In a rare public speech, Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad vowed to continue his crackdown on what he called a foreign-backed “conspiracy” against his country; an Iranian nuclear scientist was killed in a Tehran car-bombing; and a video that apparently showed U.S. Marines urinating on Afghan corpses drew Pentagon and NATO condemnation. David Ignatius of The Washington Post, Elise Labott of CNN and James Kitfield of National Journal join Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.

Guests

  • David Ignatius columnist, The Washington Post; contributor to “Post Partisan” blog on washingtonpost.com. His latest book is titled "Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage."
  • Elise Labott senior State Department producer for CNN.
  • James Kitfield senior correspondent, National Journal.

Transcript

  • 11:06:56

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Syria's President Bashar al-Assad vowed to continue his crackdown on what he called a foreign-back conspiracy against his country. An Iranian nuclear scientist was killed in a Tehran car bombing and a video that apparently showed U.S. marines urinating on Afghan corpuses drew Pentagon and NATO condemnation.

  • 11:07:27

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the week's top international stories, David Ignatius at the Washington Post, Elise Labott of CNN and James Kitfield of National Journal. I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org, join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you. It doesn't seem to be very much good news out there.

  • 11:08:08

    MS. ELISE LABOTTGood morning, Diane.

  • 11:08:09

    REHMDavid, tell us about the Iranian nuclear scientist who was assassinated and it's so weird because this comes in the same week that you've got Iranian fishermen rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard.

  • 11:08:34

    MR. DAVID IGNATIUSWell, this is a period of heightening tension of all kinds of different signs of the confrontation between the U.S. and its allies, especially Israel and Iran. A young 32 year-old Iranian nuclear scientist, chemical engineer by the name of Mostafa Roshan, was killed in north Tehran with a technique that's been used in the past to kill several other Iranian scientists. A motorcycle speeds up with two people on the motorcycle. The one on the back affixes a magnetic bomb to the car of the scientist. The bomb explodes and the scientist ends up dead. There have been four such attacks in the last two years, three of them have succeeded. Iran, at the UN, described this as a malicious terrorist act in the middle of its capital.

  • 11:09:37

    MR. DAVID IGNATIUSMeanwhile, there are other signs of this escalating confrontation. You mentioned a little ray of sunshine where one of the ships that the Iranians ordered not to come back in the Persian Gulf ended up rescuing some Iranian hostages who'd been seized by pirates. That was nice but I think that was really just a distraction. This is really a picture of increasing pressure on Iran by the West and Iran increasingly thinking about ways to push back.

  • 11:10:06

    REHMAnd Elise, Iran blamed Israel for the attack and the death of the scientist.

  • 11:10:14

    LABOTTWell, Israel and the CIA and, Diane, it certainly does bear the hallmarks of some previous attacks that have been attributed to Israel. A lot of people kind of, you know, nod and wink and say, well Israel responsible but this, there definitely is a -- whoever is doing it there definitely is a kind of concerted effort in underground, covert war, if you will, as David mentioned, against, you know, assets that strike at the heart of Iran's nuclear capacity, not just these attacks. There was an explosion at an Iranian missile base. There was the stuxnet worm that we saw that seriously damaged at least temporarily Iran's capability and, so these efforts that are covert.

  • 11:10:57

    LABOTTThen there's the overt campaign against Iran's nuclear program and its financial institutions. We saw the United States, President Obama sign into law legislation that goes after Iran's central bank. U.S. officials telling us they want to shut the Iranian central bank down and later this month the Europeans are expecting to cut oil import. So this is a really multi-faceted effort to go against Iran in many ways and they're fighting back.

  • 11:11:26

    REHMAnd they're fighting back by handing out a death sentence to an ex-Marine in Iran. How did that all come about, James?

  • 11:11:39

    MR. JAMES KITFIELDWell, we've seen in the past when the tensions rise in Iran they have this tendency to arrest Westerners and charge them, in some cases, erroneously, with spying. This was a former U.S. Marine of Iranian descent whose family says was just visiting his family in Iran.

  • 11:11:55

    REHMBut he does have an interesting background, James?

  • 11:11:59

    KITFIELDHe does. He, you know, after he got out of the Marines he worked for his own company that contracted out to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that did some linguistic translation for the Defense Language Institute. So, you know, CIA doesn't tend to have someone with that kind of clear background sent into a place like Iran. But we don't know, I mean, he could be but we don't know this. But on the bigger point, Iran, I mean, you put into context what Elise is talking about, really what Iran sees as an undeclared war against their nuclear program, and I think that's very plausible. I think Israel is plausibly behind these assassinations.

  • 11:12:34

    KITFIELDYou know, you put into that context the fact that they had this plot to, you know, assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. late last year. They have just announced that they are going to start Iranian Richmond at another site, that's very hard for Israel to hold at risk because it's buried underground. I mean, we are seeing the tensions rise to a level we haven't seen since probably the 1980s when we got into a direct military confrontation with Iran in the Straits of Hormuz.

  • 11:12:59

    REHMDavid?

  • 11:13:00

    IGNATIUSWell, I think as Jim and Elise have said, the tensions are rising to the point that's dangerous. I wrote today in the Washington Post about the need to have some kind of intelligence or other back channel to avoid misunderstanding in this situation and encouragingly there are signs that that may have happened in the last few weeks. That there may in fact have been some quiet channel established and as in the case in any confrontation I think of the Cuban Missile Crisis as the ultimate example of this.

  • 11:13:37

    IGNATIUSIt's crucial to have the ability to talk in crisis to avoid misunderstanding. We remember that President Kennedy used his brother, Robert, to communicate with the Soviet ambassador to Washington, Dobrynin, and together they were able to work out a formula for resolving that crisis. It's much too early to talk about any such resolution of this crisis but the fact that people are at least looking for these channels now, I take as a positive sign.

  • 11:14:04

    REHMAnd Elise, let's move on to the latest unrest in Syria, where you had the Arab League head say he feared a possible civil war there?

  • 11:14:19

    LABOTTThat's right. The Arab League, Turkey, the Prime Minister Erdogan also said this week that they're very worried that this complex ethnic and sectarian mix could completely disintegrate, spill out to the rest of the region. There's a lot of worry because, you know, Sunni and Shiite interests are involved in Iran and Iraq and this week this Arab League mission that had these monitors on the ground was attacked. There's a lot of concern that this mission isn't really getting to stop the violence.

  • 11:14:51

    LABOTTThis week we saw President Assad give, in a rare appearance, give a very defiant speech saying, listen these are the acts of terrorists, I'm going to deal with this with an iron hand. I am not going to step down and he's lashing out against the Arab League. So contrary to the aims of getting this monitoring team on the ground to see Assad pull his troops back, the violence is continuing and shows no sign of abating. The Qatari prime minister was here this week and he said, look we're not giving up hope yet but this mission doesn't seem to be working.

  • 11:15:24

    REHMAnd what about Russia? Is Russia getting involved here, James?

  • 11:15:30

    KITFIELDWell, I think Russia's been very, you know, they have a pretty close relationship with Syria but I have not seen them really insert themselves in any powerful way in defense of Syria. I mean, Syria is very, very isolated right now. The Arab League, its own Arab cousins, has turned against it. Turkey, which was its closest, you know, major ally in the region.

  • 11:15:48

    REHMBut isn't it the Turkish foreign ministry that's saying a Russian ship thought to be carrying cargo of munitions reached Syria?

  • 11:16:00

    KITFIELDI'm sorry, I missed that. So if they are directly doing that, then they are given more support than I had heard.

  • 11:16:05

    REHMDavid?

  • 11:16:06

    IGNATIUSThere is a report to that effective. It's unconfirmed but it certainly is true that the Russians really sense the Libya campaign got rolling had been increasingly weary or what they see as U.S. led intervention, changing the balance in the Middle East in a way that's unfavorable to them. I think you saw this week that the die seems to be cast with Assad vowing, essentially, a fight to the death. He made two speeches, one of them in public and I think it's fair to say that with 5,000 people, the opposition protestors dead, according to UN reports, Assad now has nowhere to turn. He just has to keep this fight going. Prime Minister Erdogan was right to warn that this could expand into a religious, ethnic civil war that would tear apart not just Syria but the neighboring countries where the Sunni-Shiite split is just as deep as in Syria.

  • 11:17:15

    REHMHow large is Syria's military, James?

  • 11:17:19

    KITFIELDYou know, I don't remember the exact numbers. It's hundreds of thousands, they had a pretty large military, which is why they've been able to hang on much longer than, for instance, Libya and Gadhafi. The problem is they've had a fair amount of tens of thousands apparently, sort of, defections from the military, many of which are on the Turkish side of the border now, who have basically sanctuary and who are, you know, filtering arms back into, so when the Turkish prime minister says this could turn to civil war, Turkey itself has a hand in that because they are giving sanctuary to the defectors and allowing them to cross that border.

  • 11:17:51

    LABOTTA very senior Syrian defector from the army just said that even with, you know, small weapons that they have it could take about a year to really topple the army that they have. And what you've seen is just to finish up the Russian point, there's a very weak draft that the United Nations put forward by Russia, that the international community is very disturbed with. What they're looking for the Arabs to do is take the lead here, impose their sanctions on Syria that they threatened to impose in December. Implement them and then move that to the United Nations Security Council where Russia could in fact be pressured to then go along, basically Russia is not being cooperative but Russia could -- the Arabs could pressure them to do that.

  • 11:18:38

    REHMAnd we'll take a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk about other areas around the world. Stay with us.

  • 11:20:05

    REHMAnd now I want to get to a very unpleasant piece of news that has been circling YouTube. It's all over the place. Tell us about that YouTube video of U.S. Marines in Afghanistan that has outraged people around the world, James.

  • 11:20:27

    KITFIELDYeah, and if you watch it is pretty disgusting. And, you know, it reminds me that -- of just how desensitizing and dehumanizing war is. The difference now is that everyone's got a SmartPhone, everyone's got digital connection and everyone can take a picture of these things. And unfortunately, you saw some bad apples who were standing around, seemed to be urinating on some dead bodies of Taliban. It's been reported that they were a scout sniper team attached to the Marine Corp unit that's now back from Afghanistan in Camp Lejeune.

  • 11:21:00

    KITFIELDYou know, this has everyone worried that this is another Abu Ghraib moment. That this will -- it comes at a very, very sensitive time in our operations in Afghanistan. I was recently there. We're trying to consolidate the gains of the last year-and-a-half of the surge, which is now starting to wind down. We have just started talks with the Taliban. They're opening an office in Qatar that we are going to use as sort of a springboard in negotiations and talks. So it's coming at a really rotten time.

  • 11:21:31

    KITFIELDAnd, you know, I think the administration has reacted correctly in really condemning this, saying they're going to launch an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. They're taking this very seriously. Secretary of Defense Panetta has called President Karzai and apologized. So it's, you know, it's just another example where, you know, these guys are all -- we call them the strategic corporals. These guys on the frontlines can have huge strategic impact if they do something really stupid like this.

  • 11:21:57

    REHMYou know, and it comes at a moment when there's an attempt at peace negotiations with the Taliban. How might this video affect those negotiations, Elise?

  • 11:22:12

    LABOTTWell, the U.S. is very concerned that it will, but the Taliban basically came out and said, these are disgusting images. We're not surprised about them, but we don't think that this is going to affect the talks because we're in an occupation and we want to get the United States out of this country. These talks have been going on for a while. Not in earnest but small contacts over the last year. And there was some progress in the last month and finally the administration is basically admitting, yes we're talking to the Taliban. Yes, we're looking for them to open up an office in Qatar.

  • 11:22:45

    LABOTTSecretary Clinton is sending her envoy, Marc Grossman, to speak to Karzai about this to get his blessing to sign off. So it's not necessarily whether this horrible video is going to discourage the Taliban. But President Karzai, he's really the one that needs to sign off on this right now.

  • 11:23:07

    REHMDavid.

  • 11:23:08

    IGNATIUSThese negotiations have been handled pretty effectively and aggressively. They began in November of 2010 when the Germans made available the secretary to the leader of the Taliban Mullah Omar, a man named Tayeb Agha. There have been maybe a half dozen meetings since November, 2010. Marc Grossman has attended most of them. The last was in October. And the ground is set for a discussion. Taliban prisoners are to be released from Guantanamo, sent to Qatar and they'll be there under house arrest. The arrangements have already been made with Qatar about how they'll be held.

  • 11:23:56

    IGNATIUSAnd then the next step is for Afghans to talk to each other. I should note that the biggest problem that I've encountered in my conversations with Afghan sources is among non-Taliban, non-Pashtun Afghans. The Afghans from the North, the Tajiks and others who have been -- in a sense are traditional allies against the Taliban, who are really afraid that the U.S. in a campaign year, the presidential election year is going to make a deal with this enemy that ends up depriving them of the kind of country that they want to live in and hope they've been fighting for. So that's something we have to be really careful about.

  • 11:24:36

    REHMJames.

  • 11:24:37

    KITFIELDI think that's exactly right. I mean, the Northern Alliance who have been our natural allies in this are pretty adamantly set against these talks, especially since last year. The Chief Negotiator and a former president of Afghanistan was assassinated by the Taliban, Mr. Rabbani. And ever since then they basically said, we can't talk to these guys. And so managing that's going to be very difficult.

  • 11:24:57

    KITFIELDBut the clock is ticking now for the end of 2014 for, you know, all combat leadership role to be assumed by the Afghans. So we need to sort of have these talks to see what is possible. Because it's clear now we're not going to win this militarily. What the last year-and-a-half has been about has been, you know, changing the momentum such that the Taliban think they need to come to the table 'cause they're getting hammered pretty bad on the battlefield.

  • 11:25:22

    REHMJames, at least two of these Marines have been identified. What are the repercussions for them?

  • 11:25:32

    KITFIELDWell, it's against the law, it's against the -- it's our own military regulations and it's against the Geneva Convention to deface or desecrate a body of someone killed in a war. So they face some criminal prosecutions, certainly a Court Marshall. I mean, it's not going to be the case like we've seen where some of these people, you know, kill people in captivity. But I think they're facing time in the brig.

  • 11:25:52

    REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal. And if you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. David, you wanted to add to that.

  • 11:26:03

    IGNATIUSJust to add one thing. Like James, I just came back from Afghanistan right before Christmas. And I think of all the soldiers I met there. And I think of how these actions by immature, you know, just grotesquely childish people put those soldiers at risk. And how angry they must be at the four Marines who thought it'd be funny to urinate on a prisoner's body and have it videotaped. You can see them smirking, smiling on camera, laughing about it. And they put their buddies at risk.

  • 11:26:43

    REHMElise Labott, what's going on between Pakistan's civilian government and the military?

  • 11:26:50

    LABOTTIt's really a mess, Diane. I mean, the relationship has always been fraught with tension given the Pakistani military's history and the government. But right now tensions are at an all time high, basically increased over the recent months because of this alleged memo that the former ambassador who's saying Haqqani allegedly drafted after the raid on Osama bin Laden, the government allegedly was concerned about a coup by the military and offered to try and get rid of the military. Haqqani has ferciferous-ly denied it. He's basically standing a military trial right now and is prohibited from leaving the country.

  • 11:27:30

    LABOTTIn the midst of all that Prime Minister Gilani fired his defense secretary. And this really seems that there's going to be a collision. Basically it hasn't been worse since this memo. Mr. Lodhi, the former Defense Secretary, told the Supreme Court that the government had no control over the military. So he installed his own guy. Now the military is saying, we're not necessarily going to work with you.

  • 11:27:56

    LABOTTSo it's really shaping up to be a collision. There are fears about a coup. There was a report this morning that President Zardari was frantically calling the British in the country saying, we're worried about a coup. Both the British and the Pakistanis have denied that. But there are a lot of concerns that there could be a military coup. There were a lot of reasons why that doesn't seem likely but certainly the tensions are at an all time high.

  • 11:28:20

    REHMAnd, David, new U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan.

  • 11:28:26

    IGNATIUSThis week the drone strikes resumed after a lull of about two months. There was a strike near Miramshah in North Waziristan, which is a headquarters of the Haqqani Network which we regard as the most dangerous adversary certainly in Eastern Afghanistan. This had been previewed before the strike happened. There was an article in the Pakistani Press quoting sources, including Pakistani sources, saying that the campaign would resume under tighter limits.

  • 11:29:00

    IGNATIUSAs always behind the scenes in Pakistan things are a little different then they appear in public. There is liaison that continues between the CI and the Pakistani Intelligence Service even with all this commotion. My own feeling about Prime Minister Gilani's standing up to the military and firing the Defense Secretary and putting in his own person, which would give him the power then to terminate the Chief of Army Staff, General Kayani, that was a way of kind of evening the balance. And I have a feeling that a crisis oddly may be a little bit less likely.

  • 11:29:42

    IGNATIUSOften in Pakistan you get, you know, these sharp gestures but then a pulling back. And I think that's possible now.

  • 11:29:50

    KITFIELDThe wild card in this is the Supreme Court, which has been making noises like it might side with the army. They have been pressuring Mr. Gilani to open corruption investigations of President Zadari from the past. He's resisted that, said that the president is immune from prosecution. You know, there's three centers of power and it's all, you know, the army has the lopsided measure of that power.

  • 11:30:14

    KITFIELDBut, you know, we said it constantly on this show, Diane, that this is the most dangerous place on earth. And we're seeing one reason why. It's dysfunctional. It's got a dysfunctional leadership and ruling class. They don't trust each other. The institutions of government are suspect in terms of if the Supreme Court comes down, can it enforce its writ without the army. So we're seeing a very dysfunctional government.

  • 11:30:38

    KITFIELDI don't think the army wants to do a coup because they don't want to inherit this mess and be responsible for it. But a sort of stalemate that leads to total dysfunction and stagnation with a government that's not able to do hardly anything, if we're relying on Pakistan as a partner in the war and trying to get down from Afghanistan, that is a big problem.

  • 11:30:55

    REHMBut then why, at this time, resume these drone attacks?

  • 11:31:00

    KITFIELDWell, because, you know, these -- the Haqqani Network is killing American soldiers and killing Afghan soldiers in the eastern part of the country. And we have kept them somewhat off balance with these drone strikes. And there's been reports already that they've used these two months to solidify to start planning for the spring offensives. You can't let these guys have total sanctuary where they're not looking over their shoulder 'cause they're using that time and that space to plan attacks on American and Afghan forces.

  • 11:31:25

    REHMAll right. Let's move on to the European economy. Greece is certainly scrambling to complete debt talks on Thursday. Greece had talks with private sector creditors on a debt write-down plan. Where's this going, David?

  • 11:31:46

    IGNATIUSWell, the latest news is not good. The Greeks were trying to arrange a bond swap with private creditors that would supplement the EU's public bailout, if you will. And those talks suddenly were stopped because of concerns on the part of the private parties that Greece just wasn't -- didn't have the wherewithal. The German and French governments have warned Greece that it's not doing enough to meet the conditions required for a new (word?) of public money. This is not the question of rescheduling their debt, but of essentially direct assistance and that that might be delayed.

  • 11:32:39

    IGNATIUSAnd I think most disturbing of all, and not surprisingly, you -- it turns out that you can't bleed your way to health. That all this austerity that's been imposed on Greece rather than leading to greater competitiveness, rise in exports and a rise in employment is, in fact, heading the other direction. The situation's getting worse. Yeah, that's what I think many economists would've said at the outset of this crisis, that you need to grow and then the austerity measures could begin to take effect.

  • 11:33:14

    IGNATIUSSo the situation in Europe isn't good. There's some other things that are better news. I just should note that Italy seems to be handling its economic problems. Italy's a much bigger and more important economy than Greece. And if Italy is going in the right direction I think Europe can tolerate some continued disorder with Greece.

  • 11:33:32

    REHMOn the other hand, French TV is reporting that France has been downgraded by S and P. What do you think, Elise? How is that going to affect the mix?

  • 11:33:42

    LABOTTWell, it could affect the larger debt problem in Europe because France has some of the largest debt right now. And I think one of the problems is that you have these technical issues, like the Greece issue, the French debt, all these debt issues. How are we going to get the bailout fund to help out these countries, convince the IMF to help? At the same time, France and Germany are trying to, you know, lead here, inject some larger fiscal discipline into the EU and decision-making process to better coordinate those policies. And they have a lot of challenges.

  • 11:34:16

    LABOTTThey're dealing with this deficit and debt. They want to keep growth moving ahead. We just saw that Germany reported slower growth and could be in the midst of a recession. So they need the governments to make some larger decisions. And they think they'll come out at the other end eventually, but it's going to take time.

  • 11:34:33

    REHMElise Labott of CNN and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Time to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Groton, Conn. Good morning, Richard. Thanks for joining us. Go right ahead.

  • 11:34:53

    RICHARDThank you, Diane. I want to react to that terrible situation with the video of the Marines. I haven't looked at it, I don't intend to look at it, but I think this has been a very much predictable event. And we're probably going to continue to see things like this because we've had a policy starting back with Vice-President Chaney of condoning this type of stuff.

  • 11:35:16

    RICHARDWhen we start condoning torture, which is something we've stood against as a country forever, when we start eliminating our civil liberty, when we have candidates today talking about assassination as being something that's good. It sends a signal to these people who may very well be bad eggs or immature individuals. But they get the sense that it's okay for them to do that because it's like a wink and a nod. Well, it's really okay. We're not going to say it's okay, but hey, if we can torture people, if we can do things like Abu Ghraib, things like that, if we can keep Guantanamo in existence, which violates the very essence of what we went to war against Great Britain apart, how do we expect them not to do things like this?

  • 11:35:56

    REHMDavid.

  • 11:35:57

    IGNATIUSWell, I think the caller makes a fair point. We should be honest and say that in all wars something terrible happens to the people who fight in them. There is a dehumanizing thing that's part of warfare since the beginning of time. But I do think to take one thing that the caller mentioned, I was really shocked to see Republican candidates lining up to talk about how they wanted to take out scientists on the streets of Tehran. And how they wanted to conduct covert action this and, you know, they were practically promising that they'd go to war with Iran the first day they took office.

  • 11:36:40

    IGNATIUSAnd that does have a way, as the caller said, of cheapening the debate. If you think that gunning people down in public is something that can be discussed openly and is practically a campaign promise, there's something wrong.

  • 11:36:56

    KITFIELDI think I take the callers point and we should note that this week was the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo. We had two presidential candidates in 2008, both who promised to close Guantanamo. Instead we get the defense authorization of a month ago that basically ensures Guantanamo's going to be open indefinitely. It ties the president's hands -- or attempts to tie his hands on transferring those prisoners elsewhere. It, you know, provides unlimited money to keep it open.

  • 11:37:23

    KITFIELDIt basically says Congress has said you can't bring these guys to the states for civilian trials. So I take his point. We're at a bad place in terms of our image in the world.

  • 11:37:31

    REHMJames Kitfield. He's senior correspondent with the National Journal. We'll take a short break, your email, your Tweets, your Facebook postings and your calls when we come back.

  • 11:40:04

    REHMAnd we'll start with this email from Carol in Chantilly. She says, "Who released that video of the Marines?" Do we have any way of knowing, James?

  • 11:40:17

    KITFIELDNot yet. But we have this investigation going, so I suspect we'll find out. But, I mean, it was almost certainly filmed by a fellow squad member, so they -- and distributed to the people who are in the video, so you gotta figure that one of them either slipped up and sent it to a friend, or one of their colleagues got hold of it and didn't like what he saw and it went viral.

  • 11:40:37

    REHMAll right. And from Curt in Byron, Illinois. "Is it possible the Saudis were involved in the assassination of the Iranian scientist?" Elise?

  • 11:40:50

    LABOTTIt's possible, Diane, but not likely. Basically, you need a very -- we were just talking in the break, a very sophisticated network to make something like this happen. It does bear the hallmarks of some things you saw, like in the movie "Munich" when Israeli operatives were taking out some of the Palestinian Jihadists that were responsible for terrorist attacks. But you have to note that the Israelis are not offering a vociferous denial of it. They seem to want to give at least a very subtle impression that they could be involved.

  • 11:41:26

    LABOTTI mean, some nuclear and Iranian experts say that it's possible that an Arab intelligence agency might have been involved, but it does bear the hallmarks of Israel. And the U.S. also kind of, you know, very subtle about their denials.

  • 11:41:43

    KITFIELDI basically agree with that, because it has the hallmarks of the efficiency of the Mossad, and you don't have an Arab intelligence service that has been -- has an assassination policy and been this good at it. But I will note that I've always wondered why they chose to lash out by trying to attempt to kill the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. That never made any sense to me, unless they think that Saudi Arabia might be involved in these assassinations themselves, and it was a tit for tat.

  • 11:42:07

    KITFIELDSo there's a lot we don't know, but that's intriguing to me because I never could figure out why this urbane Saudi Ambassador to the United States was the person they targeted for assassination.

  • 11:42:18

    REHMDavid.

  • 11:42:19

    IGNATIUSJust to make one point, the denials from the U.S. that we were involved have been very strong. They've been made publically strongly by the secretary of state. I privately have pushed my sources and have gotten...

  • 11:42:39

    REHMSame answers.

  • 11:42:39

    IGNATIUS….pretty, you know, sharp, this wasn't -- this was not our operation. And as we've been discussing, just in the common sense terms, for the U.S. to be able to get assets on the ground, mobilize them to have people on motorcycles who then disappear in the crowds, I mean, that's pretty tough to do.

  • 11:43:02

    REHMOn the same point, however, how did we go in and get Osama bin Laden?

  • 11:43:09

    IGNATIUSWell, I mean, that illustrates what our capabilities are as opposed to what they're not. We're good at coming in in a stealth helicopter in the dead of the night with special forces teams and conducting a raid on a place that we've had under surveillance physically for months. There's a big difference between that and having somebody on the streets who takes the shot and then disappears. I just should note that we really don't know who did this.

  • 11:43:38

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:43:39

    IGNATIUSI -- there's an Iranian student group which insists that they believe that at least some of the scientists who have been hit were, in fact, the dissident supporters of the green movement, and that the Iranian government would have had reason to want to get rid of them. So I'm not saying that that's any better established than anything else, just we don't know how this happened.

  • 11:44:02

    REHMJames.

  • 11:44:04

    KITFIELDI agree with all that. We don't know. There's a lot of murkiness here. I will say that I don't think it's the United States for this reason. The authority by which we would have this assassination drone program was granted after 9/11 by Congress that basically gave the administration carte blanche to go after al Qaida and affiliated groups, and we have done that, clearly. Targeting scientists of a foreign country certainly would not be included in that, and this would be an escalation that I have never seen, of us saying, okay, it's okay to go assassinate scientists from countries who have weapons of mass destructions programs that we don't agree with. It doesn't sound like something that we would be doing.

  • 11:44:42

    REHMAll right. To Dallas, Tx., good morning, Ruby. You're on the air.

  • 11:44:48

    RUBYHi. It's just a continuation of the first part of your program. Basically, what's happening is that we have become a more amoral nation. We're conducting drone attacks where innocent children and women are being killed, along with maybe some insurgents, but we don't know who. Are they such -- and then we also are now supporting Zubari, who is the most corrupt of leaders. He's starving his own people, whereas he's living in this lush, such a luxurious lifestyle. Are we are turning into an amoral nation?

  • 11:45:28

    REHMElise.

  • 11:45:29

    LABOTTWell, certainly in the region they've always maintained that the U.S. is an amoral nation for its support of Israel, all these issues that we've discussed, Guantanamo Bay. I think that these are in many cases isolated incidents in which we've discussed that these people are really tarnishing some of the better parts of the military. But at the same time, the civilian casualties of these wars has really been a very contentious issue in Afghanistan, in Iraq, which further undermines anti-American sentiment, and support for leaders and dictators throughout the region has also been an issue as we've seen through the Arab spring.

  • 11:46:11

    LABOTTIn the case of Pakistan, however, this was a leader that was elected by the Pakistani people. Of course, the U.S. has had, you know, questionable support for leaders in the past, but in the case of Pakistan, they elected President Zardari despite the fact that he's been arrested on corruption in the past. So I think the question could also be posed to -- is Pakistan an amoral nation for electing these type of people?

  • 11:46:36

    LABOTTPakistan has a very checkered past of supporting leaders who have been in jail. This is a very complicated political situation. So I don't know if you can necessarily paint that against the United States, but the issues of civilian casualties and Abu Ghraib abuse of civilians and prisoners, certainly those are issues that a lot of people in the region feel.

  • 11:46:59

    REHMTo Nashville, Tn. Good morning, Tony.

  • 11:47:03

    TONYGood morning, Diane. Thanks for having me.

  • 11:47:05

    TONYSure.

  • 11:47:06

    TONYI just wanted to comment on the soldier video, and I -- obviously it's deplorable and sad that it's come to this, but I think to David's point about these guys being a couple of bad apples, I think when they're over there, the enemy is all bad apples, and they've seen the brutality that's over there, and I just wonder if it's not seeping into our mindset a little bit that we see our enemies doing, you know, beheadings and burning a body, dragging it through the street, and this is not covered under Geneva either, you know. And I just wonder if that's becoming part of our mindset because of who we are fighting.

  • 11:47:50

    IGNATIUSWell, I think, Diane, that the caller from Nashville is right to say that this is a dirty war that we've gotten involved in. Our adversaries use suicide bombs, they use tactics of raw physical intimidation of people, they assassinate those who talk to or work with the United States systematically, and fighting that kind of war does have an effect on people. I think we should be careful about going overboard.

  • 11:48:20

    IGNATIUSOne caller said earlier, has the United States become an amoral nation. I think every American feels that over the last ten years we went down a road that was really difficult for the country, and it had some bad effects, and I think there's a general desire to begin to change that course, and to think carefully about our moral standards.

  • 11:48:43

    REHMMm-hmm.

  • 11:48:44

    IGNATIUSAnd the fact that the immediate response to this is disgust and rapid move to hold the soldiers who did this accountable, does tell you something that's still good about America. I mean, this is a day when you look at this and you just feel sick, but that's something that's good about the country.

  • 11:49:03

    REHMBut let me give you the flip side of that as we hear reports from the IAEA that Iran is developing nuclear weaponry technology. Of course we heard reports that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. So what I'm saying is that there is a certain level of mistrust among our own people that says, why should I believe anything the U.S. government says, or any agency that says in the world this nation is wrong, this nation is evil, we must do away whatever this nation is doing. I think there's a real mistrust out there.

  • 11:50:00

    KITFIELDOh, I think there is, and I think it'll last a generation. You know, when you go to war, which turns out to be on false pretenses, that just doesn't disappear. When you have an instance like Abu Ghraib, that's seared in people's memory, which is why I take David's point. I think there has been a course adjustment, but we're stalled on Guantanamo, we still do renditions, and this drone program which I've written about and I actually think the administration could make a pretty compelling argument.

  • 11:50:27

    KITFIELDWhile we need to do that to some degree, they've been so secretive about it that I think Americans have every right to question that, you know, people are being assassinated in their name, but they're not told how you get on that list, you know, what are the evidentiary bars to being on that list and pulling the trigger. So I think our image has taken a hit, and I think we need to do more to assuage suspicion and mistrust.

  • 11:50:49

    REHMAll right. To Fairfax, Va. Good morning Fakir (sp?) . You're on the air.

  • 11:50:54

    FAKIRYes, good morning. Thanks for the opportunity. I have a comment about the U.S. policy in Afghanistan. It seems that the policy is confuse and conquer, because the State Department and the Defense Department don't communicate to each other. Every time that a politician goes to Afghanistan, they have a different agenda. They have a different intake of what's going on there, so it might be a better idea if they come up with one solution, or at least one solution that other people can agree and trust.

  • 11:51:35

    FAKIRAnd recently, there's a book about Afghanistan that President Karzai called it "The Modern History of Afghanistan." And he suggested that all international communities should read this book called "Forbidden Lessons in a Kabul Guesthouse." So it really talks about how the U.S. policy is confusing the entire region and also Afghanistan.

  • 11:52:02

    REHMEspecially in terms of talking with the Taliban, after ten years of considering them our archenemies.

  • 11:52:11

    LABOTTThat's right. And as we talked about, eliminating our old ally which was the Northern Alliance. I think that there has been a lot of discussion and kind of gut checking over the last few years by the U.S. that we lost our way in Afghanistan. We went to get out al Qaida, to eliminate their threat to the United States, there for ten years, and attacks are increasing and continuing, and now we're, as you said, we're talking to the Taliban.

  • 11:52:36

    LABOTTI think the one policy now by the United States, if it was confusing over the last several years, I think the policy is pretty clear now. Let's get out. There are various degrees over which how fast we should do that. We're hearing that there was a national intelligence estimate. Vice President Biden wants to get out as soon as possible, Pentagon saying we need a little bit more time.

  • 11:52:59

    REHMElise Labott of CNN, and you're listening to "The Diane Show." To Boston, Mass. Good morning, Ryan.

  • 11:53:10

    RYANGood morning, thanks for taking my call, Diane.

  • 11:53:11

    REHMSure.

  • 11:53:12

    RYANI'm a big fan of the show.

  • 11:53:13

    REHMThanks.

  • 11:53:14

    RYANI just wanted to respond to the caller from Nashville who had mentioned that maybe the video of the Marines in Afghanistan is kind of a result of the enemy we're fighting, and I would just like to say that unless we vigilantly expect moral integrity from our troops, we can't really go over there and make a point that we're fighting for liberty and freedom for the Afghan people.

  • 11:53:38

    REHMWhat a good point. James?

  • 11:53:40

    KITFIELDThat's actually an excellent point, and I actually meant to bring it up myself, which was that -- and for full disclosure, I think it was me who referred to them as bad apples. And I refer to them because of David's point that they're besmirching the reputation of the entire U.S. military, and you have to have the discipline even though of all the horror that you see, and all the horror that is inflicted by your enemy, not to get down to his level.

  • 11:54:03

    KITFIELDThe Taliban we should say, there are videos galore on the web of them executing people summarily for a "collaboration" quote unquote, for beheading people. So I take the point, this is really brutal, ruthless enemy. That doesn't mean we can get down in the trenches with them and be just as brutal and ruthless.

  • 11:54:20

    LABOTTDiane, I think that's one of the most important reasons why you have these callers on the show, to make points, and basically, I don't think I could say it any better myself. We can't say that we're going in to a country to spread our values and then do things that decry the very reason that we're there. So I think the caller makes an excellent point, and I thank him for making it.

  • 11:54:40

    REHMAll right. And to Rob in New Hudson, Michigan. Good morning to you.

  • 11:54:47

    ROBGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 11:54:50

    REHMSure.

  • 11:54:50

    ROBAs a former -- excuse me, as a former soldier who served in Iraq as an infantryman, I'd just like to say on behalf of all the people that I know that served in the military, that I think most of us did serve with honor. I'm terribly embarrassed by the video that exposes those marines behaving in that way. My comment is just that I know this isn't a practical solution, but it may be an effective one. If there was some way that those soldiers that continue to do the most egregious acts could be turned over to the foreign combatants and allowed to be served justice under their form of justice, maybe some of this wouldn't be continuing on and some of these people would get the idea. And I'll take my comments off the air, thanks.

  • 11:55:32

    REHMJames, what do you think of that idea?

  • 11:55:35

    KITFIELDLike he criticized himself, it's impractical. We'll never submit our forces to the justice of foreign governments. It could be revenge justice, it could be the justice of vindication, so I don't think that's practical, but I think we have a system that is perfectly capable of bringing -- of holding these people responsible for what they did, and we should make it very clear that we're gonna do that.

  • 11:55:59

    REHMDo you suppose that people who are involved in these kinds of activities are thinking? Are they, you know, are they blocking out any possibility that somebody is seeing this and could make an international incident out of it? I mean, it just blows my mind that they're not thinking about what they're doing, David.

  • 11:56:31

    IGNATIUSSoldiers are young. They are sometimes really immature. I mean, these soldiers look to me to be older than 20, but a lot of soldiers...

  • 11:56:40

    REHMNot much.

  • 11:56:41

    IGNATIUS...out in the field are 20 at most. If you look at the video, what's troubling is that they knew that they were being filmed. They're smiling at the camera. They thought this was funny, and, you know, they thought it was great that one of their buddies was recording it, and that's, you know, that's just sad. What can you say?

  • 11:57:05

    REHMAnd I hate to end on such a sad note, but we're out of time. David Ignatius, Elise Labott, James Kitfield, thank you all so much.

  • 11:57:18

    KITFIELDThank you, Diane.

  • 11:57:18

    LABOTTThank you, Diane.

  • 11:57:19

    REHMI hope you all have a grand holiday weekend. We'll bring you two of our favorite rebroadcasts on Monday. Be back with you with a live program on Tuesday regarding Haley Barbour and his pardons. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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