What's on Congress' agenda in the final weeks before the August recess? Our panel takes a look at what needs to happen, and what can realistically get done.
Germany threw its weight behind efforts to recapitalize Europe’s banks and restore confidence in the Eurozone, as Greece teetered on the brink of default and anti-austerity protesters took to the streets. Russia and China vetoed a UN resolution condemning the government crackdown in Syria. A plot to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai was foiled as America marked the ten-year anniversary of its longest war. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made his first official visit to Israel and cautioned it against becoming too isolated, and German prosecutors reopened investigations into hundreds of suspected Nazi war criminals. A panel of journalists joins guest host Laura Knoy for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Nadia Bilbassy senior U.S. correspondent, MBC TV -- Middle East Broadcast Centre.
- Yochi Dreazen senior national security correspondent, National Journal magazine.
- Massimo Calabresi Washington correspondent, Time magazine.
MS. LAURA KNOYThanks for joining us. I'm Laura Knoy of New Hampshire Public Radio, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. This week the U.S. marked the 10-year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. Russia and China vetoed a UN resolution condemning Syria's ongoing crackdown on civilians. Germany pushed its neighbors to more strongly support Europe's banks and the Nobel Committee award the Peace Prize to three women.
MS. LAURA KNOYJoining me in the studio to discuss this week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Yochi Dreazen of National Journal. And Yochi, it's nice to meet you, thanks for being here.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENPleasure.
KNOYAlso with us, Nadia Bilbassy of MBC TV and Nadia, welcome.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYThank you.
KNOYAnd Massimo Calabresi of TIME magazine, and Massimo, thank you also for your time.
MR. MASSIMO CALABRESIA pleasure.
KNOYWell, Massimo, I'll start with you. today marks the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. We talked about this yesterday on "The Diane Rehm Show," but I'd love to hear from you, too. What would you say, Massimo, had been the primary achievements of this war and what is the endgame look like there?
CALABRESIWell, when you look at the statistics of what the United States has put into the effort in Afghanistan, it's really kind of staggering. Aside from the causalities, which are enormous, 107,000-plus dead American service members, 40,000 wounded. The amount of money that's pledged, $30 billion, $2 billion of it disbursed. The -- we've built schools, we've built roads, we've built hospitals. It's been an enormous, enormous expenditure of time, effort and money.
CALABRESIUnfortunately, at this point, increasingly the judgment on what all of that has achieved is looking less and less positive. The roads, some of them poorly constructed, are crumbling. We haven't gotten the kind of political stability that imaged -- that we imaged might come from that and obviously, it's been a terrible summer in terms of the activities of the insurgency.
KNOYWhat are your thoughts, Nadia, on this 10-year landmark?
BILBASSYWell, this is interesting because this is the longest running war in American history. The endgame is clear, which is articulated by this administration, saying by 2014, we're going to withdraw, more or less, all of American troops from Afghanistan. They probably will leave a few, just like the case in Iraq, to look after the embassy and maybe support the President Karzai, if he's still there at the time.
BILBASSYBut I think it's really also intriguing to see that the White House is keeping a low profile on it. The president doesn't want to bring it as a foreign policy success. He doesn't want to talk about it because the fact on the ground, although they had some military successes against the Taliban. But if we look at the recent events with the attack on the embassy -- an American embassy in Kabul with the assassination attempt -- or attempted assassination on the life of President Karzai, it shows that the country is very unstable.
BILBASSYSo even if they decided to withdraw, what kind of Afghanistan they will leave. The original aim was to destroy and to dismantle al-Qaida and the Taliban regime at the time, who was giving them safe haven. Now we know that Osama Ben Laden was found in Pakistan, most of the leadership of al-Qaida has been arrested or killed and the threat for them is not really from al-Qaida, so what's the point of staying in Afghanistan?
BILBASSYThis is very unpopular war by statistics that show most Americans wanted to leave Afghanistan and this president doesn't want to talk about it. He wants to talk about domestic issues. He wants to talk about jobs, jobs, jobs. The situation is very unstable. Many people will review it to see when they withdraw was Iraq a distraction in pulling the forces and the resources and the bigger issue is, what you're going to leave behind when you withdraw the measure of American troops in 2014?
KNOYYochi, go ahead.
DREAZENWell, I mean, the endgame -- Nadia's right in terms of the military side of it, but the stage of endgame is very different than that and goes beyond it. The state of endgame is peace talks with Taliban, peace talks confirmed this week with Haqqani group, the most violent of the groups fighting there. That's what the U.S. wants to do desperately.
DREAZENThere's no question in my mind -- I spent two months there last fall. I spent about two years there in total. There's no question in my mind, at all, that if there was a credible peace deal to be had, doesn’t matter about women's rights, doesn't matter about democracy, doesn't matter about the high-minded rhetoric. But if there was a peace deal that the U.S. thought would hold, they would take it in a heartbeat because that is the endgame.
DREAZENMassimo's point about the summer is well taken. June, take one month out of the summer, it was the largest number of IEDs ever. There were 1,600 IED explosions in June, which is staggering. The other thing that jumps out at me, if you compare a map now of violence in the country, a year ago it was in the south and the east. And you'd see little red dots in the north and the west, but that was it.
DREAZENNow, if you look at that same map where each dot indicates attacks, it's everywhere. It's the north, it's the west, which had been totally quiet. It's still the south, it's still the east and the last thing that I think is worth mentioning is, you know, Nadia's point again about al-Qaida is spot-on. That -- what has always stuck with me since the bin Laden killing, Tom Donilon, the National Security Advisor, when there was the first big conference call, had this kind of chest pounding moment where he said there's been no al-Qaida threat from Afghanistan for eight years.
DREAZENAnd, I mean, think about that. This war has been just justified, the surge has been justified, the spenditure of money that Massimo indicated, has been justified as al-Qaida. The point of view of the White House, as stated by its National Security Advisor is, there has been no al-Qaida for eight years so something doesn't line up.
KNOYI want to remind our listeners that you can join us with your questions or comments throughout the hour. It's the international hour of the Friday News Roundup. Our number is 1-800-433-8850, 1-800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail at email@example.com or you can join us on Facebook or Twitter. There were a couple of news items that came out of the Afghanistan and Pakistan region this week. First of all, to you Massimo, how has Pakistan reacted to Afghanistan's new security pact with India?
CALABRESIWell, this is their nightmare scenario that they have envisioned all along and which has driven their resistance to U.S. support for the Afghani government. Traditionally, they have had this -- the fear of being squeezed between Afghanistan and India. So it is really what they are most worried about and confirms all of the things that they fear about a U.S. withdraw so it's a big problem. It's another piece of bad news for the United States that they haven't been able to massage this diplomatically better.
CALABRESIOne point I wanted to make about the administration and its position at the moment, it's -- one is beginning to pick up a sense in the administration that with Bob Gates, the former Defense Department chief, now gone, the constituency for commitment to Afghanistan is also diminishing. So there are fewer and fewer in this administration who are going to stand up and say we have to really stick by this effort. And there's starting to be a sense that 2014 date will not only be sort of a target and kind of a squishy date for the removal of combat troops, but that things might even get accelerated and...
CALABRESIWell, and that as soon as they can start disengaging, they're going to be looking for ways to do it.
BILBASSYThe partnership was planned a while ago, according to the Afghanis and basically it meant to help Afghanistan with support of India to build schools and to build hospitals and roads, etc. But what worries Pakistan in particular is this partnership regarding security training. And they worry about that and I think it's no secret that the recent attempted assassination that was linked to Haqqani, that even some people in this administration believe that they have been support within the establishment in the ISI.
BILBASSYSo what Karzai does is he goes to India and he says, okay maybe somehow it's been seen as I'm going to somebody who will protect me. Everybody is looking now what happens after 2014. The Pakistanis know that the Americans will leave and they have to look for this conflict that's always been seen through the lens between India and Pakistan and all neighboring countries play a secondary role.
BILBASSYSo the Pakistanis want to increase their support to the insurgent groups that they will have a voice after the Americans leave and the Indians wanted to have some kind of a partner or an ally in President Karzai or in the Afghani government after the Americans leave. So all of these things -- I mean, I agree that the Americans seem to be not being able to diplomatically, although it's a huge conflict, and I cannot underestimate this conflict that these countries fought wars three times since independence in 1947, but saying, at the least, that the relationship between Karzai and President Obama wasn't really great and between the Pakistanis and Americans is not really great.
BILBASSYSo you have to look at all these complex issues and to see how can you ease the pressure somehow to make this relationship manageable after the Americans leave.
KNOYWell, and it's interesting just listening to all of you. Yochi, it sounds like countries in that region know the United States is pulling out and so they're realigning, re-jiggering the pieces of the puzzle to prepare for that new reality.
DREAZENOne hundred percent. I mean, in some ways the bigger news of this week wasn't the India deal. The bigger news this week was that Afghanistan, which had been working with Pakistan on peace talks abruptly called them off and very publicly said Pakistan was not a partner, it was not helpful. It was not really playing in these peace talks the way the Afghan government thought it would. Bear in mind this comes at the same time as the U.S. government has been criticizing Pakistan more openly and vitriolically than ever before.
DREAZENI just wanted to mention one thing by Massimo's point. Every indication I pick up within the Pentagon is that the draw down, he's exactly right, will be significantly faster, significantly bigger than has been envisioned. And there are a couple of other -- there are a couple of signs, I think, worth mentioning in brief. One is, he's right about Bob Gates. General Petraeus, who had been the architect of this tragedy, is retired now at CIA where he's basically invisible. Admiral Mullen, who had fired the previous Afghan war commander, again, visibly -- loud voice in favor of the current strategy, retired and gone.
DREAZENThe army has shortened its tours to nine months and is trying to get people home longer. And there's an interesting -- the fact that they'd picked -- who they'd picked to replace Admiral Mullen is fascinating. They didn't pick a grand strategist. They didn't pick someone who had war fighting experience in Afghanistan recently or actually at all.
DREAZENThey picked Martin Dempsey, who's an older man, had been chief of staff of the army very briefly. His focus is on manpower. It's restoring the military after nine years of war. It's budget cuts. It's things that are domestic. It's not the war. He's not a war fighter. So every indication is the Pentagon is reorienting from total focus on war to total focus on something very different.
KNOYThat's interesting. So all these little decisions that don't make headlines, Yochi, are pointing in that direction, to a sooner than expected U.S. withdrawal. We will take your calls after a short break. Our number on "The Diane Rehm Show" is 1-800-433-8850, 1-800-433-8850. E-mail is welcome, firstname.lastname@example.org. Coming up, more of the international hour of the Friday News Roundup, so stay with us.
KNOYWelcome back. I'm Laura Knoy sitting in for Diane Rehm. It's the International Hour of the Friday News Roundup and we welcome your comments at 1-800-433-8850 or e-mail at email@example.com. And all of you, let's go to our callers now and Hassan (sp?) is calling from Alexandria, Va. Hi, Hassan. Thanks for joining us.
HASSANThank you so much. It looks like your panel is dancing around instead of addressing the main issue and the issue is this. United States government -- or the policy of the United States government is to support the dictators in the Middle East and pointing to them that, if you want to stay in power, you have to stay with us. Now, we see the American military in the Middle East in Bahrain, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, everywhere. People don't like that. That's why you can call the entire Middle East al-Qaida because this is exactly what's happened.
HASSANWe all know that the role of any government in the world is to protect the interests of the people. These dictators are not to protecting the interests of the Middle Eastern people.
KNOYSo the U.S. presence in the Middle East, he's saying -- and I'll turn it to you Nadia -- is inflaming anti-American feeling in the Middle East and helping al-Qaida.
BILBASSYWell, in a way one of the grievances against American foreign policy for the last decades, regardless which administration, is American support for dictatorship in the Arab world. They've been propping them up for decades. Now the Arab Spring has changed everything and Washington has to look again of how they gonna deal with the people in the Middle East through a fresh -- a new foreign policy that's accountable to the people.
BILBASSYI don't know if it's going to help Al-Qaida or not because what we have seen basically that the peaceful movement has inspired so many people to change regimes and debunk the extremists ideas basically that only violence can lead to change of -- toppling one party state or despotic regimes. And that has changed.
BILBASSYBut I agree with him that having American soldiers and military bases in the heart of the Middle East has been the cause in the beginning for the existence of al-Qaida, for bin Laden, for many people who said that we don't want to see American forces on the ground. Because they are there to occupy our land, to steal the oil from Iraq, et cetera.
BILBASSYThey have very effective strategy recently and we have seen it with the drone attacks, whether you can discuss about legality of it or not. But basically using a plane that doesn't even have a pilot and targeting people and killing them has proven to be more effective than having thousands of American troops on the ground causing trillions of dollars, causing civilian death and American death. And that could have been saved.
BILBASSYSo I think looking now American bases in the Middle East never been popular. And you cannot compare it to bases in Germany or in South Korea. This is a different story completely because American's foreign policy has been so much detested and hated in the Middle East. So having American soldiers represented by the army, it hasn't been a successful policy in the short run or in the long run. What they need is to see the good side of America, the USID, the projects, the volunteers that come in there to improve the people's quality of life, not the soldiers.
DREAZENYou know, he mentioned Iraq. I was just there for about a month and came back recently so I'm still mildly incoherent from jetlag. The disconnect between the debate here about troops and the debate there was staggering to me. Here the question was always framed as how many troops will Obama leave? Republicans said too few, Democrats said too many. But the basic idea was that it was his choice, that the U.S. could sort of choose how many to leave. We are, as Nadia said, more hated there than -- I was the bureau chief there for three years, I spent about five years there -- more hated now than ever before.
KNOYReally, in Iraq.
DREAZENIn Iraq. They want us out. There's not a single political party on the Kurds, none, no matter how pro-American. I spent some time with Ayad Allawi the former prime minister. He was on the CIA payroll. He's as close to America as you can find in Iraq. And he refused to say that he thinks troops should stay and hinted strongly that they want them to go.
DREAZENSome of that is politics. It's an easier thing to say if you're a political leader that you want them out. But we are hated in Iraq and there is no constituency saying we should stay, which is -- my gut is that I don't think there'll be a troop extension. If it is it's going to be tiny. It's not going to be 3,000, it's not going to be 2,000. It'll be 1,000 or 1500 because we are so deeply, deeply unpopular.
KNOYHassan, thanks for that call. And again, our number 1-800-433-8850. And let's go next to Alex waiting in Fairfax, Va. Hi, Alex. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show." Go ahead.
ALEXI have a question and a comment. First, I completely agree with Hassan's comments and, with those in mind, I was wondering if your panelists could answer any figures about Afghani and Iraqi casualties. Not just the American troops, but the Afghan and Iraq citizens.
ALEXAnd my comment is just that I don't really -- I've been against these wars from the beginning and I don't really see an end to them. And, I mean, now that al-Qaida's on its last legs, well, assuming we have a new boogeyman, Haqqani network, when is this really going to end?
KNOYWell, Alex, and thanks for calling. And, you know, to you, Massimo, it's hard to get a handle on Afghan deaths and Afghan casualties. But he's right, it's huge.
CALABRESIIt is. I don't have an Iraq number off the top of my head. Yochi I think would. I saw the number for Afghanistan and it was scores to 100,000 on that side, so obviously very large. I think to Nadia's point about drones, I think that that is becoming increasingly for the United States the new sort of PR problem in the Middle East. They are seen as a kind of cowardly way of waging war. And at the same time it's a tool that the U.S. has. It reduces troops.
CALABRESIAnd to the caller's question of when we're getting out, I think we are clearly headed in that direction. But as that happens, there's going to be a pressure to -- in the U.S. in the administration to appear to continue to be actively prosecuting U.S. security interests and so the use of drones is likely to increase, exacerbating the problem that my fellow panelists have been describing.
DREAZENYou know, I appreciate Alex's question for a deeply moral reason. We focus here often on U.S. deaths solely. We lose sight completely of deaths of civilians. The numbers are squirrely. The figures from the U.N. which tracks them total are about 10,000.
KNOYThis is for Afghanistan.
DREAZENAfghanistan. The figures for Iraq, according to the Iraqi ministry of health, is about 600,000.
DREAZENThey range -- the U.S. military's estimates are much lower, as you might imagine. There are estimates that go higher than 600,000 but the accepted figures are somewhere in the range of at least half a million Iraqi dead. And in Afghanistan in particular the one thing everyone agrees with regardless of source of numbers or whether it's 10,000 or 15,000 is that they're going up very sharply.
DREAZENThe U.N. does a half-year report every six months about civilian casualties. The first six months of this year were the worst ever recorded. The number of attacks against them were up, number of overall deaths were up, number of Afghans maimed were up. So whatever figure you accept, the arrow unfortunately is pointing straight up.
BILBASSYI've seen even reports putting the Iraqi civilian casualties at one million. And we may never know the exact number. But I think just to put things in context, when 9/11 happened it was the first -- I mean, it was something so significant that it has changed everything. And at the time when al-Qaida was seen as a group of people they didn't belong to a country, they don't have a state. So when a state attacks you maybe in war you attack that state. But in this case they didn't have a state to hit back, so the United States went to Afghanistan because they thought this is the place where they can dismantle al-Qaida and they can hit them and hit the host as being -- having them for awhile.
BILBASSYIraq is debated as whether it was a war of choice that the Bush administration at the time decided that this is the dominant fear. If we can get rid of Saddam Hussein, then we can get rid of -- send a message to Syria and Iran and we can change the Middle East through military force. And if they just waited 'til now -- I mean, nobody can read in the future in 2010 now that we have seen in December that one man in Tunisia managed to topple a dictatorship saving all this money, the tragedy, the war, the casualties, the death, the destruction.
BILBASSYThe problem with Iraq now is not just -- I mean, every life is regrettable and if you talk about a million you cannot really put your head around that figure, but the destruction of a national state.
BILBASSYNow, if you talk to Iraqis -- and maybe Yochi can illustrate -- speak to that. There is no longer a project of nationalism uniting the Iraqis under the state of Iraq. It's people talk themselves as the Sunnis and the Shiites and the Kurds. And now even this is reflected in employment and jobs and ministries. Everybody wants to bring their own tribes to that. And this is, I think, one of the tragedies in the Middle East is have highlighted the sectarianism that existed before. But it was highlighted after the invasion.
KNOYWell, one more question for you all on Afghanistan and Iraq, here's an e-mail from James who says, "I wanted to say that I saw a lot of signs in Freedom Plaza yesterday demanding withdrawal from Afghanistan. I think the feeling was that the money would be better used domestically for jobs." One of you touched on this earlier, but, Massimo, what do you think? How do you see President Obama and the Republican presidential candidates who hope to unseat him talking about some of these foreign policy issues that we're talking about right now?
CALABRESIWell, Obama is going to clearly project the message we've been describing, which is we're pushing forward but looking to wrap up, seeking peace. Yochi described the failed efforts in that regard. I think the Republican primary candidates have been very interesting to watch on this issue. Obviously, you've had the sort of fringe libertarian element in Ron Paul who opposed all of the U.S. interventions overseas. Not...
KNOYAnd he gets big cheers when he says, bring them all home now.
CALABRESIHe does. He doesn't represent a large block of the Republic Party, and in some cases he's been booed on that count. And almost singlehandedly has given Rick Santorum a place on the stage by giving him a foil to be the hawk -- the traditional Republican hawk. But for other people -- Rick Perry, not so much because he had trouble annunciating what his vision was. But for other people in the group, it's been a hot subject of debate. And today, we have Romney giving his positions on this.
CALABRESIBut I think that you are likely to end up with a Republican Party consensus where it has been that -- and in fact that perhaps surprisingly is not far from where Obama is at the moment, which is giving the impression of strength and continuing the fight when in fact looking desperately for an exit.
KNOYWell, and Yochi, Mitt Romney is giving his first major foreign policy speech of his campaign as we speak, so there's a lot there.
DREAZENThere is. And to the point about Afghanistan, you know, Mitt Romney gave an answer that sounded like one thing and it was interpreted by his fellow Republicans as one thing, which he was since trying to back away from. Specifically he had this answer of saying effectively we should get out as soon as possible subject to the advice of military commanders on the ground. His Republican colleagues didn't hear the second part. They heard, get out as fast as possible. They referred to him in Rick Perry's words as Obama light. Lindsay Graham referred to him as Jimmy Carter. These are not obviously compliments among the Republican friends who are listening to the show.
DREAZENBut Afghanistan is a tricky issue for them because they are aware that the cost is huge. They are focused more for the first time in many years on deficits, budget cuts than they are on the military. So they're sort of pro-war, hawkish, spend whatever you need to spend, fight as long as you need to fight. That's not the dominant voice anymore and that's an interesting shift.
KNOYThanks, James, for that e-mail. I'm Laura Knoy of New Hampshire Public Radio. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Again, if you want to join us call 1-800-433--8850 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. And, Nadia, starting off with you, I want to ask about Syria. Russia and China came to Syria's defense this week. Explain.
BILBASSYSimple. Russia, I think they learned from the Security Council resolution towards Libya whereby there was power led by the United States and the European Union wanted to protect civilians. But it's been seen as a tool to change regime. And the situation in Libya, still unfolding as we speak, and we hear statements from NATO and from the military general saying basically, we are going to be there as long as civilians are not protected.
BILBASSYSo for the Russians that was -- one reason is basically they're worried about this (word?) by the Western power, particularly the United States saying that, they said that they're against the violence. I mean, it was a great disappointment to human rights activists in Syria to people who wanted the International Community to do something. China want to sell arms and they don't have a great record with both China and Russia in terms of protecting human rights anywhere. So it was really in a way expected.
BILBASSYThe Syrian government seen it as a great victory for them and advisor to President Bashar Al Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban, said it was a historic day. It shows that there is people who are siding with -- not siding with the power who want to eliminate the Middle East, et cetera, which is obviously the (word?) point of view.
BILBASSYThe problem with that, I think, is the United States and the European countries, mainly the European Union wanted to provide some kind of mechanism to put more pressure on the regime, if you have a U.N. Security Council resolution. Not just unilateral sanctions by the U.S. or the Europeans or Turkey now, who said that they're going to go ahead with it.
BILBASSYBut I think what's happening of the danger of the veto is the resistance has been so peaceful for six or seven months now, they have left with no choice. And we heard this new form council in Istanbul, which is the city national council saying, you left us with nothing so we might resort to violence. So we might see some kind of a new direction in the desire to get rid of President Assad, that basically this resistance might turn violent and use arms to upset the Assad Regime.
BILBASSYAnd we have seen defection in the army itself. There was an interview on Arab television recently by one of the commander, who refused to open fire on protestors saying basically we have 10,000 people. So it has the potential of civil war and the situation might get messy.
BILBASSYOne of the other things I will add, that I read some news report today in Arab media again saying that the Assad family start selling their assets in Europe, particularly in London. So they're anticipating that something might happen.
BILBASSYAs you know, this regime is not just a regime that controlled the majority being a minority, but it actually depends on the (word?) and the family loyalties. So it's the father plus the son. The brother's in charge of the army. The brother-in-law is in charge of the intelligence. So they have to protect themselves somehow. But I think it was a great disappointment to human rights activists for the vote.
KNOYWell, and a question for you, Massimo. We could do hours and hours of programming just on this question, but why has Syria worked out so differently from other nations were we've seen the Arab Spring?
CALABRESIWell, the global interests are quite different. Internally, obviously there's a number of differences. But just looking at this sort of -- the traditional geopolitics of it, Russia has had a close relationship with Syria for a long time throughout the Cold War. There's a deep history there. They may see an opportunity here coming out of the Arab Spring, which in some ways can at least for the moment be read as in the U.S. benefit or interest to perhaps reconsolidate some of their influence in the region.
CALABRESIThe Chinese obviously have a number of internal political and ethnic issues with which they deal frequently using violence and so don't like a precedent of international sanction against repression of internal minorities. The regime obviously has been willing to use violence in a way that other regimes were not willing to use. I think the United States frankly finds itself in -- confronting a good example of the limits of its power in this period. And I think that you get a sense of that in the responses of Susan Rice and the secretary to the veto, which were quite vituperative.
KNOYAll right. Well, more of the international hour of our Friday News Roundup in just a moment. We're going to take a short break. We'll take more of your calls when we come right back.
KNOYWelcome back. I'm Laura Knoy sitting in for Diane Rehm. It's the international hour of our Friday News Roundup. Our guests are Yochi Dreazen, senior national security correspondent for National Journal magazine, Nadia Bilbassy, senior U.S. correspondent, MBC TV, Middle East Broadcast Centre and Massimo Calabresi, Washington Correspondent for TIME magazine.
KNOYWe're taking your calls at 1-800-433-8850 or e-mail at email@example.com and all of you, here's an e-mail from Kara in Ann Arbor. She says, "On the potential Greek bailout, could you ask your guests if they can give us a little better understanding of who would really be bailed out by what? It doesn’t seem to be the Greek people. Are we really talking about another bank bailout where banks and speculators are demanding 100 cents on the euro for their risky investments?" Kara, it's a great question and I think I'll turn to you first, Massimo.
CALABRESIWell, on the specifics of who would be bailed out by whom, the European Central Bank and the European governments are looking to continue to float Greek sovereign debt. Governments -- the Treasury in the United States issues bonds to fund the functioning of the government. Greece is the same. Greece is in the position where the markets expect the country not to be able to pay back the loans that it already has and so the private markets are not paying to buy Greek bonds.
CALABRESISo in order for Greece to continue to be able to pay its debts and not default on them, they need to get money from somewhere. And the problem has been that they've done such a bad job of servicing their debts in the past that many of the governments in Europe are not interested in being the ones to float them.
CALABRESIThe problem is that because of the crisis in Greece, it's very hard for anybody to see a way that Greece can avoid defaulting on their debts. The drop in the GDP has made it harder and harder for them to stay solvent. They have all sorts of obligations and even with massive cutbacks in what the government pays either to pensioners or to government employees, there's been massive layoffs, they still don't have money to pay their obligations and, of course, the less the government spends the more GDP drops and it's very hard to see a projection that has Greece able to service its debt at this point.
BILBASSYBut Greece also is a -- it's an example to what happened to the rest of other countries and you have to look at it carefully because you don't want it to drop out of the eurozone, potentially default on the debt. You're going look at other countries that might have similar position like Portugal. All this week economies, Portugal, Italy, Ireland et cetera.
BILBASSYBut I think Greece, in particular, has been an interesting case because for the last few years, they been having unrestrained spending. They have been lending so much money. It's a welfare state and when Prime Minister George Papandreou came to power two years ago, funny enough, he came to say that he's going to help the poor and he's going to put taxes on the rich. But now, for the last two months, basically he's been basically reversing everything he has said in the election and we have seen these massive strikes.
BILBASSYI mean, it's not really a good time to go to Greece now if you're a tourist because airports were closed, government buildings were shut down, people were demonstrating in the streets. It is a complete chaotic situation and basically now he has to implement these austerity measures that are so severe that basically, as Massimo said, they had to cut 30,000 public jobs, public sector jobs and they have to do so many things now to try to meet this 500 billion euro debt. And of course, who is going to come to their savior is Germany.
BILBASSYAnd I think Germany being the largest economy in Europe and they're the ones who said each eurozone country has to match the money that they're going to pay to Greece by their GDP so I think it's going to be Germany and France and this is why it's a case study for the rest of Europe.
KNOYBoy, it's a tricky situation and, you know, Yochi, Germany has thrown its weight behind efforts to help Greece. Is this going to be enough to restore confidence and make people in the eurozone feel like life isn't going to fall apart?
DREAZENYou know, it's obviously always fun heading into a long weekend to talk about Greek bond yields and bank sovereignty all over the world. That actually is not true, the point about Germany, and nor is Greece anymore the focal point. The market assumes Greece is going to default so Greece is, in some ways, irrelevant. What is relevant now is, and the caller hit on this, who gets bailed out? It's not Greece and it is that specific issue right now that's dividing Europe is between Germany and France.
DREAZENFrench banks have the biggest exposure to German bonds of any other country so France is at risk of having its debt rating cut just the way that the U.S. did which has all kinds of problems just as we're seeing here. France in particular wants 440 billion euros, I should say, from a common eurozone fund set aside for bailouts. Germany is refusing to allow that. The German argument is France is a rich country. France can afford to take a haircut on some of these bonds and it is refusing to go along with the idea of bailing out French banks.
DREAZENWhat's happening basically -- we can talk about this for a long time, but basically it's a Tea Party moment in Europe where -- in the same way the Tea Party movement started by people saying we have paid our debt for our mortgage. We're not going to bail out these no-goodniks with their sub-prime mortgages letting their houses get too big. That's what you're seeing now in Europe. Germany saves its money and invests carefully. It feels like France, Greece, they spend too much, they tax too little and they've had enough. So you're seeing, in very Teutonic understated way, a Tea Party parallel that's exactly the same as what you're seeing in the U.S.
KNOYThat's interesting. Go ahead, Nadia.
BILBASSYIt's my understanding that the troika, which is the Central European Bank, the European Commission and the IMF are in Greece now. They're supposed to come up with this report on October 23rd to evaluate the situation and the German foreign minister said that there is some positive signs so we don't know if Greece is going to default or not. I don't know if that's a fait accompli that said, and they have to move forward.
CALABRESIIt's about buying time and little bit of room to have an orderly default as opposed to a chaotic default. If Greece defaults in a way that is out of control, it spooks the markets. The banks in the rest of Europe don't have a chance to capitalize themselves adequately to protect themselves against their losses and you can have a panic in the credit market so it's really about buying time.
KNOYYou know, Massimo, I wanted to ask you about what Nadia said, more demonstrations this week, she's absolutely right. Is support for the demonstrators waning or are you still seeing big demonstrations and lots of support for those?
CALABRESIWell, given that the cuts are going to get deeper, the more these negotiations continue for access to money and the more Greece has to continue to pare its expenditures, one would expect them to grow. Frankly, the number of people, as Nadia says, who are going to be affected by this is enormous. And frankly speaking, they know that much of the money that is going to be coming in is not going to be going to them, it's going to be going to the budget and it's going to be going to the banks. So they don't have an enormous amount of incentive to come off the street.
BILBASSYBut one point I will add, too, about Greece is that it has one of the most organized unions in Europe and these protests have been led by these -- two of the largest unions and I think that they're there to stay because they're protecting the jobs, especially in the public sector, so that I will agree that we'll see more and more demonstrations in the street. And as more of the austerity measures are being implemented, the more angry people are. And they were saying if my family lost their jobs and we don't have money and my pension is being cut and my retirement's coming up, I don’t care what's going to happen to the country because it's already affected my family.
CALABRESIBut to Yochi's point, almost the most important political development, grassroots political development to watch is the one in Germany and the extent to which Angela Merkel can manage an increasingly unruly political situation there as she tries to do what everybody says needs to be done, that's namely for Europe to come together more forcefully and organize its response to this in the face of domestic political pressures which are pushing in exactly the opposite direction.
KNOYI want to turn our attention back to the Middle East and talk about Israel and, Yochi, to you, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made some waves about Israel this week. What did he say?
DREAZENSo he was echoing something that Bob Gates said when I was with him. Bob Gates, in Israel earlier in the year, his argument was that, Bob Gates' argument and Panetta frankly is continuing it, is that Israel is going to find itself more isolated than ever because it's not responding to the demographic trends sweeping other countries or to the Arab Spring. Bob Gates' point, and again, it's Panetta's point as well, there's total continuity, is that there's a moment now for Israel which is different than in the past. There is on the one hand uncertainty, allies like Mubarak are out of power you know, Syria with which it's had a cold peace that it kind of trusts, is in a state of flux.
DREAZENSo there are real concerns for Israel but the notion they're saying is that Israel is more and more isolated and putting itself more and more at risk. One of the problems and it's a big one is that the current Israeli government and the current American government don't get along at all. On the military side the Pentagon and the Israeli military do and by a lot of measures that's a better relationship than ever. But Netanyahu hates and does not trust Obama. It's a strong word that I use carefully and Obama hates and does not trust Netanyahu.
DREAZENSo these words are strong words when you say Israel is being isolated. That's a fear in Israel because it sees itself isolated at the U.N. It knows it is isolated within Europe but the underlying issue is this complete lack of affection or trust between the two leaders. Depending on one's policies you can blame Obama for it, blame Netanyahu for it but there's no question that it exists as a reality.
KNOYLet's take another call, again our number here on "The Diane Rehm Show" is 1-800-433-8850 and to Sam in Bainbridge, Ga. Hi, Sam you're on "The Diane Rehm Show." Go ahead, please.
SAMYes. I've got a question for Nadia about -- does she believe that there's a media kind of warfare against the Syrian government supported by the Saudis and if you listen to Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, you could sense there's hatred in their news segment. And you listen to the Syrian TV and watch it and you see people walking, shopping, just normal life. My question is also did she hear about the (unintelligible) that he got killed by those people? And also recently, Al-Jazeera had a segment on a 22-year-old young female from Syria that was killed and was tortured and she was alive and was in (unintelligible) on the Syrian TV. So does she know that there's a media war?
KNOYWell, Sam, let's talk about that. You have the media reporting on Syria...
BILBASSYThis is a sub-point and I think it shouldn't distract from the fact that the U.N. Human Rights Commission has come up with a recent report saying 2,900 people have been killed. And in addition to that, there are thousands of people, according to human rights organizations including Amnesty International, who said they've been in jail and mainly disappearing so we don't know. So the actual number of casualties might run into tens of thousands.
BILBASSYNow, if the Arab media hasn't been objective in their coverage, I will say to the Syrian government to open their doors to the international media. If they don't trust the Arab media, why is it that they have prevented every single international journalist from entering the country to see for themselves? Now, we know that government television, unfortunately, in the Arab world hasn't been objective to say the least. And to say that they patently just put in lies and take the government point of view, whatever they dictate to them. So government television in the Arab world is a joke, nobody takes them seriously.
BILBASSYI'm not saying that the pan-Arab satellite medias don't have an agenda and they haven't been also been objective in their coverage because they can pick and choose. And some will say they're focusing on Syria, Egypt and Tunisia and they're ignoring Bahrain, despite the fact that maybe the casualties are not the same, but I won't say that they have been completely innocent in their coverage.
BILBASSYBut what I say to the caller is, it's true that the media plays an important role and we have seen it in Egypt in the Tahrir Square where the American media, the European media, the Chinese media, everybody was there telling the world that the revolution was televised. In Syria, the government know that this is a very important message to the world to see what's happening so the only pictures that we have is YouTube and activists who leak these pictures at the expense of their lives. So the bottom line, yes, it's not a media war, but it's a lack of information that's coming from Syria. And the only way that we can address that, that balance is allowing the international media to operate freely in Syria.
KNOYRight. Well, Sam, thanks a lot and it's an important point. Our number is 1-800-433-8850. I want to turn to another story coming out of Europe and to you, Massimo, I think. German authorities have reopened dormant investigations into suspected Nazi war criminals. Why now?
CALABRESIWell, I will tell you honestly I don't know why they've reopened it. I am somewhat surprised to see them tackling a thorny issue right at this moment. Maybe Yochi has some opinion.
DREAZENFrankly, it's a -- the answer is what we might expect. These people are dying. The window is closing very rapidly to try to have any kind of accounting or any kind of justice and the Germans are well aware of that. In one of the cases that they've reopened is a case that was a huge case here for many, many years, the case of John Demjanjuk, out of the U.S. You know, he always claimed he was innocent. Multiple historians, investigators, lawyers have claimed for decades that this man was one of the worst of the worst. This was a sadistic prison guard who personally tortured and killed thousands upon thousands of prisoners.
DREAZENSo what's happening in Germany now is kind of a last-ditch attempt to try to get as many as they can before that generation dies and by dying, is frankly free from justice.
KNOYI'm Laura Knoy and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show". Again, if you want to join us, you can call 1-800-433-8850 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Another story that we should cover, this was big international news, I was in the airport in Monday. I couldn't escape it. It was on the television everywhere and Massimo, that's Amanda Knox release from Italian jail this week after her murder conviction was overturned. We don't need to hash through this whole case obviously, but has her case received as much attention in Europe as it has here?
CALABRESIWell, it has received a considerable amount of attention over there. It has received a huge amount of attention here. I think that -- well, the British tabloids obviously had their interest in the case because of the victim's connection there. I think that there are fewer substantive issues involved in this story than there are sort of general public interest questions. This is a young woman who has spent four years in prison and so Americans are interested in hearing about that.
KNOYAnd last but not least, by far, Nadia, the Nobel Peace Prize winners were announced just today. Who are these three women who won and what were they honored for?
BILBASSYOkay. Well, this is, first of all, a great day because it's been a long, long time since the Nobel Prize for Peace has been awarded to women. And to have not just one woman, but to have three women. So let's start with the Yemeni. She's -- as an Arab woman, I have to say I was very touched and very proud to have the decision has been given to a Yemeni activist. Her name is Tawakkul Karmam. She's been a human rights activist. She's been leading this protest movement in 2007 and I think this is the measure that you have to look at. It's not when the country as a whole stands against a regime, but when a woman starts a movement long before anybody put the spotlight on the country.
BILBASSYYemen is one of more backwards societies in the Middle East because of the situation with women in terms of tribal discrimination against women and this woman did not fight against women's rights only. She's standing against dictatorships. She wanted a society that was accountable. She wanted to fight corruption and nepotism. She wanted better opportunities for everybody. And this is great and I think that the decision may be political because it was given to the Arab Spring in general.
BILBASSYIt was given to a country like Yemen. It wasn't given to Egypt. It wasn't given to Tunisia or to the traditional women that the West liked to see, Westernized and modern and smokes and have mini-shirt. This woman is the real deal. She has a veil. She stands -- she's a mother. She set up an organization to fight against the freedom of expression. She wanted a better society and she's been sitting in the square that inspired so many women.
BILBASSYWe're running out of time. I wanted to talk about the president of Liberia, of course.
KNOYJust give us the names real quick.
BILBASSYEllen Johnson Sirleaf, also was the first woman president and another woman, her name is Leymah Gbowee, also has been instrumental in bringing Muslims and Christians together in Liberia to fight civil war.
KNOYAnd we will end it on that. Nadia, thank you so much. Thank you all of you for being with us today. I'm Laura Knoy sitting in for Diane Rehm, thanks for listening.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN"The Diane Rehm Show" was produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Lisa Dunn and Nikki Jecks. The engineer is Aaron Stamper. A.C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales.
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