For this month's Readers' Review: "Drown" -- the debut collection of short stories by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz. Twenty years ago, Diaz published ten heart-breaking tales about a fragmented family from the Dominican Republic finding their way in 1980s America.
A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories: Libya’s embattled leader Muammar Gaddafi made a defiant speech on television, vowing to “keep fighting and never surrender” even as rebels gave loyalists until Saturday to surrender; the European Union announced plans for an oil embargo against Syria; and Iraq saw no U.S. casualties for the first time since the war began.
- Anne Gearan national security correspondent, Associated Press.
- David Sanger chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times.
- James Kitfield senior correspondent, National Journal.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Libya's interim leaders vowed to build a society of tolerance and respect. The EU banned oil exports from Syria and General David Petraeus retired after 37 years in the Armed Forces. Joining me in the studio for the week's top international news on "The Friday Roundup," James Kitfield of National Journal, Ann Gearan with The Associated Press, David Sanger of The New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMI hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDGood morning.
MS. ANNE GEARANGood morning.
MR. DAVID SANGERGood morning.
REHMJames Kitfield, a lot has happened in Libya this week. Give us an overview.
KITFIELDWell, the, you know, in the last week, the rebels have taken Tripoli and the Gadhafi regime has crumbled and gone into hiding. His wife and some of his children have appeared in Algeria, where they fled. Some of his older sons are continuing to issue provocative statements and saying that they're going to continue to fight on.
REHMAnd he, himself?
KITFIELDAnd he, himself, in two audiotapes, you know, basically got very Churchill-ian, saying, we'll fight them in the valleys, fight them in the mountains. He's not going, you know, we've said this all along, this guy's got kind of a messianic complex. No one really anticipated that he would go quietly into that good night so he's proven everyone right.
REHMHe also said, let Libya burn.
KITFIELDRight. I mean, he -- this is a guy who'll fight to the last man, I think, and that's the concern. The real problem is that some of his strongholds have not fallen. His hometown of Sirte and other couple of other cities have some loyalists there who have not given up. The rebels gave them basically an ultimatum, lay down your arms by Saturday or we're coming to get you. They extended that deadline, I think, because they really don't want a, you know, a block-by-block bloody urban fight for these places.
KITFIELDSo, I mean, the fear all along was that the only thing that held Libya together was this regime. He doesn't have a lot of institutions of governments in there and that, you know, when that regime crumbled, you'd see civil war somewhat like we've seen in, you know, saw in Iraq in 2003 and '04. That fear remains, I think, for a lot of people.
REHMDavid Sanger, do we know that those were truly Gadhafi's statements?
SANGERWell, they appear to be Gadhafi's statements. We don't know when they were made and, you know, if it's a taped statement, you know, it's sort of like those statements you used to hear from bin Laden, you know, before his death, where you -- it could've been weeks old and so forth -- or days old. We went through in the spring, that sort of euphoria of seeing the Arab Spring with the regimes that turned out to be so hollow that they didn't last very long.
SANGERWe've been through sort of a long summer now where you've had Libya and Syria under way, where you had leaders who were not going to give up and were going to fight to the end and who, as you indicated, don't mind if the country burns along the way.
SANGERAnd that, in many ways, is going to be a much harder thing to put together. Egypt, certainly, and Tunisia, certainly, have had their challenges, but this is really a challenge if you're trying to form a new government while you've got the remnants of an insurgency. And Jim mentioned the analogy of Iraq and there are a lot of lessons to be learned here from the failure to fill that vacuum very quickly.
REHMAnd, Ann Gearan, you've got representatives of Libya's transitional government attending a meeting in Paris to discuss what Libya's future will be. Was anything decided?
GEARANWell, they got some money, which is what -- the main thing that they really wanted. They got about half of the fungible assets that the U.S. had to give them and...
REHMThe frozen assets?
GEARANYes, but most of the frozen U.S. assets are real estate and other things that are not easily givable, at this point, to the rebels if the U.S. decides to go whole-hog and give them everything that's frozen in the U.S. But they did essentially what they could. They got about half of the fungible U.S. assets, pledges for others, lots of warm words from countries all over the globe, not a lot of really concrete promises of help
GEARANAnd Jim said something that is important here, that everyone wants to avoid a block-by-block fight because that requires a level of military support, money, additional air strikes, all kinds of stuff that NATO has not been willing to -- really has no appetite to do and certainly the U.S. is completely unwilling to do.
GEARANAs long as this is primarily a manhunt for Gadhafi, which can be done on the ground by British Special Forces and the Libyans themselves, that possibility is at least forestalled. But there was -- the undercurrent at the Paris conference this week was, what if money and support isn't enough? What if we can't get rid of him this way?
REHMAnd the rebels have given Gadhafi loyalists a deadline as to when they will surrender and then they changed it. James?
KITFIELDWell, exactly, because they really don't want this fight. And, you know, I think they rightly see that the time is on their side. They control most of the country, they control the capital of Tripoli. So I think they think time is on their side and they really don't want a bloody, you know, last battle. And it is unclear, as Ann says, that NATO would have the stomach for a sort of final, you know, bloody confrontation in the streets of Sirte.
KITFIELDSo I think everyone's taken a deep breath and saying, you know, let's -- there's no electricity, the communication lines have been cut to some of these places. Let's make it clear to them over the next week that they've lost this battle and we'll hope -- hopefully -- and I suspect what will happen is that the remnants of his support will dissipate.
SANGERYou know, Diane, I always wonder what -- when we hear this phrase that we've unfrozen funds, what that looked like. And woke up this morning and we had this picture on the front page of The Times of a British cargo plane flying in blocks of cash and it's got this reddish hue, you know, from the night photograph it was taken. And I -- my first thought was, gee this is really cool. This is what unfrozen funds look like.
SANGERMy second thought was, gee, when that stuff hits the street in Libya all in the form of cash, the chances that it's going to go where the people who were at that meeting in Paris want it go are about zero.
REHMThat's really a worry, isn't it, how those funds are going to be distributed, how they'll be used, whether, in fact, it's going to improve the status of Libyans, Ann?
GEARANYes. The question of how Libyan government in waiting uses not only the money but the sort of -- the stature that it's getting, the, you know, international purchase, basically, is a huge question. The United States and many other countries hung back at the beginning in recognizing this government.
GEARANThere are -- a lot of those fears have been allayed, but there is still a big question. First of all, can they govern, but how they govern, how they spend money, how they do things. At the Paris conference, there were some very specific promises about what that money will be used for. Largely, humanitarian and so forth, but, yes, I mean, big blocks of cash arriving on airplanes, we've seen that before.
REHMJames Kitfield, one of our callers online wants to know what's going to happen if Gadhafi flees to Venezuela. Would the U.S. try to do anything about that?
KITFIELDI think we'd be happy if he fled anywhere. We want him out of the country and I don't think, you know, that vengeance right now is our top priority. You know, can he get to Venezuela? I don't know. That seems like, you know, Chavez might be one of the kind of persons who would give him sanctuary. His family's in Algeria, but Algeria has said they don't want him.
KITFIELDHe's got some friends in North Africa who he's lavished money on in the past who might be willing to take him. And then, the long -- we've seen this before with Milosevic and others, the long arm of the, you know, international criminal court might be after him at some point. But right now, what we're most interested in is him just disappearing from the scene because as long as he's around, there's a fire of hope in his supporter's hearts that maybe they can still prevail.
SANGEROne American official made the point to me that Venezuela would be an interesting place for him to go because you can't walk there. So if he had to be on an airplane and they've got the international criminal court equivalent of an indictment, if they could -- if the Intel was good enough and fast enough, they would have the right to force down the plane.
REHMDavid Sanger, how is Iran dealing with what's happening in the Middle East?
SANGERThe Iranians are confused. They are very worried about losing Syria because Syria has been their pathway in to dealing with Hezbollah and Hamas. It's been their pathway in for illicit materials. It's been their way around all of the sanctions that have been imposed on their nuclear program. At the same time, you've seen the Iranians, for the first time, warn Assad not to go too far.
SANGERBecause they were afraid that he was sort of so pushing the limits that you could see a Libya style intervention in Syria, which I don't think is actually very likely right now, but clearly the Iranians would worry about it. There's been a second thing you've seen happen in Iran. While they've been going through all of their own internal disagreements, we reported in this morning's paper that they are speeding up the movement of their most sensitive nuclear centrifuges to this deep underground site that we've talked about on the show before at Qom.
SANGERIt's the site that President Obama and several other leaders, President Sarkozy, all revealed two years ago in September of 2009 and it's been largely empty from now. The reason they're moving it down there is it's much less vulnerable to attack. And I think they're becoming all the more convinced that in a world -- a region that may be turning against them, the nuclear program may be much more important to them.
REHMDavid Sanger of The New York Times. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk about what's happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, Syria and take your calls. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back to the international hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Anne Gearan, national security correspondent with the Associated Press, David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times, James Kitfield, senior correspondent for National Journal. You can join us by phone, you can send us an e-mail, join us on Facebook or send us a Tweet.
REHMJames Kitfield, the fact that there were no U.S. troop fatalities in August, how come?
KITFIELDWell, because we have totally transferred that mission -- the lead of that mission to the Iraqis. We are not out front. There are still some cooperative counterterrorism targeted strikes that we take part -- our special forces take part in. But by and large, that mission has been handed over to the Iraqis and we are in the background giving them logistic support, giving them some enablers like air power and communication. So we're not in the front lines anymore of that fight and that's something that's been happening in the last year.
REHMBut at the same time, August was the deadliest month for Afghanistan.
KITFIELDWhich, you know, makes an interesting point, highlights an interesting point, which is, you know, the Afghan war -- these wars were not fought simultaneously. They were fought sequentially. We went first in Afghanistan, then took our eye off that and did Iraq. And while we were focused on Iraq, we couldn't un-resource Afghanistan. Now we have -- are withdrawing from Iraq by the end of this year, have resourced in the last year-and-a-half under the Obama surge.
KITFIELDSo Afghanistan is kind of where Iraq was maybe two-and-a-half years ago during the surge and that was a very bloody time.
GEARANWell, the 66 combat deaths in Afghanistan in August were the largest in the ten-year war. But as awful as 66 deaths at any time may be, it's actually not a large number by the scale of any war the United States has fought since its history really. And it -- the fact that 30 of them were on that horrible helicopter shoot-down at the beginning of the month, that incident really broke through the sort of lack of public attention that is being paid to the Afghan war in the United States simply by the scale of how awful it was and the fact that it was U.S. Navy Seals and some other special forces who died.
GEARANBut there still is very little attention really being paid to the war here. It's just not a factor in political discussion...
REHMWell, I think the only attention that is being paid is why do we continue to be there and why don't we bring our troops home? David.
SANGERWell, I think that Anne's hit just the right point that it is not a political issue in the early stages of the campaign. And one of the reasons for that is that the president's already announced the beginnings of his withdrawal schedule. And that was to mute this very point.
SANGERNow, I was thinking, what's the impact of the zero number in Iraq. What's the political impact of that here? And it's probably going to be to reinforce every instinct that the Obama Administration had, that by September of 2012, which is when the surge troops -- the 30,000 surge troops are supposed to be completely out of Afghanistan, that that's got to be the beginning of an accelerated withdrawal of many of the rest of those troops. And...
REHMThe rest being...
SANGERThe rest being about 60,000 that would still be there. And I think even after 2014, which is the agreed date among all of the NATO allies that troops will be out, you'll still see between 15 and 25,000 American troops based in Afghanistan as sort of a tripwire. But, you know, that can be politically sustainable if they are in the position that the American troops in Iraq right now are in, which is that they're basically behind large walls. They're there as a support and advisory group. They're not taking casualties.
SANGERAnd when you think about it, we've kept troops like that in South Korea since 1952. We've kept troops like that in Germany. We've kept troops like that in...
GEARANColombia, the Philippines.
SANGERColombia, the Balkans.
SANGERAnd, you know, you don't...
GEARANBut they're sustainable numbers.
SANGER...you don't hear anything about it as long as they are not suffering casualties.
REHMExactly. Let's talk about the violence in Syria this week. Anne, you had security forces firing on worshipers at the end of Ramadan, killing at least seven people in southern and central Syria. You had another seven protestors killed Thursday and it goes on.
GEARANYes. The son is looking very much like the father in Syria, in terms of willingness to turn the security forces loose on almost any kind of civilian gathering. It's hard to call people who are going to church demonstrators. They -- you know, it's really any gathering that appears to threaten government control. And at the same time, that goes back to the same point that we were making about Libya, that there is a durable regime here.
GEARANAnd Syria is going to be perhaps even more difficult than Libya to dislodge the regime to change that dynamic because they hold the power. They hold enough power to mount these incredible crackdowns.
REHMEven though its neighbors and its allies, so called, are themselves calling on Assad to pull back and stop the violence, even though the threat remains that the military could, whether in small pockets or large pockets, turn against him, the killing goes on.
KITFIELDWell, the, you know, we -- as with Gadhafi, I mean, there's not a lot of places for these tyrants to go. And they look at what happened to Mubarak and he's, you know, he's before a panel where he may be sentenced to death. So they don't have a whole lot of incentive to sort of give up.
KITFIELDBut I will say this. You know, watching what's happened to Gadhafi, I don't think Assad's sitting very comfortable in his throne right now. His -- a foreign minister or I think it was a regional attorney general, I'm sorry...
REHMAttorney General of Hama.
KITFIELD...of Hama resigned this week and put out a YouTube video tape that said that, you know, he was so disgusted by the hundreds of people who have been captured and then killed and tortured and...
REHMAnd a mass grave...
KITFIELD...and mass graves, they...
REHM...with 420 bodies.
KITFIELD...and he's been asked to issue false reports that say they died at the hands of some mob or a gang. And he's had enough. And there's, you know, been 10,000 arrested. I mean, it's really gotten to a very disgusting level of violence perpetrated on the people of Syria by this regime. And I don't think, again, that, you know -- this Arab Spring, you know, could wash up and stop at his doorstep. I don't see it happening. I think they are in real trouble. The European Union this week announced they're going to put an oil embargo beginning in November.
REHMHow significant is that, David?
SANGERWell, it's significant if you've got an embargo that really takes effect. Most embargos that the European Union has attempted in the past have not been terribly effective. And it sort of depends on how universally it's followed. But it does have the opportunity, as happened in Libya, of starving the regime. At the same time...
REHMBecause it accounts for about 25 percent of Syria's income and the EU takes about 95 percent...
REHM...of Syria's import...
SANGERSo they can...
SANGER...then can certainly, you know, rule in their day that way. But if you're Assad and you're looking around and you see what was Mubarak's mistake, that he wasn't able to hold on to his military, what were the Tunisians' mistake, you know, and so forth and so on, what was the mistake that Gadhafi made in Libya?
SANGERThe model that Assad wants to follow here are the Iranians in 2009 when those big protests happened after the June 12 election and everybody thought the Iranian regime was -- had finally hit the wall. And what do you know? With enough perseverance, shooting enough people, throwing enough people in jail, they actually put it down. Now I'm with James. I think that's a lot harder to do in Syria, but if you're the Syrians, that's the model.
GEARANWell, and like with Iran, Assad is pretty sure that no one is going to bomb him, that no international force is going to do as they did in Libya and come in and start a bombing campaign.
REHMEven though Dick Cheney had urged that Syria be bombed.
SANGERBut for a different...
SANGER...only to bomb -- only to bomb the nuclear reactor...
SANGER...not to bomb the city.
GEARANYes. It's a perennial proposal from various quarters, but it's not likely to happen and Assad does have a measure of security as a result. He does not think he is going to be bombed out of his country.
REHMAnd Syria's also not cooperating on nuclear inspection, David.
SANGERThat's right. The IEA has been trying since that reactor that Dick Cheney wanted the United States to take out, or so he said in his newly published memoir, the Israelis did it for him. And since that time, the IEA has been kept from getting most of the information they wanted. They referred this to the Security Council. We'll know probably later on today what their latest findings have been there and in Iran in their new reports. But it's no secret the Syrians have been busy with other things and have not been busy letting in inspectors.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about what's been happening between Israel and Turkey. The U.N. has been reviewing Israel's raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, James.
KITFIELDYeah, and this is -- you know, unfortunately it puts back in the spotlight sort of a diplomatic impasse between Turkey and Israel because as you will recall, you know, that flotilla that originated in Turkey seemed to have nominal support of the Turkish government, although it wasn't formal support. But they let it happen.
KITFIELDAnd it was intercepted in the international waters. There was -- the Israelis landed on the ships by helicopter, met violent resistance on one ship that was mostly Turkish people and killed nine people...
KITFIELD...one of which had an American passport. So huge diplomatic breakdown between these two countries over this issue. They've been, since, in negotiations trying to reconnect diplomatically 'cause they have a lot of shared interests and they had a pretty good relationship in the past actually. And this report, it's going to set that effort back because it basically said that although Israel's tactics were excessive, they had every right to intercept that flotilla and that the blockade itself was legal under international law, two things that Turkey thinks went way beyond its mandate and are not true.
KITFIELDSo they downgraded diplomatic relations with Israel and we're right back to where we started months and months ago when the same thing happened.
REHMAnd today, Turkey expelled Israel's ambassador, Anne.
GEARANRight. That's from the United States' perspective. The much larger question here is Turkey has been a bulwark of Muslim support for Israel, never particularly loud, but constant. And from the U.S. perspective, it's been an incredibly important ally. And to lose as much support as has already been lost over this incident has been a big blow diplomatically for international support for Israel. And it makes the U.S. arguments harder for why various things that Israel wants should, you know -- why do they get their way.
SANGERWell, this is also taking place just as the question's coming up about whether or not there will be a recognition of Palestinian statehood that this new United Nations general assembly we've -- opens in just two weeks. And so the U.S. is trying to avert a vote on this. And so having the Turks and Israel renew the dispute over this ship is at just the wrong moment.
REHMDavid Sanger of the New York Times. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." James Kitfield, talk about General David Petraeus, his 37 years in the Army. Yochi Dreazen calls Petraeus the last of the celebrity generals.
SANGERMy friend and colleague Yochi and I disagree about that 'cause I think there'll be some war in the future and there'll be some military leader who stands up and he will be the next celebrity general. But it's absolutely clear that David Petraeus is the most influential general, not only in his generation, but probably of the generations that have come since Vietnam at least, and maybe since World War II.
SANGERAt his retirement, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen compared him to Eisenhower and George Marshall. And I actually think that's true. He has -- you know, we have to go back to where we were in 2007 in Iraq. It was -- we were on the precipice of an absolute catastrophe there and something that was staring us right in the face. Civil War was spinning out of control. He not only wrote the doctoral manual for how you conduct counterinsurgency operations, but he did implement it in Iraq. And as we see today, the first month with no American casualties in Iraq.
SANGERAnd it's looking like we'll be able to hand off a country that can stand on its own wobbly legs when we eventually pull out of there. And that's a huge, huge achievement, something that really goes back to great names in the Vietnam War who got us out of Vietnam and then reset the Army.
GEARANPetraeus is not -- he may not be the last celebrity general. He was the first one in a long time and he's the only general that probably any American walking down the street could even name.
REHMExcept for Colin Powell.
GEARANThat's true. That's true. Although Powell may be a good model for Petraeus. He had a successful life post general and -- in public service, which is what Petraeus will go to do on Tuesday when he takes over the CIA. But he has -- he's been present at the creation in several important things, national security ventures for the U.S. in the last nearly ten years really. And he is probably going to be remembered mostly for Iraq.
SANGERWhat fascinates me about General Petraeus is how he makes this transition to the CIA. He has been the most public of generals, which is closely related to how he became a celebrity general. He knows every reporter in Washington, Iraq and Afghanistan. And he had an interesting theory to talk about with counterinsurgency.
SANGERHe now goes over to the CIA at a time that you have an administration in place that believes its intelligence officials should be not seen and not heard, and mostly not heard. And keeping General Petraeus on the quiet side, not taking big public positions, that's going to be a really interesting sport.
REHMYou also said he had some interesting things to say yesterday at his departure.
SANGERWell, he offered an interesting warning against deep defense cuts that would leave the United States vulnerable to being caught unaware again in a significant conflict. And that's because he took over at a time that the U.S. military was not ready for the kind of insurgencies that they faced, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq, then in Afghanistan in a much bigger way. And it was an interesting warning and probably one that many of the administration didn't want to hear.
REHMDavid Sanger of The New York Times. When we come back, it's time to open the phones, read your e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back. Now, we'll go to the phones. First to Indianapolis and Chapelle, good morning, you're on the air.
CHAPELLEGood morning, Diane. I had a question about the rebel leader that was assassinated about a month ago and was there a direct effect or cause to the fact that the rebels took Tripoli about a month after he was assassinated? I was wondering about what your panel thought of that and I'll take my answer off the air.
REHMAll right, sir, thanks. James?
KITFIELDI don't think there was any direct -- if anything, I think that was a rocky moment for the rebels' movement because it just showed there were fissures in that. And we see those fissures actually today in Tripoli when different parts of the city are held by battalions from different parts of the country. Now so far, I will say they have been pretty unified and they've acted with restraint so, so far so good. But I think that was a real, you know, come to Jesus moment, if you will, for the rebel movement because I think there were tribal jealousies that were existent in there.
KITFIELDThe investigation of it has still not been completed so we don't know exactly who killed him and why, but they seem to have gotten over that sort of rough patch and reunified behind the current leadership.
REHMAll right, to Bethesda, Md. Good morning, Nicolas.
REHMHey there, go right ahead, please.
NICHOLASSure, thank you. I was actually born in Syria and I lived there under the regime of Bashar's father. When Bashar came into power, in fact, we were sort of elated because he was viewed as a Westernizer, if you will. But amidst international condemnation, even Hezbollah coming out condemning the violence in Syria and with the recent defections in the military and the U.N. resolution for an oil embargo, are these the straws that will break the camel's back? Or does the Syrian regime still have something to hold on to? How long can they last, especially since Russia is still not really against the Syrian regime?
SANGERWell, there are sort of three factors that are holding them on. We referred to one of them earlier, which is that they're not going to get bombed. They're not going to get bombed, in part, as you point out, because there's Russia and then still some Chinese support.
SANGERSecondly, there's no U.N. resolution as there was in Libya that gave the NATO allies and the United States the reason to go and step in. I think the third reason is that the military, since Assad rules from a minority position, the military are pretty much all the ally loyalists of Assad and so the chances that they're going to walk away from him the way the Egyptian military walked away from Mubarak are pretty low. And those are all the things that would make you think that he could hold on.
KITFIELDAnd can I just add to that, that it's also -- I mean, the flip side of that, you have really -- it's hard to imagine how knowing today what we know now that this regime, if it returns to any kind of normalcy in international relations with the rest of the world, it is under really tough U.N. sanctions in terms of economic sanctions. The sanctions, as we said before, are going to get tougher from the U.N. oil. You have, you know, when you have the Iranians and Hezbollah criticizing you for your untendered mercies in dealing with protestors, you know you're in trouble.
KITFIELDSo I still -- it feels to me like Libya in a way. But clearly, you know, it's not a foregone conclusion he goes, but it's hard to imagine over the long term that he stays.
REHMWe have a question on the D-R show website about a meeting between former Assistant Secretary of State David Welch and Gadhafi or his representatives in the minutes of that August 2nd meeting. Welch, who now works for Bechtel, tells Gadhafi how to convince the Americans that the rebel council is full of bad guys. Is that a true story, James?
KITFIELDWell, I've read it. I haven't reported on it. I assume it's true. And, you know, there was a rough rapprochement, if you will, between the Bush administration and Gadhafi's regime in 2003 when he gave up his weapons of mass destruction. We went in there personally and withdrew them. We kind of allowed him to reintegrate into the national community. He reached a deal with the victims of Pan Am 103. So there was a sort -- they had a relationship. And now, David Welch is now working for a private contractor who has lots of contracts in the Middle East and was, you know, embarrassingly trying to tell this guy how he might solve his PR problem.
REHMLet's go to Clairemont, N.H. Good morning, James, you're on the air. Go right ahead. Sorry, that's Frank. Good morning.
FRANKGood morning, this is Frank in Claremont, N.H. and the question about David Welch and the feature story on al-Jazeera English was the same question that I had given by the gentleman prior to me so I would just like to make mention of that.
REHMAll right. David Sanger, do you have anything else on that?
SANGERWell, you know, I think that Jim got an interesting issue when he made the point that the U.S. was on the way to rapprochement with Libya and both under the Bush administration and under the Obama administration, similar efforts were made with Assad in Syria. In fact, under President Obama's time, the U.S. sent an ambassador back to Syria. There was a real effort to try to peel the Syrians away from the Iranians in both administrations and they're somewhat opposite stories.
SANGERIn Gadhafi's case, he reached some agreements with the United States and then as soon as this rebellion turn happened, the U.S. obviously turned against him. And he had already given up his nuclear weapons -- I'm sorry, his nuclear weapons program. He never actually had the weapons himself and some other WMD. And so the lesson that may go out to other countries out of the Libyan experience may be, think twice before you give up these weapons because it's very possible that NATO and the United States would not have joined forces in the bombing and so forth if they thought the Libyans still had a significant way to strike back.
REHMThe thing that bothers me about this question is that it is Welch who tells Gadhafi how to convince the Americans that the rebel council is full of bad guys. Anne?
GEARANSure. I mean, there's a very lucrative business of telling bad guys or bad corporations or bad anything, you know, how to look better to the rest of the world...
REHMBut was Welch still assistant secretary of state when this happens?
GEARANBut I think he was -- I mean, he was assistant secretary of state for the Mideast during the period when Gadhafi really made good on the bargain with the United States to give up the last of the really rough stuff he had. And the U.S. made good on their part to have diplomatic rapprochement with him. Condoleezza Rice went to Libya in 2008 and said, this shows the United States has no permanent enemies. I think the arc of history since then shows that we may have perennial ones, though.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Tulsa, Okla. Good morning, Louis. Go right ahead, please. Louis, are you there? Okay, to St. Louis, Mo. Let's go to Darryl.
DARRYLGood morning, how are you doing?
REHMFine, thanks, sir.
DARRYLYou wouldn't think that after 9/11 and after Iraq that anybody would believe what my government, the American government says about anything. These are total lies about Gadhafi. You got him to get rid of his weapons, which he had none and now you're bombing the crap out of the country so you can do the same...
REHMI appreciate your not using that word on the air. I recognize it's not one of the seven deadly ones, but if you had something to say?
DARRYLYou're a coward, lady.
REHMI'm a coward. Well, I am a coward in terms of trying to help our audience hear a civilized program. Let's go now to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Good morning, Jose, you're on the air.
JOSEYes, Diane, good morning, thank you for having me on. Diane, I just wanted to make a comment about a comment one of the panelists made earlier. As a Venezuelan-American myself, I just wanted to make a kind of a funny comment with Chavez being the deranged dictator who has decimated the economy in Venezuela, persecuted the political opposition in Venezuela. I don't think the country needs another deranged dictator like Gadhafi going over there and seeking sanctuary.
REHMWhat do you think, James?
KITFIELDWell Mr. Chavez has shown some poor judgment in his choice of friends with Fidel Castro and some others so I agree with the guy. If I was a Venezuelan-American myself, I'd have some concerns, but I wouldn't put it beyond Chavez.
REHMHere is an e-mail question. "What makes anyone think a Libyan, Egyptian or Syrian populations suddenly can transition into a representative democracy?" Anne?
GEARANWell, most people don't think that it's an easy road in any of those places. I mean, Egypt is the farthest along at this point and the government there is suffering enormous problems. The military rulership which has promised to transition to a civilian one, and I think will make good on that, they don't really want to run the country. They're getting it from above, below and sideways and at the same time, the street protests have started to heat back up.
GEARANThere is a deficit of leadership. People never had the chance to actually form viable opposition parties with people who had experience running something. I mean, none of these countries have had anything but one party rule, dictatorship for so many years and no other political class.
REHMAll right, to John in Reston, Va. Good morning, you're on the air.
JOHNGood morning, Diane, thank you for taking my call.
JOHNI think we have to be very careful that -- this country is based on tribes. And right now, what's left is Gadhafi's area and one of these rebels will start killing Gadhafi's tribes and might end up like Somalia, which is -- some of these tribes, they may looking not only to have a good country, but how to grab this power and it will end up being -- it might end up a civil war. We have to be very careful that go in sides because it's going to be very different.
SANGERWell, the caller makes a good point that it's the tribal countries or the tribal regions that always end up being the hardest ones to make the kind of transition that Anne was talking about before because you don't have a strong sense of nationalism and building up the institutions. This has been the problem that obviously plagued Iraq. It has certainly plagued Afghanistan. It's a big issue in Yemen,, which is right now in similar chaos as somebody pointed out. And if the Arab awakening ever spreads to Saudi Arabia, you will see the problem happen there as well.
REHMDavid Sanger of The New York Times. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." James Kitfield, you wanted to add something regarding General Petraeus.
KITFIELDWell, I mean, Dave made an interesting point that it's going to be a difficult transition for him to go from the Pentagon to a very secretive society like the CIA. And what I was struck by is when he made his statement warning the country basically about a precipitous decline in defense spending was that's probably the very reason the Obama administration didn't want him to take what everyone thought was a natural job for him, which was the chairman of the joint staff. Because that, I mean, as the most influential military commander of his time, you would think he would get the top military job in the country and that didn't happen.
KITFIELDAnd a lot of the rumblings you heard were, he was just a little too popular, and if we're going to confront an era of defense spending, they didn't want him to fight, you know, having Petraeus out there in front warning against what they think may be necessary in terms of cutting the defense budget.
REHMHow well do you think Leon Panetta will do at arguing that the DOD does need all the money it can get, Anne?
GEARANWell, he's already arguing that they'll make better use of what they've got, but he knows that cuts are coming. That's an argument that Secretary Gates before him, well, he essentially lost. He wanted to hold on to a larger share of the budget than he was able to and Panetta came in knowing that. I mean, he's sort of been cut off at the knees. By the time he took the job, a lot of the initial budget decisions had been made.
GEARANWhat he's arguing for now is to not cut wildly, not cut indiscriminately, that it has to be a managed and long-term process that the Pentagon has ownership of and they're really scared about this.
GEARANRight, exactly. That, you know, that that's exactly what would happen. It would result in just a number, make the number and they would really have a very difficult time doing that without cutting back on things that are very important to the military, like personnel costs.
REHMGo ahead, David Sanger.
SANGERYou know, early in the Obama administration, there was an interesting discussion that fell silent too early about whether the United States needs a single unified national security budget that would encompass the State Department, the Pentagon, some of the intelligence agencies so that it would be much easier to move money between the war-fighting side, the covert side, although there's been a big merger...
REHMDepending on need?
SANGERDepending on the need and the diplomatic side, which, of course -- you know, how many times have you heard they -- you know, more people in military marching bands than we have diplomats and so forth? It was true when Bob Gates said it a few years ago. It remained true after he left Washington. So that discussion really needs to take place if you are going to get at the systemic problem. It's not going to happen while you have a Congressional system in which each committee is responsible for the Pentagon, the State Department, the intelligence agencies and doesn't want to give up that authority.
KITFIELDAnd to add to that everyone in Congress, you know, likes to sort of wrap themselves in the flag and lavish money on the Pentagon. No one likes to lavish money on foreign aid and the State Department. It's just the way Washington works, unfortunately. I will say that on the budget thing they have taken a $400 billion hit over the next ten years as part of this debt, this horrible debt debate we had. And if this committee, this report right before Thanksgiving doesn't reach a bipartisan agreement, which we haven't seen one of those in quite a while in Washington, you know, a trillion dollars of spending cuts gets sort of automatically triggered on the defense department over the next ten years. Panetta has drawn a line in the sand and said that cannot happen, it's just too much too fast.
REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal Magazine, Anne Gearan of the Associated Press, David Sanger of The New York Times. I hope you all have a good and safe weekend on this Labor Day weekend. We'll be bringing you two rebroadcasts on Monday. I'll be back with you on the air on Tuesday. Thanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm.
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