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The European Central Bank left its main interest rate unchanged, but ECB head Mario Draghi signaled the bank could purchase bonds and lower borrowing costs in the future. The battle for Aleppo raged on as Syrian rebels’ handling of pro-government militiamen drew criticism. President Barack Obama announced new sanctions on Iran’s energy sector. And India suffered the worst blackout in history, which left 670 million people without power. James Kitfield of National Journal, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine and David Ignatius of The Washington Post join Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- David Ignatius columnist for The Washington Post and contributor to the “Post Partisan” blog on washingtonpost.com. His latest book is titled "Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage."
- Susan Glasser editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy.
- James Kitfield senior correspondent for National Journal.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan resigns his role as peace envoy for Syria. On a visit to Israel, Defense Secretary Panetta talks tough on Iran. Europe Central Bank declines to lower interest rates and India has electricity again after power grid failures blacked out half the nation.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, James Kitfield of National Journal, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. Feel free to join us by phone, 800-433-8850. Send us to email to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning everybody.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDGood morning.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSGood morning, Diane.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERGood morning.
REHMJames Kitfield, with Kofi Annan's resignation, it comes at such a terrible time for Syria. What's next?
KITFIELDDescent into a hellish civil war, I'm afraid. You know, he was basically, that envoy position was a fig leaf over what cannot now be -- you cannot cover with a fig leaf, which is all out civil war. Ever since the Russians and the Chinese vetoed sanctions that would've given him a little bit of muscle to try to compel Assad to come to the table with the rebels -- not that the rebels have been particularly forthcoming either. But when they vetoed that, really it was the death knell for diplomacy.
KITFIELDYou've seen our own government start to get more involved in directly supporting the rebels. The rebels now have heavy weapons themselves, as there's been an escalation where the Syrian forces are using jet aircraft to bombard neighborhoods in Aleppo, which looks like sort of the battlefield now, the fight for Aleppo and it's a descent into all-out civil war.
REHMBut it also comes when we learn that the White House is providing undercover support for the rebels. How can these two things go together, Susan?
GLASSERWell, that's an important point, but I think, first of all, saying it was a fig leaf, you know, is actually quite charitable it seems to me. you know, in reality the descent into civil war's been happening for months and, you know, there's a real argument, I think, that will be interesting that takes place over time, looking backwards whether Kofi Annan's presence was actually -- spurred the development of civil war and really bought time for both parties to escalate this fight.
GLASSERWas there ever a meaningful diplomatic track here, I think, is a real question to be looked at. Certainly, when you talk about the Obama Administration, they have, as you said, authorized nonlethal assistance. There's also some confusion about what is the level of their covert support for the Syrian rebels.
GLASSERI'm eager to hear David's thoughts on that, but when it comes to the Obama Administration's public positioning here, I think, you know, for months and months and months, they pursued, but really pretty much in vain, the idea that they were going to get Russia to move off their rock solid support for Syria and their insistence upon vetoing any action in the Security Council. I think in hindsight, that looks like it was not a realistic bet on the part of the Obama Administration.
IGNATIUSWell, Kofi Annan has been at it since February. It's always been a long shot, the notion that you would militarize this conflict where the rebels were facing such overwhelming military support and where you didn't -- we, the United States, didn't really know who the opposition was, I think, was unlikely. There were calls for that, but I don't think the administration ever seriously contemplated it.
IGNATIUSNow, we are in a situation where diplomacy has failed, whatever its chances were, that door has closed for now. I think it may reopen, but for now, it's closed and the U.S. is supporting a covert action with a presidential finding. As I understand it, it's a nonlethal finding, which means that we can provide logistics, communications support, effectively command and control devices and assistance to the opposition.
IGNATIUSThe most important thing we've been doing over the last six or eight weeks, as I understand it, is just finding out who these people are. And in the conversations that CI officers have had on the ground, they have confirmed that there is a substantial al-Qaida presence. They have sort of shadow group name that they take in Syria but this is al-Qaida in Iraq that's moved over across this border and so one thing the U.S. has been trying to do is to say to other opposition groups that it hopes will lead the fighting, you must take al-Qaida seriously as an enemy in the long run.
IGNATIUSAnd what these groups have said back, look our first priority is topple Assad and we want help from wherever we can get it. So that's one thing that complicates the question of weapons supply. You do want to be careful about pumping weapons into groups that would as easily kill Americans and Westerners as they would Bashar al-Assad. So it's a very complicated situation and, as Jim said at the outset, I think we can say with some confidence, it's going to get worse and it's really going to be bloody.
REHMAnd certainly the bottom line for now is that Bashar al-Assad is going to stay put, James?
KITFIELDHe's fighting to the death. I mean, I think it's gone so far now he realizes there is no sort of sweet exile deal out there for him. Now, I personally think if you could reach one, it'd still be worth doing, but, you know, there's so much blood on his hands now and his forces, it's hard to imagine that there can -- anything ends any way, except for him coming out in a body bag. And we've seen the rebels, you know, there's a pretty disturbing video that went viral the last couple of days, of the rebels executing some captured Syrian, you know, sympathizers with the regime.
KITFIELDThis raises -- this is not good. This raises the fear of all the minorities, the Alawites, the Christians and others that, you know, they should fight to the death because if they don't, they're going to be summarily executed when they give up their arms. So it's looking pretty ugly right now and it increasingly looks like we're on the side of the rebels, but we're giving -- I mean, the CIA seems to me is probably behind the fact that they're operations are looking much more coherent, much more organized now.
KITFIELDTheir, you know, attacks on military bases with tanks, et cetera, they just seem to be more capable, more organized. And the one thing I think that could still draw us in pretty quickly is if something happened with those chemicals weapons, disappeared or were, you know, were used in a way that we thought we had to jump in. I could easily see us getting involved, if the chemical weapons come into play.
IGNATIUSI think the rebels are acting in a more coherent fashion. One thing that's bothered analysts from the beginning is that the rebels are so scattered, they really have been almost neighborhood committees, as opposed to a national movement. They call themselves the Free Syrian Army, but that's been generous. And the coordination is getting better. The CIA effort, as far as I know, is fairly limited, but an important aspect of it is that we're working -- the U.S. is working in liaison with other neighboring countries, most important Turkey, Jordan, certainly Israel is active on these borders.
IGNATIUSAnd so there's a lot of coordinated effort and the effect has been that the Syrian army itself no longer can cover the whole country. And we've seen that insurgence, even if they're small and a little bit ragged, can drive a big army crazy. Look at what happened to us in Iraq, so that's now happened to the Syrian army in Syria. I'm told that they can clear areas -- to use the old counter-insurgent terminology, they can clear, but they can't hold and that's their problem.
GLASSERWell, yes, I think that's a really important point is, one, are we seeing as a result the disintegration of the army over time as Assad throws all of his resources into the fight and I think there was a pretty interesting piece in Times this morning as sort of a military analysis, looking at, he's now using fighter jets and attack helicopters that were meant to fight a much more conventional land war against their neighbors. Israel...
GLASSERExactly. So now they're using these weapons in the frustrated way that a power does when faced with an insurgency. They're fighting guerillas with attack helicopters and fighter jets, which, of course, is not -- fighter jets are not meant to be dropping bombs on individual clusters of fighters. So that suggests a fraying of their ability over the long term to keep this together.
REHMAnd how worried are people about Assad's use of chemical weapons, James?
KITFIELDWell, I mean, the worry is out there. They have said they will not use them internally unless they, you know, are faced with an external threat. So they're sort of saying, if NATO wants to come in here, then we put the chemical weapons in play.
REHMBut can you really put faith in that comment?
KITFIELDNo, you can't put faith in anything Assad says. He's, you know, you don't take him at his word. I think he knows that if he used those chemical weapons, that would be the red line and I think we probably have communicated that, that that is the red line that would certainly cause...
REHMWhat happens after a red line?
IGNATIUSWell, ambiguity about what you do when red lines are crossed is part of making red lines, but something bad. On the question of chemical weapons, interestingly the level of anxiety that I hear from Israeli experts I talked to about this and some other experts isn't quite as high as you think. And one reason is that many of these weapons are what's called binary weapons. In other words, you have to combine two stocks with somebody, a third person who's a mixer, to get them to work. Now, there's some artillery shells that do the binary combination while the shell is in flight, but I think the strong warnings, not just from the U.S., but also from Russia, I'm told, do not use these got a response in Damascus.
GLASSERI think that was striking, in fact, it was the only time that we've seen them proactively in English, the foreign ministry made, went out of its way to make a statement saying, hey we're actually not going to deploy these on the battlefield against these insurgents and to me that was unusual because you haven't seen them doing that in any other instances. Their behavior's been called out many times over the previous months, it was only on the subject of the chemical weapons that they went out of their way to make a statement addressed to the international community.
KITFIELDAnd to your question about what happens when you cross the red line, I mean, the most obvious, the model is Libya. I mean, we lend our air power to the rebels and that would hurry this process along.
REHMEven not knowing who the rebels are?
KITFIELDIf it became a matter of those chemical weapons falling into the hands of an al-Qaida, you know, I'm told that Sarin nerve gas is stuff that really scares a lot of people.
REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal. We'll take a short break and when we come back, talk about Israel and Iran and visits by senior U.S. officials.
REHMAnd welcome back. Our first email from Michael, "What strategic interest exists for the U.S. in Syria? Why should the American people support intervention in this civil war?" James.
KITFIELDWell, I'm not going to make the case that we should intervene or not, but I will say there are some strategic interests involved, one of which is Iran. Syria is Iran's only friend in the Arab world. It is its conduit from Tehran to Hezbollah and Lebanon, which is its chief terrorist proxy. It would be a big blow to Iran if Assad's regime falls. That's one.
KITFIELDAnd number two, that war is dividing along a sectarian divide between Shiite and Sunni that is destabilized neighbors all around including Jordan, including Lebanon, including Iraq. And if that starts to spill over, we have a strategic interest in stability in the Middle East and that would be a threat to it.
GLASSERWell, I think that's an important point if you look at Iraq, if you look at the increasing sort of sectarian nature of the politics surrounding the war in Syria. That's where everybody has an interest right now. You see the Gulf allies of the United States. By the way, the Sunni dominated countries of Saudi Arabia, Qatar is the one that's actually financing to a large degree the Syrian rebel movement. They've now set up this base inside Turkey reportedly to assist the rebels. So I think you can't just say that what happens in Syria stays in Syria unfortunately.
REHMAll right. And here's an email from Bashar who says, "Your guests seem intent on calling this revolution a civil war. The reality and truth is it is a people's revolution against their oppressor." David.
IGNATIUSWell, Assad has been an oppressor and this is an opposition movement that has deep roots. There is, unfortunately, a growing sectarian character to the two sides, that you have an opposition movement that is largely not entirely, but largely Sunni Muslim led. And you have a government regime that is largely dominated by Assad's own sect the Alawites with some other minorities, notably Christians, continuing to support him.
IGNATIUSThe hope that the U.S. has had from the beginning is precisely what this email is talking about, that the opposition can be broad so that it really is a part of this Arab revolution, this period of citizen uprising taking control of autocratic governments. There's nothing U.S. would like to see more than an opposition movement that really deserved precisely that name.
REHMAll right. I'm going to open the phones and take a call from Harry in Rochester, New York. He has a very specific question. Go right ahead, sir.
HARRYYes. Bandar bin Sultan, Bandar Bush, the former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. from '83 to this -- to '05. I've seen reports this week, including in the Aspen Times newspaper, where Bandar lived -- owned the largest home until this year -- that he was involved the last month when four of Assad's inner circle were blown up.
HARRYReports that I don't see even on Al-Jazeera, but in many places, including the Aspen paper, calling into question -- the story goes Bandar was involved in the CIA to blow up and kill Assad's four people. The next day he was appointed Saudi intelligence chief. And on June 26, reports say he was blown up and killed. I haven't seen it confirmed. Does anybody know anything about that?
IGNATIUSThere were reports last -- this past week on Monday, I know, on Iran's press TV, which is an Iranian state-controlled media outlet alleging that Bandar had been assassinated. This rumor has been widespread on the internet, but I have not yet seen any evidence that would confirm it. So I think you need to take a skeptical view. It is interesting that Bandar, former ambassador to the United States, you know, very experienced in the ways...
REHMFrom Saudi Arabia.
IGNATIUS...from Saudi Arabia, forgive me, that he was appointed Saudi intelligence minister. This is a person who has an extensive background in covert action, covert operations. He's there for a very particular reason. If you want an index of how the Saudi's are going to general quarters, going to battle stations as this crisis deepens, Bandar's the best sign of that.
REHMAll right. Let's move on from that. If we have further information, we'll certainly let you know. Susan Glasser, how is Israel experiencing what's happening in Syria?
GLASSERWell, you know, I think obviously this is something that's right in their backyard. It comes, by the way, after nearly two years, a year-and-a-half of political turmoil. On the other side of its borders they're still anxiously looking at Egypt trying to understand what the latest political twist there mean in terms of their alliance or their, shall I say, you know, sort of friendly enough standoff with Egypt next door. Is that threatened by the election of the first Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt, on the one hand?
GLASSEROn the other hand, then, of course, they have the contested areas, the Golan Heights right next door with Syria. And so I think there's a lot of anxiety. But really what it does is it brings back the conversation to Iran. And one thing that we're seeing in part because of the American political season, as we'll discuss, is resurgence of the question about whether Israel is preparing in some way to strike Iran because of its budding nuclear capacities. And I think you can't detach this from the conflict that's unfolding in Syria next door.
REHMAnd of course, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was in Israel this week. What did he say about Iran?
KITFIELDYeah, I mean, there is -- it was kind of disturbing to me because he -- you know, at these -- usually these press conferences he held with Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, who's the Defense Minister of Israel, are usually pretty tame...
KITFIELD...bland affairs. And he basically was lectured by the Israelis saying that basically these sanctions -- and there was two different rounds of sanctions passed by Congress in the White House this week. They've caused the Iranian currency to implode and lose its value by about 40 percent. But the Israelis say that it's not working. They have not gone off their nuclear weapons program. Suspected -- strongly suspected, I should say. And so they kind of got lectured. You know, the window's closing. They're ratcheting up the pressure.
KITFIELDAnd Panetta responded by saying, look, we agreed they cannot be allowed to have a bomb, period. And we won't let them, period. They're getting very close to saying that if Iran doesn't do this, then we will be involved in a military strike. And I think, you know, that rhetorically is a harder line than they've adopted in the past.
REHMAnd that came right after Mitt Romney's visit to Israel, David. He's going to make siding with Israel on this very issue a campaign slogan.
IGNATIUSHe will. He already has done that.
IGNATIUSI think what we got this week was a set of pictures of our Defense Secretary -- Administration's Defense Secretary Leon Panetta standing next to the Israeli Defense Minister Barak and talking the same language about Iran. And, you know, that's going to be meant to counter Romney's arguments that this has been a do-nothing administration when it comes to supporting Israel. Barak used some very positive language. No administration has done more to cooperate militarily with us, et cetera. So that's part of it.
IGNATIUSPanetta has been one of the most sharp skeptics about the wisdom of Israeli military action against Iran. He said so publicly. He said so privately. And so for him to go there and talk about the what-if contingency plans over the horizon, if the current negotiations -- let's not forget we're still in a period of negotiations with Iran to see if there's some diplomatic solution. But if those fail, if sanctions fail, the fact that Panetta the skeptic was there to talk about the military stuff that would come after, I think Israelis would take as a pretty serious signal.
REHMWas it political?
IGNATIUSSure. I mean, it was to get the photograph of Panetta and Barak together. This is -- you know, so we're in the middle of a campaign. To expect or hope that things won't be political on any front, I think, is unrealistic.
REHMHow did Romney's visit to Israel go, Susan?
GLASSERWell, I think we're -- this is something we're going to be debating for a while. There is, as we say, a very sharp divide between not only the Obama campaign's view of what they're calling a gaffe-prone candidate who's not ready for primetime. He also received some very critical media coverage. Now you see the pushback on The Washington Post editorial page today. You have Charles Krauthammer actually calling it a triumph. So you have a pretty full spectrum of views.
GLASSERI think the general view is that it was a surprise, I think, to many close observers that Romney would choose, A, to go overseas at this moment in time in a way that seemed to underscore his lack of experience in foreign policy matters. And then, you know, whether you call it a gaffe or not, you know, there's no technical legal definition that I'm aware of, of gaffe. So, you know, a gaffe is in the eye of the beholder.
GLASSERThat being said, he's opened up a pretty raging debate. Arguably, the things he said about Israel go farther and are more hawkish even than the Republican Party's position, even than George W. Bush's position. So what is...
GLASSERHe's looking for an effort to double down on the feeling that Barack Obama has not been a solid friend and supporter of Israel. It seems very much like American electoral politics...
REHMHe also declared that Jerusalem is Israel's capitol, James.
KITFIELDOh yeah, I mean, he is -- and like the Charles Krauthammer, you know, the chief neocon of the commentary class is supporting this is no big surprise. The Evangelicals and neocons love the Israeli right, Likud, which is led by -- being led by Netanyahu. So the fact that Romney has adopted their sort of agenda hook, line and sinker is no surprise 'cause if you look at who's advising him it's the very same people who were advising Bush in his first term.
KITFIELDSo he's not going to be -- he's going to take America out of its role as mediator between the Palestinians and Israelis inside with the Israelis, well, just like George W. Bush did in his first term. He made this really strange comment that the difference in their economies between Israel and the Palestinians was because of culture in the hand of providence. So he's interjected god and cultural superiority and ethnic religious conflict, which is never a good idea.
IGNATIUSWell, and then Romney, when he was being attacked for the comment about Palestinian's cultural problems, said, well, it's not just the Palestinians. I mean, look at the Mexicans and the Americans. I mean, it was just an amazing...
GLASSERHonduras, too. I think he...
IGNATIUSSo I'll give you an interesting little nugget of information that I heard yesterday, which was that some British sources were struck that Romney took a very mild line on the question of military action against Iran in his conversation with British Prime Minister David Cameron. The British who were in the meeting, came away surprised that he hadn't been more hawkish. So that -- I mean, the British themselves are pretty skeptical about his views. So make of that what you will.
GLASSERWell, and I think this underscores something that David pointed out earlier, which is to say this is a campaign season. And really this is very much about the rhetorical positioning of the Romney campaign as opposed to how he will govern. There's a pretty solid -- rock solid record of suggesting that presidential candidates don't actually hold themselves to their own words when they become presidents. And that's...
REHMBut that is...
GLASSER...a bipartisan phenomenon.
REHM...that's got to be the most serious -- one of the most serious issues out there. And to say one thing to the Israelis and then say another thing to the Brits, James...
KITFIELDYou know, it gets to the fundamental issue of how hard Governor Romney is to pin down. I mean, if you look at his history, his record, his bio, northeast moderate governor of a blue state, businessman -- international successful businessman, he would be sort of a -- you would think he'd be a liberal internationalist realist part of the party. But because he had to run in a primary where the base was the issue, he has had to tack so far to the right that it's hard to know where he would actually stand on any of this stuff.
REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You also had General John Allen traveling to Pakistan this week meeting with Pakistan's army chief. What came out of that meeting, David?
IGNATIUSThere was -- discussions were focused on resuming cross-border military cooperation contact discussions. There had been some worrying incidents of Pakistani shelling across the border into Afghanistan in the last month. I think the most important thing was that General Allen, U.S. commander in Kabul was there in Pakistan talking with General Kayani. Just reading Pakistani reporting on the meeting, which I did this morning, it's quite positive in tone. Clearly they've been briefed by the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence that the tone here was going to be positive. This is resuming a relationship of mutual trust and mutual interest, etcetera, etcetera.
IGNATIUSSo I think after a terrible period each side is trying to see if there's some balance of cooperation. The Pakistani intelligence chief was reported to have been in Washington over the last week having conversations. So behind the scenes maybe this awful neurotic mess of a relationship, as I've written, is getting a little bit better.
REHMAll right. And let's talk about the European Bank's decision not to cut interest rates. Was that a surprise, Susan?
GLASSERI think it was a bit of a surprise. The markets are certainly reacting by going down and suggesting that they were hoping for something more proactive. Also, here in the United States this morning, based on new reports suggesting that unemployment has actually gone up although -- to 8.3 percent, I believe it was. And so...
GLASSER...a day after -- exactly. The jobs had gone up to 172,000 new jobs, which was a good report...
REHM183, I think, or 63 -- 163,000.
IGNATIUS63, I think, yeah.
GLASSERSo, you know, basically this is a day after the Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve said that he also was not going to pursue any new measures at this time to pump more money into the economy. So...
REHMTill September. They want to wait and see. What do you think, James?
KITFIELDWell, I mean, that gets me into domestic politics where, you know, I think it's going to be very hard for the Federal Reserve to do anything right before the election because they'll get -- they'll be blamed for sort of trying to bolster Obama's reelection chances. So I think we're not going to see a whole lot between now and the election.
KITFIELDBut on the issue of the European Central Bank meeting, you know, this week the head of the bank Draghi said that we will do whatever it takes to defend the euro. And so the markets expected some really dramatic action from this meeting.
KITFIELDAnd not just lowering interest rates, which are already very low, but to -- you know, some sort of plan to buy bonds from Spain and Italy whose bond prices are getting unsustainable. So he did nothing. And we've seen how this plays out. He's -- the European Central Bank says something that the markets really like, that they're really going to finally get to take some action. And the Germans rein him in. You know, within the 24 hours the Germans were saying no, well, hold it a second. That sounds a lot like you're going to be buying bonds and we don't want to spread, you know, the indebtedness, you know, share.
REHMSo what does that do to his credibility?
KITFIELDWell, I mean, the bank is supposedly independent but the German's, you know, finance minister made a very, you know, veiled threat that your independence relies on you're not overstepping your mandate, which would be to buy bonds. So it doesn't do a lot to his credibility. We've seen -- you know, I've said, you know, on this show many times, the problem with this crisis in Europe is the politics are very hard and then they're always three steps behind the markets. And this is just one more example where the politics are way behind the markets. And we'll see if they can avoid a train wreck, but I have my doubts.
REHMJames Kitfield, Susan Glasser, David Ignatius. They're all here to answer your questions when we come back.
REHMAnd one issue we haven't yet talked about in this week's international news, that extraordinary blackout in India. Who's to blame for that, David?
IGNATIUSWell, this was a blackout across northern India. The power generating resources, the distribution grid was just overwhelmed by demand. This happens in the United States. It's not a unique event. It took them longer -- it took them two days to put things back together.
IGNATIUSIt's a sign of India's infrastructure not keeping up with the incredibly fast pace of development. It's a sign of the kind of political squabbles that go on between different states in India and the central government. I mean, this is said to have been caused, in part, by states' surging demand beyond what they really should have been allotted.
IGNATIUSYou know, India has a lot of problems fitting the pieces of its success story together, but I didn't take this as a, you know, disastrous, oh, my gosh, India is failing story, no.
REHMAll right, here is an email from Brian in Dallas. ''Doesn't the Indian blackout cause a lot of outsourcing American companies to at least contemplate moving their jobs back to American shores?'' Susan?
GLASSERWell, I think that's a very interesting point. I think, you know, insourcing is one of the buzz words that we're hearing, increasingly, in part, I think, by the way as a reaction to several years of troubled economic times.
GLASSERIt makes it relatively speaking more cost efficient to have manufacturing back in the United States. But on the point of India, one thing, unfortunately, is because of the level of dysfunction in India, companies there and individuals who can afford it are much more used to this kind of dysfunction coming from the state.
GLASSERMany companies there have generators. They're fully prepared to do as much as they can to exist outside of the foibles of these very weak institutions that still exist in India today. So they were, you know, up and running. India's version of Silicon Valley reported very few companies closed, that sort of thing, because they're building sort of mini-corporate islands, if you will, there.
GLASSERAnd I think, ironically, American companies would potentially be harder hit, some of them, by a kind of massive blackout here...
GLASSER...because we're not sitting in our homes, walled-off compounds and that sort of thing with our own private generation. We expect the state to perform here and I do think this is a story about governance in some way and levels of corruption and political dysfunction in India that are really hamstringing its efforts to surge forward.
REHMAll right, let's open the phones. First to Sarasota, Fla. Good morning, Elliot, good to have you.
ELLIOTGood morning. I was just wondering whether anybody has noticed the fact that when Romney was in Israel and talking about the health plan, he was praising it, saying that their costs are less than half of what our costs are and does anybody realize that he was talking about a 100 percent Socialist program where the government mandates by taking a deduction from everybody's paycheck?
ELLIOTAnd the irony, it's a question of, I think, the integrity of Mr. Romney, his character and his ability to understand what he's saying. Here he is criticizing Obama's plan, which is the same as the Romney plan for the mandate, and he's praising a totally-socialistic program which everybody agrees is an excellent medical program, but it's funded through a mandate where everybody participates.
REHMAll right, David Ignatius?
IGNATIUSI am like Elliot in Sarasota. I found this absolutely astonishing. Like much else on this recent trip, I have to say Romney went out of his way to say that America could learn something from Israel's success in restraining health care costs there. Their health care costs have been rising about half as fast as ours and he's right. We could learn something from Israel and that is that you need more government role in the market in precisely some of the ways that the Obama health care bill has advanced.
IGNATIUSSo, you know, but is that more amazing than going to Britain and telling them that their Olympics might get off to a terrible start? I don't know. It's hard to explain.
GLASSERWell, I think one thing we've learned is that Romney is not going to be a rigid ideologue because all of us are stumped as to what exactly his ideology is. And this does go back to the previous point about which Mitt Romney are we hearing from? You know, is it the Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, for whom it might not be so surprising to praise Israel's efforts to come up with a health care system that works and to keep costs down?
GLASSEROr is it the Mitt Romney who had to fight like heck to win the Republican presidential primary and who was willing to abandon previous held positions in order to do so.
REHMAll right, to Charlottesville, Va., good morning, Greg.
GREGHi, good morning. You discussed earlier the red lines associated with chemical weapons use by the regime. Do you think that if we knew the CW sites lost security and were possibly being looted by insurgents, al-Qaida, like you mentioned before, would that also be a red line?
KITFIELDThat's exactly the red line I was referring to. If we think that he's losing his grip on those weapons -- and as David said, we know al-Qaida is in there because al-Qaida in Iraq came across the Syrian border so we know they're there. The idea that they would get their hands on Sarin nerve gas, I think, would cause us to act.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Grand Rapids, Mich. Good morning, Joel, you're on the air.
JOELThank you. The question I have for your panelists is, I'm wondering what is the difference? I know you explained the difference between Abraham Lincoln calling out the troops to suppress the Confederate rebels and Assad calling out the troops to suppress his rebels. I mean, they're both doing it in the name of unity, keeping the country together and eliminating the opposition.
KITFIELDWell, let's remember that this started as a peaceful protest, just like the other Arab Spring protests started. It was only after his crackdown turned extremely bloody that the rebels decided to arm and in that sense, just as Abraham Lincoln led during the Civil War, well, Assad's not leading during a civil war and we'll see who wins it.
GLASSERHonestly, let's beware of historical analogies. I think it's a pretty outrageous comparison to compare Abraham Lincoln to Bashar Assad.
REHMAll right, to Washington, D.C., good morning, Joe.
JOEYeah Diane, I'd like to say about -- I guess change it a little bit. The question about BO care is, why would we give D.C. more power when they've never proved that they're competent in improving anything ,as far as competence with money?
JOEAnd we want to give Harry Reid and them more money to spend? And then also why doesn't anybody talk about medical savings accounts, which is a much better idea than anything else that's being decided, instead of giving Washington more power?
REHMI think Joe that might have been a more appropriate question during our first hour. I think we'll have to pass. Hold your question for another time, thanks for calling. To Tom in Houston, Tx., good morning.
TOMHi Diane, my question is in regards to China's veto of UN attempts to, you know, resolve the Syrian crisis. A lot has been talked about how Russia supports the Syrian government, but not much has been discussed why China's reasons for blocking UN attempts.
GLASSERWell, you know, I think that's an astute observation on the part of the caller. You know, it has been both Russia and China operating in tandem that have exercised the veto in the Security Council and therefore prevented a more unified international action. That being said, clearly, Russia has taken the lead in terms of actively promoting arms sales to Assad's regime in terms of working against the U.S. diplomatic efforts.
GLASSERBut China and Russia both share a consistent ideological opposition to this sort of thing. Even if Russia didn't have this close financial relationship and military relationship with Syria, what Russia and China are concerned about is the legal precedent, the idea that the Security Council, as a matter of principle, can invoke the responsibility to protect innocent civilians and to intervene, basically as Russia and China see it, at will, in the internal domestic affairs of other countries.
GLASSERAnd ever since the Arab Spring revolutions, both China and Russia have been extremely concerned not to establish that precedent, both, of course, are very vulnerable potentially to internal domestic protests, whether peaceful or not. And they don't want NATO and the United States saying, well, gee, maybe we ought to do something about Russia's actions in the Caucuses for examples.
REHMNow speaking of Russia, Susan, a case that's getting a lot of attention, these three female members of a punk rock band, what happened?
GLASSERWell, you know, this is part of the ongoing protest against Vladimir Putin's return to official power in the presidency in Russia. There have been months and months of opposition and demonstrations. Many of them have been mass demonstrations. Some of them have been, what shall I say, sort of clever, almost, agit-prop type protests.
GLASSERAnd these three young women in this band went into the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow and they performed basically what orthodox religious believers consider to be a very sacrilegious act, in which they demanded Putin's removal from power and they were arrested.
GLASSERNow, the Russian authorities, in their inimitable way of overkill, are throwing the book at them. Two of these women, by the way, are mothers of very young children. We would consider this probably, pretty broadly speaking, to fall within politically-protected free speech.
REHMThey could face up to seven years in prison?
GLASSERSeven years in jail, that's correct. And this is seen as a sign that Putin, unlike Medvedev, is willing to give no quarter to the opposition. There are many disturbing signs. They've dramatically raised the fees and a new law in the Duma that makes it almost punitive, if you're arrested in the course of a protest. It's thousands of dollars now. So they're really doing everything to signal, we don't want these mass demonstrations to go on anymore.
REHMBut at the same time, Putin himself is pushing for leniency for these women?
IGNATIUSHe's trying to have it both ways and that's...
IGNATIUS...that's, you know, fairly standard autocrat's technique.
GLASSERThe Good Tsar.
IGNATIUSThe Good Tsar is going to reduce your sentence. These punk rockers were just kids and mislead. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the very harsh repression continues and we have a continuing chain of unsolved murders of dissidents, of journalists in Russia who speak out.
IGNATIUSWhat's interesting to me is that despite all that repression, the opposition in Russia is not being cowed yet. I mean ,people are still voicing protest, doing things like these punk rockers did and lots of other things. So I don't know that Putin can put this back in the box...
IGNATIUS...if he wants to ,but I'm not sure he can.
REHMWhat about the prominent political prisoner and Russia's Supreme Court issuing a ruling in favor of him? James?
KITFIELDYeah, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
KITFIELDIt's a glimmer that -- because everyone believes that this person was, you know, he was financing opposition groups. He's one of the oligarchs from the oil -- from an oil oligarch. He was financing the opposition groups and as miraculously happens when there's ever opposition build up in Russia, you get arrested for some sort of nefarious embezzlement or something like that.
KITFIELDThey use a court system as a way to silence protest and opposition. He's been in jail for a long time. The Supreme Court said that the lower court should revisit the case. We'll see what happens. I think a lot of Russians are very skeptical that he'll be let go. And at the same time he's doing this, we saw another anti-corruption individual charged this past week with embezzlement, which is their kind of common way of getting rid of people who they don't like, you know, pointing out their faults.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Lafayette, La., good morning, Julian.
JULIANHi, thanks for taking my call, Diane.
JULIANI just wanted to point out that, you know, there's this constant drumbeat out of Washington and I heard it, unfortunately, last week on your show, although I think your guests were just trying to report what the politicians say. But to be pro-Jewish, you need to be pro-Israel, which means pro-APAC, pro-Netanyahu, pro-settler movement, anti-peace settlement. And 75 percent of the Jews of America voted for Obama and I think that's not necessarily because, you know, as someone who is Jewish myself, it concerns me to hear that characterized as being pro-Israel.
JULIANYou know, I mean, Israel is in a very dangerous place right now in terms of its democracy. It's turning a corner where if it doesn't find a way to let go of the West Bank and Gaza, it's not going to have a majority Jewish population. And you know, for those Jews that are concerned about Israel, they don't want to see that happen. And I just find it very, you know, it's very uncomfortable to hear people say they're pro-Israel when they go and take the kind of positions, you know that they seem to be competing to take.
JULIANThat's not doing the Jews of this country any favor and it's also a very superficial and almost patronizing attitude towards the Jewish population.
REHMJulian, I thank you for your call. James?
KITFIELDI think, as usual, your listeners are very astute and that's a very astute commentary, you know, as a sign of how our politics are changing on this issue. For decades, it's been a common consensus amongst Republican and Democratic administrations that the settlements were illegitimate, illegal and Israel needed to stop those so we could get to a two-state solution.
KITFIELDNow, when Obama tried to press back on that, Mitt Romney accused him of throwing Israel under the bus. It used to be considered something that was in Israel's interest, but Israel is led by a right-wing government that's been very sympathetic to the settlers in the past and our own politics encouraged some politicians to sort of stand side by side with that.
KITFIELDBut if you talk about moving your embassy to Jerusalem, that basically takes you out of the mediator role and puts you on one side of that conflict. And that conflict, we're the only mediator that both sides will ever trust enough to reach a deal so it's a dangerous thing.
IGNATIUSI thought the caller was very articulate. It's often said that there's a wider debate among Jews in Israel about the country's future than there is among Jews and supporters of Israel in the U.S. and this is a sign that there is a broad debate. I think that if Obama is reelected, it's a very interesting question whether he will try as hard as he can again to seek a Palestinian/Israeli peace deal.
IGNATIUSThere's not much to work with, is the problem and that's true on both sides. You can criticize Benjamin Netanyahu for his settlements policy, for his dragging his feet, but it's also true that the Palestinian leadership just hasn't shown up for several years now and they have been a consistent disappointment. So I think Obama would like to try, but he's going to have to find some people out there who want to make peace.
GLASSERWell, I think that's a really important point. Let's not forget that actually when Barack Obama came into office, he envisioned Middle East peace in a new approach to the Israelis as being a signature part of his foreign policy. After beating their heads against the wall of that for the first year or so of the administration, they basically retreated and have not been engaged in serious efforts largely because of the factors that David just suggested.
GLASSERI think, you know, the bottom line is, is that Israel is starting to become part of the red state/blue state divide inside the United States as well.
REHMAnd a Russian defense ministry today denied reports that that country is sending three warships carrying some 360 marines total to the Syrian port of Tartus. The reports, which quote an unnamed military official, said the vessels were sailing to Tartus to pick up supplies.
REHMJames Kitfield, Susan Glasser, David Ignatius, happy weekend, thanks for being here.
REHMThanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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