisticated his wife may be. But it's no surprise she's in London, none at all.
REHMBut it was his brother who was supposed to have taken the leadership, he being far more in his father's image. But once he died, he was out of the picture, the younger son took over and now you have this real crisis.
YOUSSEFAbsolutely. And it's interesting, you know, we talk about the lineage and why he's a president. This government from within Syria is that we're a minority party and that we've had to do things that the world community doesn't necessarily understand. And I'm not talking about what's going on since this uprising, but this complex relationship that the Assads have had within Syria as a member of the minority party.
YOUSSEFNow, since mid-March, what they've done, according to UN, is kill at least 2,000 people in towns where the uprising isn't even as aggressive as it's been in other parts of the country. And so we're seeing this complicated relationship elevated to the next level. Assad keeps insisting that he's different though, that he's going to bring reforms, that he's going -- if you just give him time, he'll bring the...
REHMHe keeps talking about reforms.
YOUSSEFHe does keep talking about that.
REHMIf he were to step down, Thom Shanker, is there anyone in Syria's opposition that is likely to or ready to step in?
SHANKERWell, that's one of the big questions. And one of the reasons the Obama Administration said it was delaying this call for Assad to step down was, one, they didn't want to make that demand when he wasn't so weak that it might actually happen and, two, there's a real concern that he will simply be replaced by some of his cronies, either the generals or the business leaders. So it'd simply be meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
IGNATIUSI share Thom's view of that, Diane. I think that the fact that the Syrian opposition is so diffuse, that beyond calling for the president's ouster, it doesn't have a clear agenda. It is worrying. There have been attempts to gather this opposition at conferences outside of the country, but those have the weakness of any exile movement efforts to do the same thing inside the country, have not been successful.
IGNATIUSJust to note, one more, I think, strong possibility, when we talk about the transition in Syria, that moment will come when key elements of the Syrian army say we will not fight any longer to preserve the rule of the Assad family. And when the army breaks like that, and there's a lot of speculation that elements of the army that are close to the Turkish army that would look north to Turkey for support, that they may begin to move.
IGNATIUSAnd that would lead to change of regime. But I would just underline it would be a military coup, which is all we've really seen in Egypt. So I think this is one reason that people are getting a little more cautious as they talk about the Arab Spring. When you look at the content of what may happen in Syria, it may well be the military moving.
REHMAnd what's the likelihood of Syria allowing UN inspectors back into the country, Nancy?
YOUSSEFWell, it's not looking promising, is it? He -- Ban Ki-moon had a discussion with Assad and he told him that he was going to -- that the violence had stopped and sure enough, it continued immediately after the conversation ended. And, in fact, there's no evidence that it stopped so it's seems unlikely. And frankly, from Assad's perspective, why -- what's the benefit? I mean, how much will this pacify this growing international call for the end of his regime, which was just bolstered this week by the United States?
REHMBut of course, you had the human rights office in Geneva really putting out a blistering report saying that the Syrian government forces might have committed crimes against humanity.
SHANKERThat's exactly right. When you start using war crimes and referral to the international criminal court that really so isolates a leadership, there's really no way back after you are labeled with those sorts of charges. So I think Assad is in a corner. It's very difficult to see any way that he can now manage staying in power.
REHMBut I'm really interested, David, in your comments about the military, even though we don't know what might come next. I thought Assad had total control over that military and that they really had no indication that they might pull away from him.
IGNATIUSWhen you're talking about Syria, you have to be careful in talking about the military because it's not a unitary phenomenon. There are elite special units that are largely from the president's own minority Alawite sect that are called on for the most sensitive missions. Then there's the Syrian army as a whole, which, like the country, is more majority Sunni. There are many Sunni generals throughout the army, but these other units are particularly so. And something that Syria watchers have been monitoring very carefully is whether you're going to see the splits in the army along sectarian lines or more generally.
IGNATIUSThere are some leaders of these elite units who have been sending subtle signals that they may be prepared to move. Just one final point about this. Iran -- I mean, this -- in addition to everything else, Syria is the fault line in the Iran confrontation with Saudi Arabia and with the U.S. and Israel, and Iran has been sending significant aid to Assad.
REHMDavid Ignatius of The Washington Post. Nancy Youssef of McClatchy newspapers. Thom Shanker of the New York Times. You can join us, 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd certainly on the international front making news all week long has been the European debt crisis. To what extent, Nancy Youssef, do you see the Europeans reacting to what's happening in the U.S. or the U.S. reacting to what's in Europe? It all seems totally interwoven.
YOUSSEFIt really does. And we heard this week from the Europeans and they would say, we have to fix our debt crisis before we wait for the United States to fix their debt crisis. We've heard that from Australia's leadership this week. And so -- and we also heard from France and Germany. There was a push from the two largest European economies to develop a Euro bond and they both rejected it, essentially rejecting subsidizing, if you will, the weaker states within the European Union.
YOUSSEFAnd so both sides are sort of watching one another. It was interesting, after Angela Merkel and Sarkozy made that announcement, the euro fell against the dollar. And now there's a little competition going on that -- this week as stocks ended in the United States at such a dismal low.
REHMAnd it's sort of backing up again now, Thom Shanker.
SHANKERYes, but the critique of what France and Germany did is very similar to the critique of steps here in the United States. Sort of came too late, insufficient. And, in fact, when they didn't endorse these bonds, they came up instead with what they called the golden rule, which is that all of the governments that are on the euro should pass a balanced budget deal and should try to, you know, reduce their debt. So really nothing concrete, nothing specific, hardly enough to reassure the markets.
YOUSSEFIt's great that you mention that because this morning, there was a poll that came out in Europe that said three-quarters of Europeans have little or no faith that Sarkozy and Merkel can solve or -- this debt crisis or bring an end to the looming threat of recession.
IGNATIUSYeah, and people are suspicious for a good reason. The Europeans, a decade ago, passed what was supposed to be a coordinated fiscal policy where budget deficits were not allowed to be over 3 percent of GDB. Guess what? France and Germany essentially ruled that there would be no penalties if that limit was violated. Now, they vitiated the policy as soon as they announced it.
IGNATIUSI think the markets are reacting, above all, to clear evidence that Europe is not yet able -- does not yet have the political will to go to the heart of this problem, which is that you have a single currency and 17 different economies, which are unable to adjust at the rates that they need, which are different. Greece is different from Germany. And they have not gotten their arms around that problem. More worrying this week was that European banks are holding a lot of securities that people think are underwater.
IGNATIUSBut unlike in the U.S. in 2008 where there really was an attempt to get this stuff out, expose it, you know, get the toxic assets purchased by federal reserve facilities, whatever. That still hasn't happened in Europe and that's what's -- you wonder why are U.S. markets reacting the way they are.
IGNATIUSIt's 'cause people are scared that there's stuff buried in the European banking system that people don't know about, but is toxic.
REHMTalk about fear driving markets.
SHANKERExactly right. And the no-win debate in Europe, just as in the U.S., is the inability to impose a disciplined, you know, rule over spending, at the same time an inability to convince people to raise taxes.
REHMSo are you all saying that virtually nothing was accomplished by the meeting between Angela Merkel and Sarkozy?
SHANKERI think the meeting was important because doing nothing sends the absolute worst signal to the market. And again, this is going to be a long journey, both for the European economy and for here in the U.S. So the fact that they didn't finish the race on the first day shouldn't be a criticism, but they need to move faster.
REHMCan they move faster?
IGNATIUSI don't yet see evidence of political determination in the key countries to get to the bottom of this. And I think that clearly that's what's weighing on market sentiment. They still don't see any sign that these folks are serious. People -- you know, big financial traders were saying a year-and-a-half ago, basically, the system's broken. And they see nothing yet that suggests that people are ready to fix it.
REHMNow, I'd like to move on to Iraq where there has been a particularly violent week, Thom.
SHANKERWell, that's certainly true. I mean, there have been a series of complex attacks. These are not just sort of individual bombs, individual men with rifles, but series of explosions to enter compounds followed by, you know, a raiding party, which shows planning, which shows power, which shows tenacity. I think we do need to recall, though, that there was a similar spike in attacks exactly a year ago at the Ramadan period. So this is troubling. It shows the great gaps that remain in the Iraqi security forces even as America moves to draw down by the end of the year.
SHANKERBut it was just this one individual spike. And except for the month of June, which was the highest number of American combat deaths in three years, the rate and pace of attacks has gone down this year.
REHMNancy, what is the controversy over Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's choice of enacting defense minister?
YOUSSEFWell, it's a sustained attack on Nouri al-Maliki, which is that he is treating the military as an extension of his own armed militia group and that he isn't taking a nationalist approach to the security of his country. You know, Monday was the deadliest day in Iraq so far this year. And I think it's worth pointing out that on August 31 of last year, the president declared the end of combat operations in Iraq. We've lost 57 U.S. troops since then. And we're -- as Thom mentioned, we're seeing these complex attacks. On Monday, they started at 7:00 a.m. and continued until 8:00 p.m.
YOUSSEFAnd I have to say I kept wondering, what was the motive? Is it an effort by Al-Qaida to keep the United States -- engaging the United States to force the Iraqi government to ask us to stay to keep the sort of enemy in sight, if you will? Possibly. Is it Iran's effort to keep us engaged and, some would say, entangled in Iraq? Possibly.
YOUSSEFAnd the reason those two extremes are there is because this wasn't just an attack on Sunnis or just on Shiite -- albeit the Shiite took a lot more of the attacks -- but it's suggested that both sides had launched these coordinated attacks. And I think, for Iraqis, it was reminiscent of those horrific days at the height of the sectarian war when scores of people would be killed on any given day.
IGNATIUSYou do have an Iraq that's beset. You have Al-Qaida showing that it's still capable of extreme violence, still capable of coordinated attacks. You had the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq saying this week that whatever the threat posed by Al-Qaida, the biggest threat in Iraq are Shiite militias backed by Iran, which he identified as the critical problem.
IGNATIUSEverybody, knowing that U.S. troops are on their way out, wants to take credit for driving the troops out, which is -- you know, it's sorta like raiding a retreating army I think adding to the bleak picture in Iraq is the fact that Maliki, on whom the U.S. has surprisingly relied given his weakness, more than a year after the coalition agreement that got him the prime ministership in which he promised that the opposition, the Iraqiya Party could name the defense minister, has not followed through on that. And indeed appointed an acting defense minister this week, Dulaimi, who was rejected in effect by Iraqiya.
IGNATIUSIn other words, he's basically welched on the deal and I think people are really upset about it.
YOUSSEFWell, he wants to retain control of the military. He wants it to stay in his hands and not risk giving it to another rival, another party to lose that control because his power, particularly with every brigade that comes -- every U.S. brigade that comes out, rests with the Iraqi military. That's his base, in a way, more than any other group in Iraq.
REHMAnd at the same time, you had Turkey attacking Kurdish targets in Northern Iraq.
SHANKERRight. The Kurdish separatists, you know, have been raiding from their bases in northern Iraq into Turkey. And so Turkey responded very viciously this week with counterattacks. We do have to remember, though, that, you know, if you look at the bigger picture, Turkey remains Iraq's largest trading partner. So while this is worrisome and it's a problem, it is not really affecting the bilateral relationships...
SHANKER...between the two countries.
REHM...what was the response by Iraq?
SHANKERWell, Iraq right now is really unable -- its forces are, you know, incompetent, stretched thin. And even where they're strong, they are looking at the internal crisis, the Al-Qaida, Mesopotamia, the Shiite militias that David referred to. And one of the real problems, Diane, with a stalemate is come the end of December, all the American forces have to be out of there unless there's some sort of extension or new agreement on the status of forces.
SHANKERI was talking to a two-star general just yesterday who's in from Iraq and he said that nobody expects the current SOFA agreement to be extended. It's too broad...
REHMStatus of Forces Agreement.
SHANKER...exactly, to stay in place. And what the U.S. side is drawing up options for is a very limited, very narrow sort of deal, 3,000 troops, 10,000 troops to do training. And what the Iraqis really need is intelligence to find out where the bad guys are and where to go after them. That's what the Iraqis -- they have no intelligence or sustainment.
REHMThom Shanker of the New York Times. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Nancy, Libyan rebels still at it. They've seized an oil refinery. How significant is that?
YOUSSEFWell, we'll see. This was in Zawiyah, which is 30 miles outside of Tripoli and it's all part of their march towards the capitol. The rebels claim they have 5,000 troops there, which is an extraordinary number. This is a city that they have fought before and have lost. And so whether they are able to hold onto the city, we'll see.
YOUSSEFNow, that said, the rebels are quite optimistic. And conversely, the residents in Tripoli are quite worried. And you're starting to see rebels -- or excuse me, residents in Tripoli fleeing the capitol because they sense that Gadhafi's regime is going to crumble relatively soon. Mind you, they've been living with high food prices, exorbitantly high gas prices.
YOUSSEFBut it's hard for me to be totally optimistic because these rebels have been hot and cold. They've been able -- they haven't been able to really hold on to the communities, most notably in Brega, which is in the east, which is near their rebel capitol of Benghazi. They hold it and then they lose it. And presumably Gadhafi is going to fight back and so we'll see if they're able to translate this into an actual march into the capitol.
YOUSSEFI think the timing's interesting, though, because the NATO mandate expires at the end of September. And the other NATO nations will have to go to one another and say, shall we -- do we continue our mission there? And it looks like they'll have to. They'll have to keep backing the rebels because it's NATO that allows the rebels to survive and keep fighting. But they're not able to give them enough push to win yet.
REHMDavid, is there any indication that Gadhafi is weakening?
IGNATIUSWell, you hear from U.S. government analysts the view that he is weakening, that he's gradually running out of money, that he lost a key advisor this week with the defection of one of his top security officials, that he is now surrounded in Tripoli, that the scenarios that the U.S. has been looking forward to that he would, in effect, be mayor of Tripoli and then you just would squeeze him until it's over is getting a little bit closer.
IGNATIUSI think there's continuing concern on the U.S. side that the rebels are so disorganized and that, as the New York Times wrote in a very good article this week, there is a lot of tribal factionalism on the rebel side. But you do hear more this notion that we're getting towards a kind of end game. That if you surround Tripoli and then push that, this thing will be over by the fall.
YOUSSEFThat's important, the splits, because I think we talk a lot about time running out for Gadhafi. But in a way, this protracted conflict is a danger for the rebels as well. We saw it with the assassination of their military commander, Abdel Fatah Younes, that there are splinters and factions within that rebel movement. And the longer this goes on, the more they -- those problems rise to the surface.
REHMNancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." There was a brazen attack against the British Council in Afghanistan early today. What happened, Thom?
SHANKERThe British Council's a little bit like an information and education office. It's a cultural outreach. If there's one thing about soft power that the British do well, it's talking about their culture. And this morning, just as we were talking about the complex attacks in Iraq, it appears that a huge car bomb went off outside the British Council, blew open the gate. A group of strike force of Taliban insurgents rushed inside and they battled police and local security forces for many, many hours before the last surviving gunman was finally killed.
SHANKERThis was actually the anniversary of Afghanistan's independence from the British in 1919. So, as always, the loss of life, eight or nine, is tragic in and of itself, but it wasn't a mass casualty attack. Nonetheless, this is the kind of Taliban success that shows that, one, they are still a tenacious adversary. And two, is such a message about the weakness of the central government in Kabul that this is a -- sort of a catastrophe for the Karzai government.
IGNATIUSI think this attack will concern people in part because one of the things that the U.S.-led coalition credits itself for is the relative stability of Kabul, that with a lot of the country in turmoil, Kabul has remained relatively calm. And the strategy, when you hear senior commanders describe it, is to put up barriers along the eastern so-called RC east to the commanders -- the eastern area of Afghanistan -- barriers to insurgents moving to Kabul. Because it's argued if you lost Kabul, if Kabul became unstable, then the country really would disintegrate. Then you just would have a return to warlord-ism.
IGNATIUSSo an attack like this, so brazen, so well coordinated, is going to make people worry that the essential strategic prize, which is the security of Kabul, may be more at risk than they thought.
YOUSSEFThe Taliban immediately took credit for this attack and it's the latest in a series of high profile attacks by the Taliban. And you can't help but be struck by how well they have been able to execute these almost systematically. You'll remember the Intercontinental Hotel was hit just a few months ago. And I think, for the United States and for those watching Afghanistan, that the United States is contemplating drawing down troops at the height of violence. Violence is at its highest levels overall in the country. I think it's troubling to some people.
YOUSSEFRemember when the drawdown of the surge troops began in Iraq, it was at one of the lowest points of violence. And so I think these attacks, not only do they capture the International Community's attention, but I think they keep raising questions about whether the United States can really drawdown troops now.
IGNATIUSThat's true, but I just -- there's no indication that that drawdown is going to stop.
IGNATIUSI think the American patience for this war is running out. Just keeping the mission intact until 2014, as now scheduled, is going to be tough. The issue, Diane, that I think the commanders would describe as, okay, U.S. troops are getting out and they're getting out on a clear schedule. Can Afghan security forces in -- which we've expended billions of dollars for training, take up the slack? They have their own special operators. They have their own people who should've stopped this attack. Where were they?
REHMDavid Ignatius of the Washington Post. When we come back, we'll open the phones, read your e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMTime to open the phones now. We'll first go to Omaha, Nebraska. Good morning, Dave, thanks for joining us.
DAVEThank you, Diane. My question is about where is the money coming from to fund the Syrian government's brutal actions against its own population? Last week, I heard a remark about how broad sanctions could actually, you know, be harmful to the broad population where the government can kind of skirt around them and you know, today, I heard someone remark that oil to Europe is very important. So where is the money coming from and what sanctions would really be effective?
IGNATIUSIt is said that some of the money that is supporting the regime in Syria is coming from Iran, which has an economic cooperation agreement with Syria, but is said to have committed an additional $7 billion. There have also been reports which are very upsetting to some Iraqis that the Iranians leaned on Prime Minister al-Maliki in Iraq and instructed Iraq to contribute, the number I've heard is $5 billion, to assist Syria.
IGNATIUSPrime Minister al-Maliki, who used to be very anti-Syrian, has all of a sudden, presumably with Iranian pushing, gotten quite supportive and has been saying, you know, nobody benefits from the Arab Spring except Israel. But also it must be said that the Syrian economy is in part a criminal enterprise. It operates through Lebanon. It's involved in all sorts of illicit activity and those flows of cash continue.
SHANKERBut the caller is making a very good point in asking whether sanctions hurt the regime more than they hurt the average man and woman on the street. I remember I've been to Tikrit in Northern Iraq several times and there's an amazingly beautiful palace there that all the locals call The Oil for Food Palace. It was built with Saddam Hussein's profits that the U.N. allowed to buy food for his people.
SHANKERInstead, he got yet another palace.
REHMAnd to Tulsa, Oklahoma, Sabri, good morning.
SABRIGood morning, Diane, always good to be on your show.
SABRIMy comment, just of our government response, American government, I mean, how really silly. It took long, long time, 40 years dictator with that much massacre, 30,000 people massacred in Hama, 15,000 political prisoners, 12,000 missing, 2400 killed last night supporting Hamas, Hezbollah, every single terrorism group in Middle East allies with Iran. They want to (word?) and worry about sending tourism and al-Qaida people and support those people to Iraq to kill our troops and after that, they after, we don't know how many percentage he got supported. Did we care when we went to Iraq how many percentage Saddam support by his people?
REHMSabri, tell me what your question is?
SABRIIt's not a question, it's the point I think Syria is not worth it, all this headache. There is not much oil so that's why we act ignorant for the Syria situation.
IGNATIUSI think Sabri is saying with great passion that's understandable that the U.S. should move to decapitate this regime and should have done so yesterday, a month ago. I would just say that part of what's inspiring about what's happening in Syria is that Syrians are writing their own history. They are every day exhibiting a courage that really is breathtaking.
YOUSSEFYou know that is a connective thread in the Arab Spring, this desire that it remain by the people. You see that in Egypt. You see that in Libya. You see that in Syria. And so I think as people are frustrated with the pace of the United States' response to these events, the flip of that coin is, when you talk to people on the ground, they don't want it to be tainted as something that needed America's impetus, needed America's help. It's become an impassioned uprising by the people, a ground-roots movement, if you will.
REHMAll right, to Lansing, Mich., good morning, John.
JOHNHi, it's great to be on your show.
JOHNBasically, I'm calling because it's extremely upsetting to see all the innocent, brutal killings going on in Syria, but it's un-proportionate. For me, every time I listen to this show, a great fan, once you had a person on the show talking about Bahrain and we always seem to turn a blind eye to the innocent Shias that were being brutally killed and supported by Saudi Arabia and the royal family, bringing Pakistanis in to wipe out the Shia, the square.
JOHNI watched a documentary on al-Jazeera and it's amazing to see the different viewpoints in media that they show exactly what happened in Bahrain. My question to you is how come we seem to turn a blind eye for the Shias that are being brutally killed, which we support Saudi Arabia and the royal family. We seem to kind of throw sand on fire and with Syria, we seem to continue to inflame it.
YOUSSEFIt's a great question and I don't have a good answer for it. I've spent some time in Bahrain and you did get a sense of how actively that Sunni government was oppressing the Shia. You got it in a small way. You'd go through the neighborhoods of Manama and you could tell instantly which was a Sunni neighborhood and which was a Shia neighborhood just by the level of -- the quality of roads and buildings and schools.
YOUSSEFAnd since the uprising there has begun, they've actively destroyed mosques, Shia mosques, in the capitol and throughout the country and it is one of the most under-covered stories of this Arab Spring.
SHANKERAnd just to add to the point that Nancy made so eloquently, the conundrum for American policy, as I'm sure your caller knows, the American Fifth Fleet is based there, the naval power for the entire Middle East.
REHMSo when you say that, what's the implication?
SHANKERWell, the implication is that the U.S. wants to do everything it can not to destabilize the government. There's no doubt that the U.S. is aware of the violence that the caller's asking about and they need to deal with that, but they have to do it in such a way that it doesn't jeopardize the basing for all of American naval power in the Middle East opposite from Iran. If you are a policymaker, that is a very vexing question.
IGNATIUSI think Bahrain is a place, more than any other, where U.S. values supporting the majority Shia, trying to help them negotiate some new understanding and governance with the ruling Sunni monarchy, which is what we were trying to do through the winter and U.S. interests which, whose cornerstone remains, Saudi Arabia, Saudi oil, the reliable supply of oil from the Persian Gulf to the West come in conflict. And what you saw is that the Obama administration, looking at that conflict, decided that U.S. interests must predominate. When Saudi troops marched over the causeway to Bahrain to suppress this Shia revolt, the U.S. was silent.
REHMAnd now to Charlotte, N.C., good morning, Frank.
FRANKOh, hi, Diane.
FRANKOkay. So anyway, what I had to say was that, you know, I noticed, I think maybe a month and a half ago, governments around the world flooded the oil market and drove the price down a little bit. And I was wondering if maybe we could do that from now until next year when Ahmadinejad goes back up for election because I heard -- I read that when he won his election, he only won it by 52 percent. Okay. And he was buying out most of the people with, you know, oil money that he had. Okay. So if we bring the oil down to just $68 a barrel, that should be enough to drive him out of power, drive out the support for Syria and other countries that commit violence against their people.
REHMBoy, good luck with that.
IGNATIUSWell, the caller is right about Iran's dependence, need for its oil revenues. Saudi Arabia has been saying for years, their officials say to people like the three of us, you know, we're building enormous reserve capacity and we are going to pump so much oil that the price of oil is going to, you know, fall and Iran's oil revenues won't be there as part of our strategic policy to contain Iran. And guess what? It just somehow never seems to happen that way.
REHMExcept I heard recently that prices were going to fall by about 50 cents per gallon. Did you not hear that? I heard that on NPR.
IGNATIUSThere is a release. The caller mentioned our strategic petroleum reserve. There is a scheduled release of oil from that reserve that's going on, I believe, right now, which would have some dampening effect.
REHMAll right, thanks for calling. And let's go to Melanie here in Washington, D.C. good morning to you.
MELANIEHi, good morning to you as well. I'm wondering has the -- have the embassy people, the United States embassy people, been removed from the Syrian embassies and (word?) be made to remove them when and why it might be made? And generally in a region that's caught -- where there is a great difficulty going on, what is behind the decision of whether to keep our people in the embassies or to remove them?
REHMOf course the ambassador is still there, is he not?
YOUSSEFYes. And, you know, it's interesting the most important ambassador, in a way, is Turkey's because they're still maintaining that dialogue between Syria and, in a sense, the international community. And so Turkey, this week, talked about recalling its ambassador, but it seems to have hesitated because they know they're the conduit between the Syrian government and the international community. And so when we're watching Syria, that, to me, is the most important ambassador to watch because it will give some sense of where we are in terms of maintaining any kind of dialogue with Assad, trying in any way to push for the end of the crackdown.
REHMBut surely when the U.S. ambassador went to Hama, which was under attack, that showed a great deal of support for the people of Hama. And now some people have criticized him for doing that, but at the same time, don't we want to keep our people in Syria?
IGNATIUSYes. I would say, Diane, absolutely. Our ambassador to Damascus, Robert Ford, is one of the really fine diplomats in the State Department. He speaks fluent Arabic. He bravely went to Hama to bear witness that the world was watching the Syrians. His travel movements have been restricted, even so he's meeting with a range of Syrians. This notion that we've got to pull our diplomats when things get tough, I've never understood. You know, U.S. diplomats stayed in Beirut through the Lebanese civil war risking assassination. And if they're -- you know, you've got to evacuate dependents, but if the diplomats are brave enough to stay there, that's great.
YOUSSEFIt's important to know who he's meeting with, though. He's meeting with primarily opposition so it's interesting that -- how that's sort of been split, if you will, who is trying to work with the Assad government and who is trying to work with potentially the next government.
REHMThom Shanker, any comment? All right, let's go to Indianapolis. Good morning, Clarice.
CLARICEGood morning, I put on your show just minutes ago so I apologize if you've already discussed this. My question is this, for those that are so quick to condemn America for getting involved so late, my question is this. I thank God we got involved so late because why are we to be the police of the whole entire planet? I'm so sick and tired of us thinking that we should go to war or we should get involved in civil wars all around the world when we have, as we know of, three wars that we're already involved in.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show". It seems to me Clarice states a point of view that is shared by a great many Americans, Thom?
SHANKERThat's exactly right. And that's why in all of these statements calling for Assad to now leave office, that's been coupled with a statement there will be no American boots on the ground. There is no discussion of military intervention or, as Clarice said, of the U.S. playing a cop role in Syria today.
YOUSSEFYou know, it is interesting. Clarice is echoing Hilary Clinton earlier this week. She appeared on a panel with the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta at National Defense University and someone in the audience asked, why are we not doing more, and Hilary Clinton said, because it can't always be the United States. The burden can't always fall on us. It has to be an international effort. And when it is an international effort, it behooves everyone involved so Clarice has a kindred spirit in Hilary Clinton because that's a question she addressed earlier this week.
REHMAnd finally, after talking about situations all over the world, let's go to London where a reporter is now saying that Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and former editor Andy Coulson all knew of the cover-up that there was phone hacking, that all of it was well known to the top leadership, Nancy?
YOUSSEFThat's right. Clive Goodman, the reporter, was really sort of made out to be a rogue reporter hacking people's phones and so there was a letter that came before the parliamentary committee this week in London in which he said it was systematic and that it was talked about openly in news editorial meetings, that everybody knew about it. And this runs counter to the Murdoch's testimony last month. It runs counter to all the leadership who said that they didn't know and that they would have stopped it, if they had known. And it's also an embarrassment, frankly, for Prime Minister Cameron because his former aide Andy Coulson was a member of The News of the World and had suggested that he didn't know and this letter says that maybe everybody knew.
REHMNow, David, if, in fact, both Rupert and James Murdoch did not tell the truth before parliament, what are the consequences? What might they be?
IGNATIUSWell, you'd have to have hard evidence that they were witting about these activities to say they lied. They were pretty careful in their testimony. James Murdoch is particularly vulnerable because in supervising the company, he was signing off on agreements that were made with people that implicitly said this is contained. I would think that the immediate problems would be less. I don't know whether Rupert Murdoch was sworn when he went before the parliamentary committee. That would be unusual.
IGNATIUSThe immediate questions, I think, are on the governance of NewsCorp. There are shareholder suits. As this rolls forward, the question of whether this is going to continue to be a family fief and Rupert Murdoch had planned to pass along control to his son, I think shareholders are increasingly going to question that.
SHANKERThat's exactly the point. I'm not sure that the legal jeopardy is the biggest question, but during his testimony, the Murdochs kept saying, our family is the best to see us through this. Well, if they were witting and knowledgeable throughout, then clearly their board of directors and their stockholders will say the Murdoch family is not the best to see us forward and they will be ousted.
REHMSo you think there's a true possibility that James Murdoch could be pushed aside?
SHANKERI think we'll have to see how the facts play out and exactly who knew what and when. But even if he doesn't face legal jeopardy for saying he didn't know, if it becomes clear that he did, how can his shareholders and his board of directors let him be in charge?
IGNATIUSWell, I think Thom puts it well. I personally would be surprised if this didn't resolve in some kind of understanding about a different governance structure going forward in which James Murdoch would agree to step aside or a different role in exchange for the, you know, family's interest, the scandal ending.
REHMDavid Ignatius of The Washington Post, Thom Shanker of the New York Times and Nancy Youssef of McClatchy newspapers, have a great weekend, thank you.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Sarah Ashworth, Lisa Dunn and Nikki Jecks. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. A.C. Valdez answers the phones.
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