Last October, Yale lecturer Erika Christakis sent an email questioning whether university administrators should advise students on what Halloween costumes to wear. It resulted in protests on campus and a heated debate around the country.
The European Central Bank president vowed to “do whatever it takes” to protect the euro. His promise quickly sent global markets soaring. Syrian rebels say government forces continue a ground and air assault on the nation’s largest city. The Egyptian president chose an American-educated prime minister, not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. North Korea introduces its new first lady. The wife of fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai faces a possible death sentence in the murder of a British businessman. And bells peal across Britain as the Olympic Games get underway. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson of NPR, Warren Strobel of Reuters and Elise Labott of CNN join Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Elise Labott CNN foreign affairs reporter.
- Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson foreign correspondent for NPR.
- Warren Strobel editor in charge, U.S. foreign policy and national security for Reuters.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Thousands of Syrians flee the city of Aleppo in fear of a renewed assault by government troops. Across Iraq a division of al-Qaida launches attacks that kill more than 100 people. Egypt's new president chooses an American educated technocrat as prime minister. The head of the European Central Bank pledges to preserve the euro and today marks the official start of the summer Olympics in London.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for this week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson of NPR, Warren Strobel of Reuters and Elise Labott of CNN. Do join us with your questions and comments, 800-433-8850, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning and welcome to you, Soraya.
MS. SORAYA SARHADDI NELSONGood morning.
REHMGood to have you here and good morning to you, Elise and Warren.
MR. WARREN STROBELGood morning.
MS. ELISE LABOTTGood morning.
REHMLet's talk about this big news to protect the euro.
LABOTTWell, we're talking about the head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi. He said the Europeans will do anything that's necessary to protect the euro and what does that mean? You know, you see all these countries, their debt is growing higher and higher and it's more expensive to borrow money. You saw over the week that even Germany, which was the highest rated country in Europe lost its AAA rating from Moody's and this is really becoming a domino effect. So he said that the European Central Bank will do whatever it is, that indicates maybe the Europeans will step into bond markets. The Central Bank has the authority to do something about these borrowing costs.
REHMSo in the meantime, all these markets went soaring, Warren?
STROBELYes, sort of an indication, I think, the markets were desperate for any good news. The U.S. Stock Market was up 200 points or more yesterday, Italian bond yields fell, which is very important because that reduces Italy's borrowing costs. But there are, I think, questions about the ECB President Mario Draghi, has said this before. He's now saying it again more emphatically and there are some questions about whether he can follow through and whether the Germans will let him follow through.
NELSONYes, absolutely, I mean, because the big question remains, what do you do with these countries where there's a lot of corruption, where they don't really have the standards of the others and it's sort of a slippery slope, if in fact there's a bailout for countries that are not adhering to the norms required in order to have a more stable market.
REHMTell me what kind of impact Moody's declaration really has on Germany's economy?
LABOTTIt doesn't really have an effect on Germany because Germany is still going to be the strongest economy in the country and its exports are still very strong but what it shows is Germany is under a lot of pressure to do something about these other countries. And so it shows the limits of even Germany to be able to bailout these other countries. So what the Germans are saying is it's really not that bad, our second highest rating is still now the highest but it does signify that Europe is in a deep crisis right now and even Germany is feeling the heat.
REHMAnd the question is to what extent is what's happening in the European economy affect what's happening here in this country and presidential election. Warren?
STROBELAbsolutely, and really quickly, following what Elise was saying, one of the things that's not talked about much here is that Germany's actually complained a lot about the corrupt countries, the less, countries that don't have their finances together but it's actually benefitted quite a bit from the European crisis because that's where the money goes, their bond rates are low, they've lent a lot of money, made a lot of money.
STROBELBut to get to your question, yes, this affects the U.S. economy quite directly and it's very frustrating, I think, for President Obama to be in his shoes because he's dealing with a crisis, he doesn’t have a lot of skin in the game, he can't affect it directly yet. It could directly impact his chances for re-election.
LABOTTWell, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said that the ongoing crisis present the biggest risk to the economy because U.S. multi-national companies, they don't want to spend, they don't want to make these big decisions about hiring because spending in Europe, which is usually a big market, is very low.
REHMElise Labott of CNN, Warren Strobel of Reuters, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, she's foreign correspondent for NPR. We will take your calls, 800-433-8850. Soraya, you've just come back from a long tour as Egypt's bureau chief in Cairo. Talk about the new president, Mohammad Morsi, his choice of a bureaucrat who was educated here in this country as the new prime minister.
NELSONYes, no one had really heard of Hisham Qandil before this announcement. I mean, it was just a very unexpected thing. This guy is a technocrat and not even a well-known or, you know, technocrat and so the question is can he really help pull a government together that can help bring Egypt out of its current financial and security issues. People had hoped that Mohammad Morsi would choose someone perhaps with previous experience in terms of dealing with, maybe a former prime minister or somebody, again who had some economic clout and that's just not the case.
NELSONThere are also questions of course about whether this new prime minister, in fact, has connections to the Islamists. He claims he was not part of any group but that he is religious and this of course makes all the secular folks in Egypt, which there are quite few, quite nervous. So it's a big question mark and certainly did not send, the stock markets there are soaring this week.
LABOTTWell, and also, I mean, there are very big questions about the government in totality because the military, the SCAF has supreme authority over legislation. They still haven't announced a cabinet even though they announced the prime minister because there's a lot of fighting going on over the defense ministry, who's going to be the defense ministry. We suspect that Field Marshall Tantawi, who was the, who's been running the country in effect and who was the defense minister under President Mubarak, will become the defense minister and that shows that President Morsi is not really completely running the show. There are a lot of questions going forward as to how his government and the military are going to be able to work together.
REHMSo his creditability is really on the line, Warren?
STROBELIt is and, you know, I defer to Soraya on this but it seems to me that there's a big question as to the power structure and the power balance within Egypt going ahead, how much, is the military going to have a role? Will this role go beyond security and defense to other things, to economics? How big a role will Morsi play? What will his prime minister do? I think the prime minister probably is going to be a technocrat and not have a huge amount of clout?
REHMDo you agree?
NELSONAbsolutely. I mean, at this moment the military rulers, even though they have officially stepped down or in a ceremony handed over power to Mohammad Morsi, they remain in charge. They are able to declare war and only they, not Morsi. They are the ones who can legislate, or they have legislative authority which they took upon themselves once Parliament was dissolved a few weeks back. And there's a big question yet, you know, is this Parliament going to come back and even more importantly the constitution in Egypt which needs to be re-crafted with the departure of Mubarak and with all these changes.
NELSONThere is a group or an assembly of people that were selected by the previous parliament and the question now is whether this group is going to be allowed to actually draft the constitution or whether this assembly also gets dissolved the way the parliament did. So there are a lot of unanswered questions and it's making Egyptians very nervous.
REHMOf course, you had a front row seat to all this and I wonder how nervous you might have been?
NELSONIn terms of safety issues, certainly, crime is on the rise. The police have sort of taken a backseat if you will since the revolution. They have not really returned and provided the sort of law enforcement. Some people in Egypt feel that's because the military wants this instability because they want people to say hey, you know what, we want the generals back. We want a regime back that, okay, perhaps doesn't give us the freedoms we might have with free speech or whatever the case might be but that actually can keep us safe on the streets. So there is an increasing feeling of instability, some of it's just perception. It's not necessarily supported by the numbers but it is a real problem and it's something that Mohammad Morsi said he would address in his first 100 days of office.
REHMAre the people no longer in the streets?
NELSONIn terms of protesting, you mean?
NELSONThey come out far less. Part of that is the heat factor, it's very hot right now in Cairo. But there's also, I think, a lethargy that's come about, people are very tired of protesting. Many people are disappointed and feel the revolution hasn't really brought them any change and, in fact, the presidential run-off was between two parties that have been fighting for 60 years. So it really had nothing to do with anything, you know, the Muslim Brotherhood and the military.
REHMI want to ask you all about the latest news out of Syria, the fighting in Aleppo, Warren?
STROBELYes, I mean, a few points first off. It looks really terrible, it looks like the government troops are massing to crush the rebellion in Syria's second-largest city. You know, this bears some similarities to Benghazi, in Libya. A little more than a year ago when the Obama Administration and the West (unintelligible) used Benghazi as, not as an excuse, but as a rationale for intervening saying civilians were going to be massacred and the Obama Administration is now saying well, no, this is different, the terrain is different, we don't have the same international support, etc. So there's a little bit of hypocrisy going on. You know, we don't know what's going to happen but it looks, it looks bad.
LABOTTWell, they're amassing helicopter gunships, they're amassing tanks, I mean, the U.S. said yesterday that it's expecting a massacre and I think Warren brings up an excellent point that, what the U.S. said it was trying to prevent in Libya is now, it looks it could be even worse in Syria. There's absolutely no appetite for any type of military action. The U.S. has been hiding behind Russia saying that we don't have Russia's support at the United Nations.
LABOTTNow, this week the United States Secretary Clinton said that perhaps we'll go outside the United Nations, work towards more of this Friends of Syria group, which is the collation of countries working on the crisis that doesn't include Russia. But that doesn't mean that there's a military intervention in the offing, talking about more sanctions, more aid to the opposition but when you ask U.S. officials how is this going to prevent a massacre in Aleppo that you're talking about, they say it doesn't.
REHMElise Labott of CNN. We'll talk more about Syria, what's happening there as well as China. We'll talk about North Korean announcement of a new bride, all kinds of things on the international scene. Stay with us.
REHMJust before the break, we were talking about what's happening in Syria, specifically in Aleppo where Syrian soldiers are now amassing forces. What did the Syrian regime say this week, Soraya, about use of chemical weapons?
NELSONWell, they held that up as a big red flag and said they would never use it on their own people, but definitely made it clear that they would attack what they consider foreigners.
REHMSo what does that mean to you?
NELSONWell, I think it's a warning that -- again, that Bashar al-Assad has no plans of leaving and he will do whatever it takes. Obviously it's a nonstarter certainly even with Arab countries where I'm sure he still would like to have some support to say that he would, you know, attack his own people. But I think the threat is very real and he did use military jets in Aleppo. That was confirmed by some reporters who were in that area, I think a BBC reporter if I'm not mistaken.
NELSONSo it's a real concern. I mean, he is obviously planning to stay until the end. He is -- there is no indication that he's considered even some of these offers that are being made under the table to have him move to -- you know, into exile perhaps in some other country.
REHMAnd meanwhile, you've got a lot of people fleeing Aleppo and one three-year-old child in the arms of his parents, killed trying to cross the border.
LABOTTWell, and the refugee problem is getting even worse. I was just in Israel this week. I interviewed President Shimon Prese and I said, well, why can't Israel -- maybe this could be a place where refugees could come to the border. And he said no. I said, will you help them? He said no. And in fact, Israel was saying that if anybody comes armed across the border, they would use force against them. So, I mean, really these people have no place to go.
LABOTTOn the issue of chemical weapons, that's another thing that Israel is very concerned about, that they would fall into the hands of Hezbollah, that perhaps President Assad would use them against Israel. There are a lot of discussions between the U.S., Israel, Jordan right now about whether any type of action might be needed to go seize the military weapons because this is considered to be one of the biggest chemical arsenals in the Middle East.
STROBELYeah, I agree with both my colleagues here. And this conflict is the -- the government is starting to crumble around the edges. We had a defection just, I believe it was yesterday or overnight of a woman parliamentarian who has reportedly gone to Turkey. Some general have left but the U.S. government officials that we talked to, many of whom see intelligence analyses, believe that the conflict is going to go on for quite some time, many months or years.
REHMAnd what about Brigadier General Tlass being seriously considered as an interim leader in a post-Assad regime, Warren?
STROBELVery interesting fellow. He was very close to President Bashar al-Assad. I think I saw one report that they might've even been schoolmates in their early days. He's a leading Sunni. His family actually is a very reputable family within Syria that has served governments going before the Assads, back to the French occupation and even the Ottoman times. So he is now -- he made some statements the other day. He seems to be setting himself up potentially for a role in a post-Assad Syria.
LABOTTObviously, the Syrians are going to be the ones who decide, but the question is whether this man and his family have so much blood on their hands, the opposition has already said that they wouldn't accept him. The United States is -- you know, some officials might be looking at him as perhaps someone that could, you know, get the Russians onboard, that could get the Alawites onboard. But other people are saying, look this guy is definitely not going to fly.
LABOTTWhat he could do is he could help the Syrian opposition and the International Community identify others in the government that might be able to be turned. But is this guy going to be a face of the opposition? I don't think so.
REHMYou know, it's interesting, every week practically for the past month we've been getting these breaking news stories that the Assad regime could crumble soon. Now a UN official, Norwegian media reporting, "The outgoing UN chief observer in Syria is saying it's just a matter of time before Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime crumbles." A matter of time.
NELSONIt just -- as you've noted, people keep saying that but what people need to also remember is that the -- in terms of what the rebels control it's very, very little in Syria. I mean, the cities -- with the exception of Aleppo, and that may change in the coming hours -- is very much in the hands of the government. They have all the equipment, they have everything. The rebels hold some sloth, you know, of countryside, you know, near the Turkish border or whatever.
NELSONIt's a long road until there actually is -- I mean, this is not Libya, let's put it this way. This is not Libya, you know, shortly before Gadhafi fell. There just -- and because there is no real plan for foreign intervention at this point -- I mean, even the aid that's been given, the guns that have been given, these are not serious weapons to take out tanks or take down helicopter gunships and the like. I mean, it's just -- it's going to drag on. I mean, that seems to be more the feeling of people who are watching this closely.
REHMAnd let's talk about the recent violence in Iraq. You've got a hundred people dead, Elise.
LABOTTA hundred and fifteen people killed, thirty attacks in about -- thirty or forty attacks in about forty different locations. And the question is, is this a resurgence of a sectarian war or is al-Qaida in Iraq the terrorist group that was responsible for so many attacks in the late 2006, 2008 making a resurgence? The leader of al-Qaida in Iraq said -- made this announcement on a Jihadi website that the group was going to be launching more attacks to regain ground.
LABOTTAnd so what they're trying to do is so more sectarian tensions because there is still a lot of political strife in the country. They're trying to exploit this vacuum but it remains to be seen whether the Shia who have been really reserved and not, you know, responding to these type attacks, because that's where most of them are going after Shia targets. Whether their militias are going to come out, whether they're going to respond and whether this sectarian war is going to restart, so far they're holding back. But it's just a matter of time before they say enough is enough.
NELSONThere is a lot of tension there on the ground and as Elise noted that we have a lot more attacks that are being credited to al-Qaida in Iraq. But having said that, there's also a real issue about the politics there. I mean, you know, there's a lot of tension because Nouri al-Maliki, the Shiite who's in charge of the government there, has not really promised -- or not fulfilled his promise to hand over power or to share power with other groups. And so there's a lot of tension. And if you ask Iraqis they will say that in fact it's -- they feel this violence is sort of the result, not just of religious fanatics or of terrorists but in fact of politicians.
NELSONI mean, there's some question about whether terror is sort of being generated. And it's something that's creating a really unstable situation there. I mean, we're seeing more deaths than we've seen since I think June, 2012. This was like the highest level since then.
STROBELThere's one other question I think against the backdrop of the politics and the sectarian divide, is can the Iraqi security forces, which the United States has spent so much money and blood and treasure to build. We're still arming them. They're -- I mean, not arming them, but we sell them weapons and there's some training going on. Can they respond? And there has been violence obviously since U.S. pulled out in December of last year, but this is I think the big test.
LABOTTAnd you're also -- when you have the conflict next door in Syria heating up, there's a lot of talk about al-Qaida in Syria. And now al-Qaida in Iraq is calling on its recruits to go over to Syria. So this is only heating the situation in Iraq and it's also fueling the situation in Syria. So when you look at what's going on in Syria, this is going to have a huge ripple effect for the rest of the region.
REHMWe've got news coming out of China that Bo Xilai's wife is facing a quick trial and a possible death penalty, Warren.
STROBELYeah, this is an interesting development, to say the least. Gu Kailai is the wife of Bo Xilai, the senior -- very senior and was a rising star in the Chinese political sphere. I read a story in the New York Times this morning which I thought had a really interesting take, which is that the apparatus in China is going after the wife, which there's a lot of history of this in China, in order not to bring up the husband Bo Xilai because if you do that, then you get into all the nasty underbelly of Chinese politics and intramural sparring and so forth. I don't know if that's true, but I thought that was an interesting way to look at it.
REHMDo you believe she will be sentenced to death, Elise?
LABOTTI don't know if she'll be sentenced to death but I do think that there will be some type of punishment because, you know, state media's saying that this is an example of the rule of law in China and that nobody is above the law. So I'm not -- I don't really know if they'll sentence her to death, but it does seem as if they want to send a message to society that nobody is above the law.
NELSONI think this is also an attempt though to deflect attention from the -- they want this all resolved by the time the congress meets in terms of--
REHMVery quickly, yeah.
NELSON--yeah, who's gonna be the next leader in China. And this helps, you know, deflect from concerns about whether the rulers in fact have the people's needs, you know, in mind when they're making their decisions.
REHMCourse do we have the name of a future leader to take Bo's place?
STROBELYou know, I don't know the answer to that question. We do have the name of the future leader of China who -- Xi Jinping. I'm probably messing that up, but these transitions in China are planned years and years ahead. And he is suppose to take over at the -- I believe at the end of this year with the party (unintelligible) .
LABOTTBut Bo Xilai was expected to be promoted in some way. And so what he says, and some supporters of him say is that this is just a ruse to, you know, make sure that he doesn't get ahead because he was a very charismatic leader. He had a lot of flair. He was also known of going after corruption in his province. And so, you know, some people say that this is a way to kind of keep him down.
REHMAnd on the other hand in North Korea you have a rising female star, Soraya.
NELSONYes, the wife of the new premier there was introduced and this is something that many analysts are looking at. I mean, obviously there's a lot of tea leaf reading that has to go on with North Korea and what this all means. But the feeling is that perhaps this is part of his attempt to be more open and to bring changes from the time that -- from his father basically, you know, from his predecessor.
NELSONSo, I mean, he's been -- he's also apparently canned a senior general. He's taken away military perks. They had -- I guess it was Mickey Mouse, right, singing in an opera there. You know, in the past Mickey Mouse was seen as a figure of corruption, you know, Western decadence or whatever.
REHMSo how do you interpret all this?
NELSONWell, perhaps we'll see a little more openness. I mean, I think there's a realization that, you know, North Korea -- I mean, you have a new generation and so perhaps they want to bring some changes that would take the pressure off since there are obviously issues.
STROBELHe's definitely trying to project a different image than his father, Kim Jong-il, who's very dower, trying to be more like his grandfather Kim Il-sung, the founder of the founding -- leader of North Korea. Whether it goes beyond image I just -- I don't know. The economic reform has been talked about but it's at a very, very early stage.
REHMAnd yet there is his brand new wife in very perky clothing.
LABOTTThat's right, smiling for the cameras. The First Lady of North Korea. Her name is Ri Sol-Ju. She was a singer, a former performance artist. And she's there -- you know, I saw some newspapers comparing her to Kate Middleton so -- to his Prince William. So he definitely is -- they visited an amusement park and they were both smiling and waving for the cameras. So I think it's true what Warren said. He wants to project this image.
LABOTTAnd also some of the other things that he's doing, he's being much more public in the way he talks about the failures of the nuclear program, the way he talks about what he wants to do. He's given a couple of speeches and I think they want to, you know, create more of a dynasty, this cult of personality. You didn't know much about Kim Jong-il, but now this is a way to kind of endear everybody to the new leader.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Time to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Orlando, Fla. Good morning, Mark.
MARKGood morning, Diane. I have a sort of comment/question about people calling for military intervention in Syria. As an Army veteran I went to Iraq twice and it just -- it strikes me that people have a very short memory about what military intervention in countries in the Middle East can lead to. And I just think that getting involved in Syria with a strong military presence would lead to a very similar situation to what we have in Iraq and Afghanistan right now. And I was just wondering what your -- what the panel thought about that.
NELSONWell, certainly, it is very complicated. I think certainly NATO still feels like its hands were burned in Libya. I mean, it didn't quite get what they wanted out of it. But Syria's also more complicated. I mean, if they wanted to, for example, put a no-fly zone in, how do you do that? I mean, this is an area that has, you know, amazing, you know, passenger lines or whatever. Civilian air traffic goes through this area, plus all of the defense mechanisms that the Syrian government has in place are in population centers. So if you start destroying those you're going to have a lot of casualties.
NELSONSo it's very complicated. It's really not that easy. And, as the caller noted, I mean, we've seen in Iraq and Afghanistan that sort of intervention, which I don't think is necessarily what's being discussed. You know, that takes years and years and year and doesn't necessarily always bring the results.
STROBELYeah, I completely agree. And I think one has to be a little sympathetic here with the Obama Administration's very cautious approach. I mean, if you look at Syria they have air defenses that go way beyond anything Gadhafi had. It's a much more populace country, a lot of people in the cities. And a very senior former official described Syria to me as a potential Lebanon on steroids, meaning that the ethnic -- potential ethnic divisions are just really severe.
REHMMark, thank you for your service and thanks for calling. To Cleveland, Ohio. Good morning, Rheam (sp?) .
REHMGo right ahead, please.
RHEAMSo while I do understand all the reservations in terms of the military intervention in Syria, I can't stop wondering how come we're not -- the Obama Administration is not exhausting all the nonmilitary options? And I'm thinking along the lines of, you know, humanitarian aid. And, you know, we keep seeing these -- you know, these cruelties that are happening against the civilian population. I'm also thinking about...
REHMBut the problem -- the problem becomes how do you get in to offer humanitarian aid, Soraya? As someone who was right there on the ground in Egypt, what are the challenges?
NELSONWell, even -- I mean, if we talk about Syria itself, we just had Kelly McEvers our correspondent there. I mean, the difficulties of even getting a reporter in to be able to report in some of these areas, and then how do you assure that the Assad government is actually going to give aid, you know, if you hand it -- if you do it through proper channels or formal channels.
REHMRheam, I didn't mean to interrupt you. Go on with your question.
RHEAMSo the other part was then how about like preventing, you know, further support of, you know, supplies of weapons like that come from Iran and other countries.
REHMThat's what's happening now, Warren.
STROBELYeah, I mean, they are trying to prevent the flow of weapons from Iran. There's been some attempts to stop Russia from rearming but it's -- you know, it's very difficult to do so.
LABOTTWell, and Russia's one of the biggest suppliers of Syria. And they haven't been able to stop Russia. Russia continues to thwart UN resolutions. So until you're able to stop Russian support, I think that's one of the biggest arms suppliers of Syria.
REHMWhat about Iranian support?
LABOTTWell, no. I mean -- yes, Warren just mentioned, but in terms of, like, the heavy artillery and the type of things that they're using, I mean, you really need to stop the Russian support as well.
REHMBut is there any way to get humanitarian aid in there?
LABOTTWell, this requires negotiations with the Assad regime and then delicate negotiations with the ICRC in past, but they're not being very cooperative.
REHMElise Labott of CNN. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, more of your calls, your comments. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back. We'll go right back to the phones to Grant in Washington, D.C. Good morning, you're on the air.
GRANTGood morning, since early July, Israeli news outlets have just been ablaze with reports on an FBI file release implicating Netanyahu in nuclear trigger smuggling from the United States, specifically the krypton caper. It's been over the alternative news sites in the U.S. like antiwar.com...
REHMI haven't seen anything of that release.
NELSONI've been in Israel for the last seven weeks and truthfully I haven't seen anything.
REHMAll right. Let's go to St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Tim, you're on the air.
TIMGood morning, Diane. Yeah, I'm really surprised at the one-sided coverage on Syria. There's little, if any, talk about the armed opposition and the help they're getting from Saudi Arabia and Qatar and there's hardly any coverage of the Arab Spring within Saudi Arabia which has over 30,000 political prisoners.
TIMIn fact, outside of Riyadh last week, there was a prison riot. Many of them were political prisoners. Demonstrations have continued in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia as well as in Riyadh in the universities and this is happening all over Saudi Arabia.
TIMNow Saudi Arabia is backing the armed opposition, not the legitimate opposition which has divorced themselves from the so-called Free Syrian Army.
REHMWhat about that, Soraya?
NELSONWell, certainly, in Syria there are many groups that consider themselves legitimate so I don't think you can really say one is more legitimate than the other. There perhaps are, you know, some who are more religious, that perhaps is worrying.
NELSONTo go back to your point about Saudi Arabia and what's happening there. You're right, there in fact are, there's a continued struggle there among the Shiite minority trying to get more rights and it's difficult to cover, I mean, part of it is just resources, you know, do news organizations? There are so many conflicts going on...
NELSON...you can't be everywhere. The other problem of course is that Saudi Arabia isn't exactly forthcoming about giving visas. If you say you want to go and cover the, what's going on in the eastern part of the country you're not likely to get one.
NELSONSo I mean, there are issues there beyond -- I mean, I don't think it's a conscious decision to avoid one conflict or another, but, yeah, but you're right. The Arab Spring is going on in many places that we're not hearing about as much.
LABOTTAnd on the armed opposition I mean the caller makes a good point that there are questions about how the opposition, the FSA is treating prisoners that it, from the regime that are soldiers. Amnesty International said that it saw that there were summary executions not just by regime forces but also by opposition forces so these guys aren't exactly innocents that are, you know, just defending themselves.
LABOTTThey're going after regime forces, Syrian soldiers and killing them as well in summary executions.
REHMAll right to Kirsten in Houston, Tx. Good morning to you.
KIRSTENI'm going to ask your experts if given the like staunch opposition from Russia and China, and that sanctions have been increasingly, what seems like ineffective they thought that maybe a strategy that tried to empower the Syrian people like administering a democracy system or trying to administer a (word?) style program or encourage defectors would be more effective at this point.
STROBELWe actually, Reuters ran a story this morning that sort of looked at Obama's odyssey on Syrian policy starting from a letter he sent to Assad in the early days of his tenure kind of offering support and going through all the different policy changes. You know Obama had gone through the diplomatic route that was his preferred option.
STROBELHe tried over and over again. The Chinese and the Russians blocked that view and so now you're seeing in answer to Kirsten's question, you're seeing the policy shift a little bit toward slightly more support for the rebels, more administrative support, maybe more intelligence. So things are changing but they're still overall very cautious.
REHMBut isn't also part of the problem we cannot truly identify the rebels, who they are, which are the good guys, which are the not-so-good guys. What a mess.
NELSONThere's a lot of concern about who these guys are, whether they have ties to al-Qaida, whether they have ties to other jihadi groups and that's one of the reasons why the U.S. doesn't want to arm them. And also that's been one of the biggest problems with talking to the Syrian National Council, what base do they have inside the country?
NELSONThe U.S. is trying to reach out to people inside the country so the day after who's going to run the sewage? Who is going to take care of the garbage? Who is going to help the electricity stay on? They need to reach the people that are going to be able to run the country. They don't want the same situation in Iraq to happen in Syria.
REHMAll right, to Milo, Maine. Good morning, Felix.
FELIXOh hi, you sound great.
FELIXJust a question about the economics, now Standard and Poor's I believe just downgraded Germany as a result of all the other euro countries being on the verge of default.
FELIXNow what would happen if like I believe it's a similar situation, the U.S. got downgraded, it almost or maybe did get downgraded last winter...
FELIX...and what would happen if all the countries that were going to get downgraded from these rating agencies decided to go in cahoots and create a domino effect and get equity to get downgraded?
REHMWhy are you asking that? What do you think would be the outcome?
FELIXI don't know that, that's why I'm asking. I'm not an expert. I don't know.
REHMOkay, Warren Strobel?
STROBELThere's actually been a lot of complaints from some countries about the credit agencies, Standard and Poor's. It was actually Moody's that threatened to downgrade Germany from stable to negative. But these credit agencies have huge power over companies and countries.
STROBELYeah and when you get either a threatened downgrade or some real downgrades that have happened to European countries it's a huge. It raises your borrowing costs through the roof potentially.
REHMDid Angela Merkel have any comment about that?
NELSONWell, she said that Germany is still a stable country and she kind of blew it off and one of her, I think it was her finance minister, said, well, we're still the strongest country in Germany so now, if we're the, we have a negative rating then everyone is less negative than us so. I mean they're trying to make out like it's not a big deal but you know.
NELSONAnd I mean in effect it's kind of true. I mean Germany still is the strongest country in...
NELSON...Europe but it does show the limits of even a powerhouse like Germany to help fix this.
REHMIndeed, thanks for calling Felix. To Alexandria, Va., good morning Adam.
ADAMHi good morning, I just have a comment. I think, or an opinion, I think the FSA is, it's actually. I don't think it has any links to al-Qaida or any other group or terrorist groups. I think if we do support it, it would actually topple the regime which is, has strong links with Iran and would actually. We would gain an ally in the region.
STROBELYou know the Pentagon spokesman, George Little, actually made a statement yesterday or the day before saying that while there are some al-Qaida in Syria that some of the press reports have been seriously overblown. But the fact is we're told there is, Diane, as many as hundreds of opposition groups in Syria. Some of them a little more than the neighborhood protection committees, it's a hugely complicated picture.
LABOTTAnd as we noted earlier, there's also the issue of the violence that's being carried out. I mean this is becoming very much a sectarian conflict and perhaps if the military comes in they move out, the militias come in and wipe out, you know, and it's being done on all sides. So who do you support? I mean the big question is who can you really support there?
REHMHere's a tweet from Jim in North Carolina who says: ''How did the Russian people react to their government's support of Assad and we ought to substitute their government. We ought to substitute Putin for their government.''
LABOTTI think that's a very interesting idea.
REHMI mean the point is the Russian people themselves really don't have a say as to whether their government supports Assad or not.
LABOTTWell no, I mean, but Syria, Russia has long held Syria as one of its mainstays in the Middle East and I think that if you look at what happened in Libya Russia didn't support the intervention in Libya and now Russia is losing out on all of these oil contracts in Libya and it's going to lose out in Syria too.
LABOTTRussia after this crisis in Syria, Russia is not going to have any friends in the Middle East so I think that the Russian people would if they could have a say...
REHMIf they could...
LABOTT...in what's going on, they would choose to abandon Assad right now.
REHMAll right, to St. Petersburg, Fla. Good morning, Verne.
VERNEGood morning, I was just wondering how your, the people you're interviewing didn't quantify how many people there actually were in Syria versus how many people there were in Lebanon. All I heard was that they were from big cities and there was more population there but I did not hear the relative amounts. This is usually in print. This is an editor's responsibility but I'd be very interested to know.
STROBELI'm an editor so I'll take responsibility. I don't have the relative populations of Libya, Lebanon and Syria at my fingertips. I think Libya is about six million people or it's not a huge population. But the point I was trying to make is that Syria is much, much more populated, more densely populated.
STROBELA lot of Libya, most of Libya's population is on a very coastal strip, very few cities.
NELSONWhile in Aleppo which we're talking about today is one of the most highly populated cities.
LABOTTTwo and half million people...
REHMAll right, thanks for calling, Verne. And to Sammy in Cleveland, Ohio, good morning, you're on the air.
SAMMYHi Diane. I just wanted to say you're an icon and I love your show and I'm a great admirer of yours.
SAMMYMy name is Sam Assad, no relation to Mr. Assad of Syria, of course.
SAMMYBut I am an Arab-American Palestinian and I wanted to ask do you remember what happened in Rwanda, not to mention Bosnia when, especially Rwanda, President Clinton at that time stated, never again, that this would never happen again. And here we have historically from the father of the current president of Syria has killed 20,000 people. Now we're about to reach 20,000 with his son. What is the follow-up plan after President Clinton said, never again?
NELSONWell, you had a Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. Secretary General, in Srebrenica just this week saying that everyone said that they didn't want a repeat of Srebrenica in Bosnia where 8,000 Muslim men were killed in 1995. He said he didn't want his successors to be apologizing for what could be done in Syria.
NELSONAnd this is the quandary that everyone is saying that they don't want a repeat of Rwanda, that they don't want a repeat of Srebrenica, but the appetite in the international community for another military intervention just isn't there. So the question is, what do you do? Because the sanctions and diplomacy and all this political negotiations, it's not going to stop any further bloodshed.
REHMSammy what would you do? What would you have the U.S. do?
SAMMYI would have to somehow implement, along with two to three allies at least a minimum, you know, a no-fly zone and that would be the beginning of something at least and then allow more humanitarian aid and you know, actual inspectors in the country.
NELSONBut the no-fly zone is a much more complicated proposition in Syria because again you have the air defenses, very, very sophisticated air defenses much more so than Libya as my colleague Warren noted as well as these things are located in population centers so if you try to destroy them you're going to have mass civilian casualties.
NELSONAnd I remember from when I was covering Libya, certainly what the reaction was every time civilians would get killed. I mean, it was a real political or PR mess for NATO and for the United States.
REHMSoraya Sarhaddi Nelson, she's foreign correspondent for NPR. She recently finished a term as Cairo bureau chief and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Cherry Point Air Station in N.C. Good morning, Ryan.
RYANHi, good morning, Diane, love the commentary, love the show.
RYANJust a question. So as far as I can see with all the Arab Spring uprisings, one of the big winners has been the Muslim Brotherhood. We've seen them recently win the election in Egypt. How would -- and I know that the Muslim Brotherhood is also reportedly funding and helping out the opposition in Syria and if we also saw that country eventually go the same route as Egypt and we saw the Muslim Brotherhood come to power there. How would that change the regional power dynamic especially in regard to Israel kind of then being in the middle of two somewhat Sunni extremist countries at that point?
LABOTTWell, that's one of Israel's biggest fears right now. If you look at what's going on in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak was a guarantor of peace with Israel for decades. Now you have the Muslim Brotherhood in on the Sinai, on the border, is becoming, as Secretary Clinton said while she was there last week, an operational base for jihadists.
LABOTTAnd then you have what's going on in Syria, it's a much -- if the region was unfriendly to Israel, it's much less friendly now. And the question is I think that everyone has for these countries, for the Muslim Brotherhood are they going to move the countries in a more religious way or are they going to answer the kind of economic, social demands of their people first before they turn to their religious tendencies?
REHMAnd let's end on an up note. Today becomes the first official day of the Summer Olympics. What are you going to be watching for Elise?
LABOTTI like to watch the swimming, that's one of my favorites, and the diving, but I don't know. Maybe I'll be watching dressage for Mitt Romney's wife.
REHMHow about you, Warren?
STROBELSwimming and the women's soccer team is always close to my heart.
REHMAnd you, Soraya?
NELSONI hate to sound like my colleagues, but I'm a big swimming fan, too.
REHMAre you really? Isn't that interesting?
NELSONWhat about you, Diane?
REHMMichael Phelps is someone everybody, I think, is going to be watching. He could break all records for the most medals won. In the meantime, it does seem as though Mitt Romney stepped in some puddles. Soraya?
NELSONAh, yes. I guess if this was his first foreign diplomacy foray, perhaps it was not quite the success he was hoping for. Among the things he did, he mentioned that he visited with the MI6. Apparently, these sorts of meetings are supposed to be kept quiet and I'll let my colleagues continue with some other messes he stepped in.
STROBELYeah, no, he went on and he questioned London's preparation for the Olympics. You know, when a country gets the Olympics, they try for years to bring the Olympics to their city. They spend millions and millions of dollars and it's just a huge, a huge symbolic thing for them. And for him to say this was a -- well, you've seen the reaction in London.
STROBELI think, you know, in politics this is called an unfortunate error, but in terms of the U.S. election, I'm not really sure it's going to have a huge impact. We care about jobs.
REHMWhat do you think?
LABOTTI don't think it'll have a big effect, but this was supposed to be the easy visit and he's stepped in it and said he was worried about some of the security preparations. And David Cameron, the prime minister, said, sure, it's easy to do it in the middle of nowhere, referring to Salt Lake City where Mitt Romney did it. But now he's going to go on to Israel where it's really hard.
REHMElise Labott of CNN, Warren Strobel of Reuters and Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson of NPR, thank you all. Good watching of the Olympics. Have a great weekend. Thanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1''The Diane Rehm Show'' is produced by Sandra Pinkhard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Megan Merritt, Lisa Dunn and Rebecca Kaufman. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
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