The Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of "Bloom County" on the revival of his beloved comic strip after a 25-year hiatus and a new book about the origins of Bill The Cat.
Thousands of North Koreans gather in the snow to mourn Kim Jong-il. Arab league delegates arrive in Syria amid reports that government troops killed more than 200 people in two days. The European Central Bank pumps a record $640 billion into the troubled eurozone economies. Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine, and David Sanger of The New York Times join Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Abderrahim Foukara Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic.
- Susan Glasser editor-in-chief, Foreign Policy.
- David Sanger chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Two explosions rock Syria a day after Arab League delegates arrived to monitor the government's promise to end violence against protestors. Thousands of North Koreans gathered in the snow to mourn former leader, Kim Jong-il. And world leaders prepared to honor former Czech President Vaclav Havel in Prague. Joining me for the final international news roundup of 2011, Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine and David Sanger of The New York Times. Do join us, 800-433-8850, send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.
MR. DAVID SANGERMorning.
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAMorning, Diane.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERMorning.
REHMAnd let's hope that 2012 proves to be a more peaceful year than 2011. The Syrian government says suicide bombs in the capital have killed over 40 people. These are the first suicide attacks in the conflict thus far. What do you make of this, Abderrahim?
FOUKARAI mean, first of all, it's not the first time that the building of the security, Syrian security forces, has been targeted over the last few months since the protests started in Syria. But obviously what makes this very different is one, is that it's happened on the day the Arab League mission was supposed to have started its work in Syria, to arrive in Damascus. And secondly, is the fact that the Syrian government is saying is its al Qaida. It's not the opposition, its defecting Syrian soldiers. They're saying its al Qaida. It's a bit of a baffling piece of news. I think that if it does turn out to be al Qaida then obviously it's a huge gift to the Syrian government in terms of diverting attention from what the opposition is actually calling for, which is the end of the regime.
FOUKARAIf it does turn out to be something else and the opposition is already saying that this is a fabricated event by the government, then obviously it just takes us into a new level. I should just say one more thing, if I may. When, after Ben Ali of Tunisia fled, there were reports about what actually happened in the last few days before his regime collapsed. And one report said that there were top officials in his government that actually discussed the idea of having a bombing somewhere in Tunisia, big one, and of blaming it on al Qaida. So as to tell both Tunisians, this is not the right way for Tunisia to go but also to tell the West, look if we go, if Ben Ali goes, this is what happens. And there may well be a similar rationale here in Syria, although we don't know yet all the facts.
GLASSERWell, you know, it's really striking isn't it, that we're ending the year with, in effect, a series of related but separate power struggles across the Middle East? Damascus is not even the only capital in its own neighborhood to have been rocked by a series of questionable and clearly politically timed bombings this week. You at what's happening in Baghdad, just next door as another example, where you have escalating violence in several of these countries, very much intertwined with a series of political power struggles that are taking effect.
GLASSERAnd, you know, just to go back to Syria for a second, this is in the context, whatever the true story of these bombings turns out to be, this is in the context of escalating levels of violence that have amounted to really a low-grade civil war (word?) taking place inside the country. You have reports of thousands of people having been killed over the last several months of conflict between the protestors and the government forces. You have an increasingly armed opposition movement, so you almost have a fusion of Arab Spring type protests along with an armed with Libya-like rebel uprising.
SANGERI think Susan's exactly right. If you take a look at what's happened across the region. If you think that we started the year with battles against authoritarian regimes, and there's still some of that going on obviously in Egypt. Where we're ending the year is that with the authoritarian regimes on the run or gone, in Assad's case holding on in Syria, but I suspect probably not for too terribly long. What it's done is freed up the old Sunni-Shiite divides to happen again. So Iraq was the first one, as soon as we, obviously there were bombings going on even while we were still in Iraq but now that the last American troops have left, The Sunni-Shiite divide is playing out in the streets.
SANGERIf you have reason to disbelieve the al Qaida argument that the Syrians are offering here, and I have significant reasons to think that that probably is a manufactured case, then again, you're seeing sort of a Sunni-Shiite uprising happening there. And we're seeing it across the region. What is interesting is you're not hearing very much about Israel and the Palestinians out of these groups. You're going back to the old ethnic and in some cases, tribal conflicts that the authoritarian rulers were able to repress.
REHMSo what happens? The Arab League observers have arrived, what do they hope to accomplish, Susan?
GLASSERWell, you know, that's a very question. You know, there's some question, first of all, who are the Arab League observers. You know one of the top people leading delegation, you know, was one of the leaders of the Janjaweed militia in Darfur. So, you know, the Arab League does not, you know, as Abderrahim knows better than I do, does not really have a very distinguished tradition of standing up for democracy and the rights of individual protestors across the region. That's not what this group has been known for so, you know, there are a lot of questions about what do they hope to accomplish anyways. But certainly, the message that's being sent here very loud and clear is, you know, this is an internal conflict and we're going to handle it the way that we want to.
FOUKARAI think, about the Arab League, I think Susan is absolutely right on the money. I mean, the other part to this is that even the Arab League were some sort of organization with teeth and muscle, which it isn't, but even if it were the plan that the Arab League seems to be suggesting to Assad, because of the issue of the moment is just a piece of a larger plan. But if the Syrian government did abide by the plan that the Arab League is suggesting, that would be the end of Bashar al-Assad. And it tells you that there is very little chance that he will actually accept the terms of that plan. And even if he did accept them, there's very little chance that he would actually implement them, because that would be just tightening the noose around his neck. So the Arab League, whether it's effective or not, very little chance that the plan would hold.
REHMAnd what about the Syrian opposition calling for UN assistance to try to prevent what they characterize as a genocide going on?
SANGERWell, they're looking at the Libya example and they're making it as hard as it possibly can be for the Obama Administration to draw these distinctions between why the U.S. participated in intervention in Libya and why it has not participating in an intervention in Syria. And you can come up with all kinds of explanations about why these are different cases. And they are, but if you take it up to just 10,000 feet and you listen to what President Obama said to justify the American intervention, really the only difference between Libya and Syria right now, is that in the Libyan case there was a UN resolution that then enabled everyone, including the Arab League to join in in this military intervention.
SANGERNo one really seems to want to go do that in Syria's case and I think that the opposition in Syria recognizes that unless they get that resolution, there's no way they're going to get a Libya-like intervention.
REHMNot likely, Susan?
GLASSERWell, look and the one also has begotten the other, right? I mean, you know, part of why there is no Libya-like resolution for Syria is because of the Libya resolution and both Russia and china felt very much as if there had been sort of a bait and switch. You know, there wouldn't have been a Libya resolution if the United States and its European partners had not decided to take action. So we're in a little bit of a chicken or the egg-type situation here. The bottom line is that the United States has decided, for now, that it is not capable nor interested or willing, to take that next step.
GLASSERThey believe it's politically possible. The Russians have been maneuvering back and forth but basically have taken their long-time partners of the Syrian regime much closer to them than they were to Kaddafi and, you know, they have made it very clear that this is a non-starter, even were NATO and the West to decide that it was a necessity.
FOUKARAObviously, there are many fundamental differences between Syria and Libya. One of those fundamental differences is location. Location of Syria, Syria being bordering Iraq, being a very close ally of Iran. Even if someone wanted to contemplate military intervention, you would be taking on more than just Bashar al-Assad. You would be taking on the Iranians.
SANGERNow, you can argue we already are. I mean, we're -- the United States is basically at this point in a low-grade daily, constant confrontation with Iran that's probably the biggest change we've seen since the beginning of the year.
REHMDavid Sanger of the New York Times, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine, Abderrahim Foukara of al Jazeera Arabic. And one of the questions I'm going to pose to our journalists before the end of the program, what is the most significant story internationally of 2011?
REHMAnd welcome back to the final international hour of our Friday News Roundup for the year 2011. I'll be interested as well in your thoughts as to the most significant story of the year in the international realm when you call us, 800-433-8850.
REHMLet's turn now to Pakistan. The Pentagon concluded its investigation into a deadly U.S. airstrike in Pakistan last month. It came to some conclusions. Pakistan came to its conclusions. They're not exactly on the same page, Susan.
GLASSERThat's right. But the bottom line is that it's a very embarrassing incident for the Pentagon and for the United States. And even in the language of trying to make it seem not as disastrous as it was, the report that was out yesterday by the Americans really suggests that there were fatal errors, that the United States was not accurate in what it said initially.
REHMFor which it apologized.
GLASSERWell, yes, for which it has said it's sorry but, you know, Obama has not in fact apologized despite the counsel of his ambassador to Pakistan. And I think, you know, it shows that, you know any rift, right, as you tell your kids that it's a two-way street. And even if there are very, very legitimate grievances on the side of the United States, this is a classic example of one of those potentially triggering incidents, right. Where, you know, a series of miscommunications, failure to follow established NATO procedures ended up with a large number of Pakistani military dead and a huge aggravation in a relationship that can hardly stand it.
REHMWhat happened, David?
SANGERWell, what struck me from reading the report was that almost all of the series of miscommunications about where troops were, the firing that went back and forth, have at their core the incredible mistrust between the United States and the Pakistani forces, our ostensible allies and we their ostensible allies. So the core of the problem here was that if you believe the American report the U.S. did not want to tell the Pakistanis where the American troops on the Afghan side of the border were located.
SANGERWhy didn't they want to tell them that? The report didn't quite say but it was obvious. The reason was they believed the Pakistani troops are in cahoots with the Taliban in firing on the Americans. So the last thing they wanted to do was give them a precise position. So without the precise position they got their way into this cascade of errors where the U.S. began shelling a location that was a Pakistani guard post. And it devolved from there.
SANGERAnd what it tells you is that if you've got an ally with whom your relationship is so dysfunctional that you can't provide the basic information about where you are located, you are going to have more incidents like this.
FOUKARAI think the suspicion that -- the mutual suspicion between Pakistan and the United States that David is talking about is actually indicative of something much more insidious in the relationship. And which is this that for the Pakistanis -- and I don't want to sound too much of a messenger of doom -- for the Pakistanis to go along with the kind of vision that the Obama Administration has for Afghanistan, many of them feel it would be completely suicidal for Pakistan.
FOUKARAAnd the reason is that they see India as a constant threat to Pakistan. And they see India getting close to Karzai or getting close to any future government in Afghanistan as a mortal threat to Pakistan. Now we've just talked about U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. And Iraq may provide, at least in the eyes of some in the Obama Administration, an example of how the U.S. could deal with Afghanistan after the withdrawal. And how many troops stay in Afghanistan and how many people do not.
FOUKARASo far as we've been hearing in the news Iraq has not been very much of a good experiment. And therefore how much you can extrapolate from Iraq to a future settlement in Afghanistan that allows U.S. troops to actually leave and guarantee the Pakistanis some sort of peace of mind in Afghanistan. I'm not very sure about that.
REHMWell, and aren't there now questions about U.S. forces leaving Afghanistan and the timing on that, David?
SANGERWell, the first part of the timing the president announced in June, which was that by September of 2012, conveniently two months before the election, the surge troops will be out. Those were the 30,000 that were sent in at the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010. What the president hasn't said is when do the rest of the troops come out? Now 2014 is the date bandied around for most NATO forces to leave. But it's always been clear, if you've been listening carefully to the president's advisors, that they do not intend to leave Afghanistan completely the way they left Iraq completely.
SANGERAnd there are several reasons for this. The first is that to the minds of people in the Pentagon Afghanistan is the only staging area in which to go after remnants of Al-Qaida and the Taliban who are in Pakistan. So if you think about this over the past ten years we've completely reversed our logic. We started up allying with Pakistan after 9/11 to get into Afghanistan. We are now staying in Afghanistan because we need a base to strike back into Pakistan. And that base, depending on who you ask, would be 10, 15, 20,000 people.
SANGERNow it's not only about Pakistan. It's also about making sure that the Taliban can't retake Kabul and that you're right back to where you were on September 10, 2011.
GLASSERYeah -- no, I think that's an important point is that in a way it's about Afghan security as much as it is about American national interest at this point. And that shows the nature of how something that starts out as one thing ten years later morphs into something else. And, you know, if you look at the political instability racking Iraq...
GLASSER...literally hours and days after the last American troop left and you can see what that scenario is going to look like potentially in Afghanistan in a place where the threats could be even more directly to U.S. interests.
REHMDo we know who's responsible for the worst day of violence that Iraq has seen in more than a year? Do we know who committed those acts?
GLASSERWell, you -- you know, immediately as in serious all claims from the government that this was Al-Qaida related. And remember this is in a context, as David pointed out, of the widening sort of sectarian violence that has been and will be the context for the political fight that's playing out over who controls Iraq. Remember that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who has now gone after Iraq sitting vice-president who is a Sunni, you have sort of the rise of the Shiite majority now in Iraq. And I think that is the context of the political struggle taking place.
REHMSo how fragile is Iraq's government right now?
FOUKARAIt seems to be extremely fragile. It seems to be a self fulfilling prophecy that when the U.S. was there people were saying the situation currently is what it is because U.S. presence -- because of U.S. presence. Now that you don't have that U.S. presence a lot of people are going back and saying U.S. presence was actually the cement that was keeping superficially somewhat Iraq together.
FOUKARANow that the U.S. is out it seems that you have to hark back to what happened at the time of the surge when the Sunnis in Anbar province, who were actually by the way who have been the most vocal in celebrating the departure of the U.S. troops. But you had the Arab wakening there, you had the Arab tribes there working with the U.S. government at that time to fight the Al-Qaida. And everybody at that time was saying okay, the surge has worked. But it has also given various parties in Iraq time to actually reassemble their strength.
FOUKARAAnd once the U.S. is out you're going to see a surge of the violence including the sectarian violence. So right now, Iraq looks very fragile.
REHMVery fragile. And do you see that fragility really turning back into what could be described as civil war?
GLASSERYou know, I think that has to be a real possibility. As we're talking I'm thinking about this conversation merging Iraq and Afghanistan, I can't help but think of what happened in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. And what you had was first a political crisis. And, you know, many thought that Najibullah who was the Soviet installed leader of Afghanistan wouldn't last out the year. He managed to but at the cost of, you know, literally sort of a cycle of violence that the country has not gotten out of yet, and of course ultimately with his body being dragged through the streets. And, you know, these scenarios are very real.
SANGERYou have an additional risk in Afghanistan's case which is not quite as high in Iraq, which is that on top of the political vacuum that's left you have an economic vacuum that will be left in Afghanistan. And the United States' presence there accounts for many multiples of Afghanistan's ordinary gross national product. So if you really withdrew all of the American forces rapidly you'd have complete economic collapse. And, you know, that creates exactly the conditions that lead to political instability.
FOUKARAJust wanting to go back to Iraq and the specter of civil war. Yes, that's one possible scenario. The other possible scenario -- and remember that when Saddam was in power one of the main pieces of rationale that he gave at that time to being the tough guy, the dictator that he was, is that Iraq could only work if it had a tough guy leading it.
FOUKARAAnd I think the other scenario that we could be looking at now is Maliki turning into that tough guy to hold Iraq together, which would be, you know, goodbye to any talk or any hope for a democratic Iraq, even in the long future. And I think Maliki has so far shown all the signs that he wants to be another Saddam of a kind. Whether he will actually be forced to go all the way there we don't know, but he's showing signs of that.
GLASSERWell, you know, and in fact that's exactly what the political opposition to him is calling him already, is the Shiite Saddam. We had an interview this week with Vice President Hashemi who is now seeking refuge in Kurdistan in order not to be arrested by supposedly his partner in the government. And that's exactly what he said.
GLASSERHe said that not only is Maliki turning into a Saddam, but he was making the case, and it shows you how inflammatory the rhetoric has become, he said, well actually Maliki's worst than Saddam, in this interview with us. Because, you know, Saddam brought this stability. But, you know, I have to say take this with a grain of salt, right. This is what every tough guy says in order to justify his dictatorship.
GLASSERYou know, remember I'm thinking about Russia and what is it that Vladimir Putin said a dozen years ago when he came to power. He said, well it's time for us to restore stability. We need to have a strong hand again in order to govern Russia. It's the only way to keep the state intact.
REHMSusan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." David Sanger, let's talk about North Korea. This tremendous outpouring of grief after the death of Kim Jong-il, is that grief real?
SANGERYou know, I think it's a hard thing for those of us who grow up in a pluralistic society and who look at Kim Jong-il and see a dictator of a desperately poor country who is brandishing nuclear weapons as his only way to retain independence. And there's a reason that in our society Kim Jong-il was parodied so he -- yeah, from the elevator shoes to the haircut, to the whole bit he fit into an American model of a dictator.
SANGERIf you are North Korean -- and I have not been in North Korea in 18 or 20 years, they haven't been eager to let me back in since the last things I wrote from my last trip -- it's a very different view. They have been inculcated now for -- since basically the end of World War II in the thought that it's the Kim family that has kept the country whole.
SANGERIt is astounding that North Korea still exists. And they have the -- the cult of personality has actually worked. And the evidence that it's worked is that even the military leadership, which can't be very happy about a 26-, 27-, 28-year old -- we don't know how old Kim Jong Un, the son of Kim Jong-il is, taking over as the third generation in a communist dynasty.
REHMBut that's the question. How much resistance might there be to that dynasty lurking?
SANGERWell, there may well be but, you know, one of the first things you would look for is in week one does somebody push him aside before he can establish...
SANGERIn week one. And in week one that has not happened.
SANGERHe -- the son has emerged as the head of the funeral committee for Kim Jong-il. You've seen photographs of him, the whole cult of personality stuff is starting up. So what are the options of how this could go forward? One possibility is Kim Jong Un could just emerge as the next leader. I think that's less likely. Second possibility, that he is the leader in name but there is a regent named. Most likely would be the brother-in-law of Kim Jong-il, the husband of Kim Jong-il's sister who was sort of trained up to guide Kim Jong Un. And he could be the power behind the throne to keep Kim Jong Un there and see how well he develops.
SANGERThird possibility, a collective leadership, very common in some communist societies where some people are somewhat more prominent than others. If you ask people in the U.S. government now to bet which of those models is going to emerge in the next few months, they'll tell you some mix of model two and model three.
REHMWhat about the military, Susan?
GLASSERWell, you know, I mean, those scenarios, right, I think really cover a pretty broad range of outcomes. And there are some people -- some analysts who follow this closely who believe that in effect the military's already running the show in North Korea. So, you know, I think the question is we have so little visibility into this society, even into what are the events that actually occurred this last week. I think there are huge questions about, you know, does the official story of Kim's death even add up? You know, there's strong sense that that's not the case.
GLASSERSo partially I would say we don't know. But then to the extent we do know perhaps what we already know is that the military is already playing -- you know, is already leading the show.
REHMWould there have been a reason to end Kim Jong-il's hold on the government?
FOUKARAWell, I mean, there are two ways of seeing him. There's a way people in the West see him -- or saw him and then there's the other way which is the way the Chinese saw him. And I think that the good side to all this is that as controversial and dangerous as he was, he did actually provide a bridge between the West and China in terms of thinking about how to bring about better stability in that part of the world.
FOUKARAAnd incidentally, just talking about the issue of visibility, people who walk around saying that Syria is not a political system where you have a lot of visibility, take a look at North Korea.
REHMAbderrahim Foukara. He's Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic. When we come back we'll open the phones.
REHMAnd welcome back, time to open the phones. First to Catonsville, Md., good morning Izar, you're on the air.
IZARYes, good morning I'm concerned about what's happening in Syria because they're taking a page out of the U.S. book on using terrorism as a military tactic. This happened in Iraq in 2004 when Bush called for the El Salvador option, which meant sending terrorists like Blackwater to plant bombs in mosques and markets, which they did, but Bremer refused it. That's why he brought in John Negroponte who executed the El Salvador option in the 80s against El Salvador from Honduras.
REHMHave you heard of this so-called El Salvador option, David?
SANGERI have not.
REHMHow about you?
FOUKARAI mean, I worked -- I covered the United Nations when Negroponte was the U.S. permanent representative there and there was a lot of talk about what he actually did in terms of leading or giving directions to death squads in Central America and obviously he never owned up to that. He constantly rejected those charges as being untrue.
FOUKARABut I think the issue that the caller is raising with regard to Syria I think it has become amply clear to a lot of Americans at least that the reason given for invading Iraq in 2003, which is weapons of mass destruction, has seriously undermined the credibility of whatever the U.S. says to the international community.
FOUKARAThat obviously does not preclude the fact that the U.S. does deal with some very serious threats to its national security, but it has become, I think, much harder for U.S. officials, especially, I mean, in the case recently, in the case of Iran, the alleged plot by the Iranians to kill the Saudi ambassador here in D.C., that people in the region found that very hard to believe for various reasons, one of them was because of what happened in 2003.
REHMHere's an email from Jack in Birmingham, Ala. "Has the U.S. literally withdrawn all of its troops from Iraq or is there a remnant left for some purpose?"
FOUKARAI mean, there are two things here, one is that a large contingent of U.S. troops -- I think, at some point, I heard about 40,000 will remain stationed in the Gulf region. Most of those numbers will be in Kuwait, so that's number one, to deal with any other threats by the way not just in Iraq also Iran or any other potential threats.
FOUKARABut the other thing is that the U.S. has the largest embassy than any country has anywhere...
REHMThat's got to have about 30,000 people.
FOUKARAThat's right, that's not going anywhere so you know...
REHMAnd lots of private contractors?
FOUKARA...and lots of private contractors.
REHMNow what are those contractors supposed to be doing, Susan?
GLASSERSecuring our interests, I guess, but an enormous part of that footprint for the embassy is in the form of security. It is in the form of people with guns so if that's what the caller is asking about, the answer is yes, there are Americans, both uniformed military and contractors with guns in Iraq today.
REHMAll right, let's go to Orlando, Fla. good morning Cathy?
CATHYYes, good morning. Just a quick note, I was listening. The interesting thing about Negroponte he was the U.N. ambassador, the Iraqi ambassador, the head of intelligence under Bush and he was in the State Department, he gets around. But in a way, you can't blame Iran for wanting weapons after they saw what happened to Iraq right next door. But let's say, for the sake of argument, Iran does want nuclear power for their energy needs, it makes economic sense for them to sell their oil while using nuclear power for themselves, but like Israel, Saudi Arabia supports bombing Iran.
CATHYBut the Saudis could be more concerned that Iran -- if Iran does sell most of its oil reserves, that Iran could be competition on the world's oil markets.
SANGERIran's been competition on the world oil market for Saudi Arabia for quite some time now, we're talking about Iran as the world's number three oil producer. The Iranians would like the world to believe that their only interest in nuclear is for energy production and they have indeed created a plant at Bushehr that is beginning to produce some modest amounts of electricity and you have not seen the West particularly oppose that.
SANGERThe questions Iran is having a hard time answering and the ones that run through the IAEA report that came out a month and a half ago are about activities that nobody could conceivably explain in terms of developing nuclear civilian power. They have to do with trigger mechanisms. They have to do with experiments you would conduct if you were trying to build a warhead and none of it is conclusive. The question is why the Iranians won't answer questions about it.
SANGERBut the nuclear activity that everybody is concerned about and it has left the United States and Israel and Europe in this position of confronting Iran is basically completely separate from energy production.
REHMAll right, I want to ask you, Susan, about the protest that women carried out in Egypt this week. What brought that on?
GLASSERWell if your listeners haven't seen it, it's a pretty horrifying thing, but you know take a look at the video of the woman now known as a woman with a blue bra who was brutally attacked and beaten...
GLASSER...savagely, exactly. There's even a worse version of that video, which I don't recommend anybody look at, in which another woman tries to come to the aid of this woman whose hijab was ripped off to reveal this blue bra and this other woman is even more brutally beaten aside by the police and so this really triggered what was seen as the largest demonstration by Egyptian women, really sort of almost like a seminal moment in Egyptian feminism, of the last decade.
GLASSERNobody expected as many women to come out as they did and I think there's a real sense that women's rights need to be safeguarded, that they are under threat and that paradoxically that these Arab Spring protests and these movements in several countries despite the active involvement of women across many of these countries at great risk to themselves they may or may not come out as winners when all the political maneuvering is said and done here.
GLASSERAnd I think, you know, Egypt is a particularly egregious case. Throughout the Tahrir Square demonstrations, women have been targeted, they have been harassed. There are American and Western journalist women who have experienced this and of course, Egyptian women themselves who at great risk to life and limb have tried to participate in their country's political awakening. You know, there is an institutionalized violence against women that exists in this society and has to be put on the table as part of this wrenching political change.
REHMAnd the generals finally came out with an apology.
FOUKARAWell, they did, but I mean, earlier, we were talking about what people consider as the most important story of the year and I'm sorry if I'm rushing to...
REHMThat's all right, go ahead.
FOUKARA...and to me, Egypt is the most important story of the year 2011 for two reasons. One of them is the fall of Mubarak and what it unleashed, not just in Egypt and the Arab world, but worldwide. Suddenly, we saw this protest movement in Israel. We saw it in Spain. We saw it in Greece and we've seen it more recently here in the United States, that's number one.
FOUKARANumber two is the extent to which the people who actually demonstrated in Tahrir Square about nine months ago and brought down Mubarak, the extent to which they actually miscalculated and misread the stepping down of Mubarak because Mubarak stepped down, the army told them okay, Mubarak has stepped down, go home and they said yes the revolution is done, it's a done deal and they went home.
FOUKARABy the time they realized what the real intentions as they now have discovered of the military council in Egypt, which is not to relinquish political power, by the time they realized that, A, the political scene in Egypt had got far more complicated and, B, almost too late to start thinking about, you know, asking the army to go back to its barracks. It's not going to do it for many different reasons. One of them is that it owns a huge chunk of the Egyptian economy.
GLASSERYou know, I would agree with Abderrahim about the tragedy of what we've seen unfolding in Egypt. The only disagreement I would have is that rather than the fact that they didn't see it coming was what's particularly tragic to me I think is that this was very predictable and there were people who even, back in February, saw this coming, understood that this was not so much the full revolution as it was the dumping of a figurehead in order to maintain as much military control over the situation as possible. And I think that makes it even more horrible, right? Is that it's the slow motion car crash that you saw coming that makes this particularly awful to watch.
SANGERYou know, including the Secretary of State, there was a really interesting moment, it was about the weekend of Frank Wisner, the special envoy who was sent to Egypt in great dispute in the administration about whether or not what he said to Mubarak was what President Obama intended.
SANGERBut that same weekend the Secretary of State giving a talk at a conference talked about how the fact that people who start revolutions rarely finish them. And you know we saw this in Iran, the French tell a pretty interesting story about this and so forth. And that was her big concern is one of the reasons that many of President Obama's leading advisors were not so enthused about dumping Mubarak, it wasn't because they loved Mubarak, it was because they were fearful of what would fill in the vacuum.
SANGER...and you know nine months, eleven months later, that's looking pretty good.
REHMLet's go to Joe, who is in New Kent County, Va., hi there Joe.
JOEHi, Diane, how are you?
REHMI'm good, thanks.
JOEYeah, I've got a question for your panel. It's kind of a larger question. How come the media doesn't use the public to help isolate a lot of these dictators and whatnot around the world like they did in South Africa during apartheid. You know this was a country club this guy goes to, this is the, you know the restaurant that this particular dictator's family goes to etc. etc. You don't see that.
GLASSERYou know I like the caller's impulse here. You know bad guys have been an important subject for foreign policy over the last few years. But he's right that it has been largely an ignored one at times. Two years ago we ran a list of the worst of the worst dictators. We, at the time there were about 40 dictators estimated more or less, depending on who you count around the world. That was one of our best all-time features in terms of the audience...
GLASSER...but it was considered, you know, you really had a sort of look down their noses approach to the sort of stripes, pants, foreign-affairs set who thought well, you know, gee that's really not a very intellectually rigorous way of looking at the problems of authoritarian societies. There hasn't been that much scrutiny of these authoritarian leaders inside the United States. I think you're going to see a growing movement just like the caller pointed out.
GLASSERWe ran a piece that got a great response on the amount of real estate owned here in Washington, D.C. by the family members of Yemen's President Saleh and you know, again it's hidden in plain sight. It hasn't been a big target of people. The Justice Department just indicted and tried to impound the assets of the son of the ruthless leader of Equitorial Guinea who has been living this Hollywood high lifestyle that we chronicled in our magazine in February. This has been happening in plain view with his rapper girlfriends and Michael Jackson's estate and all of that.
GLASSERAnd the Justice Department basically twiddled around on this for four years before finally being sort of shamed into doing something.
REHMSusan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine, you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." David Sanger, let's talk about the legacy of Vaclav Havel.
SANGERYou know, I think that when President Havel died, it took everybody a bit by surprise although he had been ill with lung cancer and was diagnosed some time ago.
REHMWas he a smoker?
SANGERI think he was...
SANGER...but many years ago. I don't know if he was in recent times.
GLASSERHe definitely was. You know I saw him just two years and he was just the picture of a sort of aging central European, you know still wearing that corduroy blazer, very sick, very frail, classic smoker, you know, coughing and the whole business.
SANGERBut, you know, and it's interesting because his death came probably just 24 hours before Kim Jong Il's death did and so here were the two opposites of what we had in mind but the literary figure who became the improbable symbol of freedom out of communist oppression and then the death of the old-timer holding on to an image of communism that we sort of left 25 years ago.
SANGERAnd I thought you know that the opposition of these two deaths within such a short period of time really captured and Havel was such an inspiring figure on so many counts and yet, and Susan would know this better than I would, I'm not sure anybody would say that he was probably the best organized or best for governance but he certainly was the best for inspiration.
GLASSERWell, I think that's a great way of putting it. As I think about our conversation of how 2011 is going to be remembered, I think, in many ways, it was Havel who more than anyone captured the spirit of 1989 in the sense that it was a year of revolution, not a year of governance, not a year of what comes after but here was a man who, you know, to think of another phrase, he had this sort of unbearable lightness of being written large.
GLASSERI love the story of when he moved into Prague Castle as the leader of the newly independent country, you know free from the shackles of the Warsaw Pact and you know he used to, he rode around on a scooter inside his new castle. He put a giant pop neon red pop art heart on the outside of it and I thought that you know, that's a guy who embraced 1989, maybe not 1994 but 1989.
REHMHow dare he?
FOUKARAIt's interesting. I think today or yesterday there was an article in the Washington Post on the legacy of Vaclav Havel and one of the points it made is that in some parts of central Europe people or regimes, governments there are reneging on the legacy of Vaclav Havel. I was actually in Hungary a few months ago and it has made giant strides, it's visible but you could also feel the spirit of communism is still palpable in many ways.
FOUKARABut if I may just end this on a very flippant note, one major difference between him and Mubarak for example is this famous picture of Mubarak where he's wearing a striped suit that Susan was talking about and the stripes are actually his name, Hosni Mubarak all the way up and down the suit, that's not Havel.
REHMAll right, David, and your nomination for the most significant international story of 2011, very quickly please.
SANGERI'm going to give you the short term and the long term. The short term one I think is a year of conclusions in which Bin Laden was killed and the U.S. finally left Iraq. And that enabled the Obama administration for the first time since it came to office to be able to clear the slate and move on to something else. Something else is Asia and that is the move to Asia as I think we're going to look back at this year as a much more important long term.
GLASSERYes, but I think the events of the short term are so extraordinary I have to go back to Abderrahim's and to say not just Egypt but my nomination is the year of change and the Arab awakening. We will be looking back, you'll be reading books about 2011 just the way we read books about 1848 and 1979 and 1989.
REHMAnd what about that young Tunisian vegetable-seller who began the whole process, this is the last international news roundup of the year. We'll be off next week with our families. I wish you all a joyous holiday. We'll be back with you January 2nd. Thanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm.
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