In 2007, neuroscientist Lisa Genova self-published her first novel, “Still Alice.” It tells the story of a Harvard psychology professor and her experience with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The book became a best-seller and is now a major motion picture. Join Diane and her guests for a discussion of “Still Alice.”
The eurozone crisis claimed another victim this week – as Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was forced to resign, his replacement, dubbed “Super Mario”, promised to make tough reforms; pressure mounted on the embattled Syrian President as the King of Jordan called on him to step down; President Obama made his first trip “down under” to Australia, announcing an increased U.S. presence in the Asia Pacific; and Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he wanted to continue the country’s partnership with the U.S., but only on his terms. Diane will discuss the week’s top international news stories with Mark Landler of The New York Times, Elise Labott of CNN and Mark Mardell of the BBC.
- Mark Landler White House correspondent, The New York Times.
- Elise Labott senior State Department producer for CNN.
- Mark Mardell BBC North America editor.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Italy's new premier offers a plan to deal with the nation's debt crisis. European leaders grapple with whether to prop up the Euro. The Arab League fails to stop political violence in Syria. Afghanistan's President outlines conditions for a longer U.S. presence and Secretary of State Clinton is to visit Myanmar next month. Joining me in the studio for the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Mark Landler of the New York Times, Elise Labott of CNN and we welcome Mark Mardell of the BBC. Good to have you with us Mark.
MR. MARK MARDELLGreat to be here.
REHMAnd if you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, join us on Facebook or Twitter. And good morning to all of you.
MR. MARK LANDLERGood morning, Diane.
MS. ELISE LABOTTGood morning.
REHMLet's talk about the latest on the European debt crisis, Mark Landler. Merkel wants to change EU treaties, tell us about that.
LANDLERChancellor Merkel is looking for ways to bind European countries more closely into a fiscal union. Which analysts and economists say is ultimately the only way you can remedy this spiraling debt crisis. Whether she succeeds or not is hard to say. The -- negotiating the monetary union was something that took years and years. And countries are loathe to give up control of their budgets and fiscal policy.
LANDLERAt the moment, the biggest debate in Europe is whether the European Central Bank should really plunge in, in a big way and attempt to restore confidence in the market to prevent what's already happened in Italy and Greece and maybe in the process of happening in Italy, spreads to other European countries.
LANDLERAnd that's sparking a rift between Europeans who think the bank should take that role and others who believe it shouldn't be in this business. This morning in Europe the new President of the ECB, an Italian Mario Draghi, suggested that he did not think the bank should be in the business of bailing out European countries and that this should be the province, the responsibility of European -- Europe's leaders themselves.
LABOTTWell, this was the position of France, President Sarkozy, and Angela Merkel. And they -- this duo that was called Markozy and there was going to be this great French-German alliance on the issue, now we're finding that there's a concern in France that France could be next. And that the Euro is going to be so high that it's going to be even more expensive for French banks to borrow money. And that would be bad for President Sarkozy who's going to be facing reelection.
LABOTTIt's also going to be bad for France, but it's going to be bad for Europe because some people think if France goes, so does the Euro. So now President Sarkozy is saying, yes, the European Central Bank should be helping to bail out the Euro to make sure that it's safe. And Angela Merkel is staying to her position saying, listen, those countries that instituted reform that have fiscal responsibility should not be bailing out those other countries. And we've seen Greece, we've seen Italy and now that France is coming up, it's much more serious now.
REHMAnd France is on the verge of losing its AAA credit rating, Mark Mardell.
MARDELLThat's right. And whenever you see a split between France and Germany and Europe it's very serious. And Germany is somewhat isolated here because the British also want greater action by the Central Bank, so does the American administration, not that it hasn't a sense, a dog in the fight. But that's -- people are saying, why can't you use the Central Bank more efficiently? Germany's position really is that, lets countries off the hook. They will increase their debt, they won't deal with their problems.
MARDELLAnd I think the real problem in Europe is that there's a tension between the economics pulling one way and the politics pulling another way. The economic says, you've got to have greater fiscal union. People don’t really want that in Europe, they don't want more Euro. The politic says that you've got to have -- the economic says you've got to have great quick decisions, bold decisions. The politic says, we've got to bring all 27 Euro's -- Euro countries along with us. So there's this great tension at the heart of the whole debate.
LANDLERWell, one of the irony's of the tension that Mark's talking about is that in Italy and Greece, you now see technocratic governments, in a sense they've had to turn to non-politicians to try to solve their problems. In Italy, Mario Monti, a former EC Commission, is now the Prime Minister. In Greece, Lucas Papademos, a former Vice President of the ECB and an American trained economist is leading an interim government there. And it's almost an acknowledgement on the part of these countries that the political systems failed. There was, in the end, a standstill and an inability to confront the problems. And they're now turning to non-politicians to try to address it.
REHMAnd even with those non-politicians assuming the helm, you've got protests in Greece against the new government.
LABOTTThat's right and also in Italy the Italians are protesting the new government, some strikes. And while on one hand, there are there these technocratic governments, these are also coalition governments that still, the opposition leaders still have to sign on and in Greece the opposition leader is saying I don't know if I want to provide written guarantees to Europe that we're going to be able to repay our debt. So even as you have technocratic governments that I think the people feel can be the ones that can dig them out of it, the politicians are holding it hostage. So it is an interesting dynamic.
MARDELLI think, because people were so please that Berlusconi's hands were pried off the steering wheel, that he was chucked into the backseat of the car and it's not going off the edge of a cliff, that they failed to notice the importance of this moment, this technocratic government. You know, made up of an admiral for the defense secretary, the ambassador to Washington as the foreign minister, the chief banker helping with the economy.
MARDELLAlmost a corporatist and all very old style Italian corporatist government. And they are saying, in terms, that politics is too serious to be left for the politicians. Now, there are other countries, perhaps you can think of where politicians don't seem tough enough to make the necessary decisions. It's quite close to home, perhaps, in a way but it's a dangerous moment because what are we saying when we believe in democracy, that politicians can't solve things because they worry too much about elections.
REHMMario Monti is going to travel to Brussels next week to the European commission. He'll meet with the French and German leaders to map out strategy. What is the overall impact on the U.S. economy at this point, Mark?
LANDLERWell, President Obama was asked that question in Asia a few days -- in Hawaii a few days ago. And he said we are going to be deeply worried about Europe in the coming days and in the coming weeks. When this first began becoming a major crisis, a lot of economists, a lot of investment banks issued reports saying, you know, the impact might be limited. The U.S. does a lot of trade with Europe but the direct spillover effect would be somewhat limited.
LANDLERAs things have deepened and as the crisis has escalated, I think there's a growing recognition that when you have a U.S. economy that's teetering on the brink, any negative push could be enough to tip the scales. And the prospect of an unraveling of the Euro, which honestly most in Europe still think is an unlikely option but less unlikely then it was even a month ago, would probably be disastrous for the U.S. and as several people have pointed out, half tongue and cheek, Chancellor Angela Merkel may have a greater impact or influence on President Obama's reelection prospects than anything going on in this country.
LABOTT...and, Diane, what's really interesting and as we look at this moment in history and with President Obama and Asia, when you talk about a, you know, Europe looking beyond itself for a bail out, they're not looking to the United States. They know the United States can't help. There's talk about, you know, "Should we be going to China for some kind of bailout?" And as the U.S. economy continues to spiral downward, the European economy continues to spiral downward. This just further expands the chasm between the strength of China's economy and the weakness of the U.S. economy.
REHMSo here President Obama is visiting the Asia Pacific, he announced an expanded military presence in Australia. What's that likely to involve, Mark Mardell?
MARDELLWell, what it's actually going to involve, eventually, is 2,500 Marines based in Australia also increased trips. And I think this may be the less stress but perhaps more important part of submarines and aircraft to Australia. Now, some people have said -- I've seen military analysts say this is about China's new ballistic power, it's reach of its missiles. Australia is out of reach, it's about a future war plan decades in -- ahead. Now, that may be one part of it, but I think it's part of a piece with other things that Obama has been doing to say to the Asia Pacific region, we are back or if we never went away perhaps, but we are focusing on this region. It's very important to us.
MARDELLAnd one reason is what we've just been talking about. Ever since Obama came into office, he's talked about the importance of other countries buying American goods, buy more. And now who's going to do that? Europe, don't think so. Africa, probably not. Maybe South America, maybe Russia. But this region is so important for growth in the world that that's one of the main reasons, I think, that he's focusing on it.
REHMHow has China reacted to President Obama's statements, Mark?
LANDLERUnhappily. The Chinese said that they felt that sending Marines to Australia could deepen tensions in the region. And I think there is a sense among some in China that whatever the United States portrays it as, there's an element of encirclement here. The U.S. has very steadily and carefully, methodically gone around the region strengthening old alliances, Japan, South Korea.
LANDLERMaking new friends, India, Vietnam and the effort here is to show, as Mark says, that the U.S. wants to be engaged. But it also sends a message to China which has been very aggressive in its own neighborhood, particularly in the South China Sea in sort of expanding its remit well beyond its shores, that the U.S. is going to be involved and resist against some of that.
REHMMark Landler of the New York Times, Elise Labott, a senior state department producer for CNN, Mark Mardell of the BBC. Short break and right back.
REHMWelcome back to the international hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Elise Labott of CNN, Mark Mardell of the BBC. He's its North America editor, and Mark Landler, White House correspondent for the New York Times. Before we move on to Secretary of State Clinton's forthcoming trip to Myanmar, here's an email from Jose in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. who says, "At what point is keeping the euro currency not worth the instability that its desperate economies are fostering in the world financial markets." Mark Mardell?
MARDELLI think one of the problems -- and I'm not trying to dodge the question because I think people just don't contemplate just how bad it would be losing the euro and the instability -- but one of the problems is that it's not purely an economic proposition. The -- all the countries inside the euro zone, but particularly France and Germany, saw it first and foremost -- and this is one of its problems -- as a political project.
MARDELLTo stress just how together they are that they are more than individual countries. This is more than a loose alliance. It is something new in the world. Now, if they had to retreat from that it would be an immense psychological and political blow to the whole concept of the European Union. And so I think the truth is they will cling on to it long before its value -- long after its value is gone in the real world.
REHMAll right. And turning to you, Elise, President Obama says he's sending Secretary of State Clinton to be -- to Myanmar next month. Tell us why now.
LABOTTWell, this is really the culmination, Diane, of a policy that the administration laid out in 2009 when President Obama said, I'm going to start engaging with countries that we aren't friendly with right now. Burma was an example of that and the U.S. has been slowly trying to engage the military regime there. Last year there were elections in November that everybody thought was a sham. But this new government, there are -- it's a military government per say but there are civilian leaders in it -- has taken some steps. They've eased censorship.
LABOTTThey've most importantly freed Aung San Suu Kyi, the famous democratic activist and political opposition leader there. And they've also released hundreds of other activists. And what the -- there have been some -- several visits in the last few months by senior U.S. officials, Kurt Campbell, the top State Department official on Asia and Derek Mitchell, the Burma envoy. And they're saying, listen we need to continue to encourage these reforms.
LABOTTPresident Obama spoke last night with Aung San Suu Kyi who said, listen I think engagement is good. Anybody who sees that there isn't change happening in Myanmar hasn't been to Myanmar. There is an opening and the administration wants to exploit it.
REHMAnd the New York Times reported this morning that Aung San Suu Kyi announced she would rejoin the political system.
LANDLERAnd that's absolutely critical because Aung San's -- the U.S. has taken its lead in Myanmar policy very much from Aung San Suu Kyi. During periods when she was under house arrest she very pointedly asked countries to scorn and not do business with the military junta in Myanmar. So the fact that she not only encouraged President Obama on the telephone call, but then went the formal step further and said she will rejoin the political process is critically important.
LANDLERI'd make one other brief point about Myanmar that I think fits it into the context of what you've seen in Asia over the past week with President Obama's visit. Myanmar, in its isolation, had become tremendously dependent on China economically and politically. And it was an arrangement that I think Myanmar's military leaders felt had left the country deeply isolated and impoverished. And the new government, I think, wants to diminish that isolation. And by opening itself up to diplomatic engagement with the United States, that's an important step in that direction.
REHMWhat about strategic significance? What does that have -- what does Myanmar have for the U.S.?
LANDLERWell, Myanmar has a great deal of natural resources. It's a resource-rich country. But again I'd put it in the context of what sort of a -- you might call it a latter day great gain between the United States and China. To the extent that China hasn't locked up Myanmar and those resources, that's an important step forward for the United States and further evidence of the U.S.'s commitment and desire to expand its presence and renew its presence in the broader region.
MARDELLYeah, but it's also interesting in that China doesn't want an unstable state on its borders. It doesn't want refugees from Burma flooding into its country. And now whenever you talk to the administration about their attitude towards China they say, oh no, we're not trying to have conflict. We're trying to work together. And this is one area where they just could possibly work together. Of course China doesn't care whether it's a dictatorship or not, but it doesn't want ethnic unrest.
LABOTTWell, and also Myanmar is going to be the chair of the ASEAN group now, the Association of Asian South Eastern Nations (sic) , which could move it even further away from China and more towards this grouping of nations that the U.S. has really used as a counterweight to China. So while the military government there could be hedging its bets in some ways against China. It may signal that it's trying to be more of a player in its own backyard.
REHMAnd one more question on European debt from email from Matt in Barcelona. He says, "I moved from Canada to Barcelona four years ago. I was amazed by the amount of government spending, for example free university, and the strength of the unions. At first I thought it was excessive and didn't rely enough on the free market. But as I've learned more about the amount of inequality in the European and American economies, I'd realized the only defense people have against this inequality is to fight against austerity with strikes and protests. So my question is if rich Europeans and corporations were taxed more could that avoid the debt problems and reduce the need for austerity? Or is it impossible without cutting wages and benefits," Mark?
MARDELLI think just about every country in Europe the politicians and economists there believe that both are necessary, unlike here where some of the people would argue only one side or the other. Both -- you look at the programs in Greece and Italy they both have tax rises and they have cuts. But it's a serious point about who austerity hits. It will hit the poorest in society. And we in Europe are used to more state benefits, more state help, more free stuff if you like through -- not free 'cause we pay taxes. But people are more used to that than they are here. And they will miss it when it goes.
MARDELLAnd, you know, this -- the whole idea of Christian democracy, social democracy was established as a bulwark against communism, against people rising up against capitalism. So it raises questions.
REHMWhat is the current tax rate in Britain?
MARDELLOh, you've got me there. I pay American taxes so I know absolutely...
REHMYou pay American taxes.
MARDELLWell, I tell you -- I can't tell you exactly in the percentage terms, but it's an interesting point that I've thought about. I pay slightly less here. I also get a lot less for it. I don't get a free health service. I don't get -- and I say these brilliant roads. You know, there are a few potholes around this area anyway. You don't get, you know, complete unemployment benefit. If you lose your job in Britain you have to go through procedures to find a job. But you get unemployment benefit. So I think that is an important point to make so...
REHMInteresting. All right. Let's talk about Syria. King Abdullah of Jordan has become the first Arab leader to call for the Syrian president to step down. How significant, Elise?
LABOTTWell, I think it's very significant in relation to what happened over the weekend when the Arab League kind of followed on what it did in Libya and suspended President Assad in Syria from the Arab League. And it's a monumental decision which signals that these Arab leaders are completely not only frustrated with President Assad, but they are now answering to their streets. And people are fed up with what's going on in Syria. And they took a dramatic move. Of course they undercut it a little bit by continuing to delay it, to give Assad more time to implement this Arab League peace ban.
LABOTTBut King Abdullah, the first Arab leader, I think he's the first of several that's going to happen. I mean, we have to note that Jordan and Syria have had a rocky relationship over the years between the peace treaty with Israel and serious support for Palestinian terrorists.
REHMMeanwhile you've got Syrian soldiers defecting, Mark Landler. How serious is that for Assad?
LANDLERExtremely in the sense that it sort of raises fears that Syria is going to break out into a full blown civil war. The military had been one of the keystones of the Assad family's strength in Syria. So any evidence of desertions on a large scale adds to the idea that he's slowly but inexorably losing his grip over the country.
LANDLERI think that the events of the past week are going to once again raise questions about where the United States goes, and the International Community. The U.S. has formally called for Assad to step down and has been trying to rally support for sanctions. It's still a tricky business. The Russians are an old ally, if even a very worried one at this point. So we'll see whether the U.S. can us this moment to galvanize sort of the next step in international pressure.
REHMYou know, it was fascinating that King Abdullah -- pardon me -- didn't just call for Assad to step down. He implied there should be a system-wide change.
MARDELLYes. This is a very important point. In his interview with the BBC and, at least to say it, I must get a little plug in there for him.
MARDELLHe said, if I were in his shoes, I would step down. But what's important is what comes next. It has to change the status quo. And I think that's what worries people so much in Syria, that what does that mean? I mean, a lot of people were asking weeks ago, well if the West intervenes in Libya why not Syria where regime change is a real prize because of its linkage with Iran and its attitude to Israel.
MARDELLAnd I think one of the reasons is because you -- I mean, Libya was a discrete case. You could deal with that on its own, whereas there's religious tensions within Syria. It would drag in other players in the region. And I think people are extremely worried about what does come next.
LABOTTDiane, I think this plays into what's going on with the Syrian opposition, the Syrian National Council. This really needs to be a wake-up call. There's been a lot of concern that they don't have their act together, that they don't have a platform. And until they start to give a compelling vision of how they see Syria moving forward, there's going to be a lot of frustration on the street. And these guys are going to continue to be the ruling part of the opposition.
LABOTTAnd if there's no coordination I think there's a real concern on the part of the United States that this is going to play into Bashar al-Assad's hands, that these violent activities are the result of, you know, insurgents or things like that. And there've been a lot of concern by Russia and other countries saying, well we're worried about a civil war. So there needs to be a lot more coordination with the Syrian opposition. And they need to come forward with a platform, similar to the way the Libyan's did, and say this is how we view a future Syria. And how can the Syrian army defectors help towards that goal.
REHMElise Labbot of CNN and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Marci from Washington, D.C. says, "While we focus so much on Syria we've forgotten about Egypt. Haven't heard much about the 1200 civilians jailed and some tortured by military since they took over," Mark.
LANDLERIt's a very valid question and indeed The Times carried an article just a few days ago pointing out the deepening uneasiness in the U.S. administration with how difficult it's been to get democratic processes in place. And, you know, this could've been foreseen. Countries that have been under authoritarian rule for decades tend to make the transition to democracy in a halting, often messy way.
LANDLERSo it's not necessarily a surprise but for those people looking at Syria and hoping to see Assad toppled it's worth looking at the aftermath in places like Egypt and how difficult and arduous it is, how many setbacks there are. None of which is to say that we don't want to see change, we don't want to see the aspirations of young Arabs realized. But it's a very, very difficult process. It's also one that the West doesn't have the resources or political commitment it might've had years ago to help guide along. So I think everyone needs to be a bit sober and realistic about what happens in the aftermath.
REHMAnd finally to Afghanistan, President Karzai convened a meeting of tribal leaders, the loya jirga, 2000 leaders from around the country to discuss relations with the U.S. And then he came out and said he wants to have a long term relationship with the U.S. but on his terms.
MARDELLWell, it was Karzai being Karzai and it must make a lot of people around the world just sigh. And he's trying to play both sides against the other finding a middle way, walking the tightrope, whatever image you want to use. And he said, Afghanistan was like a lion and it's a lion in its cage guarding its own people. And the NATO and the U.S. should not interfere in the lion's house. Just guard the four sides of the forest.
MARDELLIt got a round of applause there, but I'm not sure it will elsewhere. I mean, what he's -- he's trying to say that he wants to deal with the U.S., to leave troops behind but they must end night raids, that they must not detain people. And they must go get rid of parallel-ist government structures, all of which the United States sees as very important. And I was just wondering whether in the U.N. that where the situation -- where -- like Iraq where the military would like to stay. But the Obama Administration says, well, it's really not worth the price.
LANDLERI think that's exactly right. I think the political appetite for these long term military engagements in the U.S. has diminished a lot, perhaps more than even people like Karzai realize. President Obama has reaped the benefit of announcing that the troops will leave Iraq by Christmas. And I'm not sure what the constituency is for some sort of a long term presence in Afghanistan, particularly on Afghanistan's terms. If the U.S. can leave a small force there to conduct largely covert or clandestine operations against terrorists or suspected terrorists, I think the U.S. would welcome that.
LANDLERBut what Karzai's talking about is very different and I think there'll be very limited receptivity to it.
LABOTTWell, I think what he's trying to do is to speak as a nationalist to his people and tell the people that they understand their frustrations. I mean, Afghans really have complained bitterly of the indignities of the U.S. troops there, of these night raids, and they want it to stop. And if the U.S. is going to withdraw most of its troops and you're going to move towards less of a -- you know, it's not officially called an occupation, but these people feel as if they're being occupied with 150,000...
REHMWhat has the U.S. accomplished there in Afghanistan, Elise?
LABOTTWell, I think, in some ways, they've made a lot of security gains. I mean, a lot more Afghan provinces are a lot safer than they were. There is a democratic government of sorts running that continues -- they continue to train police. But I think that that's one of the frustrations as Mark said that, you know, as we have these budget issues and we continue to have problems in other parts of the world as in Mid East and we're pivoting towards Asia as we see, a lot of Americans are saying, are we really getting our bang for our buck there.
REHMElise Labott of CNN. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, we'll open the phones, 800-433-8850.
REHMWelcome back. If you'd like to join us 800-433-8850, send us your email to email@example.com, feel free to join us on Facebook or Twitter. Here's an email from Roger. He's in Alta, Utah. He says, "How can 2500 U.S. Marines in northwest Australia make any difference? This can only be seen as a token force, not significant in any armed conflict."
MARDELLI think as much as being about armed conflict, although that might be a thought of the military people in the future. It's a very unstable region. Environmentally there are lots of problems. You could see America wanting to be there as it was during the tsunami. If say, there was -- we've been talking about Burma -- if there was a refugee crisis there or if Bangladesh disappears under water, which sadly, inevitably is going to happen sometime. The floods are going to get worse. There are other places you can see there being sort of those sort of catastrophes that America would want to say, we're here and our Navy is helping. And those are the sort of jobs that the Marines are trained to do just as much as war fighting.
REHMAll right. To Lillian, Ala. Good morning, Mark.
MARKGood morning, Diane. It seems to me that the strategy of containing China is a good first strategy, but it's very disjointed. When you look and see that Taiwan requested to buy the latest diversion of the F-16, which is a generation two, designed first in the '70s and were denied that. And then India, with a population of, I believe, 2 -- I mean, 1.2 billion people, certainly the most important asset on the board with any kind of conflict or containment of China, was denied generation three fighters from us. And since then has turned to the French, which I think would be a -- when you look how the French left the Israelis out hanging to dry, after selling them weapons, I don't think the French is the place to go. Besides, we could have used the economic boost.
REHMWhat do you think, Mark Landler?
LANDLERWell, it's important to remember that the U.S. is still balancing a lot of equities here. There is a desire for the U.S. to be more engaged in the Asia-Pacific, but that comes against a much longer policy of trying to bring China into the international system and make it a country that abides by international laws.
LANDLEROne of the ways that the U.S. has encouraged China, through communiques that were agreed upon years ago, was by gradually scaling down military sales to Taiwan. You know, derecognizing Taiwan, not selling out the Taiwanese because Taiwan still has a political constituency in this country, but recognizing that over time, uh, Taiwan's future lies with China and not as a separate power center.
LANDLERAnd I think that's very much what was at work in the F-16 decision. The decision was not to flatly deny the Taiwanese anything, but to actually refurbish their existing fleet of aircraft. The Taiwanese -- many in Taiwan would argue that's inadequate, these are ancient. They're practically falling out of the sky. The American argument is, we can refurbish these and upgrade them so that you've got a pretty good defensive aircraft force, without having to go the extra step, which would have been extremely provocative to Beijing.
REHMAll right. To Owings Mills, Md. Good morning, Matthew.
MATTHEWYes. I was listening to one of your people talking about the new Italian technocratic government being what he called old-line corporatists. And when I think of old-line Italian corporatists I think of Mussolini. And particularly when juxtaposed with the new Greek government, where a number of fairly senior figures were actually tightly connected to fascist student movements when they were in college. One of them was, in fact, expelled from law school for pursuing and beating up people, beating up liberals. And some of them were in far-right wing parties in Greece, as recently as eight or nine years ago.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Mark Mardell.
MARDELLIt's certainly true. The Greek coalition does contain some far-right parties, a few of them. I mean, Mario Monti, the new Italian leader, he's not a fascist. And I wasn't trying to make that point, but I did say corporatism with --knowingly that that is in the Italian past. And I think when you think about fascism, I mean, for all the dreadful things about it, at the time it was popular. And not just because of, you know, marches and boots and black shirts. But people thought, isn't it a great idea to bring together big business and the unions and the military and the people who care about the country, rather than the squabbling politicians.
MARDELLI don't think we're seeing a repetition of that, but it's dangerous, in a democracy, to start thinking like that. It's dangerous to have politicians who don't care enough about their country they can actually reach solutions rather than just reach votes.
REHMHere's an email from Marcio in Indianapolis. He says, "In 1994, Brazil implemented the Real Plan," or Real Plan, I guess it is, "which restructured its economy creating a new currency pegged to the U.S. dollar. As the currency matured it was unpegged from the dollar in 1999, has been an independent currency since then. This plan and its maintenance were implemented by technocrats with the endorsement of politicians who had a serious stance toward the economy. Argentina, on the other hand, did not let its dollar-pegged currency fluctuate and they were doomed. Hopefully, Italy will have the seriousness and clarity to use the technocrats' wisdom in implementing the necessary changes to its economic system."
MARDELLYes. I think that's the hope. And that this government intends to do what it's put into do, to bring in the austerity measures to get it back on the course. And then to move away for elections. And I'm sure it will do that. And, of course, it's also true that in most countries we have a great civil service. In Britain you have good people behind the scenes that those people tend to stay behind the scenes in democracy. So it's a slightly unusual move.
REHMAnd let's go now to Rockton, Ill. Good morning, David.
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
DAVIDYeah, I was wondering to what extent are we promoting unrest in Syria. I know in Libya that 900 million was sent in six or eight months to destabilize and cause the insurrection in Libya. To what extent is the CIA involved in Syria?
REHMAny indication there, Mark Landler?
LANDLERWell, to say whether we know whether the CIA's involved in Syria would probably suggest more than we could know if there's clandestine involvement. But I'd take issue with the listener's comment. I think there were indigenous forces in Syria, that against incredible odds and persecution, violence, imprisonment, lack of organization, rallied against this government day after day, week in and week out, at you know tremendous risk to themselves. And I just -- I would sort of reject the contention that instability in Syria as being imposed on it by outside powers.
LABOTTAnd again, I mean, this is a symptom of the opposition not having its act together. Although, there is a very large opposition in the country, it hasn't presented how it says that they're going to move forward. And so there are a lot of people that were in the army. A lot of people think that it's going to take a military coup in order to get rid of President Assad.
LABOTTAnd this could be some of what we're seeing right now.
REHMTo Indianapolis. Good morning, George. George, are you there?
GEORGEHello. This is George Carst. I had a comment. And I'll take your response off the air.
GEORGEI feel that there's an important component to the uprising in the Syria conflict with regard to minorities, especially Shiites and also the Armenian and Syrian Christians and the Druse and others. And I'm fearful that the Sunni majority, while they need to be allowed to rule the country because they're the majority, I'm very worried that they may settle scores against these archaic, historic minorities. I feel that it reflects some dishonesty in our national conversation that we downplay (unintelligible). And I'll take your comments.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling. Mark?
MARDELLWell, I think he's right. George, you're right to be worried. I think that is a component. And for those who don't know about the situation, that the leaders of Syria are Shiite and the majority is Sunni and that's the split there. And it's perhaps a little concerning when you look at the voting in the Arab League. That it was down religious lines. It was the Shiite countries that abstained. The Sunni countries that were pushing for this. And I think that this is one of the reasons that the fallout is so concerning. Not just what would happen to the minority within Syria, if there is a change of power, but also how that would reverberate throughout the region with Iran, with Lebanon.
LABOTTActually, Diane, the ruling government is an Alawite government. And that actually is a minority right now. And you also have the Christians and the Jews that right now are supporting President Assad. And I think one of the things that's going to be telling about whether the government is on its last legs is whether you see the Alawites, the business community, these Christian communities start to abandon President Assad.
REHMAnd I think that there are a lot of questions about a Sunni government coming in. Right now the Syrian government is aligned with the Shia government in Iran. I think there are questions about Iraq being concerned that a Sunni government could be detrimental to its government. So right now the minorities are what is actually keeping President Assad in place.
REHMInteresting. To Jonathan, he's in Hialeah, Fla. Good morning.
JONATHANGood morning. I have a quick comment on China. I don't think its rise is inevitable. I think that it has too many domestic problems for the authoritarian government to handle and that eventually those hens are gonna come to roost.
REHMYou know, that's just what we were talking about during the break, whether China's authoritarian regime can withstand China's expansion into the world and world forces moving into China. Elise?
LABOTTAnd the question is, the China model, the model of economic liberalism, while at the same time this one-party rule, has been what's kept China growing. The growth has been enormous, but also the regime stable. As it continues to liberalize and it continues to open and embrace globalism and become this world power, the question is, is it inevitable that the more opening of the society will mean that the government has to open up its political system?
MARDELLI think China has been a great challenge to those who believe that, as you get greater wealth, then you get democracy alongside that. The movement that we saw throughout Europe and -- well, America inherited in a different way, but what we saw happening in Europe, in the sort of the 17th, 18th century. China is a challenge to that. I mean I tend to believe that as you get a bigger middle class, with its concerns not only about being able to express itself, but particular issues like the environment -- like the dreadful environment in China, that it inevitably the government will have to take more care about what people think, whether it's a formal democracy or not.
REHMMark Mardell, of the BBC. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show". Mark Landler, you wanted to add to that?
LANDLERI was only gonna add one point relative to the Chinese government's lack of confidence these days. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring and indeed in the aftermath of the unrest following the Iranian election a couple of years ago, there's been deep, deep fears and insecurities in China that the same thing could happen there. China's already a country where there are literally hundreds of street protests over one thing or another everyday around the country. And I think this is a government, one, that's undergoing a leadership change, a very sensitive time. And is deeply insecure about the possibility of something along the lines of the Arab Spring happening there.
LABOTTBut, Diane, I would just say that anybody that's wondering about China's rise, China's rise is here. I mean clearly it's a global player, not just on the U.N. Security Council, but as we've seen in the world economy I think the challenge for the United States and the rest of the developed countries is how to manage China's rise, which is inevitable, I feel. And I think that's the position of the United States and other countries. And I think that's why the U.S. is in Asia right now, to try and manage China's rise in a way that could result in prosperity for the entire region.
REHMAll right. And finally to Alexandria, Va. Hello, Tom.
TOMI just was curious, in the discussion about what's been accomplished in Afghanistan, that there was no mention of the diminishment of al-Qaida. So I'd like to hear whether that's considered by the panel an accomplishment or -- and that's my question. Thank you.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling. Mark Landler?
LANDLERWe were actually talking about this off the air and agreeing that if you had to find one indisputable accomplishment its denying al-Qaida safe haven in Afghanistan. The problem with this is al-Qaida's now resident next door in Pakistan. Many of these gains were made very early in what's now an almost ten year conflict. So you'd have to argue for the time the investment, the bloodshed, the treasure, it's an awfully high price to pay for something that everyone agrees was worthwhile, which was depriving al-Qaida of their most important sanctuary.
MARDELLBut I think sort of counter-insurgency, the idea of building up Afghanistan as somewhere that can never go back in that direction has largely been abandoned in favor of counter-terrorism, which sort of like whack-a-mole, when you see them you send a drone out and kill them. And I don't think the problem has been sort of progressed really during this administration. I mean it dealt with al-Qaida pretty well, but actually sort of changing Afghanistan so the Taliban can't come back hasn't happened.
LABOTTAnd there are other extremist groups, as Mark said, that are in Pakistan fighting U.S. troops. I think the question is what's going to happen as the U.S. hands over province by province to the Afghans. Are they going to take ownership of their country? Are they going to deny safe havens to the leadership. And I think it's gonna continue to depend on whether, for now, President Karzai, but successive Afghan governments are able to deliver to the people. I mean, once the United States leaves and decides that its interests are no longer in Pakistan, how are these groups gonna respond, to the Afghans or back to the United States?
REHMAnd so we end the Friday News Roundup not with a statement, but with a question to be resolved in the coming days, months and years. Elise Labott, she's a State Department producer for CNN, Mark Landler, Whitehouse correspondent for the New York Times, Mark Mardell, he's BBC North America editor. Thank you all so much.
ALLThank you, Diane.
REHMHave a great weekend everybody. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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