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Twin bombs in Syria’s capital killed dozens and wounded hundreds of people. U.N. leader Ban Ki Moon warned Syria has only a brief window to avoid civil war. France and Greece voted for socialists in an anti-austerity backlash. Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel continued to defend austerity measures as Europe’s only hope in the debt crisis. The CIA and Saudis infiltrated al Qaeda, foiling a bomb against a U.S. bound plane. And Russians protested as Vladimir Putin assumed the presidency again. David Sanger of The New York Times, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine and Matt Frei of the U.K’s Channel 4 News join Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Matt Frei Washington correspondent of the U.K.'s Channel 4 News.
- Susan Glasser editor-in-chief, Foreign Policy.
- David Sanger chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times; author of the forthcoming book, "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Twin suicide bombings in Syria kill at least 55 and injure hundreds. Voters in France and Greece oust incumbent leaders and Russia clamps down on protests of Vladimir Putin's return to the presidency. Joining me to talk about the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, David Sanger of The New York Times, Susan Glass of Foreign Policy magazine and Matt Frei of the UK's Channel 4 News.
MS. DIANE REHMI hope you'll join us as well on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, everybody.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERGood morning, Diane.
MR. DAVID SANGERGood morning.
MR. MATT FREIGood morning.
REHMGood to see you all. Susan, let me start with you. Earlier this week, we learned that the U.S. somehow foiled the plot to bring down an airliner by infiltrating al-Qaida. How did we do it?
GLASSERWell, you know, it's a pretty extraordinary intelligence story and one of the kind that they're really interested in celebrating a success here. On the one hand, because you have the United States doing what it has not been able to do before, which is apparently having a human asset inside al-Qaida and the Arabian Peninsula.
GLASSEROn the other hand, what you have is a very active al-Qaida in Yemen that really looks to be taking on in many ways some of the roles of the old al-Qaida central, actively plotting multiple plots against the United States homeland. This is a more sophisticated version, allegedly, of the underwear Bomber plot that was foiled several years ago in the beginning of Obama's presidency.
GLASSERSo on the one hand, you have an intelligence success. On the other hand, what you see is an al-Qaida group that is actively mobilizing not just to fight the near enemy, but to plot major potential terrorist attacks against the United States.
REHMMatt Frei, who is actually a British citizen.
FREIIt was apparently. We don't know much about this person. The information has been leaked about this, much to the dismay of several intelligence agencies here and in London. But seemed to have happened was that was, you know, perhaps not unique, but very effective collaboration between Saudi intelligence, British intelligence and American intelligence to have this plant.
FREIWe wait to find out. I mean, at the moment, the leaks seem to have run dry. Obviously, there's a bit of a clamp down going at this stage, but if they can continue this sort of intelligence operation and maybe that's a big if today than it was a week ago, by putting plants into this sort of network that is a big victory for them.
SANGERI think Matt's hit on just the right point, which is one of the most interesting things we've learned about from this is how the Saudis and the U.S. and in this case, British intelligence, all work together. And that's got to be concerning, of course, to al-Qaida, which went through months of training this agent and without realizing that he was a double agent.
FREIIt's also got to be concerning to the Iranians, who realize that, the only people in the world who are more intent that they don't get a nuclear weapon than Israel, are the Saudis. And so this degree of cooperation is something that will really get a lot of attention throughout the Middle East.
REHMDidn't this double agent also help in the killing of one of the people wanted in the 2000 USS Cole bombing, Matt?
FREIAbsolutely. He was, I'm not sure exactly about his precise role but he essentially spotted and identified this person and then, if you like, called in the air strike as it were that happened earlier in the week. So it's clearly working. I mean, this is a very effective mechanism. The one person they haven't managed to kill yet is the one person that they probably really do want to eliminate and that is the bomb maker, the most notorious bomb maker now in that part of the world, a chap called Ibrahim al-Asiri, who not only made the updated underpants bomb that was captured by this agent, he also made the last one used by the Nigerian terrorist who was trying to bring down the airline that flew from Paris to Detroit in Christmas 2009.
REHMOn Christmas, yes.
FREIExactly. He also made the cartridge bombs that almost went off on flights to the United States and this is the really chilling detail, Diane, he apparently inserted a bomb into his own younger brother who he recruited into the al-Qaida network and then dispatched his brother on a mission to try and kill the chief of Saudi police.
FREIThe brother posed as a convert from al-Qaida who was trying to come back into fold, and by the way the al-Asiri brothers are both sons of a kind of fairly senior pious conservative military family. So the younger brother was dispatched. He had interview with the head of Saudi intelligence, who had sent a private plane to pick him up. And during this interview, he detonated this bomb. He killed himself, but he only injured the head of Saudi intelligence. But this shows you the kind of not just determination and ruthlessness, but also the inventiveness of someone like that.
REHMAnd then the question, of course, becomes is the U.S. transportation safety up to detecting these kinds of bombs that Matt talks about?
GLASSERWell, you know, there's been a pretty vigorous back and forth this week on exactly this point, Diane, and I think that, you know, what they're saying is that new measures that have been put in place since the December 2009 underpants bombing attempt, would have in fact detected it. It's impossible to say, right, you know, every day we're also confronted with stories of all the things that get through security and I think that goes back to your point about the inventiveness and the resilience of this network.
GLASSERBecause it is a network and not just a conventional sort of like here's 10 people in an organization, take them out and you kill the organization. That hasn't happened. Remember that we've just gone past the first year anniversary of the death of Osama Bin Laden and here we are talking about al-Qaida. And I think you know one of the things you have to look at is how resilient has this network been because it is precisely networked.
GLASSERYou have an al-Qaida affiliate in Yemen, you have the al-Qaida affiliate now in Somalia where the homegrown terrorist group, al Shabaab, recently and very publicly announced it was pledging futility and becoming part of the broader al-Qaida franchise. And of course, look at what happened yesterday in Syria with the largest bombing to date so far in that long running brewing civil war against the Assad regime.
GLASSERThere's real questions, of course, about who exactly carried it out, but there's real concern that al-Qaida-like or possibly even al-Qaida affiliated fighters have joined the broad-based fight against Assad.
SANGERWell, Susan makes an excellent point about who it is who's fighting Assad and it's the reason that the United States has not come in to go arm the rebels in Syria. You're never quite sure who it is you're arming and if you do arm them, how long will those arms stay around? And of course, the defining experience was arming the mujahidin against the Soviets in the 1980s and then discovering that those anti-aircraft weapons were being used, and other weapons were being used against the United States after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
SANGERAmerican officials who I've talked to in the past few days about Syria tell me that it is precisely this problem that is likely to keep the U.S. from either directly intervening or directly arming. However, there's always the possibility that Gutter or the Saudis or somebody is going to end up arming the opposition here.
FREIWell, it's interesting. I was speaking to senior British officials a few months ago and they made it quite clear that while there was no policy to arm the rebels from the UK or France or from the United States, there is a clear policy to allow the Saudis and the Qatars to send money, if not turn a blind eye to weapons. And, you know, we're going to see more and more of this using Saudi Arabia as a conduit for basically doing, conducting in our policy in that part of the world.
FREIBut here's the other point. I think, you know, David makes a very excellent point about the fact that this is the reason why the U.S. policy towards arming the Syrian rebels has stopped short. But at the same time, this is a very split opposition. The opposition, the legitimate opposition, the popular opposition you might say, you know guys, if you're not going to send us any help we're going to have to turn to people like al-Qaida. We're going to have increasingly flirt with those extremist elements because for us this an extensional battle and if we don't get help from more legitimate quarters, we're going to have to go less legitimate ones.
GLASSERWell, and I think that exactly points out the sort of policy dilemma, right, that the United States and its Western allies find itself in because in the end what's happening right now without major support from the West is that both sides are being pulled towards their extremes. And if the U.S. doesn't find a way to support the sort of popular middle of this uprising, then increasingly it may be taken over by the kind of extremists who remember drove events in next door Iraq for many years.
REHMWhat happened to the cease-fire, David Sanger, back on April 12th?
SANGERThe Kofi Anon mission, look, nobody, Diane, thought that Kofi Anon was going to be able to go pull this off. Everybody thought you had to let him try and there's basically no moral authority that the UN has particularly brought to this that Assad respects in any way. No one really expected this to go very smoothly.
SANGERThe problem is that Assad knew from the moment that he signed this that the West did not have a plan B. It is not as if he violated this and it was clear what penalty he was going to suffer. Russia and China were still blocking significant UN action, the Iranians have continued to send in enough to keep the regime alive.
SANGERNow, there are sort of two ways to go look at what the ultimate survivability of the regime is. Many American officials, including President Obama, have said that over the long term this is fatal to Assad. That he can't hold on. Nobody's defined what the long term is okay. He is certainly running out of money. The efforts to look at where their current is suggests that they've depleted the treasury by at least half since all of this started. There are lots of embargos. That said, there's no sign the Syrian military has cracked.
REHMDavid Sanger, he's chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times, author of the forthcoming book, "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power."
REHMAnd before we move on in our International Hour of the Friday News Roundup to the euro zone elections, we have a question from Mel in Potomac, Md. who says, "What public interest was served by releasing and publishing details of the successful intervention in the latest bomb plot? Are we safer knowing that not only was a double agent involved, but that he was managed by British intelligence? Sometimes freedoms of speech and press involve not speaking or writing." David Sanger.
SANGERYou know, an issue that comes up each and every week in the work that we do. Now in this particular case I think the administration, my sense of it is, wanted to get this out. Now you'd ask yourself why is it that you would deliberately release that there is a double agent and all that and I can't guess their -- I can't read their motives. I can guess their motives.
SANGERFirst of all, by the time this whole thing came together and that airstrike had been called in that Matt referred to, it's pretty clear that Al-Qaida in the peninsula had figured out what happened and they knew this guy disappeared. They had given him a bomb. They sent him off. He didn't set the bomb off. They knew he was a double agent at that point.
SANGERSo then the question comes, when you release something like this is the psychological effect of the release greater on the target, which in this case is the Al-Qaida group, because it begins to make them look at every other member of their group and wonder who they're working for.
REHMTrust, trust, trust.
FREIAbsolutely, yes. I mean, this is something that they rely on. And one of the great victories in the past of Al-Qaida has been this shadowy network of sleeper cells that don't communicate with each other but all instinctively trust what they're doing. The minute you infiltrate it and you break that dam you have a problem on your hands.
GLASSERWell, and let's also be real that there's a domestic political benefit for the Obama Administration as well in saying that we managed to do what hasn't been done before, which is to have a human asset inside of Al-Qaida. And there's an implicit contrast, of course, with the Bush Administration. And this is in the middle of an election year.
FREIBut then you wonder also how many other sleeper agents there are out there.
FREIAnd that's why some of the agencies were very upset that the details had been leaked.
REHMAll right. Let's turn to the elections in France and Greece. In France, a Socialist, Francois Hollande, won the presidential election defeating incumbent Sarkozy. He had supported the compact to increase physical discipline in the euro zone. Now you've got this conflict in outward thinking on the part of Angela Merkel in Germany and Francois Hollande, David Sanger.
SANGERWell, you know, it was only a matter of time before the question of whether austerity was the right way to go became a ballot box issue. And last week was the time. It was the time in France and it was really the time in Greece, as we'll get to in a moment. And, you know, for Sarkozy this was wrapped up in many other issues that the French people had with Sarkozy. Whether -- but the debate a few days before the election turned on the question which of the candidates was more arrogant when you, you know, hit that moment. You know, in a French election it gets, you know, into its amusing moments.
SANGERBut in the end, Hollande's victory, which was narrow but decisive, indicated that the French people were quite worried about the direction Sarkozy was going in the austerity movement and that he was doing it in conjunction with Germany. And so now the question is, what happens if France sort of splits away from the approach that Angela Merkel is taking for Germany. And of course, Germany is the one who's bankrolling all of this -- much of this bailout.
REHMInteresting, Matt Frei, that Harvard economist Ken Rogoff does not see the election of Hollande as a rejection of austerity so much as rejection of Germany's influence in the euro zone and its leading role in the drive toward austerity in the region.
FREII think it's a little bit of both. I mean, what's essentially happened in Europe is that the Germans 60 years after the Second World War were dictating economic terms to the rest of the continent, whereby Greeks and to some extent Spaniards and Italians started to feel like there were colonies within the euro zone. Politically, this is just not viable. As David said, we saw the explosion at the ballot box.
FREIIf you look at unemployment rates, in Spain, 50 percent amongst young people, in Italy, 36 percent, in Greece, 52 percent. All the extremist parties have benefited whether on the right or the left from the elections that we saw in the last week. Now this is just something that cannot continue. But here's my point.
FREIAlthough it was sort of said in Germany beforehand that Francois Hollande would be a disaster for the austerity package that Germany has come up with that the German way's the only way toward saving Europe, Angela Merkel is beginning to flirt with Francois Hollande in a way that she would never have imagined because although Germany has the financial clout it doesn't have the political clout or conviction...
FREIIt doesn't because it needs France together. The Germans don't like doing stuff by themselves for obvious reasons. You know, the ghosts of history are knocking on the door.
FREIThey want to have the cover of France. They need to do it together with the French. And already this week you've seen them talking about things like Project Bond, which is a way of kind of, you know, putting some inflation into the economy, perhaps issuing a few euro bonds here and there. The German position has weakened.
FREIBut if I can just briefly add this. If the Greeks are caught between (unintelligible) of austerity and their own people -- and I know we're going to get lots of Greek analogies here from mythology -- the Germans are caught between their own rock and a hard place coming up in the form of regional state elections in (unintelligible) later this week. And the German electorate doesn't like the idea of anyone in Germany bankrolling Greek debt.
GLASSERWell, that's right and that's why Merkel, as a politician, is perhaps in more trouble than any of the newly elected leaders in France because I think actually Hollande will have a little bit more flexibility than she will when it comes to what is her mandate at this point. But really it didn't just start this week with the elections in Greece and France. What I'm struck by is actually Europe has been in a period of extraordinary political turmoil following and related to this economic turmoil that Matt describes. The government just fell a few weeks ago in the Netherlands.
FREIEight governments in one year.
GLASSERAbsolutely. This is extraordinary. Remember, you know...
SANGERBeats all Japanese records.
GLASSEREuropean Union was a byword for stability, you know, up until just a few years ago. It was the new gold standard, right, for the developed world.
REHMBut, you know, what does this mean for the United States and austerity here?
GLASSERWell, actually, it's extraordinary absence from the presidential election considering that this is our major both political and economic relationship that we're talking about. The bottom line is that the EU is the largest trading partner of the United States...
GLASSER...and it is the bedrock upon which all of our international security arrangements are built.
SANGERWell, President Obama took a significant bet when the European crisis began. He did not do what President Clinton did during the Asian crisis in 1998 where you'll remember that the U.S. was the central player in going in to go do the rescues and then brought the IMF and others in behind them. In this case, President Obama said this is first and foremost the euro zone's problem. If you need outside assistance you do it through the IMF and the United States will cooperate. And did in fact increase its contributions to the IMF but kept this at some remove.
SANGERAnd he did this as part of really a broader strategy of forcing allies who have a more direct interest in the outcome of a particular problem to go confront that rather than go deal with the United States. You saw it in Libya when he wanted NATO and the Arab League to take a -- I could go on with many other examples.
SANGERSo now the question comes, if the response was insufficiently vigorous, in other words if they didn't pour enough money in soon enough to stem the problem early on and let the austerity packages simmer and result in these kind of political backlashes, over the long term when we look back at this ten years from now are we going to say that the right way to go was the way we handled the Asian crisis, which was pretty much over in a year, or was this the right formula?
FREIBut there's a problem here as well, which is that one, to get congress to approve sending large amounts of money...
FREI...zero chance. Secondly, the Asian crisis, which I remember covering when I lived in Asia in the late '90s, was a much easier thing to handle because you were dealing with fewer countries and there were just fewer elections around. I mean, nowadays you've got everyone of these European players.
SANGERAnd there was not a common currency so right.
FREIExactly, there was not a common currency. So, you know, the euro crisis is a hell that you could not have invented in the 5th circle of that location. It is so utterly fiendish and complicated. And it comes back to the ultimate problem, which is that when you're asking different economies and different populations with different electorates and governments to basically pull together on the same project, unless you have a genuine union like the USA it's not going to happen.
REHMHere's a posting on Facebook. "Europe's electorates are just saying no to austerity that has left economies sputtering. Will the austerity versus stimulus debate play a similar role here in November?" Susan.
GLASSERWell, I think that's part of the backdrop in the context of this presidential election here. But I have to say at the same time the choices have been much more starkly framed in Europe and in its response to the crisis. And President Obama, in many ways, has avoided tacking too far one way or the other.
GLASSERAnd of course, because we have that political union that Matt spoke about, what it means is that we've had a president of one party and a congress of another party for the last couple years, you could say not necessarily leading, but at the same time avoiding partially what's happened in Europe, which is that there's been a decisive choice to pursue one economic course driven by the politics of the major player in Europe's economy, Germany. These political votes are happening because the people don't feel like they had a stake and a choice in that outcome of that major policy decision.
SANGERYou know, I think the interesting comparison here is probably Greece because in France people were choosing between two governments. In Greece this was basically a referendum on are we going to continue on the austerity, right? Okay. Overwhelmingly the answer was no, some people reaching for a far right group, some reaching for a far left group. The result is that right now they have no government. They may patch something together but it will be so weak that no one can tell us right now whether the commitments that Greece made just a few months ago actually still exists.
SANGERSo two interesting questions out of that. First, had the Greeks decided to go along with what their prime minister suggested last fall and actually have a referendum on the austerity program -- a national referendum, which ultimately they did not have, could they have actually gotten through this and had a debate about what kind of program they wanted to have? And secondly, in the next election -- 'cause the Greeks are going to have to have one now, they're going to have to form some kind of government -- they're suddenly going to have to choose about what it is they want to do. All this election last week was about was about what they didn't want to do.
REHMDavid Sanger of the New York Times and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've got to move on. Let's talk about Pakistan and the American hostage being held there, Matt Frei.
FREIWell, this is an interesting crisis that's come up again because it just shows that Pakistan is the one problem that we don't really want to deal with but it just crops up again with a kind of horrific regulatory. And there was an interesting article today actually in the New York Times by the former ambassador of Pakistan to this country Husain Haqqani, who basically said, we have to reinvent what this country's all about. Is Pakistan going to be a Garrison state or a Muslim state?
FREIAnd for an ambassador of a nation to come up with something that fundamental, to talk in such honest terms about the split between a more moderate kind of democratically minded country and something that veers towards extremism -- Islamic extremism is really quite existential. And the thing is this latest hostage crisis is yet another of many examples that feed into this border theme.
REHMTell me about the 70-year-old man who's been held. He's from Rockville, Md., David.
SANGERWell, we've got two different cases underway here. The person who they're thinking about releasing that Matt was discussing is a soldier who...
SANGER...wondered off of the base. The Pentagon hasn't actually been working all that hard to get him back because they thought he sort of went AWOL. And, you know, it was not a case where he had been -- you know, where he had been captured in the course of battle. I mean, I'm sure they wanted him back but they have not made a big deal of it.
SANGERThis case came up because in the course of trying to put together negotiations with the Taliban, the Taliban needed a -- what they called a confidence-building measure. And they were discussing -- you'll remember we discussed this on the show a few months ago -- the release of four or five detainees in Guantanamo who would get released to be held outside of Pakistan and Afghanistan and supposed to have been kept on a short leash but no longer be in Gitmo. And this soldier was supposed to come back as the one returnee in return for that deal.
SANGERNow the fellow who was a contractor and worker who's 70 years old was captured up near the Northwest Territories, not quite in them, in Pakistan. And I think this was what, middle of last year, Susan, was that about right?
GLASSERSomething like that.
GLASSERHe's more like an aid worker type -- yeah.
SANGERYeah, and he has not been involved in this specific swap deal.
REHMBut there was a video tape of him on Sunday...
REHM...saying, you know, directly to President Obama, if you don't help me, I'm going to die.
GLASSERWell, that's right. And I do think it does go back to a much larger point about Pakistan and, you know, what is the nature of our relationship at this point with the country. And you've seen there was a big debate actually inside Pakistan. There was a major sort of parliamentary review, the outcome of which was a complete stalemate.
GLASSERNext week is the major NATO summit. They're going to be gathering in Chicago in President Obama's hometown. Not only is Pakistan not invited but it really just underscores how can we be talking at this point about an exit plan for the U.S. and its NATO allies from Afghanistan when we can barely talk to Pakistan, which is the major player in the region.
GLASSERWe talked earlier, for example, about Al-Qaida and the Arabian Peninsula and Yemen and how the Saudis are working together with the Americans and the British on those sort of counter-Al-Qaida activities. I think that's a very interesting example in the context of this Pakistan discussion. Pakistan is supporting, at this point, the Taliban and Al-Qaida in Afghanistan, which is part of the reason a solution to this escalating and long running situation is not looking likely.
FREIWe talk about Pakistan and Afghanistan as separate countries, which of course they are. But in so many ways they are AFPAC as a British commander once told me. They are literally one entity when it comes to the fluidity with which extremists cross the border. And I remember spending many months in Baluchistan, which is in the southwest of the country after 9/11. And this is an area where, by the way, just this week another foreign -- a British aid worker Muslim (word?) was beheaded having been held hostage for a few months. But this area is where the Taliban was founded more or less and that's where they're very active now.
REHMMatt Frei, Washington correspondent for the UK's Channel 4 News.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to go to the phones. Here in Washington D.C., good morning Bert, you're on the air.
BERTThank you, Diane. The bomber plot in Yemen, and the hostage in Pakistan are interesting, but you haven't mentioned the most significant story of the week, and that is that Diane Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Rogers, the chair of the House Committee, came back very recently and this week announced that the Taliban has only gotten stronger in the past year, and that we're not nearly as effective against them as has been portrayed, and flatly contradicted not only the gist of Obama's speech from Kabul, but also was Armed Services Chairman Levin had said in a conference call back home.
BERTAnd the two intelligence committee chiefs, who often disagree, rarely speak that frankly in public, and only when they're seriously alarmed trying to wake up Washington. And the fact that they contradicted both the Senate armed services chairman and the president as to how we're doing over there as we approach the NATO meeting is pretty significant, and...
BERT...frankly, he calls to mind the fact that the national intelligence estimate in 2010 and late last year also contradicted what Petraeus and the White House were saying.
REHMAll right. David Sanger.
SANGERThe caller raises a really important point, and I've spent a good part of the last year in working on the book that you referred to before which will be out next month, trying to assess the administration's metrics for how they're doing against the Taliban, and, you know, as in anything in wartime, as we discovered in the Vietnam War, as you discovered in Iraq, you can put together numbers to tell any kind of story that you want, and the numbers that the administration has put together is how successful the Afghan National Army has been in taking control of certain areas of the country.
SANGERWhat the numbers don't tell you is that as the United States pulls back, almost everybody in the region, Afghans and Americans alike, can see that the future of Afghanistan is that some parts of the country are going to be essentially controlled by the Taliban, because the Taliban have always been there, and the Taliban probably always will be there. And so then the question is, do you bring the Taliban into the government in some way, which is what these negotiations are about.
SANGERDo you continue to continue to try to go out and kill every Taliban you can find, which at one point Governor Romney suggested in January was the right approach to this problem. But that then raises the question for how long and with how many troops. And how do you, if your President Obama, how do you run on a platform that says I'm pulling us back from Afghanistan, but we acknowledge that parts of the country will be in Taliban control in a few years, and that's what makes this the problem from hell.
GLASSERYou know, General Petraeus used to talk during Iraq of the Washington clock and the Baghdad clock, and I think that's relevant to what the caller is pointing out as well, because part of the reason there's not more political energy here in Washington around the question of well, just how well are doing in fighting the Taliban, I think is because there is broad, if not always acknowledged consensus across the political spectrum that what we're doing is leaving.
GLASSERAnd given that that what we're doing is leaving, it's pretty hard to spark the outrage of Republicans even on Capitol Hill in the middle of an election year to say, oh, this is outrageous, we should be fighting the Taliban more aggressively, because the bottom line is that's actually not what the American people want.
FREIOr as the Taliban like to say, they as in ask the Americans. The Brits have the clocks, we have the time. But on this note of getting out, you can just smell -- you can feel that everyone is heading to the exit, and that feeling, that smell was enhanced considerably this week by the election of good old Francois Hollande in Paris who basically made it an election platform that France would pull its troops out a year before everyone else's deadline. So the rush to the door has just increased and not decreased.
REHMAll right. To Little Rock, Ark. Good morning, David.
DAVIDGood morning, Diane. I was listening with interest to the part about the German and French situation and the election there, and it reminded me of a couple of anecdotal instances in my life here in Arkansas and one of the Mississippi Delta of being in social situation, a party, and hearing someone speak -- well, we thought she was from Holland, an elderly lady, and I greeted her in German and she went from being jovial and happy to this dead, cold, steely stare, and she said, young man, if you want to make friends with Europeans, you do not speak German.
DAVIDI said, you don't like Germans? She goes, not that I have anything against Germans personally, but they came to visit twice and they would not go home. And the other time was a blues festival in the Delta and there were some younger people there and they were all having a big time in a juke joint, and they had a German type of accent. I think they were probably also maybe from Holland, and I spoke to German to them. The table went dead and they just all stared at me like that, and said, do not speak German to us. It is no way to make friends.
DAVIDAnd I think there's some huge deep-seated resentments for the Germans. You know, you can't swing a dead cat in Europe without hitting a monument to a German atrocity, and as Jon Stewart observed on "The Daily Show," he said, it took them 70 years, but it looks like Germany has finally conquered Europe, but they did (word?)
GLASSERYou know, look at some of the campaign materials in Greece over the last several months, and you will be struck. This is not American style campaign materials. You've got Nazis there in sort of full uniform there to scare the Greek people. There has been a very explicit sense, they've talked about, you know, in their newspapers, on television, you know. We're being visited by jack booted thugs from Berlin, and that's been a very explicit part of the rhetoric in the Greek political debate this year, and it's very relevant to what's happening. I think the caller has made a very important point.
FREIIt's relevant, but ultimately ridiculous as well, because this is a question of economic housekeeping, and that's how it has to be managed. But because there is a political vacuum here, a lack of leadership on the European level, and also divergent economics and economic expectations of what the Euro can deliver, the ghosts of history are invited to come and knock on the door, and that's exactly what's happened.
FREIBut of course the longer you wait for this crisis to be resolved, the more these ghosts are going to make themselves heard, the more difficult any sort of political solution will become.
REHMAll right. To Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Good morning, Alexis.
ALEXISThank you for taking my call, Diane. I love your show.
REHMCertainly. Thank you.
ALEXISI would like to ask your panel, does Greece really have any options left? When I heard the head of (unintelligible) who got the second largest percent in the last election say, let's set up the memorandum and asked Mr. Samaras and Mr. Papandreou to tear up their signatures as well, I wonder if the whole country is descending into a "Alice in Wonderland" world.
SANGERWell, there is one option that is going to be heavily debated in Greece right now, and that option is to leave the Euro, to go back to the drachma, the old Greek currency, and not have to live underneath the restrictions that the rest of the Eurozone puts on Greece. Now, to many Greeks, this might be a solution because it gets Germany and France and everybody else out of their business. The difficulty is, somebody's gotta lend them money to pay back their debts, or they go into a complete, you know, less-managed bankruptcy. And it's not clear to me who that person would be...
SANGER...because once they're out of the Eurozone, the Euro powers are going to say not my problem.
FREIAnd, you know, Greece is huge problem, but it's not the only problem, and considering what else is knocking at the door, it's perhaps one of the lesser problems. There's a piece out today just saying the French banks, especially Credit Agricole, which is one of the largest banks in France, is massively overextended in the Greek economy.
FREISo that's where you see a fuse going from Greece straight into the French financial sector. Spanish banks are on the brink as well. Italy is a crisis again waiting to erupt. So it's a little bit like one of those south California wildfires. You put it out in one area, and it starts in another area.
GLASSERWell, that's right, and that's of course the sort of political demagoguery that I was talking about, and Greece is a very convenient cover for the fact that the reason that Europe has so far stuck by them and tried to impose a set of solutions on them, is not because they care so much about the Greek people, but because for better or for worse they're tied integrally to the Greek people for now, and unless the disunion talk escalates again, which I agree with Matt and David, we're gonna see a whole new round of the breakup of the Euro kind of story heading our way next.
REHMI want ask you all about Vladimir Putin, his reemergence, his reelection, his reinauguration to the presidency did not leave all of Russia happy, Susan.
GLASSERWell, you know, Vladimir Putin came right back in the style to which he was accustomed, right? And I think he was partially looking to dispel any thoughts that, you know, if you had that sort of kinder, gentler face of Putinism for the last several years under Dmitry Medvedev, that's gonna be the case with Putin. Remember, he's the guy who came to power in late 1999, total obscurity. He's the resurrected face of the sort of we're gonna kick some butt, you know, and go out and have a war in Chechnya.
GLASSERThis is exactly what he's done. He literally cleared the streets of Moscow for his re-inauguration. If you were wearing a white t-shirt on the streets of Moscow, massive security presence was gonna drag you away.
REHMAnd that image of that child on the tricycle confronting that lie of police officers, black booted, helmets, I mean, it was just shocking, a thousand people detained on the streets.
GLASSERWell, that's right. That image was taken by our young correspondent (word?) at one of the protests, and it's an incredibly sort of arresting look at a city that has of course had a tragic history of rule by militarized security forces. Putin comes right out from their midst. Those security services were the people that he used to bring him to power and to reconsolidate rule in the Kremlin, and I think it was not an accident that his messaging this week was, sorry President Obama, I'm just a little bit too busy here to come visit you as I was expected to do.
GLASSERAnd I know both sides are trying to put a little bit of face-saving gloss in it, but the message was crystal clear. It was meant to be heard. That reset, over.
REHMAnd David, didn't President Obama even change the location of the G8 in order to accommodate him?
SANGERWell, it was to accommodate him and to deal with protests. They were initially going to do both the G8 and then the following meeting on Afghanistan both in Chicago, the president's home town of course. They moved one of those to Camp David, which is obviously very easy to secure, and protestors would be miles and miles away.
SANGERWhat I find fascinating about this is that if the, you know, the president's got a pretty good foreign policy record to run on. We've discussed this before, bin Laden and so forth. It's a harder thing for the Republicans to attack than for previous democratic presidents. Russia may be the exception to that case because the whole reset effort, as Susan has suggested here, looks like, you know, that button wasn't connected to anything.
FREIIt's interesting. There are so many wonderful details in this sort of diplomatic huffing and puffing that have come out in recent days. Apparently Obama only called Putin to congratulate him on his reelection three days after the event, which is a pregnant pause if ever there was one, and that was one of the reasons why Putin then snubbed him by deciding that he couldn't come because he was too busy organizing the cabinet.
FREIBut guess who actually gets the job of organizing the cabinet? It's the prime minister, who was the last president, Medvedev. But what I think is fascinating and mildly amusing, but also potentially very alarming, is this sort of alpha male smackdown that is always brought about by Vladimir Putin, and it goes back to George Bush looking into his soul. Do you remember that?
FREII remember once interviewing Bush at the end of this second term, and he obviously had time on his hands because he talked to me outside the oval office for a few minutes, and he put his hand of my shoulder and said, Matt, don't worry, Vladimir, I've got him under control, you know, so, I mean, this is, you know, this is something that crops up and it's the same way with the reset button or the lack of a reset button. Vladimir Putin is a problem that people here in this city don't seem to know how to work out, let alone people in his city.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's go now to Port Huron, Michigan. Good morning, Bob. You're on the air.
BOBGood morning, thank you for taking my call.
BOBI just had a comment. The earlier discussion about the German issue with the ghosts of the past, and I think that speaks to a larger problem of why we're even in the Middle East area. George Bush the first didn't go to Baghdad, and in his memoir he said he didn't go because he didn't see a viable exit strategy, and here we are. We're in the Middle East, there is not viable exit strategy, and it's becoming a political faux pas, but I think it's a bigger question. You're fighting an ideology, you're not fighting an enemy.
GLASSERWell, the truth is we've been in the Middle East a lot longer than George Bush the first, and ever since the rise of the oil economy in the 20th century, the United States has been entangled with the Middle East, and that's gonna be the case for some time...
REHMAnd speaking of the Middle East, what about Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to reorganize his government and establish a coalition, David.
SANGERWell, it's fascinating, because if we were on the show a week ago, we would have been talking about Netanyahu preparing the country for an early election, an election he likely would have won. And three days after announcing that they're going to move to early elections, which they were guessing was going to be in September, he announces a deal with the new leader of Kadima, a former general, that gives Netanyahu now a very solid majority in the (word?) , and he is now facing, you know, the likelihood that he'll be in office for some considerable period of time, assuming this coalition holds together, and he is freed up to some degree of some of the more right-wing groups that had opposed further talks -- starting up further talks with the Palestinians.
SANGERWhat we don't know is what Netanyahu himself will do with that. What's the other thing we're missing here? We don't know what this unity government means for the big question of whether Israel moves to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. Now, one could easily run to the conclusion that Kadima would be a restraining influence and so forth. Maybe it will be. But if something changes in the next year, a piece of Intel that indicates the Iranians are moving forward faster than they knew, or the discovery of a new site or something, you know have a unity government that would, Mr. Netanyahu hopes, bridge these obvious divisions within Israeli society about whether or not an attack is a wise idea.
REHMTen seconds, Matt.
FREIBut obvious divisions within society, but also divisions within the very community that has to assess whether this is viable. The intelligence chiefs...
FREI...have been speaking out very publically in a way that would make people here probably blanch with embarrassment about whether this is something that should be done or not. And you kind of wonder is this Israeli democracy at wore, are there genuine political divisions about this, because we haven't heard an awful lot about it, or is the quiet before the storm?
REHMMatt Frei of the UK's Channel 4 News, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine, David Sanger of the New York Times. Happy weekend everybody.
REHMAnd have a great one all of you. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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