David Ignatius of the Washington Post on Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, then, questions for Attorney General nominee Republican Senator Jeff Sessions.
U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton says the chances of civil war in Syria are high if the world fails to act. There are mixed messages on whether the U.S. would take military action there without the U.N. Iran claims it defeated a powerful computer virus used for spying. Pakistan militants deny links to a doctor hired by the C.I.A. to help track down Osama bin Laden. Ireland declares victory in a referendum on Europe’s new fiscal treaty. The vote comes as European’s central bank chief said the eurozone’s current structure can’t be sustained. And Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth celebrates sixty years on the throne.
- Yochi Dreazen senior national security correspondent, National Journal magazine.
- 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."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Secretary of State Clinton warns Russia its support of Syria's regime could trigger a catastrophic civil war. This follows a civil massacre and executions. Iran says a sophisticated virus, dubbed Flame, has infected computers nationwide. Civilian deaths are down in Afghanistan. Ireland's voters ratified a treaty to rein in Eurozone debt and African warlord, Charles Taylor, is sentenced for crimes against humanity.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio for the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Yochi Dreazen of National Journal, Elise Labott of CNN and David Ignatius of The Washington Post." You are welcome to be part of the program. Call us on 800-433-8850, send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, everybody.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSGood morning, Diane.
MS. ELISE LABOTTGood morning, Diane.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENGood morning, Diane.
REHMNice to see you. David Ignatius, remind us of what happened last weekend in Syria.
IGNATIUSThere was a massacre in a village called Houla, which is in central Syria near Homes, which has been the scene of some of the most intense fighting and I should say, killing of Syrian opposition fighters and just dissidence and residence. In this massacre, according to the evidence that our government has gathered working with the United Nations, Syrian troops first shelled people holed up in the village and a number of them were killed by shellfire.
IGNATIUSAnd then a pro-Syrian militia, which is made up apparently entirely of members of the Alawite sect that President Assad has drawn from, came into the village and with knives and small arms, set about executing people, going house to house. It was the kind of brutal massacre of civilians that we've seen in the Middle East as these conflicts really get ratcheted up. More than 100 people, including women and children, were killed.
IGNATIUSKofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the UN, is leading diplomatic effects, has called it appalling. Similar phrases have been used by leaders around the world and yet, a week later, we're really no closer to having a viable plan to stop this killing and that's really what's beginning to deeply worry leaders in the United States and around the world. Everybody sees the violence, but nobody seems to have a plan to stop it.
LABOTTWell, basically, and continuing this week various events, 13 people shot execution style, hands behind their back. Just yesterday, we heard that 12 factory workers were taken off a bus and shot execution style and we're starting, you know, the international community has been afraid of some kind of civil war, but these are pro-government militia believed to be responsible for the events. And now the international community, as David said, even though this horrible massacre, they were saying we don't want a massacre to happen. Well, a massacre did happen and there's still no consensus or appetite for any kind of military action.
REHMSo what can Secretary of State Clinton's words do, Yochi Dreazen?
DREAZENI mean, in the short-term, probably nothing. And Russia has shown almost no sign whatsoever of stopping its support for Assad. Just in the last couple of days, another Russian ship carrying weaponry reached Syria, which, when you think about it, is kind of amazing. One point I wanted to get back to on the civil war. The word hanging over this debate right now, Libya. I mean, the Russians feel like they were burned by a UN Security Council resolution initially said for a no-fly zone, led to regime change. That's their stated reason of not intervening here.
DREAZENTo my mind, the word that should hang over off this and which is terrifying is Iraq. A few weeks ago, there was a visiting Israeli security official. Over lunch, he said to me that a civil war in Syria would dwarf the civil war in Iraq and when you think about the civil war in Iraq, I lived there for most of it. Hundreds of thousands of people killed, mostly by sectarian militias who would go door to door, pull people into the street, torture them, kill them et cetera.
DREAZENThe big question to my mind about Syria all along has been, when Assad falls, and it may be a year, it may be five years, maybe a month, is it reprisals just against his government or is there reprisals against the Alawite as a sect? And if it's against the Alawite as a sect, is it Sunni and Alawite? Is it Sunni and Christian and Alawite? Is it Christian on Sunni? You have armed groups so far that had limited to government on rebel, rebel on government. But if you're seeing, as in the case in Houla might indicate, full on sect -- the beginning of full on sectarian conflict, that's frankly terrifying.
LABOTTThat's why the Alawite, most of the generals in Assad's army are Alawite, don't want to abandon him because they are fearing these kinds of reprisal attacks. And what the international community, I think, hasn't done adequately enough is get the opposition to send the message to these Alawite, to Assad's loyalists and in the business class and in the army, that in a new Syria, you would have a role if you abandon him now.
LABOTTOn the Russia point, I think what the United States is trying to do now -- I think even though there's still no new strategy in the last few days, I think that this was a turning point in the sense that even though everyone keeps saying they're sticking to the Annan plan, this is the only plan. There's no plan B. There is a plan B and the plan B now is, look, we have to be a little bit more ruthless with the Russians. We can't just appeal to their better angels and say, please help stop the violence.
LABOTTMy understanding is that the administration now is going to try to move the Russians by trying to create a psychological difference on the ground. Once they feel -- once the Assad supporters start abandoning him, they're going to see the end is near and that will bring the Russians along. They're saying we need to be much smarter. When are the Russians going to come on board? When they see that Assad is halfway out the door.
REHMBut at the same time, the Russians are sending weapons to Syria, David.
IGNATIUSThe Russians' President Vladimir Putin in particular appears to believe that if you hang on, if you keep killing as the Russians in putting an insurrection in Chechnya, in the end you can prevail. And in the dialogue between the United States and Russia, that's what keeps coming back. The U.S. says we are terrified of this sectarian and the Russians say, yes and that's why President Assad has to prevail and maintain order through the institutions of the government.
IGNATIUSI would disagree with Elise only in the sense, Plan A is what we're seeing now. Plan B isn't a plan. Plan B is the outbreak of this sectarian war. I'm told that the tribes that originated in northern Saudi Arabia that stretch through western Iraq, up through Jordan and into Syria, these big Sunni tribes are now at the point of swearing tribal woes of vengeance against the people who did things like the massacre in Houla.
IGNATIUSAnd once you get that tribal sectarian deeply rooted centuries old dimension to the violence, it really becomes a dangerous -- the prayer, I should say the hope, the prayer in the administration is the Russians will see this. They'll see what lies over the next hill and do something about it, but so far they haven't.
DREAZENAnd the other point David raises on the tribal part is hugely important. I would add to it that, again, to make the Iraq parallel, what fueled the Iraq violence for so long was money, weaponry coming in from the Sunni states, Turkey, some of the Gulf states, from the Shia states, mainly from Iran. So you're beginning to see that here. I mean, the U.S. has been clearly giving its blessing to the Gulf states to put money into the country, to Gulf states to put weaponry into the country, which we as a country are not yet doing. So we're not abetting and fueling this, but we're also not standing in the way.
REHMSo there is a meeting in Washington next week. Who will be attending? What will they be looking at as options?
DREAZENI mean, some of this is the Friends of Syria group, that sort of vaguely ad hoc collation of European countries, some of the Gulf countries. The huge difference to my mind, to go back for a second to Libya, is in Libya, you had the European countries very much at the forefront. I mean, they were the ones dragging the White House into this. The White House didn't want to get involved in bombing. They didn't want to get involved militarily to the degree they did.
DREAZENNow, the European countries are silent. France has a new president who doesn't want any part of this. England and Italy are not as rapidly pro-war remotely as they were in Libya. So you have Russia immune to U.S. pressure, European countries having no interest in getting involved and the neighbors fueling and getting ready to fuel further what is already horrific violence.
REHMBut the U.S. does not want to get involved militarily, does it?
LABOTTThey don't want to get involved militarily and this meeting next week, this Friends of Syria meeting is very limited. I mean, there will be some talk about humanitarian aid, but it's really limited to sanctions and how the international community can increase the economic pressure on the regime. The hope is that the sanctions, this movement on -- trying to get a political transition, this is what's eventually going to happen in Syria.
LABOTTAnd I mean, it has no bearing too, as we've been discussing, the reality on the ground what's happening. I mean, the kind of pieces that the U.S. wants to put into place through this sanctions regime, through pressure, could take months, if not years. I think also the United States, you know, there are some talks. Dennis Ross, the administration's former Mid-East envoy, who still is advising the administration and can be seen in a proxy some way in the media, as what the administration is thinking, is now talking about safe havens.
LABOTTHe's now talking again about trying to change the psychological balance of power on the ground. I think the United States, while yes, loath to get involved, is even more loathed for the Europeans are saying to the -- and the Turks and the Arabs are all saying to the U.S., we need you to lead. The U.S. doesn't want to be holding the bag at the end of the day.
REHMBut, David, you've got Susan Rice the ambassador to the UN and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, sort of saying a couple of different kinds of things.
IGNATIUSWell, I think they're pretty much on the same page. Susan Rice has warned emphatically of the consequences. Secretary Rice (sic) has tried to focus blame for what's ahead on Russia to move them. There's one other thing that the U.S. is trying to do that we should mention. We think that the necessary first step is for the opposition in Syria to get its act together. To reach out to all the different sect and reassure Syrians that a future government will not massacre and that they're working on that now.
REHMDavid Ignatius of "The Washington Post." Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd as we continue with the ongoing debate over what to do in Syria, we have a posting on Facebook saying, "Make good use of those drones and take out the tyrant terrorist Assad." Yochi Dreazen.
DREAZENSending drones into another sovereign country is not as easy as it might seem from the outside. We now have drones operating in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, in all of these countries. Particularly in Pakistan, they have been enormously unpopular. They have done tremendous damage to -- in the case of Pakistan to an already weak relationship.
DREAZENSending drones on kinetic, you know, missions to kill people in a sovereign country without UN permission, without Arab League permission, would be very difficult legally. It's also not clear what they'd be able to do. I mean, Assad is not some petty tyrant sitting in a little cabin somewhere. This is the head of a fairly powerful state with Russian-made -- sophisticated Russian-made radar systems, sophisticated air defense systems.
DREAZENThe reason that you hear the Pentagon at every level from Defense Secretary Panetta down to the generals running Central Command, the ones who deal with the Arabs every day, the reason why they are so against this is precisely because of the power of Assad's air defenses. And if that power's enough to scare the Pentagon about sending in the most advanced stealth war planes we have think about a drone, which is slow moving and a very easy target.
IGNATIUSI think everything Yochi said is right. Even so looking at all the bad options I do think increasingly the U.S. is likely to do what countries do when they don't see good options on the military side, which is to use intelligence assets to try to shift the balance. We talked about the ways in which...
REHMWhat does that mean exactly, David?
IGNATIUSWell, it can mean a range of things. Let's start with the basics. There is an opposition in Syria, the free Syrian army, somewhat ragtag group, local defense committees in many of these cities. They badly need weapons, coordination, command and control, the ability to communicate with each other. I mean, we've seen in Iraq that a small number of people in a well organized insurgency can drive a big army crazy.
REHMBut why didn't that happen and prevent what happened in Houla?
IGNATIUSBecause the U.S. has not moved quickly along this path. We've talked about providing humanitarian assistance but I think these other kinds of assistance are now being considered. We talked about drones. You can put drones up as a sign of power that you might be prepared to use. Something Israelis used to do over Lebanon when I lived in Beirut was break the sound barrier. They'd send their jets in and you'd just be awakened in the middle of the night by a shattering noise. And it was a reminder we have a lot of power nearby, that you need to take that into account. And I wouldn't be surprised if you saw things like that.
LABOTTAnother thing that the administration is kind of gearing up and starting to do and you could see a lot more of is working with the Arab states who are willing to arm the opposition. I mean, the U.S. is saying, we don't want to arm the opposition, but, as we've discussed, they're looking the other way. So they could be working with the Arab League.
LABOTTAnd when you talk about -- the head of the House Intelligence Committee said this week, well we have assets that we could provide the Arab League to help. That means working to vet more members of the opposition. Who are the people that we wouldn't mind putting some weapons in the hand of? The administration has said, we don't want to just throw weapons into the country. Now maybe they'll be a little bit more calculated about it.
LABOTTAnd also, as David mentioned, with the Saudi tribal leaders getting involved and -- I don't think the United States wants the Saudis or the Qataris or the members of the Gulf picking the winners here. So I think they might be more involved in an effort to arm the opposition even if U.S. weapons aren't going to.
REHMAll right. We've got to move on. Let's talk about this Flame virus in Iran. David, I'm really fascinated by it. We're going to do a full hour on this on Monday. Talk about this malware and who created it.
IGNATIUSWell, as near as we know -- and this is information coming to us from researchers mostly in Eastern Europe who have been looking at the code and trying to understand it -- Flame is a big piece of malware that has been out there for at least five years and is principally about gathering intelligence. You have different kinds of cyber weapons. Some are out there beaconing their positions and then sending back intelligence.
IGNATIUSIn this case, it's said to have had the ability to collect keystrokes so it can see what you're typing, to make screen grabs of what's on your screen, to turn on the microphone of your computer or even the cell phone that's connected to your computer via Bluetooth connection. It's an amazing piece of mischief -- electronic mischief. It's been out there for a while.
IGNATIUSDavid Sanger, our colleague from the New York Times who's appeared on your show, has a superb piece in the New York Times this morning that people really should take a look at, which is excerpted from his new book, in which he describes the history of our cyber attacks against Iran. And some analysts are saying that they think that Flame -- there is certain resemblance in some of the code to elements of Stuxnet, so they may be linked.
REHMExcept that didn't Stuxnet deliberately go in and sabotage...
IGNATIUSYes, Stuxnet was, as far as we know, a sort of purpose built piece of malware that was intended to go right into the Natanz facility for enrichment of uranium in Iran, stay there and then speed up, slow down centrifuges, disable centrifuges. Incredibly clever little piece of -- again, piece of mischief. The problem with Stuxnet, which David describes, is that it got out of Natanz and out of Iran and suddenly it was beginning to infect machines around the world. And President Obama in 2010 had to decide what to do about this breakout of this computer virus.
REHMAnd now what David Sanger is reporting today is that President Obama himself secretly ordered that earlier attack on Iran's nuclear program, Yochi.
DREAZENI mean, part of that story that I found fascinating -- and again, it really was superb journalism -- was confirming what pretty much was one of those open secrets, like drones, that hadn't really been fully confirmed before that Stuxnet was designed by the U.S. in collaboration with Israel. That this was a very well organized, well orchestrated plan of using a new kind of weapon. That this was something President Bush had begun to develop, as he was reluctant to use military force. Its code name apparently was Olympic Games.
DREAZENBut this notion of Israel and the U.S. teaming to try to do anything short of military force to disable the Iranian nuclear program is on the one hand not surprising, but on the other something that neither Washington nor Jerusalem had acknowledged. So you have confirmation of something that is really, really important and frankly really fascinating.
LABOTTAnd I think what's really interesting here is now you see cyber attacks and cyber war as a new tool of warfare open. It's always kind of cyber war has been something of a secret. Now we're seeing cyber attacks open warfare and I think this is this introduction of this new weapon. The administration is very cognizant of the fact that this is a new ups the ante in a war with Iran. Why can't it be used against North Korea, Syria, other countries?
LABOTTBut you have to remember that this is not a one-sided affair. Just as the United States and Israel have tech nations working on it, Iran could work to kind of, you know, reengineer it. And now it could -- you know, weapons could easily be used about the United States. Now that it's introduced it in the game this is a tool that all nations are going to have to start getting up to speed on.
REHMAnd, David, tell us about the Chinese state security official who was arrested for allegedly spying for the U.S.
IGNATIUSThis is a fascinating story. It's just breaking this morning. It appears to be a Reuter's exclusive. A member of the Chinese State Security Bureau, which is their spy service does internal security and also some foreign things, appears to have been recruited by the CIA. According to the Chinese paid hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is a recruitment that goes back several years.
IGNATIUSFascinatingly the Chinese are said to have arrested this person some months ago back to the time when a Chinese defector walked into the U.S. consulate in Chengdu and began spilling the secrets of Bo Xilai the corrupt Chinese communist leader in Chongqing. The Chinese had the dirt on this spy recruit by the CIA.
IGNATIUSOne thing it shows is that as China gets more powerful, this kind of shadow warfare that we saw between the United States and the Soviet Union during the years of the Cold War is intensifying. Here's a perfect example.
LABOTTAnd it also comes on the heels of Chen Guangcheng case, the diplomatic standoff between the U.S. and China over this dissident that ended up at the U.S. Embassy. And then there was a diplomatic showdown when Secretary of State Clinton was in China to get them out of the country. And it does kind of escalate tensions between the two countries. You know, there's been a lot of talk of espionage on the U.S., on the Chinese side. If you remember that a spy plane from I think it was about 2003 that crashed in China, that turned out to be a huge diplomatic incident. Both countries wanted to keep it quiet.
LABOTTNow again, this is an issue that's open in the public that there's a lot of spying going on between the two countries.
REHMAnd talk about the doctor in Pakistan, Yochi Dreazen, who helped the U.S. find Osama bin Laden. What's going on there?
DREAZENI mean, this is an amazing case. The doctor is Shakil Afridi. He was a doctor who apparently at the behest of the CIA went around Abbottabad collecting samples for what he said was a vaccination program or vaccinating people, that was getting the DNA to ultimately use to pinpoint Osama bin Laden. He was convicted to 33 years in prison. First they said it was because of treason 'cause he was helping a foreign country. Then they flipped and said, he wasn't helping the U.S. He was helping Islamic extremists, which would be a really -- unless it's had truly contained multitudes, that's an incredible change from one crime to the other.
DREAZENOne thing that was pointed out to me this week by an Afghan diplomat was that this conviction, which has again caused even more deterioration between the U.S. and Pakistan -- during the NATO conference you had President Obama basically give the cold shoulder to the Pakistani leaders. They had this -- it was kind of like high school. They wouldn't talk to each other but then they talked in the hallways briefly, then they moved apart. But what was pointed out to me was this conviction was not under Pakistani law. It was under Pakistani tribal law, which is a small distinction.
DREAZENBut what that means is this can -- this is a pawn. This is the kind of thing where if the Pakistani state wanted to, they could overrule the tribal law pretty easily.
REHMTell me why you believe the U.S. did not do more to get him out immediately after the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden.
DREAZENIt's a fascinating question. The best as I can ascertain of it is they felt as if they already done so much to breech Pakistani sovereignty that to than either use military assets to get this man out, to use the CIA to get this man out, that this would just further enflame what had immediately -- if you remember in the immediate aftermath of the bin Laden raid relationships had already exploded between the two. If they had now tried to get a Pakistani citizen, it would be seen as basically us running a spy, us yanking the spy out of the country. It could open his family to reprisals.
DREAZENI agree with you. It does seem, on the one hand, hard to believe that they didn't do this. For all we know, he may not have wanted to go.
IGNATIUSI wrote a column about this case this week and reporting for that I learned from a U.S. official that the CIA did make an offer to the doctor and his family to leave Pakistan immediately after the raid that killed bin Laden. He said no. I think the American belief is because he didn't -- he thought he would be seen as a hero. It's an example of how crazy this is. He didn't imagine that the Pakistanis would treat bin Laden as somebody who was in some way protected by Pakistan.
REHMDavid Ignatius, columnist for the Washington Post and contributor to "Post Partisan" blog on washingtonpost.com. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So how is this going to be handled going forward? AP has just reported that a lawyer filed an appeal for Dr. Afridi. So what can we expect, David?
IGNATIUSI would expect that he would be traded. The U.S. convicted an ISI agent in covert action in this country. I think that man also may be a physician. But in any event, there are things to trade and that's how these spy cases get worked out. One thing I just would mention about this that's really troubling, it doesn't get enough discussion in the U.S. This was an instance in which the United States recruited a doctor who was conducting a vaccination program. It wasn't as if the vaccination program was created just for the CIA. But the CIA used a public health program.
IGNATIUSAnd a coalition of 200 NGOs that operate around the world sent a letter to the CIA saying, you are putting us at risk every day as our people go out and try to help with vaccination, eradication of polio. Polio cases are on the rise in Pakistan, in Afghanistan and Nigeria in part because people are believing conspiracy tales that this is all a plot by the CIA. And when I have a case in which that actually seems to be true, it is very damaging to public health at this point.
REHMAll right. Let's turn to Afghanistan where a UN report this week said the number of civilian deaths are down by 36 percent as compared with last year. Elise, when you look at this 579 civilians killed in the first four months this year, which is horrible to begin with, but it's down from 898 from the same period last year.
LABOTTThat's right. And the UN envoy to Afghanistan Jan Kubis, he called the trend promising but said, look this is still an unacceptable level of deaths. I think that the UN experts are a little bit wary about celebrating too much about this number because it wasn't a very harsh -- it was a very harsh winter this winter. So that could be a reason why it's down. Last year wasn't so harsh so you had a larger number.
LABOTTBut to go back to David's point, also in Afghanistan Jan Kubis is also warning about yes, the deaths are down, need to keep up the pressure, need to keep up that international development. These type of things that we're talking about in Pakistan equally important in Afghanistan to make sure that the Afghan population has enough confidence so that these type of extremist attacks are down.
REHMYochi, I want to ask you about the Afghan girls, because it's been reported that more of these Afghan schoolgirls were poisoned this week. What happened?
DREAZENSo a quick point about the UN report which is that the number that I think is most interesting is that according to the UN 75 percent of these civilian deaths were caused by the Taliban, not by the U.S. And the fact that the U.S. is still blamed so widely throughout the country for killing Afghan civilians, when you think about it, is a remarkable sign of just how toxic our presence there has become, that statistics be damned that the U.S. got all the blame.
DREAZENYou know, the Taliban have been trying for the last couple of years to really moderate their image. They have been trying to publicly say when we come back to power, not if -- when we come back to power, we will not ban schoolgirls from going -- girls from going to school, will not burn down schoolhouses, we're not going to throw acid in the faces of girls and teachers. But you're still seeing now an increasing number of these attacks where schools are burned, teachers are attacked, schoolgirls are poisoned, as was the case here, schoolgirls are shot.
DREAZENSo you have on the one hand, the Taliban promising we won't be the Taliban. We'll be the kinder, gentler Taliban. And on the other hand, you're seeing these attacks rise very sharply.
REHMYochi Dreazen of National Journal, Elise Labott of CNN, David Ignatius of The Washington Post. When we come back, we'll open the phones for your calls. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMWelcome back, it's time to go right to the phones. First to South Haven, Mich. Good morning, Julie, you're on the air.
JULIEGood morning. Actually, you just addressed what I called about. I just remember being shocked about the way women had lived under the Taliban when we first found out, with no education, the windows being blackened and the Taliban are being very clear that they haven't changed their mind about that. So as we leave, are we just going to say goodbye and good luck and we gave it a shot? I mean, are we not trying to put something in place where women can be more part of an equitable society?
REHMIs that possible, Yochi?
DREAZENIt's certainly possible, although it's worth remembering the Taliban are a very well organized hierarchical society. If the organization of Mullah Omar says, stop, you won't have a perfect stop, but you probably will see a decrease. It's also worth mentioning to be very blunt, we don't really care. If we can get out of Afghanistan quickly, leave behind something that is remotely a safe, stable country, remotely, and I stress the remotely, we don't really care about women's rights.
DREAZENWe're going to say that we do. We do, as in morally, but think about the fact that before 9/11, we welcomed Taliban delegations to the U.S. They visited the State Department. This was not something where pre-9/11 we were working up to the point of considering any kind of military intervention for women's rights.
DREAZENWe care about them morally. I'm not trying to say in any way cold myself. Obviously, this is a crucial issue in the West, a crucial issue in much of the Muslim world. But in the cold politics of trying to get out of Afghanistan, this will not be what keeps us there.
IGNATIUSWell, I think it's hard to say that we don't really care at a time when you've still got, you know, many tens of thousands of Americans fighting, risking their lives to try to have a more open secular society, fighting the very Taliban who were, who want to take the country back to this very primitive kind of life.
REHMBut how can we change anything once we leave?
IGNATIUSWell, just I would like to make two points. One is the Taliban are not, so far as I can tell from the polling that I look at, are not popular in Afghanistan. It is not as if the Afghan people want their return. They continue to be powerful because of intimidation. I mean, Yochi just cited the figures that they're responsible for over 75 percent of the civilian deaths.
IGNATIUSI mean, they go in and anybody who cooperates with the government, with the U.S. forces, anybody who is trying to modernize the country and make it work better is liable to get shot and so are his relatives. I mean, they play a rough game and they're not popular. And a lot of the talk that's going on now with the U.S. and its allies is about what kind of persistent force we can have there that will try to steady the country so it doesn't go back into a civil war in which the Taliban emerges on top.
IGNATIUSAnd there's, you know, it may not work, you know. Looking at that part of the world, you'd probably have to guess it won't work, but there sure is a lot of thinking and talking going on about it so I don't think we can just say that we don't care and we're walking away.
IGNATIUSA lot of Americans are going to stay behind and that's good.
DREAZENTwo very quick points. It's not that we don’t care, it's that when we can leave this will not be what keeps us in the country. The other point quickly is that the polling about the Taliban is slightly misleading. When the question is, do you want the Taliban, by name, to return? It is, as David says, not very high. When the polling is, do you want what the Taliban stands for, issue by issue? A lack of corruption, violence against thievery, violence against those who are corrupt, the numbers spike very significantly.
REHMAll right, to Brookline, Mass. Good morning, Arnold.
ARNOLDGood morning. This is a great pleasure for me to be on your show.
REHMThank you. Go right ahead, sir.
ARNOLDWell, first of all, you must be a little suspicious yourself that all your panelists seem to have the same take on the issue of Syria. The basic reason -- this has gone on now for a year, more than a year and a half and the basic reason is that most of the population of Syria does not want him to be thrown out of office. This is not a broad-based...
REHMArnold, tell me how you know that?
ARNOLDBecause it's been lasting so long. And secondly, they're aware this is -- as your panelists have pointed out, that there is a very balanced country in that there are a lot of minorities. They are only 70 percent Muslims, the rest are minorities. They are fearful of what comes next.
LABOTTWell, actually, I would say that a large majority of the population, at this point, does want President Assad out of power. The problem is that the Shia minority, as Yochi said earlier, it's just like Iraq. You have a Shia minority that's very powerful. They're in control of the army. The Alawites, the Christians, the business class are very powerful, very close to President Assad and don't want him out because they're fearful of what happens in a new Syria.
REHMAll right. And to Elkton, Md. Good morning, Bleema (sp?) .
BLEEMAYes, good morning. My question to your panel is, and I don't know if anybody would have an answer is, why was it made public the name of the physician who helped us catch Osama bin Laden? Why was it made public? That should have been a huge secret. It shows no common sense. We have many secrets in a, you know, in the government, everywhere and yet this was revealed.
DREAZENIt wasn't revealed by us. I mean, this was something that was revealed by the Pakistanis, that a doctor helped leaked out very quickly on the part of the U.S. government.
REHMAnd you're saying we had nothing to do with that?
DREAZENI mean, who...
REHMHow did they find out?
DREAZENHow did the Pakistanis...
REHMYes, how did the Pakistanis find out?
DREAZENI think the caller's point on this is exactly right. We leaked enough details. It was a doctor doing a vaccination program in Abbottabad. There probably weren't that many. So the question I think is a very good one, broadly speaking, but this, the detail of his name, that was not from the U.S.
REHMAll right. Let me ask you about Charles Taylor. He's been sentenced to 50 years by an international tribunal. Fifty years, David, will he go to jail?
IGNATIUSI would assume so. The ability of international courts to enforce their mandates is always open to question, but this is a significant trial in terms of conviction, in terms of international human rights. People have noted that this is the first time since the Nuremburg war trials that a former head of state has been convicted of crimes like this.
IGNATIUSHe was convicted of having encouraged and actually helped plan the slaughter of civilians in Sierra Leone during the civil war there in the 1990s at the time he was president of the neighboring country of Liberia. But it's encouraging, I think, to think that so long after those horrible events, there is a legal process that pursues the guilty parties and brings them to justice.
IGNATIUSI think people around the world would take note of that.
REHMHere's a tweet. "When does a cyber-attack constitute an actual act of war?"
DREAZENIt's a fantastic question and this goes back to something Elise mentioned earlier that we've now crossed the Rubicon. We have now, as a country, engaged in this. So for instance, a few years ago, Russia used a massive cyber-attack to basically completely shut down Estonia. It took down all of their websites. It hit their electrical grid. It impacted their water system. It only lasted a day or two, but for the Estonians, message received.
DREAZENRussia can basically turn your country into the Stone Age, never having to use a soldier across the border. My hunch from talking to people here, from the way this is written about in the academic literature and military review journals, is that if or when a country tries or succeeds in shutting down any part of the U.S. infrastructure, taking down the electrical grid, God forbid hitting one of the nuclear plants and causing any form of meltdown, if that happens, that would be considered fully on an act of war.
IGNATIUSThere's a technical answer, which is that acts of war are open acts with uniform military forces authorized under Title 10 of the U.S. Code and there are other acts, other actions, that are called covert actions that are authorized under Title 50, which are deniable, but any person looking at them would say they are war-like.
IGNATIUSSo drone attacks over the tribal areas of Pakistan, a sovereign nation, are Title 50, covert actions. That's why, until recently, they were denied. They now have been, they now have been admitted.
IGNATIUSA lot of the other cyber-attacks that we've talked about today go under the category of preparation of the battlefield for possible future conflict. They look war-like. You're sending out beacons to penetrate and spy on people, but technically that would not be called an act of war. It would be called preparation of the battlefield.
REHMAll right. Let me ask you quickly about the Irish fiscal treaty, Elise. Ireland's government declared victory in yesterday's vote. What does it do? Why is it so important?
LABOTTWell, if the Irish were to vote no, it really wouldn't have an effect on the treaty because the 12 members needed have already approved it so it would have gone into effect. But if the Irish voted no, it would have really hurt Ireland at a time it could really ill afford. For the last four years, the Irish have been embarking on their own austerity plan to try and get out of some of the debt that they accrued and they had to have an IMF bailout and the EU had to bail them out. They didn't want that again and that's why there was so much opposition to the treaty.
LABOTTIt could have some effect on -- there's a battle going on right now in Europe about austerity versus growth. Countries like Germany are all about austerity, countries like France, the new President Hollande, is all about growth right now.
REHMSo you've got the chief of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi saying that the current structure of the Eurozone is unsustainable. David?
IGNATIUSWhat Ireland ratified is the new fiscal pact that's supposed to provide greater discipline within Europe. We have, in the Eurozone, a common currency, but no common fiscal policy and this treaty is supposed to provide more of a common fiscal policy. What Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank said, is that well beyond that new fiscal treaty, there's a need for greater fiscal and monetary coordination so you have a central European bank regulator.
IGNATIUSOne of the problems in Europe is nobody really trusts anybody else's banks. It's just like what happened in the United States in 2008. So Draghi, who has really been quite an effective central banker is saying, we need to take regulation and common activities deeper into our system beyond the treaty and this is going to be very, the next big debate in Europe will be over his proposals.
REHMAnd clearly what's happening in Europe is affecting our own economy here as well, but there is an intriguing situation going on in the Vatican. What's happening there, Yochi?
DREAZENSo the obvious pun that is being made all over the world is the butler did it. There's been a report that a butler has taken confidential documents out of the Vatican, has been leaking them and may have others that he has not yet leaked. The documents don't appear to be, in and of themselves, tremendously damaging. These aren't smoking guns that the Pope has been himself covering up directly with his fingerprints all over the papers.
DREAZENBut what's interesting is this pope is not popular. He's not popular in the Catholic world. He's not popular even within much of the Vatican itself. He's seen as old, behind the times, completely devoid of charisma. This is the kind of thing where I think you're beginning to see, -- this is in itself is small, but a possible drumbeat to try to get a new pope and that in itself would be enormous, given the hundreds of millions of Catholics all over the world.
DREAZENYou remember when he was selected, the other possibility was an African Pope. Catholicism is big in Africa, maybe that's where the church is going.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Elise?
LABOTTI think what's so telling is this scandal is really not about the actual corruption. The actual money-laundering, the decision by the pope to remove his number two and send him to the United States over his objections to get rid of him after he also leaked documents about corruption. The scandal right now, again, is about the butler betraying the Vatican.
LABOTTThere is a mole in the house. It's not about the actual institutional problems within the Vatican, not just on the corruption, on the money-laundering, on the sex abuse, but anybody that tries to blow the whistle can leave.
REHMDavid, are they trying to get rid of the Pope?
IGNATIUSWell it's often said that Italians are uncomfortable with non-Italian Popes and they chafed at them. They chafed at Pope John Paul, regarded now as a great pope and a hero, but in the beginning, there was some controversy. The honest truth is, I think, any outsider who tries to guess about what's going on inside the Vatican is like trying to guess what's happening inside the Saudi royal family. Who knows?
IGNATIUSIt is. This does inter-tangle with the finances of the Vatican Bank. The head of the Vatican Bank was dumped just before this butler was arrested. So there is that kind of serious financial cronyism side of this story and that's a long-running story going back decades...
IGNATIUS...and misuse of Vatican assets.
REHMAnd you have that financial stuff reaching into this country with a bishop acknowledging that priests were being paid $20,000 to leave the priesthood once they had been found to be pedophiles.
DREAZENAnd that's where all ultimately this all seems to go back like an octopus, all the tentacles seem to reach back to this child abuse scandal which frankly if we're going to be accurate in the description is a child rape scandal. That changes the way I think the public describes it but that's basically what we're often talking about and that is the sort of original sin at the heart of all these scandals, the original sin and the possibility of getting rid of Pope Ratzinger, the current pope.
DREAZENIt is -- was there a cover-up? How high did the knowledge go? What was done in terms of shifting priests around so they could have a new, a church would get a priest with pedophile background that they didn't know had that background. Was hush money paid? We think sometimes that this scandal is over. It's not remotely over. It is still metastasizing further and further and further towards the heart of the Vatican.
REHMI want to end this week on a happy note and that is Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee. It's a big deal. It's been 115 years since the UK last celebrated a Diamond Jubilee. Sixty years on the throne, Queen Victoria, now Queen Elizabeth accompanied by Prince Philip. Really, what a story. She's done a good job.
IGNATIUSShe has been a good queen and a beloved queen and it's just fascinating to see the British public, sometimes riled with anti-monarchist sentiment, really gathering around the queen celebrating the 60th anniversary, celebrating some of her goofy family, her husband who is Mr. Malaprop, her son Prince Charles, it's said is even becoming popular in England after a stint as a silly weatherman.
IGNATIUSSo this family which has endured its -- I mean, it's had its ups and downs almost like any normal family ends up being beloved by the Brits.
REHMDavid Ignatius, a columnist for The Washington Post, his latest novel ''Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage'' will be out in paperback soon. Elise Labott, a CNN foreign affairs reporter, Yochi Dreazen, senior national security correspondent for National Journal magazine. Have a great weekend, everybody.
IGNATIUSThanks Diane, you, too.
REHMThanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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