The Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of "Bloom County" on the revival of his beloved comic strip after a 25-year hiatus and a new book about the origins of Bill The Cat.
A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Indira Lakshmanan senior correspondent, covering foreign policy, Bloomberg News.
- Moises Naim chief international columnist, El Pais.
- James Kitfield senior correspondent, National Journal.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Evidence of another government sponsored massacre comes to light in Syria and a second high level Syrian official defects. Egypt's parliament convenes in defiance of the military. The execution of a young woman accused of adultery sparks international outrage. Spanish miners take the streets to protest cuts in coal subsidies as the government plans new austerity cuts and a Bank of England official testifies in the LIBOR rate rigging investigation.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for the week's top international news stories on the Friday News Roundup, Moises Naim of El Pais, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and James Kitfield of National Journal. We do invite you to join the program. Call us on 800-433-8850, send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, feel free to join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, everybody.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDGood morning.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANGood morning.
MR. MOISES NAIMGood morning.
REHMJames Kitfield, we have reports of another massacre, 200 people in a Sunni village in Syria on Thursday by government forces using tanks and helicopters, literally just shooting directly down on people. What is going on?
KITFIELDWell, you know, I wish we knew more about what was going on because there's not a lot of independent reporting out of Syria and there's, you know, questions. There was this, once again, one of the Assad aligned militias who are very bloodthirsty and involved in a sectarian war, which are the worst kinds of civil conflicts, or if it was just government forces or a combination of both. But what's happened is -- and we've said on this show for months now, this thing has gotten the momentum of its own and it's devolving to all out civil war.
KITFIELDThis past week was an absolute clear indication of that. Not only you had this massacre, but you had shelling around Damascus. So this uprising that has been confined mostly to some outlier cities, admittedly a number of them around the country, is now coming to the capital and that hasn't happened in the past. We also saw, as you said, a high level defection from the Syrian ambassador to Iraq, who said the military should turn its guns on Assad and his inner circle.
KITFIELDWe had, you know, in a very disturbing report from the United States, that there are briefings now at the highest levels of the government that Assad is moving his chemical weapons. This causes us great concern because he has Sarin gas, he has mustard gas. This is very nasty stuff. It probably has the largest stockpile left, besides the Soviet Union, of this stuff -- besides Russia, I should say. So he may be moving that to keep it out of -- to make us guess where it is. He may be moving it as a precursor to using it against the rebels. He may just be using a feint.
KITFIELDBut this thing is devolving into an all-out civil war and I've said it all along that, you know, once that dynamic takes hold, the only thing that could draw us in would be if it, all the bad things that we're trying to avoid by military intervention are coming true anyway. And if we start thinking that these chemical weapons are going to end up in the wrong hands, that could be something that gives us great pause, which is why we're back at the UN Security Council with Russia, trying to get them on board with tougher sanctions.
REHMIndira, what about Kofi Annan? He's been trying and trying to accomplish something. We keep hearing reports from him. What is his situation?
LAKSHMANANThat's right. The Joint Special Envoy and former UN Secretary General was just in Damascus this week on Monday, meeting with President Assad. He then went to Iran where he said that he felt that Iran had a role to play. Iran, as we all know, has been a long-time supporter of the Syrian regime and has provided it advanced communications as well as weapons to the regime. The U.S. has been completely opposed to Kofi Annan's efforts and others calls for Iran's involvement.
LAKSHMANANKofi Annan has been struggling for months now, trying to get some sort of a plan. He's had a number of different iterations of this plan off the ground and gets people to sign onto it. I was with Secretary Clinton recently when she was in Geneva for the so-called Syria Action Group, where a bunch of countries met together, basically the UN Security Council members, and were meeting to discuss what next, what can we possibly do.
LAKSHMANANAnd at that point, the U.S. thought it had Russia's support on board for the new Kofi Annan plan and we had just come from Russia where Clinton had met with Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and it looked like, you know, by the end of the day in Geneva, she said, I was amazed that, you know, we got this, but we got something.
LAKSHMANANNow it looks like Russia backpedalling on what it says it agreed to and so we have the problem with Kofi Annan having only one week before the mandate for the UN observer mission expires on July 20th. And they are basically in a time race right now, not only because of the atrocities going on in Syria, but also because that mission is going to expire. And if they don't agree on a new Security Council resolution before then, then what next?
REHMMoises, what next?
NAIMThe essence of the story is the international community, with the exception of Russia, telling Assad, stop killing your people or else. And the essence of the negotiations is what the else is. If I don't stop killing my people, what would you do? And so that comes in then in the issue of sanctions or even military intervention and that is what is being discussed. No one wants military intervention, but the story here is that there is a UN -- in the UN charter is an Article VII that says that if that is applied to a country, it allows international community to intervene to stop the killing, even using some form of armed intervention.
NAIMAnd the Russians have said that that's a red line that they will never cross. And so here we see two countries that where the margins, until very recently, one is Russia, the other is Iran, that have become very central players. And I have a quote here that I think -- it's very interesting because it reveals the mood in Russia, which is, as I said, is the one that is holding the key to making any progress possible. Fyodor Lukianov, who's editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, said Russia went from a position of being almost a pariah state in January and February, when everyone blamed it for being unconstructive to opposition of being a key actor in the settlement.
NAIMSo they feel that now they have the possibility of saying without me, there's nothing. I'm a spoiler. You need me. You need to bring me -- I am influential. I'm relevant. I am a central part of the story. You cannot rate Russia as a minor player and the same is happening with Iran. As Indira said, Annan went to Iran because they want -- others have said that Iran needs to be part of the story and the solution. But the final story here is what is going to be the future of the Assad dynasty. Is the future of Syria, it includes him and his family, as part of the story and the power or is he going to be ousted as a result of all these processes?
LAKSHMANANOne issue with Russia is that they have made clear they're concerned about after Assad, what next, the deluge? And what the West has been trying to convince them of, it's already the deluge, it's already bad. So you say you're worried what's coming next, well, guess what? That's already come. So let's deal with it. Now, one thing about the chapter VII sanctions that we're talking -- or the Article VII at the United Nations Security Council, which is interesting is the U.S.-backed plan which was put forward by the UK that is under debate right now as a sort of counter-proposal to the Russian proposal, invokes mandatory sanctions if there were not a solution within X number of days.
LAKSHMANANHowever, it does not mandate military action. So I want to underscore here that it's not as if the U.S., the UK and the rest of the countries are chomping at the bit for military action. They still see the Syrian crisis as incredibly complicated. It's not the same as the Libyan crisis and it's not something where they're calling for, let's have a no-fly zone and go in. It's not the same.
KITFIELDYou know, I take the point, Russia is the lynchpin here and any deal, short of an intervention or a success by the rebels in throwing over Assad, will have to involve Russia. But you know, Russia's on the line here. Russia, yes, Russia's a big player. It's a big player, but if it doesn't get anything done and, you know, it's being blamed by the entire Arab world for, you know, being the sole sort of backer of Syria in the UN Security Council and elsewhere.
KITFIELDSo I think Russia's really on the line here. We've seen them start to get a little more rhetorically tough with Assad, but, you know, they haven't gotten off the dime. There's talk about they're sailing warships toward Tartus in Syria, which could be a tripwire against any sort of NATO-type intervention. So, you know, Russia is not in a comfortable position. Yes, it's a big player, but when you're a big player, you've got deliver the goods.
REHMAnd how is Iran going to become a big player here when the U.S. is instituting even more sanctions against Iran?
KITFIELDYes, I kind of disagree with the idea that Iran's going to be a big player in this. Kofi Annan is a diplomat. He, in Iran, does have influence, all of it negative in this situation, in propping up Assad and sending its revolutionary guards to help him, you know, basically put, you know, their experts put him down sort of civilian uprising et cetera. So Iran's a very unhelpful influence. Secretary Clinton understands that so she's very reluctant to get them into the major conservation and I don't think Iran plays a big role in how this thing plays out because basically we know where they stand. They stand side by side with Assad.
LAKSHMANANLook, I think what Kofi Annan is trying to say is, it would be difficult to have a solution to the Syrian crisis without Iran. If Iran doesn't get -- and the same with Russia. If they don't get on board and agree to stop supplying weapons, to stop propping up the Syrian regime, then it's very hard to solve the crisis. That said, as James points out, very hard to see a scenario in which Iran suddenly decides they're going to pull their support for Assad, their long-time and closest ally in the Middle East.
LAKSHMANANNot likely. Likewise, with Russia, Assad has been their number one ally in the Middle East. They have the Tartus Naval Base. It's their one military naval installation in the Middle East. It's their toe-hold so why do they want to give that up? They're afraid of losing their influence in the region.
REHMGo ahead, Moises.
NAIMYes, what Iran and Russia are are veto powers here. They just have the veto to stop things from happening and to postpone solutions and outcomes. And it may, and you know, this can go on for a while. It has been going for a while and it's a tragedy.
REHMIt's a tragedy and it continues. Moises Naim, he's chief international columnist for El Pais. We do welcome your calls, comments, questions, 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd welcome back to the international hour of our Friday News Roundup. I look forward to hearing your questions and comments. We haven't talked about the refugees in Damascus, Moises.
NAIMThere is a very interesting story today in The Washington Post filed by an unnamed envoy that they have there, protecting his or her safety by withdrawing his or her name, that essentially states that there's about half a million people coming from the provinces into Damascus. And they are finding space to stay with relatives, friends, hotels, apartments. And they're bringing the stories and they're bringing the pictures taken with their cell phones and with their cameras and of torture, of killing, of the massacres.
NAIMAnd many people in Damascus that were not as...
NAIM...aware or sensitized to these now are becoming furious. And both the refugees and the local population are beginning to protest. And so Damascus, which has been the central place of power for the Assad family, is now beginning to feel the contagion of the rage around the country.
REHMHere's an email from Chris who says, "Does Syria have nuclear weapons? When the violence began, they were listed the same as Israel as other states believed to have such weapons. Now they're not on that list. I remember watching a PBS news hour at the beginning of the violence and someone said Syria had nukes." Indira.
LAKSHMANANWell, Israel took care of that by taking out the Osirek nuclear facility. And Syria -- something similar to what Israel had done in Iraq, taking out a nuclear facility there years earlier and Syria was remarkably quiet about it a few years ago. Didn't make a peep, didn't react. And so as far as the international community believes, no, there is not a nuclear weapon facility.
REHMAnd so, James, the reaction of these refugees moving into Damascus, how likely is that to change the story or have a real impact?
KITFIELDWell, this story changes by steps and I think that's an important step because the way these things usually hit a tipping point is the business elite, the elite with money finally say, you know, you've made things so rough for us, you're -- throw you overboard. And that's clearly with the recent defections, with the unrest coming to Damascus, so the elite in Syria now know that they have lashed themselves to a guy who's bringing the whole country down around its knees.
REHMAnd how significant was the defection this week?
KITFIELDWell, that was the first ambassador level person. He was apparently part of the inner circle, so I think it was pretty significant. And the fact that he not only defected, but as soon as he defected said that the military should turn its guns on the Assad family, shows a level of inner circle fracturing that I think is -- again, one of the things you start to see when these things start to hit a tipping point.
LAKSHMANANI think there's an interesting point though that a general who was very close to Assad and grew up with him -- apparently they've known each other since childhood -- also do we say defected, disappeared? He left, but he did not come out with any -- he's gone. People don't really know where he is. And nobody -- he has not come forward and said I'm joining the opposition. So the question also rises, who are the people who are leaving the regime and then might want to be part of a transitional government? And how do you decide who has blood on their hands?
LAKSHMANANYou know, you'll recall that with the National Transitional Council in Libya they brought in people who had been originally with the government side and then switched sides. Now in this case the current transitional plan is that both sides would effectively have a veto power. You'd have to, by consensus, agree who did not have blood on their hands. And they'll be a really interesting question if you want to bring in power players.
NAIMWe have seen also reports about very violent retaliations against the families of those that are of the defectors. So when people decide to defect things -- horrible things start happening to their loved ones.
REHMAll right. Let's turn to Egypt where newly elected President Morsi reinstated parliament after a court dissolved it last month. What was the military's response, Indira?
LAKSHMANANWell, the military was furious. It was the Supreme Council of the Armed Forced, known as SCAF, that had dissolved the parliament questioning its legitimacy. Now let's remember that the biggest party within the parliament was in fact the Muslim Brotherhood, the same party from which Morsi himself comes. And so there are questions about whether this was a politically motivated move to dissolve the parliament, whether the military simply didn't want both the presidency and the parliament seem to be in the hands of the Islamists.
LAKSHMANANAt the same time though it's fascinating because Morsi took a really bold move by unilaterally reconvening parliament in defiance of the military that has controlled Egyptian politics for so many decades. And to just reconvene, even though they then dissolved a few minutes later and said, we're going to wait for what the Supreme Court does, was a really high-stakes move. And I would say it could be high payoff for him and it could also be a very high risk because he could be seen as overreaching if it doesn't work out for him in the end.
KITFIELDI actually think it was not only bold but it was smart. And I kind of tip my hat, in a way, to him because there is a struggle now for power and legitimacy in this transition in Egypt. All the power's with the military and he's saying the legitimacy is with me. And he convened the parliament. The parliament actually met -- the military stood aside and let them meet. They passed a meaningless resolution that a lower court should review the military decision. Supreme Court stepped in, as it has in the past, siding with the military.
KITFIELDNorthing lost, nothing gained but it showed that he's got -- he's willing to take bold moves. He got the parliament to do what he asked it to do. And the next step we've got to watch is it's going to be over this constitution writing. I mean, there's going to be a panel, you know, in charge of writing the new constitution. The military's going to be very, very intent on making sure that its equities are protected in the new constitution. He's going to be wanting to -- Morsi will be wanting to sort of stack that with Muslim Brotherhood and other allies. That's going to be the next battleground.
REHMAn d how are the people responding, Moises?
NAIMThe country is -- has three large blocks to be superficial but it's ways of summarizing. There is the Islamists including the Muslim Brotherhood. Then there is a liberal coalition of Egyptians that want to have democracy, that don't want to have -- don't want their country to become an Islamist state. And then there's the military that are not just the military but they are the most important economic power in the country.
NAIMIn the middle of all this, there is the courts. The courts are playing a very important role. The courts are the ones that are deciding if parliament -- this convening parliament is legitimate or not. They make decisions, rulings and so on. A lot of these courts are controlled by the military, by the old regime. And -- but there are also defections there. And so this is -- there's a lot of flocks and there is a lot of (word?) at the same time where the most important situation in the country's not being addressed and that's the economy.
REHMAnd of course, you have President Morsi making a visit to Saudi Arabia, Indira.
LAKSHMANANRight. And that was a lot about the economy. Let's not forget, Saudi Arabia is the biggest economy in the region and it's pretty smart. If you're the president of a country with a struggling economy to go, you know, pay homage to the guy who has the big pocketbook. So it's about strengthening ties with a very important leader in the region. But it's also about capital flows, direct Saudi investment and official aid.
LAKSHMANANNow, don't forget Saudi Arabia's going to have to make good on its previous pledges of $4 billion, which have not yet been fully delivered. But Egypt has already used up more than half of its international reserves in this last 17 months of unrest. And it wants a $3.2 billion loan agreement with the IMF. And there are a lot of people who are saying that may not actually come to pass. So, you know, he's doing something which any president would do, which is going around and trying to scare up funds and assistance from his neighbors.
REHMAnd speaking of struggling economies, Moises, the EU finance ministers agreed to make bailout money available to Spain at month's end. You've got coal miners in the street protesting. Tell us about that.
NAIMThe situation in Spain is, of course, very difficult. Unemployment is over 20 percent. Unemployment among the youth is half of -- it's 50 percent. One of every two young professionals is unemployed or young people is unemployed. And now come the austerity measures. This is a government that is also -- yesterday the government announced -- their whole government announced measures that in his campaign have promised that he would never do and now is being forced to adopt.
NAIMWith the miners, it's a very interesting story. The miners -- the true story here is that Spain should not have the coal mining. The coal in Spain is more expensive, it's bad quality, it's pollutant. And even for 30 years, there was the request that Spain stop having coal. But the miners have a union. There are about 4,000 people in -- we're talking about 4,000 jobs. But they're consuming huge subsidies. And finally they decided because of the crisis. But this is an example of long time indecisions that had to be made in the past that have been postponed.
NAIMThey also increased the value added tax which had been long requested by the European Union. The value added tax in Spain is under the benchmark and the average of the European Union. So the government increased to 21 percent and that also created a lot of malaise. So what is not clear is what are going to be the sources of growth and employment generation in Spain in the future. And that will continue to be a big issue.
KITFIELDYeah, the big story to me here is that Spain is increasingly caught in the same austerity death spiral that Greece is in. And we're seeing how this plays out and it's not very pretty. You know, in Greece right now there's absolutely no hope they're going to turn that economy around in anyone's foreseeable future.
KITFIELDAnd you're seeing these extremist groups come, not only be elected to the government but also, you know, a lot of, you know, mobs who are chasing around immigrants and threatening to burn them out because they're -- you know, that's what happens when you have such economic turmoil is that the extreme parties on either end of the spectrum come to the fore. Now you're starting to see that in Spain.
KITFIELDYou know, the same time he gets the extra money to bail out his banks Spain has to introduce another round of austerity measures that the politicians promised his people he wouldn't give. That's not going to do very well for his prospects when he's up for reelection. You know, it strikes me, once again, that Europe is about two steps behind this crisis and they have never been able to get ahead of it.
KITFIELDAnd by just using this model of cramping down on more austerity, more austerity to -- Spain's got double digit inflation -- I mean, unemployment, 20 plus percent unemployment. That's what we had in the depression. And they have got -- you know, they have got no prospect to turn that around because, you know, they're constantly having to raise taxes and cut spending. And it's hard to see how this ends well.
REHMDo you agree with that, Moises?
NAIMPartially. It is true that the austerity death trap is a problem but it is also true that a lot of these countries had just unsustainable situations that sooner or later were going to explode. And this is one example. The situation in Spain is not about that. It's not about unemployment. It's all of that and manifestations and just symptoms of much deeper problems with competitiveness. Essentially Spain has lost competitiveness. They cannot compete internationally. Their products cannot be effectively sold internationally because of the cost structures.
NAIMAnd that is also the problem with Greece, with Portugal and with others is a lack -- the problem with the countries in the periphery of Europe is competitiveness. They have lost the capacity to compete.
REHMMoises Naim of El Pais. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Well, if they've lost their competitiveness, if Spain, if Greece, if the other countries you've talked about are in that position, what is going to help them regain stability and some form of economic viability, Indira?
LAKSHMANANI would say that unfortunately up until now, what we've seen from the European Finance Minister is one could argue has been a little bit of Band-Aids. I mean, it's been shorter term measures, and at each country as well. Like Spain has come forward and said, we've got pay cuts, we've got holiday restrictions for public workers. This is going to save us $6.3 billion a year. Okay, they've said we have an extra year now 'til 2014 to bring our deficit within the EU's 3 percent limit. So they're trying to do things, you know, that all their austerity measures together bring it supposedly to tightening 65 billion euros.
LAKSHMANANBut in a way, this seems piecemeal and I have to agree with Moises that it does seem there needs to be bigger thinking. How do you get productivity in a different way if what -- if the problem is competitiveness because you're competing with Chinese or other Asian factories...
REHMWhat do you turn to?
LAKSHMANAN...or, you know, what do you turn to? And, you know, one thing, of course, that the U.S. has done is try to turn to a more high-tech economy, a more service-oriented economy. A lot of Western Europe has done that already but, you know, it sounds like maybe there's more to be done.
REHMAnd, you know, it's interesting this morning in the newspaper to read -- no, I think it's an upcoming issue of The Economist to read that the economic picture in this country is a lot better than we have made it out to be, that even though the growth may be slow it is growing, James.
KITFIELDWell, we have the great advantage -- although you wouldn't know it to watch the deadlock and paralysis in this city, but we have the great advantage, we have one government, we have one Federal Reserve. You know, they have 17 in the euro zone, 27 in the European Union. So, you know, what worries me about the Europe situation is that the steps that are required, no one really quite wants to go there yet. 'Cause it does require what Germany's talking about, a real economic union with a real federal reserve type central bank that can really issue bonds, that can really insure bank deposits, that can really do the -- and to do that, you really need more of a political union.
KITFIELDSo you -- and, you know, the European project has kind of lurched along for a very long time, but this is forcing them to either jump off the cliff holding hands or they're going to be pushed off the cliff.
REHMOne last subject before we go to the break. The young woman executed by the Taliban, Indira. How much do we know about what happened?
LAKSHMANANWe wouldn't have known anything were it not for the cell phone video that emerged. And so I would argue, as do a lot of advocates who follow women's issues in Afghanistan and in the tribal areas of Pakistan, that this may be happening more than we're aware of. This is a case that got international prominence because people are able to watch this horrifying video. And it's not that it has gone on deaf ears in Afghanistan.
LAKSHMANANNow President Karzai denounced it, dozens of people were demonstrating in Kabul saying this is wrong. At the same time, President Karzai has also been calling for the Taliban to put down their weapons and join the government and come into reconciliation talks. So one concern that a lot of women's advocates have is that if you bring the Taliban in, are you then basically selling out women's rights and what advances they have made? Girls in schools, women in, you know, workplaces. If the Taliban comes in, are they going to demand that as part of the price of them coming into government?
LAKSHMANANSo there's a lot of concern. You know, this is one horrible case, but it raises so many larger issues about women's rights in that country.
NAIMAnd last week the (word?) community met in Tokyo to agree on a package of $16 billion of aid to Afghanistan. And so the question now is will this money go, in any way, to start protecting women, to start changing the situation in a way that gives a little bit more rights and protection to women?
REHMMoises Naim of El Pais, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News, James Kitfield of National Journal. When we come back, your comments, questions. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd our first caller is Christian in Salt Lake City. Good morning, you're on the air.
CHRISTIANGood morning. I was speaking to a friend of mine from Beirut a couple of weeks back and he made a comment that stuck with me and I would like some feedback from your group there. He said that back home, his family says that the Syrian war, the Syrian civil war is really just a front in the war between the U.S. and Russia over natural gas and that this whole thing blew up over a pipeline dispute that's happening behind closed doors and that the U.S. is just being misled by its media.
REHMOh my gosh, when you think of all the people being massacred in Syria and then you hear a story like that, tell me what your reaction was, Christian?
CHRISTIANHe's a bright, articulate man and...
CHRISTIAN...I'm dumbfounded because we've seen this before. And I know that natural gas is really important to Russia, but I just want -- I would like to hear what your folks think.
KITFIELDJust not the case, you know, our strategic position in the Middle East is important. It is an area of strategic importance, that's because of energy. But the reason the Syrians' uprising happened was because they looked around at all their neighbors and there were similar uprisings happening in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Yemen and Sudan to a certain degree. And basically they said, hey, we want some of this democracy stuff, too. It looks good. And you know once that pebble starts rolling down the hill, it's been very hard to stop.
NAIMThis reaction, this comment is just part of a long history of explaining everything that goes on in these countries as part of a conspiracy that involves the United States. One of the things that the Arab Spring did was to show that things were happening without the intervention of any other powers, not the United States, not Russia and not anybody else.
NAIMThis is a very grassroots, fundamental request for freedom and for -- and as you said, Diane, we're talking about thousands of people that are being massacred.
REHMAll right. To Long Island, good morning, Igor, you're on the air.
IGOROh, good morning, Diane, thanks for taking my call.
IGORSo I actually mentioned that I was born in the USSR and so the experience that I have living in both countries is such that I understand the system in Syria is probably, more or less, the system as it was in the USSR. And so the analysis then that I'm hearing now, you know, and in particular, I'm disappointed by the very rudimentary analysis I'm hearing on NPR where a single person, this Assad, is vilified.
IGORYou know, vilification of a single person who is just the face of the regime to me sounds similar to what the vilification of Brezhnev for all faults of the USSR and would be like calling Brezhnev a dictator and the USSR's army in Afghanistan, Brezhnev's forces. It is just sort of totally unbelievable that people are seriously talking, you know, Assad the dictator. Brezhnev was not a dictator, he was just a face of a regime and so is Assad.
KITFIELDHe raises an interesting point. I guess, during the Stalin crackdown, you might have pointed to Stalin, but it was the whole apparatus of oppression in the Soviet Union that was behind, you know, the starving 30 million people. Similarly, like here, it's a Ba'athist, Facist regime very much like Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, that is an absolute tyranny and dictatorship and is led by one guy as these regimes tend to be, in these cult of personalities they develop.
REHMBut if Assad were to fall?
LAKSHMANANWell, I just want to make one other point about that. It's not the same in that this is also dynastic. Assad followed his father so it's not exactly just an apparatchik regime, which I agree with the caller, there is all of that and the military is following his lead. But he also did follow his father so there's also a personal family clan issue going on.
LAKSHMANANAnd if Assad were to fall, as Diane asks, I mean, there are a lot of analysts who believe that that would be -- or I should say, the power players at the U.N. Security Council believe that if he were to fall that that would be the moment when others would pull away.
NAIMAnd this is not just a dynastic, as Indira says, which is correct, but you know, let's remember that Assad's brother is the head of the military forces. He's the head of the repressive apparatus so this is a family business in which an entire family is being involved in massacring, in a massacre.
REHMTo Fort Lauderdale, Fla. good morning, Jose.
JOSEYes, good morning, Diane. I love your show.
REHMI'm so glad, thank you.
JOSEYes, Diane, my comment is for the panel and I would like to know, regarding Assad in Syria, what they think about pretty much a dictator, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. He's closest to Assad and providing him with fuel and this sort of thing and how he pretty much treats Venezuelans like a dictator so I was just curious to know.
REHMSure, sure, Moises?
NAIMWell, the fact is that the Venezuelan government is providing fuel oil and gasoline to Assad and to Syria. There is an embargo, but the Venezuelan government is supplying Syria with fuel.
REHMAnd that's all?
NAIMAnd they have a very close -- as the caller said, President Chavez has said very good things. He admires Assad. He stated that he is a democrat and in one of the visits he gave him a replica of the Award of Simon Bolivar.
KITFIELDThe club of autocrats is not feeling very comfortable right now so they have to stick together. And you know, Chavez has very autocratic tendencies and so he's going to make friends with other autocrats and, you know, the enemy of my enemy is my friend and that's...
REHMAll right and to Dallas, Tx. Good morning, Judith.
JUDITHHi, good morning, Diane, love your show.
JUDITHA (word?) as usual, but well done because, you know, we've been in there, we went to Iraq, made a mess over there, gone to Afghanistan, made a mess over there. Have we not looked at the innocent people that we are killing? You know, we go around the world thinking we know better. We are so sophisticated and so high-moraled. Well, I'm sorry. It's all going down the drain, I'm afraid. I feel ashamed. I'm ashamed. That's all I have to say.
REHMAll right, thanks for calling. Comments, is the U.S. meddling and messing in too many places and creating the kind of disastrous hemisphere we've got right now?
KITFIELDYou know, the United States, being the most powerful country in the world for the last, you know, 30 years without even a rival like the Soviet Union of the Cold War, finds its interests all over the place. Now I take her point. We, you know, Iraq was a strategic blunder of unbelievable proportions.
KITFIELDWe also, by the way, moved into the Balkans and put down an absolutely horrific sectarian civil war there and saved hundreds of thousands of lives. We, you know, have tried. We didn't do anything in Rwanda and there was genocide there. Are we happy that we did nothing, that the international community sat by while millions or at least more than a million were slaughtered and we did nothing?
KITFIELDSo, you know, each of these situations have their own dynamic. We have resisted getting drawn into Syria, but I think we find it very hard to watch in this media age what's happening there and do nothing.
REHMGo ahead, Indira.
LAKSHMANANYeah, this is an age-old debate, obviously, about what the role of the U.S. should be. You know, there are isolationists who say, no, the U.S. should mind its own business, focus on its own home and there are others who say, we have a moral obligation to be the world's policeman or, you know, at least to manage crises.
REHMIt seems to me, Judith is saying when we go in, that we ought to go in for the right reasons and do it in the best way.
LAKSHMANANI think James makes the point, though, that when -- sometimes when we don't go in situations...
LAKSHMANAN...Rwanda happen. And so the question is, is Syria going to become Obama's Bosnia? And I would, you know, at what point? It's been -- allegedly 17,000 people who have been killed so a much lower number than it was before Bill Clinton finally took the decision after many years to take action in Bosnia. It's still a much lower number now.
LAKSHMANANAt the same time, I don't think there's any chance of the U.S. taking military action related to Syria before the election.
NAIMIt's very easy to belittle all of these things as high morals and just dismiss that and just use the Iraq example as an example of hypocrisy and a big blunder that, in fact, was an intervention that was...
REHMA political decision.
NAIMOn the other hand, there are morals that have some place in international affairs. Decency has to play a role whenever you think of...
REHMSomewhere we would hope. And to New Orleans, good morning, Glenn.
GLENNYes, I would think that the freedom fighters in Syria are not going to be satisfied with just getting rid of a figurehead like Assad and leave the regime. I don't think that's going to change.
REHMUnless you get rid of the whole regime.
REHMBut what James is saying is that if you get rid of Assad, perhaps the generals, the people around him will fall away?
GLENNWell, I don't think so because they're the ones that are giving him his backbone.
KITFIELDThat goes to the question of who has blood on their hands. And listen, this thing has gone on so long that the idea that this is going to be a smooth transition to something else, I'm afraid we passed that exit a long time ago. Too much blood has been spilled. It's likely to be very messy and unpleasant.
REHMAll right, to Columbia, Md. Good morning, Paul.
PAULYes, hi. I'd just like to mention that -- one of your commentators mentioned that the military was, you know, the preeminent economic power in Egypt. That's simply not true. We give them the money to go out and spend weapons that we make. It's like giving your kid a credit card for as much as you want, you know. We're feeding this military industrial complex that's simply insatiable.
LAKSHMANANI think the point that was being made was that Egypt's military was the dominant political force and I don't think anyone was saying that they were generating the economic revenue of the country so much as the Egyptian military has been in control of the country's politics for decades. That's the point that we were making.
LAKSHMANANBut I would like to say that there is an interesting question about the U.S. relationship to Egypt and that's going to come to the fore just this weekend because Secretary Clinton is on her way to Cairo and she's going to have to deal with -- how do we deal with a now-elected government, not from a party that we were friends with before...
REHMIs she scheduled to meet with the president?
LAKSHMANANShe is and she's going to have to dance around the whole issue of parliament's dissolution because on the one hand, the U.S. supports democratically-elected governments and, you know, we've seen what happens when the U.S. supports democracies in places like Gaza and then suddenly you have Hamas running the government. So there is the issue of what does she say about the dissolution of parliament? And the U.S. has been very careful to not express exactly, to just say this is for the Egyptians to decide. This is not for the U.S. to interfere with.
LAKSHMANANDon't forget she wants to go in there and make sure that Egypt is going to retain its peace treaty, you know, the Camp David Accords and the peace treaty with Israel.
REHMHow likely is that?
LAKSHMANANWell, I think it is likely and President Morsi has pledged that he would keep that peace accord in place. Remember, it's not just good for Israel. It's also good for Egypt. So, you know, I think there's the whole question of, is she going to speak out about the need for a parliament? Then she's going to be perceived as siding with the Brotherhood. If she doesn't speak out, people are going to criticize her for not supporting democracy.
REHMIndira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Moises?
NAIMI want to clarify, the caller is right. I said before that the military in Egypt were a very important economic force. They are, of course as Indira said, a potent political, a central political actor and they have been that for many years. But as a result of that, they ended up controlling all kinds of state-owned enterprises.
NAIMThey control a very important share of the Egyptian economy. They have import controls. They are the only ones that have the monopoly to import certain activities. There are sectors that are reserved for the military. They control a very important chunk of the budget and, in fact, one of the changes that they made before the transition was to ensure that the part of the budget that they control was not able -- was not amenable to intervention by the new president. So yes, the military in Egypt are a very important force.
REHMLet me ask you all a very basic question. How much did Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, know about LIBOR and did he try to mitigate some of the factors that were at play there because he could see disaster looming, James?
KITFIELDWell, there has been reporting that he, as recently, I think, as far back as 2007, I believe it was, that there was email traffic that he understood there might be an issue there. But if you'll remember, at the time, the 2008 financial meltdown was looming and it took precedence over everything. But we now know that Barclays manipulated that incredibly key, you know, key interest rate.
KITFIELDYou know, what I keep -- every time another one of these shoes drop. I keep -- I'm amazed that there are people still who say we should deregulate.
KITFIELDIt's like the -- when we have now -- it's one more indication that these guys, left to their own devices, will manipulate this thing for their own aggrandizement and collection of great wealth at the, you know, and forget the rest of the people. And here's a case where basically they were just rigging the rules of the game from day one on this key interest rate that really is the foundation for how banks lend to each other.
REHMAll around the world.
KITFIELDAll around the world.
NAIMWhen the crisis broke in 2008, Timothy Geithner was the president of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, which, in fact, is the main banking regulator in the United States with many ramifications around the world. The Washington Post reports that they have a document that indicates that in April 28, 2008, in his schedule, Geithner at the Federal Reserve in New York at the time had a meeting titled Fixing LIBOR and that there was -- and that he had sent a letter to the governor of the Bank of England strongly suggesting that action needed to be taken with LIBOR.
NAIMAnd he was looking for -- then all hell broke loose, all kinds of things starting happening and it's easy to imagine that it was impossible to deal with all of these things. It's very important at the same time. At the same the banks were rigging this very important rate and the joke is that is no longer called LIBOR, is called Lie-more. And they were lying and they were manipulating.
NAIMThis is not Barclays. Barclays, in fact, may be the first one that is going to pay $456 million in fines, but there are 11 other banks that are involved and there is a study that indicates that these 11 banks are facing a $22 billion LIBOR bill.
REHMAnd on that note, that really uplifting note...
KITFIELDGrab your wallets.
REHM...we will leave this discussion. Moises Naim of El Pais, Indira Lakshmanan on Bloomberg News, James Kitfield of National Journal. If you can, on that note, have a great weekend, I hope you will. Thanks for being here.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm.
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