Diane leads a discussion about the collection of stories which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
An explosion outside the U.S. embassy in Ankara kills one Turkish guard and wounds two people. U.S. intelligence officials say Al Qaeda’s affiliate in north Africa is seeking to carry out attacks on western targets in the region. Niger, which borders Mali and Algeria, agreed to host American troops and surveillance drones to keep tabs on Islamic militants. An israeli airstrike on Syrian territory drew condemnation from Iran, Hezbollah and Russia. And opponents of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi demand his overthrow after the deadliest week of his seven months in office. A panel of journalists joins Diane to discuss the week’s top international news stories.
- Susan Glasser editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine.
- Abderrahim Foukara Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic.
- Yochi Dreazen contributing editor at The Atlantic and author of a forthcoming book on military suicide.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A suicide bombing in front of the U.S. embassy in Turkey kills a guard and wounds two other people. Russia and other allies of Syrian President Assad condemn an Israeli air strike against Syria. And Hillary Clinton steps down today as Secretary of State. Here for this week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine and Yochi Dreazen of The Atlantic.
MS. DIANE REHMI hope you'll join the conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning everybody.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENGood morning, Diane.
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAMorning, Diane.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERGood morning.
REHMAnd let's start with the suicide bombing in front of the U.S. embassy in Turkey. Abderrahim, what do we know?
FOUKARAWell, we know there was a suicide bombing in which people were killed. We still don't know who exactly was behind the suicide bombing. We know there's a history of suicide bombings against Western interests in Turkey. So it could be any number of possibilities for who is behind it. It could be people tied to Syria. Obviously, the Syrians are not very happy about the attack on this Syrian side by the Israelis. It could be the Kurds. It could be just another link in a long series of targeting of Western interests by al Qaeda.
GLASSERWell, that's right. I mean Turkey, as the long list Abderrahim just gave us suggests, Turkey occupies such a strategic place and really is at the crossroads of many different stories right now. And so we'll have to wait and see, of course, who takes responsibility for this action. But there's no question in particular when it comes to the Syrian conflict. Turkey was once close allies and partners with the Assad regime next door. Erdogan, the Turkish leader, has really turned on him and over the last two years you've seen a real rift open up between these neighbors.
DREAZENYou know, it was interesting that you had no immediate claim of responsibility that you had in other previous attacks. Two things, I've spent a decent amount of time in this particular embassy. This one, while fortified, it's not nearly as much of a fortress as the embassy in Cairo or even in Amman, where getting anywhere near them requires checkpoint, checkpoint, checkpoint. It's fortified, but it's not like that. So the fact that someone from the photo, as you can see, was able to get this close to the embassy, if you visit it, it was not a huge surprise.
DREAZENThe one other thing, I think is worth mentioning, Abderrahim talked about Kurds. Over the last 10, 15, 20 years, the vast bulk of terror attacks, suicide bombings in Turkey were carried out by Kurdish separatist groups. That has fallen significantly. There is a bit of a resumption in the last year or so, but nothing compared to what it was before. That said, a Kurdish group would have no reason to attack the U.S. The U.S. is the best ally the Kurds have had probably in their history as a unified political body. But it's very interesting because attacks have happened before. They've almost always been Kurdish. Logically, this one would not be.
FOUKARAThe one thing we know for sure at this particular point in time, is that it doesn't make the task of the United States being able to operate overseas any easier. It's very interesting, for example, when Hillary Clinton spoke of the council on foreign relations yesterday. She talked about diplomacy as she has witnessed it in her four years as secretary of state, the challenges that she faces. She talked about hard power and soft power. This is just a reminder of how difficult it is for the United Sates to practice soft power.
FOUKARARemember the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked and Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador who was killed, he tried to step out of the mold of operating behind barricades. This is a reminder of the challenges that U.S. diplomacy, U.S. soft power faces.
REHMAnd Yochi, let's talk about the apparent attacks by Israel on targets inside Syria. First, do we know for sure that Israel carried out those attacks?
DREAZENI think with as much certainty as you possibly can have, given the overall kind of shadow nature of this. There's been no denial whatsoever. Publicly, obviously, Israel doesn't comment, but privately no denial coming out of Israel. For that matter, no denial coming out of the U.S. The last time there was an Israeli strike within Syria it was on a nuclear facility. There the confirmation leaked out of the U.S., not out of Israel. And there was privately fury within Israel, at how quickly it had leaked out on behalf of the U.S.
DREAZENHere there's been no denial of it whatsoever. The question about the exact target, whether Syria said it was in Damascus, whether as early reports said it was a shipment, if it was a truck shipment of some sort, that is still unclear. But that there was a strike, that it was carried out by Israel, with as much certainty as we could have from Washington, we can have that certainty.
GLASSERWell, Yochi's right. In fact, rather than any kind of denials, U.S. sources have been quoted in various news reports as saying that, in fact, they were given a heads up by Israel before the strike was carried out, which I think is significant as we're looking ahead to whatever is going to happen and play out with Iran next door to Syria. That becomes a significant question. How closely in concert, militarily, are Israel and the United States working these days when it comes to threats in the broader region and what kind of military response Israel's going to carry out. So that's number one.
GLASSERAnd that is very significant because, of course, the U.S. is engaged in intensive and so far very unsuccessful diplomacy with the Russians and with others when it comes to what are we going to do about Syria, which is a real mess. And looking ahead to this weekend, Vice President Joe Biden is going to have a conversation with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. Once again, I think as a result of this Israeli strike, Syria's going to be at the top of that agenda and not at all in a positive way.
FOUKARAOne of the interesting things about this attack is the extent to which it has stepped into the whole war for public opinion in Syria between the regime and the opposition. Because the regime is now saying that the armed rebels have been trying to take over that particular site, which they say the Israelis had targeted. Implication, the rebels are in cahoots with the Israelis. But it also raises another interesting point, which is hark back to what Senator McCain had said a few months back about the need to establish a no-fly zone over Syria.
FOUKARAAnd what his critics here in the United States said, no, we cannot do it because Syrian air defenses are strong and we could run into--the Israelis flew under the Syrian radar and did it. So that raises the question, if the Israelis can do it, why cannot the United States and others?
DREAZENI mean, I think Abderrahim nailed it. I mean that--the hearings where Panetta and Dempsey pushed back, to my mind, to an extraordinary degree about Syria has all these weapons systems, Syria is so much stronger than any country we've had a no-fly zone. This is the second time that Israel has managed to make it in easily, without the loss of a plane, as far as we know, without any attempt by the Syrians to respond. I think Abderrahim nailed it.
DREAZENOne other point, I know you talked about Hagel in the last hour. Every one of the dozens and dozens and dozens of questions about Israel were about Israel and Iran. But there's a great question to ask about Israel and Syria. There is genuine panic. You see it on the Israeli press left and right, about what's going to happen on their northern border, not simply with Iran kind of in a slightly more distant area. You've had Israel move the iron dome. It's a rather successful anti-missile battery to the North. You've had Israel begin distributing gas masks in the North.
DREAZENYou have this genuine question within Israel, who was better or who is worse? No Israeli loves Assad, but at the same time the Assad family kept things quiet. Israelis don't really know what to make of the rebels, if they are going to end up being pro-democracy to a degree, as in Libya, if they'll be Islamists, as they are in Egypt. So we think of Israel, I think, right now, through the prism of Iran. We think of Iran, through the prism, to a degree, of Israel. The Syria-Israel thing is just as interesting and just as dangerous going forward.
REHMSo what could this particular attack--how might it influence the willingness or lack thereof of Assad to negotiate with the rebels, Susan?
GLASSERWell, you know, the bottom line is he's shown very little to no interest in negotiating with the rebels. There was a report earlier this week, before the attack, that one of the Syrian opposition figures said that he was willing to speak with Assad for the first time, but that provoked a huge uproar amongst--remember, this is a very divided opposition. There are so many different splinter groups and different groups jockeying with each other for position within that opposition, even as they're also fighting the Assad regime. And so it's by no means clear.
GLASSEREven were one group within the Syrian opposition to be negotiating with the regime that it would even matter, because that's the problem with not having a unified regime. In fact, it's splintering into smaller and smaller groups, if you talk to some of the correspondents who have really risked life and limb to report on the ground, they describe a situation almost of sort of, you know, militias and neighborhood militias and, you know, competing war lords and a sort of patchwork of armed groups at this point, operating within Syria. So I think that suggests how far we are from any kind of diplomatic solution, even were the will to be there.
GLASSERAnd I also was struck, just quickly, by the Russian statement, very strongly leaping to the defense of the regime once again. I think that, listen, it's now been well over a year that the U.S. has tried and failed diplomacy with the Russians. I mean, it's no longer credible to say well, we're moving them. And they're really going to come around to be a good actor on this and they're going to help broker a solution. I think it's pretty clear at this point that that's not going to happen.
FOUKARAI mean, to your question and to what Susan has just said now about the Russians, I think it's pretty clear that Bashar Assad does not necessarily operate within the conventional wisdom. The fact that the Israelis were able to fly into Syria under the radar, at least from the statements coming out of Damascus, he doesn't see it as a threat to him. He is trying to implicate the opposition, saying or suggesting, insinuating that they're in the cahoots with the Israelis. As long as the Russians are with him, as long as the Iranians are with him and as long has others, such as Hezbollah are with him, it's not necessarily suggesting that this may have weakened him, at least not in his own eyes.
REHMAbderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Yochi Dreazen. He's at The Atlantic and author of the forthcoming book on "Military Suicide." He's writer in residence at the Center for a New American Security. Abderrahim Foukara is Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic. Susan Glasser is editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine.
REHMHere's our first email from Susan. She says, "After hearing in the first hour of the show today the rather dismissive summation of Secretary of State Clinton's accomplishments I wish the panel could've heard the BBC News this morning on her signature achievements in support of women globally. Emphasis on their contributions to society, economic and otherwise, trips to many countries standing up for women's rights."
GLASSERWell, there's no question that's been a signature issue of Hillary Clinton's, throughout her career by the way, not just in her tenure as Secretary of State.
REHMAnd she wants to continue working in that area.
GLASSERAnd I'm sure she will continue working in that area. As First Lady she did so. After the White House she started a group called Vital Voices which united women around the world. She did it as Secretary of State in a very indefatigable way. She also traveled around the world relentlessly, as your writer noted, to 112 countries. We did a slideshow on our site. We managed to find a picture of everywhere from Afghanistan to Zambia, all 112 countries.
GLASSERWe decided to call it the Secretary of Schlep. She definitely hit the road relentlessly. But listen, I think it is also fair to question, you know, in the end what cannot just Hillary Clinton but what can any Secretary of State accomplish in this day and age? The truth is A., and perhaps most importantly, American foreign policy has become militarized. In the end the main tool that we have used internationally over the last decade in particular is the tools of hard power, not soft power. And there are limited things in the toolkit for anyone, even a celebrity, like Hillary Clinton. I think that's important to consider when you think about it.
GLASSERThe final thing though on women and girls that's important to think about is that no matter how much Clinton has been a relentless advocate for the empowerment of women and girls, in the end competing policy goals collide. Think about Afghanistan where no matter how relentless her advocacy has been, the United States is going to leave Afghanistan very likely next year with only a small residual presence remaining in the years to come. And things are going to be worse for women and girls.
REHMHow are things likely to change under John Kerry's leadership, Yochi?
DREAZENIt's a great question. Just a quick addition to what Susan was saying. Another country in which the role of women has changed negatively is Egypt. I mean, it's unquestionably that if you're a female protestor who had been in Tahrir Square two years ago, very likely your life is worse now than it was then. The strictures on where you can go in public, the strictures from your own family on who you can meet, where you can meet them are much, much, much worse than they were under Mubarak.
DREAZENYou have to add Iraq as well. I mean, the current Iraqi government which is fairly Islamist and becoming more so, the role of women there has changed as well. We forget out secular dictators, not to excuse them, that the role of women genuinely was less constrained than it is now. One quick thing and now more directly to your question, I've been struck by the fact that celebrity Secretaries of State, one can argue and I would argue, have genuinely accomplished less over the last 15, 20 years than quiet Secretaries of State.
DREAZENJim Baker, who's often held up as one of the best in the last 20, 30 years in part because he was able to push Israel and the Palestinians to Madrid to other peace talks was not a celebrity. You know, Madeline Albright had a degree of celebrity, Condoleezza Rice exponentially more, Clinton exponentially more than that. John Kerry will be interested to see because some of the rare things we have had any progress, in Afghanistan particular, that was John Kerry being quietly sent to go mollify Karzai in a way that the military could not do, the Pentagon could not do, Hillary Clinton could not do.
DREAZENSo State Department has taken a backseat. It may change slightly as the Pentagon presence shrinks and the budget shrinks and there's more of an emphasis on diplomacy.
REHMAbderrahim, Yochi mentioned women in Egypt. What sparked the riots there this week?
FOUKARAWell, I mean, the roots of it go back to what happened after Mubarak, at least in the eyes of the critics of the Muslim Brotherhoods out of which President Morsi -- Mohamed Morsi hails. Because there's a suspicion that the -- among the critics of Mohamed Morsi that the Muslim Brotherhood did not really win fair and square, Despite all the talk about the transparent elections.
FOUKARAThere was talk -- the critics keep talking about some sort of deal with the military in Egypt that helped catapult the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi to the Presidency. But more directly is the perception that -- of the power grab that he tried to have a few weeks ago, which is part -- the first wave of protests.
REHMDoing away with the constitution.
FOUKARAAway with the constitution and he said that, my decisions are not -- cannot be rescinded by the justice system in Egypt and so on. But I think more to the point is the economic situation in Egypt because there were very high hopes after Mubarak was forced to step down, that the economy would start working again. And if you speak to -- there are a lot of Egyptians who feel that the Egyptian economy in the -- towards the end of the regime of Hosni Mubarak was far better off than it is today.
FOUKARASo these are hopes that of Egyptians that have not been materialized in terms of unemployment, in terms of the Egyptian currency. The prices have skyrocketed and there doesn't seem to be any positive signs in sight, at least as far as the critics. Because the government is issuing these figures for the growth, which quite frankly do raise questions.
GLASSERWell, I think that these are really important points, particularly about the economy. And, you know, that there were pockets of Egypt of course that were benefitted under the Mubarak regime. And many of these protests broke out along the Suez Canal zone and Port Said, which was favored by the Mubarak regime, which was just sort of a historic hotbed of Nasserism going back to the -- 1956 all the way into the Suez Canal crisis.
GLASSERSo this -- also though these protests, as far as I understand them, really came out of this crisis over the rule of law that Abderrahim is talking about. Because there was actually a verdict -- there was a terrible soccer riot last year basically. And a number of locals were held in this case and were given the death penalty for their role in this. And this of course sparked outrage on the part of their family and their friends. The riot turned bloody. Dozens were injured and killed. And again, the role the police is extremely murky just as there are these questions about the role the military in supporting and shoring up this new Muslim Brotherhood government.
GLASSERAnd so I think again, you see the disintegration of Egyptian society and these basic questions about who is securing our towns.
REHMBut talk about the national unity government that some are pushing for, Yochi.
DREAZENPart of what they're trying to do is to solidify what had been a protest group that then became very disparate. You know, there had been a thought that you might have a liberal opposition that could be a counterweight to the Muslim Brotherhood. That never happened. And Abderrahim mentioned how the Muslim Brotherhood won the election with a suspicion that it sort of rigged things.
DREAZENIt rigged it, I think, in the sense that they were an organized group, that it's been decades under -- sort of under the radar knowing how to hideout. They were very well organized, very cohesive. There's very little to suggest that a majority of Egyptians actually support the Muslim Brotherhood and a lot to suggest that they don't. So this idea of a unity government was some thought that you could take liberal opposition groups who are not organized and try to organize them.
DREAZENOne other point. I sat through yesterday the endless nine-hour hell fest that was the Hagel Hearing and one question that came up only once was Egypt. And if you're going to try to lob a critique of the Obama Administration then I think, Democrats for the most agree with now too, it's on the handling of the Muslim Brotherhood. This was -- when the protests broke out the U.S. was kind of on the sidelines sort of supporting Mubarak, then moving away gradually, gradually.
DREAZENWhen the Muslim Brotherhood, and then Mohamed Morsi in particular, had an unquestioned power grab the statements of criticism were very mild. They came from the State Department's spokeswoman initially, Victoria Nuland. She didn't say very much. They did not come from Secretary Clinton. They did not come from President Obama. And that's been noticed and there's, I think, a genuine question of did this White House, did this president misjudge the Muslim Brotherhood? Did they think that they would rule differently than they have? Did they think Morsi was a different man than he is? That's a quest that should've been asked and wasn't.
REHMIs there a chance the government could fall at this point?
DREAZENI think that there's a chance. I think it's small. It'll depend, I think -- you know, Susan alluded to this earlier -- what does the Egyptian military do? What does the Egyptian police do? You know, there had been a thought initially of a deal between the Egyptian army and between Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. There are more and more signs, if there ever was such a deal, it's begun to splinter. The Egyptian military doesn't want to see obviously an Egypt in complete chaos. They don't want to see an Egypt where they then have to take over again.
DREAZENSo the question they'll have is if Morsi is weak, do they push him out and try to replace him or do they risk not pushing him out, letting him stay, having some measure of control, some measure of a lack of control where if he falls suddenly they go back to where they don't want to be, which is running the country day to day.
GLASSERYou know what that sounds an awful lot like? It sounds an awful lot like Pakistan, which basically has gone through a cycle of that unfortunately for the last several decades of sort of tumultuous civilian rule punctuated by military intervention in various degrees of heavy handedness. And certainly that's not a scenario that has led to the peaceful and robust and successful economic growth of Pakistan. So I think nobody in Egypt would want that course.
FOUKARAI think obviously for all the criticism that's being leveled at the Muslim Brotherhood and specifically at Mohamed Morsi, there's also some criticism level that the liberal opposition that Yochi mentioned just now. It's disorganized, doesn't seem to have a particular vision of where it wants to take the country. and more importantly, the fact that there are people protesting against Mohamed Morsi does not necessarily mean that they subscribe to the tenets of the opposition.
FOUKARAThese tend to be often spontaneous protests. And if anything many of the protest is not heeding the calls of the opposition to protest, a critical of the liberal opposition. Almost just as much as they're critical of the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi. A lot of the young people, the original young people who actually protested during those crucial 18 days in Tahrir Square two years ago that toppled Mubarak, they're just saying that our revolution has been stolen from us by the Islamists and by the liberal opposition.
REHMWhat a sad state of affairs considering the hopes, the aims, the -- and now for women to then have to be covered up again. I mean, it's -- let's talk about Africa and the new intelligence that was released regarding Al-Qaeda's North Africa affiliate, Yochi.
DREAZENSo the intelligence was interesting because it gets that -- what has been a sort of major policy question, which was the groups that are operating, the affiliates operating in northern Mali, are they primarily interested in attacking the rest of Mali? Are their ambitions regional and sort of localized against the government of Mali, other governments? There's a group called Boko Haram attacking the government of Nigeria. So are there targets primarily local? Are the grievances primarily local or do they want to hit the west?
DREAZENThe first attack on this oil platform where Algeria sent in what appears to have been a very poorly thought out and even worse, executed rescue plan that killed dozens of hostages, dozens of Western hostages was the first real sign of them hitting a Western target. The new intelligence suggests they want to do more attacks like that on Western targets as opposed to local ones.
REHMAnd what role is the U.S. going to play in Niger, Susan?
GLASSERWell, there were reports this week basically that we've made a new agreement in order to base drones out of there to survey the region. We'll see what that means. Clearly people weren't paying attention. I would say this has been something that's been gathering force over the course of the last year. And it's really only become apparent now.
GLASSERIf you went to sort of terrorism conferences last year you would hear a lot of talk about the Sahel. This is the next focus of interest, Africa. This is going to be the new region of interest. But it really only became clear with the French intervention in Mali that this was for real.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
FOUKARAI wanted to go back to Hillary Clinton...
FOUKARA...with regard to what's going on in the Sahel and elsewhere in Africa. Let me do a little bit of self promotion here. I've interviewed Hillary Clinton at least four times during her tenure. And as a politician there's absolutely no doubt she is an extraordinary operator. And you can sell her legacy as being that. Apart from the celebrity factor outside the United States, she is a very smooth and formidable operator.
FOUKARAThe fact is, Libya, for example, the boil of Libya was lanced on her clock by the president -- by the Obama Administration and the French and the British. And a lot of what's going on now in Mali and elsewhere in the Sahel harks back to the fall of the dictator in Libya, Gadhafi. Because all the weapons that we used in Libya, translated in bigger quantities since these fall to that part of the continent.
FOUKARAAl-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, as it's called, has been a phenomenon there for a long, long time. But it's influence has grown even much bigger since the fall of Gadhafi because of these weapons. Now Hillary Clinton likes to say that these are new challenges. The so called Arab Spring part of what's going on in North Africa is part of it and Libya. She says it's a challenge but it could also be an opportunity for the United States. It remains to see how that could be an opportunity down the road.
REHMAnd what about the French intervention in Mali? Can that be argued a success, Susan?
GLASSERWell, you know, I think it's really days yet, but let's take stock of what's happened this week. The French basically in the course of this week actually have pushed the rebels out of all the major towns in the north of Mali that they occupied, including the historic City of Timbuktu. And we're just now getting the first extensive report of what happened inside Timbuktu, a historic center of Islamic learning and culture over the last many decades -- I mean, sorry, many centuries.
GLASSERAnd what happened there was horrific. It was, you know, the Taliban came to Timbuktu. And what did they do? They shut the town down, they cut off thieves limbs. There's a horrific account of a doctor heartbroken recounting his own role as a forced bystander when a young man's hand was cut off by the militants who occupied Timbuktu. And he was forced then to take care of the young man. There were public executions. They came to the main libraries, the repositories of these historic documents. They attempted to destroy them, although it seems like there were heroic actions to smuggle out by donkey thousands of documents to keep them safe from these people.
GLASSERSo, you know, what did the town's people do? They came out. They had French flags, they cheered, they danced, they smoke cigarettes which were banned. However, where did the militants go? What has happened to them? What will the French commitment be in the long term to rooting out the people who are now in hiding?
REHMSo you're saying in the short term...
REHM...they may have done something.
REHMIn the long term we have a ways to go. And when we come back after a short break we're going to talk about Chinese hacking into both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and take your calls. Stay with us.
REHMAnd before we go to the phones, I'd like to hear why the Chinese hackers attacked The New York Times, Yochi?
DREAZENYou know, they attacked The New York Times and also my former employer, The Wall Street Journal.
DREAZENWith The New York Times, it was very likely retaliatory for this extraordinary story the Times did laying out the billions of dollars which had accrued to the families of elite Chinese leaders, in particular the Chinese premier. My guess would be retaliation and to find out what else the Times was working on, to figure out if they had other exposes in the works that would be as tremendously damaging as that piece was.
DREAZENWhen that piece ran, all access to the Times' website within China was blocked for several days as a response, but that frankly was not nearly as powerful as it would have been if they'd managed to make it stay and with access to the Times' site and the Times' email system and their computer stations to know what else the Times was working on.
DREAZENSimilarly with the Journal, very likely there it was not so much retaliation as much as preparation to try to figure out again what the Journal might be working on that could be damaging.
REHMYou've had your own experience with computers in China.
DREAZENYou know I've traveled several times there with Secretary Gates when he was still running the Pentagon and on those trips, you could bring laptops. You can work on his plane D4B. You can work wherever you are. On the Chinese stop, you had to bring, first of all, turn in your phone, but second of all, you had to have two separate laptops, one that you would use the rest of the trip, one that you would use only in China.
DREAZENIn China, when you left, they would physically confiscate it so it could not be connected to anything on the plane so you couldn't really, frankly, connect it and give it back to you when you landed. On one of those trips, I gave my laptop, this Chinese laptop, back to The Wall Street Journal security staff. They spent weeks working on it and among the things they found, in terms of the level of sophistication, was that one of the Chinese bugs went into all of my Word files, kept the title of the Word file.
DREAZENSo if it was Diane Rehm Notes, stayed the same, date modified, stayed the same. If I opened it, I would see what looked like my notes, but running behind it was malware sending back any change I made to any file in my computer, anything I typed into an email, any website I visited. So and this was about two and a half years ago so the level of sophistication is extraordinary.
DREAZENSo I tip my hat to The Wall Street Journal and to the Times for discovering this and for managing to block it because you're talking about world-class hackers.
GLASSERWell, that's right, and it was fairly sophisticated countermoves employed, for example, by The New York Times. They were aware of this surveillance by the hackers on their own platforms by their own account for quite a long time.
GLASSERAnd what they did was they monitored the hackers once they were inside their system to understand what they were doing in order to more, to deploy a more sophisticated defense against it. So again, you know, you have basically companies now and this is only very visible because it's a media company but this is happening according to all the reports with great regularity across all high profile American corporations.
GLASSERThey have become, in effect, part of a shadow war where corporations are now engaged in almost nation-state-like cyber war sparring with the Chinese and I think this represents a significant new development. The scale and scope of this by all the accounts of people who are really experts on this, which I'm not, is stunning and is something that we're actually not paying enough attention to.
FOUKARAYou know, a little bit earlier in the program, we were talking about soft power and hard power which Hillary Clinton referenced yesterday and obviously there's a lot of soft war going on around the world whether you're talking about it in terms of what's going on with Iran, the U.S. and Israel trying to debilitate the Iranian nuclear-making process or in this specific case of China. Hillary Clinton talked about the world in which she wants to see internet freedom consolidated.
FOUKARAWell, given what the Obama administration is trying to do with the Asia-Pacific pivot, this gives you a sense of the challenge that the United States faces as it tries to pivot back towards the Pacific, back towards China.
REHMAll right, let's go to Raleigh, N.C. and James, you're on the air.
JAMESYes, one of your guests had said that the Taliban had come in and had done things to villagers in Mali, Timbuktu. I thought that was al-Qaida in Maghreb.
GLASSERYeah, no, what we were saying was this is as if the Taliban had come in to this village. These were not just from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, but from local al-Qaida-sympathizing jihadist groups. And it is certainly not -- the Taliban is a local movement in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
FOUKARAI mean, that's interesting because in the case of Pakistan and Afghanistan, since we're talking about the Taliban, there have been some parallels drawn with Algeria and Mali. Some Algerians fear that their country may become a Pakistan while Mali becomes some sort of Afghanistan so there's no Taliban, but there are Taliban-style operatives in that part of the world.
REHMDoes that answer it, James?
JAMESYes, yes, thank you.
REHMAll right, thanks for calling. Let's go to Goldsby, Okla. John, you're on the air.
JOHNGood morning, thank you for taking my call.
JOHNI spend almost every Friday listening to your two-hour summaries...
JOHN...and I thoroughly enjoy them.
REHMI'm so glad, thank you.
JOHNMy question is this, it's sort of a question and a comment because one of the gentlemen on your program just referred to it but you know, in the previous hour people were talking about how popular Hillary Clinton was and raving about what she had done because she'd traveled all over. But when one looks at the state of North Africa and the Mideast it appears to me, I'm 76 years old, and appears to me we've never been in worse shape than we are right now in those areas.
REHMYou know, John, I was saying during the break, it just seems as though the whole world is in chaos. How do you respond, Yochi?
DREAZENI think that's a great question and I agree with you. We were joking about it kind of, you know, ruefully about how bad things are the world over. I think there are a lot of questions to be raised about the Obama administration foreign policy and her role in it. You know, she supported the Afghan surge. It has not worked.
DREAZENShe supported some of the tougher lines in Pakistan. It's questionable about how effective the drone campaign there has been in terms of showing up a very weak government. Her role in Libya where the U.S. was sort of dragged into it against its will and we talked about her role and the role of the administration in Egypt so I think there are really genuine questions about what she accomplished.
DREAZENTo the broader point there's a new show that premiered this week called "The Americans," which is about a Russian, a sort of KGB undercover couple living in America in the '80s, a phenomenal show, but what's interesting about it is it's a reminder of 30 years ago and the world seemed relatively neat.
DREAZENYou had the U.S. You had the U.S.S.R. You had all these kinds of shadow fights with dead drops and spies. Flash forward and I think there's a bit of nostalgia like with "Mad Men." Now we're in a world where you've got groups in Africa we don't really understand, opposition groups in Syria we don't really understand, unrest across parts of the world that have been stable for decades so I think the caller is exactly right. This is a scary time.
GLASSERYes, but I think is a pretty giant, you know, red siren-flashing, but here, Yochi. The Cold War posed an existential threat to the United States in a way that as tragic, as disturbing, as dangerous to the national interest as some of these crises are they in no way pose the kind of threat to the United States that we existed under for the entire dangerous period of the Cold War.
GLASSERAnd I think that's very important to remember. There's a real lively academic debate going on right now. There's a professor at Harvard, Steven Pinker who has done a big study of violence in the world and makes the argument that in fact we are living, despite what it seems like from reading the newspapers, we're living in a historic time of less violence than ever before in human history.
GLASSERAnd there are many numbers not only to support this, but I do think it's important to remember that, A, we don't know where we are in the story and, B, and pretty significantly, that inarguably I think by any standards, although these are individual, disturbing crises it is difficult to see what tools the United States has to manage them in many cases. The bottom line is that actually we're much safer today.
FOUKARAI mean, the issue of what's going on in northern Mali with these Islamist groups, not just in northern Mali, but throughout North Africa, northern Mali, the Sahel region is obviously symptomatic as the gentleman said of the new challenges that those countries face, that the West, the Europeans and the Americans face in that part of Africa.
FOUKARAThere are local grievances that have festered over years and years and years, the Azawad for example who wanted a greater degree of autonomy in northern Mali. They want their rights. That's been combined with these Islamist groups that took over.
FOUKARABut sometimes, in trying to understand these problems, you have to follow the money because Libya is rich in oil. Algeria is rich in oil. Niger is rich in uranium. Nigeria, where the Boko Haram Islamist group is very active, is rich in oil.
FOUKARASo this is not just about ideology. This is also about money because if these groups control those sources of wealth then you're talking about an entirely different dynamic.
REHMAll right to Tucson, Ariz., hi J.C.
J.C.Hey, how are you doing? I love your show.
J.C.I've been listening to it for quite a while now.
J.C.Well, my background is, currently I’m in the U.S. military. I've been in for eight years. I'm currently a staff sergeant. I was actually in Iraq around the time that the surge would have been affected and two points I want to speak on.
J.C.First, I think Chuck Hagel was a fantastic nominee because being an enlisted man myself there's a big difference between someone in the military and not to debase captains or any other type of officer but there's a big difference between someone in the military who is an NCO on the front lines, can do only certain things, you know, taking a shot to the shoulder and someone who potentially may not really understand war because they're too busy trying to play politics.
J.C.And I think a lot of, and I echo the sentiment of a lot of NCOs and a lot of people in the military who were excited for an enlisted man to be in this position. I think he has a perspective on war that is uncanny and I think it's undeniably wise. I think that the comments that people made about the surge was, they tried to attribute so many things to the success or the blunders of Iraq to 100,000 more troops that should have been there.
J.C.We did a lot of things by empowering the Iraqi people toward the ending of our conflict there and that paid dividends to lowering the violence and that was because we empowered the Iraqi people. That had nothing to do with the fact that we had 100,000 or 10,000 soldiers there. So Chuck Hagel kind of dodged that point from John McCain. I thought that was very wise because that showed insight that he knew in the beginning that it was like feeding the fire to justify the fact that we're in Iraq in the first place.
J.C.But since 100,000 more troops there to try to, you know, the mission is already done, you know. There's nothing more that can happen. And I think that he made a very, very wise decision-making beforehand when he opposed it and it was very unpopular. I think that was insight that a lot of people in the Capital just missed completely and I think that shows great, great insight in his ability to lead as far as any type of Secretary of Defense.
REHMAll right, J.C., thank you for your service. Thank you for calling this morning. Yochi?
DREAZENYeah, I lived in Iraq during much of the war and I was there repeatedly during the surge. I think the point he makes, which is spot-on, is that the U.S. tends to take too much blame on to itself for problems that weren't necessarily the fault of the U.S. and too much credit for solutions that weren't necessarily because of the U.S., on the flip.
DREAZENJohn Allen, who has had this whole -- been pulled into the Petraeus sex scandal, when he was in Anbar, he did arguably the most important thing in the entire history of that half of the Iraq war. He recognized that the tribesmen, the Sunni tribesmen living in Anbar, were willing to turn on al-Qaida. He recognized it. He allowed it to happen then he fueled it where he could. And I think the caller is right, the Iraqis did do much of this on their own.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Do you want to comment, Susan?
GLASSERWell, you know, first of all, I think we've had a pretty clear sense of where the caller was coming from...
GLASSER...with the Hagel nomination. He's not ambivalent about it. This was, in many ways, a historic move on the part of President Obama to nominate someone who came up from the ranks and I do think that if Hagel manages to be confirmed, it is significant that both he and John Kerry, the new secretary of state, will have come out of the American fighting experience in Vietnam in a way that profoundly shaped both of their views about the world.
REHMAll right, to Tuscaloosa, Ala., hi Michael.
MICHAELGood morning, Diane.
MICHAELI'd like to discuss what you were discussing earlier about the kind of soft warfare that's causing a lot of chaos around the world, this Chinese hacker issue. And I know that the United States released the stuxnet virus against the Iranian nuclear program and do you think that our actions are causing more destabilization in this respect and that's the other thing, the Chinese hackers or is there kind of an equal partition there?
GLASSERWell, you know, that's a very interesting point and while it has not been officially, of course, discussed by the United States government, there have been a plethora of sources that have reported that it was, in fact, a U.S. government virus with some aid and collaboration with Israeli computer scientists that led to the release of the stuxnet virus into the wild, if you will.
GLASSERAnd I think that is a real concern as we push the frontiers of technology. For now, the U.S. has a large advantage whether it comes to drones, for example, where we have pioneered the aggressive use of unmanned drones in warfare, armed drones as well as surveillance drones and all kinds of drones.
GLASSEROur attitude about them right now is very different than it would be once the Chinese have them, and the Russians have them and the Iranians have them, for example. So I think that there has not been significant attention enough paid here in the United States to what is the framework on which we want to release these new kinds of technological weapons of doom into the world because they can be used against us.
REHMBut go back to the cyber warfare and the stuxnet.
DREAZENYou know, the stuxnet, one interesting piece and a very quick side note is that the White House is making an extraordinary effort to figure out who leaked the stuxnet information, first to The New York Times and then to the Washington Post, that it was a U.S. program.
DREAZENI think there's a difference and it's an important one between stuxnet and between the Chinese hacking. There's a raging academic debate about this point in particular. You can make the strong case that stuxnet was put out there to try to forestall military action for as long as possible.
DREAZENThat similar Israeli efforts done by Israel alone, this one done by Israel and the U.S., they were done to try to take what Israel sees as an existential threat, what the U.S sees as a major threat, set aside whether one agrees with those, but that these were used to try to forestall military force. And if you put a virus in that might save lives, in the end, one can argue about it that this might ultimately be the wise choice militarily and a more moral choice.
DREAZENOn the Chinese side, this is economic hacking. This is hacking from a public relations front. This is hacking to make their leaders look better. There is a very big difference between that style of hacking and what the goals are and between hacking that's trying to bring down an enemy country without using force.
REHMDo you agree?
FOUKARATo a certain extent, I mean, in the case of China, I do agree with what Yochi has just said now for the present because we don't know. If they can do this in the present to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, who would they do it to down the road?
REHMAbderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine, Yochi Dreazen of The Atlantic and author of a forthcoming book on military suicide, thank you all. It does seem as though the world is really a gloomy place right now, but who knows? It may get better soon. Thank you all, thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Toll road mileage is increasing nationwide as cash-strapped states try to relieve traffic congestion without raising taxes. But some transportation officials are facing a political backlash. Diane and her guests discuss the future of toll roads in the U.S.
Harvard physician Atul Gawande says we need to change the nation's approach to aging and dying. How nursing homes can focus more on patients’ need for human connection, and how end-of-life treatment is actually shortening lives instead of extending them.
Legendary singer Linda Ronstadt has won 11 Grammy Awards in a career spanning four decades. We take a look at her rise to stardom, life in the music business and her recent battle with Parkinson's.