Nine years ago, former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran while on a mission for the CIA. The story of his secret journey to Iran, the CIA cover-up that followed and efforts to rescue the longest-held U.S. hostage.
Guest Host: Susan Page
Yeman says a high level U. S.-born al-Qaeda operative has been killed. The key leader is thought to have ties to the Fort Hood shooting and attempted Times Square car bombing. Secretary of State Clinton condemns an attack by pro-government Syrians that temporarily trapped the U. S. ambassador in Damascus. Germany approves a bailout extension for Greece. Protesters blocked access to government offices in Athens for European officials to assess the country’s finances. And Saudi Arabia holds its last male-only elections. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Abderrahim Foukara Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic.
- Peter David Washington DC bureau chief, The Economist
- Indira Lakshmanan senior reporter, Bloomberg News.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. Germany approves a bigger euro zone bailout. Russia's Vladimir Putin positions himself to become president again. Yemen says a key al-Qaida recruiter is dead and Syria's opposition asks for international help.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me in the studio to discuss the week's top international stories on our Friday News Roundup, Abderrahim Foukara of al Jazeera, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and Peter David of The Economist, joining the News Roundup for the first time. Welcome, Peter.
MR. PETER DAVIDGood morning.
PAGEWe welcome our listeners, too. You can call our toll free number and join our conversation later in this hour. The number's 1-800-433-8850 or you can send us an e-mail at email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, let's start with the news out of Yemen. We woke up this morning to hear that Anwar Awlaki had been killed. Who was he, Indira?
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANHe was an American-Yemeni preacher of tremendous charismatic appeal, who we know was involved, according to U.S. Intelligence, was linked to at least four attacks or attempted attacks on the U.S. within the last couple of years, including the famous 2009 Christmas underwear bombing attempt, as well as he was an inspiration for the Fort Hood attacks and also apparently an inspiration for the 2010 planned bombing of Times Square. So a very significant, charismatic figure in the al-Qaida global organization.
PAGEAbderrahim, do we know much now about how he died?
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAWell, we know that he died from aerial strikes. We don't know for sure who actually conducted those aerial strikes. There are reports that it was the United States but there are also reports coming out of Yemen, which I personally think are unlikely, that it was the Yemeni Air Force that actually struck at him and killed him.
PAGEWould it make a difference, Peter David, do you think, I mean, this is an American born, born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents. Would it make a difference whether it was Yemeni forces or a U.S. drone that killed him?
DAVIDI don't think it would much -- I mean, you could argue that if the United States had plausible deniability then there would be less of a backlash in the complicated politics of Yemen at the thought of the Americans striking people in their country.
DAVIDBut the truth is, everyone knows that the Americans have been flying drones over Yemen for a while now, trying to kill mainly Anwar Awlaki, but also others. So, you know, the cat is out of the bag. I suspect, strongly, that it was indeed -- it was indeed the Americans that killed him.
LAKSHMANANAnd let's not forget that last year apparently President Obama authorized drone strikes to target or the assassination of Awlaki, making him the first American citizen for whom there was an authorized assassination effort by the U.S. government last year already. So, I mean, we know, first of all, that while the Yemeni president, Saleh, has for a long time tried to say no these attacks are done by our government.
LAKSHMANANFinally, last year, he admitted that the U.S. was involved and, I mean, in a way this seems to me to have ramifications for the Yemen political situation because President Saleh is back in Yemen right now and he's trying to play very heavily the card of U.S. - Yemeni cooperation under his leadership against al-Qaida. So he's clearly going to try to use this as an example of saying, look how good al-Qaida counter-terrorism cooperation is under me. Don't let me be pushed out of office.
PAGEBut just to go back to the early point, so the president approved an assassination order basically on a U.S. citizen. Is there any question about whether that is a legal thing to do? I mean, there's no due process involved, right, in terms of him being convicted, say, in a court of law?
FOUKARAI mean, I agree that on one level it doesn't really matter, a big fish within the al-Qaida hierarchy has been taken out. On the other hand, there is some consequence to the issue of who actually killed him. As you rightly point out, if it turns out that it was the U.S., the guy was an American citizen, it would have legal ramifications for the Obama Administration.
FOUKARAIt's not the first time that an American citizen killed by American firepower so the administration, I'm sure, if it does turn out to be the American firepower, the administration will find ways to skirt around that. If it is not the United States and I do agree with my colleagues here, that it is the likelier option that it was U.S. firepower, but if it is Yemeni firepower it has all sorts of -- it sends all sorts of signals.
FOUKARAOne of them, it is a fact that Ali Abdullah Saleh is now back in Yemen from Saudi Arabia. His situation is very tenuous and it could be argued that he would want to consolidate his position with regard to cooperating with the United States by at least helping the Americans kill Awlaki. It would help consolidate his position in Yemen with regard to the youth revolution and with regard to the tribes that are trying to depose him in conjunction of some members of the army that had actually defected to the revolution.
PAGESo does this make the United States more likely to try to help him continue in power?
DAVIDBefore I answer that, I just wanted to make the point that -- go back to your point about the legality of the -- of this. That really, I don't think this is going to cause the administration much waste -- much lost sleep. It's a fantastic triumph for Barack Obama, I think that's the important point to make. And Leon Panetta said recently that al-Qaida was now on the brink of a strategic defeat.
DAVIDAnd I think after knocking out Osama bin Laden, short perhaps of getting his number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Awlaki was the main target. So this is a terrific feather in the bonnet of the president as he goes into an election year.
PAGEAnd I'm sure you're right, that most Americans are not concerned about the legal rights of someone connected with such terrible acts against the United States, but an interesting point nevertheless, he was a huge inspirational figure around the world, including among some people in the United States. So how big of a blow is this, Indira, to the operation there?
LAKSHMANANI think it's interesting because a lot of American officials have said that Awlaki was possibly the most charismatic figure left in al-Qaida's global organization once Osama bin Laden was knocked off earlier this year. So no one has ever thought of al-Zawahiri as a charismatic leader. That said, I mean, there can be other fiery preachers who can fill the role that he has taken up in the last several years.
LAKSHMANANI think one important notion is that in Yemen the Americans, in fact, you could say a more dangerous person, not from a rhetorical point of view, but from actual logistical point of view, is the Yemeni bomb maker, who they've long been looking for, who they feel has a lot of significant, technical power and has been linked to some of the package bombing attempts against the United States last year.
PAGEAnd to go back to the point of the President of Yemen who's been struggling to hold onto power, does this mean the United States role in that is likely to change, the fact of this great success?
FOUKARAWell, I mean, even if he had leant strong support to the Americans in carrying out this operation, which I'm inclined to think he did, obviously, I'm not sure to what extent that would change the dynamics of the U.S. position in Yemen in terms of the U.S. not, at least in the eyes of his critics, not putting enough pressure on him to actually step down.
FOUKARAAs you know, some of his critics are saying that the United States should sever links with him. Clearly, both the United States and some of the Gulf region, such as Saudi Arabia, still see some value in him being in Yemen, Yemen being such a -- being a country that in the eyes of many American officials on the verge of turning into something like Somalia.
PAGEPeter David, the cover of your magazine, The Economist, out today has a big black hole on it and says, "Until Politicians Actually Do Something About The World Economy, Be Afraid." So we've had all this news this week about trouble in Europe and the euro zone. German parliament has approved an expanded bailout fund to help Greece and others. What's happening there? is Europe responding in an effective way to the fiscal crisis we see?
DAVIDCertainly not yet. I mean, it would be churlish, I think, this week to not to give some credit to Angela Merkel for having a blast, got an expansion to the European stabilization facility, as it's called, through the Bundestag. That is a difficult thing to do. As you know, the Germans are very, very reluctant to bailout the profligate southern members of the European Union, as they see it. But I fear that this is just another example of applying a sticky plaster to...
PAGEA Band-Aid, you would say.
DAVIDA Band-Aid as we would say here, yes, sorry, to a wound that is very deep and will take much more effort to repair. And in fact, I think, you know, one could almost say that, you know, the $600 billion facility that's gone through just shows the scale of the problem ahead. This probably has to go up to several trillion eventually and it has to get through a political system in Europe, which just isn't geared up to coping with a problem as big as the euro zone crisis that has hit it.
DAVIDYou know, I know in this country people angst all the time about dysfunctional politics, but even if you look just at Germany, you see how the chancellor runs a very fragile coalition. She's constrained by things like a very strong constitutional court in Germany.
DAVIDSo for her to act is very difficult, but there are 17 members of the euro zone. They all have to agree and then there are 27 members of the European Union who have to sign onto some things as well. So the question is, you know, how are all these different politicians and policies going to get their act together to deal with this crisis?
PAGEAnd some of these international officials showed up in Athens today to see whether the Greece austerity measures are working and they couldn't get in the building because protestors from the government from that agency had taken it over.
LAKSHMANANThat's right. I mean, the polls are showing that 94 percent of Greeks are -- feel that the measures, the austerity measures that have been approved already are extremely unfair. And they've been radical, the austerity measures. Everything from cutting pensions and cutting civil service pay to levying a very unpopular property tax via electricity bills and even lowering the -- saying that people who make 5,000 euros or more have to pay taxes. So it's very unpopular and it's been difficult for them and people say that the austerity won't be enough.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about what's happening in Russia. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And joining me for the second hour, the international hour of our Weekly News Roundup, Abderrahim Foukara, Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic and Indira Lakshmanan, senior reporter at Bloomberg News and Peter David, the Washington bureau chief for The Economist. We're going to take your calls shortly. You can give us a call at 1-800-433-8850 or send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PAGEWell, Vladimir Putin seems prepared to move back into power as president of Russia. A surprise, Abderrahim?
FOUKARANot really. I mean, there's been talk for a long time now that there was an original agreement with the current president Medvedev that at some point Putin would come back to hold the reins of the presidency in Russia. I think what's been more of a surprise is the fact that now Medvedev is saying, yes, I do think that Putin is actually the right man for the job, even better than him, Medvedev, running for the presidency. He just seems to think that, you know, he can pull it off.
FOUKARAHe's still saying that it's not a done deal. The fact that he's -- he may run for the presidency does not necessarily signal that the Russian electorate will actually go along with it, but the fact that he's supporting the chances of Putin and putting them before his own chances in the election is interesting.
PAGEWhy do you think he's doing that?
FOUKARAWell, I think primarily because Putin has been the real man running the show ever since. He never really receded into the background. And remember that it was Putin who actually helped Medvedev reach the position where he is now. So it seems that Medvedev is now, for one reason or another, trying to, if you will, send the elevator back to Putin to send him up to the presidency.
PAGENow, this would be -- if this works for Putin he will have been the power in the top of Russia for quite some time. How long Indira?
LAKSHMANANHe served originally from 2000 to 2008 and was constrained at that point because constitutionally you couldn't have three consecutive terms. So a lot of people at the time believed that there was a deal between him and Medvedev for him to switch into the prime minister job and to switch back just as he's doing now. And since the presidential terms have since been lengthened to six years it means he could actually now serve 12 years consecutively, which would make him the longest serving leader in Russia since Joseph Stalin, which is stunning. And, you know, some people would argue, someone with almost as much power.
LAKSHMANANI mean, one of the things I found incredibly entertaining, one of the best pieces of photo journalism I've seen recently, and I urge people to look at it, is in a recent issue of Atlantic. You can find it online. They had a series of 30 some pictures of Putin who, you know, has a photographer with him all the time now to sort of show himself as this incredibly strong leader.
LAKSHMANANAnd he's doing absolutely everything you could imagine. It's not just the iconic bare-chested horseback riding shot that we all know. But it's him scuba diving and supposedly rescuing rare antiquities. It's him with a tiger. It's him harpooning a whale. It's him doing judo. I mean, he -- there's clearly an incredible campaign by Putin's office to portray him as the father that Russia needs to keep their country stable, the strong man who can do everything.
PAGEWell, Russians do have a history of liking a strong man. I mean, not always in a democratic way I guess. But do we have a sense, Peter David, about what Russian voters think about the prospect of him returning as president?
DAVIDHe's popular. I think he has 50 percent or more of favorable opinion according to opinion polls. And yes, Russians have a great nostalgia for Stalin, strangely enough. With everything that they know about the crimes that Stalin committed there's still the feeling that Russia went wrong when it lost a strong leader who knew how to make the country great. And Putin's appeal is not just that he poses, as Indira said, you know, in this macho way as a strong leader. But he does promise to restore, you know, the greatness that Russia lost when the Soviet Union collapsed.
DAVIDOne amusing, I think, point about this all is that the Russian leaders are very fond of looking to the United States for examples and justification of their sort of stitch up they've just done. So Putin himself is often comparing himself to FDR, who of course had four terms. And Medvedev, I gather in an interview that's going to be shown tonight in Russia, is saying that, you know, well, of course, he can't argue with Putin. That would be like Hillary Clinton taking on Barack Obama.
DAVIDSo they do try -- I mean, it shows a sort of rather comical attempt to justify what's just happened in -- to the outside world.
PAGENow, one thing that happened this week was the Russian finance minister was fired quite publicly. Does that indicate some kind of hitch in the plans?
FOUKARAAnd I'm not sure if it does with regard to Putin. Because, as Peter said, a lot of Russians see him as perhaps more capable of turning -- making the Russian economy turn around because the Russian economy under Medvedev has been not doing so great. And it's expected to actually recede even further. It's interesting though that although it was -- it's Putin who's actually responsible for the economy. But now he's laying the blame at the door of Medvedev.
FOUKARABut just as a comical addition to what Peter said, Middle Eastern dictators, including some of those who are out of power now, must be salivating at this story that Putin may come back to the helm in Russia.
PAGEMeaning because perhaps they could come back.
FOUKARAMeaning -- exactly.
LAKSHMANANI just wanted to point out though that although Putin was very popular and in 2007 he had an 80 percent popularity rating among the public, there is a lot of dissatisfaction that has built up in the last four years, particularly over corruption, cronyism and, you know, perceived unfairness in the Russian economy, which the U.S. and Wikileaks cables had described as a virtual mafia state. So let's not forget that.
LAKSHMANANAnd The Economist recently reported that 20 percent of Russians want to immigrate out of the country. And there was a stunning survey that I saw this week from the European Council on foreign relations that reported that one-third of Russians constantly feel like killing officials. So there's clearly some pent up frustration there with regard to the economy not working. And it's rated internationally by Freedom House as one of the un-free countries in the world in the same ranks with Libya, Yemen and Syria. I'm talking about Moammar Gadhafi's Libya. Of course we don't know about the future one.
LAKSHMANANBut, I mean, this is the point that although Russians -- I think it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that Putin is coming back to power because Russia's essentially a one-party state. I don't think that that necessarily means that people are feeling great about it. They want to return to Russia's prestige. And, let's not forget, this is not going to be great for the United States and its reset of U.S. Russian relations because Medvedev has been much more cooperative with the United States. And I think in the Security Council we can expect a lot more opposition under a Putin government. You know, although you could argue he was controlling the strings behind the curtain in any case in these years.
DAVIDOur Moscow correspondent makes an interesting point about where this might go wrong, which is that, you know, the assumption is that Putin's back, Russia will go back to where it was last time Putin was president. But, no, the whole economic situation has changed inside Russia. For one thing with, you know, the world economy going into a very slow period, Russia will not be able just to scoop up all those energy riches that kept it afloat last time Putin was at the helm.
DAVIDAnd meanwhile, under this crony capitalist system that's been introduced in Russia, entrepreneurialism -- I mean, true entrepreneurialism has been crushed. So the economic outlook for the country is quite gloomy. And of course, Putin will eventually be held accountable whether, you know, Russia has the mechanisms that would mean, you know, he could be unseated, I don't know. But he's not going to have the easy ride that he had in his first two terms.
PAGEWe saw quite a scene in Damascus yesterday when the U.S. Ambassador was going to meet with a Syrian opposition figure. And there were all these demonstrators really. It was kind of a scary mob pelting him with tomatoes and eggs. And when the armored cars came to try to pick him up they were pelted with rocks. Abderrahim, what does this signal? What does this tell us?
FOUKARAWell, I mean, first of all for his confirmation, I think this may do wonders for his confirmation in Congress. And it may, in lots of ways, vindicate the position of the Obama Administration that came under pressure to actually withdraw him from Damascus. This may come as vindication that we are doing the right thing by actually keeping him there. Because through him the International Community has access to what's going on in Syria and, you know, bringing accounts of it to the outside world.
FOUKARANow the fact that he's been pelted by supporters of the Assad regime, yes, it's going to create some more tension in relations between Washington and Damascus. I'm not sure to what extent Damascus will actually be rattled by the statements of Hillary Clinton yesterday, or by the displeasure expressed by Jay Carney at the White House about, you know, the behavior of the Syrian regime. Syrian's regime, whether the U.S. Ambassador is pelted or not, is well entrenched into its position.
FOUKARAAnd unless some drastic things take place in the dynamics of that situation such as Iran, for example, changing its position on its support to Assad, this is just another blip in an already turbulent relationship between Washington and Damascus.
PAGEWell, in fact, President Obama just last week urged the U.N. to impose sanctions on Syria. Has that gone anywhere, Indira?
LAKSHMANANIt's in a holding pattern right now. It looked like there would be progress this week. And on Wednesday there was a discussion at the Security Council. But it essentially broke down over Russia's opposition to going along with European and U.S. calls for sanctions. And so ultimately the Europeans dropped their call for sanctions, which has been seen as a lot of weakness. What the Russians want to do is they're essentially backing the Syrian regime in that they want to equate the government attacks on the civilians with supposed violent attacks or violent acts by the opposition.
LAKSHMANANSo they want the resolution to state that there should be stopped violence on all sides, as if, you know, equating that they were the same. And they also don't want sanctions. So it looks like the Security Council's going to meet again on Monday. They're going to be further negotiations. At this point it looks like there's going to have to be -- any kind of resolution that they could get Russian, Chinese and South African support of in the Security Council would have to not put sanctions in right away, but have a 30-day period saying, you must stop this or else in 30 days we can then consider imposing sanctions.
LAKSHMANANBut let's not forget, it's not just the Security Council that is in play here. The EU has its own sanctions. The U.S. has its own sanctions. And Turkey -- and this may be the most significant -- one of Syria's neighbors, Turkey, has broken ranks and in -- and recently has said that it's going to impose a lot more sanctions on Syria and they are really mad. And that's because Prime Minister Erdogan feels that his appeals to Assad, which he believed that Assad was taking Erdogan's word seriously, were completely ignored. And apparently 2600 people have been killed in Syria. And so Erdogan's fed up and he feels like he's been betrayed by Assad. And so they're losing the support of a neighbor there.
PAGEIt seems remarkable to me the bravery of these Syrian demonstrators in the face of violent crackdown. All these killings of demonstrators against a regime that, as you say, is not teetering. It seems pretty entrenched. I mean, it's been remarkable.
DAVIDYes. One has to admire the courage and sometimes the suicidal courage of the demonstrators. But I feel that this might be one example in the Arab Spring of a regime that doesn't fall. And the shear use of violent repression might indeed save Bashar Assad.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You know, we've gotten several e-mails and people posting on Twitter and Facebook about the discussion we had earlier on whether it was an issue that the U.S. had authorized the assassination of a U.S. citizen. Here's a tweet, "As an American citizen, I'm very concerned about the implications that the U.S. government was involved in the death of al-Awlaki. It's not right." And Thomas posted on our Facebook page, "How is targeted killing different from state sanctioned murder?" Is there an answer to people who do have these concerns?
DAVIDI don't know what the legal answer is. I agree with those who express concern when they say there ought to be some sort of legal justification. The United States is a nation of laws and tries to obey them often. However, you know, I think if I were employed by the State Department to make a case on this I would say that someone like Anwar al-Awlaki is like an armed murderer on the run who is refusing to give himself up to justice. And cannot practically be arrested because he's a fugitive in a country where the reach -- an American policeman doesn't go.
DAVIDSo I think it is troubling. It's always troubling when the states act outside the letter of the law. Now, the same you could say applied to the attack on Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.
FOUKARAI mean, the other thing is that the administration, if it does turn out to have ordered the operation, legally the administration could always argue, we did not target him in particular. We targeted others and he just happened to be collateral damage. And I think that argument was used in the past in drone operations where American citizens were involved.
PAGEI don't think this is a political problem for President Obama in this country. But I wonder -- one thing we saw after Osama bin Laden was killed was Americans were very glad to see that happen. But it didn't really rebound in a significant way to President Obama's benefit in terms of say his job approval rating. And, Indira, do you think that this will, with the accumulation of these two very big leaders, have more of an impact on views of President Obama and his leadership?
LAKSHMANANI mean, it's the oft repeated truism of James Carville that 'it's the economy, stupid.' But there's a reason it's a truism. I mean, the problem in America is that Obama has done a lot of things on foreign policy that one could say he should get credit for. Not just killing Osama bin Laden and, in this case, you know, wiping out, if indeed the U.S. was involved, someone who you could argue was a treasonous American who had called for the killing of Americans in a variety of different fashions, the destruction of the American State.
LAKSHMANANAlso the draw -- I'm talking about Obama has also accomplished the drawdown in Iraq, plans to drawdown in Afghanistan. So you could argue that he's had some things that could be called foreign policy successes. But it's true, he hasn't gotten a lot of credit for them and I think that's -- let's face it, it's because Americans are looking at the economy.
PAGELibya might be another example of something for which he would deserve some credit.
PAGEWell, here's a question by e-mail from Stanley who says, "From where are these drones launched?" Are they just launched from Yemen?
FOUKARAI mean, the -- Yemen is -- the Yemeni government -- the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh has always had great difficulty in actually trying to hide from Yemeni public opinion and Arab public opinion at large, the fact that there are Americans who were directly involved in Yemeni territory in carrying out these operations. It wouldn't surprise me that the drones actually took off either from Yemen or from a neighboring country of Yemen.
PAGEWe're going to take another short break. When we come back, we'll go back and take some of your phone calls and questions. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio, Peter David, Washington bureau chief of The Economist, Indira Lakshmanan, senior reporter at Bloomberg News and Abderrahim Foukara, Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic.
PAGEYou know, we heard very critical words from Donald Rumsfeld when he was the Secretary of Defense about Al Jazeera, your news organization. And yet I understand you have now interviewed him for Al Jazeera. How did that come about?
FOUKARAWell, the -- he published his memoir "Known and Unknown" and we thought it would be a good opportunity for us to talk to him about the book, but also to revisit some of the contentious issues that he dealt with when he was Secretary of Defense under President Bush.
FOUKARAOne of those main topics that we were interested in talking to him about was Iraq, obviously what happened in the run up to the invasion of Iraq. What happened in the post invasion, all the chaos that Iraq descended into the killing of Iraqi civilians? To what extent was the coalition responsible for that? To what extent other actors in Iraq such as Al-Qaida were responsible for that.
FOUKARASo we did two different interviews. David Frost did the interview, which is still under embargo for Al Jazeera English. I did the one for Arabic. It was interesting dynamics sitting with him because this is a man -- whether you agree with what he did when he was in the administration or you disagree with it, this is a man of really impressive intellectual acumen and impressive presence. And he gives as good as he gets. He doesn't take anything lying down.
FOUKARAHe obviously didn't always like the line of questioning about his role in the run up of the invasion in 2003 and post invasion of '03. But, you know, he was -- you know, he held his ground that whatever happened in Iraq despite all the casualties among Iraqi civilians he seems to think that it was still worth it getting rid of Saddam. He thinks that the world is a better place without Saddam.
PAGEIn 2005, he said that Al Jazeera was vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable. Did he say whether his view of Al Jazeera had changed?
FOUKARAWe -- I didn't ask him that question. I didn't ask him what he thought of Al Jazeera. I assume that because he had accepted to actually sit down with Al Jazeera Arabic, I assumed that his position had changed. I'm not sure after the interview if he would say necessarily that his position to Al Jazeera Arabic had changed. But I still think that it was well worth the effort of sitting down with him and engaging him on all sorts of topics.
PAGEYou know, Admiral Mullen had made headlines last week when he talked about the Haqqani network in the senate testimony. Indira, remind us what it was he said.
LAKSHMANANSo going out with a bang is how I refer to Admiral Mullen's last week before retirement. He basically, for the first time, said what a lot of U.S. officials have said privately, but never as strongly as this. He called the Haqqani network, which is a well known terrorist organization operating in Waziristan and Pakistan, a veritable arm of the ISI, which is the Pakistani intelligence agency. Obviously Pakistan is a key important ally for the United States and the recipient of huge amounts of aid, although less given that this summer the U.S. suspended $800 million of aid over another earlier dispute with Pakistan.
LAKSHMANANSo it was stunning that the top military official in the United States, who has made arguably more trips to Pakistan under his tenure than anyone else and has really done a lot to publicly cultivate better relations with his counterparts and with the Pakistani government, would say that. Would accuse them of helping a militant group that he said was to blame for the recent September 13 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, not to mention other attacks earlier in the summer on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul as well.
PAGEAdmiral Mullen, of course is the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Now, this wasn't an offhand comment. This was a comment he intended to make. And yet did we see the administration try to back away a little bit this week, Peter?
DAVIDWe did. Yesterday the White House was grappling to hold off questioning on this by saying that, you know, Jay Carney the president's spokesman saying, I wouldn't have used those words. That was what he said about what Admiral Mullen had said in testimony. But since then the Admiral has said publicly that he stands by what he said. And that he chose his original words very clearly.
DAVIDAnd it is indeed an extraordinary thing for him to have said that. Because, as Indira just mentioned, Admiral Mullen had invested a huge effort into becoming a personal friend really of General Kayani, the head of the Pakistani armed forces. And really to accuse the Pakistani intelligence services of using the proxy of the Haqqani network to attack the American embassy in Kabul is a pretty strong statement. And it's caused consternation within Pakistan itself.
FOUKARAI just wanted to add that Admiral Mullen actually told me several years ago of his concern about the role of ISI, the Pakistani intelligence agency in terms of supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. So this position is definitely not new to him or to other people working around him. But obviously since then a lot of things have changed. Bin Laden was killed on Pakistani territory. And the Pakistanis obviously were not particularly happy that the operation to kill Osama bin Laden was carried out the way it was carried out. To them it violated the agreement with the United States. It violated their sovereignty. Public opinion on that basis in Pakistan was outraged.
FOUKARAThe other thing and Peter mentioned that, this time around he is talking about something very specific. He's talking about the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. An event which when it happened was hugely publicized, both in Afghanistan and here in the United States. So obviously now, different dynamics.
LAKSHMANANI just want to say, let's not forget that there is no way that the chief military official in the United States gave such testimony and that it was not vetted by the White House first. So let's not forget that. I mean, all this talk about people stepping back from their comments is fine. If Jay Carney wants to step back, no problem. But that doesn't mean that Barack Obama didn't know exactly what Admiral Mullen was going to say and that he hadn't agreed to it. Of course he agreed to it.
LAKSHMANANAnd the other thing is, why not use Mullen who's about to retire and so he's a perfect person to give this very strong message in public testimony. We're sick and tired of the ISI using the Haqqani network to actually, in this case, attack directly U.S. interests. It's not just attacking, you know, Afghanistan and destabilizing the area, but it's attacking apparently, or supposedly according to their intelligence, the U.S. Embassy itself. So, you know, I don't think the administration didn't want this message out. They wanted it out.
LAKSHMANANThe question is what do they do now. And Hillary Clinton said yesterday that they are in the final formal stages of deciding whether to designate the entire Haqqani network as a terrorist organization. Again, let's not forget, if they do that that doesn't mean the Haqqani network is not going to continue to receive financing from allies in the Gulf or from allies in Pakistan. So it doesn't mean they would suddenly be cut off from operations.
PAGEBut if you declare the Haqqani organization a terrorist organization does that -- and it is a proxy for an agency of Pakistan -- does that mean that Pakistan should be declared a state sponsor of terrorism?
DAVIDIn logic it does mean that. And, I mean, the Haqqani network is an extraordinary thing. It's sort of the mafia basically. It's like the mob but extremely devout Islamists as well. And, of course, it was used by the United States itself in the war against the Soviet Union and Afghanistan before. So, you know, America's in a ironical historical position here, having used the Haqqani network to its own ends before.
DAVIDBy the way, just on what people are saying, it's interesting to me that Lindsey Graham -- Senator Lindsey Graham has been -- who's a Republican of course, has nonetheless been saying some very provocative things on the Hill in the last couple of weeks, in which he's more or less warning the Pakistanis to expect an attack -- an American attack into Waziristan on the Haqqani network.
DAVIDNow, of course, this could, you know, just be one senator shooting off his mouth but actually Senator Graham is rather a thoughtful person. And I wonder whether he's also been enlisted in the job of piling pressure onto the Pakistanis.
LAKSHMANANI mean, I think this whole situation is what Peter might call a sticky wicket. It's difficult for the U.S. but let's not forget the U.S. only has four designated state sponsors of terrorism. The U.S. regards Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria state sponsors of terrorism. Even North Korea was taken off that list, okay. There's no way that the U.S. government is going to designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism. They have to continue to cooperate with Pakistan. They have a -- the U.S. government has a huge investment in working with Pakistan.
LAKSHMANANAnd, you know, let's not forget the Pakistanis had a 50 party, a very rare all parties conference this week to show their opposition to the U.S. statements. And they underscored the fact that 35,000 Pakistanis have been killed in terrorist attacks and, you know, military clashes since 2006 when Pakistan began trying to crack down on the terrorists in its own borders. That's according to government figures in Pakistan. So they're saying, don't forget we're victims too.
LAKSHMANANSo I think the U.S. is in a difficult position. They want to pressure the ISI to crack down on the Haqqani network. At the same time they can't just set fire to this relationship, which is what it would be if they were to declare them a state sponsor of terrorism.
PAGEWell, let's go back and let some of our callers also join our conversation. Let's go first to David. He's calling us from Chicago. David, thanks for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show." David are you there?
PAGEYes, go ahead.
DAVIDEarlier, the spokesman for Al Jazeera had said that the -- I'm talking about the interview with Chaney, that the David Frost interview was embargoed on Al Jazeera English. What do you mean by that? Is there -- is Al Jazeera English being censored in the United States?
PAGEAll right, David. Thanks for your call. And of course, I'll turn to Abderrahim Foukara who is the Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic and conducted the interview with the former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
FOUKARANo. Embargoed just in the sense that there's a time embargo. It will air at a certain time and we're just not allowed to divulge the content of it before it actually hits the airwaves.
PAGEAnd of course that's not something the U.S. government has done, or even Donald Rumsfeld has done. Something Al Jazeera has done, right, to protect the interview so that you get the biggest possible bounce out of it -- potentially for it.
FOUKARAYes. Absolutely, yeah. I mean, it's obviously a scoop for David Frost to have sat down with Donald Rumsfeld. And they just want to air it at a certain time of their own choosing.
PAGEAll right, David. Thanks so much for your call. Let's go to Mark. He's calling us from Foley, Ala. Mark, you're on the air.
MARKThank you very much. I thought it very curious, as I've never heard it before, all of you used the word preacher when you're talking about Awlaki. And previously I've always heard him as an inspirational speaker 'cause I guess he's not an imam or a cleric. I thought that was curious and I just wonder if next year we'll be calling him a bishop or a priest or something.
MARKIf you permit me I'd like to make a comment about Ayman al-Zawahiri, which I have studied quite a bit, if that's...
PAGEWell, you know what, Mark? What I'd like to do is go to your actual question which is why did we refer to him as a preacher. Indira.
LAKSHMANANWell, he is a Muslim cleric. I think that's why the term was used. He is, in fact, a Muslim cleric, or he was, assuming he's dead.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Arkansas and talk to Eric. Eric is calling us from Jonesboro. Hi, Eric.
ERICHello. Thanks for taking my call. I just have a quick question. Does this recent string of successes against Al-Qaida illustrate our sudden competency in the war on terror, or does it better illustrate that the previous administration had no real interest in pursuing these figures?
PAGEAll right, Eric. Thanks for your call. Peter, what do you think?
DAVIDI certainly don't think one can infer that the George W. Bush Administration had no interest. I think they tried very hard. My own supposition -- and can only be supposition, is that what you're seeing is the cumulative impact of years and years of intelligence gathering, the recruitment of agents, electronic eavesdropping. And, of course, we don't know how much intelligence was gathered from the Abbottabad compound after Osama bin Laden was killed.
DAVIDSo I think both administrations, both the Obama Administration and the Bush Administration have really put their all into this effort. And, you know, I think one has to say that as time goes by the CIA and the armed forces have just got better and better at what they're doing.
FOUKARAI mean, obviously I totally agree with that. When Osama -- when President Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden he did that. And obviously there had been consultation with President Bush, as the administration said, which is recognition that in addition to what the Obama Administration has done there was also other stuff that the Bush Administration had done, in the words of the Obama Administration.
PAGEJohn is calling us from Dallas and he asked, "Where are the 20,000 missiles that are missing from Libya?" Now, are there, in fact, 20,000 missiles missing from Libya?
DAVIDWell, the Gadhafi regime had many portable surface-to-air missiles. And no one is quite sure about the size of the arsenal or its whereabouts now. And this is an extremely important issue because should missiles of this sort be -- fall into the hands of terrorist groups and spread around the world then the air traffic will be hugely vulnerable.
DAVIDI mean, obvious places where they might go, for example, now might be to Hamas and Gaza, which -- where it might affect the military equation between Israel and the Palestinians. But frankly, it's very difficult generally for terrorist organizations to get their hands on sophisticated surface-to-air missiles that could bring down airliners. And this is one of the dangers here.
PAGEWe've just got a minute left. I want to talk for a moment about Saudi Arabia taking a step toward allowing women to vote. Now not 'til 2015, but the king did announce that women will be allowed to vote in the future. Indira, why this change?
LAKSHMANANWell, I mean, the -- King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is, in the sense, a relative reformer. And it was already ten years ago that he promised to give greater rights to women in Saudi Arabia. So while on the one hand you could say it's fantastic that he's going to allow them to vote and run in municipal elections in four years, I think there're also concerns because of his ailing health. I think he's 88 years old and what if he doesn't make it for another four years. It's not entirely clear that whoever his successor would be would necessarily keep to that promise. So I think there are some concerns that the change has not come as quickly as people had hoped for, given his wishes to advance rights for women in Saudi Arabia.
PAGENow meanwhile he overturned the court ruling that was going to sentence Saudi women to ten lashes for daring to drive in Saudi Arabia. Still an issue there.
FOUKARAYeah, absolutely. I mean, give them the right to stand in elections, but don't give them the right to drive is obviously an irony not lost on many, many Saudi women.
LAKSHMANANNot to mention, how do you run for election if you can't take the veil off your face. And, you know, you wouldn't be a recognizable candidate. And how do you communicate with voters if you have to be veiled the whole time?
PAGEI want to thank all three of our panelists for joining us this hour in the Diane Rehm Show. Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and Peter David of The Economist. Thank you all.
LAKSHMANANThanks for having us.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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