The ebola epidemic in West Africa is not just a health care crisis. It has affected every corner of society in the countries most affected. Schools have been closed for months, infrastructure projects have been put on hold and GDP growth has slowed to a crawl. A discussion of the social and economic cost of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Conservatives lose ground in Israeli elections. The U.S. provides support to France in Mali. And Britain’s prime minister promises an EU membership vote. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Nadia Bilbassy senior U.S. correspondent for MBC TV -- Middle East Broadcast Center.
- Nathan Guttman Washington correspondent for Channel 1 Israeli News and The Jewish Daily Forward.
- Thom Shanker Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times and co-author of "Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda."
This video illustrates the suffering of Syrian kids in refugee camps in Adlib.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Secretary of State Clinton faced Congress over the Benghazi attack. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu lost ground in national elections. Syria's government invited refugees to return home. And North Korea threatens the U.S. Joining me for the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Thom Shanker of The New York Times, Nadia Bilbassy of MBC TV and Nathan Guttman of Channel One Israeli News and The Jewish Daily Forward.
MS. DIANE REHMDo join us. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, good morning to you.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYGood morning, Diane.
MR. THOM SHANKERGood morning.
MR. NATHAN GUTTMANGood morning.
REHMGood to see you all. Nathan, you had Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suffering in the national elections. What happened?
GUTTMANWell, a few things happened and all of them managed to surprise the pollsters and the analysts. Basically, the Israeli public chose to go with a centrist, non-political party, basically. And Netanyahu still emerged as the head of the largest party and he will still be Israel's next prime minister, but he was weakened by these elections mainly because many Israeli's chose to go for centrist parties. And the second largest party is a party called Yesh Atid, we have a future, led by a TV personality named Yair Lapid who, basically, came from nowhere and was unknown before.
GUTTMANAnd there was actually a strong sentiment from the Israeli public that they're kind of sick and tired with their politicians and they're looking for some new faces, new voices. Even if they don't have a new ideology, they're looking for something fresh in Israeli politics.
REHMSo you're saying that the pundits are saying people are tired of Netanyahu.
GUTTMANRight. Of Netanyahu and all the other politics as usual because also the Labor party that used to be, in the past at least, the biggest opposition, they came out fairly weak. And the Kadima party, that just three or four years ago was one of the hopes of the Israeli opposition, was pretty much wiped out. So definitely there is an attempt here to look for other issues and for other personalities.
GUTTMANA lot of talk about economy, about social issues, less about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
REHMSo who is Lapid?
GUTTMANWell, Yair Lapid, he is the head of this new party. Most Israeli's know him and like him because he was the host of the most popular talk show on Israeli TV and he had a very popular weekly column in a popular newspaper. He is the son of a former politician, Yosef Lapid, who also started a centrist party two decades ago and was considered, for awhile, Israel's centrist hope. And basically, what Yair Lapid is calling for is more social justice, but not in the sense that we would think of, more in help for the Israeli middleclass and a lot of talk about sharing the burden between Israelis, which is basically a code word for, let's get the ultra-orthodox to join the military.
GUTTMANNowadays, a great part of the Israeli society, the ultra-orthodox, do not serve in the army and his main idea is to get them all in there.
SHANKERIt's interesting, Diane. Americans always have sort of a character flaw, that whatever happens around the world we ask, what's in it for us? Well, I think that's a fair question today. And it's no secret that Netanyahu and President Obama have not had the warmest of relationships. The alliance is, of course, strong, but Netanyahu has done things, whether it's settlements and the construction of new settlements or his rhetoric on Iran, but has bothered the Obama White House. And it would be very interesting to see whether Netanyahu, in a weakened state, becomes a partner with whom Obama can work more easily.
REHMWhat could these elections mean for the Palestinians, Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, it depends on the formation of the government. Now, Netanyahu who has a task of trying to bring different coalitions. If he decided to go with center left, with Kadima, with Labor, with this new party Yesh Atid, maybe he has a chance because actually some of them actually promote the idea of negotiation with the Palestinians and establishment of a Palestinian State. If he decided to go with the right wingers, including this new phenomenon that we haven't talked about, this guy Naftali Bennett--who also managed somehow to be a charismatic leader for the new religious right.
BILBASSYHe turned an old party called the National Religious party into a new party called the Jewish Home and basically managed to get 11 seats in the new Knesset. So he also was a counterbalance to Netanyahu and to Israel (unintelligible) by a Labor man. So if Netanyahu goes that way and excluded the religious right, which is Shas and others, who always hold the government at ransom of demanding so many things from him, decided to go with the right wing, then probably we're not going to see the negotiation going any further.
REHMSo, Nathan, how do you see Netanyahu moving?
GUTTMANWell, he has a few weeks to maneuver now. It's a different political system so it's always hard to explain that even though elections are over we still don't know exactly what the next government is going to look like. But basically he has, as Nadia was saying, the option of forming sort of a centrist government with Yair Lapid. Labor would probably be outside, but Kadima, Tzipi Livni might join in. So he could have a centrist government. He could have a government that will be governed with Yari Lapid and Bennett from the right, but without the ultra-orthodox parties or he could shift to the right once again.
GUTTMANBut I think overall, even though there was this call from Israeli's to support this rallying behind centrist parties, it still doesn't mean that these parties are pro-peace process. They probably support a two-state solution, but no one really has a drive for it right now.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about Syria and Syria's government telling its citizens, whether they were pro or anti of the government itself, to come back home. What's going on, Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, I just got back, actually, from Northern Syria. And what we see on television screens and we hear on the airwaves is just the tip of the iceberg. The suffering of hundreds of thousands of Syrian displaced, almost two million in refugee camps is just unbelievable. I have seen children who are running around in freezing conditions in open sandals with no sanitation. There is not enough food. They're living in tents. And all in perspective, the ones who live in refugee camps in Turkey are better off than the one in Jordan. The one who lives inside Syria in abandoned schools are better than the one who lives in refugee camps.
BILBASSYThe children are emotionally scarred by what they have seen, rockets falling into the backyards of their homes. I've seen a 12-year-old kid who I actually met on the border, who's working in a cafe. His father and his elder brother probably working for the free Syrian army left behind in Syria. He's earning $2 a day to help 15 members of his family who fled the border because of the rocket attacks on them. And all these conditions, I have not seen many aid organizations working on the ground in the Idlib province.
BILBASSYAlso they are at the mercy of the bombardment from air from the Syrian Air Force. A week before we arrived into that area it was bombed. Many refugees also were killed. In addition to that there is no hospitals. It's what they call makeshift hospitals. It's basically a garage that's been abandoned, a warehouse. It's not enough facilities. I saw this young man whose image actually stayed in my head for two days. He had a gushing wound into his head. He was brought to this so-called makeshift hospital and they have nothing. They have syringes, no gloves. They were screaming and shouting trying to save his life.
BILBASSYAnd if he is lucky he will be driven 20 or 30 kilometers to the Turkish border. He will make it to the hospital, if not he will bleed to death.
REHMAnd, Nathan, are opposition leaders showing any signs of wanting to talk?
GUTTMANWe didn't see anything like that right now. And in terms of even after the formation of the Syrian Opposition Coalition. It is seen more as a vehicle of discussing with the West than actually engaging with the Assad government. And so basically I don't think that is where it is heading right now. But I think the international focus is mainly on the issue of refugees, as we heard. And the questions are just what is the capacity of Jordan and of Turkey to absorb these massive amounts of refugees?
GUTTMANIt is clear that the U.N. would like them to keep borders open and to allow a flow of refugees, but will the regime in Jordan really allow hundreds of thousands of Syrians in? I'm not sure.
REHMAnd before we leave that part of the world, let's talk about Jordan. For the first time, international monitors were allowed to observe their elections. What did they find, Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, this is the first election since the Arab Spring. And this is a response to the King's reform that he started in October, basically trying to open up the system. What we have seen, actually, is he made some concessions. Number one is he allowed an independent commission for the election. So it's no longer the minister of interior. But the largest opposition block, which is the Islamic Action Front, which is the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, boycotted it, saying there's no point of having a parliament that has no authority, it has absolutely no legitimacy and the King still has so much power.
BILBASSYHe can appoint the prime minister, he can dismiss the parliament, he can…
REHMSo a high stakes for him.
BILBASSYCompletely, but at the same time, some people are saying well, we better have an election and you can debate things within the parliament as opposed to debate them in the street. So they're trying to open up a little bit, but many of the opposition leaders are saying it's too slow, it's very shallow, it's not meeting the minimum demands of what the Jordanians want.
REHMSo how is King Abdullah himself responding to these pressures?
BILBASSYWell, I mean, basically, the main riots that we have seen awhile ago, that three Jordanians were killed, it was a result of the government and the king removing subsidies from main food items and fuel that led to the riots. And for the first time ever, then, you hear Jordanians or (word?) not Palestinians who are openly critical of the king, that they even blame him for these economic problems. So he is responding, but some people saying it's not enough.
BILBASSYAnd he's still considering the rest of the monarchy in the Arab world. Among the sea of change in the Arab Spring, he is doing okay, but I think generally the writing is on the wall and they have to act very quickly. There's so much corruption in Jordan. And the gerrymandering of the system basically benefits tribal leaders and independent business people.
REHMNadia Bilbassy, she's senior U.S. correspondent for Middle East Broadcast Center. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, we'll turn to North Korea.
REHMAnd before we leave those Israeli elections we have Nathan Guttman, Washington correspondent for Channel 1 Israeli News and the Jewish Daily Forward. Nadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Center, Thom Shanker, Pentagon correspondent for the New York Times and author -- coauthor of "Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda.
REHMHere is an email from Donald in Corpus Christi, Texas who says, "Once again the result of a close election in Israel forces the creation of a coalition government. Once again the left comes close, but refuses to consider adding Arab parties to form a government. The marginalization of 20 percent of Israel's population goes without notice in the U.S." Nathan.
GUTTMANWell, I definitely agree but we should note that even if the centralist left block would work with Arab parties, they still wouldn't have the 61 seats needed to form a government. But the fact is that in Israeli politics in general, this block of ten, fifteen seats in the Knesset that represent Arab parties are not usually considered part of the coalition. The only leader who tried to break this tradition was (word?) who relied on the Arab voting block and informed the government.
GUTTMANBut ever since, they are considered to be outcast in a certain way and they're not part of the Israeli political system for that matter. And it's definitely a significant flaw. We saw that the (unintelligible) we mentioned before, when he was asked about this issue, he basically said, I'm not going to sit in a government with them. It is clear that that is not what the people wanted.
REHMAll right. Let's turn to North Korea, Thom Shanker. The White House said yesterday North Korea's plan to conduct a third nuclear test was needlessly provocative and would only serve to increase that country's isolation. What do we know about the plan?
SHANKERWell, there is intelligence showing preparations for a nuclear test. They're underground. You can't see them per say but they move in cables, electronic equipment and all of that. But as one of my best intelligence sources said to me, the U.S. has correctly predicted all 12 of their past two tests. So, you know, we really don't know what we don't know except that North Korea, Diane, remains perhaps the most dangerous place on earth. The third generation of the family of dictators, this one Kim Jong-un has been in for a year and a month now.
SHANKERWhen he arrived on the scene people had some hope. He was younger, educated in Switzerland, attractive young wife. They were in public going to amusement parks. He spoke of economic reform. But if you look at his track record just recently, last month, as all of your listeners know, they had a missile test that was purportedly to put a satellite in orbit. The satellite, size of a refrigerator, tumbled out of orbit. And so the first assessment was that it was a failure, which is clear that that test was really about not satellites, but could they push a warhead toward the U.S. And what they proved that they could do is hit a U.S. territory, Alaska, Hawaii, that sort of thing.
SHANKERMy colleague David Sanger had a story in recent days about the Intelligence Community seeing a new mobile missile, the KN08 which is not being tested on deployment, on these carriers moving around in North Korea. So he's clearly taking a provocative stance toward the U.S.
SHANKERWell, he may be trying to consolidate his leadership with the military by doing what they want. He may be trying to make sure that the U.S. and China notice him and pay him respect. And he might try to barter some of these threats into economic aid. So in other words, the threat of him conducting a nuclear test may, in the end, get him more money.
REHMHe's trying to settle accounts with the U.S.
SHANKERNot settle accounts but outside aid, have sanctions lifted. In other words, for him to be in a position of strength the country is closed. The country is bankrupt. He has nothing to offer the U.S. for lifting embargos, for economic aid from China except threaten bad behavior and then not carry through with that behavior. That's all he can offer.
REHMWhat kind of influence does China have over what North Korea's doing, Nathan?
GUTTMANWell, China's probably the main player in this game because if there is one nation in the world that actually has some influence it's China because China is North Korea's economic lifeline. And I think we've seen an interesting evolution here, evolution regarding the Chinese view. They tend to take a backseat in negations with North Korea but now they're actually moving to the front and saying -- speaking out against this nuclear test, joining the United States and taking a more active role in the...
REHMBut how has North Korea reacted to that?
GUTTMANWell, in a typical North Korean way. Now they're threatening South Korea so definitely that's part of the dynamics in the region. But the fact that China does seem to be moving on this issue could actually be a game changer.
BILBASSYBut it seems easier for the young Un to threaten the United States instead of starting an economic reform in his own country. And as a result of this as well, we're not going to see any time talks that started long, long time ago with the six party talks. We're not going to see the concept of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. He's trying to show as, you know, Michael has just said, flex muscles maybe to show to the military that he's following in the footstep of his father and his grandfather.
BILBASSYHe's not the new person that we hoped that we will have. And it's always easy to do it. Now they will take this -- the Pentagon will take this threat seriously but everybody knows that they won't be able to do it because the technology, they're still far away from producing anything that will have a nuclear warhead that can threaten the U.S.
REHMIs that true, Thom Shanker?
SHANKERThe North Koreans had one nuclear test that was a dud. The second seemed to be effective. But as Nadia was saying, what they don't have is the capability to miniaturize a nuclear device to go on top of a missile. And that's the same question about Iran and others. You can have technology, you can have know-how but unless you can weaponize it, Diane, it doesn't do you any good.
SHANKERMy only follow-up thought about China, even just today in meeting with American diplomats, China was very forceful in warning North Korea not to conduct this next test. I hate to be a glass-half-empty guy but what china says at the podium with the U.S. diplomat isn't what matters. It's what China is telling privately to North Korea. And we simply don't know whether they're giving them a wink and a nod or whether they're giving them the same tough message.
REHMHere's an email from Tim in Michigan -- pardon me -- who says, "Do your guests acknowledge that North Korea has a strong incentive to develop their nuclear weaponry to deter a future U.S. attack following our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but our reluctance to invade Pakistan?" Nathan.
GUTTMANI don't think there's any evidence to support the idea that the U.S. is threatening North Korea in any way. And I think North Korea's nuclear program and it's threats on the region started way, way before these American invasions. So, I mean, I'm sure that in their own internal logic maybe that's the way people in Pyongyang see this but I don't think there is evidence to support it.
REHMDo you agree?
BILBASSYOh, I agree entirely. I think -- and also, I mean, who says that the U.S. was going to invade Pakistan? I mean, just because it has nuclear weapon as a deterrent, yes it used to be during the Cold War as a deterrent but I cannot see it now. Certain wars were imposed. Certain wars have been fought, as the case in Iraq, for different reasons. But I do not really see the United States threatening nuclear war against North Korea.
REHMAll right. Thom Shanker, let's talk about the world economic forum in Davos where British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke about plans to renegotiate Britain's position in the EU. What's he talking about?
SHANKERWell, this is a terrifying prospect, especially for Germany and France. The British Prime Minister is proposing perhaps even a referendum in Britain to withdraw from parts of the Union or the entire thing.
REHMParts, what does that mean?
SHANKERWell, there are all of these economic ties. There's all these legislative ties. France and Germany, Diane, have taken your point. They say you can't cherry pick. You're either all in -- not in the Paula Broadwell sense but in the diplomatic economic sense -- or you're out. The problem is that the British public hasn't seen, to their mind, a lot of benefit of the European Union. You have the economic collapse in some countries, you have unemployment. And especially for Prime Minister Cameron, he has to defend himself domestically against sort of a right wing anti-continent movement.
SHANKERAnd so this plays out both as logic and as domestic politics.
REHMSo what's the reaction among Brits?
BILBASSYWell, I mean, basically the prime minister is saying that -- or some people are saying that he's trying to appease the conservative within his own party, as Thom just said. But already we heard from labor and liberal democrat leaders who's saying that this is dangerous. This is against British national interests. Because what the prime minister was proposing is not to do it now, this so called referendum to go to the British people, but after next election.
BILBASSYSo you can imagine the uncertainty between now for a few years whether Britain will stay within the EU or whether they're going to withdraw. And as the French foreign minister said, this is not an ala carte menu. You cannot just choose certain things. And together we are united. European Union has to stay together. It will be really ridiculous for the UK to withdraw.
GUTTMANOf course in Germany, which has emerged a while ago as the main force in the EU and in the euro zone, Chancellor Merkel is again actually leading in the case here. And she's trying to -- in a certain way to show some understanding to Cameron's political needs and to the British people, while at the same time making clear that there's really not too much room for negotiations. She made a few public statements basically saying we're willing to talk about this, we'll negotiate a little.
GUTTMANBut it's a long way down the road and there doesn't seem to be too much willingness on the European side to actually renegotiate the European Union.
REHMAnd what could all this mean for the U.S., Thom Shanker?
SHANKERWell, you know, the EU is actually the largest trading partner of the U.S. as a group. And so to the extent that the European economies are in chaos or there's uncertainty, I mean, money doesn't like risk. And that could be bad for our economy.
REHMNow I have to take you back and ask you why you brought in the name Paula Broadwell.
SHANKERWell, the phrase "all in" is sort of becoming a bumper sticker around the Pentagon, Diane. And it's a wonderful phrase in its truest meaning but it was a rather unfortunate title for a biography.
REHMIrresistible, all right. But let's talk in that vein about General Allen.
SHANKERWell, that was a wonderful segue, very definitely done, Diane. General Allen, who's a four-star Marine commander, he's the top commander in Afghanistan, kind of became a sideshow of the General Petraeus, Paula Broadwell situation. The emails that came to light included some that appeared to threaten a Tampa socialite Jill Kelley to stay away from Petraeus. As the FBI looked at all this email train they found an unusual number, as well, from General Allen to the same Tampa socialite. Now...
REHMTo Jill Kelley.
SHANKERTo the Tampa -- yes, Jill Kelley, the socialite. So the Defense Department General Counsel, in an environment of great uncertainty about General Officer Ethos (sp?) , recommended to the Defense Secretary that the Pentagon inspector general launch an inquiry into General Allen. He always maintained his innocence. He said that it was a friendship. There was nothing out of line. There was no compromise of secrecy.
SHANKERAnd just this week, Diane, the Pentagon inspector general affirmed that saying they found no conduct unbecoming an officer in the emails.
REHMSo what's that going to mean for his previous nomination as NATO commander?
SHANKERRight. After waiting 24 hours to see whether he would retire, be re-nominated, the White House made it official, they are going ahead and pushing General Allen to become the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Nadia.
BILBASSYI just wanted to add two things. Number one is adultery is a crime that is punishable under the uniform code of military justice. So if he were found guilty that would've been a serious thing, as just not the case of General Petraeus of resigning. And second is -- and I want to ask you, Thom, this question. If he was finally cleared, as the case, he -- according to the FBI they seized 20,000 to 30,000 emails. How on earth a general who's fighting a war in Afghanistan have the time to write this amount of emails to a socialite in Tampa? It's not his superior, it's not to the White House, you know.
REHMIt's a good question, Nadia.
BILBASSYCan you tell me?
SHANKERSure. I mean, it really is a wonderful question, Nadia. Thank you. It partly goes to the problems of the investigative process. And just because we journalists have to carry our burden we also misreported it. It wasn't 20 or 30,000 emails. It was 20 or 30,000 pages of documents. Now we've all sent emails that have a one word answer on top of a long chain of other emails. So it wasn't 20,000 emails.
REHMHave you seen any of these emails?
SHANKERWe've been asking for them, Diane. And what the press officers for the inspector general say is that because General Allen was cleared of wrong doing, the emails do not have to be made public because they were private communications. Now the bigger question -- and this is one I've discussed with a lot of general officers, is how come you guys spend so much time on the town?
SHANKERNow they talk about community relations. Tampa is home of two of the most important military commands, Central Command and Special Operations Command. And these officers view it as part of their duties, not just to run their headquarters and kill bad guys, but to weave the military in the community. General Allen's response was that he answers emails from the public between midnight and 2:00. That's his time. But I think that a lot of general officers are going to be examining their relations with private citizens after this incident. So you're raising a fabulous issue.
REHMSo do you think this is now over and done with, Thom?
SHANKERI think it's over and done with unless the language of the emails leak. I mean, not that, you know, to say where there's smoke there's fire, because General Allen's been cleared. The investigators did a thorough scrub, but one has to ask -- you know, Pentagon lawyers are, you know, smart guys. What did they see in these emails initially that prompted them to recommend a referral?
GUTTMANAnd also even though he was cleared of course, and he's probably moving on, there's this public image that remains in the minds of the American people and the entire world, which is what exactly are these generals doing? And when do they have time, even between midnight and 2:00 am to send emails? How significant is this engagement with the community in their lives? We suddenly learn of the role of socialites in the lives of generals.
GUTTMANSo of course General Allen, in a sense, is getting a bad rap because of the Petraeus affair. But still I think for public perception that there still needs to be some kind of clearing out -- clearing the air and explaining exactly what went on.
REHMOne last question here. Do you think that General Petraeus' public life is over?
REHMWhat do you think could be next for him?
SHANKERWell, General Petraeus is, without a doubt, a terrific intellect -- also General Allen as well. You know, separating the email scandal he has an absolutely unblemished career as a general officer. We just need to put that out there as well. Petraeus is bright, academics, think tanks, business. General Petraeus will return.
REHMTom Shanker, Pentagon correspondent for the New York Times. Short break. When we come back, your calls and comments.
REHMAnd let's go right to the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Overland Park, Kan., good morning to you, Ely.
ELYGood morning and thanks for taking my call.
ELYI had a comment. I wanted to compare the -- I live in the United States and am an American citizen and a Republican as well. I wanted to compare the Likud to the Republican. I believe that the Israeli Likud made a big mistake in not looking at the American elections and looking how the Republicans failed.
ELYI believe it had to do with a lot of negative ads and a lot of unintelligent comments that the Republicans made and their media was very unintelligent and I cannot even listen to them as well as I'm a Republican. And I would have voted Likud if I was in Israel and usually -- but this time I actually would have voted for the HaBayit Ha Yehudi, the Jewish Home Party because when you do negative ads, you show the public that you kind of -- you show them like they're stupid and they're unintelligent.
ELYAnd I believe that this called, people just looked at the ads and felt, what are we, stupid? So I believe the biggest fall of the Republican and the Likud compared is they're not updated to the -- people don't only look at ads. They look at many more stuff and they're interested and they read.
REHMInteresting. All right, thanks for your call. Nathan?
GUTTMANI think that many people try to make this equation between the Likud and the Republican Party and in certain senses there are lines of similarity, especially with the Republican Party we see nowadays in terms of foreign policy being a little more hawkish.
GUTTMANOn economic policy, I'm not sure the Likud is really behind this kind of a conservative economic agenda as the Republican Party is. Netanyahu definitely is, but I don't think all his constituency in all his party is. And definitely Netanyahu was in a very tough election and he was in a difficult position because his party has shifted to the right and he tried to prove to the Israeli public that he still is some kind of a centrist. And basically he lost votes to the center and to the right because he couldn't do either of them.
REHMBut you know speaking of the Republican Party and speaking of conservative economic policy look at what's happening in Britain under David Cameron?
SHANKERThat's exactly right and you know, all elections to a certain extent are a nation asking itself, who am I? Who are we? And you look at the, you know, most recent American presidential election, the reaction to Obama's inauguration speech. It becomes a national, raw shock.
SHANKERAnd one thing that your caller touched on so well is when you deal with these issues, you have to not just vote for your nation, but you have to say, what kind of person am I?
BILBASSYActually, strangely enough, this was Yair Lapid who won the 19 seats. He wrote an article in Yediot Achronot, an Israeli newspaper, saying who are we as Israelis? We need to identify ourselves and because he managed to identify himself he probably won with this new message, so I think Thom was right to the point.
REHMAnd Nadia, certainly right now people in India are asking the same question. Who are we? This horrendous rape of a young woman, the arrest of several men apparently involved in the action and yet the police apparently themselves are somewhat to blame.
BILBASSYWell, absolutely, let's start by -- apparently New Delhi is the rape capital of India. And it is very sad, considering one of the greatest democracies in the world is unable to protect half of its own population.
BILBASSYWomen feel very unsafe walking in the streets. The police are very under-funded. Very often, they don't take the rape crime seriously. The tribal, rural areas will force women to marry their rapists so Indian women are now forced into taking action into their hands.
BILBASSYBasically, they are going to martial arts classes. They are carrying spray. They are actually booking cabs with women drivers. They are trying to avoid areas where it's isolated. It is, I mean, this is citizen initiative. Where is the state? Where is the government? Where is the parliament?
REHMWhat is the underlying factor? It sounds to me as though there's tremendous anger on the part of men toward women and that's how they act out their anger.
BILBASSYI don't know, actually. I mean, we need a psychologist trying to interpret why people do rape and why they do gang rape and why they go to the extent of torturing their victims as the case of this young woman who died in the hospital after she was gang-raped in front of her boyfriend. And then they were using iron rods to torture her. It was horrific.
BILBASSYAnd how come there's not much outrage? I mean, there have been organized women's groups who went to the streets demanding a stronger legislation in the parliament, demanding that India should do much more. But so far, we have not seen it. Maybe because, I don't know, it's a huge country, just billions of people and it's not enough police forces in the street.
BILBASSYBut it has to be the culture, Diane, if something like this is condoned. Very often women are blamed because they said, they're wearing the short skirt. Maybe they looked at the men in a different way. And also it's often used as a weapon in wars.
BILBASSYI mean, the State Department, for example, Secretary Clinton and many in the State Department are trying to criminalize it in the Congo, for example, and to consider it a war crime as, Thom, we were talking before. It was used in ex-Yugoslavia and as a weapon against the civilian population.
BILBASSYIn Syria now, I was hearing of cases of rape against civilians. So basically, the weak -- the stronger party will use it to terrorize the weaker party, whether it's a civilian population or women, but I think something has to be done seriously and this topic needs to be taken seriously by the international community, not just by India.
REHMAnd the question is reforms have been called for before. Is this case, Nathan, in your view, different?
GUTTMANWell, it did seem to start a new discussion or to add some more energy to the cause that we've seen in the past and there's a new panel that's calling for tougher legislation and new legislation, in a sense also focusing, for the first time, on the police force and making sure that police do treat these claims seriously and do not dismiss them because that apparently was a great part of the problem.
GUTTMANAnd at the same time, we also see this self-organization of women. I saw a report that in Mumbai women are taking chili powder and kitchen knives when they go out just to deter attackers. So I think maybe these two elements together, some kind of government movement and some kind of organization on the ground could possibly lead to a change.
REHMAll right, to Mark in Middletown, Fla. Hi there.
MARKYes, thank you for taking my call, Diane.
MARKIt's been reported in most of the American press that this election in Israel has been moved more towards the moderate, but some of the 11 seats that were lost, were lost to a far-right party that does not want to negotiate with Palestinians whatsoever and that hasn't been reported here.
GUTTMANWell, definitely, I think Nadia actually mentioned the fact that there is a new right-wing party that emerged, the Jewish Home Party, HaBayit Ha Yehudi, that gained a lot of power and it's 11 actually, the final vote given, the final count given 12 seats in the Knesset so there is a shift to the right.
GUTTMANAnd another thing that's important to remember that in this new politics that's emerging in Israel, centrist doesn't necessarily mean moderate and parties like the party of Yair Lapid are definitely centrist, but they're not moderate in the sense of being a pro two-state solution party.
GUTTMANThey probably will support HaBayit Ha Yehudi, but it's not topping their agenda. So they will gladly be a partner to any kind of move towards peace, but they're not going to make that a number one issue for them.
REHMHere's an email from Mao in East Alstead, N.H., who says, "I've been waiting to hear what's happened to the Tuaregs since their independence movement in northern Mali was co-opted by the jihadists. No one seems to mention them. Can you enlighten us?" Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, the Tuareg case goes back to the '60s. They live in that part of northern Mali which borders Algeria and Mauretania and very often the central government marginalized these people. Whether it's the nomads, Arabs or Tuaregs, they are out of everything that the state has to offer, although a country like Mali is extremely poor so it's not much really to offer.
BILBASSYSo they have been asking for some kind of independence since the '60s. And they stopped for a while. The movement was quiet and then it was re-emerged again in the '90s. And now because of what happened as a result of the Arab Spring when Libya -- when Colonel Gaddafi's government collapsed. then the borders are wide open and nobody can monitor them so it was very easy to have a flow of arms coming across from Libya.
BILBASSYAnd we heard this from the testimony of Secretary Clinton saying actually that weapons used in the attack on Aminas in Algeria on this gas plant was used -- came from Libya. So now the Tuaregs teamed up with an off-shoot of al-Qaida in Maghreb and these people find the fertile ground for them to work when there is chaos.
BILBASSYSo when there are people who are demanding, who have been marginalized and demanding basic rights, so they will say, okay, we come on your side and then they use all the excesses. So they want to establish the Islamic state in northern Mali. They wanted to implement a very austere form of Sharia.
BILBASSYThey basically were cutting hands off. They were executing people. They were, even the words gang-raped I heard, which is nothing to do with Islam or Sharia altogether. So now the situation has become so serious to the degree that it's caught the attention, of course, of the United States, the French, and the British. Everybody, all of a sudden, saying, hey, northern Mali, we have to do something.
BILBASSYBut this has been festering for so long and only when a group like an off-shoot of al-Qaida or al-Qaida is starting to take hostages and causing chaos, then they're starting to act.
GUTTMANDefinitely, the Tuaregs are getting the short end of the stick because joining forces with the Islamist groups in northern Mali did not bring them the independence or the sovereignty that they were seeking beforehand and now they're on the wrong side of the war that the West is launching against in northern Mali. So definitely this didn't turn out well for them.
REHMThom Shankar, I want to ask you about Secretary Clinton's testimony yesterday on Benghazi. The question becomes, do you think the issue has now been put to rest?
SHANKERWell, I doubt it's been put to rest, but Secretary Clinton gave a very forceful presentation. No one can say that questions haven't been asked and answered. There was some accusation that she was feigning the flu to avoid testifying a week or two ago. Clearly, this is a Secretary who never avoids a fight.
SHANKERI thought it was interesting. I think, Diane, she gave a very, very strong presentation and made her case. As my colleague, Michael Gordon (sp?) who covered the hearing for us pointed out, she took responsibility, but not blame. In other words, she's the leader, she said, the buck stops here, but she also said with all these thousands of employees, diplomatic security is not something I deal with every day.
SHANKERAnd she made the very valid point as well, that Congress has cut funding for diplomatic security around the world.
REHMAnd here's a posting from Facebook from Kimo who says: ''Please point out that there have been far more attacks and deaths at U.S. embassies during previous administrations than this one, but they're never mentioned.''
SHANKERThat's certainly true. There's sort of a myth that there are Marine guards at every embassy and consulate around the world. That's simply not true. It's contractor. It's local. In fact, the local authorities have the first line of responsibility. But in a place like Libya there is just no local authority.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Amber in Plano, Tx., good morning.
AMBERGood morning, thank you for taking my call, Diane. I love your show.
REHMOh, good, thanks.
AMBERI just wanted to make a comment about the rape in India. I worked at a rape crisis center here in Texas and my job was actually to prevent these things, not only to counsel survivors, but to educate young people on the prevention of sexual assault. And we definitely are pushing for legislation both in our country and around the world about empowerment and, you know, protection of women's rights.
AMBERBut I think an important piece of prevention that I would like to raise attention to this is the education piece, you know. And we see it in our culture. We see it in other cultures that support this power and violence against women, but we also want to be educating people that women have rights and that equality is the main kind of thing that we need to be fighting for.
REHMThanks for your call, Amber. Nathan, is there a rape statistic in Israel?
GUTTMANThere probably is. I'm not sure of the numbers, but there is a problem of rape as crime, but I don't think we've seen in Israel any issues of using rape as a weapon of war or as it being more widespread than other OECD nations. I think it's a crime that is viewed seriously in Israel and should note the former president of Israel Moshe Katsav is in prison now for...
GUTTMAN...rape actually. He was accused of rape.
REHMHah, all right. And here's an email from David in Chandler, Ariz. who says: ''A moment ago, your panel dismissed as unrealistic North Korea's fears of reprisals from the U.S. But what about George W. Bush naming North Korea as one of three nations in an axis of evil that also included Iraq and Iran? Doesn't that justify a certain concern on their part?'' Thom?
SHANKERRight, it's all a matter of language. That email used the word reprisal so if North Korea were to do something bad, violent, you know, again, look, they've shelled islands, they've sunk a ship. Yes, there might be a reprisal, but there is no plan or reason for the U.S. to invade North Korea and I just reject that.
SHANKERHowever, and this is the bottom line. If you are in North Korea, if you can put yourself in that mindset, clearly you can see the value of a nuclear deterrent because if you look at how the U.S. views the world once you have the bomb, you are in a different position than if you don't. But that is sort of a psychotic way of looking at it because the U.S. has no reason or desire to invade North Korea.
GUTTMANAnd that, of course, goes back to that Iranian issue as well and that is one of the reasons people in the Middle East and mainly in Israel are so concerned about Iran's nuclear program because everyone is aware of the fact, as Thom mentioned, that once Iran does reach a point when it is like North Korea, it does have a bomb, then it is in a totally different place to negotiate, to influence and actually to set the tone for the whole region.
REHMSo you're saying that that's exactly what North Korea is aiming for?
GUTTMANFor influence, yeah, definitely for using the bomb to influence and to reach its goals, not necessarily to attack its neighbors.
REHMNathan Guttman, Washington correspondent for Channel 1 Israeli News and The Jewish Daily Forward, Nadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Center, Thom Shanker, Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times, thank you all, have a great weekend.
BILBASSYThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, I'm Diane Rehm.
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