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The world’s leaders are in New York this week. It’s the opening of the UN General Assembly. Both U.S. friends and U.S foes are represented there, plus some in between: Egypt’s new president, Mohammed Morsi, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. President Barack Obama addressed the assembly yesterday, calling on leaders to continue the “painstaking work of reform” and defending American values. But Mitt Romney thinks the country needs a more forceful leader, one better able to protect our interests. Please join us for a conversation on President Obama at the U.N. and differing perspectives on America’s role in the world.
- Susan Glasser editor-in-chief, Foreign Policy magazine
- Jackson Diehl deputy editorial page editor, Washington Post
- Jessica Mathews president, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR, sitting in for Diane. She's on vacation. President Obama went before the U.N. General Assembly in New York yesterday to offer his view on what's going on in the Arab and Muslim world and beyond. He welcomed Democratic change but called on governments to show respect for freedom of speech. Republican candidate Mitt Romney meanwhile is criticizing the president's response to the recent tumult in the Middle East.
MR. TOM GJELTENJoining me to talk about the president's address at the U.N. and differing perspectives on America's role in the world: Jessica Mathews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine, and Jackson Diehl of The Washington Post. We want you in this conversation as well. Call us with your comments and questions, 1-800-433-8850. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org, or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Jessica, Susan and Jackson, welcome to each of you. Thanks for coming in.
MS. JESSICA MATHEWSGood morning, Tom.
MR. JACKSON DIEHLPleasure.
GJELTENSo something interesting has happened in the last few weeks in the Obama campaign. His ratings on handling the economy, which had been his weak point, have gone up, while his ratings and foreign policy, which had actually been his strong point, have gone down. Foreign policy has become the hot issue in this campaign. And, Susan Glasser, as editor of Foreign Policy magazine, that must delight you.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERWell, you know, I have to say I'm not entirely surprised. The world has a way of intruding itself upon the best laid plans of campaign consultants. And I think that's a little bit of what we're seeing over the last couple of weeks which is that...
GLASSERWell, you know, time doesn't stand still just because we have an election. And I think what's very interesting to see is Obama being forced now to talk about the very messy process of transition in the Arab world. And, you know, Americans were sort of good guys, bad guys, black and white kind of view of the world sometimes. And I think that we'd like to all leave it in some way with this happy narrative of peaceful democratic change sweeping authoritarian dictatorships.
GLASSERBut that, of course, put a lot of things under the carpet. And the reality is much less messy, much less clear from the point of view of the United States and its national interest where we've ended up in these countries in transaction, whether it's Egypt with a new president from the Muslim Brotherhood, whether, of course, it's Libya where we swept out Muammar Qaddafi. But at the same time, you could argue we've created a sort of a new felt state where the central government doesn't control places like Benghazi.
GJELTENWell, in any case, Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, are highlighting President Obama's apparent vulnerabilities here. We'll get back to our conversation in a minute. But first, let's listen to what Gov. Romney and President Obama have been saying in the last few days during an interview on "60 Minutes" on Sunday. President Obama characterized recent setbacks in the Middle East as bumps in the road. Gov. Romney was quick to jump on that comment during a speech this week in Colorado.
GOV. MITT ROMNEYHe said the developments in the Middle East are bumps in the road. Yeah, that was my reaction. Bumps in the road? We had an ambassador assassinated. We had a Muslim Brotherhood member elected to the presidency of Egypt. Twenty thousand people have been killed in Syria. We have tumult in Pakistan, and, of course, Iran is that much closer to having the capacity to build a nuclear weapon. These are not bumps in the road. These are human lives.
GOV. MITT ROMNEYThese are developments we do not want to see. This is time for a president who will shape events in the Middle East, not just be merciful or be at mercy of the events of the Middle East. I will get America on track to have the kind of leadership we need, so we could shape the future of this part of the world and keep America strong.
GJELTENA president who will shape events, not be at the mercy of events. Well, yesterday, it was Mr. Obama's turn in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly. The president laid out his view on whether the United States should be shaping events in the Middle East.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMANow, let me be clear: Just as we cannot solve every problem in the world, the United States has not and will not seek to dictate the outcome of democratic transitions abroad.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMAWe do not expect other nations to agree with us on every issue, nor do we assume that the violence of the past weeks or the hateful speech by some individuals represent the views of the overwhelming majority of Muslims any more than the views of the people who produced this video represents those of Americans. However, I do believe that it is the obligation of all leaders in all countries to speak out forcefully against violence and extremism.
GJELTENThat's President Obama's speaking yesterday at the U.N. General Assembly. He went on to say, "It's time to marginalize those who use hatred of America, or the West, or Israel, as the central organizing principle of politics." Jessica Mathews, what was the president trying to do with the speech?
MATHEWSI think he was trying to say what had to be said in the context of recent events in the Middle East. But he certainly wasn't trying to plow any new ground. This seemed to me a very modest speech. And he was basically repeating what he'd said before and trying to clarify, I think, for an American audience where we -- the limits of our ability to shape events in the region and the trade-offs that we make with our commitment to the First Amendment.
GJELTENHe was trying to -- it sounds like he was trying to strike some kind of balance here.
MATHEWSYeah. Yeah. And he was pointing out -- I thought in some ways, the most interesting sentence in the speech, may be the most meaningful one, was just after what we'd just heard where he pointed out that a culture of violence and lawlessness directed against America or Israel becomes one directed against Sunnis and Shia, depending on who is in the majority in a particular country. There's no dividing line. And that's an enormously important point to make.
MATHEWSBut I think, Tom, that what he didn't say and really hasn't said through this whole 18 months or more now of the Arab awakening is how long it's going to take for these democratic transitions to play out. And that's why I think that that bumps in the road comment, I mean, Romney just willfully misinterpreted. He obviously wasn't talking about the death of Amb. Stevens or the other Americans.
MATHEWSBut the American people, I think, he has never talked to them, to us about how long this evolution is going to take, that it's 10 years or 20 years, not weeks or months, which is why Arab Spring is such a misleading name for what's going on.
GJELTENWell, Jackson Diehl, one of the facts of this democratic transition is that you now have governments that have more popular support than the governments that preceded them and less clearly aligned relations with the United States. And that was a pretty sobering list of developments that Gov. Romney cited. I mean, it seems the U.S. just does not have the influence to shape events that it used to have.
DIEHLWell, the fact is that there's a power struggle going on in all of these countries, and the future is up for grabs in a way that it hasn't been in half a century in places such as Egypt and Libya and Syria. And so I think, you know, one point Obama is trying to make is that we are a player in this game. We're going to -- we are going to have setbacks, which is what he meant to say by bumps in the road, unfortunate choice of phrase. But there is an open-season game being played there which we need to be a part of.
DIEHLAnd I think the interesting thing is if you look back on the history of the last 18 months, there have been key moments where the United States has had a crucial influence in how things have turned out, Libya being the most obvious example. The military intervention in Libya is what led to the overthrow of Qaddafi, who would probably still be in power if we had not done that.
DIEHLWe had a crucial influence in Egypt in at least two very crucial moments. We helped push Mubarak out the door at the end of the revolution there and a very crucial intervention last summer, where we leaned on the military to turn over power to the Muslim Brotherhood after they won the elections. So I think the interesting thing is that the United States and this administration has shown that they can shape events in crucial moments and happy to take credit for those moments.
DIEHLAnd I think the question is, have they done as much as they could have to shape events? And I think that's where the Romney criticism, I think, strikes home with at because he's talking about situations such as Syria where the United States has stood back and refused to try and shape events there.
GJELTENWell, he's talking about specific situations like Syria, but isn't there also a question here, Susan Glasser, of the president's own style? I mean, he just came back from the United Nations. Only -- the only head of state he met with, I believe, was the president of Yemen. Last year, he had 13 bilateral meetings. Isn't it fair to ask whether the president could do more personally to establish the kinds of relations with world leaders that would allow the U.S. to sort of exert more influence?
GLASSERWell, clearly, what we've seen as Obama has emerged as a world leader over the last four years is that he is a very reserved character. And I believe it was Jackson who first wrote this about -- several years ago about Obama's lack of bonding with other world leaders, other presidents. Now, he's been asked several times since that column, which quite got under their skin, who he is closest to, and they've never really given a particularly compelling answer.
GLASSERThe bottom line is that he's not established a close friendship with any of these world leaders. They now make the case that they don't necessarily need to do so, that there's just, in some ways, a very pragmatic and realistic assessment of what American interests and powers are to influence those event towards our interest is. And I think that that's what you've seen from Obama, and part of it is an inclination not to bash your head against a brick wall, and, you know, part of it is a single-minded focus on re-election.
GLASSERAnd as for Syria, I think you absolutely can say they've been playing out the clock on that. They've been looking to get past early November in the voting before they come up with the next stage of the play.
GJELTENJessica, I remember seeing a quote not very long ago in The New York Times, quoting an Arab diplomat who said the president need to know -- needs to know the nicknames of people. He needs to slap them on their backs. He needs to have that kind of personal relation.
MATHEWSI think that's a very fair criticism. It's not who he is. But he also, I think, offsetting that, has had -- he has enormous habits of study and learning so that he gets on top of issues. He's very decisive. And he's not afraid to pick up the phone and be quite tough when he feels he needs to be. So that's who he is.
GJELTENJessica Matthews is president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Susan Glasser, a minute ago, said that the time is clicking on Syria, and the election is the deadline. And we could probably also say the same thing about Iran. And we're going to take a short break now. And then when we come back, we will be talking about the clock ticking on Syria and on Iran. Stay with us.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. And the subject today is the U.S. role in the world and the sort of parade of problems that we're seeing discussed at the United Nations this week with the opening of the general assembly. My guests are Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Susan Glasser, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine, and Jackson Diehl, who's the deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Post.
GJELTENAnd we want to hear from you as well. Our phone number is 800-433-8850. You can send us an email at email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Jackson Diehl, so we have an election coming up in, what, six weeks or something. To what extent is this impending presidential election either sort of paralyzing foreign policy decision-making or the consideration of tough decisions or maybe even accelerating and are promoting it?
DIEHLWell, you know, I've been really struck recently by the number of foreign leaders who have now said publicly they can't wait for the U.S. election to be over so Obama will make a decision about a crucial issue. The latest one was actually Ahmadinejad of Iran, who said in an interview with David Ignatius of The Post on Sunday that he's waiting until after the election to see what Obama's bottom line is going to be in negotiations on Iran's nuclear program.
MATHEWSThat's pretty rich coming from an Iranian who have been delaying for a mere eight years.
DIEHLYou also have Erdogan of Turkey, who said in an interview a couple of weeks ago that he wants the American election to be over so he can find out what Obama is really willing to do about Syria. You have Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, who said the other day he's postponing his attempt to get Palestinian recognition from the general assembly of the United Nations until after the American election because he wants to see what Obama will do as an alternative to that.
DIEHLAnd then you have Putin of Russia, who is waiting till after the election to see what Obama's promised flexibility is going to be on missile defense. So I think there's a bunch of really big decisions that have been pushed past the election. And the odd thing is we really don't know what Obama's going to do on any of them.
GJELTENAnd we thought that the fiscal cliff and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts was the big issue that they're going to have to deal with after the election. Jessica, Susan said before the break that the clock is ticking on Syria and we need to make some decision soon about which way to go there. What's your view of the pressure of time weighing on us with respect to Syria?
MATHEWSWell, I think she's right that right now it's too late for the U.S. to attempt any major initiatives before the election. But I -- for the past several months, the administration was very active and made a huge effort to get Russia to move off its opposition to any international action. They worked hard at it. They tried hard. They got nowhere. The Russians have just dug in their heels for now.
MATHEWSThe cost is people dying and more and more damage done to the fabric of secular relationship -- civil relationships in Syria, more likelihood that there will be fighting between Christian, Sunni, Shia, Alawites after the transition and more damage to the fabric of the Syrian nation. But there is certainly nothing new that in the weeks before an American election, which also happen to be the weeks before the Chinese government transition, that everything kind of goes into the deep freeze.
GJELTENWell, Susan, it would appear that the United States is sort of waiting for other countries, notably the Arab League, to play a more a prominent role here. What's going on this week at the United Nations with respect to this more collective isolation of Syria? I haven't seen any of it. What kind of representation does the government of Syria have this week in New York?
GLASSERWell, you know, so this week is the annual meeting, the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, and, you know, I would say that it's not for nothing that it has a reputation as a pretty massive talkfest. There's a lot of talk about Syria, but, in all honesty, I wouldn't take too seriously the sense that there is going to be a new way forward that emerges out of these very set-piece speeches at the United Nation's General Assembly. You have many players around the Arab world.
GLASSERIn the Gulf in particular, you have the emirate of Qatar, for example, that have been exerting a fair amount of pressure to move towards a more decisive action. The Qataris, presumably the Saudis, are supporting the Syrian rebels or part of the Syrian rebel movement with weapons, with money, putting pressure, lobbying. My sense, though, is that, as Jessica said, until after the election, first of all, you're just not going to see any decisive move by the U.S. one way or the other.
GLASSERAnd without that, you're not going to see the Arab League stepping up and making a call that they know won't be answered. But I also think that it's actually the U.S.-Turkey conversation, in many ways, that's going to shape what response you might see from the West.
GLASSERBut the enforcement result has been that the Syrians are as well aware of the political calendar as we are, and what you've seen in the last few months that is so tragic is an escalation in the number of casualties, an escalation in the fighting. Perhaps that is because there is a sense by the regime that that may not be possible after early November.
GJELTENWe're closing in now on, I think, around 25,000 people killed in Syria since the beginning of the uprising there, and it doesn't seem that there is much prospect of a resolution of that conflict yet. Jackson Diehl, this one of the few issues, I think we can say, in foreign policy where it does seem to be a really clear distinction between the Obama administration's foreign policy and what Gov. Romney and his team are proposing. They have become much more outspoken about the need for the United States to actually give military assistance to the rebel forces in Syria, correct?
DIEHLYeah, they have said that. Now, of course, after the election, we may find out that that's the administration's policy, too. But, for now, there is a clear difference in that respect. I -- it's one of several very pragmatic differences you can find between Obama and Romney on what would happen next year. Another, I think, is Russia, on arms control agreements with Russia. There is a big difference between them.
DIEHLAnd I think the third is the Israeli-Palestinian problem, that on all three of those things, you have very different actions next year by the United States depending on who's elected president.
GJELTENAnd -- well, we know that Gov. Romney, according to this sort of off-the-record speech or remarks that he made last May, basically said he had given up. He had no hope whatsoever in the prospect of an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinian. So what do you see the Obama administration in contrast doing next year?
DIEHLI think Obama will make another run at it.
DIEHLI think he will make another attempt to solve the problem. You know, this is an issue that strike, seems to be, an emotional chord for him. When he came to office, there seemed to be two foreign policy issues he really cared about. There was arms -- nuclear arms control and this. And on day one of his first term, he started working on the Israeli-Palestinian problem. He failed, but I think he'll make another run at it if he's re-elected. And when...
MATHEWSHe would have a totally different relationship with Israel than Romney, who has practically outsourced his Israeli-Palestinian policy to Sheldon Adelson and Bibi Netanyahu.
GJELTENFor the -- in the short-term, at least. I mean, again, after the election, you know, where he'd be elected, that might de different.
MATHEWSWell, things you say and things you do don't die with Election Day, and certainly it won't with Russia. Romney has said Russia is our greatest enemy, which is a preposterous statement. But it's -- it did not go unheard in Russia.
GLASSERThat being said, I think, you know, there's actually a long history of not only changes between presidential campaign rhetoric and presidential actions once the election is over, but actually dramatic changes. Russia's a great example of that. Remember George W. Bush, in campaigning back in the 2000 election, said that, you know, Bill Clinton had made a terrible mistake. He had personalized relationships with Russia. He had invested. Bill Clinton famously called a somewhat drunken Boris Yeltsin the Abraham Lincoln of his country in the middle of the First Chechen War.
GLASSERSo Bush came during the campaign and said he's going to have a much more realistic, pragmatic attitude towards Russia. He's not going to personalize relations. The very first meeting he had with Vladimir Putin, he famously looked into his soul and decided that this was a man he could do business with. You know, years later, it ended up actually that they had an extremely uncomfortable and chilly relationship in part that sort of saw its nadir with the Russia-Georgia War. So Bush's own position evolved over time.
GLASSERBut I think it's important to note that right now, these two men are talking about foreign policy purely in the context of their electoral advantage. And also, I think it's important for context of this overall conversation while it's true that foreign policy has roared back into the news, as the world has roared back into the news before this, before the conventions. I think the Gallup Poll numbers gad something like 4 percent of Americans considering foreign policy to be the most important issue in the campaign.
GLASSERAnd I do think it's important that even now, after several weeks of talking about this, those numbers have gone up, but not significantly. This is not going to be the way in which Americans cast their vote.
GJELTENLet's talk for a moment about Mohammed Morsi, the new president of Egypt who, I believe, is going to be speaking tomorrow, if I'm not mistaken, or maybe today. I think it is today, actually. Now, I can't remember, today or tomorrow at the U.N. General Assembly, probably the best example of a leader who no longer fits the prior mold of, you know, someone subservient to U.S. interests.
GJELTENAnd, Jackson Diehl, Gov. Romney cited the election of a Muslim Brotherhood leader as the president -- to be president of Egypt as somehow a reflection of the diminished influence of the United States. Is there anything that the United States, one, could have done to keep Mohammed Morsi from becoming elected president of Egypt and how you think the United States is dealing with what does Morsi represent for the United States right now?
DIEHLWell, of course, there is something United States could have done to stop Morsi taking over as president. They could have encouraged the military to prevent him from taking office when they were wavering about that last June. Instead, we just did -- we did just the opposite. We leaned on the military to let Morsi take office and let the democratic process take its course, which I think was the right thing to do, and so far we're seeing that there's a payoff in that.
DIEHLAnd the Muslim Brotherhood, while it obviously shares a very anti-Western ideology, is clearly willing and wants to work with the United States or this administration. They've been negotiating a debt relief deal with us. They've been negotiating an agreement with the IMF. They're trying to open up their economy and pursue sensible, market-oriented economic policies, and it gives us a bait.
DIEHLAnd they are trying to impose order, most importantly in the Sinai Peninsula where terrorists related to al-Qaida had been taking refuge and launching attacks against Israel. So in every meaningful way, they are showing themselves to be a reasonable partner for the United States so far.
GJELTENEvery meaningful way? I mean, Jessica Matthews, Mohammed Morsi went to Tehran, the first Egyptian president to go there in 30 years, and said very little while he was there about Iran's nuclear program.
MATHEWSYeah. But I think, on balance, I really agree with Jackson's analysis of this. I mean, the Brotherhood is transforming itself from a religious movement into a political party, which is a gigantic challenge. Morsi was not their first choice. They didn't even plan to run a candidate. He's learning. He learned after the Libyan thing. It took him 27 hours to get right, but he did it. And the other thing that's really different, I mean, he has no constitution yet.
MATHEWSThe institutions are all up in the air, question whether the parliament can sit. He's grappling with gigantic challenges, including economic ones. But the most important difference, I think, is I think you said, Tom, earlier that the new rulers have more popular support. But they also have much more pressure from the street than the previous dictators.
GJELTENThat's the flip side.
MATHEWSThey have to pay a whole lot more attention...
MATHEWS...to what public opinion is, and that makes it triply difficult to try to balance all the things that Morsi is juggling.
GJELTENAnd, Susan Glasser, before we go to the break and the phone calls, we haven't talked much about Iran. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was there. And you had breakfast with him this week. Tell us about that.
GLASSERWell, I didn't actually have much breakfast, but, yes, he has made a ritual of coming to the U.S. for the U.N. General Assembly. It's the only way that he would be allowed into the United States for the last eight years, and he pointed out at this meeting that he's had eight consecutive meetings with various American media editors of newspapers, anchors of TV shows. It's a very awkward conversation.
GLASSERYou have the sense that nobody is quite sure if it's -- that they really want to be there with such a loathsome figure in so many ways. But in their role as journalists, they're there to quiz him and to get a sense of, you know, where is this guy coming from.
GJELTENSusan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So what was it like, though, Susan? I mean, here we have a reviled figure in the West. What was it like to be there? And you were with a number of very prominent journalists as well.
GLASSERWell, that's right. I mean, it -- in part, I found just the spectacle to be quite interesting. You have the editors of The New York Times and The Washington Post, and Time magazine are there and Christiane Amanpour. And, you know, he got in a big argument, for example, with David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker who -- which was, I thought, very revealing. First, Remnick asked him about basically the tradeoff between free speech and the Prophet Muhammad video.
GLASSERAnd he insisted that we don't have freedom of speech here, in effect. He repeated his Holocaust denialism and this idea that somehow we punish people here who disagree with the historical accounts of the Holocaust. But then he got in this very revealing discussion about Salman Rushdie, the writer who had been under a death fatwa. Remnick was pressing him to say whether that remained in effect, and Ahmadinejad said, well, you know, where is he?
GLASSERAnd Remnick said, well, he's here in New York. And Rushdie seemed to make a joke -- I mean, sorry, Ahmadinejad seemed to make a joke about Rushdie, and he basically said, like, well, gee, you know, he ought to be careful. He ought to be -- you know, there are people after him. And, again, you know, nobody laughed in any of the jokes that he made.
GJELTENSo it's kind of hard to engage him intellectually, it sounds like.
GLASSERAbsolutely. And he is not an intellectual. That was one thing that came clear.
GLASSERWhen Matthew Winkler, the editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, asked him a very simple question, right -- those are always the ones that trip you up -- he simply said, is it correct that Iran is currently producing 1.4 million barrels of oil a day? Now, this is, of course, a pillar of the Iranian economy. It was very clear he didn't know the answer, and I thought that was a very revealing...
GJELTENWell, I mean, he is a lame duck, and he's actually...
GJELTEN...probably basically irrelevant in -- almost irrelevant right now in Iranian politics, right, Jessica?
MATHEWSHe is. We pay a lot more attention to him than the Supreme Leader in Tehran does in terms of national security decision-making. That's the irony of his -- all the attention he gets every year in New York.
GJELTENJackson Diehl, was there anything in what either -- well, Ahmadinejad is speaking today. He did speak to journalists previously. But is there anything in what he said or in what President Obama said yesterday about Iran that gives us any more sense of where this standoff between the United States and its allies and Iran over its nuclear program is at this moment?
DIEHLWell, again, I was struck by Ahmadinejad's comment that he's waiting until after the election because it did suggest that after -- that the Iranians haven't ruled out making a deal, still, and that it's -- you know, what you can take from that is that maybe once the election's over, is they're going to come forward with their bottom line because, up until now, they really have refused to engage with the Western offer that's been made to them and to come back with a reasonable response.
DIEHLAnd so maybe they -- maybe he's waiting -- we'll hear from them in November now, because if we don't, I think it's going to start tipping towards a real crisis.
GJELTENOf course, another big question is whether Benjamin Netanyahu is waiting until after the election to decide what he wants to do, what Israel will do.
DIEHLWell, they've -- they seem to have -- of course, you never know for sure, but they seem to have clearly put off any military action for the future. And the substitute for that, I think, was Netanyahu's attempt to get Obama to draw the so-called red line for the U.S. military action, and Obama has basically put him off on that and refused, really, to do that. So now the Israelis are sort of left wondering what to do next, and I think they, too, are going to wait to see who wins the election and then recalibrate where they're going.
GJELTENWell, that issue, the red line, is another one that divides Gov. Romney and President Obama. Jackson Diehl is deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Post. We're going to take a short break right now. Stay tuned. We'll be right back.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in for Diane Rehm today with my guest: Jessica Mathews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Susan Glaser, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine and Jack Diehl, deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Post.
GJELTENKate, a listener, writes us an email. She says, "The president's ratings in foreign affairs is largely slipping with those Americans who, like Romney, wrongly still cling to the idea that we live in a post-World War II world with only a few leaders who can tell others what to do. One example is the bashing he takes from the right on Israel. If any other country's leader tried to force our hand on a red line and the president exceeded, Romney and company would decry him as a wimp."
GJELTENJackson Diehl, what's the deal with this red line debate? Benjamin Netanyahu says he wants the United States to declare a red line. Gov. Romney says Netanyahu is right. The United States should declare a red line. Where do we stand?
DIEHLWell, it's a little bit confusing at the moment. Netanyahu wants Obama to -- there is an Obama red line, and the White House would say we have a red line, and he stated it again yesterday at the United Nations. He said, we will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, and we will do what we must to prevent them from getting one. So that seems to imply the red line is if Iran actually seeks to build a bond, the United States will intervene militarily.
DIEHLNetanyahu would like the United States to set a more explicit and tougher red line, to say that Iran cannot be allowed to obtain the capability to build that bomb, so...
GJELTENBut what does that mean?
DIEHLThat means that they -- we will not allow them to enrich uranium to a certain percent. If we see you enriching uranium beyond a certain level, that's a red line. If we see you acquiring a certain amount of uranium sufficient to make a bomb, we will intervene. So it's a much tougher line, which -- what the Israelis decide -- define as capability as opposed to the bomb itself.
GJELTENBut neither of those conditions has yet been met in Iran. They have not yet produced enough enriched uranium to produce even one bomb, and the uranium they have enriched is not yet at weapon's grade. Right, Susan?
MATHEWSWell, I mean, you know, again, we don't know what we don't know, and we should be, I think, all pretty sanguine about that fact. What's interesting is that the American officials -- we talked to the people at the Defense Department. We interviewed Leon Panetta right in the midst of this red line debate. And he said, listen, we have the same intelligence as the Israeli's, and we have the same intelligence conclusions. We are in a different place, clearly, when it comes to what we think publicly ought to be our positioning on this.
MATHEWSBut his view, the view of the American government, is that we have no disagreement with Israel over our knowledge about where the Israeli's -- sorry, where Iranians are at. And what Panetta said to us -- and I believe the American government has said this consistently -- is that we believe there's a year to a year and a half period from the point at which they acquire this capability to actually building a nuclear weapon.
GJELTENLet's go now to Marianne, who's on the line from Southern Pines, N.C. It sounds like a pretty place, Marianne.
MARIANNEIt's gorgeous. Come on down. Also, I might mention this really quickly. I'm a female Catholic Medicare recipient, so I feel so important, the 47 percent (unintelligible).
MARIANNEAnyway, thanks for taking my call. I just want to say I feel grateful every day for President Obama's brilliant, thoughtful leadership at home and abroad. And I do total -- I support his policy of being very thoughtful and very careful about working with these new democratically-elected Arab leaders that replaced cruel dictators. And I think it's just great the way that he's working, and I feel total confidence in his judgment. And so I (unintelligible).
GJELTENHave you made up your mind who you're going to vote for yet?
MARIANNEAbsolutely not. I'm on the fence. I'm being courted by everyone.
GJELTENAll right. Thank...
MARIANNEBut anyway, I just think that, you know, all this, you know, the talk about red lines and, you know, what Netanyahu was saying, and I haven't heard much comment from the media about the fact that there are majority of Israeli leaders who do not support Netanyahu's position, including the former director of Mossad.
MARIANNEOK. Thank you so much.
GJELTENYou bet, Marianne. Thanks for calling.
MATHEWSI think her last point is a very important one in that Netanyahu does not represent either the majority of the (word?) opinion, National Security Intelligence military in Israel or necessarily the majority of even Israeli public opinion.
GJELTENWell, that may be true, but who makes the decisions in Israel? You know, he is the president.
MATHEWSWell, that's how important -- he may -- yes, he may still choose to act. But I do think the bottom line on this whole -- first of all, red lines are not a particularly sophisticated way to diplomacy, but if you're going to be...
GJELTENKind of corners you into something there.
MATHEWSIt sure does. And the Israelis have drawn all kinds of red lines over the years on Iran, which Iran has crossed. So it's not a wise move. He's simply just trying to push Obama to make more and more explicit commitments. But my understanding to the -- I mean -- is that Romney has at least once said very clearly his red line is the same as Obama's and then changed that. So that suggests that maybe he doesn't know the difference or is not quite -- and it brings up, I think, one other point, which is he has said astonishingly little about foreign policy. I mean...
GJELTENGov. Romney. OK.
MATHEWSYou, yeah. I mean, with President Obama, he has a four-year record. We know what he thinks on most issues. But as you go down the list of the huge challenges around the world, there are so many.
GJELTENWell, we did talk about this one case of Syria where they have been a little bit more explicit in distinguishing what they would do from what the Obama administration would do.
MATHEWSYes. Yeah, I think that's true. And we certainly can infer a real difference on the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. But you can -- you could still look at a very long list of issues, including Iran and Afghanistan and Iraq and a whole bunch of them -- Russia, where I think you really don't know.
GJELTENLet's go now to Bert, who's on the line from Louisville, Ky. Good morning, Bert. Thanks for calling.
BERTGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
BERTMy -- is regarding the fact that President Obama having to straddle two stages right now, the domestic political stage and the international political stage. And I think that he is not so much paralyzed by the fact of having to straddle both. But, like the previous caller said, he's reserved and thoughtful about his foreign policy approach.
GJELTENWell, you know, Bert, I would say that the fact that he has that presidential stage to stand on actually gives him an advantage, makes him look sort of more of a leader, doesn't it?
BERTYes, it does. And Romney's foreign policy so far has been nothing but, really, a nationalistic smokescreen for what's really a hollow foreign policy because like the other caller said, he really hasn't formulated a foreign policy other than following the dictates of what his latest poll says he should say. And I also think it's ironic that he does his fear-mongering about Morsi being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
BERTAnd if you look at it in the flip side, I'm sure that a lot of Muslims in the Arab world and the Muslim world as a whole, are looking at Romney and saying, well, look at this guy. He's a member of this crazy Mormon Church. And, you know, there's -- I just don't think Romney gets it for the international stage.
GJELTENAll right. Thank you very much, Bert. You know, actually, Bert really had more of a comment than a question. But he did say -- he made this comment about Gov. Romney's Mormonism at the end, which brings us to the issue of religious differences, and we haven't talked about it yet. President Obama devoted a large part of his speech yesterday making the case for freedom of expression and tolerance of other religions.
GJELTENAnd, of course, this is a reaction to Muslims saying that the United States is too tolerant of anti-Muslim feelings. What did you make of the way that President Obama framed that issue yesterday?
DIEHLWell, I think he added an important dimension to what has been his administration's response to the demonstrations and the attacks on the embassies because when the demonstrations first took place, the main thing you heard coming from the White House and the State Department was, number one, we had nothing to do with that video. And we condemn that video, and we condemn slanders against Muslims. And, number two, we -- this violence is wrong, and we're against the violence. We want the violence to stop, which is a fine message.
DIEHLBut it left out freedom of speech. And I think Obama took some heat from that, from conservatives saying, where is the defense of the right of somebody to say something against Islam in this country? And are we going to allow violence to stop freedom of expression? So I think it's very important that Obama then came out with a very strong statement yesterday saying, in America, we believe in freedom of expression even when it's blasphemy.
GJELTENYou know, one thing I don't understand, he says, in America, we believe in freedom of expression. But isn't it true that across the Muslim world, they apparently believe in freedom of expression as well because they feel entirely free to say the most awful things about other religions? There was an article on the Muslim Brotherhood's own website recently, in which the writer says, we call upon those who fast to remember their brothers, those who wage jihad for the sake of Allah in Palestine against the Jews, the descendants of apes and pigs.
GJELTENSo if people around the world have the right to say such awful things about Jews, what's the debate here? I mean, doesn't everybody believe in freedom of expression, Jessica?
MATHEWSIn theory, but certainly not in practice. I mean, the...
GJELTENThat's the issue.
MATHEWS...Arab world's experience over the last 40 years has been anything but freedom of speech, and they can't imagine being -- the government not being in charge of what gets said. So that's -- I think there is a genuine disbelief that the U.S. government is powerless by our own values to stop that. But you're perfectly right that there is...
GJELTENA double standard.
MATHEWSAnd a double standard doesn't even really rise to the occasion...
GJELTENTo describe with.
MATHEWS...to what you've just read.
GJELTENYeah. You know, Harold writes us from Texas an email. He says, "Romney has blamed Obama for protests, flag burnings and the Egyptian election of the Muslim Brotherhood." We heard that early in the show. "What could Romney do to prevent these?" What could Romney do to prevent, you know, this kind of anti-American expression?
GLASSERWell, the truth is that's the prerogative of the challenger not to have to really answer in a detailed way. It's a campaign, and I do believe that all of what you're hearing has to do with his views about what's going to be most politically resonant here with American voters. It's -- the world may feel like it ought to have a vote in the U.S. presidential elections since the U.S. president is the most significant leader in the world, but the world doesn't get a vote until this is all aimed at an American audience.
GLASSERThat being said, I think that, you know, these are critiques that play into something you've actually heard quite consistently from Romney throughout the campaign. Remember, his theme of American greatness, of a sort of muscular vision, of a sort of American power in the world, the idea that we shouldn't, you know, be even conceding relative American decline in any sense of the word, but we should be out there promoting ourselves as the indispensable super power, it has been at the core of his message for a long time.
GLASSERSo while it's true that, on the one hand, he doesn't have a lot of actual foreign policy experience -- and, frankly, he's flubbed it any number of times. You know, he made this sort of ill-considered trip overseas this summer. He went to Poland. He went to Israel. He insulted the host of the London Olympics, you know, on their home turf. He has not proven himself so far to be a very adept or gifted international affairs interlocutor.
GLASSERFrankly, even this latest scrutiny about Obama's policies in the Arab world, Romney sort of seemed to flub it early on by stepping on a national grieving over the death of Amb. Stevens with a very partisan statement. So -- but that being said, I do think that that there is, at its core, a Republican and a Romney critique of Obama and this question of assertive American power.
MATHEWSBut what's different of just this time is that for the first time in practically our lifetimes, the Democratic candidate is more trusted by the general public in this area of national security and foreign policy.
GJELTENJessica Mathews of the Carnegie Endowment. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's go now to Bobbi, on the line from St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Bobbi.
BOBBIGood morning. Something that the president might have presented -- we lost an ambassador. Amb. Stevens was killed. He seemed to be concerned about his safety. Why hasn't the question been asked by any of your panel or by the journalists why more security was not given to our ambassador? That is not a bump in the road. That is the death of one of our representatives. I think that was very important.
GJELTENWell, Jackson Diehl, this actually -- this issue of whether the United States sort of dropped the ball in terms of security in Libya has come out with a lot of Republican criticism of the administration and making some good points.
DIEHLYeah, it is a good question, and it's being asked in Congress, why wasn't there more security for that consulate, given that we knew that there was a significant al-Qaida presence in that region, that there had been other attacks on other consulates, the Italians and others, and that -- one reason we had so many personnel in Benghazi is they were there trying to monitor extremists who they knew were in the region.
DIEHLSo I think -- there's still, I think, a lot more we have to learn about exactly what happened in Benghazi and why there wasn't greater security. But I'm sure we're going to hear a lot more about it.
GLASSERAnd there is an official investigation under way and -- that's required by law, and they are setting that up right now. But I actually think this could potentially be a very damaging story for the State Department, potentially for the Obama administration.
GJELTENYou know, I was -- I noticed that Amb. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was asked repeatedly in a recent talk show why there were no Marines at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, capital of Libya, when there are Marines at -- in Paris and everywhere else. She didn't have an answer for that.
MATHEWSCan I just add an interesting story about how dangerous, though, this business is? We had Amb. Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador just back from Kabul, at Carnegie last week, and he has served as ambassador in six countries, all in the region. And he said that in three of those six, in half of them, one of his predecessors have been killed. So being a U.S. ambassador in this part of the world can be a very, very dangerous, and that goes back, of course, many, many years. It makes you think, it's a whole lot more dangerous than being a general.
GJELTENAnd Amb. Chris Stevens was not the type of diplomat that...
GJELTEN...hid out of the bunker.
MATHEWSThat's -- well, and -- but he also understood risks that he was taking. He was a careful guy.
GJELTENYeah. Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. We're running out of time. We had a ton of callers today wanting to weigh in. A lot of them are asking -- let's pretend President Obama has four more years -- what real difference would there be between President Obama being re-elected and Gov. Romney becoming President Romney? I think this is the big issue. We really haven't been able to solve all the problems and figure out where exactly United States is going.
GJELTENMy guests this morning have been Jessica Mathews of the Carnegie Endowment, Susan Glasser, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine and Jackson Diehl, the deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Post. Apologies to all those who called and couldn't get through. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Megan Merritt. The engineer is Toby Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program is a production of WAMU 88.5 from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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