The U.N. suspends Syrian peace talks until late this month. The U.S. plans to quadruple military spending in Europe as a signal to Russia. And American officials express concern about ISIS in Libya. A panel of journalists joins guest host Tom Gjelten for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
Protests in Egypt over the president’s power grab. The Palestinian Authority makes a U.N. bid. And European finance ministers set new bailout terms for Greece. Moises Naim of El Pais, Anne Applebaum of Slate and The Washington Post and Tom Gjelten of NPR join Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Tom Gjelten NPR national security correspondent and author of "Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause."
- Anne Applebaum Washington Post and Slate foreign affairs columnist and author of the new book, "Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956."
- Moises Naim chief international columnist for El Pais and author of the forthcoming book, "The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Syrian activists blame the government for an internet and telephone blackout as rebel troops move closer to Damascus. The Palestinians won their bid for stronger recognition at the UN. And Egyptians protested a power grab by their democratically elected president.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for the week's top international news on the Friday News Roundup, Moises Naim of El Pais, Anne Applebaum of The Washington Post and slate.com and Tom Gjelten of NPR. You are always part of the program, do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MR. TOM GJELTENGood morning, Diane.
MR. MOISES NAIMGood morning, Diane.
REHMGood to have you all here. Moises, let's start with the UN General Assembly and the vote to recognize Palestinian nonmember state. How did that come about and what's the likely fallout?
NAIM138 countries, Diane, voted in favor of changing the status of the Palestinian state. It used to be called a nonmember observer entity. As a result of yesterday's vote, it's going to become a nonmember observer state, which provides it short of a full membership and it's still is a nonvoting role, but it provides, gives it rights, it allows the Palestinian state to join some of the specialized entities, agencies of the United Nations.
NAIMWhich creates all sorts of complications. The reason, the actual, practical consequences on the ground of this vote are less important than the symbolic weight. And also what it says about how the world now sees this situation. And a very large number of countries that used to vote with the United States and with Israel whenever these issues came up in the United Nations, this time either abstained or voted against, notably France, for example.
REHMAnd Anne Applebaum, it's good to have you with us. And the U.S. was adamantly opposed to this vote.
MS. ANNE APPLEBAUMThe U.S. was adamantly opposed and, I think, rightly so. Partly, I'm just somebody who dislikes empty gestures, and I dislike symbolic -- I dislike these symbolic statements. Palestine, of course, could be and I hope will be a state in the future, but at the moment, it doesn't control its borders, it doesn't have a unified government.
MS. ANNE APPLEBAUMIt doesn't even recognize, they're a part of the Palestinian authority or part of the Palestinian leadership, does not recognize the state of Israel. So in other words, it doesn't accept the two-state solution that we all hope will one day, will one day work out in the Middle East. So it strikes me as a kind of, you know, empty gesture for publicity. I'm not sure how much it's going to help Palestinians on the ground and I hope that they're not disappointed by it.
REHMEmpty gesture, Tom?
GJELTENIt's an empty gesture in the sense that it is not going to do anything to advance negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, that's obviously true. Hilary Rodham-Clinton, Secretary of State, said it would be counter-productive. But let me just point out one little thing, this came in the aftermath of this renewed fighting between Hamas and Gaza and Israel.
GJELTENAnd as a result of Hamas resisting Israel, it's political stature among the Palestinian people has really risen and the stature of Fatah, the faction of the Palestinians that the United States supports and would like to promote has...
REHMAnd led by Abbas.
GJELTENAnd led by Mahmoud Abbas, has really slipped. So Mahmoud Abbas had this opportunity to go to New York and be very heroic and get this achievement and that elevated his status in the Palestinian territories. That is something, perhaps, a political benefit from this that I would guess the United States would actually welcome. Anything that would elevate his status, vis a vis, the status the Hamas among the Palestinian people, is probably considered a good thing.
REHMYou know, I wondered about that because though the United States stood back and in fact lobbied against this vote, was there something in it for the vote to succeed? Do you disagree with Tom, Anne?
APPLEBAUMNo, I don't disagree. I think it's often paradoxical. The United States, when acting in the Middle East, sometimes acts against its own interests or sometimes does things that have unexpected consequences. This might have been one of them. although, as I say, I wouldn't overestimate how much this will have echoes on the ground. united nations is a long way away from Gaza and it's a theoretical change rather than a real one.
REHMNow, there's another element here which is the U.S. has threatened to withhold money from the Palestinian authority, if in fact it takes its case against Israel to the world court.
NAIMYes, and the international criminal court, which is one of the consequences this vote may have, in the sense that now the Palestinian state can go to the Hague and claim that Israel is on occupying territory, can accuse Israelis of war crime and generate...
REHMHow likely is that to happen?
NAIMWe don't know yet because as both Anne and Tom have said, we still don't know how this is going to evolve. One of the first consequences is that now the two Palestinian governments, both that of Hamas and Gaza and that of Mr. Abbas in Jerusalem, will have to do decide if they can work together, they will have to unify as a national, as only one government.
NAIMThey are divided, they don't see to eye-to-eye and again there is the thorny issue that they deny the right of Israel to exist, which makes it very complicated to advance any negotiations.
REHMAnd what about cease fire on the ground between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, Tom? Does that continue to hold? What do you see?
GJELTENIt continues to hold largely because it's in the interests of both parties at this point. But it is so important always to emphasize the difference between a cease fire and some kind of political accord, which this was not by any means. In fact, there are major, major issues that have not been addressed.
GJELTENThe Israelis in the course of this action destroyed a lot of the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza and there's a question there of are those going to be rebuilt, are we just going to see a reversion to the status quo anti, where's there's a lot of smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip via those tunnels?
GJELTENAre the Egyptians going to do anything to block the resupply of missile parts to Hamas and Badger 5 long range missiles were very important in this encounter. And Netanyahu, Prime Minister Netanyahu has insisted that that smuggling cannot continue, but I don't see any evidence that there's been any agreement on enforcement of that idea.
REHMAnd speaking of those tunnels, the National Geographic has a wonderful spread on those tunnels, what they look like, how they were built, how they have been disrupted, but it's a fascinating piece. In the meantime, we have news that Yasser Arafat's body is going to be exhumed and what is that all about?
APPLEBAUMYou know, it's funny. I live in a part of the world, I live part of the time in Poland. I've spent many years in Russia and these are parts of the world where you do have a lot of conspiracy theory and a lot of suspicion of, you know, why did that person, why did this accident happen?
APPLEBAUMNobody ever wants to believe the truth and I have to say the exhumation of Arafat's body, even if it's -- even if he is -- even if the body is examined by the world's best forensic scientists and even a report is written that everybody agrees is true, nobody will ever believe that story.
APPLEBAUMI really don't see what this will solve. You know, a conspiracy theory, the life of it, it has vigor and it has energy not because of facts, but because of what people want to believe. So I don't see any changes from this.
NAIMI agree with Anne and, you know, let's remember he suddenly died in 2004 and no one knew exactly why. There were all kinds of speculations. It was said that it was AIDS, cirrhosis of the liver, all kinds of things. Now what happened, in some of his personal belongings there was found high levels of polonium, highly radioactive. The thing that really then created the motive for this, but as Anne said, it's going to be very hard to demonstrate anything and people that believe what they believe are not going to changed by data.
GJELTENBecause this is a radioactive substance that was allegedly found, it decomposes very quickly and it's been now, what eight years since he died, and the chances, therefore, of them actually being able to find enough to provide some kind of conclusive answers are minimal, which goes to Anne's point that, you know, for all the fuss around this, it's not likely to demonstrate anything.
REHMHow did this whole idea of exhumation get started?
GJELTENWell, as Moises said, there have been suspicions from the very beginning...
GJELTEN...that he died so suddenly and so dramatically...
REHMBut then why wouldn't they have done those kinds of tests immediately? Why wait eight years, what's the motivation going on now?
GJELTENI think that, you know, there was interests among the demands among the Palestinians to do some kind of investigation, but they didn't have the capability to do it. Some of his family or friends had clothes, as Moises said, of his that -- and they finally found some Swiss investigators who are willing to do it, but it took some time.
REHMI see. All right, Tom Gjelten of NPR. He's National Security correspondent, Anne Applebaum of The Washington Post and Slate foreign affairs columnist. She's the author of a new book, "Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe: 1944-1956." And Moises Naim, he's with El Pais and author of the forthcoming book, "The End of Power." Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of the Friday News Roundup this week with Moises Naim of El Pais, Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post and Slate foreign affairs columnist and Tom Gjelten, NPR national security correspondent. We've just had a report from the BBC that Israel is going to build 3,000 new settler homes following the UN vote. Let's move on now to Syria, Tom Gjelten, where the country's internet and airports are shut down. This is totally unprecedented.
GJELTENIt's mostly unprecedented. The authorities in Syria have attempted to cut internet access and telephone communications before. But never has it been done in this absolutely blanket manner where all communication has been shut off with the exception of those lucky rebel and activists groups who actually have satellite phones that they're able to bypass sort of the local telecom infrastructure. But except for those satellite communications the people of Syria basically have no communication capabilities with the outside world.
GJELTENAnd speculation of course is that this shows either that things have really deteriorated badly for the government in the last few weeks or that the government is preparing to launch some major bloody new offensive that they don't want transparency about.
APPLEBAUMOr it could be both. I mean, we could be seeing a kind of endgame developing right now. One of the things I thought when I heard that news is I thought that it's time now to really pick up and speed up our efforts in Syria to begin talking now about the transition. One of the things you can do in a situation like this when there seems to be so little that it seems so hopeless is to begin getting people to think now about what they want to have happen next. You know, if Assad falls, if some kind of deal with people around him can be reached. I mean there's a number of scenarios that you could see happening in Syria now.
APPLEBAUMAnd I hope that the United States, the International Community and the Syrians themselves, especially the Syrian Diaspora don't suddenly find themselves caught out with a very rapid change and with having not thought about what they want to have happen next. The effort to organize the Syrian opposition, which happened in the last couple of weeks, was very, very important. But that's really just the beginning. What needs to be done is serious work thinking about what kind of a transitional government they want, what kind of provisional arrangements that want to make.
APPLEBAUMAnd I know that it sounds like it's too early to do that, but if you do it now, as we've seen in other parts of the world, if you begin thinking about it now, you can -- you might be able to hasten the end of the regime.
REHMAnd in the meantime, the U.S. appears ready to recognize the opposition.
NAIMYes, Diane. And that's a very important change. And just yesterday Hillary Clinton said that she now thinks that the Syrian opposition has finally organized better, has unified and it's more of a unified player. And therefore, she said, you know, a day doesn't go by that we don't consider what to do and how to increase our support and our role -- for the opposition in Syria and our role there. And it will happen.
NAIMI do believe that as Anne and Tom have said, we are coming at a different stage -- we're entering a different stage. We don't know what is the natural outcome of this because we have entered into horrible different stages before hoping that it was going to be an end to this massacre and it hasn't. But let's see what happens next here.
NAIMAnd there is a lot of other regional players involved. There is the role of Syria and there is a very interesting role of a small country that is gaining a very large presence in the Middle East and that is Qatar. Qatar had a play -- a role in Libya in the revolution against Gadhafi and in Egypt and the emir visit to Gaza just before the war and all that. So -- and it's playing a very important role in Syria.
NAIMThe paradox is -- in this region there are always paradoxes -- is that at the same time that the Qatari government is intervening everywhere else to fight tyrants and it's in Qatar just recently they gave a life term in prison to a poet accusing him of charge with insulting the emir. And so this person is going to be spending his life in jail for just the kinds of behavior that they are fighting to avoid and to stem in other countries.
REHMAnd, Anne, what about the role of Russia in Syria?
APPLEBAUMYes. This is a very -- Russia's playing a very important and somewhat strange role in Syria. I don't think it's -- Russia has any real strategic interest in Syria, but it does have -- it's begun to attach its prestige to the idea that the Syrian regime should exist. What the Russians -- the Russians have a kind of ideological interest in Syria. They don't want to see another regime -- an authoritarian regime toppled by a popular uprising. It has too many echoes for them at home.
APPLEBAUMAnd they don't want to see it happen here in particular because they have somehow given backing to the Syrian regime and they feel it would undermine them. So one of the questions is, at some point the Syrian Regime runs out of money and they run out of support. Who's going to continue supplying that money and support? Iran is in an extremely weak economy, is in terrible condition. It may well -- we may find that it's the Russians who are doing it. Will they want to do it? Will they want to keep doing it? How much do they care about this? That's going to be very -- it's been an overlooked piece of this puzzle.
GJELTENWell, just one final point which is that really what's been significant in the last few weeks is, not in spite of what Moises rightfully said, is not the political progress that's been made. I mean, there is now this shell of an opposition group. It's really been a military development that has changed the situation. These rebel forces in Syria have overrun a number of government army bases and in the process acquired weapons that they did not have before, including portable surface to air missiles, which they this week used for the first time in a very dramatic fashion.
GJELTENSo we're -- and, as you said at the beginning, the airport in Damascus is now closed as a result of heavy fighting around there. So we're really seeing some real changes on the ground from a military point of view. But I don't see much evidence of progress politically in terms of sort of separating the real militant Jihadi types who are -- who have a lot of the guns in the rebel forces. There's some real serious problems within the rebel movement, you know, in terms of the desperate factions, some of them being very radical represented there.
REHMAnd what about Egypt and what's happening there, Anne?
APPLEBAUMWell, in Egypt it's always very hard to know exactly what's happening because it seems to change from day to day and minute to minute. And Egypt is interesting. It's one of the most interesting countries in this region for a number of reasons. One is because it has so many moving parts. It has a very powerful and important business community. It has a very powerful -- it has elements of civil society, you know, organized groups and organizations in Egypt that exist that don't -- you don't have in a place like Libya, and of course not in a place like Syria. There are many moving parts.
APPLEBAUMAnd, of course, the interesting question for us now is whether Mohammad Morsi, having come to power through a democratic process, you know, what decision will he make? Will he begin to repeat the errors of his predecessor? Will he attempt to clamp down on, to repress and to destroy that Egyptian civil society? Or will he try to find some ways to negotiate it? I think he's going to have a lot of trouble being a totalitarian dictator, if that's what he intends to be, which of course we don't know yet, or a dictator of any kind.
APPLEBAUMJust because Egypt -- the Egyptian state -- it's not Iran. They don't have oil. It's not a strong state. It's not nearly as powerful. And he will have -- he won't have that same kind of ability to control people. The other thing he doesn't have, as far as I can see so far, is an economic program. He doesn't have a way to help Egyptians begin to become more prosperous, more wealthy. He doesn't have a way of spreading that through the society yet. And that's going to backfire on him.
REHMAnd of course he claims that -- he usurped all this authority and power was for the good of the democratic society moving forward. Where is the proof in that pudding?
NAIMYeah, he says that this was very transitional -- what we're talking about here is that he ish -- his office issued a seven -- a declaration stating that he's lost -- Morsi -- President Mohammad Morsi's laws were going to be final and binding and could not be appealed by any way to any entity. That is a reflection of the fact that he was elected with no constitution, no parliament and no defined powers. So -- and there is a tension -- there was a tension between Morsi and the generals in the army. And now there is a tension between Morsi and the constitutional tribunal that is trying to define what are the rules that apply.
NAIMMorsi appointed a panel of individuals charged with drafting a new constitution. And in between there was a vacuum. So he showed this and Tahrir Square effect took over. Essentially the Egyptians no longer take (word?) from the power and they took to the streets. And in very unholy alliances where you -- in the streets, you found liberal elements of the Egyptian society plus former supporters of the former regimes...
REHMAnd the Muslim Brotherhood supporting him.
NAIM...and they use -- and the other side you had the Muslim Brotherhood. So what happens now is that they suddenly moved forward the drafting of this constitution, 230 something articles of the constitution. And they have to put it to a vote, a referendum to accept it or not. In the process, a lot of the lever elements this is -- the drafting committee is dominated by Islamists. And they passed a series of articles that were disappointing or unacceptable even to the non-Muslim parts of the drafters of the constitution who walked out. And Morsi then replaced them with his loyalists.
NAIMSo it remains to be seen what happens when this new draft is taken to a vote in a couple of weeks.
REHMWhat do you think is next, Tom?
GJELTENWell, this -- as Moises just said, this sort of jerry rigged constitution was basically just thrown together in the last few weeks, will be put to a vote and then we'll see. I mean, it's really just sort of a -- instead of starting sort of from scratch and building a constitution that really made sense for modern Egypt, they sort of took a little bit of this, a little bit of that and...
REHMAnd what about the courts?
GJELTENWell, the courts are -- the courts still represent the Mubarak Regime. So you've got the military which is its own power center. You've got the courts which are carryovers from the Mubarak Regime and you've got the Muslim Brotherhood. You know, as far as the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohammad Morsi, they've actually, to me, seemed rather amateurish in this whole thing. And I think it's an interesting parallel to Eastern Europe where you had democrats sort of in the shadows for so many years. But when they finally had the opportunity to lead, they knew what they wanted to do and they were able to do it.
GJELTENThe Muslim Brotherhood has been in the shadows all this time and they come out and they seem absolutely incompetent. They, you know, Mohammad Morsi is just -- it's sometimes this, you know, this group has acted in a farcical manner. And it makes you think they've been waiting all this time for a chance to exert power. And now they have it and they're blowing it.
REHMTom Gjelten of NPR and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Anne, you wanted to add to that.
APPLEBAUMNo. I just wanted to add that this augments the point I made earlier about thinking about transitions in advance. Actually in Eastern Europe that was done in small ways, but there -- the Politian, Hungarian economists and others had begun talking about how you would transform a centrally planned economy many years before the transition. And, you know, if you had that kind of thinking in Egypt, if you had it in Syria you might see better outcomes afterwards.
REHMLet's talk about the latest on the Greek bailout plan. What's happening there? Will it do enough to reduce Greece's debt burden, Moises?
NAIMYes. The good news this week that the market, in fact, took very well was the euro zone. The countries in Europe and the IMF have reached an agreement to reduce Greece public debt to 110 percent of the economy, of the GDP by 2022. So there's going to be a set of cuts and other initiatives and (word?) and so on to try to reach that.
NAIMThat sort of stabilizes the debt dynamics of Greece, but still, we don't know because what we have this covered is that what happens in the streets of this country is as important as what happens in the conference centers where these decisions are made. Immediately after that we just got a report that the euro zone unemployment hit new highs in October, especially in Italy and Spain. And that together with a very dire situation in the Spanish banking system where finally the European countries and others have to provide the funds to bail out some four or five very large banks in Spain.
NAIMSo the situation continues to be unsettled. The debate about the link between cuts and austerity and growth continues. And it is both ideological, it is political, but there is a huge human suffering going on in these countries.
REHMAnd Germany continues to refuse to write down Greece's debt, Anne.
APPLEBAUMGermany continues to refuse to write it down all the way although much has been written about Germany that I think is incorrect. The Germans have a real dedication to keeping the euro zone together, much more so than is usually -- usually you see reports about discontent in Germany and we don't want to pay for the Greeks and so on. Actually the Germans -- as a country the German business class has made more money out of the euro zone and it's been of more benefit to the German economy than to really anybody else.
APPLEBAUMAnd the German determination to save this thing and to keep it going and to make sure that it stays together has been underestimated absolutely from the beginning. And much of what's going on, you know, the austerity programs in Spain and elsewhere, you know, these were things that should have happened a long time ago that may have to happen one way or another. And the Germans have been -- don't underestimate their ability to continue to support them.
GJELTENWell, Diane, you know, Moises sounded a sort of hopeful note, but on the other hand, how many times have we seen bailout deals reached and then the targets just become laughable after a while. I mean, you're right, the -- Greece is supposed to get its debt down to a management level by 2022, but within a few days we saw the Financial Times came out with a document that showed that actually that there's been some sort of playing with the numbers on the part of the EU. They're trying to make the best of a bad situation.
GJELTENThe OECD is now predicting that Europe is going to go into a recession. This just seems to be this tale without end. I mean, it really, for me, is getting harder and harder to see the moment when the European economy actually turns around. And Spain, France, Italy and Greece have all dealt with their debt problems. It's way down the road.
REHMAnd on that note we'll take a short break. Tom Gjelten of NPR, Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post and Slate and Moises Naim of El Pais. They're all here to respond to your questions.
REHMAnd right off the bat we have an email from Chris saying: "Tom Gjelten was wrong when stating that because Polonium 210 is radioactive it decomposes quickly. Polonium 210 has a half-life of roughly 380 years meaning very little will have decomposed in less than a decade. That's in total contrast to an AP story you were quoting published in The Washington Post." Tom…?
GJELTENDiane, here's the dirty little secret. A lot of us who come on this program, all that we know is what we read in the newspapers...
GJELTEN...right? And that's right, there was an AP story and I'm going to quote from it and I have no doubt that our listener is correct, but this story says, "Polonium disintegrates rapidly and experts have cautioned that too much time may have passed since Arafat's death to reach a conclusive result." Now that story may be wrong and the listener may be right. All I know is what I read.
REHMAnd we'll look for more clarification as we move along. Anne Applebaum, let me ask you about President Obama's meeting with the incoming President of Mexico Enrique Pena Nieto at the White House. What topped that agenda?
APPLEBAUMWell the agenda was topped by all the issues you would expect, border security, immigration, but what I think was important about it and the kind of attention that the administration clearly wanted to give to it was that what we are beginning to see is, sorry I should say, we're beginning to understand that our image of Mexico is not really reflective of the truth.
APPLEBAUMI was in Mexico last spring and what impressed me above all else, having read articles about drug wars and you know, the terrible border situation and crises, I got there and I found a middleclass country. You know, absolutely, people with cars and living in a way that we would describe as middleclass and of course it's become in the last several years a middle-income country.
APPLEBAUMIt's becoming wealthier. We know that immigration has, over the border, has in fact fallen. Mexico is now outstripping Brazil in its growth rates and we need, I think as the United States needs to begin to recognize Mexico not just as a source of trouble and violence on our southern border, but as a potential partner, as a business partner and as a country which is beginning to catch up with the developed economies.
APPLEBAUMAnd I thought that this meeting and the kind of prominence it was given by the administration was a step in that direction.
GJELTENI have a, you know, my own sort of feeling about this which is that I lived in Mexico for four years and the PRI which is this, which was this corrupt, one-party government, you know, was finally pushed out of office through this kind of democratic uprising and I was convinced that the PRI would never be coming back because it was such a discredited political institution.
GJELTENAnd now Enrique Pena Nieto was a candidate of the PRI and the PRI is now back to playing a dominant role in Mexican politics. This is one of the most extraordinary stories of an entirely discredited party that has now come back, recast itself, as Anne said, as this modern, pro-development, modernizing force whereas the right-wing party, the Partido Accion Nacional, the PAN has largely been eclipsed. It's really quite an extraordinary turn of events.
REHMAll right. I'm going to open the phones. First to Little Rock, Ark, good morning, Charles.
CHARLESHow's it going today?
CHARLESI have a short question I'll take off the air.
CHARLESI keep hearing about the European debt crisis and Greek austerity measures and whatnot, but it's in complete separation of the United States and their problems. Is there not some sort of correlation between the two? And should we separate them as much as we do?
NAIMIt's a very good point that Charles makes and of course the two are connected. These are two of the largest economies in the world. But it's very important to stress that the United States' economy is recovering. There is expansion and the GDP is expanding and the financial sector is stable. That's not the case in Europe.
NAIMEurope continues to have in many countries we just talked about Spain and others where the banks still are in need of bailouts. They have a very, very high unemployment. Just to give you a sense of proportion the United States' unemployment is under 8 percent. It's about 7 something. In Spain it's about 20 something and in Italy it's very high and elsewhere is very high.
NAIMSo yes, they are, the two are connected, but these two regions, these two large economies are pursuing very different policies.
REHMAll right, to Ann Arbor, Mich., good morning, Helen.
HELENGood morning, Diane, thank you very much. I wanted first to say thank you for your wonderful program...
HELEN...and the enlightenment that we receive from it all the time. I want to go back to Yasser Arafat and the exhumation, the Polonium story if I may and make a question and a comment. In addition to the AP report that was quoted by Tom Gjelten I have been reading and hearing of reports by eminent scientists across the world who question the possibility of traces of Polonium still traceable, so to speak, on clothing of seven to eight years after Arafat has died.
HELENOne has to wonder indeed whether there was a motive in all of this to inflame issues in the Middle East and again raise the issue of the possibility of an assassination and of course who would be the villain in the piece? Obviously it would only be Israel.
APPLEBAUMWell, that confirms what I said at the very beginning. You can't put a conspiracy theory to rest by investigating it and you know, it is perfectly possible that this investigation will deteriorate into an argument about Polonium and nobody will believe either side.
REHMAll right, let's go to Indianapolis, good morning, Josh.
JOSHGood morning, Diane, thank you so much for your show. I really appreciate you taking my call. My question is in regard to some of the parallels that we might be able to draw from what happened in Libya to what's going on now. It's obvious that the government is declining however I know that Gaddafi was very outspoken, his regime, his sons, leaders.
JOSHWe always got daily updates about what was going on, very little from Assad and his regime. Just curious as to what that might mean and what we can draw from that, thank you.
NAIMWhat it essentially means is that international journalists have been kept out of Syria whereas they were allowed more widely in Libya. Essentially it is, and now that they shot down the internet and the airport is yet one more step towards isolating the country from the rest of the world and it's going to become harder.
NAIMWe already have several journalists that risk their lives and lost their lives by trying to cover Syria. And so, yes we knew far more about Libya and other places because journalists from the international media were allowed in.
REHMLet's go now to Pittsburgh, Pa., hi, Nick.
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
NICKI'm just curious to know what the panelists think about, or has there been any conversation that the Obama administration would open up conversation with Mexican authorities about whether or not to confront Colorado and Washington's new tax, legalization taxation law of marijuana, a situation that directly impacts the civil war currently raging in Mexico.
GJELTENYeah, so we have these two states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana, but marijuana is illegal under federal law as well so there's kind of a contradiction now between state and federal law in those two cases and we don't know how that's going to be resolved.
GJELTENIf we were to sort of enlarge this and actually see kind of a national legalization of marijuana, the question that Nick raises is what impact would that have on Mexico, on Mexico's drug war? Now there have been actually quite a few studies about this that show that the drug cartels would lose a lot of money because you make a lot more money off illegal drug traffic than you do off legal drug traffic.
GJELTENBut not so much money that they would go out of business because actually marijuana is a small part of the drug cartel's business. Most of their money is in cocaine and methamphetamines and so I think it would be a little bit wishful thinking to think that the legalization of marijuana would sort of resolve the terrible drug violence in Mexico.
REHMAll right, a caller here in Washington, D.C., from Brandon, good morning to you, sir.
BRANDONGood morning, I have two quick comments. One of them is regarding the Palestine new status in the U.N. and it's kind of ignoring any past actions and just looking forward and that being I see that as a positive step forward and one that holds Palestinians accountable for their actions as an adult-like state. And also it will put any attacks on the Palestinians under a different microscope and truly identify who is, you know, working towards peace.
BRANDONThe second brief comment I have is regarding the fall of the Syrian president and if the rebels do succeed I see that just opening a whole new springboard of Arab Spring-type actions to follow, this being the largest and the most successful effort by any rebel group in many other countries will probably follow in. I think the world needs to be prepared for that and not just the transition of the rebel government.
REHMAll right, thanks for calling. Anne?
APPLEBAUMWell, I'm not -- I didn't hear the question there so I'm not sure how to answer it.
REHMThe question on the first part was about the Palestinians at the U.N.
APPLEBAUMWell, no, I thought his comment about Syria actually was interesting and was the most interesting piece of it and I'd like to ask about the underlying assumption, which is that the fall of Assad will lead to a new Arab Spring and changes everywhere else.
APPLEBAUMYou know, the fall of Assad could lead to many different things in many different places and one of the interesting things about the Arab Spring, which makes it quite different from 1989, is that you haven't had a kind of homogenous kind of change you know.
APPLEBAUMEach of these countries turns out to have very different ethnic and political compositions. You know, the effect of the end of the dictatorship has had different effects. I would say this is 1848 rather than 1989 and I wouldn't necessarily expect a wave of optimistic change following this one.
GJELTENWell, look at the countries where you have not yet seen an Arab Spring and the obvious ones are Saudi Arabia and to some extent, well, you've seen Bahrain, but it has not been as successful. So the question then is, say, if Assad were to fall, are you going to see a kind of spillover effect in Saudi Arabia? I don't think so.
REHMAll right, to continue our discussion about Polonium our producer, Becca Kaufman says that according to the IAEA, the half-life of Polonium 210 is about 138 days, not 380 years. And one listener writes: "With approximately 20 half-lives passing since Arafat's death in 2004, there would be less than 1/100th of 1 percent of the original amount remaining essentially untraceable." Yay, Tom.
GJELTENNo, yay. The AP -- I was just quoting the AP.
REHMThe AP absolutely...
NAIMBut as Anne has mentioned several times, it doesn't matter. People that believe what they believe are immune to data and science. So the conspiracy and the Polonium and everything else will continue to be part of the story.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Littleton, N.H. good morning, Jim.
JIMGood morning, and thank you, Diane, and NPR for maintaining your program.
JIMRecognizing this is an oversimplification, I would like to see our U.S. aid to Palestine and Israel keyed to humanitarian uses and I'd like to see it reduced when shots are fired, that is anyone who attacks across the border, both sides lose some aid.
GJELTENThat's a non-starter, if there ever was one. The United States is wholeheartedly and in a bipartisan manner committed to Israel's security and we have -- I just cannot imagine any retreat from that commitment no matter who governs or who is president.
REHMAll right, and final call from Charlotte, N.C., good morning, Frank.
FRANKHi, okay, you know, I was wondering why the Senate -- already the Republicans actually had a bill ready to go once the Palestinians, you know, wanted to get, you know, recognition and I was, you know, more or less looking at the Gallop Polls. And according to the Gallop Polls, 55 percent of Americans do not support the Israeli violence against.
FRANKWhile this is in Lebanon, they do not support that. And I was wondering if the U.S. Senate is worried about supplying Israel with cluster bombs that blew off the hands of children and the death of all these people in Palestine, according to what I read, over the last 13 years two children are killed by the Israeli occupation every week for the last 13 years.
REHMAll right, sir, thanks for your call. Moises, any comment? Anne, Tom?
GJELTENYou know, there's, I have -- Israel is not a country or the Palestinian Territory, I've never visited there, this is not my specialty and, you know, it is so hard to sort of weigh the opposing arguments. I know many Israelis feel that the American media does not pay attention to Israeli children who were injured in this most round of clashes.
GJELTENI think, you know, it's terrible what happens to children in conflicts. I can't really address which side has been sort of unfairly portrayed.
APPLEBAUMYeah you know, we've had a ceasefire in Israel in the last few days, but we don't have an end to a war. This is an ongoing conflict. It's not -- there is no peace. The ceasefire is a temporary stop. In wars, civilians are murdered. Terrible things happen to people on both sides.
REHMAnd terrible things happened in Bangladesh this week when a factory fire killed 112 workers, triggered angry protests. Very quickly, Moises, what happened?
NAIMWhat happens, you know, in these countries is that industrialization is proceeding much faster than industrial safety and unions and with measures to protect the workers. This is a factory where 1400 workers were operating and their doors were closed so...
NAIM...locked and so when the fire -- 70 percent of those 1400 were women. So when the fire broke, they mostly died inside the factory.
REHMMoises Naim, Anne Applebaum and Tom Gjelten, thank you all so much. Have a great weekend everybody. Thanks for listening, I'm Diane Rehm.
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