Nine years ago, former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran while on a mission for the CIA. The story of his secret journey to Iran, the CIA cover-up that followed and efforts to rescue the longest-held U.S. hostage.
Afghan President Karzai is in Washington for talks on the future U.S. role. Syria agrees to a major prisoner swap. And Venezuela postpones the inauguration of ailing President Chavez. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Natasha Mozgovaya former Washington bureau chief for Haaretz newspaper.
- Courtney Kube national security producer for NBC News.
- James Kitfield senior correspondent for National Journal.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Afghan President Karzai meets today with President Obama talking about Afghanistan's future. Syrian rebels claim they've captured a key air base in the nation's north. And Google's chairman leads a private delegation to North Korea against the State Department's wishes. Here for this week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Courtney Kube of NBC News, James Kitfield of National Journal magazine and Natasha Mozgovaya, formerly of Haaretz newspaper.
MS. DIANE REHMDo join us, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning everybody.
MS. COURTNEY KUBEGood morning.
MS. NATASHA MOZGOVAYAGood morning.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDGood morning.
REHMCourtney Kube, President Karzai in Washington. What's at stake for the U.S.?
KUBEWell, I mean, the major issue that everyone is talking about out of these meetings is what will the U.S. force level look like in Afghanistan post-2014, the "enduring presence." But I think that there are just so many other issues that have to be addressed before you can talk anything about numbers of U.S. troops. They really have to iron out the bilateral security agreement, which is what really hung up U.S. troops staying on in Iraq in 2011. They need to determine whether Karzai will grant them immunity if they stay on after 2014, whether U.S. troops will be allowed immunity, whether they'll be allowed autonomy of operation, if Karzai or whomever the president after 2014 is will allow them to do operations without their consent.
KUBEAnd there's just these bigger issues that still exist with Afghanistan. You know, what happens with the political and the economic issues that are out there. If these NATO troops are withdrawing, there's, you know, 66,000 Americans now, they withdraw significantly by the end of 2014 if not completely, what happens to all the development that they've helped with? What happens to the jobs that the NATO troops have created? You're going to have this big population of unemployed or under-employed Afghans that could be left after 2014.
KUBESo they really have to determine what the way forward is, if the mission is going to be counterterrorism, training. We know for one thing, they will not be securing the country anymore after 2014.
REHMJames Kitfield, what's the level of U.S. troops required to keep that country from falling into chaos?
KITFIELDWell, that's open for a lot of debate right now, but let's put it this way. There's two decisions to be made. We have 68,000 troops there. The vast majority are going to be out by the end of next year, 2014, but the glide slope is very much open for debate. The U.S. military would like it to be a very gradual glide slope. The White House is adjudicating for a quicker and steeper glide slope to get them back quicker. That'll be open for discussion during these talks. And then, as Courtney says, the residual force that you leave there post-2014. The military thinks that something like 30,000 would be a fairly low risk number because then you could do both your missions that we're going to have post-2014, continue to train and equip.
KITFIELDAnd really, to support with enablers, the Afghan security forces, air lift, air medivac, logistics, command and control, sophisticated surveillance and reconnaissance with these drones, etcetera. They have none of that. Long range artillery. The numbers you hear the White House talking about is 10,000 and less. And if it gets much below 10,000 you can forget the really enabler part of that equation because that requires air lift, brigades of air mobile helicopters that take thousands of people to maintain, fly, protect the bases their on, et cetera.
KITFIELDSo if you get down much below 10,000 to 6,000 you're just talking about a very discreet counterterrorism mission left over. And it's very unclear to a lot of experts if that is a sustainable mission if you pull all the other forces out because then you are, you know, killing with these very unpopular drone strikes from the sky even as the people who are protecting you, the Afghan security forces start to stumble because you're withdrawing all the enablers.
REHMNatasha, what does President Karzai hope to take away from the meetings?
MOZGOVAYAI think for both sides they are basically trying to put a nice face on a very bad game because both presidents can talk after their meeting, even their one-on-one meeting, about friendship and long commitment and a new future for Afghanistan, but basically both sides and I think both societies know that this is a divorce, which is not a really nice one. And one spouse, which is obviously dependant, is left with less than he hoped for. And President Karzai always had this dual approach to American involvement, American aid.
MOZGOVAYAOn the one hand, he criticized heavily civilian casualties. He hinted all the time at American arrogance, for example. And President Obama didn't really, I think, conceal his contempt for Afghan corruption, et cetera. And I think in 2010 when he visited Afghanistan he didn't even meet with President Karzai, although all kinds of weather were said to have prevented his helicopter, you know, to get there. But I think we just need to manage expectations here.
MOZGOVAYAAnd expectations are that militants will say any wait was shameful retreat. Afghani central government will be left in very, very dire condition and probably start losing part of the country. And even if there will be settlement with the Taliban, it will be not on favorable terms.
REHMJames Kitfield, has Chuck Hagel, the President's choice as Secretary of Defense, offered his views on troop levels?
KITFIELDHe hasn't been very specific and particularly not since he's been nominated because, I mean, these guys know better than to start being very specific between the nomination and the Senate confirming. But he's been very suspicious of the Afghan enterprise in the very beginning and has argued for sort of, let's wind this up. And that way I think his views very much reflect the President's. But he has not been specific.
KITFIELDThe assumption is that he will favor this sort of steeper glide path, let's get the troops out quicker and leave fewer behind. That's the assumption. I'm not sure it's actually an accurate one because it's one thing to sit outside and criticize, but once you're Secretary of Defense it's your responsibility to pull back in a way that doesn't let the house of cards fall down. Because then that's your legacy. So, you know, I take it with a grain of salt, things they said as Senator or as a think tank head. We'll see during these confirmation hearings.
KITFIELDTo the point just made, though, I mean, if this is a marriage, what Karzai wants is maximum alimony right now. He wants the United States to commit to, as long as possible, providing the resources, $4 billion a year to keep the Afghan security forces trained, equipped and paid. And he wants as few strings attached to that as possible. Read, doesn't like the counterterrorism strikes too much, doesn't want to have a whole bunch of them, doesn't like the U.S. being in the lead in basically anything. So that is sort of the terms of negotiation on this divorce.
REHMAnd now how much farther are these negotiations likely to go, Courtney?
KUBEWell, I don't think that there's going to be a major deliverable set forth today or by his meetings at the State Department and the Pentagon yesterday, Karzai's meetings. I think that this is sort of laying the groundwork for where everyone is going forward, for what the forward strategy is going to be. But, you know, to James's point about the $4 billion a year, you know, think about that if you're President Obama, if you're in this administration. The U.S. portion of that would probably be about two and a half billion dollars that they would have to spend to support the ANSF at the post-2014 levels. They're spending over $100 billion right now on keeping U.S. troops there.
KUBEAnd frankly, neither option is a guarantee of success or security. So a two and a half billion dollar insurance policy versus one hundred plus billion, what decision do you make?
KITFIELDAnd a key point of this is, if they get the numbers so low, the residual U.S. forces stays in post-2014, Congressional support is just going to evaporate. If the zero option is there or if it's just a couple of thousand, the willingness of Congress to cough up $4 billion a year is going to be very low. If you have sort of subset of U.S. force there, when we still have skin in the game, Congress is more likely to stay engaged and, you know, supplying this money. We saw this exact dynamic play out in Vietnam. Once the American troops came out, Congress said, no, we're cutting it all off.
KITFIELDThe administration has to be very careful about getting below a certain threshold beyond which Congress says, no, let's just wash our hands of the whole enterprise.
MOZGOVAYAAnd let's just remind, too, very simple numbers that appeared a recent month, the Pentagon report that said basically only one battalion of the trained Afghan forces out of, I think, 31, is capable of combat. And the other number, you know, if 100,000 soldiers weren't able to bring victory, basically, than 6,000 or, you know, 1,000 or even 15,000, what more can they do?
KUBEAnd the problem with that is that number has not changed in some time. It's not a matter of the Afghan security forces and police not being able to fight. They can go out and fight, but they cannot sustain themselves. There's only this one element that can sustain itself, support itself logistically. And the Afghan Air Force--they virtually have no Air Force. They can't do medivac, they can't do air strikes, so, you know, as Natasha was saying, this is a long-standing problem. There's no future that that's going to be fixed any time soon.
MOZGOVAYANot to mention all the incidents of shooting of NATO troops by the Afghan uniformed soldiers. So the training, the level of trust, the trust obviously has eroded.
KITFIELDBut on just one point, I mean, it was purposely phased the way that you would, you know, put maximum boots on the ground with infantry and that you were going to do the hard, sort of enabling logistics, command and control later because we wanted to get as many boots on the ground as possible to basically shift the lead to Afghan forces. We had done that. And I think that over, you know, 2014 to 2018, you can supply those enablers. That was the plan all along, was to push as many troops on the ground, Afghan troops on the ground, let them take the lead, meaning less U.S. casualties, more Afghan ownership. And then over years you do this harder, sort of back support of logistics, air support.
MOZGOVAYABut do you think drones can be a solution in this case?
KITFIELDWell, the U.S. is going to be committed to drones being part of the solution or they won't play.
KUBEBut, remember, keep in mind, I mean, while drones is a small footprint, this minimal approach that's also put forward with the zero option includes some boots on the ground, special operations. And those also need support, you know. I think there's this idea in the American public that you can have this quick reaction force of 26 Navy SEALs who can go in and root out the bad guys when they need to, but you still would need a presence, whether inside Afghanistan ideally or in a neighboring country.
REHMCourtney Kube, national security producer for NBC News. When we come back we'll talk about what's happening in Syria and take your calls. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with James Kitfield, senior correspondent for National Journal, Natasha Mozgovaya, former Washington bureau chief for Haaretz newspaper and Courtney Kube, national security producer for NBC News. Well, we talked about Afghanistan. Let's turn to Syria and tell us about this prisoner swap in Syria, James. Why were so many Syrians released in exchange for 48 Iranians?
KITFIELDYeah, it's a very curious circumstance. And, you know, normally in this situation you would think okay, a prisoner swap is a good thing, you know. The two sides are starting to sort of negotiate and find some settlements. But in this case after this really bellicose speech that Assad gave on Sunday that really just made everyone think that he has been living in a bubble -- a delusional bubble, talking about how this -- you know, these puppets of the West have to be confronted or else they have to, you know, lay down their arms. I mean, it was just like something he would've given 18 months ago
KITFIELDBut this prisoner exchange, it makes me wonder whether the rebellion was really trying to send a message to Iran because they know that even post-Assad, they're going to have to deal -- whoever comes after Assad, whatever political configuration comes in Syria after Assad will have to deal with Iran. And Iran can be a very unhelpful neighbor or a very helpful neighbor. So to me it suggests that maybe the rebellion is saying -- giving a sign to the Iranians because they certainly have no interest in giving positive signs to Assad. That maybe, you know, after Assad leaves we can reach an accommodation with Tehran.
REHMBut who were the Iranian captives?
KUBEWell, it depends on which side you ask. There were about 48 of them I think, and initially the Iranians said that they were pilgrims -- religious pilgrims on a Shiite pilgrimage. There were some reports that they were revolutionary guard Kurds force and they were there training the regime forces. I think the latter is probably more likely, just saying. But what I thought was really fascinating about this is for those 48 Iranians more than 2000 Syrian and other foreign national civilians were supposed to have been released by the Syrian regime. And this was brokered by Turkey and Qatar. It took months and months of negotiations.
KUBEBut what's very telling about it is there are hundreds, presumably if not thousands, of Syrian regime military in custody of the rebels right now. None of them were released. So it really show where President Assad's loyalty is right now and who's really holding sway. Tehran clearly holds tremendous power over him that he would release -- that he would broker this deal for 48 -- it's like what, 22 or 23 people for every one Iranian quote unquote "pilgrim" who was released.
MOZGOVAYAYeah, but at least they returned to Tehran. If you release Syrian military, they will stay in Syria and guess what -- where they will go, back to the barracks. So yeah, but talking about President Assad living in a bubble, basically despite, you know, this speech being condemned, they're rejected by pretty much everyone including, by the way, the special envoy to Syria with the Arab League and the United Nations.
MOZGOVAYAI think that's how he discredited himself in Syria but at least Moscow and Iran supported this initiative as the viable solution -- political solution that can lead, you know, to the new elections and inclusive government, et cetera, et cetera. So for at least two quite big countries, it is -- you know, he's still a president and he has a valid proposal.
KUBEAnd China probably.
REHMWhat about the U.S. and Russian special envoys trying to meet and deal with this issue?
KITFIELDWell, I mean -- and it's interesting because, you know, the fact that Russia and Iran sort of thought this was a great speech so is exactly the problem. We're still stuck in the same place where, you know, Russia and Iran -- and we were talking to Russia because at some point we believe that Russia will realize that they've backed a loser, as they frequently do, and that they will then sue for some sort of a deal that gets Assad out of the way. Maybe an exile in Russia, maybe an exile in Iran.
KITFIELDBut that is the deal that's left on the table. The rebels are never going to -- they think they're winning, and they are winning. They've captured territory in the north. They're capturing heavy weapons. They -- the tide of this war shifted a couple of months ago and it is against the Assad regime. So the question is at what point does Syria's backers who want to have influence in Syria even after he goes, basically, you know, reach some sort of accommodation that gets rid of him and gets him out of the way. Otherwise he's probably going to end up like Gadhafi, you know, caught in the street trying to escape and slung from a signpost or shot with a bullet.
KITFIELDSo, I mean, that is king of the deal that's left out there. And the fervent hope of the United States is that Russia will see the light at some point. But the Russians being Russians, they have abstinently held onto their position that they're backing Assad.
REHMWe should talk about the fact that cold weather, snow, winter setting in, hundreds of thousands of refugees there in Syria on the Turkish border. We're going to do an hour on those refugees on Monday. Natasha, you wanted to add something.
MOZGOVAYAYes. I just wanted to add that even if Assad goes we should remind again that there might be a problem in the day after. Because, for example, today we had a report of Syrian rebels taking full control of Taftanaz Airport, the north. But it was also reported that they were led by a group that the United States basically designated as a terrorist organization. So who is going to take the control in the day after? That's why basically both Russia and the United States prefer to see it and talk and talk again and speak about humanitarian aid, etcetera, et cetera. But no one is ready to step in or to step up the involvement there because it might be even messier.
KUBEAnd I think another take away from that Assad speech on Sunday was that he's more defiant than ever. And the chance of any kind of a negotiated solution is less likely than ever. You know, he didn't really put forward any kind of a political transition. He said, well the option is the rebels have to -- who he called al-Qaida and gangsters and thugs and whatnot -- that they have to stop fighting completely.
KUBEThe foreign -- the International Community has to stop providing any aid to the country and then he'll start talking about some new elections and whatnot. There's no real political transition. The rebels have absolutely no option but to continue to fight at this point. And he's showing no sign of backing down either.
KITFIELDThat's exactly right, so we're stuck between -- every day that this conflict goes on at this point he's in a weaker position and the rebellion's in a stronger position. So, again, where is the tipping point where he understands the writings on the wall? And his backers in Moscow and Tehran understand the writings on the wall. At that point hopefully we'll see -- I mean, to Natasha's point, everyone is absolutely concerned and fearful about what comes after Assad goes because there are -- the opposition does include very extremist elements -- Islamist extremist elements associated with al-Qaida.
KITFIELDYou know, in these situations -- this thing's gone on so long, 60,000 dead, there'll almost certainly be temptations for retribution killings, massacres -- you know, sectarian massacres against the Alawites. So, you know, the idea that we're trying to get through to the Russians is to make all the worst nightmares not come true you have to have some sort of a transition that is managed. And you can't manage it if he's basically overrun in his palace.
KITFIELDYou can manage it if a deal is reached that gets him out of the way. And a transition can be sort of managed within the International Community, which could have a lot of sway because we have money, we have resources to help rebuild that country. So we have influence. We are supporting the rebels with nonlethal aid. Our allies are supporting them with lethal aid. So we have some leverage but it can only be used if there is a managed transition. If it becomes, you know, the rebels just overrun his palace, all bets are off.
MOZGOVAYAAnd meanwhile, we have also this looming question on whether Assad is close to cross this red line of using more fatal weapons because we had already also reports of ballistic missiles -- Iran basically produced missiles that already were used, at least four of them. And the question is whether it means that the next step might be, for example, using chemical weapons or biological weapons. And it's -- this would mean obviously some sort of involvement.
REHMCourtney, tell us about these Kurdish activists who were slain in Paris on Thursday.
KUBEYeah, it wasn't, at first, a well publicized story and then it really started to break yesterday in the international media. There were these three Kurdish exiles that were working in Paris. They went...
KUBE...female -- all young women. I was astonished. One of them was born in 1988. I thought, wow how young. But they went missing the other night. Their friends broke into their offices and they were found to have been executed. In fact, the French Interior Minister showed up within hours and he said that they were summarily executed on the site.
KUBESo the problem with this is, you know, as in situations like this, there's all different sides and people blaming -- one side blaming the other. The PKK is saying that they believe the Turkish government -- Turkish nationalists who were angry at the recent talks between Turkey and the PKK who don't want the Kurds to have any additional power, autonomy or rights, that they did this as a show to break down the talks.
KUBEThe PKK -- or I'm sorry, the Turkish government is saying that there's infighting between the PKK, that these people, they are the ones who are very militant who don't want talks. I mean, whatever side ends up being correct, if one of the two, what is clear out of this is that the talks that have just began recently -- Prime Minister Artiwan just acknowledged them, that they've been speaking to this PKK leader who's been jailed in solitary confinement for the last decade, that the intelligence ministry has been speaking to him to try and broker some sort of an end to the violence. And those talks are in serious jeopardy over this incident.
MOZGOVAYAWell, basically among the four versions that involve this murder that are all valid, the central one is anyway Sakine Cansiz, one of the cofounders of PKK was the main target. And the two other activists were basically in the wrong place at the wrong time. And obviously it was well planned because the office, you could only buzz in or you could dial a code. So it was someone who obviously knew where he was going and maybe even someone who was -- even for example it's some inner settling of, you know, something...
MOZGOVAYAYeah, exactly. What basically the Turks are saying, that terrorist organizations, that's how they act. They can execute even their own. Basically, of course, this is not what hundreds of Kurdish exiles who demonstrated in Paris. That's not what they think.
KITFIELDYou know, this being a situation with the Turks and the Kurds, anything's possible. But clearly this looks like it was intended to scuttle these peace talks. That, I think, is pretty relevant -- I mean, pretty evident. I don't know, you know, there's any number, as has been mentioned, of people who might want to scuttle those talks. But the context is Turkey is very nervous about -- this goes back to Syria -- you know, the Kurds in Iraq have already carved out an autonomous almost nation state in northern Iraq.
KITFIELDThe Kurds in Syria are trying to do pretty much the same thing and hope that's going to be the aftermath of this Syrian civil war. Turkey is looking at two neighbors with their northern, you know, border's going to be run by autonomists Kurdish regions. And they have their own southern region, this majority Kurdish, that has, you know, been sort of arguing for separatism for quite a long time. So they're very nervous about this. And they want to reach this peace deal that sort of quiets their own Kurdish region.
KITFIELDSo it doesn't strike me as being in the Turkish government's interest to kill this woman and scuttle these talks. It seems to me it's most likely either a very militant faction of the PKK that doesn't want a peace deal with turkey because they see -- their separatism has always been their main goal. Or it could be, as Natasha mentioned, Turkish nationalists who never have liked the idea that Turkish Kurds would get autonomy.
MOZGOVAYAIn the past, by the way, in Paris there were assassinations of Kurdish PKK leaders. And this Sakine Cansiz, she was -- she spent years in jail. She was arrested even in Paris. She was under surveillance so she was obviously on someone's radar.
REHMNatasha Mozgovaya. She is former Washington bureau chief with Haaretz. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's talk about the implications of postponing the Chavez inauguration, James.
KITFIELDWell, the implications are dire for Chavez. I think he is gravely ill. He's in Cuba. He's gone through his fourth cancer-related surgery.
REHMDo we know for sure he is still alive?
KITFIELDWe don't know anything because it's in Cuba so you can't trust anything the government tells you. But the assumption is that if he was dead you would probably get some wind of it. So I assume he's alive but gravely ill. The fact that he couldn't attend his own inauguration obviously is a very strong signal that he's gravely ill. The opposition in Venezuela is asking the Supreme Court basically to step in and say, if they guy's out of the country and can't rule the country and can't even be inaugurated, are we led -- do we have a government essentially.
REHMBut what kind of process do they have for someone to step in? None.
KUBEThey don't really have one, that's the problem. The constitution has a process set in place if someone before they're sworn into office is absent for some reason. But the argument that Chavez's party is making -- the Socialist Party is making is that he was already in office. He's already holding power so this is more of a transition. It's a formality and he was already holding power.
KUBEThe problem is, as James said, we haven't seen him in more than a month. You know, this is the first time that he's been in these cancer treatments, had these surgeries where they're not sending out any photos. They're just putting out these terse statements about he has a lung infection, you know, but he's doing well. And the fact is, we have no idea if he's even conscious at this point. If he's really running the country or if his vice-president and presumed successor if he dies, if he's the one who's really running the country.
KUBEBut the opposition has a good point to make here. You know, the constitution also, it lays out that if the president is not leading the country for 90 days then the National Assembly either has to step in and extend that -- extend the vice-president's reign or they need to hold new elections.
MOZGOVAYAYes, but he already has the back of the National Assembly and the Supreme Court that basically agrees to delay the formal inauguration. And, you know, the festivities that went on, foreign leaders came. You know, his supporters were cheering and they say that however -- you know, whatever time it takes for him to recover, the country will stay the course of basically the new leader or however...
REHMAnd of course, you had a huge public demonstration there, didn't you, in support of Chavez.
KITFIELDOh, sure. I mean, he's very popular with a certain segment of the population, mostly the poor and rural who he's been very good at distributing wealth to. So -- and he has handpicked his vice-president Mr. Nicolas Maduro as his designated successor. He'll probably have to win elections but he has, you know, long ago stacked the National Assembly and the Supreme Court. So it's very hard for me to see how this leads to the opposition gaining control. You might see new elections at some point. And then, you know, that dynamic is going to be very volatile.
REHMIt's interesting because we have an email from Jose in Fort Lauderdale who says, "Just two days ago Globovision, the only TV network in Venezuela that decries the atrocities of the Chavez government has just been slapped with made-up charges. There is indeed political persecution in Venezuela under Hugo Chavez."
KITFIELDYes. A resounding yes. It has been for years. I mean, the press is not free in his country.
REHMBut then why is the public so...
MOZGOVAYAWhy is the timing...
REHMExactly. Why is the public so incredibly in favor of this man?
KITFIELDWell, I don't think that -- I mean, the public -- it's a very split country. You have sort of the business community and a lot of the sort of elites think that he's a disaster area. He's been leaning towards authoritarianism for quite a while but he's given a lot to the rural poor and they love him.
MOZGOVAYAAnd he also is a charismatic leader. You cannot -- even when he has a speech of two hours and occasionally he does, he's still...
REHMAll right. Short break here. We'll take your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back, let's talk about what's happening in Europe and the U.S. urging the UK to stay in the European Union. Is there a real chance, Natasha that they could leave?
MOZGOVAYAWell, basically the prime minister of Britain is against this step, but he agreed to renegotiate the terms of Britain's participation in the European Union and that might be put into a referendum.
REHMOn what grounds?
MOZGOVAYAWell, because there is a lot of opposition, Conservative opposition in Britain to their common currency. They're dictating terms from Brussels. They think their sovereignty is somehow diminished, all the regulations. And by the way, over 50 percent of the public supports getting out.
MOZGOVAYAThey think that Britain has enough trade links, enough power and the special relationship with the United States so they can manage now on their own.
KITFIELDWell, you know, this is so not in the U.S. interest and we are conveying that to Prime Minister Cameron and his government, that this would be really a bad move. But he...
MOZGOVAYAWhich is called an intervention, by the way.
KITFIELDSo, to your question, is it possible that Britain leaves the European Union? The answer is absolutely yes. There was a cover on the Economist recently that went into great depth at how that is quite possible. Cameron's Conservative Party, the Tories, have always been Euro skeptics.
KITFIELDThey have always been very questioning of this alliance, this membership in the European Union. Obviously, with the Eurozone crisis now and all these governments in the Eurozone really teetering, very unstably the Tories have the wind at their back and are saying, let's get out. Let's cut our ties.
KITFIELDCameron doesn't believe it's a good idea, but he's proposing this referendum on repatriating powers from the European Union back to Britain, which means we don't pay so much money to the European Union. And the European Union, the other leaders, France, Germany, and others, think it's just blackmail, this referendum is basically blackmail for him to drive a hard bargain so they're not happy with it.
KITFIELDAnd, you know, if this referendum basically, you know, goes forward, there's every chance that the next step will be, you know, okay, what do we really need these people for?
KUBEWell, we'll see later this month when Prime Minister Cameron delivers a speech about this and acknowledges whether he is going to seek some sort of a complete renegotiation of the British relationship with the EU or whether it's going to be somewhat scaled back. Some major British business leaders have been publicly urging him not to seek a major renegotiation.
KUBETheir concern is that, number one, it will not pass. It will not go forward. But that it could cause British business and trade to go into a spiral, spiral out of control and cause massive problems for the businesses.
MOZGOVAYAAnd basically it was also the argument of the Assistant Secretary Philip Gordon who sparked this controversy this week when he, for the first time, expressed the American opinion on this, that the same time could be dedicated to dealing with more important issues and that America prefers to deal with the European Union as a whole.
KITFIELDYou know, and we sent the message that we think that Britain is an important voice in the European Union that reflects a lot of the values that we have and this is something that Germany has said, too. Germany is sort of the, you know, conservative member of the European Union who says, you know, let's get spending under control et cetera, all the things that Britain basically supports.
KITFIELDGermany has been left without one of its key allies in talking to the French who are about more spending all the time. So if, you know, we think that Britain is a really good balancing power within the European Union to sort of reflect a lot of our views and for it to pull out and be stuck somewhere in the Atlantic between the continent and us, you know, and really attached to neither is really, would be a disaster.
REHMAll right, let's open the phones first to Indianapolis. Good morning, Jonathan.
JONATHANGood morning. I would like to ask your callers about the assertion that Assad could be pulled out of his house by rebels and hung up in the street. Isn't it a lot more likely that he would retreat to the Alawite homeland in the southeast and hole up with his military as a state within a state?
KUBEI think that's definitely possible. I also don't think you can rule out the possibility that some other country will offer him refuge, although it's looking less likely that will be Venezuela or Russia at this point so I'm not quite sure where he would go.
KUBEBut I think that, you know, when you talk about him being pulled out of his palace, that's sort of more symbolic of him being pulled out of power with military force, with opposition force versus some sort of, as we were talking about earlier, some sort of a negotiated settlement, some sort of a political transition which really at this point.
KUBEI mean, we've been about this on the show for two years now...
REHMI know we have.
KUBE...and nothing has changed. We're still making these same arguments and Assad is really continuing to appear as defiant as ever.
MOZGOVAYAI think he's reluctant to negotiate this exile because, you know, while we have historical examples when leaders who left and negotiated exile were later killed somehow in their house so that's how I think as far as he -- as long as he has some troops to protect him in his palace, he prefers this to any other solution.
REHMAll right, to St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Lilani.
MUMTAZ LILANIHey, good morning Mumtaz Lilani here. When I got lucky to get through, we were talking about Afghanistan and we had three, four different topics, but let's start with Afghanistan. The problem is that, you see, Afghanistan, Pakistan are corrupted countries. Karzai's brother has been a drug lord. All they are doing is milking America.
MUMTAZ LILANINo matter how much you want to do there I don't think the situation will be ever getting better because of the corruption from top to bottom.
MOZGOVAYAI'm not sure they are the problem. I think they're sort of a symptom of the problem because the corruption there is so widespread that it's. It exists on the bottom also and goes all the way to the top we may see. So removing any of those, you know, somehow I don't think it would solve the problem even, you know, if the people would do it.
KITFIELDYou know, I heard our former ambassador to Afghanistan, James Dobbins, talk this week and his. He made a point that, you know, corruption is, a certain level of corruption is endemic in that whole region in governments.
KITFIELDHis worry, 2014 when we're pulling out of Afghanistan they're having presidential elections. Karzai basically has extended his influence through a patronage system that goes throughout the country. You know, it gets warlords on his side by giving them certain amounts of patronage that we would consider corruption.
KITFIELDWithout that, the government institutions in Kaboul that probably don't have the power to sort of exert the government's control throughout the country so, you know, we have to be. We have to be very careful about looking at the way their government operates and say, you know, it should be us with an IG in every ministry etc.
KITFIELDThat's not the way governments in that part of the world have worked and you know, ironically it might be that the next president doesn't have the patronage system that we consider corruption that may make him weaker than Karzai.
KUBEI truly, you know I spent a bit of time in Afghanistan this fall and the one thing that I found was the people seem, that I spoke to, seem to be less concerned with what we consider to be cronyism or you know, corruption and more concerned with the government just providing them with the essential services. That's all they really want.
KUBEYou know, it's very easy for us to sit back and say that you know this corruption that is so endemic in the government right now and that the U.S. and NATO are not going to drive out any time soon. It's very easy for us to sit back here and criticize it but the people really are more concerned with just the government, with the government providing them some ability to trust them.
MOZGOVAYAMaybe we should mention that maybe one of the biggest problems besides corruption is violence because I'm personally scared for the women on the day after the U.S. troops leave and the day after the agreement with the Taliban will be signed because it's obviously not on the top of their agenda for any participant at the table there.
KUBENot just even the women, but all of the people especially those in the rural communities who backed the coalition, who backed the government. I mean, I think there's also this notion that right now the country is very safe, is safe because there are troops everywhere.
KUBEThere were 20,000 Marines in Helmand, but there are still areas in northern Helmand that are controlled by the Taliban and they will be controlled. There's no changing that. The Marines are not going to go up there and, you know, with all due respect to the Afghan security forces, they're not going to root the Taliban out of there.
REHMHere's an email from Dennis in North Carolina who wants to know how many non-military personnel are in Afghanistan. I presume he means U.S.
KITFIELDTens of thousands, I don’t know the exact number but it used to be I think, above 100,000 but I think now we're down to tens of thousands but you know, there are huge numbers of U.S., you know, people who are doing de-mining operations, who are working reconstruction projects, who are providing security, private security contractors still to a certain degree.
KITFIELDSo there are tens of thousands and they are, you know, if we go to a zero option, if we don't have a residual U.S. force, it has been suggested that maybe you know, private contractors could do it, you know, some of that work. They'll do it at a higher cost and they'll do it less efficiently.
REHMLet's talk a little bit about Egypt with President Morsi reshuffling his cabinet. Why did he do that Courtney?
KUBEWell, frankly it's seemingly the further Brotherhood-ization of Egypt at this point. He put in ten new. He installed or swore in ten new ministers on Sunday. Three of them were loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood. And the two that were seemingly the most critical at first were the finance minister and interior.
KUBEThe finance because Egypt's economy is, has been in a downfall now for several months. Their pound is greatly devalued. They're losing their foreign reserves of money that they had. And then security, there's been a security problem there for months as well.
KUBESo he puts in this new interior minister who vows right from the beginning that he's going to crack down and that what sounds to be like he's going to go back to more of a police state that we saw under Mubarak. So that's somewhat concerning.
KUBEWhat was a little bit less reported and what I found fascinating was this new minister of local development who was installed. He's also a Muslim Brotherhood. He has the authority under this Egyptian constitution to appoint new governors and there are media there already saying that there's going to be. He's already chosen eight new governors who are all Brotherhood, who are going to be appointed around the country.
KUBESo I mean, think about that. It's like the slow creep of Muslim Brotherhood leadership all throughout the nation.
MOZGOVAYAWell, I don't think anyone should be surprised. I mean they were the only organized power so they're solidifying their power there. The only paradox, I think, in this is that now they're trying to negotiate $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund and they're trying to revive among other things their tourist industry.
MOZGOVAYABut I think by appointing more Muslim Brotherhood ministers, that irk many people in the West because people are wary of what agenda they're bringing.
REHMSo how likely are they to get that IMF package?
MOZGOVAYAWell, I guess they will because otherwise the economy will collapse. They actually delayed these negotiations in order to get their domestic policy somehow in order because they need to pass some sort of austerity measures as part of the package. So they're trying to solve internal problems, but I'm not sure that these appointments will encourage at least Western tourism.
KITFIELDYou know, at every step and I am slightly surprised by Morsi because he, you know, in negotiating the peace between Israel and the Hamas in Gaza, I mean, he's shown at certain times that he can reach beyond his base and actually do things that make Egyptians as a whole people proud.
KITFIELDBut more recently and every time that he feels his back is against the wall, he has attended to his Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi base at the expense of sort of uniting the Egyptian people. We saw it during the constitution, you know, debate where he pulled all powers to himself and there were riots in the streets and he kind of backed down halfway.
KITFIELDWe see it again with this and this does not bode well for him. It doesn't bode well for Egypt because this just makes the opposition, the secularists, the Christians, everyone else besides the Islamists feel that he's highjacking the revolution and at some point that's going to come to the fore because they did not lead this revolution.
REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Santiago, who is in Kalamazoo, Mich. Good morning to you.
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
SANTIAGOI have a question about the criteria that's used to determine which insurgents are supported against which authoritarian foreign governments or foreign-supported governments, excuse me. Because it seems to me that the same criteria that is used to support the insurgents in Syria could also be used to support the Kurds in Turkey, could also be used to support the peasants in Columbia against the authoritarian government there or could be used to support the Zapatistas in Mexico.
KUBEYeah, Santiago, I think the one point that you have to keep in mind is that it's really dangerous to compare an insurgency in one nation or a fight in one nation to any other. There's really no two that are the same. Something like the PKK, the Kurdish Workers Party, you know, the U.S. and the European Union have deemed them a terrorist organization.
KUBESo I don't think that they necessarily would fall under the same guidelines of someone like some of the opposition that the U.S. and much of Europe have now recognized in the Syrian opposition. So you can't necessarily, it's sort of apples and oranges, but you do bring up a good point about the Syrian opposition which is, you know, again, we've been talking about this for several years now, it continues to be somewhat fractured and there are still these extremist elements that are by far, they're nowhere near under control of the mainline opposition and they're certainly not supported by the U.S.
REHMAnd finally to Mohammed here in Washington, you're on the air.
MOHAMMEDMy comment is the Cold War is not over. All of these wars that are going on in the world are still between Russia and the United States.
KITFIELDOh, I disagree with that. I mean, Russia is a much diminished power and its influence, as we've seen, has been almost nil except for to sort of be a recalcitrant power in backing Assad. What's happened in the Middle East with the Arab Spring I don't think is necessarily a cold war hangover.
KITFIELDIt's something new and different. And it has to do with the fact that these are all authoritarian regimes who for a very long time have kept their boot on the people in very stagnant societies in a world where everyone can see what everyone else is doing. The Arabs were eventually going to do what the Eastern Europeans did and everyone else which is say, I'm sick of this.
MOZGOVAYAYeah, but there is some heritage of course to the Cold War, but Afghanistan, I think, it's the best example when we think about the U.S. support of the mujahedeen in the -- it's a long story, but it still goes on, although the players obviously have changed.
REHMNatasha Mozgovaya, former Washington bureau chief for Haaretz newspaper, James Kitfield of National Journal, Courtney Kube of NBC News. I want to let our listeners know that on Sunday at 2:00 p.m., I do intend to rebroadcast an interview with my dear friend Jane Holmes Dixon, the second woman who was consecrated Bishop in the Episcopal Church.
REHMShe died on Christmas Day very suddenly. She had been a friend for 45 years, someone I was very close to and someone our listeners know quite well. So if you cannot tune in to WAMU on radio, you can listen online at drshow.org. Have a great weekend everybody. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
President Barack Obama lifts the embargo against U.S. arms sales to Vietnam. We discuss what closer ties between the U.S. and Vietnam mean for trade, leverage on human rights and growing concerns over China's military expansion.
Mary Chapin Carpenter joins Diane to talk about her new album, the "artistic insight of middle age" and rewriting her life story in new ways.
Now that only three major candidates remain in the 2016 race for the White House, attention turns to the details of their policy proposals. Where the presidential candidates stand on key issues like job creation, healthcare, taxes and education.