Friday News Roundup - International

MS. DIANE REHM

11:06:53
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. An independent panel faults the State Department for grossly inadequate security at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. The U.N. suspends its polio program in Pakistan after militants murdered vaccine workers. And South Korea elects its first female president, the daughter of a former dictator. Here with me for this week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Yochi Dreazen of The Atlantic magazine, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy Magazine and Hisham Melhem of Al-Arabiya.

MS. DIANE REHM

11:07:35
Join us on 800-433-8850, send us your email to drshow@wamu.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And good morning everybody.

MR. YOCHI DREAZEN

11:07:52
Good morning, Diane.

MR. HISHAM MELHEM

11:07:52
Good morning, Diane.

MS. SUSAN GLASSER

11:07:52
Good morning.

REHM

11:07:53
Good to see you all. Yochi Dreazen, what did the independent panel conclude about the attack on the Benghazi Consulate and why?

DREAZEN

11:08:06
You know, it was about as undiplomatic a report as you can see come out about a diplomatic branch of the government. I mean it was lacerating. All we saw, of course, was the unclassified version. The classified version was both longer, much more detailed. It had footage from the Pentagon-run drone that was hovering over after the attack had begun. The use of that drone and the fact that there were no other drones has obviously been part of the controversy.

DREAZEN

11:08:30
It led to one resignation, multiple disciplinary actions, including against the one person in charge of security for not just Benghazi, but for all the U.S. diplomatic outposts across the world. It faulted the State Department for misusing money, for mismanagement, for not having adequately done security research, not having adequately staffed it. It basically found fault with every possible aspect of how the Benghazi Consulate was set up and run.

DREAZEN

11:08:59
One of the interesting things to me was it obliquely criticized Ambassador Stevens. This was a fluent Arabic speaker. The YouTube videos he recorded at the embassy in Tripoli made clear how much he loved Libya, how excited he was about the job. But the report makes it clear that it was his choice in many ways to go to Benghazi the way he did, to do it with a light footprint, that he did not want a huge security detail around him.

DREAZEN

11:09:23
Obviously, it was a tragedy. It doesn't in any way say, and therefore he's to blame. But it makes it a somewhat more nuanced story.

REHM

11:09:31
Interesting.

DREAZEN

11:09:31
The bravery of this man, but also the risks that came with that bravery.

REHM

11:09:34
And what about Secretary Clinton, Susan Glasser? Did the panel find her at fault?

GLASSER

11:09:42
Well, you know, this is in many ways a very classic Washington report, I think. If you look at it, in some ways it hits, as they said when they announced the findings of the review board, we're fixing blame at the Assistant Secretary level. Well, in Washington-speak what that means is that we're looking for people who are just high enough to take the fall, who have enough authority. And indeed, the head of diplomatic security, the assistant secretary in charge of that has already left the State Department as a result of this.

GLASSER

11:10:14
But assistant secretary is just high enough to take the fall. That's a political appointment, but to make sure that the higher ups don't get the blame.

REHM

11:10:21
Was there any indication that the panel felt there was a cover-up on the part of the Obama administration, Hisham?

MELHEM

11:10:31
Absolutely not. I mean, this was a case where they made it clear that there's no such cover-up or attempt to deceive the public or...

REHM

11:10:40
Because that is what the accusations were.

MELHEM

11:10:42
The claim of some Republicans and it was interesting that Susan Rice was not mentioned in this report. I mean she has nothing to do with this report. And that should lead to some thinking or rethinking because of the hatchet job that she received at the hands of the Republicans for something that she was not responsible for. She's not even part of the State Department. She was giving some faulty, maybe, intelligence, initial intelligence. And she has to fall on her sword, so to speak.

MELHEM

11:11:17
And Secretary Clinton was not even indirectly blamed for this. Obviously Secretary Clinton was honest and she said, in, you know, final analysis, I am responsible because I am the Secretary of State and these people work for me and diplomatic security is under my wing and the Near East Department, also. But she was absent. I mean, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was absent when the knives were being sharpened and used against Susan Rice.

REHM

11:11:45
I just want to point out that number one, Secretary of State Clinton had a severe virus.

MELHEM

11:11:54
True.

REHM

11:11:54
She fainted. She hit her head. She is said to have a concussion. I, for one, hope she heals very quickly. Was there any indication that she was trying to avoid these hearings, Susan?

GLASSER

11:12:15
Well, you know, Diane, some Republicans have made that claim publicly. I don't think there's any evidence of that whatsoever. And in fact I'm told, I don't know how much, that the concussion is very serious and may actually prevent Secretary Clinton from traveling at all over the next few weeks.

REHM

11:12:28
For awhile, yeah.

GLASSER

11:12:28
Exactly. Which, again, anyone who knows here knows that she's a pretty relentless globetrotter. And I imagine that her intention was to keep hitting the road until the very end of her tenure as Secretary of State. Of course, the news is coming out today that Senator John Kerry will be nominated later today, apparently by President Obama to replace and to succeed Secretary Clinton. She's not expected to show up for that press conference either.

REHM

11:12:53
Yochi Dreazen, was too much made of this Benghazi security issue for the sake of politics?

DREAZEN

11:13:09
I think certainly it was a proxy. I mean it was an easy hammer with which to say the Obama administration mishandled the Arab Spring. They were too quick to trust. They were too quick to under resource. They were too quick to, in the words of Republicans, sort of cozy, either with militant groups they didn't know enough about or with plutocrats and Islamists in other countries, Egypt being another example. This is a proxy with which to hit them.

DREAZEN

11:13:31
But I think there are legitimate security questions here. They were clouded by the politics, which I think is really, really terrible. Not simply because whether you like Susan Rice or don't like Susan Rice, she was given a knife to the back and then a knife to the front while she was down. But there is a real question here. I mean, I've spent a lot of time in Iraq and Afghanistan. I've seen how those embassies operate. All of them have enormous security presence.

DREAZEN

11:13:53
They have Marines, they have Western contractors. We think security contractor, we think Blackwater, but that's not the case. We have Western companies that are very, very good. Why were none of them in Benghazi? Why was there no U.S. military presence in Benghazi? We know there's the CIA annex not far away, but why was there no Blackwater or Blackwater equivalent? That's a very legitimate, very good question and hasn't been answered.

REHM

11:14:14
How much does money play a question?

GLASSER

11:14:17
Well, clearly the State Department is almost perennially under pressure. I think people don't realize, because we often talk about these in nearly equivalent terms, but the difference between the State Department's resources and the Pentagon's resources is the difference between the budget of Luxembourg, more or less and, you know, the budget of France. I mean it's enormously different in scale. The Pentagon has resources which are nowhere comparable to those employed by the State Department.

GLASSER

11:14:44
So they're perennially under very strict budget constraints. That being said, of course, there clearly were flaws. And I think this is an example of something that fell through the cracks. A country that we had just gone to war in, that we had a significant, very clearly understood risk of any kind of acts, of not only terrorism, but armed militias roaming the land. But I wanted to go back to something Yochi said because I think this gets to the question of why wasn't Susan Rice in the report.

GLASSER

11:15:10
This report did not deal with the intelligence agency's questions at all. Either the question of what was the intelligence provided to Susan Rice and the assessment of this incident. It didn't get to that. And it also didn't get to what was the real footprint? The massive U.S. presence on the ground in Benghazi was an intelligence presence, not a State Department presence. And so I think some of the answers that we still feel are missing from this investigation have to do with, was there a lack of coordination between the two? What was the nature of their response?

GLASSER

11:15:44
So I'm feeling like the problem with this report is not inherently with this report, but simply that it only addresses one aspect…

REHM

11:15:51
Doesn't go far enough, yeah.

GLASSER

11:15:52
…of the U.S. presence in Benghazi on that very sad day.

REHM

11:15:56
Hisham?

MELHEM

11:15:56
I mean you raised a lot of questions. Whether it was political, this happened on September 11 during the height of the presidential election and it was used by the Republicans as an electoral tool against the President, obviously. So that was one. As far as the position vis-a-vis the Arab Spring, I mean, John McCain, who is the leader of the campaign against the President and Susan Rice, was a big supporter of the Libya campaign. I mean let's be blunt about this and let's be clear about this. That's one.

MELHEM

11:16:24
The other thing is the financing and the funding of security measures. Now they are requesting more than $2 billion over the next few years to deal with the security around embassies and consulates and what not. When Robert Gates was at the Defense Department, Robert Gates was famous for collaborating closely with Hillary Clinton and for calling for more money to be given to the State Department to do the job of State Department, to do the diplomatic job, to deal with civil society, not the Pentagon.

MELHEM

11:16:56
I mean, he didn't want to deal with that. And he was more than willing to give money to the State Department and hence you've seen this good collaboration between Gates and Hillary Clinton. Now, the report actually blames everybody. It blames the embassy, it blames the State Department and blames, you know, the lack of intelligence and the lack of leadership. So there is enough blame to go around. And Chris Stevens was a fantastic diplomat, but also there was an error of judgment, going to a place like Benghazi when he knew that Benghazi was the hot bed of the worst radicals in Libya, including people who fought in Afghanistan alongside al-Qaeda.

DREAZEN

11:17:37
You know, Gates used to often be fond of saying that the military spent more money on marching bands than the State Department was able to spend on much of its operations. He wasn't kidding. The military spends almost $450 million on its marching bands all over the world. Slightly more seriously, I think the question that this raises, and unfortunately in my view is going to lead to, there's already--we've seen this in Baghdad and Kabul--these complete embassy fortresses that are unapproachable. In London, the reason why the embassy to Britain is so unpopular with London residents is it's become a fortress even in London.

DREAZEN

11:18:08
In Oman, you can barely reach it. In Cairo, you go through three rings of security to reach it. And so it raises the question, the pressure after this will be, make every outpost we have anywhere more and more of a fortress. Why have an embassy there if people can't reach it or access it.

REHM

11:18:21
Yochi Dreazen. He's contributing editor at The Atlantic and author of the forthcoming book, "A Military Suicide." Short break here. We'll be right back.

REHM

11:20:05
And welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Susan Glasser. She's editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine, Yochi Dreazen, contributing editor of the Atlantic and Hisham Melhem, Washington bureau chief of Al-Arabiya News Channel. Here's an email about Benghazi. "Ambassador Stevens knew of and undertook the risk of going to an insecure outpost. That doesn't mean it was his fault. It merely describes the dedication of some foreign service people around the world." Yochi.

DREAZEN

11:20:53
Yeah, I mean, it's -- and that a good point that's often forgotten. You know, we have U.S. troops all over the word who in many cases know the risks they're taking when they sign up, especially if they sign up now. You have ambassadors, you have much more lower level diplomatic people, especially in the war in Iraq when it was at its peak, who were still willing to go. In many cases you had people who didn't want to go and were sent anyway.

DREAZEN

11:21:12
But in many cases -- and I knew a lot of them over the years, you have people who volunteer to go. Same in Afghanistan. A lot of these people did not want to be at the embassy in Baghdad because they couldn't leave. They did not want to be at the Embassy in Kabul because they couldn't leave. They wanted to bed themselves with the military as far forward as they could because they wanted to help the country at a lower level.

DREAZEN

11:21:28
And Chris Stevens was an extraordinarily brave man. There are other men and women very much like him and I think they often get forgotten. We focus -- I mean, even with what we call everyone who serves in the military a hero, people who serve in the State Department and dangerous places are just as heroic and get no attention until you have a tragedy just like this.

REHM

11:21:43
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she would leave at the end of President Obama's first term. It is said that the White House will announce the appointment of John Kerry as secretary of state. There has also been the story that Chuck Hagel would be nominated as secretary of defense. I have a Tweet here -- two Tweets actually. "Please have your guests discuss the Israel lobby's character assassination of Chuck Hagel. Should Chuck Hagel be thrown under the bus for lack of deference to Israel and its U.S. lobby?" Susan.

GLASSER

11:22:37
Well, you know, this is really interesting. This is now the second time in really the last few weeks that we've seen a controversy over a nomination that President Obama hasn't even made. I feel like we've entered a whole new phase of the Washington news cycle where would-be nominees are being attacked and going up to the Capitol Hill to defend themselves even before anything is announced. And I have to say it does look like Hagel, who's been extensively vetted according to sources reporting we've had on Foreign Policy, for the defense secretary job. It does seem as though the White House was interested in making him the defense secretary.

GLASSER

11:23:14
But now it looks like he's hanging out there yet again in almost the same way that Susan Rice was where her nomination, which never happened by the way, was thrown up in a trial balloon where she went through the whole process, was exploded and really left in a very uncomfortable situation by President Obama refusing to publicly push her forward or even to make the nomination official. So now we have that situation.

GLASSER

11:23:38
The controversy that former Senator Hagel, a Republican by the way, has excited really revolved around the question of whether he is deemed sufficiently pro-Israel in his policies. And there's a particular quote that he gave to an author, one of Foreign Policy's columnist as it happened, in which he referred to the quote unquote "Jewish lobby" as opposed to the quote unquote "Israel lobby." That’s being taken in some quarters as a sign that he is not a real supporter. He's been critical of Israeli settlement policy for example.

GLASSER

11:24:12
But I think unfortunately what you see happening is a real almost tar and feathering situation here in which some people bandied about phrases like anti, semi, that's caused many people across the political spectrum in Washington to rally to his defense.

REHM

11:24:30
Yochi.

DREAZEN

11:24:31
And it's obscured, I think, the very real questions about is this the right pick for secretary of defense. I mean, there's the political question of whether you should have three of the last four democratic appointed secretaries of the defense be Republican. Bill Clinton picked Bill Cohen. You had obviously Bob Gates staying on. Now you might have Chuck Hagel. He has no management experience other than on the business side. He's never managed a major agency. He's never been part of the Pentagon running the biggest, most expensive, most complicated agency in the world.

DREAZEN

11:24:57
He's been out of office for six years almost. It's not clear what his stand is on the world stage. Bob Gates had standing. Leon Panetta had standing. It's not clear Chuck Hagel does. So there are very legitimate questions about whether this is the right pick substantively or politically, as I think with Susan Rice as potentially with Benghazi, obscured completely by the politics. And I think the politics will get uglier now that the Kerry thing is -- if it's locked that's off the stage a little bit.

DREAZEN

11:25:19
Hagel's the one person that's hanging. I think Susan's exactly right that it's strange that he's hanging there with no defense coming from the White House or from -- really from Democrats. He's becoming a piñata.

REHM

11:25:27
Hisham.

MELHEM

11:25:29
Look, I mean, you have to accept the presumptive right of a president who is reelected to pick his own cabinet period as there was a presumptive right of the president to pick his own nominees for the Supreme Court. These things are changing now. And now some people are presenting certain litmus tests for people. The President of the United States capitulated when it came to Susan Rice. I'm not a big support of Susan Rice. I'm not against Susan Rice. That's not the issue. He has the right to pick his own people.

MELHEM

11:25:59
There was a character assassination against Susan Rice essentially blaming her for things she was not that responsible for. She was not even nominated. And the sight was ugly really, the way the -- you know, sharpening the knives for her and the way they dealt with her. And none of them now is even rethinking whether they've done something wrong or not. This is -- Chuck Hagel is a mainstream Republican. He's a moderate. Maybe this species in the Republican world is dying, is becoming extinct obviously.

MELHEM

11:26:31
He's the leader, he's the chairman of a mainstream think tank called the Atlantic Council, which is highly respected. That includes highly respected Republicans like Brent Scowcroft and others. The man served in the Senate of the United States, had two Purple Hearts, he fought in Vietnam. Many of those who are criticizing him never fought in Vietnam or any war but they would like to wage all sorts of wars, as we've seen them pushing for the war in Iraq and other places.

MELHEM

11:26:58
There's nothing anti-Semitic about the man's record, absolutely not. He believes in the mainstream American position, which is a two-stage solution. And yes, the man criticized settlement activities where there are a lot of Israelis. And there are a lot of pro-Israelis in this country who criticized settlement activities. And we've seen them on the record doing so. So to let this man bleed like that and with the White House almost capitulating on him really tells you something about how dirty politics has become in Washington.

REHM

11:27:29
Last word, Susan.

GLASSER

11:27:30
Well, I think those are all important points. Two quick other ones to throw into the mix, the other factor here with Hagel now that he's nominating Kerry is what I would call Obama's white male problem. And if you look at these national security appointments he basically would be not only appointing the first white male secretary of state in a long, long time but he -- the other reported contenders for defense secretary, for CIA are also white men. And so I think that's a concern after the Susan Rice nomination didn't come through.

REHM

11:28:02
All right. Let's talk about Syria. UN commission on Syria issued a report this week saying what, Yochi?

DREAZEN

11:28:13
I mean, it's frankly one of those reports that comes out and it says something that everyone else in the world has been saying now for months. It's saying that this is taking on an openly sectarian nature, that you have the real risk of both an acceleration of what -- it didn't use quite this phrasing but of a civil war, both now and when Assad falls. Now this is obvious to anyone who is covering Syria, anyone who's watching it from here and anyone who's covering it from there. I didn't really understand what took the UN frankly so long to get to this point. It's one of those things where it's openly acknowledged by everyone except for the world body.

DREAZEN

11:28:44
And just one point on this report, one reason why I think it seems so familiar, especially in journalism circles is the bravery of journalists on the ground who are reporting on exactly the civil war. You know, you had Richard Engel, who's a colleague of many of ours, a friend of many of ours who was thankfully freed. It is worth pointing out that as brave as he is and as relieved as I think all of us are and most listeners are that he came back safely, there are still American and Western journalists missing in Syria.

DREAZEN

11:29:10
Austin Tice who is a freelancer for both the Washington Post and McClatchy is missing and has been for weeks now. There's very little scent of where he is or who's holding him. We've had roughly 68 journalists killed in Syria since this war began. So it's worth pointing out that UN (word?) was catching up to what journalists on the ground were already reporting. And in many cases dying or suffering to do that reporting that led to our knowledge of what's happening there.

REHM

11:29:32
And what is Russian President Vladimir Putin saying now about Assad?

GLASSER

11:29:40
You know, he's not saying anything very encouraging as I’m sure all of your listeners know. Really a lot of time has been lost in considering what to do about this terrible situation in Syria because Russia and China, in fact, have a veto on the UN Security Council, which has stopped any meaningful united action by the world. And Russia is Syria's main arms supplier. They also maintain a base there. Up until now the Russians have been the biggest supporters of Assad's regime.

GLASSER

11:30:10
In effect what Vladimir Putin is now saying, well yes, Assad has some trouble. We're not trying to guarantee his survival but we're not changing our position on our support for the government of Syria. Basically saying, okay well if he falls he's got some problems, I think was the phrase that Putin used. But he's made it very, very clear in every way I think possible that he's not interested in some kind of humanitarian intervention, period, full stop.

REHM

11:30:38
Even though it looks as though Assad is targeting his own civilians.

MELHEM

11:30:46
Absolutely. And there is a Russian responsibility, moral and political responsibility. Assad is using cluster bombs which are banned by, you know, many countries, unfortunately led by the United States. He's using cluster bombs against civilian targets, against villages, against towns. He's using scud missiles that are designed, you know, for conventional warfare against his own people. And there was a threat and fear that he might use chemical weapons against his own people.

MELHEM

11:31:12
The origin of Syrian war becoming more communal and sectarian is Assad's practices. Assad's henchmen, the so called Shabiha, the militias, have been engaged in communal killing of Sunnis just because they are Sunnis in certain villages. And we've seen massacres from last year. And that's why I agree with Yochi. I mean, the United Nations just discovered that this is becoming a communal and a sectarian fight.

MELHEM

11:31:34
But the main responsibility falls on the shoulder of the regime that began almost some sort of form of ethnic or religious cleansing from certain areas in Syria. And I think the dithering in the West, the reluctance to be more involved on the part of the United States and the European allowed the situation to fester like that. People are surprised now because the war is spilling over to Lebanon and to Iraq or to Turkey.

MELHEM

11:32:01
It's in the nature of civil wars to spill over and this is not a surprise what Assad is doing, what's happening to the whole neighborhood. And this is in part because there was no resolve, there was no leadership on the part of the United States and the Europeans. The Arabs cannot do much on their own, as well as the Turks unfortunately.

GLASSER

11:32:19
Well, I think, you know, of course Hisham is right in what he's pointing out. But what's particularly tragic about the situation is that while we may easily be able to agree that this is largely the result of decisions by Assad and his government and how to put down the rebellion, it's much easier to fix blaming this situation than it is to think about what should happen.

GLASSER

11:32:41
I recently heard a very anguished comment by a senior Western diplomat who said, you know just because there are not good options, we agree on that, doesn't mean we haven't reached the point where we have to do something anyways.

REHM

11:32:54
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I want to turn to Pakistan. The UN has suspended its polio vaccinations there after nine of its workers were killed.

GLASSER

11:33:12
Well, you know, this is -- talk about the law of tragic unintended consequences. Unfortunately it appears that the Taliban are targeting polio workers in Pakistan...

REHM

11:33:22
Why?

GLASSER

11:33:22
...as a result of the bin Laden raid crazily enough in which there were the arrests of a Pakistani doctor who had been enlisted to help the CIA. There was a sense that in effect the anti-polio vaccination program was being manipulated somehow by the United States. It fed into every single conspiracy theory that you could possibly have in what's already a conspiracy-minded society. And unfortunately Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world remaining that have endemic polio. We're so close to knocking this out.

GLASSER

11:33:59
That to me, it's one of these you couldn't make it up, it's such a tragedy. How could it be that, you know, the CIA raid, the successful killing of Osama bin Laden also results in the targeting of people, female health workers who are trying to wipe out polio. This would be one of the greatest collective accomplishments of world health if we could knock out polio once and for all. And we're so close and yet this is what's happening. The Taliban are reduced to targeting these people. I just think it's like a terrible script.

MELHEM

11:34:30
The unfortunate thing is that there was a fake polio vaccination program that was conducted by this doctor who was helping the CIA attract and monitor the movements of Osama bin Laden in the compound of Osama bin Laden. Also the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, they used the excuse that these operations are recovered for networks of spying for the United States. Unfortunately these are, you know, baseless excuses but, you know, it's a fact that there was a fake vaccination program.

REHM

11:35:03
And Pakistan is reportedly now building its own fleet of aerial drones, Yochi.

DREAZEN

11:35:11
I mean, this is fascinating. I mean, again to go back to Susan's point about sort of these weird unintended consequences, a script you'd have difficulty making up. There is no single issue that has caused great tension between us and Pakistan then drones. No single issue that in the U.S. arsenal is more important than drones. Now you have Pakistan building or wanting to build drones. It's very -- we should be very careful in saying the report of them building a fleet of drones implies that they're going to have thousands of drones rolling off the factory line. They're at the very early stages of building very crude drones.

REHM

11:35:40
Is the U.S. sharing its own technology?

DREAZEN

11:35:43
No. No. The reporting out of Pakistan is that China is sharing its technology and that China would help build the drones. But, you know, again in the law of unintended consequences we've used drones all over the world, in Yemen and Somalia. One question that's always raised is if we set the precedent of one country having the right to kill citizens of another country over the border with no extinction from the UN, when do other countries start doing the same thing and pointing back to us as having set the precedent?

DREAZEN

11:36:07
In Pakistan their drones are nowhere near advanced. It's not clear where they would use them other then within their own borders. But if they use them in Afghanistan how could we complain and how could we criticize?

GLASSER

11:36:17
Well, that's right. I mean, you know, you can't put technology back in the box. You can't just lock it up and say it's only for the United States and it's only going to be used under our constitutional framework. What's going to happen when Iran gets a drone? They have a drone program. They're going to have a drone soon. What's going to happen when the next Middle East war includes drone warfare? What about when Hamas has drones? What about when Israel is using the drones, which they already have in a different and more weaponized way?

GLASSER

11:36:43
You're going to see a very different, I predict, U.S. attitude toward the legal framework around which we should use and operate drones than we have right now.

REHM

11:36:52
And Egypt has its second vote on the constitution tomorrow. What's the outcome that's expected, Hisham?

MELHEM

11:37:01
It is expected that the constitution will be approved. The first round, about 56 percent approved it. The second round probably a little bit higher because rural areas will vote this time.

REHM

11:37:13
So does that consolidate the power for Morsi?

MELHEM

11:37:17
It will consolidate the power for Morsi, but it's not going to be a ringing endorsement by the Egyptian population of a constitution that was written essentially by Islamists.

REHM

11:37:26
So we'll still see protests?

MELHEM

11:37:29
Protests and probably violence, unfortunately.

REHM

11:37:31
Hisham Melhem of Al-Arabiya News Channel. Short break. When we come back, your calls, more comments. Stay with us.

REHM

11:40:02
And welcome back. It is time to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Fort Washington, Md. Hi there, Nicki, you're on the air.

NICKI

11:40:16
Hi, how are you? And happy holidays to everybody.

REHM

11:40:18
Happy holidays.

NICKI

11:40:18
I was going to ask about the Benghazi impact on the larger region, but it really made me think more about just the, I guess, the side effect of -- pardon my lack of eloquence on this, but the side effect of the conflict in Libya on Mali. And I wish to have your guests speak to that a little bit because it seems that there are some serious conflicts that are happening in Mali, especially with the Tuaregs, who were part of Gaddafi's regime.

NICKI

11:40:55
What is this impact on Mali? And then if someone could talk a little bit about the conflict in the Congo, which I think is not getting full attention and I hope maybe next year when we do these world news events, we could focus a little more on some of the broader world beyond the Middle East.

REHM

11:41:12
All right, thanks for calling.

GLASSER

11:41:15
Well, you know, I'm so glad that the caller brought this up. I think she's got a very important point. We do, unfortunately, we get sucked into the Middle East and that's a never-ending story of conflict in many ways.

GLASSER

11:41:27
But Mali this year is really one of the, I think, big under-covered stories of the year. This was what was seen as a model of African democracy. What's happened? Not one, but a series of coups and counter-coups that has not only taken down the democratically-elected government of Mali, but has opened up the country's north to be a potential jihadist safe haven, which really is dominated by an al-Qaida affiliate.

GLASSER

11:41:53
It has really broad regional implications, potential implications for the security of Europe and the United States. What happened? There was a long-running Tuareg series of rebellions in the northern half of the country. Moammar Gaddafi supported that rebellion, financed earlier iterations of it.

GLASSER

11:42:13
During the civil war last year, he hired Tuareg mercenaries to come. When he fell and his government fell, they went back to the north of Mali and resumed their rebellion. That...

MELHEM

11:42:24
With a lot of weapons from Libya.

GLASSER

11:42:25
Well, that's exactly right. It's another tragic unintended consequence. The world has a funny way of that happening. However, interestingly enough, the Tuaregs were soon displaced by the better-equipped and more determined fighters of the more Islamic jihadists of different groups, including the al-Qaida in the Maghreb. And so what's happened is actually that those Tuareg nationalists have been forced out and now it's the jihadists who are basically ruling over a breakaway jihadist state in the north of Mali controlled by one.

GLASSER

11:42:58
What's happening? The United Nations just the other day was talking about doing something maybe in the New Year. We're talking about a few thousand soldiers. The United States, France has said it will do something. But nothing's happened. Guess what? This coup occurred last spring. So it's a good example when the world's attention isn't focused centrally on something, the world can waste an awful lot of time just talking about maybe someday doing something.

REHM

11:43:24
All right. I have an email here. ''People are talking about the lack of Stevens' autopsy. I heard Yochi Dreazen say on your show in the past that the body was lost. Can you update?''

DREAZEN

11:43:42
Yeah, I mean, first of all, I'm always amazed that someone can remember the name week after week so thanks for whoever emailed it for doing so. My wife sometimes doesn’t remember it.

DREAZEN

11:43:53
But it wasn't so much that it was lost in a permanent way. The issue was that in the immediate aftermath, the body was lost in the sense that it was no longer in the compound.

REHM

11:44:00
Right.

DREAZEN

11:44:00
There was some fascinating reporting and heartbreaking photos. There were Libyan citizens who tried frantically to get him medical care while he was still alive. There were photos of him in a Libyan hospital and obviously it failed, but you had for the Libyans -- or other Arabs who were protesting trying to get over the walls to kill him inside, you had other Libyans risking their lives to try to get him to a hospital to save his life.

DREAZEN

11:44:22
So when the body was lost, I didn't mean lost permanently, I mean, lost in the initial chaos.

REHM

11:44:27
All right, to Thomasville, Ga., hi Chris.

CHRIS

11:44:31
Hello, Diane, thank you for taking my call.

REHM

11:44:32
Sure.

CHRIS

11:44:34
I have kind of a brief comment and I'd be glad to listen off air. This concerned the enquiry into Benghazi. I for one, like most Americans, I think, who were paying attention and who were listening and trying to find out some new information were pretty sorely disappointed in the findings that basically didn't tell us anything we didn't already know a couple of hours after the fact.

CHRIS

11:44:58
We knew security was low. But primarily, they painted the picture that the State Department is an agency that is budgetarily-constrained so essentially in the short of it, it's like saying we don't have enough money for enough security, while at the same time, everybody is saying Hillary Clinton has avoided all (unintelligible) .

CHRIS

11:45:22
But nobody seems to bring up that while this budgetarily-constrained agency was operating, Hillary Clinton was busy this whole last year flying around and around and around the globe. Is it possible that the government could have set up, I don't know, maybe a Skype account for this lady, a Skype account and maybe had enough money for security?

GLASSER

11:45:44
You know, I think that's a fascinating either/or, you know, at a time when we've just come off a U.S. election year in which the main critique of the Obama administration was that it didn't project enough American power, that they weren't interested enough in American greatness and indispensability.

GLASSER

11:46:00
Clinton often is fond of saying, you know, there's no substitute for showing up even and perhaps especially in this age of Twitter. And you know, I can tell you as someone who has traveled with Clinton on that plane, this is no glamorous lifestyle. This is an old Boeing that when we went on a trip with her to China earlier this year, we had to make not one, but two refueling stops.

GLASSER

11:46:23
Secretary Clinton presumably one of the world's most in-demand people who is representing the United States of America, which our politicians here are so fond of saying is the greatest nation ever in the history of the world. We had to stop at the Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska and then in Japan before making it to Beijing.

GLASSER

11:46:44
When I returned home on a commercial flight, I went right to the airport, got on a United flight, flew directly to Washington. It took less than half the time that it took our Secretary of State...

REHM

11:46:55
Wow.

GLASSER

11:46:55
...to get to Beijing.

REHM

11:46:56
Wow, wow. So you're saying that to fly less expensively, she had to make those two stops?

GLASSER

11:47:06
Well that's right. I mean, because, of course, if we were, you know, to buy a new, faster airplane for the Secretary of State, my guess is that the caller and many other Americans would complain...

REHM

11:47:15
Would be complaining, of course.

GLASSER

11:47:17
...very violently about it.

REHM

11:47:17
Tell me about what's happening in South Korea with a new female president.

GLASSER

11:47:24
Well, this is a very interesting development. There was a presidential election just the other day and Park Geun-hye was elected. She is the daughter of the long-time autocratic leader of South Korea who was really the sort of key Cold War figure there after the Korean War in creating the South Korea that we know today.

GLASSER

11:47:46
And it's a really interesting cycling back to a known family name. There's a tradition of that not only in North Korea right across the border which of course is now in its third generation of Kims ruling the country. But in other countries across the region as well you have in India the Gandhis who have ruled for many times.

GLASSER

11:48:07
In China, where there's just been a major leadership change, you have the so-called fifth generation, the princelings who are now taking power who are the sons or even grandsons of leaders who were working with Mao in the revolutionary period and that's become a new sort of Red elite, a Red aristocracy, if you will.

MELHEM

11:48:32
They're learning the wrong lessons from the Arab world.

REHM

11:48:32
What kind of relationship do you think she'll have with Washington, Yochi?

DREAZEN

11:48:39
I mean, it's a good question. It was also an interesting campaign. I mean, North Korea is obviously the issue looming large whenever we think about Korea. In this election, it was not the issue that was looming the largest. The issue was kind of like here in many ways.

DREAZEN

11:48:48
It's the economy. It is social services. It's healthcare. At the same time, you've heard her say things that are much less hawkish than her predecessor, including saying that she would sit down across the table from Kim Jong Un, if he was willing to do the same, which when you think about it, even visually is a remarkable thought.

DREAZEN

11:49:05
The idea of a South Korean elected president sitting next to this weirdly mohawk-ed North Korean dictator. But it was an interesting election. It's one that has a lot of impact for us because we don't pay enough attention to North Korea, except when they launch a missile and then everyone gets all worked up again and we should pay more.

REHM

11:49:18
All right, to Houston, Tx. Hi Pat.

PAT

11:49:23
Hey, how are you?

REHM

11:49:24
Good, thanks.

PAT

11:49:27
Thank you. I'm really enjoying the discussion and I just had a quick question for you. I was wondering about what you all thought about the extremist element in Syria amongst the rebels. And if, I mean, it's spilling out of control right now and if they get their hands on weapons, I mean, how would we -- what do you think we could do to deal with this?

PAT

11:49:48
I don't want another Libya because now they have weapons and it ended up spinning out of control. I just wanted to get all your opinions on that. Thank you.

DREAZEN

11:49:55
I mean, it's a great question, both the first and the second half of it. The second half, the U.S., the Turkish, the Jordanians, there are already plans that are drawn up for seizing, if necessary, as many of the Syrian chemical stockpiles as are known. And most of them -- there's a lot of consensus that, unlike in Iran, the people know where these stockpiles are.

DREAZEN

11:50:14
That said, I think it's in the category of worst case scenario threats that I don't think we're anywhere near. But the first point about the Islamists, about the divisions in the rebel movement, is a really interesting one.

DREAZEN

11:50:23
One of the reasons why we have not jumped into this more forcefully is we don't know who these groups are. We don't know what their motivations are. There are divisions between them.

DREAZEN

11:50:31
You know, to go back for a second to the Richard Engel case, there you had one group of rebels that he was traveling with, another group not of rebels, but of government militias who fought the rebels, killed one of them, took him -- I mean, this is not a clean situation where you have like a good side where everyone knows who the good fighters are and a bad side where everyone knows who the bad fighters are. It's much greater. It's much messier.

REHM

11:50:48
Hisham.

MELHEM

11:50:49
I think we know a lot about Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the group that concerns the United States and everybody. This is essentially the Syrian version of al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, al-Qaida in Iraq and they are unfortunately the most effective group, the best armed, the best trained and they have been achieving, you know, successes on the ground against the Syrian Army.

MELHEM

11:51:14
And unfortunately, people in the new Syrian coalition that was recognized officially by the United States and more than 100 countries in Morocco recently, in Marrakesh, the leaders of this group also are unwilling to criticize the Jabhat al-Nusra publically and in fact, they were critical of the American position to declare -- to designate al-Nusra as a terrorist organization.

MELHEM

11:51:35
My critique of the -- and also by the way, countries like Qatar and other wealthy Arabs from the Gulf are funneling money for these groups to buy weapons so these people have no problem getting weapons. The problem is that the people that we would like to deal with, the, you know, professional elements from the Syrian army who defected, people who are not known for their Islamist hardline positions, these people were not armed by us or by the Europeans or not necessarily by the Arabs, unfortunately.

MELHEM

11:52:08
So what you have today is the Islamists and the extremists are on the rise, at least on the military level, and there's a, you know, a race with time here because we were late. And there are calls now for the United States to arm these groups that are being trained now in Jordan.

MELHEM

11:52:24
Not the Islamists, but the others because to have some influence afterwards, otherwise we'll end up with a situation much worse than Libya. And Syria is in a neighborhood that is more important for the United States. Even if you don't care for Syria, the argument was the United States cannot sit and watch because there are five states around Syria that are extremely important for the United States, a NATO power in Turkey.

MELHEM

11:52:45
We have Israel, obviously, and then you have Iraq where we spent blood and treasure and then you have the two traditional allies of the United States, Jordan and Lebanon. So it was incumbent on the United States to be more active, but they were not.

REHM

11:52:55
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's take a call from Miami, Fla. Good morning, Mike.

MIKE

11:53:08
Hi, good morning. Thank you for taking my call this morning. I want to make a brief point about the Benghazi issue domestically. To me, this is a complete farce and a non-issue. The high-ranking Republicans who are harping on this know that's the case. Of course, the president and Mrs. Clinton care 100 percent about our diplomats overseas.

MIKE

11:53:30
There was no intrigue. The first press releases out were the best info they had and all these Republicans know this. It is just so sad that our domestic discourse is marred by these just ridiculous, absurd contentions that there's some sort of intrigue going on around Benghazi instead of having a real discussion of what's going on in the world.

MIKE

11:53:50
This was a lapse in security. There's no doubt about it. But the ambassador there thought he knew the country well enough to go out and do what he did, but this whole drummed-up scandal is just absurd.

REHM

11:54:03
All right Mike, thanks for calling. It certainly took up a lot of Washington's time.

DREAZEN

11:54:14
I mean, it's amazing they took up -- that the callers and emailers and twitterers to this show remain as interested in it as they do. This was not something where it was just a Washington story. Here's a caller from Miami making, you know, very good points about this story that...

REHM

11:54:21
It's happened.

DREAZEN

11:54:22
...has not gone away even in this news hour.

REHM

11:54:26
Tell me about the Libor scandal, Yochi, and on Wednesday, UBS, the Swiss Bank, announced it would plead guilty to one count of felony wire fraud as part of the bigger settlement. They're going to pay $1.5 billion in fines.

DREAZEN

11:54:44
I mean, at first, the amount of money that they're paying, which seems staggering to all of us, is a day's worth of profit for these massive banks.

REHM

11:54:50
If that.

DREAZEN

11:54:52
Right, if that. So we hear the word billion and we think it's so big. It's nothing, nothing in the world of Wall Street. I mean, this is an interesting scandal. This is taking an interest rate that is self-reported by the major trading banks, many of which are either based in London or have affiliates in London. This is not a rate that is set by the government.

DREAZEN

11:55:09
Basically, it's the banks at the end of the day saying, this is what we would pay or charge to lend money to each other. The notion is that these were made up -- that the banks were manipulating them and fiddling with them to improve the value of the assets they held or to better improve their trading position.

DREAZEN

11:55:20
This scandal also has not gone away. This has been months and months and months and frankly, it's a very complicated thing to understand, even if you have a finance background. It comes out also in the same week as a fascinating New York Times expose about Wal-mart's bribery in Mexico.

DREAZEN

11:55:36
So you, again, Wal-mart is saying, yes, they've admitted blame. They've admitted fault. They've said, we will try to investigate this. We'll try to punish those responsible. But for a company as massive as Wal-mart, the amount of money that they could be fined or pay in fines, it's literally pocket change.

MELHEM

11:55:51
You don't have to be an expert on Wall Street on how it works and all these investment houses. This situation, this scandal cries out for more regulation, not less regulation.

REHM

11:56:01
You've got an awful lot of people who are saying, why haven't more executives gone to jail? You've got the brother of the Ponzi schemer now going to jail for ten years. But, you know, what about these big bankers? What about these guys who really have played with the world's money? It leaves me breathless.

REHM

11:56:29
Yochi Dreazen, Susan Glasser, Hisham Melhem, thank you all so much. I wish you best greetings for the New Year.

MELHEM

11:56:41
Thanks, Diane.

DREAZEN

11:56:41
Thanks, Diane.

REHM

11:56:41
Happy Christmas, Happy New Year and I want to let our listeners know this is, for us, the last live program of the year. We'll take a short break. We'll be back with you on January 2nd. In the meantime, we're going to bring you some of our very favorite programs for your enjoyment throughout the holiday as we take ours, so Merry Christmas, Happy New Year. Thanks for listening, I'm Diane Rehm.
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