More than 100 nations now back the Syrian rebel coalition. Tensions remain high in Egypt ahead of a draft Constitution referendum. And the European Union wins the Nobel Prize for Peace. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- David Ignatius columnist for The Washington Post and contributor to the “Post Partisan” blog on washingtonpost.com. His latest book is titled "Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage."
- Indira Lakshmanan senior correspondent covering foreign policy for Bloomberg News.
- David Sanger chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times and author of "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The U.S. will send troops and missiles to Turkey to help defend it against threats from Syria. In Egypt, tensions run high ahead of a national vote on a draft constitution. North Korea claims a breakthrough in its long-range missile program. And the European Union appoints a new bank watchdog. Joining me for the International Hour of the Friday News Roundup David Ignatius of the Washington Post, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and David Sanger of The New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMI invite you to be part of the program. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, everybody. Thanks for being here.
MR. DAVID SANGERMorning, Diane.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANGood morning.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSGood morning, Diane.
REHMIndira, let me ask you about Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's order to send two Patriot missile batteries to Turkey to defend against any possible Syrian attack. Doesn't this simply escalate our involvement in what's happening in Syria?
LAKSHMANANWell, I'm not sure that it's an escalation so much as it is part of what we have to do as members of NATO with Turkey as a fellow member of NATO. And remember, this is a decision that was actually taken last week while Hillary Clinton was at the NATO Foreign Minister's Meeting in Brussels. And so we already knew on November 30 that the NATO members, including the U.S. and Germany and Netherlands had agreed to supply Patriot missile batteries to their ally, Turkey, who was understandably fearful about incursions over the border from Syria.
LAKSHMANANSo really, the only new announcement from Panetta, as he's on his way to Turkey -- this announcement came today -- was that they're going to be providing these U.S. forces to help with manning the Patriot missile battery.
REHMHow serious, David, is the threat to Turkey from Syria?
IGNATIUSWell, there's been shelling across the border. Syrians have shelled in the far northeast and at other points and that's created a lot of anxiety in Turkey, in part because there are Turkish minorities of Alawites and also of Kurds. And there's an anxiety about internal restlessness. I do think that this is an escalation. You'll have U.S. troops on the ground participating in what is, by another name, a kind of no-fly zone.
IGNATIUSThese Patriots will have some reach over Syria. Yes, they'll protect her, but they'll also, you could argue, protect the opposition forces in the north. And the U.S. is moving, some argue late, toward a more committed role in assisting the opposition. I think these Patriots are big, powerful weapons and that they'll ease some of the criticism that I've heard when I was in Syria, from Syrian opposition fighters, that the U.S. has done too little to help them.
REHMAnd now, David Sanger, the U.S. has agreed to recognize the Syrian opposition.
SANGERThey have agreed to recognize the Syrian opposition. As David says, there's a big question about the degree to which the U.S. has come to all of this somewhat late. The French, the British recognized this opposition group a few weeks before the U.S. did. And of course it was the U.S. that was responsible for putting it together.
REHMAnd what difference does it make?
IGNATIUSWell, that's the critical question. It's the right question, Diane, because the connection between this group of basically exiles who are part of this opposition group and the actual Syrian fighters on the ground in Syria, is pretty tenuous. And at the same time that we recognize them we also declare that an al-Qaida affiliate or at least an al-Qaida sympathizing group inside Syria was going on the terrorist list.
IGNATIUSSo what we're trying to do is pick our rebels. We have the rebels we like and we have the rebels who are more al-Qaida related. The fact of the matter is we have very little control over any of that, but let's go back to the Patriots for a moment. It does escalate the American involvement, but in a very narrow way. Remember, we put Patriot missiles in South Korea during the Clinton administration, during one of the many nuclear standoffs with North Korea. In recent years we have put anti-missile batteries, including Patriots in Israel, we've put them in Arab states that are concerned about attack from Iran.
IGNATIUSAnd as Indira said, if a NATO country is subject to some kind of random attacks, you don't have much of a choice but to go do it. But I think that the other sort of subtle message here is that the capability of the Patriot is only a few miles for an incoming Syrian missile. It's significantly bigger, longer against airplanes, which are a lot slower moving target. So if you're a Syrian pilot and you are suddenly put up along that border where the rebels have sort of had their strongest enclave.
IGNATIUSYou're probably going to think twice now, if you're a Syrian government pilot, about how close you want to get to this Patriot missile battery. And part of this is just the psychological game.
REHMGo ahead, Indira.
LAKSHMANANPart of the deal in the approval by NATO of these Patriot missile batteries was the clear statement by NATO, as well as by Turkey--and Turkey even repeated this statement again today, saying that this is not a no-fly zone, this is not an offensive operation. The aim is only to deter any threats, defensively. It's a defensive operation. So that was the aegis under which this was all approved.
LAKSHMANANNow, I don't disagree that this obviously steps up U.S. involvement, but it also steps up German and Dutch involvement. And my point is simply, keep in mind, that this is part of NATO also deploying the Airborne Warning And Control System aircraft, AWACS, in Turkey this month on a training exercise. So there's a lot that they're doing to try to protect Turkey from the dangers from Syria.
REHMAnd, David, how crucial is the admission by Russia that the rebels might win and then the stepping back from that statement from one of the top officials?
IGNATIUSIt's potentially important. If it's a precursor for a Russian change of position towards helping to broker a political transition. If the Russians mean what they say, that Bashar al-Assad is going to lose, then it follows logically that the Russians are going to want to adjust their position so they don't go down with the loser and they protect their interests. The Obama administration has been almost begging for this Russian involvement. I think I've said on this show -- I have certainly have written -- that I think U.S. policy ought to be to help Vladimir Putin win the Nobel Peace Prize by brokering a settlement because the consequences of continued sectarian, shaded war in Syria are so disastrous.
REHMBut just how supportive is Putin of acknowledging that the rebels might win? What about that backward stepping?
IGNATIUSRight now, Diane, Putin, a stubborn man, has not made any public change in his position. This was a deputy foreign minister who made the comment. He did make it in a statement on the Russian news agency. So it carried kind of an official flavor, but I'm sure the administration is looking very, very hard now in private discussions to see how do we move this forward? There's a lot of talk that I hear about deterioration of the Syrian position in Damascus. Top generals, top Alawite generals close to the Assad family, in contact with the U.S. and its allies. So there is this sense of the ground giving way under Assad.
SANGERThis is a critical point because until now what we've not seen in Syria is the military crack. And we haven't seen a crack because the top levels of the military, as David says, are all Alawite and it's an all or nothing game for them. If they lose they think they and their families are dead. There's sort of no place for them to go. So the trick here for the Russians, if they can do it, is negotiate safe passage out for Assad, also for many of his Alawite leaders. Not clear that that's going to happen. They could well decide to go down fighting.
SANGERAnd this is why there was such a scare ten days ago about the chemical weapons. Now, we saw this week, and The Times reported two days ago, that the Syrians, for the first time, have launched Scud missiles against the rebels. Imagine what a remarkable thing this is. Launching missiles against your own countrymen. You don't see that happen very much. And one of the most remarkable things is the Obama administration has said almost nothing about it, including condemning it, which seems sort of strange.
SANGERIf you go back and you think about what happened during the Persian Gulf War, there was, you know, a lot of condemnation when these kinds of missiles got launched. The concern is that the next and most desperate step would be to put chemical onto the warheads of those missiles. That has not happened yet. There have been a lot of warnings to the Syrians about don't move the chemical weapons. President Obama has said this would be the red line for U.S. intervention, but it's still a risk.
REHMIt's always there will be consequence, but nobody ever spells out what those consequences would be. Indira?
LAKSHMANANYeah, you make a good point. And part of the problem with the Obama administration drawing such a red line about chemical weapons, is it suggests that anything up to chemical weapons is okay. Go ahead, fire whatever else. Fire the Scuds, as long as it's not chemical weapons. I mean that's certainly the implication. And I think it also sends a dangerous message to Hezbollah. Remember, they also have their own Scuds. And so if Syria is able to fire off, you know, the estimates are that they have an arsenal of something like 700 Scuds.
LAKSHMANANIf they're able to fire those off, it's not only a sign of their own desperation within the regime of using these, which are not very targeted or accurate weapons, but it also, you know, sends a worrisome message if the U.S. is not going to react. But I did want to say one thing about the Russians, which is the Russians today have very strongly pulled back from those remarks from the Deputy Foreign Minister that were reported. And they've even suggested that those remarks were not necessarily meant for reporting. And, you know, the--
REHMBut how could that be?
LAKSHMANANIt's an odd one. It's unclear whether maybe he gave something that in his mind was a background briefing to Russian State media, that it got reported anyway, but they've certainly stepped back from that now.
REHMIndira Lakshmanan. She's senior correspondent covering foreign policy for Bloomberg News. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup. And here's a question, what would happen to China's and Russia's influence in the region if the Assad Administration collapses, David?
IGNATIUSWell, it will decline -- I think it'll decline regardless. The Sunni Arab world is furious at Russia and China for sticking with us. Rightly reasoning that if they had abandoned him as the rest of the world generally did that he'd be gone now. so I think the Russians and Chinese are going to suffer for it diplomatically. If the Russians broker a transition they'll regain some of that.
REHMAll right. And let's turn to the statement by the UN Ambassador Susan Rice that she wants to take her own name out of consideration as a possible candidate as Secretary of State. I asked the participants in the last hour whether they saw any connection between her doing that and the ongoing negotiation on the fiscal cliff, David.
IGNATIUSWell, it's fascinating. You want to hope that the White House played for some benefit from this. What I'm told is different. What White House sources tell me is that this was really Susan Rice's recognition that she would be so bruised and damaged by the confirmation fight that was ahead that it was wise to pull back. Now was that preceded by a private conversation with the president and the first lady who are both very strong supporters of Susan, I don't know.
SANGERFrom the people I have spoken to on this, she did consult with some White House officials, including Valerie Jarrett, including Ben Rhodes as one of the Deputy National Security Advisors and who was on the campaign in 2008 with her. But I have no indication that the White House told her it was time to go. Now maybe they concluded that the fact that you didn't see roaring support coming up for her that she would sort of read the tea leaves and come to that conclusion.
SANGERHow is it connected to fiscal cliff? If she had not pulled out I think it would've been virtually impossible for the president to announce his entire slate of national security appointees, which includes defense where we're hearing a lot about former Senator Chuck Hagel, the CIA, Secretary of State of course, before the president returns from his vacation, you know, into the New Year. Because they have to give fiscal cliff through first if she was going to be a contentious issue. Since she's withdrawn from this I think it's very possible you could see that entire slate get announced next week.
REHMWas she the victim of election year politics or might she have been the wrong choice to begin with, Indira?
LAKSHMANANWell, I don't think anyone can argue that she wasn't qualified for the job and that she hasn't spent her entire life preparing for this job. So I think that argument is specious. I mean, there are people who didn't like her because she's got a very strong personality. You know, one of the people who I interviewed for a profile of her was Madeline Albright who's known her since she was four years old because Madeline Albright was friends with her mother.
LAKSHMANANAnd Madeline Albright having herself been both U.S. Ambassador to the UN and Secretary of State sort of ridicules the arguments about her being abrasive or pushy and says, look you sit behind a sign that says United States at the UN. And your job is to advocate for the U.S. as strongly as you can and not to win a popularity contest. So in a way that's kind of a silly argument, I would say.
LAKSHMANANThe other question about Benghazi is a really complicated one. And I really liked a column that I saw by Bill Keller last week in the New York Times in which he talked about the importance of being there and having foreign correspondence on the scene, on the spot when things happen. And he sort of made the connection to the fact that the early reports after the Benghazi attacks, basically every single one of them without exception connected the opera, you know, the attack -- the fatal attack in Benghazi to the protests that happened in Cairo and Tunisia against that video.
LAKSHMANANAnd he made the point that a lot of, you know, so called classified intelligence and intelligence reports is often based on news reporting. And when you don't have reporters on the ground it's hard to know. I mean, intelligence reporting changes over the day. So I'm not entirely sure that we know yet. The accountability review board hasn't come out about Benghazi and it's possible that what she says is true, that those were the talking points she was given and that's what they knew at the time.
IGNATIUSI found the main line of the Republican attack against Susan Rice about her statements the Sunday following the September 11 attack on the consulate in Benghazi fabricated. I thought it was a made-up scandal. She was essentially reading from talking points that were prepared by the CIA. Bill Keller's piece was excellent but there actually was intelligence monitoring of conversations among insurgents from the group that attacked the consulate that showed first that they'd been watching the demonstrations in Cairo. And then that they talked about the demonstrations in Cairo. And that following that they made the attack.
IGNATIUSThere is no evidence that the attack was preplanned. The analysts have been looking for that. It is true -- and Susan Rice didn't say this and this is part of the case against her -- it is true that some of the attackers were from a group Ansar al-Sharia which has links to al Qaeda which is a terrorist group. And if they could've said that they should've said that. But apparently they thought they couldn't.
SANGERI thought that Bill's column on this and the importance to be on the ground was not only important, but it reinforced something that I remembered within the Times' own reporting. We did have people on the ground who go to Benghazi very quickly, well ahead of the American investigators and reported in the first couple of days after that that there had been no protest outside the embassy related to this. And this was before Ambassador Rice went on TV that we had that in the paper.
SANGERAnd so it does make it an important point about why it is you need to have independent reporters there. And frequently, as Indira said, intelligence reports do get based on things that are in the news. But I think that there was something else that was going on here as well in the case of Ambassador Rice. She has this very blunt style which my colleague Jodi Kantor and I argued in today's paper is actually what President Obama admires in her most. Because she frequently says things he would like to say but as President of the United States cannot say. And she's very in your face in a way that we're told by President Obama's aids he is when he is in private and in, you know, situation room meetings.
SANGERThere was a great example of this on Wednesday, the same day that she was drafting her letter to the president pulling out of contention for Secretary of State. You may remember that the night before the North Koreans had launched off a rocket. We'll probably discuss this a little bit later on. The Chinese, in an informal meeting of the Security Council the next morning, were trying to be apologetic for their ally the North Koreans -- their troublesome ally the North Koreans.
SANGERAnd the Chinese ambassador said to Ambassador Rice and others who were assembled there, there was no interruption of -- there was no threat to regional security from this. There should be no UN statement against them. And Susan Rice looked at him and said, that's ridiculous. And he looked back at her and said, watch your language, okay. So this was an example of the sort of sharp elbows approach that to some degree you kind of need at the UN.
REHM...at the UN.
SANGERNow the question is, does that work when you're Secretary of State.
REHMYeah, exactly. And so now there's an awful lot of talk about John Kerry and whether in fact he has some shortcomings that might work against him.
IGNATIUSWell, John Kerry's a very familiar face. It ran for president and lost, been in the senate for almost 30 years. I think the criticism of him is that he would be a conventional choice. There's some evidence that he's not quite as conventional as you might think. He has been an advocate of reaching out to adversaries for diplomatic solutions to problems, most specifically Iran, Hamas, Syria before Assad's troubles.
IGNATIUSAnd he also is somebody who has been used by this president as an emissary in some delicate situations involving Afghanistan's President Karzai and the government in Pakistan. And by the White House's account did a good job in these person-to-person contacts. So that would be the case for John Kerry.
REHMBut does he have a close personal relationship?
IGNATIUSNo, he doesn't. It is said that the president found him awfully longwinded when he was the stand-in for Mitt Romney during the debate prep. And, you know, Obama likes kind of crisp, you know, blunt, you know, as David Said. No surprise he kind of likes Susan Rice. They're going to have to figure out a way to get a long because there was distance between President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And as good as she was as Secretary of State she could've been better if she'd had a real confidential relationship.
REHMInteresting. Go ahead.
LAKSHMANANLook, I think one thing that has frustrated the Obama Administration in the first term is that they did not have their guys, the White House's guys in some of the key national security positions. So Secretary Clinton obviously had been the president's rival. It was an incredibly canny smart political move to make her Secretary of State, but in no way could you say that she was originally part of Obama's inner circle. And even though I think she was a very good soldier and has been very loyal to him in carrying out his policy, again she's not part of his inner circle and neither was Gates.
LAKSHMANANAnd so -- at DOD -- so I think there was a very strong feeling in the White House that the president wanted Susan Rice so he could have his guy, his woman there at the State Department. Now if he gets Kerry that's not his guy. And I'm not trying to suggest that Kerry would be in any way disloyal to the president or would not carry out his foreign policy, but he could be overshadowed by someone closer to the president as national security advisor.
LAKSHMANANAnd let's not -- you know, Susan Rice isn't going anywhere and it's entirely possible that she may eventually become national security advisor and have that kind of relationship where she overshadows the secretary of state in the same way that you could say Henry Kissinger did when he was national security advisor or Zbigniew Brzezinski did when he was national security advisor overshadowing a secretary of state.
REHMAnd we should not forget that before she became close to the President, Susan Rice had previously supported Hillary Clinton and then jumped ship.
SANGERWell, she hadn't declared for Hillary Clinton by any means. She had worked in the Clinton Administration -- Bill Clinton's Administration as assistant secretary of state, handled Africa. That was something that people were beginning to go back and look at her time there when her candidacy was still live. But almost as soon as Barack Obama arrived in the U.S. Senate Susan Rice was there talking to him, tutoring him. And she went over and sided with him very early.
SANGERIn early '07 she was still at the Brookings Institution and it shocked a lot of people who thought that because she had been in the Clinton Administration she was going to be a natural Hillary Clinton supporter. And, you know, that was not forgotten in what's called Hillary Land.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So with North Korea launching this rocket, what happens next? Do we have any leeway to put more pressure on China to react to what North Korea's doing?
IGNATIUSWell, you know, the first thing you heard before the launch happened was that North Korea would be subjected to Iran-style sanctions, which is to say, you know, cut off all their obvious sources of revenue. It was a great sounding soundbite except if you're been watching North Korea and its sanctions for the past 20 years, in which case you would know that the Iran sanctions were inspired by a set of sanctions that the United States executed against a bank in Macau that Kim Jong Il, the late leader of North Korea used as his personal piggy bank to go help support his own power base in North Korea. And boy did they scream when the U.S. cut off that bank.
IGNATIUSAnd as part of the deal -- one of the previous deals with North Korea, the U.S. let up on that bank. So yes, there are many things you can do to North Korea. Will any of them work without China? No. So why would the Chinese sit around and try to think up excuses that would lead them into nasty exchanges with Susan Rice at the UN on Wednesday?
IGNATIUSThere's really only one reason and you find the answer to this actually in the WikiLeaks cables, which is that the Chinese have an abiding fear that the North Korean government is so fragile that it will one day collapse, that South Korea will take over the North, that the American allies will be right up behind them and that it will put the U.S. and South Korea right on the Chinese border.
IGNATIUSAnd so when you ask this Chinese if you could pour truth serum into them and say what's worse, a nuclear and missile-armed North Korea or the Americans on your border they'd say the American's on our border.
LAKSHMANANYeah, I'm laughing because there's a perfect parallel here. I mean, the reason that the Russians have been so loyal to Assad is because he's been their most important biggest ally in the Middle East. And remember, Syria is the sight of Russia's only military base outside of the former Soviet Union, the Tartus Naval Base that gives them access to the Mediterranean. Likewise, China has been such a defender on the security council of North Korea because they don't want to see the collapse of that nation. They don't want to see hundreds of thousands or millions of refugees streaming across their border.
LAKSHMANANI mean, each of these countries has very strong reasons for doing what they do defending those nations.
REHMLet's talk quick about what's happening in Egypt and the constitution referendum that's going to take place. What's at stake here, David?
IGNATIUSWell, what's at stake is the continuity of the government of President Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood government we would say, which has supported this referendum on a constitution that was quickly written. And the people who've analyzed it carefully tell me it has a lot of little mistakes. It's just not a document that Egyptians 100 years from now will be proud of.
IGNATIUSI think the most important thing that's happened in the last couple days is the decision by the opposition to tell its followers to vote no but to participate in the referendum. The importance...
REHM...rather than boycott it.
IGNATIUS..rather than -- for a long time they were going to boycott it. The reason that that's important is the no's will lose. The constitution will be endorsed in this vote. But the legitimacy of the government and the process going forward I think will remain intact because people voted in the referendum, they lost and then they'll say we opposed this constitution but they're not challenging the fundamentals. And I think that was the toughest decision the opposition had to face. They know that their backs are against the wall in a sense.
REHMDavid Ignatius of the Washington Post. When we come back, time to open the phones, your comments, questions. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Cazenovia, N.Y., good morning Aaron.
AARONGood morning, good to hear your wonderful voice.
AARONI think that I'd like to offer an idea for the panel to consider. There's a lot of desirable beach-front property in the southern oceans that Russia, I'm sure, would enjoy having greater influence in and I would predict that in this new century, especially if China and North Korea, its satellites are flexing their military muscle and economic muscle that Russia will be coming into NATO and that as we move into the Syria area, Russia will move into the Iran area.
REHMHow do you feel about that possibility, David?
IGNATIUSWell, Russia has always said to be hungry for warm-water ports. That was supposedly the driver of the great game. The, you know, in the coming century, we may have the melting of ice in the north so that Russia gets ports all along the Arctic Circle so they won't need to go to Iran.
REHMAll right, thanks for calling. Now to Kalamazoo, Mich., hi Charles.
CHARLESOh, hello, thanks so much for taking my call.
CHARLESI was actually originally calling to ask about Susan Rice's resignation and whether that was influenced much by the criticism I've been hearing of her handling of African issues during the Clinton administration and then as a consultant afterwards.
CHARLESAnd I was also wondering about replacing General Petraeus at the CIA and whether that might have any policy effect on sort of the de-militarization of the CIA in the next couple of years.
REHMAll right, thanks for calling. Indira?
LAKSHMANANWell, let's keep in mind she didn't resign, she just merely withdrew her name from consideration for Secretary of State so she has not left the U.N. post. And I would say that, no, the criticism about her has not been about her handling of African issues under the Clinton administration.
LAKSHMANANWhile the whole Benghazi-gate issue certainly brought out critics from all corners -- and there were people who criticized her handling of Rwanda for example, she was by no means the main person in charge of that policy. She was merely a director at the National Security Council, later Assistant Secretary of State and it was Susan Collins of Maine who brought up the issue of, oh, well, when she was Assistant Secretary of State, don't forget there were bombings in Tanzania and Kenya and maybe she didn't give the security that those embassies needed.
LAKSHMANANIn fact, again, I think that's an unfair criticism because the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa or any regional assistant secretary is not the person in charge of deciding about security and she did run the Crisis Operation Center in the aftermath of those attacks.
SANGERIndira is absolutely right. There is a separate post or many posts in the State Department that are responsible for embassy security. But let's get to the second part of the caller's interesting question which is about whether or not the appointment at the CIA might end up in reversing the increasing militarization of the agency.
SANGERWe don't know who the appointee is going to be there. If it is the current Acting Director Mike Morell, he comes out of the analytical branch of the CIA. I think, David's our CIA expert here, but I think the last analyst to go run the CIA would have been Bob Gates, if I'm right.
SANGERSo if Morell, who is known as something of a skeptic about the long-term utility of drones, for example, whether or not the kind of backlash that you get from them is worse than your tactical advantages from them or at least raises the question, then you could begin to see a bit of a reversal, but remember this is not a policy that is within the realm of the CIA director.
SANGERThis is very much from the president's own light-foot print strategy of using more drones, more cyber, and more special forces instead of sending waves of soldiers into the Iraqs and Afghanistans of the world.
IGNATIUSI think that David is right about Michael Morell, who is one of the two leading candidates and I think there is the beginning of a consensus that the CIA needs to shift its balance away from emphasis on paramilitary covert action of which drone attacks are an example, but in this counter-terrorism fight, there have been so many instances of this.
IGNATIUSAnd back towards the traditional CIA mission of stealing secrets, of gathering foreign intelligence and I think both of the two leading candidates, John Brennan, who is currently the White House counter-terrorism chief, and Michael Morell believes that that shift in the balance is appropriate and I can't -- I would think that that would be backed by the White House.
REHMHere's an email from an individual who says: "I'm a student at the University of North Texas. We have been following the Syrian conflict. What I learned is, is that there are supporters of Assad and they fear for their president. They claim the West tells lies about their country and their president."
REHMI'm sure we've heard that before, David?
IGNATIUSWell, particularly among Syrian minorities, there is a feeling that Assad has been -- has presided over a secular state in which Christians, Alawites, other minorities are full Syrian citizens and there is an enormous fear that the regime that's coming will be dominated by Sunni extremists and that the plight of minorities, Christians and Alawites in particular, will be severe.
IGNATIUSThere's real anxiety about that. I hear that from a lot of Syrians, including some Muslims that they're really -- so I think the importance of this new coalition, which is very broad is, it's trying to reassure minorities in Syria, you have a future after Assad.
REHMAll right to Houston, Tx., J.P. you're on the air.
J.P.Good morning, thank you for taking my call.
J.P.I'd like to know if China and Russia have actually sold all their political capital supporting Mr. Assad and if there's any outlook on if this crisis puts windows on Mr. Obama's doctrine. Thank you.
SANGERHave they sold all their political capital? No, the Chinese have invested relatively little in Assad. Remember Syria is not a significant producer of oil and that's how you get China's attention in the Middle East. So the Chinese are much more focused on Iran and other oil suppliers.
SANGERFor the Russians, as David and Indira suggested, the big issue here is their base in Syria. But their other issue is that if Assad is going to go and they clearly smell the same rot in his future that everybody else in the world does, they want to have some influence over whatever government succeeds, as does the United States and as does every other player in the region.
SANGERAnd there is the possibility that what you see happening in Syria could be a lot worse than the kind of divisions you've seen break out in Libya and other places, post Assad.
REHMWhat about what our caller mentioned, Obama's doctrine?
IGNATIUSWell, the Obama doctrine I'm familiar with is the one that he enunciated with Libya in which he said that the United States would be prepared to use military force in situations where our interests are not directly at stake. And that's certainly the case with Syria only when we were doing so in cooperation with regional powers and with our traditional allies as in NATO.
IGNATIUSSo that would tell you that if the Saudis, Turks and our NATO allies said, we think it's important to intervene militarily in Syria, the U.S. would say, okay, we're prepared to be part of that. That's the doctrine I think he's talking about and clearly that test hasn't been met yet.
REHMAll right. Let me ask you quickly about the European Central Bank. The European Union now has a new bank watchdog. Why was that needed? Indira?
LAKSHMANANWell, the reason it's important is because it's about basically putting all euro-area lenders into a deal that sort of paves the way for the euro firewall fund to provide direct bailouts to banks. This is really important -- as Ireland's finance minister was talking about, this is because when you have sovereign governments bailing out their banks, it's the ability for the sovereign governments themselves to collapse, to not have the ability to support those bank bailouts when you have major, major national banks failing.
LAKSHMANANSo the idea of the ECB getting together and having a unified stance on this, having a bank supervisor, you know, really could be a landmark and a major step towards resolving the crisis which has been going on for three years now.
REHMAnd what do you make of the EU winning the Nobel Peace Prize David?
SANGERYou know, I always wonder when the Peace Prize goes to institutions, you know. So in this case and what we've seen happen time and again in recent years with the Nobel Peace Prize is they go to reward what the Peace Prize committee hopes the future will be.
SANGERSo Barack Obama got one, what, nine months into his presidency...
SANGER...okay, and ended up having to give a speech about when presidents have to go to war, which was not exactly what the Peace Prize group. So the EU gets it just when it's under the most attack, when there's the concern that it could split apart. And this was, I think, the Nobel jury's effort to say, no, this was the right idea, hold on to it. But it does -- it does sort of turn on its head the initial concept of the prize.
REHMAll right. Now I want to ask you David Ignatius about this new Kathryn Bigelow film because there's been a lot of controversy about it ahead of its release.
IGNATIUSDiane, I was able to go to an early showing of it last week and also to talk with the screenwriter, Mark Boal, who worked closely with Kathryn Bigelow. It's a fascinating film but a difficult one. It will be painful for viewers because it places squarely before the audience the question of whether torture, whether the awful euphemism is enhanced interrogation techniques, provided some of the leads that led the analysts to the courier known as Abu Ahmed al Kuwaiti who then led them to Bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
REHMAnd we should say the film is titled "Zero Dark Thirty."
IGNATIUSYes, "Zero Dark Thirty" and the film raises that possibility. After seeing it, I talked with intelligence officials who said basically the following, that we'll never know if it is true that some leads came from these terrible torture sessions. We'll never know if without that information it would have been possible to get Bin Laden and kill him.
IGNATIUSSo my conclusion is that the reason to ban torture is not because we know it doesn't work and we could have killed Bin Laden anyway, it's because it's morally wrong. And that in saying it's morally wrong we won't do it we have to be open to the possibility that we will lose information that we might want.
REHMBut didn't the Senate Intelligence Committee just release a report?
IGNATIUSThey did and I have to say honestly I think the count that was given by Leon Panetta in his letter a week after the attack, last year when he was CIA director in which he said you cannot make a definitive judgment about whether without this information. I think that initial reading by the CIA itself is the one that I'm going to lean on.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Are you saying, David, we should see that movie?
IGNATIUSYeah, I mean, it's a really powerful movie. It's very well made. Kathryn Bigelow is one of the best directors working in the world today. I'll tell you, your listeners are going to be upset watching part of that movie, as I was.
REHMAre you planning to see it, Indira?
LAKSHMANANI'd love to see it.
REHMAnd you, David?
SANGERYou know, my teenage boys are going to be so jealous of Ignatius for having gotten an early look at this. But, you know, David raises just the right point here which is. In the end, we've not really had a satisfying debate even with President Obama's ban on torture on the question of, at what point does a piece of information become so vital that you are willing to step aside from all of the moral strictures that people have laid down, not just during the Obama administration, but even in the second half of the Bush administration.
SANGERAnd it's a very uncomfortable debate for American officials to have. It's one that politicians are always carving exceptions on.
REHMFinally to Lansing, Mich. Becky, you're on the air.
BECKYThank you. I so appreciate your show. It's so refreshing to have rational discussion. My point that I'd like to make is I'm outraged that Susan Rice had to withdraw at all. I believe that a president should be able to choose his cabinet.
BECKYBut more so, I just wanted to bring up an incident. I'm sure some of your listeners might be familiar. Jon Stewart ran a sadly but clever piece comparing both Rices, Susan Rice and Condoleezza Rice, and it showed, of course, the excerpts of Condoleezza Rice lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iran before she became Secretary of State.
LAKSHMANANI, unfortunately, did not see that piece. I'd love to go back and YouTube it now, but I think that, you know, the point is, the larger point is there and it's one that, you know, certainly Colin Powell made some statements at the United Nations that you could say led to the Iraq War that were certainly not true.
LAKSHMANANI mean, there are many people who have made statements that were not true. The question is what did they know when they made those statements and I think we don't have any proof that Susan Rice knew she was saying something that was wrong and I think we'll have to wait and see on that.
REHMRavi Shankar died Tuesday at age 92. What kind of influence do you feel he had on Western music, David?
IGNATIUSWell, I think he kind of, if you can say, mainstreamed Indian music, his beautiful sitar music. It was famously taken up by the Beatles. But, you know, I think that he ended up being the symbol of the way in which a much broader audience embraced that wonderful music and culture.
LAKSHMANANYeah, his legacy is incredible. I mean, not only is he really the one who brought sitar music to the West, as David said, because of the Beatles and George Harrison specifically taking him up, but, you know, he really popularized Indian classical music for such a broad audience and throughout India as well.
LAKSHMANANI think it's also fascinating he leaves two daughters who are both musicians, Norah Jones and Anoushka Shankar. Right, so, you know, it's carrying on in another generation.
REHMIndira Lakshmanan, David Sanger and David Ignatius and of course the music of Ravi Shankar, thank you all, thanks for listening, I'm Diane Rehm.