What's on Congress' agenda in the final weeks before the August recess? Our panel takes a look at what needs to happen, and what can realistically get done.
North Korea raises threats over new U.N. sanctions. International support grows for Syrian rebels. Venezuelans mourn the death of President Hugo Chavez. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- James Kitfield senior correspondent for National Journal.
- Susan Glasser editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine.
- Abderrahim Foukara Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A former spokesman for al-Qaida and son-in-law of Osama bin Laden faces trial for conspiracy in a Manhattan courtroom today. The U.N. Security Council approves tough new sanctions on North Korea. And Venezuela begins seven days of mourning for President Hugo Chavez. Joining me for the international hour of our Friday News Roundup, James Kitfield of National Journal, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy Magazine and Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic.
MS. DIANE REHMYou're invited to be part of the program. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning and a happy Friday everybody.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDMorning.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERMorning.
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAMorning.
REHMJames, Osama bin Laden's son-in-law appeared in a New York courtroom this morning. He pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy. Republicans claimed he should have been sent to Guantanamo instead of a New York courtroom. What was that all about?
KITFIELDWell, that was about the Obama Administration's determination to close Guantanamo, you know, the first year in office. And they were going to try the mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in New York. That happened in the first two years of his administration. Congress pushed back. The New York delegation didn't want the terrorist tried there. Congress put a bunch of amendments into laws that said you cannot move Guantanamo Bay suspects to U.S. for trial.
KITFIELDSo it was part of the Obama Administration and President Obama's, you know, sincere wish to get beyond sort of the War on Terror construct and sort of adopt a more normal foreign policy. So ever since then, every terrorist they've captured since he's been president has not gone to Guantanamo.
REHMHow major a capture was this?
KITFIELDWell, he's not an operational head, but, I mean, it's going to be interesting for him to make the argument that I wasn't in on this conspiracy because they have him on tape, basically days after 9-11, you know, bragging about, you know, how close he was to the inner circle. He married Fatima, who is bin Laden's daughter. So he is part of the inner circle, but not an operational commander.
GLASSERWell, a couple interesting things to note. One, they didn't actually charge him, you know, with the conspiracy to take part in September 11 or related attacks. So one question is going to be the legal question of what exactly is he guilty of beyond being a member of al-Qaida and close to the bin Laden family? For that reason, this is a very important and I think symbolic thing that happened this weekend and, by the way, a big surprise.
GLASSERThe other part of the story, that we were talking about before we went on the air, is where and how he came to be captured. And I think there's an amazing tale still to be unfolded. This was a senior al-Qaida figure, along with a number of other al-Qaida figures close to the bin Laden family, who were in Iran for most of the last decade. And apparently, according to the accounts we're hearing now, he decided to leave Iran or was let go, was under some form of house arrest. We don't know how much. And was actually captured and picked up in a hotel in Ankara, Turkey. What on earth was he doing there?
GLASSERThen there's another whole fascinating story where we don’t really know the details yet. The Turks refused to directly extradite him to the United States. He was going to be sent back to Kuwait, his native country, but conveniently was stopped in Jordan, a close ally of the United States in counterterrorism operations. And in Jordan, the Jordanians handed him over to the Americans.
REHMAll right. Just a couple of late-breaking points on that, U.S. prosecutor John Cronin said today in federal court, New York, that Sulaiman Abu Ghaith made an extensive post-arrest statement that totaled 22 pages. Abu Ghaith pleaded not guilty during the 15-minute proceeding, to one count of conspiracy to kill Americans and bail was not requested at the hearing. None was set. Judge says he will set a trial at the next conference in the case, scheduled for April 8.
REHMOne more piece of breaking news. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived on an unannounced visit to Afghanistan. Now, your thoughts on Abu Ghaith, Abderrahim.
FOUKARAWell, first on Guantanamo, the issue that James raised, I think this is certainly a dramatic, if bizarre development. The trail of this guy from Iran to Turkey, Kuwait, Jordan and how he ended up here in the United States, but I'll address that, if you'll allow me, in a few seconds. But the issue of Guantanamo, it seems to me that this is a bit of a gamble on the part of the Obama Administration, bringing him to New York, rather than taking him to Guantanamo for the reasons that James talked about.
FOUKARAWhat happens if the prosecutor's fail to nail him in New York and he has to be released? Where do you release him to? So we enter really unchartered territory there.
REHMYeah, but how much chance, realistically?
FOUKARAI know that the indictment...
FOUKARAI know that the indictment that we've heard tries to cover every possible option and not just with regard to what happened post 9-11, but also with regard to what happened before 9-11. So they've tried to cover as much ground as possible in the indictment. But this is not a done deal and there is a chance, if only a miniscule one, that they may not make it stick. So legally, what happens? What does the Obama Administration do in that case?
REHMWhat kind of intelligence might we get from him, James?
KITFIELDWell, Susan pointed to the one that I think is most fascinating. We've wondered for quite awhile about these al-Qaida leaders who ended up in Iran where they were "under house arrest." Now, Iran and al-Qaida are not natural allies. Iran's Shia and al-Qaida's a Sunni extremist terrorist organization. So they're not natural allies, but there was a thought in the intelligence community that maybe Iran wanted to use these guys as bargaining chips, not to become the next member of the axis of evil to fall. You know, that's since gone away, but, you know, it's interesting.
KITFIELDWe're in negotiations with Iran right now over their nuclear program. Suddenly this guy shows up in Turkey and someone tips us off or tips the Turks off that he's there. It's very interesting. You know, I’m not going to make any assumptions of what happened here, but it's fascinating what we could learn about this guy about why those guys are in Iran, what they're doing there and how much complicity Iran has with essentially an al-Qaida cell is, to me, the most interesting intelligence...
REHMWhat is your suspicion?
KITFIELDI think it's -- certainly in this cloak-and-dagger world that this guy exists in, there's always a possibility with Iran. Iran's in a shadow war with us. It's launching terrorist attacks around the world. You know, its own scientists have been assassinated by someone, probably the Israelis. We are launching, you know, Stuxnet viruses into their computers, etcetera. You know, if Iran wants to cut a deal and wants to show good faith, I could understand that it's a possibility they might let one of these guys go and let us get him as a sign of good faith.
GLASSERWell, I think, you know, it certainly raises an intriguing possibility. There's something else to consider, as well, which is that Iran, of course, is a neighbor and shares a border, a potentially unstable border with Afghanistan. And what's happening in Afghanistan right now, which is looking ahead to 2014 and what kind of exit and draw down the United States and NATO forces are going to have, this potentially really could influence Iran, potentially very negatively. They don't want another influx of refugees across their border. They don't want the resurgence of the Taliban, which after all was a hostile force to the Iranians in the schism, in the Islamic world.
GLASSERThese are not only not natural allies of each other, they're natural enemies. And it was before 9-11 Iran was partnering with Russia to support the northern alliance in the north of Afghanistan that was fighting the Taliban. And if the Taliban are poised for a big comeback in Afghanistan next door, Iran has got to take that very seriously because it impacts their own political stability.
FOUKARAI think you can certainly make the argument -- and James has just done so -- that the Iranians, within the context of negotiations over the nuclear issue, may have decided to release him. That's one side of the coin. There's a flip side of that coin, which is why would the Iranians give the world incontrovertible evidence that they have been holding people who had attacked the United States on 9-11 at this, you know, very delicate time in negotiations with the United States and the international community over their nuclear issue?
REHMSo my question is still, how big a fish is he? How much information can we really glean from him, Susan?
GLASSERWell, I think there's a real question operationally right now what is al-Qaida core, al-Qaida versus the franchises that have proliferated around the world in the last few years, which raise some very thorny questions for the Obama Administration. Look at the groups, splinter groups in Mali fighting the French, for example. They've branded themselves as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. How much do they have to do with the original bin Laden, Zawahiri, al-Qaida? Sulaiman Abu Ghaith represents that original bin Laden al-Qaida. How connected is he to ongoing operations? How isolated was he in Iran? We don't know yet, so that's part of the incredibly intriguing possibilities opened up by him now being in U.S. custody.
KITFIELDI agree with all that. I mean, again, I think the Iranian connection is probably the most interesting thing. He's a big fish because of who he is. He's the son-in-law of bin Laden. And he was on all those tapes right after 9-11, sort of bragging about it.
KITFIELDSaying, basically, that more attacks are coming. You know, Americans, don't fly in airplanes, don't live in high-rises and basically sort of boasting about the attacks and threatening that more attacks were on the way. So it's going to be, like I said, hard for him to argue innocence in a conspiracy to kill Americans. He was probably in on the biggest conspiracy in the world to kill Americans.
REHMJames Kitfield, senior correspondent for National Journal. Susan Glasser, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy Magazine. Abderrahim Foukara, Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera Arabic. When we come back we'll talk about new threats from North Korea.
REHMAnd welcome back to the international hour of our Friday News Roundup. Let's talk about first how North Korea responded to tougher sanctions from UN Security Council on Friday, repeating a vow to ditch all nonaggression pacts with South Korea. Abderrahim.
FOUKARAWell, their response is jesting that all hell literally could break loose. I don't think it will, but it could. The fact that they've said that the truce now is over with South Korea, the truce that ended the Korean War back in '53 with the United States is now over. The threats coming from the other side also, not just the United States, but also from South Korea, some very strong statements that if the North Koreans attack, that means that they're condemning themselves to obliteration and oblivion.
FOUKARASo a lot of hot rhetoric. China seems to be coming out of this as the voice of reason, even after having voted in the Security Council on tougher sanctions on North Korea. It called on all parties to tone down their rhetoric and be more sensible.
REHMKim Jong-un has told troops to prepare for all out war against the south. How do we interpret this?
GLASSERWell, I think that's the key question truthfully. I mean, this is obviously on its faith crazy rhetoric, so you have to pull back and say, what can we make of it. There are three things going on right now that in some ways we can look at and thinking about how to interpret this. Number one, obviously, Kim himself is a young untried leader. He's just a year into this new job. Some respected North Korean analysts look at this and say this is about, number one, potentially a power struggle within North Korea, the military asserting itself, or potentially it's about Kim consolidating his position and showing the military who really runs the country that he is on their side.
GLASSERSo that's one possible explanation. It's a very disturbing explanation in many ways, because if he's so much in their power, it suggests some very dangerous scenarios. Number two, what's happened just right recently in South Korea is the inauguration of a new South Korean president, a woman who is the daughter of South Korea's longtime dictator who took a very hard line on North Korea. So this may be an effort to saber rattle at the very beginning of her administration, to color, perhaps to bring her to the table and to soften her up for potential future negotiations. So that's another theory advanced by North Korea watchers.
GLASSERAnd then I think the third factor that's going on right now that's really fascinating is that there seems to be finally a real debate in Beijing about what to do and how much longer they should continue to prop up the North Korean regime, which despite putting out reasonable statements, in fact, has been the largest patron of North Korea for the last decades. And frankly without Chinese support, we'd never be where we are right now because they're the whole reason that the world has been unable to do anything more concrete about North Korea.
GLASSERThere are signs, including, by the way, a very interesting public op-ed by a relatively senior party official last week in the Financial Times, saying it's time for China to cut loose North Korea. And at least there's a sign that there's actually a public debate going on among the Chinese elite about how much longer to prop them up.
REHMBut, you know, here you've had Dennis Rodman in North Korea just last week.
KITFIELDOur news diplomat.
REHMOur newest diplomat. I mean, what connection is there, if any, between that kind of visit by a very prominent American to North Korea and now North Korea's threats against the United States?
KITFIELDI actually think there's no connection there. I mean, the only way you could really read that Rodman visit was kind of an opening, that he wanted to sort of send, you know, ping pong sort of diplomacy, wanted to send a message. This goes to contrary to that opening totally.
KITFIELDNow, we've seen from North Korea -- I mean, I don't want to get too alarmed because this is a game that North Korea always plays. It shakes its rattle whenever it gets frustrated and throws a temper tantrum and says the most outrageous things. And this I must say, a preemptive nuclear strike, is the most outrageous I've ever heard. So it's typical, but it's taking it to a new level. But at the same time, North Korea's a very dangerous place. It has lashed out at South Korea in recent years, a sinking age of a warship, bombarding a disputed island and killing South Koreans. So you can't sort of fluff it off as just bluster, so you have to be very careful.
REHMWhat would the U.S. obligation be should North Korea launch an attack on South Korea?
KITFIELDWell, we are pledged to defend North Korea. We have a division.
REHMDefend South Korea.
KITFIELDI mean, I'm sorry, South Korea. We are pledged to defend them. That is a treaty alliance. We would be in a war with North Korea. So it's a very serious thing. We have U.S. troops stationed there. And I would also say, you know, as risky as this crisis is, they have recently successfully tested a long range missile. If it gets -- you know, we're on a path where they could at some point down the road, I'm not saying next year or the year after, but in the next five to ten years, the concept of them actually having a missile that could carry a nuclear weapon to our allies or even to Hawaii is not inconceivable. And these crises will get increasingly more dangerous as that time approaches.
REHMHere's an email from Tom. He's in Raleigh, N.C. He says, "Not that we should necessarily take the threat seriously, but now that North Korea has openly stated the idea of striking the U.S. with nuclear missiles, what would be the response if we shot down their next rocket test?" Abderrahim.
FOUKARAI think that the statements that we've heard from the White House over the last few days from Jay Carney, in particular, there's absolutely no doubt as to what the Obama administration would do should the North Koreans...
REHMSpell that out.
FOUKARAWell, they said that they're fully capable of defending the United States. And I assume that by the -- part of the arsenal of defending the United States is to shoot down North Korean things. That's not outside the realm of possibility. But I still think that what Susan said a little while ago about China is the thing to watch here, because the Chinese may have partaken in the sanctions regime in the Security Council. The fact is, yes, they are propping up North Korea in all manner of ways, including trade, 80 percent of North Korea's trade is done with China. But the Chinese are very concerned about North Korea, for all sorts of reason. If the regime should topple in North Korea, the Chinese are worried about an exodus of North Koreans into China.
FOUKARAThe other thing -- the other source of friction between the North Korean regime and China is that the Chinese feel that the North Koreans are not amenable to introducing the kind of reforms that China has been introducing to make their system more compatible with the Chinese system. So they have all sorts of vested interests to work this out peacefully, while at the same time sending the right message to the United States that they will not tolerate an attack by the North Koreans against the United States or any of its allies, including the South Koreans and the Japanese.
REHMAll right. I mentioned in the last segment that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel had traveled to Afghanistan. He told reporters traveling with him, he plans to talk to Afghan President Hamid Karzai about the recent order expelling U.S. commandos from Wardak Province. He would not say what his message to Karzai might be. James, talk about that expulsion, why it happened.
KITFIELDWell, the locals charge that this Special Forces unit that was involved and that was expelled was detaining and torturing people, Afghans, who were in their custody. That doesn't sound right to a lot of people. There's an investigation that's been launched. I haven't seen that the investigation's been completed, so I don't know what message Hagel's taking. But I'm pretty sure it's something like, if you don't show us something serious, we can't have you kicking our Special Forces out of whole regions of your country. It's important to our counter terrorism effort. It's important to our training of your security forces.
KITFIELDAnd, oh, by the way, we're in the middle of a very, you know, tense negotiations with Afghanistan about how many residual troops we leave there after the end of next year. This week the central command commander put a figure on what he thinks it should be, which is around 13,000, another 7,000 by our allies, so roughly 20,000, which is fairly robust. But he's going to be sending the message that we're not going to consider leaving a very robust presence here if you're going to be acting like this towards our uniformed personnel.
REHMAll right. Let's move on and talk about negotiations with Syrian rebels to release UN peacekeepers. Susan.
GLASSERWell, you know, this is the latest episode to happen this week in the Golan Heights area where the UN peacekeepers there, ironically, not to keep the peace in Syria's civil war, but in an old dispute and an old war with Israel and the disputed territory of the Golan Heights. So it's an incredible tragedy, isn't it, that for two years there's been this violent, awful civil war in Syria and there's no UN peacekeepers having anything to do with that, and the world has basically failed to come up with any program to do anything about the civil war in Syria, and yet we're talking about the capture of peacekeepers.
GLASSERThese are a group of Filipino peacekeepers who are charged with monitoring the Golan Heights area. And it was a group of rebels who took them initially. They basically said, we've taken them and we consider the UN to be a hostile thing. Now they've backed off in their rhetoric and they're saying, we're taking care of them and we want to call attention to our cause and we want the world to act. So, you know, they seem to be moving towards some negotiations, clearly their rhetoric has softened in the last 24 hours and they seem to be signaling that they're preparing to release these Filipino peacekeepers. But to me, it's just a terrible irony of this awful situation.
KITFIELDI take the irony. This is a very strange case because, you know, for them to take UN peacekeepers and then argue that that's a leverage with Assad. Assad couldn't care less about UN peacekeepers. He's happy if they killed them all. And for them to actually bite the hand that's feeding them through the UN and all the other international organizations that have really come out in support of the rebellion would be -- I mean, would make absolutely no sense. So, I mean, this sounds to me like some local rebel commander got a little far ahead of himself. And I fully expect these peacekeepers to be released.
REHMAnd now you have Assad speaking out to the BBC last Sunday giving another interview with the BBC, today that Russia is giving -- saying that Assad is digging in.
FOUKARAI mean, he's clearly feeling the need to reach out to the world outside of Syria. He spent months and months and months barring the international media from having access to the conflict in Syria. Now he's, you know, going helter-skelter doing all these interviews, which could...
FOUKARAWell, it could be interpreted both ways, either in desperation or because he feel emboldened enough and confident enough that he's getting a handle on the situation in Syria. I'm inclined to believe the second one because from all the statements that we've heard from him, it seems that he's painted a picture for himself where he is in control, where he will eventually crush the rebellion or revolution or whatever you want to call it. He looks at the Russians. He looks at the Iranians. He sees their steadfast support. Although there are voices saying that, with regard to Iran, now that the negotiations are underway, who knows what deal the Iranians may cut with the United States, and that may include Syria.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." But, James, here the UK is boosting support for the rebels, the U.S. had said, great, that's fine, you go ahead and do that. I mean, it does seem as though U.S. is implicitly -- or explicitly now providing arms to the rebels.
KITFIELDI would say very explicitly. And, in fact, if -- I'm with the British foreign secretary who said to the effect, this guy is delusional. If he thinks he's sitting pretty and is in a good place right now, he's delusional.
REHMSo you're disagreeing with...
REHM...with Abderrahim's interpretation?
KITFIELDHe may think that. I don't know what -- I don't think anyone knows what goes in Assad's mind.
KITFIELDBut he thinks that he is delusional. He's losing ground. The international community is getting increasingly concerned. You know, we've watched this, you know, play out for a long time. But just think what's happened just in recent weeks. Senator Kerry has taken a very much more forward leaning stance. After the election, we -- you know, after the -- our own election last year, now the administration's getting much more serious about supporting directly the Syrian opposition. We've announced a $60 million non-lethal aid package on his recent trip.
KITFIELDHe's basically given a thumbs-up for Qatar and Saudi Arabia to give weapons to the rebellion. CIA agents apparently are training their opposition and the use of some of these weapons and some of the communications. You know, the next step is going to be we're going to be giving them imagery from surveillance. Believe me, the tipping point was passed some months ago. We are getting more and more involved in this. And the stalemate can't last forever.
REHMBut just think of it, 1 million refugees, 70,000 people killed. How much longer?
GLASSERWell, I think the problem is that at the very time that we're -- it looks like the United States is finally stepping up its activities, the splintering and the spectrum of opinion represented by the Syrian opposition right now includes a number of very potentially disturbing groups, not just the ones who kidnapped or took hostage these peacekeepers in the Golan Heights, but, you know, groups that the United States has put on the terrorist list, al-Qaeda affiliated groups who by many accounts are actually the most effective fighting force right now inside Syria.
GLASSERAnd so I think there's a sense that this has splintered potentially more -- think about the incredible divisions during the Lebanese civil war and I think you get a sense. That's right next door. And remember, you know, there were so many different militias fighting. And we had in the United States I think a very poor understanding of, you know, how those groups interacted with each other, who's a rebel that you can work with, who's a rebel that you can't work with. Look at how hard John Kerry had to even work to get the civilian opposition to come meet with him this week.
REHMAnd what about the implications of the Arab League's decision to give Syria's seat to the Syrian National Coalition, Abderrahim?
FOUKARAI think symbolically it's a very important step. Although they made that with a string attached. And the string attached is that the Syrian opposition, the national coalition of the opposition, should have an executive body. That was the condition that the Arab League put out there for them to get Syria's seat. But, you know, the initiative made by the leader of the coalition, Moaz al-Khatib, a few weeks, and he got so much flack for it from various members of his opposition movements. He said, let's talk to Assad. But Assad responded saying -- well, the response by Assad was interpreted as he's not interested. And I think that may have put pressure on the U.S. and others to reconsider the issue of supplying arms to the rebels.
REHMAbderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera. When we come back, Hugo Chavez.
REHMAnd welcome back. We've just had news from Reuters that the conclave in Rome gathered to elect a new pope will begin that process on March 12. So that's fairly quick after the resignation of Pope Benedict who is now Pope Emeritus. Let's talk about Hugo Chavez and his legacy. James?
KITFIELDWell, I mean, he tried to lead a regional sort of socialist resurgence, very anti-American in its sort of orientation towards this country. I think that has failed. I think that his own economy is in tatters, but I think that he will go down as being well-loved by the sort of poor in his own country.
REHMWhy is his economy in tatters when he has had so much oil money? He has made that money available in terms of benefits to the poor. There are rumors that he himself has amassed a fortune of $2 billion plus. I don't know...
REHM...what the truth is to those. But why is his economy in such bad shape?
KITFIELDWell, when we saw it during the Cold War, statist economies that are centrally led and where the state owns most of the means of production are not very efficient. It's full of nepotism and corruption. He gives away a lot of that oil to places like Cuba and other places to build influence.
REHMOne hundred thousand barrels a day?
KITFIELDRight, so it means statist economies don't work very well. That's why the Soviet Union collapsed as well. It is why, you know, all of Eastern Europe was kept in relative poverty while Western Europe flourished. I mean, whatever you say about capitalism, it seems to work in terms of raising people's lifestyles up, so he has driven that economy into the ground.
KITFIELDAnd, you know, I don't think that there will be -- there's no one in the wings who is nearly as charismatic as he was, who could, by the force of his personality, sort of get a lot of the other regional leaders in his camp.
REHMBut isn't Maduro a likely successor?
GLASSERRight, and Chavez, in the final months of his life, went out of his way to try to anoint him to continue what he calls the Bolivarian Revolution. Even in recent days, you've seen Maduro actually dressing like Chavez, adopting some of his language.
GLASSERWe had a fascinating dispatch out of Venezuela the other day. But, of course, there's not a great history of that kind of succession working and so I think it will be an enormous period of instability in Venezuela before it is clear whether he can actually, you know, hand the throne over to a self-anointed successor.
REHMAll right, let's open...
KITFIELDDiane, can I just…
KITFIELD...say that, you know, much like, you know, Fidel Castro being also a very charismatic, you know, regional leader handing over to his brother Raul, who is this kind of a technocrat, Maduro does not have the sort personal charisma and power that Chavez had and, you know, it's going to be very hard for me to see. He's kind of a dour guy, doesn't seem to have the same sort of, you know, appeal to the people that Chavez has.
REHMAll right, on that whole issue of Chavez and Venezuela, let's go to Louisville, Ky. Travis, you're on the air.
TRAVISGood afternoon, it's a pleasure to be on the program.
TRAVISWell, I'd like to ask the question, what happened to the right? You know, President Chavez just won against a unified opposition. Carter, (word?) among a number of other monitors were down there. He clearly won by 12 points, which is still a pretty sizable victory. His party won 20 of 23 governorships.
TRAVISLet me just bring the overall subject of the whole region. All these countries are going to do things a little bit differently, but there's no doubt there has been a shift to the left of Latin America. You know, I think we need to be asking the question in countries like Nicaragua where you had pro-U.S. sort of corporate-hyper-capitalist governments in there.
TRAVISHealth, nutrition, education all went the wrong way. Since Ortega's been back, he just won a 35-point victory. Kirchner of Argentina just won a 40-point victory. Correa of Ecuador just -- he's at 79 percent approval in the polls. Morales of Bolivia, what did capitalism do for Bolivia? Morales of Bolivia was re-elected as well by a landslide.
TRAVISAh, you know, I don't know if there are enough envelopes that could be stuffed for the kind of victories that are happening.
REHMAll right, go ahead, Abderrahim.
FOUKARAChavez was obviously in power for about 14 years and as the listener said, in every election there was during those 14 years, he won a sound victory including in the last election. And...
REHMAnd there was oversight in many of those.
FOUKARAIn many of those, in the last election, the opposition had obviously sort of got its act together much better than in the past. But remember that when you talk about poverty, when you talk about crime, which is very rife, or has been rife in Venezuela over the last few years, a lot of Venezuelans are saying to look for whom to blame you shouldn't just be looking solely at Chavez.
FOUKARAYou have to look at the people inside Venezuela who have an anti-Chavez agenda and who have done everything they could and that is basically wealthy, middle-class and wealthy Venezuelans who never favored Chavez's rule because he favored...
FOUKARA...the poor so if you talk to the poor, they say, okay, there is corruption. There is a lot of oil. It hasn't built the kind of state that Venezuela should be, as James said a little while ago. It's a statist economy, but for the poor, he gave them education. He gave them health care. He gave them all the things that made him their darling.
FOUKARANow it was interesting that we have been talking about, a lot of people have been saying, why have you been saying that Chavez is a polarizing, was a polarizing figure? And it was interesting to read an op-ed written by Lula the former president of Brazil in which he did describe Chavez as a polarizing figure. But he also said that he helped Latin America move in a different direction.
FOUKARAHe said he didn't always have the right words or the right temperament for expressing his views which are very popular with Latin Americans. The listener mentioned Argentina. He mentioned Ecuador and all those things. But he said he did help Latin America get a kind of international standing.
FOUKARAWhat becomes of the verdict of history when you talk about his alliances with Ahmadinejad, with Gaddafi? These are not. Gaddafi in particular was not necessarily good to his own people and to his own economy, but Chavez seemed to have operated along the lines of, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
FOUKARAThey were opponents of the United States, then they're my friend. I don't really care what they do to their own people, but they oppose the United States.
GLASSERWell, I think that's right. President Lula of Brazil is a good example of someone who had similar politics, but conducted them in a way that was much more inclusive. He did not have the same sort of flamboyant, aggressive, global strategy of anti-Americanism and so in a way, it suggests here's a path for the Latin American left that doesn't include the potential instability and conflict that was inherent in Chavismo.
GLASSERBut I think, in many ways, the caller is right to point out this phenomenon of the rise of the left in Latin America, but I would suggest that perhaps that's actually a somewhat dated observation. And right now, we're looking at transitions in many of these societies from an original, this transition that occurred over the last decade really to a more next-generation, more technocratic, pragmatic leaders.
GLASSERPresident Lula was replaced a few years ago by Dilma Rousseff, his long-time chief-of-staff who is not politically that dissimilar from him, but is not the kind of public, populist, barn-storming leader that Lula was. In Cuba, you see this transition between the two brothers and actually Raul has said he will step down after the end of this presidential term and there will be another transition.
REHMAll right. I want to move on here to Tom in Cary, N.C. Tom, you're on the air.
TOMThank you and good morning. My comment is about China's view of North Korea's latest first-strike option. China, I think, is beginning to realize that if North Korea does a nuclear first-strike against either South Korea or the U.S. interests or the U.S., there's liable to be a U.S. retaliation which will contaminate a good part of the northeast and possibly contaminate a good part of north eastern China. I will listen off-line, thank you.
REHMAll right, thanks for calling. Susan?
GLASSERWell, I think it's certainly important to point out, as Abderrahim did earlier, that who has the most to lose by conflict and confrontation? In this part of the world, the people who live there and, you know, that means not just South Korea and North Korea, but China a major stakeholder that has as much or more interest in a peaceful resolution of this than the United States does.
KITFIELDYou know, I think it's not likely, not likely doesn't really summarize it. North Korea has no interest in launching a nuclear first-strike. It's just bluster primarily. It's, as we said, a dangerous -- it's a dangerous country, but it's not likely. It's not suicidal. It's never showed itself to be suicidal. That would be a suicidal move.
KITFIELDYou know, the trump card that North Korea has right now is it has artillery that can range Seoul, South Korea and basically flatten it. So if, you know, I'm more worried about that actually. It's the one thing that's always tied our hands is that the capital of South Korea is within artillery range of hundreds and hundreds of artillery tubes on the north side of the DMZ.
KITFIELDAnd so it always has kept us, you know, a response we have for them has to be very careful. But I don't anticipate that a nuclear, you know, first-strike from North Korea is in the realm of anything I consider to be likely.
REHMOkay, let's take worse-case scenario short of a launch toward the United States. Suppose using its extraordinary military capability North Korea does attack South Korea. Just give me a sense, what happens next?
KITFIELDCan I just, you know, reiterate -- I mean, this is the danger is that a tit-for-tat like we've seen in the past. They launch an attack. South Korea responds.
KITFIELDYou know, if they do an all-out attack with their artillery...
KITFIELD...it destroys most of the capital of South Korea and then we're in a full-out, high-intensity war with North Korea and that includes the United States as we are pledged to defend South Korea.
GLASSERBut one major difference is that unlike when the first Korean War erupted more than five decades ago China is I think, unlikely to come in on the side of North Korea and I do think that there would be, as was expressed in the latest Security Council resolution of sanctions, an enormous and across-the-board global condemnation of that.
GLASSERAnd that would be the end of this current North Korean regime as we know it. At what cost, you know what are the casualties like? What are the horrible economic and human damage of that? It is unknown to us because of it being a modern warfare unlike any we've seen frankly.
REHMAll right, to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Jose you're on the air.
JOSEYes, Diane, thank you so much for the opportunity. I love your show.
JOSEAh yes, I just wanted to touch on Hugo Chavez from Venezuela. I think your panelists have expressed their views very, very well but I just wanted to point out that during his governing he has persecuted the political opposition, thrown people in jail with made-up charges and he has decimated the economy.
JOSEYes, he has been good to some of the poor people with handouts, but they obligate them to go and vote for him and if they don't go, they can lose their jobs. So it's kind of like a threatening kind of governing that he has. And he, as I said before, he has decimated the economy. He's persecuting a lot of people. A lot of them, people from the opposition, they had to leave Venezuela because they have been persecuted.
REHMAll right, thanks for your call. And you're listening to “The Diane Rehm Show." You want to come at that, Abderrahim?
FOUKARAI mean, there's definitely room for discussing his democratic credentials or lack thereof and there are plenty of examples, as the listener has just said, to suggest that. It wasn't democracy as a lot of people understand it and there was persecution of the opposition and so on.
FOUKARABut if you were out there and you speak to poor Venezuelans who were well-served by Chavez in terms of health, in terms of education and so on, they extol his virtues. And I think it's basically you have two different looks on Chavez, the look of the poor of Venezuela and the look of the middle classes and the rich.
REHMSo how might his death change the relationship between Venezuela and the U.S.?
KITFIELDWell, it has the opportunity to improve it and it's a significant opportunity right now actually. And as we're seeing a bit with Cuba as Fidel passes from the scene, there's been some loosening of the tight restrictions they have on their own people. We have -- let's not forget some of the things that are in Chavez's legacy.
KITFIELDHe supported the FARC, you know, insurgents next door in Columbia, offered them sanctuary, arms, et cetera, invited Hezbollah terrorist group into his country, has used Venezuela as a staging base for drug runners from Central and from Columbia up to our country. I mean, he is got a rather negative legacy on many fronts.
KITFIELDNow I'll concede that if you're a very poor person and frustrated by the huge gap between the rich and the poor in Venezuela, you might find him popular. But on an international stage, he has left a very negative legacy in a lot of ways.
GLASSERYeah, I think that's important to point out, although I think one thing that we don't know at all is whether Maduro or any successor would have any interest in changing that foreign policy, especially given the serious economic challenges they face at home. You know, it's not just in Venezuela, it's in Russia and many other countries in the world that that sort of reflexive, anti-Americanism is a very successful foreign policy play, especially for a leader who might feel weak at home.
FOUKARAAnd Maduro did send an early signal what he would be like as the next president. He sent a signal to the United States accusing the United States of being the cause of Chavez's cancer and there's also the expelling of U.S. diplomats and now the U.S. is threatening to expel Venezuelan diplomats in a tit-for-tat.
FOUKARABut I think, as James said, it's going to be very hard for Maduro, even if he's elected as the next president in a month's time officially by Venezuelans. It's going to be very difficult for him to replicate the kind of charisma that Chavez had. And remember that it wasn't just the oil that Chavez had to help him navigate the politics of Venezuela. He had his own personal charisma which he put to good use at least as far as the poor are concerned.
REHMWhy in the world would Maduro make that kind of comment, that the U.S. had caused Chavez' cancer? I mean, how far off the wall is that?
KITFIELDWell, because it plays well at home. We've seen our own politicians sometimes play to the home base and in the Chavez construct, everything that's anti-American plays very popularly so it's a sop to.
REHMBut is that going back to the attempts on Fidel Castro's life?
KITFIELDOh, it's all in the same narrative, you know, the imperial America and clearly if you want to go back decades, we have plenty to attest for in Central and South America so there's not like -- the narrative resonates very, very strongly with a certain segment of the population there that's really felt repressed for a long time and kept in poverty.
GLASSERWell, that's right. I mean, anti-Americanism works because there's something to it at base and I think the Cold War legacy that the United States is going to have to grapple with still in the region is supporting strongmen across Latin America and other parts of the world as well like Africa, I think. And in the next decade, we're going to be hearing a lot about that story.
REHMAnd now Chavez, like Lenin and others before him, is going to be embalmed, kept in a glass case where the populace can see him whenever they like. James Kitfield of National Journal, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine and Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic have a peaceful weekend everybody.
GLASSERYou, too, Diane.
FOUKARAThank you, Diane.
REHMThanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm.
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