Russia denies the U.S. claim that cruise missiles aimed at Syria hit Iran. Doctors Without Borders demands an independent inquiry on the Afghanistan hospital bombing. And a group of four Tunisian organizations wins the Nobel Peace Prize. A panel of journalists joins guest host Indira Lakshmanan for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
Turkey retaliates against Syria for shelling a border town. Thousands of Iranians protest plummeting currency. And Europe’s central bank keeps interest rates steady. Diane and a panel of journalists discuss the week’s top stories, what happened and why.
- Moises Naim chief international columnist for El Pais.
- Elise Labott CNN foreign affairs reporter.
- David Sanger chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times and author of the new book, "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The UN condemned Syria shelling of a Turkish border town. Public unrest intensifies over Iran's plunging currency. Turkish authorities capture two suspects in the attack that killed the U.S. Ambassador to Libya.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for this week's top international, Moises Naim of El Pais, Elise Labott of CNN and David Sanger of The New York Times. I hope you'll join us as well. Call us on 800-433-8850, send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning everybody, happy Friday.
MS. ELISE LABOTTGood morning.
MR. DAVID SANGERGood morning.
MR. MOISES NAIMGood morning.
REHMDavid Sanger, how did this week's escalation of the conflict between Syria and Turkey get started?
SANGERWell, it got started with a fairly rare Syrian incursion shelling that happened into Turkey. Now, we don't know a whole lot of the details of this. I mean, it could have been a stray shot or stray shots. Errors like that happen and it's a pretty crowded border but it also could've been deliberate and of course it's not the first time there's been this issue.
SANGERThere was, you may recall, a Turkish jet that was shot down a number of months ago and that created a whole set of tensions. What's interesting here is the way the Turks reacted, which was to fairly aggressively strike back and begin...
REHMBecause five people were killed.
SANGERFive people were killed, that's right. And so they struck back but then they also turned to the other NATO allies and so forth to suggest that maybe the moment has come for everybody to join in with them. Now, this is the complication. Turkey is a member of NATO and the way the treaty is written, an attack on one is considered an attack on all. You'll remember that NATO invoked that right after 9/11.
SANGERNow, in this case NATO has not yet invoked that but that seems to be where this could be headed in the Turks mind. And the question is does everybody want to get sucked into the conflict in Syria because Turkey is pushing this as hard.
LABOTTI think right now Turkey isn't asking for what they call this Article 5 to be invoked where everyone would get involved right now. Because they know that the rest of NATO, there's no appetite for this. So they're skirting right up to the line, they're having consultants, NATO put out a statement which solidarity with Turkey and I think what you're going to see is you already saw the Syrians apologize, this will never happen again, because they are worried that NATO could get involved. And even Turkey is saying they don't want to go to war with Syria. But I think you can see how this, shows how this civil war is dragging in all of the allies and could quickly become a regional war.
REHMWell, and Turkey is realizing, experiencing its own internal pressures because of all these refugees coming across the border. Now, you've got five civilians killed, what comes next, Moises?
NAIMWell, as it was said the parliament approved, the Turkish parliament approved, authorized the government to conduct military operations outside Turkey. That's not a declaration of war but it's certainly authorizes attacks elsewhere. And as Elise said, this war is spilling, is spilling over to Lebanon, is spilling over to Jordan and as she noted it can become a brother issue.
NAIMThere is a refugee, massive refugee, inflow into Turkey that's creating huge pressures and the foreign minister, as you said Diane, the foreign minister of Syria apologized. Walid al-Moallem at the United Nations said that it was never going to happen again, he apologized. The Turkish deputy foreign minister sort of accepted the apology, but said that they needed further guarantees.
REHMSo how much pressure does this put on the U.S. to do something further, Elise?
LABOTTI think right now talking to U.S. officials, they say look, we don't need to urge restraint right now. The Turks have made their point to the Syrians just like they did a few months ago and for a few months since that attack you haven't seen anything from the Syrians and I think the Syrians don't want this to escalate further and bring NATO involved.
LABOTTSo right now I think it's going to stabilize for a while but not only because of Turkey getting involved but because of the refugee situation elsewhere and because, Diane, 30,000 people have died in this conflict. There is increasing pressure on the United States to do something, whether it's to arm the rebels, to get more involved, to support a no-fly zone and it does seem like Turkey, like France, others are moving in that direction.
NAIMAnd the United States really doesn't need to take the lead here because there are other countries, very, very active in Syria. as we know, Saudi Arabia, Cutter, Turkey, France, Libya all have strong and active operations in support of the Syrian rebels.
REHMMoises Naim, he's chief international columnist for El Pais. Elise Labott is foreign affairs reporter for CNN. David Sanger is chief Washington correspondent for "The New York Times" and author of "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power." We will take your calls shortly. Join us on 800-433-8850, in the meantime send us your email, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
REHMWhat do we know about the latest on the capture of two Tunisian suspects in the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, David?
SANGERWell, we know the Americans and the Libyans have identified a series of different suspects. Some of them resident in Libya and others appear not to be and made it fairly clear by midweek that the U.S. was going to begin to target these people. We've had a report of two arrests not clear to me yet what the fate of these folks was going to be.
SANGERThis is, you know, quite recent as we were coming on the air. Presumably the United States wants them, you know, back, wants them here and wants in a fairly big hurry and I would suspect that the Tunisians would probably be pretty compliant. I'd be surprised if they ran into difference on it.
REHMTell me what has come out about the attacks, what more we know now about the attacks than perhaps we knew a couple of weeks ago, Elise?
LABOTTWell, I think the main switch is that you've seen over the last week and a half that the U.S. has moved from its, this was a spontaneous protest, protestor extremists taking advantage of protests in Cairo and around the world because of this anti-Islamic video to these are extremists, affiliated with al Qaeda that could've been planning an attack on the consult, on the diplomatic office for some time.
LABOTTAnd intercepts of extremists communications, bragging about the event perhaps indicating that maybe this was in the works for some time have come to light. And so originally the administration was like, this was a protest and now you see that they're changing their tune and they might've held on to this theory a lot longer than some thought they should have.
REHMDo you think that they held onto that theory to deliberately mislead or did they themselves find out along the way that the facts were different, David?
SANGERWell, a week ago we saw a lengthy statement that was somewhat unusual from the Director of National Intelligence making the case that their understanding of what happened evolved and, you know, the usual reports, the usual sense of this is, you know, first reports are usually wrong and so forth.
SANGERBut at the moment that Susan Rice, nearly three weeks ago, three Sundays ago, the American ambassador to the United Nations, came out on the Sunday TV shows and said, we have no evidence that any of this was preplanned. That the sort of -- her argument was it began as a protest because of the film and then grew into something bigger and then it was exploited basically by these other elements.
SANGERThat didn't quite sound right to anybody even at the moment. I remember she was on "Face the Nation" and John, right, and John McCain was on at the time and I happened to be on that week and McCain said to me, you know, not many people bring an RPG, a rocket propelled grenade, to a demonstration. Well, in Libya, some people do bring RPG's to a demonstration, but the overall point was that this group came pretty well armed and knew exactly where both American sites were, Both the American consult and then this...
SANGER...in Benghazi, right. and then this, you know, something of an embassy safe house that was a lot less publicized, that would certainly suggest that they had scoped it out.
NAIMThe documents recovered at the site of the embassy also indicate that there were 13 threats made against the U.S. consult in Benghazi during the six months prior to the attack.
REHMSo lots of criticism?
NAIMAbout not having taken precautions and not having fortified and given boosted security there. there was, you know, the consult had been bombed twice before in April 6th and June 6th. The U.S. government has been, missed by both bomb attacks and a lot of threats against the U.S. ambassador in social media.
NAIMThese may well be a combination of a planned attack that become highly opportunistic once there was this mob plus a lot of confusion, plus a lot of fast moving facts, plus a lot of anxiety and so I think it's going to take a while for us to sort out exactly what happened.
LABOTTI think the idea is that maybe they had this self ready to go but when you ask about whether they deliberately misled, there was a lot of information that was available to various people in the government. The question is whether, did Susan Rice have that information? I don't think they might have deliberately misled but it was a theory that they were handed and certainly it fit into the narrative that they wanted to share with the world.
REHMElise Labott, she's CNN foreign affairs reporter. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup. We have learned that Abu Hamza al-Masri -- pardon me -- has lost an appeal against extradition from London potentially opening the way for him to be sent to face trial here in an American court. What's he accused of? We don't know.
SANGERYou know, I confess that I've lost track of what the al-Masri case was.
REHMOkay. We'll find out about it very quickly and get to you. Let's turn to Afghan President Karzai who said this week that U.S.-led efforts to defeat militants in the country would not be successful. He accused the western media of waging psychological warfare. What do you make of this?
NAIMPresident Karzai is growing increasingly more aggressive in his statements against -- and he's brought this in expressing his disappointment against the United Stated. This has to do with the exit of the troops of the United States. He says they're waging war on very -- on rural areas of Afghanistan. This is not where they should be aiming. They should be aiming at Pakistan. That's where the action is. And literally he said, and I quote him, "if this war is against insurgency then it is an Afghan internal issue. Then why are you here, the United States?"
SANGERWell, you know, you could put together a nice sized book of strange Karzai comments at various points. Remember the maybe I'll go off and join the Taliban line of a few years ago. So what's going on here? I think there are three dynamics at work. The first is that in Afghanistan Karzai is accused of being an American poodle, okay. So he is frequently looked for moments to separate himself from the American mission.
SANGERSecondly, he makes a fairly legitimate argument that a key element of the surge was the effort to make sure the safe haven was eliminated, okay. We've done a fair bit of work in recent times at the end of the surge. Interesting point, there are about the same number of Taliban insurgents moving in and out of Pakistan by the Pentagon's own estimate as there were when the surge began in late 2009. That tells you something.
REHMSo there was a New York Times article this week saying that American generals do not believe a negotiated settlement with the Taliban is within reach.
REHMHow big a setback is that?
SANGERThat is a big problem because it gets to the third point that I was about to go make. What was the third big element of the surge? The surge was designed to knock back the Taliban, degrade them enough that they would be forced into this negotiation. Well, it did not back the Taliban. Any place the American troops went the Taliban disappeared.
SANGERHowever, what happened to the negotiation? Absolutely nothing because the Taliban are looking at this. They're seeing Americans leaving. They're looking forward in the calendar. They're saying, look if they go into this negotiation in late 2014 when almost all of the American and NATO combat troops are out except for whatever enduring presence we leave of 10 or 15,000 troops, the Taliban are going to be in a much better negotiating position. So why negotiate now if you're adversary is leaving the field?
NAIMA very important additional dynamic going on here is politics and election. Karzai has said several times that the moment or immediately after the Americans leave there he will step down and call for an election. People don't believe him. And then today -- this week, in fact yesterday, he made another very strong statement to that effect. He says, no circumstance, no foreign propaganda or intervention and no insecurity can prevent the election from happening. And so that also colors his statements, his behavior, and, as David was saying, all of these very strange, very aggressive at times statements that he makes.
LABOTTWell, and I think he's -- what he's saying to the United States is you're playing a double game here. You're fighting on our soil. You're not giving our Afghan troops the amount of equipment. NATO is not -- he's accusing NATO of not equipping the Afghan forces enough to adequately counter these cross-border attacks in Pakistan. So you have this and then you have the United States giving -- writing off what was once one of its cornerstones of its policy in Afghanistan.
LABOTTAnd then to combine all of this you have these -- what they call these green on blue attacks, these attacks on U.S. soldiers by Afghan infiltrators. And as the U.S. is getting ready to pull out it looks like the Taliban, having weathered the fighting season and its push by the United States, is sitting in a pretty good spot right now as the U.S. gets ready to leave.
REHMAnd where the U.S. has virtually left Iraq, a string of bomb attacks last weekend have killed dozens of people. I mean, here's another situation where we thought we could go in, do something positive, leave something better behind than what we found to begin with and where are we?
LABOTTWell, it's the idea being that towards the end there's fatigue in the United States. There's fatigue among the military. You lower your expectations. You say, now the priority is to just get out cleanly and you find that the remnants of what you weren't able to finish the job before you leave are still there to come back and bite you.
LABOTTAnd that's what we're seeing in Iraq, numerous attacks,, sectarian attacks against Shiite targets and security officials. Over the last week September was one of the bloodiest months I think since 2010. And the United States is gone now. And how does it help Iraq -- now that it has so much less influence how does it help Iraq contain this sectarian growing tensions?
SANGERIf you back up and you look at what's different in the Obama Administration versus the Bush Administration is, President Brush explicitly said in both the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, he wanted to rewire the societies. He was going in with a broader mission, democratize them and to, you know, build up justice systems and corruption and so forth and so on.
SANGERWhere President Obama differs from the Bush approach is that while he's been willing to intervene in places where there's a direct threat to the United States -- think of the bin Laden raid, think of the drone attacks against Al-Qaida -- he has given up on this thought of rewiring societies. Coming to the conclusion, I think pretty well supported by a fair bit of research, that our success ratio in rewiring societies, you know, we're batting just about zero.
SANGERAnd so the thought has been you get out of the rewiring business. When you do that though you have to be willing to conclude that you have uncorked a bunch of different forces inside societies that you then can't recork.
REHMAnd here's an email from Russell who says, "The September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was characterized by administration officials on the September 16 Sunday talk shows as protests to the controversial video. On your September 14 show Jonathan Landay of McClatchy News said that his in-country colleagues were reporting there were no such riots. In fact, not even an ant outside the consulate prior to the attack. Now administration officials are indicating the attack was premeditated by terrorists. Could the administration have had better information by listening to your September 14 program than to their intelligence sources?"
SANGERWell, I think that the administration should always be tuned into "The Diane Rehm Show." Don't you, Diane?
REHMI do indeed. But the fact of the matter is -- I mean, you did have reporting on the ground.
SANGERThere was and it came in part because there had been such protests of course in Egypt. And then there was something of an assumption, which I think turned out to be a false assumption that the same video-inspired-kind-of protests were what was spreading to Libya over the next few hours beyond that. And I think that the evidentiary base for that is increasingly scarce.
LABOTTJust the day after the attack on September 12, Diane, my sources at the State Department were telling me this was no protest, this was no -- this was a planned military-style assault. That it was not connected -- the video might have provided a handy excuse or was convenient but this was a military-style assault.
REHMAll right. And let's move on to Iran. The protests there this week over the currency are the U.S. sanctions bringing all this to bear, Moises.
NAIMIt's a powerful combination. It's a powerful cocktail of sanctions and bad economic policy making by the Iranians themselves. But the sanctions are biting. The sanctions are very, very powerful. They are the most sophisticated economic financial sanctions imposed in a country ever.
REHMBut who are the Iranians themselves blaming?
NAIMNow for the first time this week we have had street demonstrations that are blaming the government. And there are -- and, you know, this is a currency that has devalued about 40 percent. There are shortages, people that have needs for travel, for medicines...
NAIM...for basic staples that are becoming scarce. So this is having an effect. Imagine a country where you cannot transact with the rest of the world. I have a source inside the negotiations that stresses that every time that there is a meeting with the Iranians, the first thing they ask to be taken off the sanction is the blocking of the SWIFT system. The SWIFT system is the interbanking money transfer that allows banks to move funds across international borders.
NAIMFor the first time ever the International Community has made this company comply with the prohibition to allow Iranian financial institutions from being part of the SWIFT system. And therefore all financial institutions in Iran, including Central Bank, are having a very hard time moving money around.
SANGERWell, two interesting data points on this. The first question is, does the Iranian leadership understand what they're riding here? A week ago Tuesday, President Ahmadinejad, when he was up in New York, invited me and a couple other people who had written books that touched on Iran to come up for what turned out to be a pretty long two-hour tea. And in the course of this he made the argument that Iran economically, life is far better than it was when he came in as president, which was a number of years ago.
SANGERAnd even the Iranians in the room who work for him were staring at him in astonishment. Okay. And later on said, hum, I'm not sure that if we called back home and asked our aunt or uncle or, you know, whatever, that they would have the same view. So I thought that was interesting. The second is, the big question here is, is this leading to a change in their position on the nuclear program? I mean, these sanctions aren't happening for nothing. So far it hasn't but I reported in this morning's paper...
LABOTTAn excellent story by the way.
SANGEROh, thank you, Elise. I reported in this morning's paper the details of an Iranian proposal that's been floating around since July but which they have now decided, you know, under all this pressure to begin the layout. Basically it's a nine-point plan that would ultimately stop their enrichment of the uranium that we're most concerned about, the stuff that's closest to bomb grade. But what has to happen before you get to that point nine? They have to take off all of the rest of the sanctions.
SANGERWell, the American officials I talked to about this said, no way. This is just now beginning to get their attention with the protests in the street.
REHMDavid Sanger of the New York Times and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Moises, we've got a number of people who'd like to hear your views on the upcoming election in Venezuela that's going to happen this Sunday.
NAIMThis Sunday 40-year-old Henrique Capriles, a former governor of a state, a former mayor is contesting President Hugo Chavez who is the longest serving head of state in the Western Hemisphere. He is offering the country a completely different path than President Chavez. And for the first time there is an opposition candidate that has a very, very good chance of winning. If that happens it still remains to be seen if President Chavez and his supporters would peacefully yield the power.
NAIMIf instead of -- if President Chavez wins and continues in power, there's still the big issue of his illness. President Chavez has cancer and apparently it is an advanced stage, and so it's unclear. The constitution says that if President Chavez wins and then he's somehow incapacitated from discharging his functions, a new election has to be called.
NAIMAnd then Henrique Capriles can run again.
REHMTell me how things would change if the challenger were to win?
NAIMThe challenger has run an almost flawless campaign in trying to reconcile the country, in trying to recognize some of the programs that President Chavez has put in place, social programs that have helped the poor, have fought inequality. But he has said, for example, that there is a strong commitment on his part to stop the huge subsidies, oil subsidies that President Chavez has given to Cuba and other allies, this very strong relationship President Chavez has developed with Iran.
NAIMAnd there's an activism -- an oil-wealth-based international activism. By oil-wealth based, I mean, the oil is a very important source, I think, for Venezuela that President Chavez has used as his own checkbook to go around the world and win supporters and allies.
LABOTTI think what will be interesting to see is if the challenger wins what direction Venezuela will go in terms of engaging with the International Community. Because under President Chavez he's become a little bit of a rogue leader cozying up to the Bolivias and the Cubas and the Irans of the world, sticking his thumb at the United States. Remember when he went into the United Nations so famously and said, you know, about President Bush, I smell the devil. This is a country that has a lot of economic prowess and I think that the U.S. is hoping that the challenger will win. And perhaps there could be a new day with this very powerful -- what could be a very powerful country in the region.
NAIMI should say -- I should say that not only the U.S. is hoping that President Chavez's term ends.
REHMWhat are the polls saying now?
NAIMThe polls are very varied. In recent days, indeed in recent hours there is a preponderancy of polls that indicate that Capriles has a small lead.
REHMAnd what about his family? What about his background? Does he appeal to the people?
NAIMHe -- when he was first -- he won a primary. He became the candidate of this coalition of opposition groups and he won by a landslide against four other contenders in that primary. He has never been defeated in any election he has run. As I said, he was a mayor, a governor. He's 40 years old.
REHMAnd how fair do you think that election is going to be?
NAIMIt's not going to be just unfair because President Chavez for one -- for more than one years has abused the resources of the state and has really created a situation in -- in the 21st century you don't rig elections the day of the vote. You do it a year before.
REHMShort break, right back.
REHMAnd while we all blanked earlier on the preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri and why he was being extradited from London to the U.S., David we now have a little information.
SANGERYeah, we do. "The Diane Rehm Show" fact checkers have been easily at work here.
SANGERThey've taken a break from the debates.
SANGERAnd this is, there are several al-Masris that we were confusing them with. This is the one who had been at a mosque in Finsbury Park in London, which many people believe had become a training ground for Islamic extremism. And then he's wanted in the U.S. on a charge that includes a conspiracy to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon, which in my recollection, didn't go very far. So it's an interesting, but not front-burner case.
REHMOkay. And this is a follow-up on the Venezuelan election, an email from Jose who says, "Back in January 2012, Chavez closed the Venezuelan Consulate in Miami. It served Venezuelans in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Even with all these obstacles, we as Venezuelans are traveling to the Venezuelan Consulate in New Orleans to be able to vote against him."
LABOTTI heard about 1,000. I heard on NPR actually this morning that thousands of Venezuelans are traveling and there was a concern that maybe the consulate wouldn't be able to handle this kind of traffic. But certainly Venezuelans in this country are interested in casting their vote.
NAIMNot just in this country, it is quite a story. As you said, the Venezuelan government, as I said before, they have used all the dirty tricks in the book and invented new ones. Among the new ones they invented is closing down consulates where there is a significant amount of potential voters. And so one of those, the largest one in the country, perhaps in the world, is in Miami so they closed it down.
NAIMWell, the Venezuelans organized a whole set of options to move the Venezuelans in Miami to New Orleans, which is the other consulate. So you can go in buses. They have chartered planes. They have organized car pools. They have -- and by the thousands are going back and also by the thousands, they are going back to the country to vote on Sunday.
NAIMAnd so airports and airlines are, you know, it's very, very hard to find a ticket, an air ticket to go to Venezuela.
REHMInteresting. All right, let's open the phones to Hamilton, Ohio. Good morning, Albert. You're on the air.
ALBERTGood morning, Diane, I appreciate you letting me on the show.
ALBERTI wanted to just make about two comments and one is in regards to humanity in general as a species and I just wondered how long it takes us to recognize the fact that we have really not progressed at all as a society. We're, like, stuck in the 13th and 14th centuries in the days of the Crusades.
REHMWhat are you referring to specifically, Albert?
ALBERTSpecifically to Syria, Turkey, Iran, that whole area and the way we -- all we have is fighting and war and, you know, it goes on and on and on and it doesn't resolve a thing.
REHMSo you, I gather, believe that women in power might make a difference?
ALBERTThat's exactly what I was going to say.
LABOTTI heartily agree.
ALBERTBecause from Attila the Hun to Hitler, Assad, Mubarak, Chavez, and Putin, it's all men.
REHMAll right, David, you're up.
SANGERYou know, I don't think I can take that one on, but, you know, I think there is a broader point that's out here. We are coming out of 11 years of fairly constant war and, you know, one of the things I think you're going to hear in the last month of this campaign is President Obama making the case that, you know, if he had one big accomplishment in his first four years, it was extracting the U.S. from wars.
SANGERNow, we're not completely out Afghanistan. We went into Libya in a very limited way and have declined to go into Syria, even arm the rebels. And I think one of the interesting things to watch for in the foreign policy debate, which will be October 22, is whether or not there is a significant philosophic difference between President Obama and Mitt Romney on the question of the degree to which we should intervene in each of these.
NAIMAs the caller was talking about humanity and taking a big sweep, I just want to point out that there's recent research that shows that violence in the world is declining. And the number of violent conflicts, the number of casualties over the long term, in the recent years.
REHMGosh, it doesn’t seem that way.
NAIMIt doesn't seem that way because we center on the headlines, on the serious and on the rest, but if there is -- I am sorry. I forget the name of the book. It is by an MIT professor that has looked at the big trends and the big trends indicate that violence is declining in the world.
REHMAll right, thanks for calling Albert and thanks for your endorsement of females in positions of authority.
LABOTTIt's a natural. It's a no-brainer.
REHMAll right, let's go to Jennifer in Charlotte, N.C. good morning.
JENNIFERGood morning, thank you for taking my call.
JENNIFERMy question for your guests is, they were talking about how nation-building and rewiring of society does not work in the Middle East and I think that is pretty clear now. So I'm wondering, why did it work so well in Japan after World War II? And could the difference have something to do with Islam and religion?
SANGERA very good question and one I spent a fair bit of time thinking about because I was Tokyo bureau chief for The Times for six years and a correspondent throughout. There, you could ask the same question about Germany as well.
SANGERThere are a lot of people who come up with cultural explanations and so forth and so on, but I think that the biggest factor that you see in Japan, in particular, is that the society was completely and totally defeated in the war and had to rebuild from zero, that the government itself basically turned itself over to the American occupiers, which at the time was run by General McArthur.
SANGERAnd there was a unified sense within Japan, and Japan is a society that is not driven by, you know, ethnic and religious differences the way a lot of different societies are in the Middle East, and came together in a form of national unity. Now, what's happened? Fifty years out, long after we were gone, a lot of that central sense of national mission is gone and Japan has had a lot of troubles in the past 15 or 20 years.
NAIMYeah, that's a very good explanation. The only thing I want to add is that we are overburdening the United States and its role. A lot of the societies that are successful at rewiring do it themselves and there is a very strong, domestic, local indigenous component to the successful restructuring, modernization of society where the United States can play a minor, catalytic role in accelerating and helping out, but it will never be the central player.
SANGERAnd remember the United States got out of Japan basically six or seven years after the war. The Afghan war has been going on now for 11.
REHMExactly, and here is a follow-up to our discussion on Ambassador Rice from a person who identifies himself as a 64-year-old retired veteran. "The statement made on your show a few moments ago was that Ambassador Rice said that the cause of an embassy attack was protest-related to the video. Ms. Rice also said that was the information they had at that time and the investigation would continue. None of your guests today related the full context of what Ms. Rice said."
LABOTTThat's absolutely right. The caller is correct and I think what the question is from Congress, from Americans, from a lot of reporters is, there was a lot of information out there.
LABOTTYes, the administration was given this type of information. But given the fact that the intelligence community was running down leads about possible extremist activity, why was the administration and I think I have to say for Ambassador Rice, I think she caught the short straw here.
LABOTTI think that it could have been anybody, Secretary Clinton or somebody else that went out and I think we're focusing. This was the administration's talking points, okay and why was there a rush to go to one type of theory when there was clearly other evidence, maybe classified. Maybe the administration is saying these were unclassified points, maybe classified points, had other information that they couldn't talk about.
LABOTTThere was a convenient, embracing of this theory. Yes, it was the best information that Ambassador Rice was given at the time. Was it the best information that people were running down other leads and hadn't narrowed them down? Nobody is quite sure.
REHMSo what should she have said? What should she have done? Should she have gone on the air with David Gregory on "Meet the Press" and said, there are very complicated factors out here. We simply don't know what's happened.
NAIMYes Diane, probably that's what she should have done and now in retrospect they think she probably agrees with that. And I want to bring, Fareed Zakaria wrote a column this week for Time magazine that I thought gets it right.
NAIMHe says, whenever there are issues like these in complicated situations like these, rather than looking for the big conspiracy, look about ineptitude, look about inefficiency, look about confusion, and you are more likely to get it right than if you start thinking about a carefully-planned conspiracy.
REHMAnd here's an email from Jonathan. "It seems the Obama administration sanctions are having the desired effect. If not military action by Israel seems inevitable. What can we anticipate will happen in Iran? There are marches but is civil unrest really taking hold?" David?
SANGERWell, it certainly hasn't taken hold yet and you have to remember that this is a society that is -- a government that is quite good at putting down protests as we learned in June of 2009 when the big protests surrounding the presidential vote happened.
SANGERThe writer suggests that the sanctions are having the desired effect. Then the question is, well, which effect are you desiring? Okay, if the desired effect is to stop to nuclear program then I would disagree with him because there has been absolutely no evidence and you have to remember that when President Obama came into office the Iranians had enough fuel that with further enrichment they could make about a single bomb.
SANGERThey've now got enough for about five to six, okay, so if the effect was to slow enrichment, it hasn't worked. If the effect is to gradually undermine the authority of the regime so that the regime reconsiders the program that may be beginning to happen.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go back to the phones and to Keene, N.H. Good morning to you, Keenan.
KEENANGood morning, Diane, thanks for taking my call.
KEENANSo I'm wondering about your panelists' take on broadly, kind of this you just need to buy in the Arab world at large because it seems that in theory, you have the Shia Alawites bloc backed by Iran. You have the mainly Sunni opposition backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and you have the Kurds starting to carve out an autonomous region and all of these jerks are becoming increasingly militarized.
KEENANThe Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan who is in jail in Turkey who was said to be calling for, like, the Kurds to create a fighting force of 15,000 people so that must be worrying not only to, you know, Assad but to the Turks as well and you know, it just looks like an Iraq from a few years ago with no U.S. troops which seems to me almost a little scarier because they are all fighting each other.
REHMAll right, Elise?
LABOTTI think there are a couple of things going on right now. I think you have a religious divide which is playing itself out in Syria but also is bleeding out and exacerbating existing tensions in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Turkey with the Kurds. But I also think you have a secular versus religious divide that's going on right when you see all these Islamists that have swept to power in the region.
LABOTTWe don't know how their religious agendas are going to play out. Right now they say they're working on democratic values, building up these countries in the wake of these revolutions but it'll be interesting to see how these religious divides. Most of these are Islamic Sunni parties that came to power. If you see what's happening in Syria it's more of a Shia/Sunni divide.
LABOTTSo I think it's really going to play out not just in Syria but also in Tunisia, in Morocco, in Libya, in all of these countries where you see Islamic parties coming to power.
NAIMTo all of the divides that the caller and Elise have mentioned, one should also add the divide and the fights over control over hegemony, and regional hegemony. There is not only a Sunni Shiite tension and friction there is also the rivalry and the competition about which country is going to be the dominant player, the hegemony in North Africa and the Middle East.
REHMA few people have written in that the book you were referring to is titled "The Better Angels of our Nature" by Steven Pinker...
NAIMThat's exactly the book.
REHM...mentioning less war and fewer causalities. We can always count on our listeners.
LABOTTA very well-read group of listeners.
SANGERThe wonder of crowd sourcing.
REHMAbsolutely. All right. And one final email from Dan in Sacramento. "I think one thing now is clear, the military action between Turkey and Syria has made it obvious that only another Islamic country can end the civil war in Syria in an acceptable way. Why isn't more pressure by Congress and the U.N. being put on Arab allies to intervene in Syria?"
SANGERWell, because it's a lot more complicated than intervening in Libya. Remember, in the Libyan case, you were able to get the Arab League and then NATO to come in because first of all, Gadhafi was considered something of an outsider to them and secondly, they could do this by remote control.
SANGERYou saw most of the rebels gathering in the desert. They could be bombed from afar. To get into the Syrian uprising you would have go into cities. You would have to do it with people on the ground, something you did not see happen in Libya and you have a lot of Arab states quite concerned about that as is President Obama.
REHMAnd one final email from Michael. "We are not batting zero. It takes a lot of time and effort. Think Germany and Japan. Decades are required to establish new social and societal norms."
REHMAnd that's going to be the last word. David Sanger of The New York Times, Elise Labott of CNN, Moises Naim of El Pais, thank you all. Have a great weekend.
REHMI'm going to be off on Monday. We'll have a holiday. A couple of re-broadcasts I hope you enjoy. Thanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm.
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