On the 100th anniversary of the publication of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," a discussion about why the poem and poet are well-loved but misunderstood.
Secretary of State Clinton concluded talks in China on trade and security. But the trip was over-shadowed by the plight of a dissident who sought refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing. President Obama paid a visit to Afghanistan and outlined the U.S. role in that nation in the years to come. A new picture of Osama bin Laden emerged from newly released documents taken during the raid on his Pakistan compound a year ago. Russia threatened a pre-emptive strike if the U.S. builds a missile shield in Europe. And Egypt’s military pledged to give up power by the end of June. Elise Labott of CNN, David Ignatius of The Washington Post and Elisabeth Bumiller of The New York Times join Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Elise Labott CNN foreign affairs reporter.
- David Ignatius columnist, The Washington Post; contributor to “Post Partisan” blog on washingtonpost.com. His latest book is titled "Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage."
- Elisabeth Bumiller Pentagon correspondent, The New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The U.S. and China inched toward resolving an embarrassing standoff over a Chinese dissident. On the one year anniversary of Osama Bin Laden's death, President Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan and in Egypt more violent protests ahead of this month's presidential election.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Elise Labott of CNN, David Ignatius of The Washington Post and Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times. Do join us, 800-433-8850, send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MS. ELISE LABOTTGood morning.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSGood morning, Diane.
MS. ELISABETH BUMILLERGood morning.
REHMElise, let me start with you. What's the latest on the negotiations over the Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng?
LABOTTWell, the latest is the second round of this negotiations that have taken place between the U.S. and China over this blind activist. At first the U.S. had a deal with him that said he could stay in China, he could work at a university, he could study at a university with his family. He'd be relocated to Beijing away from the province where he was abused and his family was tortured.
LABOTTWhen he came out of the U.S. embassy after being there for several days, he says -- I think he was a little bit shell-shocked and also had a lot more information from friends, from human rights community that wasn't necessarily all high on this deal and all of a sudden he had a change of heart, over the last 24 hours U.S. and Chinese diplomats frantically trying to find a face-saving way to resolve this.
LABOTTNow, Secretary Clinton came out this morning, said that he could -- he has been invited to study at a university in the U.S. that turns out NYU has said that he could go study there, full expenses for him and his family. And the Chinese foreign ministry in a very rare statement said, he's free to travel and we will process his passport application just like any other.
LABOTTI think it remains to be seen now whether the Chinese are going to allow him to leave, whether they're going to implement this deal. But I think if you follow any kind of diplomacy between the U.S. and China, the U.S., Secretary Clinton would not have come out and the Chinese foreign ministry would not have come out and said that this deal unless they had every indication that it was going to go forward.
IGNATIUSDiane, I think there's a feeling in Washington that this has not been well-handled by the State Department. That there's a way in which this is a bit of self-inflicted wound. The U.S. was rushing the negotiations over Chen, in part because Secretary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner were coming to Beijing for their annual strategic dialogue and they wanted to get this resolved in a hurry.
IGNATIUSIn a sense, that put unnecessary pressure on the U.S. at a time when the Chinese situation's really quite weak. They need U.S. help and support and the U.S. ended up being back-footed, if you will. Chen was allowed to enter the embassy grounds on April 26th and there were a series of discussions, the purpose of which seemed to have been to convince him to leave under reasonable circumstances, under some deal with the Chinese.
IGNATIUSThe deal that was struck was not a reliable one so you can argue they never should've let him leave the embassy grounds last Wednesday without having something locked down that was firmer. Once he gets out the U.S. is powerless to do anything and then he starts calling congressional committees and saying how terrible he feels and it's a mess for the administration but it's an unnecessary one and I think the feeling is this was not handled as well as it might have been.
BUMILLERWhat David said is very interesting and Elise as well. I think that what was really important here were these talks that the U.S. had put a great deal of importance on these talks and if you see this morning they're saying, we got what we wanted." They are saying that they got concessions from the Chinese on the realizing the Chinese economy, on better investment opportunities for Americans in China.
BUMILLERAnd also don't forget, China has been really important on security matters in the last few months. The Chinese had been more involved in the talks to try to get Iran to give up its nuclear program and they've also taken a more active role on oil. They've agreed to cut back on their purchases of Iranian oil. So China is really important to the United States right now and that's so you can see why there was some urgency, right or wrong, to get this deal done before the talks started and now there's a lot of cleanup going on and it looks like, as of this morning, there is a face-saving solution perhaps on both sides.
LABOTTAnd Diane, I think if you kind of look at the bigger picture here, not just about how the Chinese treated Chen, which obviously the U.S. and the international community had problems with, but if you look at what Elisabeth said, a couple of years ago, the Chinese would've canceled these talks. The U.S. was holding a dissident in the U.S. embassy. This is affront to Chinese sovereignty and the U.S. was very concerned that the Chinese were going to cancel these talks.
LABOTTI think the fact that the U.S. and the Chinese, regardless of what ends up happening in this deal, the idea that they tried to work cooperatively to try and find some resolution shows that the U.S. and China both need each other and the relationship I think has matured in the last several years to the point where they could work together to find a way out.
REHMYou know, there is absolutely nothing that happens that the U.S. is involved in nationally, internationally now that does not become political. We have email from Bobby in Syracuse, NY who says, "It makes me absolutely livid to hear Mitt Romney and the rest of the Republicans criticizing President Obama and Hilary Clinton for what's ongoing situation in China. Do they realize that they are undermining efforts for diplomacy? Had the Democrats done this during the Bush years, you bet your life Republicans would be screaming their heads off." Elisabeth?
BUMILLERWell, I don't think I'm too surprised by what the Republicans have said, this is what Republicans do during, you know, this is what presidential candidates do. This is part of the deal and also American officials have conceded privately that this was not handled in the best possible way that -- David mentioned it earlier and I think that Mitt Romney said, this was shameful. Well, let's see what he would've -- I mean, obviously, let's see what he would've done...
REHMWhat would he have done?
BUMILLERRight. He needs to tell us what he would've done. I think he says he would've...
REHMWhat should he have done?
BUMILLERHe said he would've kept him at the embassy. We have to fight for freedom. Which, I mean, not only did he undermine maybe, you know, the U.S. diplomacy, but kind of undermined himself a little bit. Because if he's really, you know, if this a -- if we're talking about freedom, Mr. Chen should be allowed to decide whether or not he should be able to leave the embassy.
IGNATIUSThere's a nontrivial issue, not just partisan politics here and that is what role does human rights play relative to the other complicated interests the United States has in this U.S.-China relationship. And it's an issue that both parties have struggled -- it's been consistent since the days of Richard Nixon and it's come up again. And the Republicans will argue, not just to score points, but they will say human rights should have a higher place on the U.S.-China agenda.
IGNATIUSI think what's interesting about this moment is that China's very vulnerable. China's going through a very, very rocky leadership succession. The Bo Xilai affair and the reaction of Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao, the rulers of China, to it purging him in effect is a crisis in which the Chinese really need U.S. support. They are really kind of wavering on the road and so I think they've been very glad to have these strategic partnership talks.
IGNATIUSI disagree a little bit with Elise as to who needed the most right now. I think the Chinese very much need to be seen with our Treasury Secretary and Secretary of State, planning a joint future. And what Secretary of State Clinton said, "We are intertwined." That made the Chinese very happy because they want to see that's part of their solidity and stability as a country. But the human rights issue isn't going to go away and truthfully it shouldn't.
REHMWell, considering where we are now, how do you expect this to unfold in the days to come, Elise?
LABOTTI think in the coming days the Chinese will likely give Mr. Chen and...
REHMAnd his family.
LABOTT...his family a passport. Not that it's going to be easy, he's just going to be able to, you know, see as many visitors as he wants in the hospital. I don't think...
REHMThey said he could apply for a visa.
LABOTTHe could apply. I think that there's an urgency to putting this matter behind them. I don't...
IGNATIUSThe last thing the Chinese want right now is a high visibility dissident case that focuses world attention at a time when there's a lot of leadership uncertainty in China. So I think they'd like to get him out soon and they'll do so as soon as it doesn't look like they're knuckling under.
REHMBut you know it's interesting, we talked about this case the other day and the Chinese human rights individual who was here talking about this case said very clearly, if he leaves the country, he will be sidelined politically. He will be negated in effect from having any influence in what happens in the ongoing struggle to bring the rights to have a number of children, the rights speak freely, all of the above. So what happens if he does get here, Elisabeth?
BUMILLERWell, I wouldn't want to disagree with a Chinese dissident activist, but he can also speak from the United States far more freely than he can speak from China. he will get enormous media attention once he arrives in the campus of New York University and I think there will be an enormous focus on him. So that's my expectation.
IGNATIUSI think he'll get a lot of attention the first week or two, but the experience of Chinese dissidents ever since Tiananmen Square incident is that once they get out, once they get to freedom in America the world stops paying attention. Their plight as people who under severe pressure in China is what attracts world attention. So the decision of Chen to leave, however understandable, I think will diminish his clout.
REHMDavid Ignatius, columnist for The Washington Post, Elisabeth Bumiller, Pentagon correspondent for the New York Times, Elise Labott, CNN Foreign Affairs reporter. Short break, right back.
REHMWelcome back. And if you've just joined us, we've been talking about the Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng, who is now saying he really would like to leave the country. He has been told by Chinese authorities that he can apply for a visa to educate himself further in the United States. New York University has said they will accept him. David, you wanted to add a comment.
IGNATIUSWell, one of the great things about live radio is that during the break, you and I were handed a message from someone who is a close personal friend of mine and a real Chinese expert whose views I trust, who cautioned that based on what he hears from experts, we shouldn't overstate this idea that the U.S. botched the negotiations about Chen, that these negotiations may have been handled better than people in Washington are saying. And the person who sent this note is a wise observer so I should just note that cautionary point.
REHMWho also added that the feeling in Washington that you, David, reported is not really shared by people in Beijing.
IGNATIUSSo he says and he's an expert. And so I just noted -- I don't know enough to make a judgment one way or the other.
REHMOkay. And let's move on to Afghanistan, the fact that President Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan And he and President Karzai signed this strategic partnership they hammered out with NATO. Tell us about that, Elisabeth.
BUMILLERWell, it was the president's first visit to Afghanistan in 17 months. It was, by some accounts, long overdue because he does not talk very much about Afghanistan or the war. It comes ahead of the summit in Chicago later this month where the nations involved in Afghanistan who all contribute troops or money will come together. And it basically is going to be agreed upon there and affirmed there.
BUMILLERThe important part of this is that it commits the United States to an economic and security relationship with Afghanistan past 2014 for 10 years to 2024 after all the troops or most of the troops are supposed to be home, but much of it is still very vague. We don't know, A, how many troops will stay after 2014. We don't know who will contribute to the cost of those troops. It's estimated to be about $4 billion a year. Right now the U.S. is looking for contributions of about a billion dollars a year from the allies. They're not there yet.
BUMILLERAnd there's many other things unresolved as to the role of Pakistan. There's still tremendous problems on the ground in Afghanistan.
REHMAnd the question about drone strikes in Pakistan.
BUMILLERRight. Those are going on. The administration for the first time this week acknowledged what is the worst kept secret in the United States and the world is that, yes, there are regular drone strikes across the border in Pakistan, a country that we are not at war with. And so those are continuing because of the pressure on American troops in Afghanistan from the insurgents in Pakistan across the border.
IGNATIUSWell, I would note first, Diane, on the question of the president's visit to Afghanistan, I felt watching him that he was more comfortable in his role as Commander in Chief on this trip than he ever has been. His short sleeved speech to the troops in Bagram striding back and forth across the stage he just seemed like the leader of America's military. And I was thinking, well, why is that?
IGNATIUSI think one answer is that for the first time the president has a policy that he feels entirely comfortable with. That is to say, he is bringing home the big expeditionary force that he was kind of talked into sending in the surge of 30,000 trips in 2009. He was never entirely comfortable with it and you knew he wasn't because when he announced the surge he gave a date when he was going to start pulling them out, which I thought undercut the whole point of sending in the troops in the first place.
IGNATIUSNow he is saying our troops will be coming out in their main combat role next year 2013 and we will now move to a smaller force -- the numbers I hear on the order of 20,000, who will be in Afghanistan for as long as ten more years after 2014 in a counterterrorism role, which is the thing that the president does feel comfortable with. So finally, he's got a policy that fits his initial instincts. And I think you could see it in his demeanor.
LABOTTAnd I think he was able to do a couple of things. In signing this partnership with Afghanistan right before this summit, which both President Karzai and President Obama wanted to do, he could send a message to the Afghans, we're not going to abandon you. There's a lot of discussion about whether the U.S. after 2014 is going to cut and run. This commits the U.S., although as Elisabeth points out, very lacking on specifics on troop numbers, on aid levels. But we're going to be here with you for the foreseeable future. Don't worry about that.
LABOTTSo able to send a message to the Afghans, able to send a message in his speech to the nation from Bagram Airbase to the American people that in an election year, I did what I said I'm going to do, which is I got the U.S. out of the war in Iraq. I got the U.S. out of the war in Afghanistan. And I think he got a lot of criticism from Republicans again for this message, for this kind of symbolism of trying to do this and making politics out of it. But at the same time, I think the Republicans, you know, said any time the president goes to Afghanistan, shows he's engaged speaks to the troops, you can 't really fault him for that.
LABOTTSo it was kind of a muted message I'd say, but he was able to effectively say his campaign message, which is I said what I'm going to do. I ended this war.
REHMSo interesting that as we talked about in the first hour, here is a Democrat whose ratings on foreign policy are so high, which is normally the place that Republicans get. And yet he was criticized so roundly for making a big deal of the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death, Elisabeth.
BUMILLERYes. Well, let's not forget that the George Bush landing on the aircraft carrier in May, 2003 in a flight suit and a codpiece saying that, you know, mission accomplished. So Republican -- you know, again, this is what White Houses do. And it is clear that the -- you know, it's interesting to see a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize is going around and one of his main campaign themes will be I called Osama bin Laden.
BUMILLERBut, you know, the other thing I wanted to say about the war is that Republicans who were criticizing the president, I still think it's fairly muted because basically the war is so unpopular even among Republicans, as our polls show, that for the Republicans to say, let's stay in this war, you know, it gets them nowhere politically this year. And they're in tune with what's going on in the country.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about the documents seized from the bin Laden capture and killing. What have we learned from those, David?
IGNATIUSWell, Diane, we have a pretty comprehensive portrait of Osama bin Laden in the last several years of his life in these documents. They're now 17 in all, nearly 200 pages that have been released. I had a look last month at a smaller selection. And these are in the same spirit. Bin Laden fascinatingly was very critical of the performance of his own organization. He thought that they'd made a terrible mistake in killing so many Muslims and allowing their affiliates in Iraq, Afghanistan, other Arab countries, other Muslim countries to kill other Muslims.
IGNATIUSAnd he felt that it really tarnished the al-Qaida brand and he tried to restrain these affiliates. You can read in the messages really besieging the affiliates to pull back, to stop, criticizing them heavily. But he wasn't really able to do it and he understood that. You know, he and his associates would ruminate about their failures. Even with this fairly soft critical sense of their mistakes, a week before he was killed he was as passionate about killing Americans and about, as he put it, sawing down the great tree that is America as ever.
IGNATIUSYou can say it's fantasy that he imagined that with his gorilla organization, he could ever do this, but he never really lost faith in that or stopped trying to recruit people who could come to this country and commit major terrorist acts. I mean, he may have been battered, he may have been on the run. (unintelligible) may have been decimated, but he kept on looking for a way to come here and kill people.
REHMI was so reminded, David, of your novel "Blood Money" in learning that Osama had this terrible fear of drones killing not only himself, but other people, and of course that's precisely how your novel begins. He was after the highest level Americans he could possibly put his hands on, the vice-president. He wanted Hillary Clinton killed. He wanted everybody killed.
LABOTTWell, he was kind of delusional in his sense that if he could launch this big attack on American officials with one more attack, he could bring back the kind of glory brand of al-Qaida, as David said. He felt that he was kind of losing control of the al-Qaida brand with all of these affiliates. He was terrified of these drone strikes and he thought that one more attack -- we just have to keep our eye on the prize, which is an American attack that could change American policies in the Muslim world and bring back the glory days of al-Qaida.
REHMAnd then, Elisabeth, did the documents reveal anything about Pakistan's involvement?
BUMILLERNothing. There is no evidence whatsoever, which is, of course, frustrating to American officials. I wanted to say one other thing, though, that I remember the briefing that the American intelligence officials gave right after the initial trove of documents came into their hands after the Seals brought them back. And it's really interesting because I think these documents give a slightly richer and fuller, but in some ways conflicting picture with what we saw initially.
BUMILLERBecause remember in the beginning, they said, hey, bin Laden was a much more central figure than we suspected. You know, he had more control of the organization than we knew. He was directly involved with plotting and encouraging. And because for years, we had heard he was completely irrelevant. You know, we don't need to go after bin Laden because, you know, he's not important.
BUMILLERSo as my colleague Peter Baker wrote this morning in the paper, it shows, you know, his frustrations in issuing these orders that were not often heeded would be familiar to any chief executive of a multinational corporation that had grown beyond its, you know, modest origins. And he was trying to keep control of these affiliates. So that’s what I think is interesting.
IGNATIUSI think Elisabeth's right. He did want to be chief executive officer. And in that sense the initial accounts by U.S. officials were right, that he was trying to have his hand on every decision. It was just tough to do hold up in Abbottabad where it could take two months to complete a circle of communications. He would ask, for example, for a detailed dossier on Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.
IGNATIUSI man, here's this young man who he's seeing on the internet all the time but he doesn't really know who he is. So he asks his subordinate there running the local affiliate, send me his CV in effect, which is, you know, kind of ridiculous. I mean, the world is moving too fast for that. And that's -- one thing you see in all of these references by bin Laden to American overhead surveillance and the drone attacks is just how much on the run his people were. He says, when you're moving my son, Hamza, move him under heavy cloud cover so maybe he'll be hidden.
REHMSee that's what I want to understand. What's happened now to his wives, plural, and children?
LABOTTWell, the wives were in Pakistan and I believe they've been told...
LABOTT...Saudi -- they were in Pakistan and they were able to go to Saudi Arabia now, which presumable they'll be able to live along with the rest of the bin Ladens in relative comfort.
REHMElise Labott, CNN foreign affairs reporter and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Eleven people were killed during protests in Egypt this week. What triggered this latest violence, David?
IGNATIUSWell, the initial trigger was in part the disqualification of presidential candidates. Almost a dozen presidential candidates were disqualified by commission. But I think more broadly it's the frustration that Egyptians feel with continuing rule by the military commission, known as the SCAF. Egyptians thought they wanted democracy in their Tahrir Square protests a year ago, in February, 2011. And still a military commission is running the government.
IGNATIUSEgypt is caught in this terrible in-between situation where violence breaks out. There really isn't the sense of security that Egyptians are used to and want. It takes forever for anybody to arrive in part because this is a situation where nobody really is ready to make a decision. The opposition on the streets say, aha this is a conspiracy by the military. They want people to die so people will demand more order. Well, people are demanding more order...
REHMBut isn't the military saying they'll back down by June?
LABOTTThey said they'll back down once a candidate is elected. And, you know, there could be several runoffs in the next couple of months. But I think, as David said, it shows that Egypt's revolution is an unfinished product. I mean, basically since the revolution, there have been bursts of violence, bursts of protest.
LABOTTThe country is in terrible economic decline and the government, on one hand, you know, virtually is powerless to really stop these massive forces of change in Egypt. They're trying. At the same time, it's not really clear whether they want to give up power because they have a lot of commercial interest, economic interest. So I think the page on Egypt's revolution is far from written.
BUMILLERA little over a year ago, the Egyptian military was being heralded a year ago as the saving force in Egypt because it was a professional military. The United States military is very close to it. There's all these exchanges. You know, they use our tanks, et cetera, et cetera. And I was writing a year ago, oh, well, they promise they're going to step aside. This was, you know -- and, you know, they're on the phone every day with the Pentagon with, you know, Bob Gates, then the Defense Secretary.
BUMILLERAnd, you know, they understand their role here. They do not want to be in power, you know. And we were all very skeptical at the time and, you know, that...
BUMILLERYeah, more skeptical now.
LABOTTBecause at the same time, the SCAF disqualified several candidates from the Muslim Brotherhood, for instance, on real technicalities like, one of the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate's mother was a dual citizen. I mean, the question of the SCAF's commitment to moving Egypt towards democracy is certainly in doubt.
IGNATIUSWell, these military officers are no Democrats. Part of what accounts for the delay is so petty. The members of the SCAF, these military officers who've been living high off the hog all these years want immunity from any possible prosecution. They've watched Hosni Mubarak's family humiliated in the prosecutions that followed the revolution. And they're trying to get immunity for themselves. And that's one of the tricky issues.
IGNATIUSI think the real chapters of consequence in the Egyptian story are yet to be written. And we do need to remember that. The question is what happens when an Egyptian government that is representative of the people takes over. We know that they're going to have a terrible economic crisis. I think they'll get some help with that. The question that interests me in some ways more is whether they can form democratic police and security services to bring order to the country. That's what happened in Eastern Europe. It was a key to why Eastern Europe prospered.
REHMDavid Ignatius of The Washington Post, Elise Labott, CNN foreign affairs reporter, Elisabeth Bumiller, Pentagon correspondent for the New York Times. Short break and right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We have a tweet from a New York Times stringer and freelance journalist based in Cairo, Egypt who says "Panic stampedes running through streets, sounds of gunfire echo everywhere, seem to come from every direction, complete chaos."
LABOTTWell, there were protests planned for Friday, after Friday prayers in Tahrir Square and other parts of Cairo. And basically, a lot of it, some of it was in protest about what happened Wednesday when there were these clashes, protests of the disqualification of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate. There were some thugs that beat up about 11 people, were killed and they blamed it on the SCAFs, said that these were kind of government-supported thugs. The SCAFs said no, that's not us, we have no idea.
LABOTTBut if we saw, as Elizabeth said, if we saw what happened in Tahrir Square after the revolution, the army was really credited in keeping order. If they wanted to do it right now, presumably they could do so.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones to Fenton, Mich. Good morning, Pat, you're on the air.
PATGood morning and thank you for taking my call. I really enjoy your program.
PATThe reason I'm calling, I wonder if there isn't something more going on with Mr. Chen as the civil rights protester's main thing is the one-child policy and stopped forced abortions. And to see the Republican Congress call in to a meeting a group that's been on leave, to see Republican candidates talking about this in the way they are when we're trying to negotiate with the Chinese behind the scenes, when Mr. Chen is free to make phone calls to the press and to our Congress, it just makes me wonder exactly what's going on in this situation.
REHMAnd I think a lot of people share your question, Pat. We have posted a video of Mr. Chen calling members of Congress. It's on the drshow.org site right now. David, how do you respond to Pat's point?
IGNATIUSWell Chen certainly has been adept in using the media and just using platforms coming to the U.S. embassy from his rural village. The smartest of the Chinese dissidents do this. Pat mentions his particular interest in the question of forced abortions and the one-child policy. That's an issue for him and it's an issue for many Chinese, but I have not noticed him pushing that issue in a big way in the media contacts that he's had since this crisis began. It is certainly part of his record.
REHMBecause what you're saying is, he's focusing on safety...
REHM...his safety, his family's safety...
IGNATIUSHe's made himself and his safety the issue.
IGNATIUSNot the other issues he was talking about before.
REHMAll right to New Bedford, Mass. Good morning, Charles.
CHARLESGood morning, I'm a first-time caller and a great admirer. I'd like to continue in this vein and take note of what I think is a tradition that in the real time conduct of foreign policy, there is a tradition that political candidates do not comment in a way which might interfere with the actual ongoing negotiations. And I wonder what your guests think about the degree to which Mitt Romney has immediately jumped in in a situation which is obviously somewhat fluid and very complex and in negotiation by the Secretary of State.
MS. ELIZABETH BUMILLERWell, I'll just repeat what I said earlier. This is the reality of politics in 2012. I think that, look, candidate Obama in 2008 was extremely critical of the war in Iraq and the Bush administration's policy in Iraq . He was also very critical of the policy in Afghanistan at the time and proposed sending more troops and said it had been -- that was the correct war.
REHMHowever this seems like a very delicate moment and a very delicate negotiating system whereas criticism of those wars might be put into another category, I don't know. David?
IGNATIUSMy own feeling is that Romney would have done himself a lot of good in terms of the way he needs to reposition himself now. If he had kept silent on this and said, you know, I'm far away from the situation, our Secretary of State is handling it and I'm going to stick by that old expression politics stops at the water's edge, I think a lot of people would have said, that was a classy statesmanlike statement. Instead, we're saying that's more partisan attacks from Romney.
REHMYeah, yeah, okay. I want to ask you all about Russia which has threatened a pre-emptive strike if the U.S. goes ahead with a missile shield in Europe. Tell us first about that missile shield, Elise, and then why Russia is making this threat now.
LABOTTWell, basically, this is a long-standing argument between NATO and Russia really. NATO wants to have a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Russia has said that this would be a deterrent to our missile and our strike capability and the U.S. has gone to great lengths to say to Russia, this is not about you. This is about the missile threat from Iran, from North Korea.
LABOTTLet's work together and try and find some way that we can cooperate on missile defense. In fact, President Obama tried to ease tensions in Russia by 2008 to revamp the program. But basically, they're saying, listen, we're not going to have Russia have a veto on our missile defense system and we're going to go ahead.
LABOTTNow Russia is saying, we're going to put interceptors in Kaliningrad and we can presumably have a pre-emptive strike. There's a conference going on between NATO and Russian officials in Moscow this week where the Russian defense minister and the chief military officer in Moscow made these claims. And actually it's a real tit-for-tat going on between U.S. officials on the ground and Russia. I don't think that the U.S. really feels that Russia would launch a pre-emptive strike about NATO. It's really just a way to get NATO to concede to more of Russia's demands.
LABOTTBut as we approach the summit in Chicago where Russia is not so sure that it wants to take part -- in fact, it'll be at G8. President Medvedev will be at G8, but it's unclear whether he'll be going to Chicago.
REHMAll right. And we have an email about Russia saying "The U.S. refuses to provide Russia with a written legally-binding guarantee that the U.S./NATO missile defense system will not target Russian nuclear forces. Is it unreasonable for Russia to be unwilling to accept only verbal assurances on this matter? Why would the U.S. refuse to sign such an agreement with Russia?? David?
IGNATIUSWell, the simple answer is that the Obama administration recognizes that if it did sign such a written agreement, it couldn't get the deal through Congress, couldn't get approved by the Senate. Republican senators have made that very clear. And I've spoken with Russian negotiators who understand this and have said, we do know that you have this political problem. It's likely that we could work out some assurance short of a formal, legally-binding treaty type document that would satisfy us.
IGNATIUSWhat the U.S. has hoped is that the more we explain the missile defense system to the Russians, the more we draw them into the planning and sharing of the kind of data that would go into the system, the more the Russians will understand that it's not aimed against them.
IGNATIUSBut so far, that hasn't worked and the Russians continue to say -- and you know, some people argue that they have reason to, that this is a system that could, if things become more polarized between the U.S. and Russia in the future, be turned into a system that could pose a threat to them. And I think that concern has not been dispelled for the Russians. And Ellen Tauscher is trying to negotiate this treaty, this agreement keeps working to try to find some way to make them comfortable without giving them a written guarantee.
REHMAll right to Keenan in Keene, N.H. Good morning, you're on the air.
KEENANGood morning, Diane, thanks so much for taking my call.
KEENANMy question is about Pakistan and I'm wondering is there any to divert the aid that we give currently to the Pakistani military into more civilian institutions such as helping to open up education and opening up access to communication and information technologies. I think those are the core components of our strategy in Afghanistan and I think such deeds would be more good for them and helpful to the general Pakistani population who are maybe generally unaware of how much aid we currently do give to the Pakistani military.
BUMILLERWell, the U.S. has already suspended and held up on, for a time anyway, military aid to Pakistan because of the continuing tensions with that country. The reason for the aid is because we want to aid the military in their fight against the Taliban and insurgents on their side of the border. And it's a complicated, problematic issue, but, you know, the U.S. military does say that the Pakistanis have made some inroads in the tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan and they have gone after some insurgents and they want to continue that relationship.
BUMILLERSo the Pakistanis, you're right, are not really totally aware of all that military aid that goes over there, but I will note that there is a program along the lines of what Keenan suggested. There's a $1.5 billion over three years, the Kerry-Lugar funding, that does fund civil -- all these types of programs, education, healthcare...
REHMBut you never know if that money is truly going to get where you want it to go in Pakistan.
BUMILLERWell, that's been one of the things that the U.S. is trying to put these conditions on the aid and that's one of the things that the Pakistanis are always trying to avoid.
REHMAll right to Cleveland, Ohio. Good morning, Richard.
RICHARDYes, hi. I had a question for you about bin Laden. Was it ever determined -- I remember the stories were out when he was supposedly hiding in a cave and he was on dialysis and needed a dialysis machine because of his kidneys. And I was wondering if that's revealed in his compound, if that was determined whether, yes or no, he was on dialysis. And a second quick question was, I was wondering if it was determined what type of money he had access to and if they determined bank accounts and what type of money did he have access to?
IGNATIUSWell, first on the dialysis question, the famous bin Laden kidneys, I mean, you would have thought that it would have been the easiest thing in the world to find a 6'4 Arab who needed dialysis in the tribal areas of Pakistan. I mean, and interestingly, it was Pakistani President Musharraf who was among those who put out this idea that he was on dialysis. That was not true. There is no evidence that he was on dialysis or that he had severe kidney failure of the sort that was reported so regularly.
IGNATIUSHe was supposed to be going to hospitals in Dubai for a while. There was a whole bunch of fanciful things. On the question of money, it's very interesting, these documents. Bin Laden talks a lot about money and about where he's getting it from and could you give me a list, please, of who has been contributing it. He prefers Euros, but he's willing to take dollars. He says be very careful when you change money that you get to do it in a money changer's stall that has a cover over it so that whatever electronic gizmo in the bag can't register with the drone that's overhead.
IGNATIUSHe says throw away the bag because you don't want the little chip that they probably put in it. He's very paranoid about money, but I would just note that this is a time when the Europeans are having their problems, bin Laden's favorite currency was the euro.
REHMYou have read those notes very carefully, David Ignatius of The Washington Post. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Cazenovia, N.Y. and to Aaron, thanks for waiting.
AARONOh, good morning, always a pleasure to be welcomed to your show. And I'd like to respectfully challenge the panel that perhaps their views on Afghanistan, and more particularly on China are, let's say, wishful thinking, that with respect to the dissident that, you know, well, he is between a rock and a hard place. And the Chinese are going to see that if he goes to the States, he's going to be a bigger threat to them so that he is likely to suffer punishment, he and his family.
AARONThe Chinese are in a reactionary period. Another Tiananmen Square is not too difficult to foresee. And with respect to Afghanistan, you know, the ambiguity of this ten-year contract with Afghanistan, you know, what is going to play out? Is it going to play out so that Tibet can look forward to further repression from the Chinese, and the same thing in Xinjiang? Are the Indians going to left holding the bag of democracy?
REHMYou've got lots of questions, Aaron. Let's start with the Chinese.
BUMILLERUm, I'll take the Chen issue. Yes, I do think Mr. Chen is in a rock and hard place. He's probably torn. He wants to get his family out of harm's way and into safety by going to the U.S. But I think the Chinese have every interest in letting him go because as we've been talking about, he's a bigger threat to China inside the country. You know, on your show earlier in the week, Diane, it was very interesting and what people were talking about is that basically he's one of the most dangerous kinds of protestors because he's trying to get the Chinese to hold up their bargain on international law...
BUMILLERHe's only holding them to their own standards that they set for themselves. So if he's there, if he's saying, how many forced sterilizations have you done? How many forced abortions, challenging the one-child policy in China, these are the type of issues that China doesn't want to hear about every day, especially, as we discussed, in the middle of a very difficult transition period where there is a real tug of war between reformers and hardliners. So I think that the Chinese will try to get him out expeditiously.
IGNATIUSLet me take Aaron's question about the partnership agreement with Afghanistan. He said that it's ambiguous. I think that U.S. officials and probably Afghan officials too would say that this ambiguity is one of its positive features, that rather than there being a certainty that the U.S. and NATO are bailing out, now it's possible, maybe even likely that they'll be staying for as long as ten years. And in terms of the stability in that part of the world, reassuring the Pakistanis, backfooting the Taliban so they don't think they're going to get the country free. There's a lot to be said for constructive ambiguity here.
REHMAny thoughts, Elizabeth?
BUMILLERWell, I think to make it less ambiguous, I would say the ten-year agreement will probably involve about perhaps 20,000 troops, mostly special operations forces with a lot of logistical support and the U.S. staying on bases that the U.S. built, but they're now called Afghan bases.
REHMElizabeth Bumiller, Pentagon correspondent for the New York Times, David Ignatius of The Washington Post, Elise Labott, CNN foreign affairs reporter, thank you all and have a great weekend.
REHMThanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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