A new memoir from the National Book Award-winning author of "Middle Passage." He writes about the art and craft of writing and what he calls "the truth-telling power of fiction."
India’s top law enforcement official vowed to crack down on crimes against women with “an iron hand” following the fatal gang rape of a young woman on a bus in New Dehli last month. Five alleged perpetrators face charges of murder. An American drone strike killed a top militant leader in Pakistan. U.S. troops under NATO command have arrived in Turkey to man a Patriot missile defense system near the Syrian border. The conflict in Syria is now said to have taken the lives of at least 60,000 people. The Pentagon considers how many U.S. troops should stay in Afghanistan after 2014. Please join us to talk about these and other top international news stories on the Friday News Roundup
- Indira Lakshmanan senior correspondent covering foreign policy for Bloomberg News.
- Jonathan Landay senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers.
- 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."
MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Indian police charge five men in a New Delhi gang rape, U.S. drone strike kills a key Pakistan-Taliban commander and the death toll is still rising in Syria's conflict.
MR. TOM GJELTENJoining me in the studio for this week's International News Roundup, David Ignatius of The Washington Post, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers. And we want you to join us as well with your own comments and questions. You can call us at 1-800-433-8850, you can email us, firstname.lastname@example.org and you can contact us via Facebook or Twitter. Hello, to you.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSGood morning.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANGood morning.
MR. JONATHAN LANDAYGood morning.
GJELTENWe have to begin with this awful rape case in New Delhi, India. Indira, you just got back from India and you were actually there for much of this. Tell us your thoughts today and what do we know about these men who have been charged?
LAKSHMANANWell, this case is completely horrific, but it's also only the latest in a number of rape cases and, you know, there has basically been a plague of rape and violence against women throughout India, but especially in Delhi. And one of the figures that came out in the media while I was there, which I thought was fascinating, was that there was over 500 reported rapes.
LAKSHMANANAnd keep in mind, for the rape to even get to the level of being reported, it means the women is probably so badly hurt that her family hasn't been able to hush it up before it's actually, you know, has to be reported by police. More than 500 last year and that was more than in the next five biggest cities in India combined.
LAKSHMANANSo there's a particular problem in New Delhi and it extends also to the legal system where last year there were 95,000 pending rape cases and only 15 percent of them came to trial. So there are so many aspects of this, there's the societal violence against women problem. There's a problem of corruption among the police, police blaming the victim and saying it's because of the way they dressed and they must have wanted it.
LAKSHMANANTrying to force women to marry their rapists. There was a case where just a couple of months ago a young teenager was raped in a neighboring state and she actually swallowed poison and killed herself because the police wouldn't believe her and tried to force her to marry the rapist. So it's an endemic problem on so many levels.
GJELTENAnd these men who were charged in this case, some of them are quite young?
LAKSHMANANThat's right. One of the men -- so there are the five who've been charged and an additional man who they're looking at whether to try him in juvenile court or whether to take extraordinary measures to try him as an adult. And apparently what happened was this girl and her boyfriend had seen a movie, there were not enough government public buses running through Delhi at night, they were forced to get to basically a gypsy bus, an unofficial bus.
LAKSHMANANThey were attacked by this gang of men, the girl and her boyfriend. She was a 23 physiotherapy student and what is extraordinary about it is that not only did the bus driver not drive immediately to police and stop the incident but he and the ticket taker took turns driving the bus and participating in the gang rape and, you know, attacking the young woman's insides with an iron rod. So the whole case has just horrified the nation.
GJELTENNow, David Ignatius, as Indira said this is a problem that has deep roots in India. On the other hand, I'm wondering if it has anything to do with modernization in India as well. Kishwar Desai (sp?) , an Indian journalist wrote yesterday about a certain class of men who are deeply uncomfortable with women displaying their independence, receiving education and joining the workforce.
GJELTENThe gang rape becomes a form of subduing the women collectively and establishing their male superiority. Does that ring true to you?
IGNATIUSWell, I wouldn't want to psychoanalyze Indian society. That's a fascinating theory, certainly we see often in modernizing societies including our own the reactions to greater women's rights and freedom by men who just find that intolerable and seek to reduce that freedom.
IGNATIUSWhat I was struck by with this event was the fact that for a change, given the background that Indira described so well, there was a strong public reaction, demanding that the people who did this be held accountable. There were marches in the streets by concerned men and women.
IGNATIUSThere were counter protests amazingly enough but people kept marching, demanding justice and the Indian police in charging the five who they're holding as adults have charged them with murder which carries the death penalty, which is very rare in India and which is a sign that at least in this case this terrible story is being taken seriously.
GJELTENWell, Jonathan Landay, both Indira and David have called attention to this very vigorous public reaction, protests against this horrific crime. You lived in India a number of years ago. To what extent do you see that outpouring of protests to sort of a new phenomenon?
LANDAYFor me, it is the most telling part of this story, where you have masses of peoples, thousands of people protesting, breaking through police lines, the government reacting in a very controversial way, using tear gas, sending police on what they call Lathi charges, which are charges by police wielding these long bamboo canes.
LANDAYCiting, implementing an anti-terrorist law to shut down parts of New Delhi so that they couldn't hold these protests. But, you know, the violence against women not just in India but in that part of the world and other parts of the world is a major, major problem. And in India it's something that goes back centuries. Let's not forget the tradition of Sati, where a bride would have to throw herself on the funeral pyre and be burned alive with her dead husband.
LANDAYThat you occasionally still have rare cases in India of that happening. But even more prevalent in India are the cases what are known of bride burning, where a women brings insufficient dowry to her marriage and is set afire by her husband, by her in-laws family. 25,000 cases of that alone in India and this goes, this is, we're not even talking about what happens to women in neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan.
GJELTENAnd I want to talk about that right now and one of the things that I'm curious about, Indira, is whether this outpouring of rejection against violence against women in India might in fact spread to some of the other countries in that region where this has been such a problem. We have the case in Pakistan of Malala Yousufzai, the school girl and women's rights activist from Pakistan who was shot in the head by Taliban and then she was flown to Britain for treatment.
GJELTENWell, she has now been discharged from a hospital in Birmingham, England, although it now appears that she is going to be staying in Britain.
LAKSHMANANRight, thankfully for her family, for her and her family, her father has been offered a post as a director of education in the Pakistani consult in Birmingham where's she been receiving this very specialized treatment. And so it looks as if the family will be staying for at least three years and the post could be extended to five years.
LAKSHMANANI think the Pakistani government did this knowing very well that she was a marked young woman and that if she were to return to Pakistan and live in Swat, in the district where they were in Mingora, that it would just be a matter of time before she would be killed.
LAKSHMANANAnd so what struck me as very interesting was the Pakistani government has, I really think, made an effort to try to help in many ways. giving her father this post, paying for her medical expenses, trying to figure out a way to support her family and have a way for them to, you know, earn a living in Britain.
LAKSHMANANAt the same time, they were trying to name a school after her in her home district and I was struck by a Pakistani official reporting that she had made a call last week and said, "Please don't name this school after me because my friends and the students there are fearful that it will put them in danger."
LAKSHMANANSo to answer your original question, I think it would be wonderful if the protests that we saw in Delhi inspired women and men in Pakistan and Afghanistan to take similar, you know, to stand up for women's rights. But I don't realistically see it happening and let's point out that even in India, which of the three countries, is the one that is supposed to have, you know, the most women's rights.
LAKSHMANANYou see such problems with female infanticide and sex selection that the last census had shown that there were only 914 girls for every 1,000 boys ages zero to six. And so, you know, there's a real problem with misogyny, you know, deeply enmeshed in the culture.
LAKSHMANANAnd I think what you see as modern India, middle-class, educated Indians trying to come out, protest against it but they are by no means the majority and, you know, I think it remains to be seen whether the government is going to remain tone deaf or actually take some real action. Don't forget the Indian president before she was named president had pardoned a number of rapists who had committed heinous crimes.
GJELTENOkay, and let's talk about Afghanistan now because there is a constitution of Afghanistan that guarantees some rights for women and one of the big issues that the United States is facing has it considers withdrawing from Afghanistan is whether the Afghan government is going to have the capability to uphold that constitution and protect rights for women.
GJELTENDavid, if you can, you've had a little bit of a frog in your throat, I understand, but if you can manage to answer, what is the prospect right now for when the United States withdraws from Afghanistan that some of these constitutional rights for women and other quality of live indicators in Afghanistan can be upheld by a different force there, an Afghan led force?
IGNATIUSThe U.S. position has been that in any negotiated settlement in Afghanistan, which has been the goal of U.S. policy, one necessary outcome must be that the Taliban accept the Afghan constitution. So the U.S. has been looking for a statement from the Taliban that explicitly accepts the constitution and has not yet heard it.
IGNATIUSBut the U.S. has heard versions that are close to that, the Taliban has talked in recent statements from Mullah Omar, it's leader, on the Muslim holidays, the Eid's, the Taliban doesn't seek to dominate society, in fact, accepts that there will be other forces and values, which are meant to be signals.
IGNATIUSInterestingly there was a meeting that was held in France, just outside Paris in December, in which representatives of the Taliban close to Mullah Omar, met with other Afghans including representatives of other ethnic groups, which have a deep stake in the constitution and in the kind of Afghanistan that's emerged. So there's some hope in the U.S. government that maybe we're on the track toward some renewed process of political discussion.
GJELTENDavid Ignatius is columnist for The Washington Post. He actually wrote a column, a hopeful column, about Afghanistan which we'll get back to. We're going to take a short break now, stay tuned.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm today on this, the Friday News Roundup. This is the International Hour and joining me in the studio is my panel of David Ignatius, columnist for the Washington Post and contributor to the "Post Partisan" blog on washingtonpost.com. Also Indira Lakshmanan, senior correspondent covering foreign policy for Bloomberg News. And Jonathan Landay, senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers.
GJELTENJonathan, just before the break we were talking about Afghanistan and the future of Afghanistan. Of course the United States is due to pull most of its troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. But there's still a lot of question about what kind of U.S. presence will remain in Afghanistan after 2014. Tell us what some of the options that the Pentagon and the White House are now considering as far as the future of the U.S. present there after 2014.
LANDAYReportedly there are three options, one, sort of the minimalist option with only about 6,000 American troops. They would be all special forces dedicated almost solely to pursue -- to counterterrorism operations pursuing al-Qaida operatives and other foreign extremists. Then there's two other options, one 10,000 troops. It would include that counterterrorism mission plus a training mission. And then one of about 20,000 troops that would be a much more expanded training mission, and maybe still some patrols by regular U.S. forces.
LANDAYBut before all of this can be decided there's a major issue and that is the legal status of American forces in Afghanistan after 2014. The Afghan government is demanding that American forces be subject to Afghan law. The Americans are saying no, these forces are subject to American military law. This issue is what finally put a nail in the coffin of American troops remaining in Iraq after 2011. The Iraqis refused to allow the Americans to be put under American military law. And the administration withdrew all the American forces.
LANDAYThis is an issue that they've only just started talking to the Afghans about. President Karzai is going to be here next week. That issue is bound to be pretty high on the top of the list.
GJELTENWell, as Jonathan said, Indira, Hamid Karzai is going to be here next week. And do we have any indication of what Karzai's position on this is? I mean, on the question of whether -- does he really want the United States to stay in Afghanistan or not?
LAKSHMANANWell, I think what Hamid Karzai has telegraphed -- I mean, I can't say what's in his head but what he's telegraphed is that he does want the United States to continue standing shoulder by shoulder with Afghanistan. And he's expressed a lot of worries about the U.S. precipitously withdrawing. I mean, the question, as Jonathan was alluding to, is what kind of legal protections are going to be afforded to U.S. forces, you know, under a status of forces type agreement?
LAKSHMANANI mean, they were able to come up with an original agreement to -- for continuing U.S. presence. But where we go beyond that, I mean, I would say although certainly the decision is up to the president between this 6,000, 10,000 and 20,000 troops, I think it's likely the president may shoot for the middle, which is what he has tended to do in the past...
GJELTENIn all things.
LAKSHMANAN...in all things. And also when he was -- as we remember in 2009, basically spent the entire year studying options about what he should do about Afghanistan and at the very end of the year made a decision on the surge. And again he aimed for the middle in that decision. So, I mean, that would be my prediction. That's where he's likely to go although he's been more and more listening to the Vice-President Joe Biden side, which is, you know, more the counterterrorism option, which would argue for a lower troop position.
GJELTENWell, David Ignatius, you did write a column, which we mentioned just before the break, last month in which you sort of lay out the argument that the Taliban may no longer be realistically thinking about a military victory in Afghanistan, and may be more open to some kind of negotiated settlement. What -- to what extent do these three options have implications for whether -- for that kind of negotiated end to this conflict?
IGNATIUSWell, one demand the Taliban have made consistently is that they want to see foreign troops removed from the country. But interestingly in private conversations that have taken place in particular with British contacts, senior Taliban officials have said that they might be prepared to accept some U.S. troops after 2014. And the reason seems to be that they're nervous about Afghanistan's neighbors and a very weak Afghanistan being overwhelmed.
IGNATIUSBut I think the point, Tom, that's interesting is that the Taliban according to these reports and the comments from U.S. officials feel that they haven't been able to defeat the U.S. during the surge of U.S. forces and the U.S. military presence. They've certainly made life difficult for the U.S. but they haven't defeated our forces. And they fear that they might not be able to win a civil war that would follow the withdrawal of American troops if there isn't some kind of political agreement. And that's why they think their leverage may paradoxically be greater now than it would be after 2014.
LANDAYIt's unclear really where Hamid Karzai is on this issue. There's a new peace plan that he and the Pakistanis have put together and are pursuing that would give the Taliban a say in how many American troops would remain in Afghanistan. But that would also give the Taliban, in effect, control -- political control, economic control of the south and east of Afghanistan, their bedrock territory. No peace plan has ever really survived longer than the ink that's used for the signatures in Afghanistan.
LANDAYAnd so it's really hard to tell where they -- what would happen with -- and even if this peace plan gets any traction whatsoever, it's something that we're going to have to wait and see. But one of the things -- going back to the discussion about the constitution -- there is going to -- without any doubt going to have to be some kind of constitutional changes in Afghanistan to appease the Taliban to meet their demands And this new peace plan doesn't talk about the Taliban accepting the Afghan constitution, but respecting the Afghan constitution. And that provides some flexibility, changes that could really upset advocates of human rights and women's rights.
GJELTENIndira, one other development this week, a U.S. drone strike apparently killed key Pakistan Taliban commander by the name of Maulvi Nazir. And American officials are saying that his apparent death could actually hurt al-Qaida's sanctuary in Pakistani tribal areas. Of course we've heard that before.
LAKSHMANANYeah, well, the killing of Nazir is an interesting one because he's someone who definitely was on the U.S. hit list so to speak because he's been helping -- he's been attacking U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He's been sheltering al-Qaida. But some people in the Pakistani military had considered him quote unquote "good Taliban" because although he was Pakistani Taliban he wasn't part of the group that was specifically trying to undermine and overthrow the Pakistani government. He was focusing his efforts more on Afghanistan.
LAKSHMANANAt the same time he wasn't necessarily respecting an unwritten agreement that he had with the Pakistani government from a few years ago, in that he was again continuing to aid al-Qaida. So his killing is considered significant. I mean, one related point, which is a little bit hard to understand but I think is important that we mention is that the Pakistani government at the request of the Afghan government has over the last few months released about 20 Afghan Taliban prisoners who were being held by Pakistan.
LAKSHMANANNow you would ask yourself, why in the world would Afghanistan want Pakistan to release these Taliban prisoners. Well, they -- the Afghan government and Hamid Karzai see these men as potential intermediaries who could help the Afghan government speak with those Afghan Taliban fighters who are still on the field. So I don't think this guy who was killed, who was Pakistani Taliban would've been one of those.
LAKSHMANANBut I think it's an interesting related development that, you know, at the same time that these drone strikes are going on Afghan Taliban are also being released by the Pakistanis. And whenever the U.S. State Department is asked about this they stick to the line which is, we encourage peace talks as an Afghan-led solution. And, you know, we support the Pakistanis and the Afghans working together on a peace solution.
GJELTENIndira Lakshmanan, before we move on to another issue I do have to point out that a number of emailers have complained that one of you -- I don't know which, I can't remember which one or if really any of you said this -- but referred to the rape victim in India as a girl. And in fact she was 23 years old. A lot of sensitivity about this among our listeners, for a good reason.
GJELTENBut let's move on now to Syria. David Ignatius, as U.S. troops prepare to pull out of Afghanistan we actually have troops arriving in Turkey to man some Patriot missile batteries there. How significant a development is this? Is this just kind of symbolic? I mean, does this represent really any significant protection either for Turkey or for Syrian refugees who have crossed the border into Turkey?
IGNATIUSI think it does enhance the safe zone in effect that already exists along the Turkish Syrian border. I've crossed that border and it's largely under control of the free Syrian army. And with the Patriot missiles above it will be much harder for Syrian planes to get near that border. This is not the kind of U.S. or NATO military intervention that some -- and the Syrian opposition I should say -- that's far from everyone would like to see. And the terrible truth is that that war is grinding toward an ever bloodier stalemate.
IGNATIUSLakhdar Brahimi, the UN envoy who is charged with trying to mediate a settlement said this last week in Beirut that Syria could descend into a version of hell. He called it the Somaliazation of Syria in which it became a country ruled by warlords. Different parts of Syria under the control of different ethnic groups, different brigades, remnants of government fighters. It's just a grim forecast. And that reinforces the position the U.S. and other governments have taken, that Russia takes in principle but won't really act on, which is that a political transition is necessary.
GJELTENDavid Ignatius, the Washington Post, and David of course we have got a new death toll release on the United Nations. Sixty-thousand people have died so far, according to UN estimates, in Syria. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And we will be taking some calls in a few minutes. Remember our phone number is 1-800-433-8850. Our email is email@example.com.
GJELTENIndira, so 60,000 people, I mean, this is more than the number of U.S. troops who were killed in Vietnam for example. It's greater than the population of Cheyenne, Wyo. And Syria is not that -- were approaching the number of civilians who died in Bosnia over almost a ten-year period -- five-year period. I mean, this is really serious. It's not that large a country. This has really gotten out of hand, hasn't it?
LAKSHMANANYou're right and it's striking because the figures are 15,000 higher than the latest figures that had been offered by Syrian opposition groups. And this is based on a five-month study. This was commissioned by the UN human rights chief Navi Pillay. And what it looks at is seven different datasets. It took five months to go through them. They eliminated duplicate listings and they also eliminated ones where they weren't entirely sure. They didn't have all the evidence to line up the victim and the location, etcetera of the death which means that they have admitted that the number may be even -- the true toll may be even higher than the 60,000 that they're citing.
LAKSHMANANWhat I thought was interesting was this week at the State Department, you know, there were questions coming at the State Department spokeswoman about, you guys have talked about -- the Obama Administration has talked about a red line being chemical weapons being moved. But don't you have another red line? Is it 100,000 people dead? Is it a million people dead? What's your red line? So they're being pressed on this. And, you know, the U.S. government has continued to stick by its statement that, you know, Assad has to go.
LAKSHMANANHe needs to respect the agreement that was made, you know, various -- basically members of the Security Council back in June came to an agreement in Geneva that was allowing for a process of a transitional government. The problem is that hasn't been implemented. And Assad has not agreed to implement it and, you know, no one has forced him to do so. So there's been a lot of talk about how the Russians need to force him to take action. But at this point, as you say, we're in a stalemate and the numbers are staggering.
GJELTENJonathan, Indira mentioned Russia. Of course, China is a big player but also Iran. And it appears that the Iranian government would like to tie international negotiations over its nuclear program to the situation in Syria. What's the prospect of a connection there being made?
LANDAYI think that it's probably zero as far as the United States and its negotiating partners, the so-called P5 plus 1 who are negotiating with Iran over its nuclear agreement. And it's hard to see how any kind of linkage would be made between the agreement on the nuclear program and what's going on in Syria. Iran has been backing the Syrian government. It's been providing military advisors. It's been providing weapons.
LANDAYAnd because it sees Assad's survival as critical to its own strategy for that region, in that is uses Syria as a conduit for providing weapons and support to Hezbollah, the militia that basically runs neighboring Lebanon and Palestinian groups who are at odds with the Israelis. And so -- but it's hard to see how any linkage between those two issues could possibly be made.
GJELTENWell, speaking of negotiations with Iran, David, your newspaper had a very provocative bold editorial this week suggesting that the time may come very soon where the United States and its allies should make a sweeping proposal to Iran offering to lift sanctions in exchange for -- lift sanctions completely in exchange for a serious agreement from Iran to limit uranium enrichment.
IGNATIUSIt was a powerful editorial and I think the thrust of it was that time is running out for a negotiated solution that stops Iran short of having all of the capabilities for making a nuclear weapon. Iran continues to enrich during this period of negotiation. The Iranians, despite expectations that they might move into a phase of bilateral discussion with the U.S., have not done so. They have shown surprisingly little interest in returning to the table to discuss the current P5 plus 1 proposal for freezing enrichment at 20 percent.
IGNATIUSSo at some point -- and the Israelis have said late spring or summer you get to the moment at which they would argue Iran moves into a zone of immunity or invulnerability where you can no longer strike it militarily and -- or Israel can and stop its weaponization capability. So the clock is ticking. And the argument would be it's time to make the last best offer to give the Iranians the best they could hope to get out of these negotiations is removal of sanctions, name the price clearly and see if they respond. And then if they don't the world faces a very stark choice.
GJELTENAnd that choice is going to come up in 2013, isn't it?
IGNATIUSI think that this issue, more than any, is the one you can see coming at President Obama requiring a fundamental decision that could be a decision of war or peace. And he's going to have to grapple with it soon.
GJELTENDavid Ignatius is columnist for the Washington Post. After the break, we're going to be going straight to the phones for your comments and questions. Stay tuned.
GJELTENWelcome back, I'm Tom Gjelten sitting in for Diane Rehm. It's the "Friday News Roundup International Hour" and I'm joined in the studio by David Ignatius of The Washington Post, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and Jonathan Landay from McClatchy Newspapers and it's your turn now to join the discussion with your comments, your questions.
GJELTENFirst, we're going to go to an email from Luke. Luke writes, "I'm interested in hearing your commentators' thoughts on Kim Jong-un's remarks on peace talks with South Korea. I found it interesting considering the last time such talks were had was when both leaders' grandparents were in charge in their respective countries."
GJELTENThis is a, actually was a pretty significant address. This was Kim Jong-un, North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un's New Year's address and he said for example, an important issue in putting an end to the division of the country and achieving its reunification is to remove confrontations between the North and the South. How much of a surprise was that Jonathan Landay?
LANDAYI'm not sure that people, a lot of people are taking it seriously because this so-called, what appears to be an overture to the new South Korean President Park Geun-Hye comes at a time when the North Koreans have just tested a missile and that they said put a weather satellite into outer space but that a lot of experts consider a test of a nuclear capability and at a time when North Korea appears to be preparing to detonate a third nuclear weapons test.
LANDAYAnd so it's hard to say whether or not this is for real. It could be more intended for propaganda purposes. Here's a new youthful leader of North Korea reaching out to the new president of South Korea. But at this point, it's not being taken enormously seriously.
GJELTENMeanwhile, Indira, we have Google Chairman Eric Schmidt planning to go to North Korea. He's evidently going to try to intervene in a case there involving an imprisoned Korean-American. The State Department is not too happy about that.
LAKSHMANANRight, I mean, let's point out that this has not been formally announced. This is something that has come out according to sources and we tried to call Governor Bill Richardson's office yesterday...
GJELTENHe's supposed to be going...
LAKSHMANAN...as well as Google because the two of them the Chairman of Google and also the former U.N. Ambassador and former Governor Bill Richardson are supposed to go together. I mean it's an interesting one because the State Department has completely distanced itself from the trip by saying we've expressed to them our concerns that this is not the right time to go.
LAKSHMANANKeep in mind that this is just a couple of weeks after this launch, this missile test that Jonathan was talking about so why reward them with that kind of a visit. Bill Richardson of course has gone to North Korea in the past and acted in a sort of intermediary capacity in terms of trying to work for, you know better relations as well as the release of U.S. citizens.
LAKSHMANANI mean, this supposedly, the purpose of their trip is to try to help release this U.S. citizen which the State Department can only do through its Swedish protecting power. At the same time, as Jonathan points out, I think we have to wait and see on this New Year's address if the new leader is going to put his money where his mouth is.
LAKSHMANANOn the one hand, this is the first such address since 1994 when his then, you know, when his grandfather gave his last address so that seems significant. The whole question about this trip by Google and Richardson is really interesting because Eric Schmidt has been a real booster of Hillary Clinton and her efforts to try to integrate technology with diplomacy at the State Department and he has assisted her in a number of ways going on different State Department missions.
LAKSHMANANSo it raises the question of why would he do something that Hillary Clinton is against and you know of course there's speculation about whether the State Department is trying to keep this at arm's length and not have their finger prints on it, but whether they might clandestinely be giving messages to carry, even though they're saying publicly, no, we're not giving any messages and we don't support the trip.
GJELTENMessages to Schmidt and Richardson?
GJELTENAnd the State Department is it denying that it is going to do that? Let's go now to Hia who is on the line from Quincy, Ill. Tell me if I got your name correct, Hia?
HIAYeah, it's Hiawatha, but Hia for short.
HIAI have a slight digression. You know, the al-Jazeera buying Current TV?
GJELTENYeah, we talked about that in the former hour, yeah, al-Jazeera is buying Al Gore's Current TV.
HIAYeah, the media networks better be praying that they don't give Keith Olbermann an offer he can't refuse.
GJELTENOkay, all right. That's not what you called about, I don't think.
HIANo, what I called, you know, how much (word?) there. I think the U.S. is always as far as a better understanding of these nations that we are involved with, you know in the Middle East, like cultures. I think it's very important to understand, you know, what their culture was like in the short spells of peace times they had, to see that dynamic because there's a lot of what we call warlords who are really rich Afghans who have these little territories they're running as little sort of quasi-kingdoms.
HIAAnd the Taliban is a threat to those people themselves. Also, Hamid Karzai cannot control the Taliban or these little what we're calling warlords right now and so it's ludicrous to think that he has any, and in any way, form or fashion, can assure the safety of the U.S. troops. It's just impossible for him to do that.
GJELTENOkay, let's put that question to David Ignatius. It's certainly true Hamid Karzai can come here next week and allegedly negotiate on behalf of his country, but he's not exactly the strongest leader, is he?
IGNATIUSHamid Karzai has not been an effective president of Afghanistan. He indeed is viewed by many, I would say probably most analysts, as having been an extremely corrupt and administratively incompetent president, but he is the president and the U.S. is going to have to negotiate with him over this question of what the post-2014 basing rights will be.
IGNATIUSOne point that we didn't discuss earlier when we were speaking of U.S. options, but is very important, is the rate at which General John Allen, the Marine commander who is the head of U.S. and NATO forces for the moment, the rate of drawdown he will recommend of the roughly 66,000 U.S. troops that are currently in Afghanistan over the next year.
IGNATIUSHe is said to want to keep as many as possible. We've seen numbers as high as 60,000 of those through the so-called fighting season, let's say into the fall. For a country, the United States that is really sick of this war, keeping that many troops fighting in Afghanistan is going to be politically controversial to say the least.
IGNATIUSSo that's a big issue that's coming up. General Allen, so far, we don't think has addressed it directly but it's one the administration has got to decide soon.
GJELTENJonathan, you had a thought on that?
LANDAYYeah, there's also an unspoken aspect in all of this and that is everybody wants a peace agreement. One of the reasons why previous agreements in Afghanistan have collapsed is because there's been no enforcement or monitoring effort.
LANDAYNow there's going to be no doubt that Hamid Karzai and the people he's working with, the Pakistani Army, are going to want a monitoring and enforcement mechanism and that mechanism, I think, they're going to want is going to be American troops.
LANDAYAnd so that is something that the administration is going to have to wrestle with if they want a peace agreement to work they may have to be prepared to keep American troops beyond 2014 in Afghanistan to monitor and implement any kind of peace agreement that's made with the Taliban.
GJELTENLet's go now to Daniel who is on the phone from Michigan. Good morning Daniel.
DANIELGood morning, thank you for taking my call.
GJELTENThanks for calling.
DANIELAnd I was listening this morning and they talked about the United States manning patriot missiles in Turkey?
DANIELAnd my comment was that if my memory serves me right, when we went into Afghanistan and Iraq, the Turks refused to let us use their territory as a supply base. You know, they wanted to basically bribe us for more money so we ended up having to go through Pakistan and other areas, which definitely added a cost to the war. And so I question whether the United States should be doing anything in that regard without some kind of payment from Turkey.
DANIELWhy should we, you know, they're kind of in a bit of a sticky wicket, it looks like right now.
GJELTENWell, let me just point out, Daniel, that Turkey is a member of NATO and this is not just a U.S. operation. This is a NATO operation and NATO has an obligation to protect its members from foreign attack.
DANIELYeah, well, they didn't think about that when we went into the war with Afghanistan. They refused to let us use their country as a base for our supply route.
GJELTENOkay, Jonathan has an answer to that.
LANDAYActually, there is a very large Turkish -- has been a very large Turkish military contingent working and fighting alongside American forces in Afghanistan as part of the NATO force there. I think what the caller is referring to is what happened in Iraq where the Turks refused to allow the 4th Infantry Division to land in Turkey and to make their way into northern Iraq.
LANDAYThat was because an overwhelming number of Turks opposed the American invasion of Iraq.
GJELTENRight, speaking of Turkey we have -- I mean, speaking of Syria and Turkey, we have an email from A.R. in Sarasota, Fla. who is wondering this, "Why is the U.S. so impotent when it comes to halting Assad's, Bashir al-Assad's genocidal attack on his own people? What's with no drama Obama's international humanitarian priorities?" David Ignatius, this is obviously, as you mentioned before, a really sensitive situation, but what could the United States have done in Syria that it did not do?
IGNATIUSWell, it's a good question and a tormenting one as the death toll rises. Certainly, the U.S. even sticking to its position that it will only supply non-lethal humanitarian and communications assistance in Syria, even with that position, the U.S., months ago, could have worked with other countries that are supplying aid of various sorts, some lethal and some non-lethal to channel it through a command structure on the rebel side that would have provided some organizational discipline and coherence to the fight.
IGNATIUSThat didn't happen. And as a result the power of jihadist groups, individual brigades that are funded often by donors who come up from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf countries, their power has grown and grown and organized disciplinary military councils that should be there really aren't. And that's why we're heading toward a kind of warlord-ism certainly in the north that's very scary. So that's one thing the U.S. could have done and didn't.
GJELTENOkay, David Ignatius, a columnist for The Washington Post. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Indira, there's something you wanted to say?
LAKSHMANANI was just going to add that, you know, it's interesting to me that the White House has treated the Syria issue so differently from the beginning than it treated, for example, the uprising in Libya. And, you know, that is something where, you know, the U.S. did support giving air power, the no-fly zone, the NATO involvement.
LAKSHMANANYou know, from the beginning, it seems as the White House saw that as something that was solvable, that was a discreet problem that they could, you know, intervene and bring down Gaddafi and that would be the end of it. And from the very beginning, they've seen Syria in a different way and despite the humanitarian toll, which in Syria has been way beyond the toll that we saw in Libya even when we got involved, it's striking to me that the humanitarian excuse was used in Libya.
LAKSHMANANOr I shouldn't say excuse, the humanitarian explanation, justification, was used in Libya and that even though the death toll has gone so far beyond that because of the geo-politics of the region, because of where Syria is, because of all the knock-on effects of how it would affect the Middle East, the White House has been far, far more cautious.
GJELTENThere are no chemical weapons in Libya were there?
LANDAYBut I think there's another, all of that plus, I think that when the president campaigned for re-election, he said, my number one issue, my number one goal is to rebuild the American economy. We're not going to nation-build anymore.
LANDAYAnd I think what you're seeing, not just in Syria, but when you had the Israeli-Palestinian fighting going on in Gaza, where you had what was going on in Egypt and now with Afghanistan and Pakistan co-operating more closely, I think this president has decided that they're going to take a bit more of a backseat in terms of these conflicts and let regional powers, local actors play a larger role than the United States.
GJELTENJonathan, from Washington, D.C. has a question. He sent us an email. This is not something that we've heard a lot about in the last few days and weeks and that's the European economic situation. He's wondering, "Are EU countries any better off in 2013 than they were in 2012. What's Europe's fiscal outlook?"
GJELTENActually European stocks did go up a little bit today in reaction to the boost in U.S. employment figures. But David Ignatius, all the talk has been about the fiscal outlook, the fiscal challenge in the United States. What's the latest from Europe on their efforts now, a couple years old in dealing with big fiscal debt problems?
IGNATIUSAs I read the news out of Europe, especially through December, it seemed to me that the Europeans were groping towards better mechanisms for dealing with the basic problems in their banking system, the problem of solvency, the related problem of liquidity.
IGNATIUSAnd they were doing that largely through creative, aggressive action by the European Central Bank which was increasingly moving toward a role like that of the Federal Reserve where it was a lender of last resort, where it stood behind the integrity of banks, where it now will have Central Bank examiners who will be able to go out and attest to the solvency of European banks which has been a mystery for a lot of financial traders over the last two years.
IGNATIUSSo my sense is that, compared to the sense of increasing panic that the Eurozone was coming apart, that Greece was going to leave precipitously, that European banks were about to go under even in France, a lot of that has receded.
GJELTENWe've had so much territory to cover in this, the international hour of the Friday News Roundup, there are a couple of big stories we did not get to. One of them is Russian President Vladimir Putin signing a ban on U.S. adoptions. There are a lot of questions about what's behind that ban and what the reaction from the United States will be. We're going to have to get to that in another show.
GJELTENAnother development that's potentially very important is the condition of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He is in a hospital in Cuba and the latest report from his government last night increased speculation that his health, in fact, is in a really bad shape and that he will not be able to be sworn in for another term as scheduled in less than a week and that would mean a change of government, a change of leadership in Venezuela.
GJELTENThat's going to create a lot of questions about the future of U.S./Venezuelan relations and also about the stability of that government in Venezuela. That too is a story we're going to have to get to in another show because we're at the end of this hour.
GJELTENI've been joined by David Ignatius, columnist for The Washington Post, Indira Lakshmanan, senior correspondent for Bloomberg News and Jonathan Landay from McClatchy Newspapers. I'm Tom Gjelten, thanks for listening.
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