Nine years ago, former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran while on a mission for the CIA. The story of his secret journey to Iran, the CIA cover-up that followed and efforts to rescue the longest-held U.S. hostage.
A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Tom Gjelten NPR national security correspondent and author of "Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause."
- Mark Mardell BBC North America editor.
- Indira Lakshmanan diplomatic correspondent at Bloomberg News.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In Seoul, South Korea, Secretary of State John Kerry says, the U.S. will defend itself and its allies from increasing threats from North Korea. Sentiment grows in the U.S. and internationally to do more to help the rebels in Syria. And Margaret Thatcher's legacy. Joining me for the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup, Tom Gjelten of NPR, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and Mark Mardell of the BBC.
MS. DIANE REHMYou are always welcome. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a Tweet. Good morning, everybody. Nice to see you all. Tom Gjelten, Secretary of State Kerry is in South Korea today. What is his message to the North?
MR. TOM GJELTENHis message to the North is to warn the -- Kim Jong Un and the rest of the North Korean leadership to back off on all this belligerent talk and to don't dream for a moment that you can gain any kind of military advantage by doing something provocative, by launching a missile in the direction of U.S. or Japanese territory or by doing something to the South Koreans. He said specifically, if you get into a war with the United States, you're going to lose.
REHMAnd what about this intelligence report that became public yesterday, Indira?
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANWell, let's keep in mind that was a Defense Intelligence Agency report which it was one line of the report that became public, one line only which a congressman who read from it in a hearing, you know, said was the only declassified line. And in it he said that the Defense Intelligence Agency had determined that North Korea did have the capability to attach a miniaturized nuclear device onto a warhead.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANNow there has been, since he made that statement, contradictions from others such as the DNI James Clapper came out saying, well this is not exactly what we think. It seems, you know, we have intelligent sources who have told us privately that they also don't think the North is ready and capable of launching -- basically attaching a miniaturized nuclear device to a missile that could be launched somewhere.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANSo there seems to be dispute within the U.S. intelligence community about this. But let's not -- you know, the main point is that all this belligerent talk is a problem. And as Kerry said, it would be a huge mistake for the North to act on any of it.
MR. MARK MARDELLI think one of the most intriguing things about this is as a test for the Obama doctrine that says reach out, make alliances, not just with your natural friends, but those who are competitors and even enemies. And China is key to this. Kerry has said he wants to instill a sense of urgency in China. There is a great sense that they're getting fed up with their allies. (word?) said that North Korea and China should be as close as lips and teeth, but they seem to have sort of bitten their lip here I think a little bit.
MR. MARK MARDELLAnd I thought that the most interesting thing I saw this week was an article in the People's Daily, a message from the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, a message to foreign nations, U.S., Japan and the two Koreas. But he was saying to North Korea, there's no reason to violate resolutions. The situations developed on the peninsula will not necessarily go according to the ideas and expectations of the DPRK. Pretty chilling for a message from China. They don't -- they're not usually that open. So they're saying cool it, calm it down.
GJELTENYou know, there was actually a prominent communist party official who editorialized in an official newspaper that China should abandon North Korea. And he was promptly suspended. Nevertheless, what I think is the bottom line is that China is allowing this debate to take place. That debate would not have been allowed in the past. And so in a sense what's significant there is not that these voices who are calling for the abandonment of North Korea are getting endorsed, but they are being allowed to make the argument.
REHMAnd what about the meeting yesterday between Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki-moon and President Obama?
LAKSHMANANRight. Well, one of the main things that came out of that meeting, obviously they were talking about North Korea, no question. And Ban Ki-moon is a senior South Korean diplomat before he became UN Secretary General. I mean, one of the things that made the most news out of that meeting was of course what was said about Syria. So I'm sure we'll move onto that later. But I just wanted to make one point about China, which is that China is really North Korea's lifeline to the outside world.
REHMOf course, of course.
LAKSHMANANI mean, all -- any and all of the trade that North Korea has goes through China. But let's remember that China is having, as one analyst said to us, nuisance fatigue about North Korea. I mean, they have become such a pebble in the shoe of China that China was actually willing to co-sponsor the latest UN resolution with the sanctions against North Korea. Co-sponsor it with the U.S. I mean, that is a first.
LAKSHMANANAnd the fact is China's export to North Korea fell 13.8 percent in the first quarter of this year. That's significant. And also China has 60 times the trade with South Korea that it has with North Korea. So, you know, if you're looking at the bottom line dollars and cents figure here, China has other fish to fry, not just its North Korean neighbor.
REHMWhat about the Pentagon and its statements regarding whether the U.S. has what it takes to deal with North Korea, Tom?
GJELTENThe Pentagon has been -- the whole Obama Administration has been way more forthright in sort of displaying its military capabilities, visa vie North Korea, then they have been in the past. I mean, we're in the middle, as you know Diane, of this month-long military exercise that serves as an opportunity to display that military might. And this year the United States has taken a step further.
GJELTENIt has deployed, for the first time ever, an antimissile defense system in Guam -- or it is in the process of deploying. It's the terminal high altitude area defense. I think I've got that term right. It has been tested before but it has never actually been put into operation. And so the United States -- and in addition to that we have more patriot missiles going to Japan and we of course have destroyers with antimissile defenses in the ocean. And we have 14 new radar antimissile interceptors being erected.
GJELTENSo the United States is sending this message, if you think that you can launch missiles against us, we have the means to knock them down.
MARDELLAnd another reason for China to do something, because they fear that the pivot to Asia is about American shoving in more military capabilities, getting the countries closer. And this is an ideal justification to do that. And of course it encourages Japan and other countries to be more friendly to America and say, yes have basis here. Have your missiles here, as the Japanese have.
MARDELLSo again, China doesn't want that. If it wants a reason to get the United States out of the region, to calm things down again it just wants stability. Now how it does that, as you were saying, the economic pressure may well have some impact. But it's very difficult to know whether North Korea will take any action.
REHMSo April 15 is not only the tax day in this country, it's significant for North Korea.
LAKSHMANANThat's right. It is the 101st anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung who's the grandfather of the current leader, the current dictator Kim Jong Un and, you know, his grandfather. What's significant is the North Koreans -- or at least let's say the Kim dynasty, the third in the dynasty now, they love to celebrate these kinds of anniversaries. And, you know, essentially almost every year on various important anniversaries for the DPRK, as they call themselves, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, we've seen either ballistic tests, missile tests, nuclear tests so there is concern.
LAKSHMANANAnd the Pentagon has said that they are concerned. South Korea has said they are concerned that there may be some sort of weapons test taking place either on the 15th or in the lead up to the 15th.
REHMSo is it a good idea for Secretary Kerry to be there as close to that as now?
GJELTENI guess so. My guess is that North Koreans are now undecided about whether they want to hold off on that missile test until April 15 to commemorate the anniversary or do they maybe want to pop it off while Kerry is there, which would give them another little propaganda boost. So, you know, I think that the visit of Kerry, more than anything else, reassures South Korea that the United States has its back.
MARDELLAnd I think that one of the things that we have to remember, there is a sense of calm in the region. And nobody I talk to here really thinks this is all going to blow up. And some people think that if they do launch a missile, well it's provocation but it gets it out of their system. He's marched them up to the top of the hill and he can say...
REHMBut suppose it lands in Japan?
MARDELLWell, that's the problem. That is exactly the problem.
LAKSHMANANWell, Japan has deployed patriot missile interceptors and so that -- you know, Japan is taking its own defensive action. Not only relying on the fact that Japan and South Korea are treaty allies protected under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, but they're also taking their own actions. And this is a further concern that we have to think about, which is as the North Korea continues these provocations -- and not just provocations. I sort of hate that word because they're actually doing things. The more they do this the more they stoke the possibility of an arms race or even a nuclear arms race in the region.
REHMOr a bad miscalculation.
LAKSHMANANA bad miscalculation but also the fact that we've got a majority of South Koreans for the first time now saying that they think South Korea should get a nuclear weapons program if North Korea keeps its own.
GJELTENAnd the thing is that we saw some pretty serious provocations three years ago and the South Korean reaction was not what the South Korean people thought was appropriate. And so the South -- the new government -- you know, we talk always about this new government in the North with Kim Jong Un, but there's also a new government in the South that is now divided.
REHM...headed by a woman.
GJELTENHeaded by a woman, President Park. And she is much more committed to an aggressive response, at least according to what she says, than the previous government. So to answer your question, if there is some kind of provocation similar to what we saw three years ago, it's likely that there'll be a much more aggressive response from the South. And that could set in cycle some kind of escalation.
REHMTom Gjelten, NPR national security correspondent, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News, Mark Mardell of the BBC. Short break here. When we come back we'll talk about Syria.
REHMAnd welcome back to the Foreign Policy Hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News, Mark Mardell of the BBC and Tom Gjelten of NPR. Let's talk about Syria, Mark. On Wednesday the White House said it was moving to approve nonlethal aid to Syrian rebel groups. But there's growing pressure to provide more stuff.
MARDELLYes. And I think one has to be a little bit cynical about this. What they're talking about is night goggles and body armor. And they haven't made the announcement yet, have they, even though they hinted at it, as you said, a few days ago. And the Syrian opposition is saying, give us antiaircraft guns. That's what we want. You know, night goggles probably are very nice but they're not what they really want. There's talk in the European Union of lifting the arms embargo and the British and the French are saying, this must happen. But they've only got the support of Italy and Slovenia, which isn't enough for that to happen.
MARDELLSo I think that they -- things are moving very slowly. And I think with the other news this week that one of the main rebel groups fighting is taking the command of al-Qaida, which we'll talk about more. But with that you can understand -- I can well understand the caution of the Obama Administration while a lot of people are saying, you know, just give them the stuff. Let them finish it. Give who the stuff?
GJELTENWell, you can argue this both ways. As Mark says, there is concern about who the revels are and their close ties to al-Qaida, which have not been formalized in a bit. But you can also make the argument that as long as the rebels don't have sufficient weapons of their own, that they are forced to turn to those groups that are willing to provide them weapons. And those would be the Jihadi affiliated groups. You know, the groups from outside Syria.
GJELTENSo you can look at it either way. Do you want to give them some opportunity to be independent of those groups or are you worrying about arming people that could come back to haunt you?
REHMSo again, Secretary of State Kerry met with a Syrian opposition group in London. What happened there, Indira?
LAKSHMANANRight. Well, I mean, he obviously emphasized the point publicly that the U.S. has already given more than $115 million in nonlethal assistance to the rebels. And, you know, the White House, as we talked about, has, you know, dangled the idea that they're going to give $10 million in additional nonlethal aid. Kerry seems to be trying to lean forward on this among all the people in the administration. You know, he's leaning forward harder than the White House is on trying to support the rebels.
LAKSHMANANAnd let's not forget, he was only just a few months ago the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee. So it's very easy to look at his public record of his statements on this. And when he was still a senator just a few months ago he was advocating military assistance to the rebels. So it's doubtful that his position has changed. Obviously he has to hue to what the president wants but I wouldn't be surprised if he's trying to exert his influence to help the rebels more than they have been helped.
LAKSHMANANBut I do think it's a difficult thing. Jabhat al-Nusra, this very effective fighting force that we talked about that's in the anti-Assad camp has now outright said yes, we're allied with al-Qaida just like the U.S. sanctioned them, declared them a terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaida some months ago. And, you know, so far the Syrian opposition, even though they've said we're not extremists, neither have they said, Jabhat al-Nusra, stop fighting against Assad.
REHMSo what happens next? Do you see more lethal arms going to the Syrian opposition?
MARDELLYes. So now I think the fighting is going to get worse. I mean, what would worry me is that this civil war is almost a prelude to another civil war between the Islamists and other parts of the opposition. And I think one of the things that intrigues me is that this is tremendously good news for al-Qaida who, as President Obama has pointed out time after time, has been degraded, has suffered defeat after defeat. And other groups tend to turn to them only when they're weakened and want that sort of boost.
MARDELLI'm not quite sure why Jabhat al Nusra has turned to them now. But it's -- for al-Qaida it's a very important move. And just imagine if they did come to power in Syria to have that as a new Afghanistan with those chemical weapons floating around.
GJELTENYou know, General James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence said something important yesterday in testimony on Capitol Hill. He said that even if Assad were to fall -- when Assad falls, if that's the case, that there would be as much as a year-and-a-half of continued civil unrest in Syria. It would take at least a year-and-a-half for a new government to be consolidated. So I think that goes to Mark's point, we're not just talking about a conflict that ends with the ouster of Bashar al-Assad. We're talking about a conflict that would continue beyond that point.
REHMAnd Defense Secretary Hagel was also talking about chemical weapons.
LAKSHMANANRight. That's remained -- that has been from the start and remains a major concern of the Obama Administration and a major reason again that the White House has hesitated to outright give military assistance to the rebels. And General Martin Dempsey who's the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was also on Capitol Hill yesterday testifying. And he was asked by Bob Menendez, the new Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, you know, what are you prepared to do in Syria? And he said interestingly, that the U.S. is prepared to take additional action if required. And that they are ready with options if military forces called for.
LAKSHMANANNow the way I interpret that is that, you know, the military has to say they're always ready for any eventuality. Just like they say about Iran, no option is off the table. So I suppose their military planners have to have any option ready. But I don't think we should interpret that as saying that the White House is ready to take action because they've clearly shown an allergic reaction to that so far.
MARDELLAnd they don't want to get involved. But one wonders if -- well, Obama has said it's his redline, if they cross it, if the government -- Syrian government uses...
LAKSHMANANOn the chemical weapons, yeah.
MARDELL...on the chemical weapons. But one wonders whether at some stage they have to do something about those chemical weapons, even if it's in a more peaceable environment going in to secure them. Because they don't want them in the hands of any regime. They should be, by International law, destroyed. So I wonder what's going to happen, if this goes on and on for ages and ages, do at some stage say we've got to take them out of the equation.
LAKSHMANANWell, on the issue of taking out weapons -- loose weapons, remember in the aftermath of the Libyan uprising and the overthrow of the Gadhafi government, they U.S. Administration talked a lot about its concern about man paths, right, should propelled missiles. And in the end we didn't hear a lot about them rounding them up. And some of them ended up in Mali and some of them ended up in Algeria and were used in the Al Amenas gas field attack that resulted in all those hostages and deaths.
LAKSHMANANSo I don't know. I mean, we can have ambitions to take out, you know, weapons depots in other countries but I don't know that we always succeed in doing so.
REHMAnd now Russia is concerned about al-Qaida's growing interest.
GJELTENWell, yes. But the Russians can use that concern, which they know resonates in the west, as reason to say we need to be careful about abandoning the Assad government. I mean, there was pressure on Russia at this G8 meeting in London this week to line up with the other members of the group of eight in support of the rebels. And Russia refused to do it. Russia is still not ready to give up on the Assad Regime. And, as you say, they can use the appearance, the emergence, the strengthening of the al-Qaida forces in Syria in order to buttress their argument.
REHMTom Gjelten of NPR and if you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Mark Mardell, Jack Lew, the very, very important U.S. Treasury Secretary has made his first official trip to Europe this week. He's talking about what?
MARDELLHe's talking about austerity and that it may not be a very good thing, that he's urging the Europeans to loosen their belts a little bit, spend a bit more money. And perhaps then they could buy American goods and that would help America. Wouldn't that be great? Interestingly, it got a lot of coverage in the American papers. It got virtually none in the British, and as far as I can see, European papers.
MARDELLIt isn't new. I think the Obama Administration has clearly always been on the side of spending more money and not so keen on austerity. Everybody tries to balance it. there's a bit of a left right argument here, the traditional Keynesian versus sort of the let's-deal-with-the-deficit side. But I think it's aimed mainly at Germany. There's an American frustration with Germany that they just won't loosen up, won't spend their money. And that's a very cultural thing.
MARDELLWhen we covered Europe, I mean, you go to Germany and a German company makes massive profit. And they don't want -- the owner won't go out and buy a swimming pool and a yacht. To reinvest it sensibly and prudently in the company. And so it's very difficult to get the Germans to spend a bit more money.
GJELTENBut you can make the argument now that this is in Germany's own interest because the German economy, which had been sort of the one bright spot in the euro zone, itself contracted in the fourth quarter of 2012. So, you know, you can make the argument that German's obsession with fiscal discipline is -- has actually contributed to its own economic stagnation.
LAKSHMANANRight. I mean, I read a piece in Der Spiegel, the main German weekly online that was headlined, U.S. and Europe deeply divided on austerity. And what I thought was interesting was the headline should've been, you know, Germany and Europe deeply divided on austerity because it's really not that all of Europe wants austerity. The French and the Italians have been trying to give this same message to Angela Merkel all along.
LAKSHMANANAnd as Mark indicated, I mean, this really is something about the German, I don't know, way of thinking. It's almost like, you know, I've heard Mario Monti, the outgoing Italian leader saying that for Germans economics is a moral science. And it's really about even when the economy is booming, as Mark said, they are unwilling to loosen up and allow a little bit of inflation.
LAKSHMANANAnd I've heard European leaders from other countries say to me, we just don't understand it. They're bringing down the euro zone. And you hear some people even saying the Germans should leave the euro zone and let the rest of us have the euros. And they can go back to the deutsche mark if they want to be this tough about it.
REHMOne of the other issues that Jack Lew raised was in regard to Cypress, Tom. What's going on there?
GJELTENWell, we haven't seen the -- we -- you know, we were obsessed with the Cypress story a couple of weeks ago, including here on this program, Diane, as you recall, and they sort of dodged a bullet. But what we now know is that the Cypress economy is -- I mean, it's hard to see any exit for Cypress at this point because they had counted on their financial sector to underpin their economy. And now what they have done with the -- haircuts is too mild a term -- what they have done to the depositors in Cypress banks will totally destroy any faith that outsiders have in Cypress' financial system.
GJELTENSo where does that leave that country? And the prospect now is that more -- it is more likely that Cypress will be the first country to leave the euro. And the fear then is that that is like a domino. If Cypress leaves -- and it's a weak state, but if Cypress leaves who comes next?
MARDELLIt was an astonishing move that it crushed the main economy and the main economic drive of the banks in Cypress. It just got rid of their main industry. And I'm surprised that the fear of what happens to savings hasn't spread.
REHMMark Mardell of the BBC and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Panama City, Fla. Good morning, Andrew. You're on the air.
ANDREWGood morning, Diane. I appreciate you taking my call and I hope you have a great weekend.
ANDREWIt was pointed out earlier that China has orders of magnitude more trade with South Korea versus North Korea. And I wonder if the panel thinks that because of that that they are being more pointed with North Korea than in previous times because of all the money that could be lost due to the lack of trade and the stock market dropping with all the rhetoric.
LAKSHMANANWell, I mean, I do think that, you know, China's bottom line is about growing their economy. And they do know that they have far more to gain from their relationships, both with South Korea and with Japan than with North Korea. So, you know, there's no question that's factoring into their decision making.
REHMAll right. To Alexandria, Va. Good morning, Sam.
SAMGood morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
SAMMy question to the panel is with regards to Syria. What are they saying the action suit that should happen that would help the Syrian opposition? I mean, clearly what they have done and the allies have undermined the opposition, the leadership in a way because we saw the emergence of extremist groups that are able to provide money and protection for the civilians which is not the case for the opposition leadership. So what are they saying that should be done in the future to change that?
GJELTENWell, I assume, Sam, when you say they you mean the -- those who are arguing that our current policy is not right. I think the strongest argument is not necessarily to arm the rebels but to provide them with defensive weapons, which is, as Mark said, what France and Britain have been arguing about, antiaircraft weapons, antitank weapons. These are not offensive weapons but they would improve the rebels' ability to withstand the kind of attacks that they have been subjected to repeatedly from the Assad forces.
GJELTENAnd as far as the Jihadi groups, they're so dominant in -- unfortunately, in the opposition. This has actually created more of a split within the opposition forces because there are powerful forces in the opposition. They don't necessarily have all the weapons but they are numerically and politically more important that do not like the emergence of this Jihadi pro-al-Qaida groups. And so they're making the argument, look we need weapons so that we can distinguish ourselves from these Jihadi groups that right now have a monopoly on the weapons.
LAKSHMANANWell, let's not forget that the UK and France, as we know, were pushing to lift this European arms embargo. But they're already supplying the rebels with military-style equipment such as antitank and antiaircraft weapons. And I think that's interesting because, you know, for example Human Rights Watch just came out with a report yesterday saying that Syrian air force pilots are basically carrying out war crimes. And they documented 59 unlawful air attacks by forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad on hospitals and bakeries and other civilian targets. So, you know, that bolsters the argument that the UK and France have for giving antitank and antiaircraft weapons.
MARDELLAnd something that my BBC colleague Gabriel Gatehouse has been able to confirm this week is that the -- there is training by CIA and British intelligence in Jordan of rebel groups, of people, or at least the commanders have given them an interview saying, yes this is going on. Now, I don't know how much difference a small group being trained by the British and Americans would do or exactly what they intend to do, but so there is activity going on behind the scenes which we only glimpse Occasionally.
GJELTENActually, that's right. And that training has been going on for a number of months already in Jordan. And unfortunately, as you say, there doesn't seem to be much of an impact on the ground from it.
REHMTom Gjelten of NPR, Indira Lakshmanan of the Bloomberg News and Mark Mardell of the BBC. Short break here and more of your calls, your comments when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back, we'll go right back to the phones to Carol in Chevy Chase, Md. Good morning, you're on the air.
CAROLGood morning, thank you, Diane. I think that the reaction to the DIA report seems overblown by the congressmen as well as others. Didn't the report say that it had low to moderate confidence in its own conclusions and therefore shouldn't we sort of put that in some kind of perspective?
GJELTENIt actually said moderate confidence, Carol, but you make a good argument that maybe too much attention has been paid to this. A couple of points, first of all, I've covered the intelligence community and you get debate and dissent within the intelligence community.
GJELTENThat's part of the process and this is one of the reasons they don't like their reports to become public because they want to be able to -- one agency wants to be able to go out on a limb and sort of provoke a debate and then you know, eventually you get a consensus. This was not a consensus.
GJELTENWhat the director of national intelligence last night said is that this does not represent the view of the entire intelligence community. And in fact, what I understand from speaking to intelligence officials is, it was essentially a mistake that this became public.
GJELTENThat that section of the report that was read by the congressman was erroneously declassified, or erroneously not classified. There was never the intent to have this be out in the public.
LAKSHMANANYeah, I think also part of what the caller may be thinking of is that the moderate -- there was moderate confidence in the finding and the finding also said that the reliability of North Korea's missiles will be low. So that's where she may be getting that low from.
LAKSHMANANBut there's also domestic politics and pork-barreling involved in all this, which is that Doug Lamborn, who is the Colorado Republican who made this public in a hearing, is seeking additional money for missile defense for his district because his congressional district includes the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the U.S. Northern Command, Peterson Air Force Base, the U.S. Air Force Academy. So let's not forget he also had his own political reasons for reading that sentence aloud.
MARDELLI think these guys are also the same ones who saw chemical weapons in Iraq so we know that intelligence isn't absolutely 100 percent...
REHMWell, now here's an email from Rose: "Why don't Russia and the countries adjacent to Syria make a diplomatic effort to safeguard the chemical weapons now instead of waiting until the war is over?"
GJELTENWell, that's kind of an oxymoron, a diplomatic effort to safeguard chemical weapons. Chemical weapons can only be safeguarded by, you know, military forces is what I would say.
REHMAll right, to Orlando, Fla. Hi there John, you're on the air.
JOHNHi, I've a question regarding Cyprus.
JOHNAnd from a lay person's point of view, two questions, number one, has stabilizing a banking agency or a bank in the United States, has it ever been contemplated here to capture depositor funds? And if not, is there any reason to think that given this happening in Cyprus and with the instability in the European Union that it might not ever be considered here in the United States?
LAKSHMANANWell, we have the FDIC so, you know, bank depositors, deposits in the United States are guaranteed up to a certain level and that's obviously a result of what happened during the Great Depression and the market crash in the United States.
LAKSHMANANI mean, what was so frustrating and upsetting for Cypriot depositors is that there was basically an understanding, although Europe doesn't have its own FDIC, there was an understanding that ordinary depositors would have their deposits guaranteed up to around, I think it was, 100,000 Euros. And ultimately they had to come up with a new deal that wasn't going to affect, you know, the pensioners and the widows, you know, just living off that and it was going to hit harder on the Russian money launderers who keep so much money in Cyprus.
LAKSHMANANBut I'm not sure that there is much concern about this having a knock-on effect in the United States. I think the knock-on effect people are worried about is depositors in Portugal or Spain or Italy or some of these other, you know, peripheral, so-called Eurozone states that are having economic troubles.
LAKSHMANANAnd if I were one of those depositors, I think I would be taking -- I don't want to say this on the air, but I would be a little bit worried about my money in a national bank, about whether it could be seized in the future.
REHMExactly, all right. Let's talk about Margaret Thatcher. There has been lots of mixed news about her legacy since her death. Mark?
MARDELLThat's right, and as a young or younger reporter, I covered the end of her reign, as it were, and her political demise and she was always controversial. And even her death, usually obituaries are a chance to look back with some distance and some elegance perhaps, but it has erupted in the media and indeed in Britain generally.
MARDELLI mean, she was a woman of vision, simple vision, but she wanted to strip socialism, as she saw it, out of Britain and she combined that with a courage that we have to say wasn't reckless and a political cunning. She knew when to go into battle, swinging that handbag, that famous handbag.
MARDELLBut she did change the face of Britain through privatizations, destroying the power of unions, fighting the Falklands War. But now as people look back, I mean, some people celebrate her for what she did, others are holding parties to celebrate her death. A policeman has been sacked for tweeting she died 87 years too late.
MARDELLThere's a campaign to get the Judy Garland song, "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" to number one. I think it is number two as we speak, so a hugely divisive figure and, again, igniting those passions in Britain.
GJELTENI think that, you know, sometimes, Margaret Thatcher's era has passed so there has been a time sort of to reflect on her legacy and I think one of the most interesting commentaries has been that while she played an important role in breaking Britain from its past in terms of the legacy of Statism, the power of unions et cetera, she did not do a great job of preparing Britain for its future and that distinction between the past and the future is, I think, really critical to understanding the divided feelings about her rule now.
LAKSHMANANOne of the things that I find really interesting in watching this is something more about the British people, which is the different way in which they hold their elected leaders, not in reverence the way that Americans hold their former elected leaders, but you know, very much, you know, any man on the street can say anything they want about their elected leaders and feels free to do so.
LAKSHMANANAnd I say this reflecting on the death of Ronald Reagan who was an extremely divisive figure in his eight years in power in the United States. And suddenly when he died, this hagiography took over like he was the, you know, like he was this revered, beloved, bipartisan figure, which, you know, I can assure you, as can everyone who was alive during those years, he certainly was not beloved by both sides of the aisle.
LAKSHMANANSo I found that interesting that the British and particularly the Scottish did not feel it necessary to hold her in that regard. And, you know, there's some really interesting comments out there about how she destroyed her party's standing in Scotland and she did more than any other single person to promote the eventual breakup of the U.K. because of that.
LAKSHMANANThat the demise of British manufacturing and the destruction of skilled jobs came because of her and that she promoted the sale of council homes, public housing and created a current housing crisis and, you know, promoted depression. I thought that was very interesting that the British were able to have a debate about this in a way that the Americans never really had a debate about Reagan's legacy.
MARDELLThat struck me as well. I think that's absolutely true and the sort of lack of deference. You could even say lack of gratitude that the other great figure that -- the prime minister of the 20th century was Churchill and, of course, he was, after getting us through the Second World War, sacked by the electorate.
MARDELLMargaret Thatcher, having transformed not only her own party but the Labor Party, virtually destroyed it at that stage, was sacked by her cabinet colleagues who had just had enough of her hectoring ways. And I think that the way that we look back on her now is different from even five years ago.
MARDELLI think, again, you had another important point that one could have said, even people on the left would have said, well, she did some transformative things like privatization as it were 20 years ahead of the rest of Europe, getting rid of the state control of their industries.
MARDELLBut now you think getting rid of manufacturing, was that really so (word?) ?
MARDELLLook at Germany, look at the United States. Manufacturing is coming back and it's a really important base.
REHMAnd a question for you Mark, please discuss Margaret Thatcher's master handling of the media and her eponymous cult of personality.
MARDELLAnd very, yeah, intriguing the way she did it, I think because she didn't go out to create an image. She didn't go to the polling groups and see what would go down well, but she created the image of a grocer's daughter from Grantham or be the equivalent of it, a store owner's daughter from Ohio, middle of the country, middle income.
MARDELLWhilst a lot of her fans and supporters were actually very rich business people, she cultivated the sense that she was for the ordinary, hard-working man or woman who were just fed up with being bossed around by the government.
REHMAll right, let's take a call on this very subject from Jeff in Charlotte, N.C. Good morning, you're on the air.
JEFFHey, good morning. As a working-class lad from England and also working-class and 50 years in America, Margaret Thatcher was such a champion of free-market capitalism that she imported coal from Communist Poland. She had ships built in Communist Poland to destroy the British coal-mining industry, to destroy the British ship-building industry, to destroy manufacturing and engineering in order to make London the financial center of Europe which it is.
JEFFBut certainly the unions needed some kind of restrictions, but to destroy the entire industrial capacity of Britain was absolutely, in my opinion, completely insane.
GJELTENWell, Margaret Thatcher represented in her own rule, her governance, I think, represented a triumph of ideology over pragmatism and a more pragmatic approach to policymaking during her years would have seen that there are limitations, that there are drawbacks to a totally free-market, laissez-faire economics. And when we saw those in this country, that when you have free-market forces completely unleashed, what you get is a financial crisis because there are no restraints on our financial institutions and they do incredibly reckless things that are not in the public interest.
GJELTENAnd the same thing happened in London as a result of her approach to laissez-faire economics. And as I said before, she did not recognize that there is a role for the state in the management of the economy and the, sort of the global world. And by being so a hardline on a number of these issues, she really didn't prepare Britain for the challenges that it would be facing.
LAKSHMANANOne comment to the listener who was asking about her management of the media and, you know, one reply to that is that she did not ever have the genial facade that Reagan had and Reagan was able to, you know, break the air traffic controllers and do what he did always with a smile on his face and she always had that sort of hectoring schoolmarm, you know, feeling about her.
LAKSHMANANAnd also it's not just the ideology. It's the ideology which, you know, sort of overtook everything. And I read one comment on the Guardian website, which I thought was really interesting, where one reader wrote in, she was a friend of Pinochet and an enemy of Mandela, enough said.
REHMIndira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Gideon in Indianapolis. Good morning, you're on the air.
GIDEONGood morning, Diane, thanks for taking my call.
GIDEONMy question is, why did we go to Libya and not Syria?
REHMTom, do you want to take that on?
GJELTENFor the umpteenth time, Diane, you know, what the United States, what policymakers say -- and it's not only with respect to Libya and Syria is that a country does not have to have absolute consistency. A country intervenes in defense of its interests as it defines them at the time and it may, you know, apparently policymakers in the United States decided it was in the U.S. interest to intervene in Libya and not, at least in the beginning, in U.S. interests to intervene in Syria.
GJELTENSo there is not a kind of a one-size fits all paradigm that any country will follow in implementing foreign policy.
LAKSHMANANI also think it's not just that. I think it's also about what they see as doable and what they can accomplish. And I think the White House saw Libya as, you know, an overthrow of a government they could do, that they would succeed there. And from the very beginning, I think they've seen Syria as a much more intractable problem with huge regional spillover and implications for, you know, the rest of the region. And even though they would like to see the regime go, I don't think they see it as clean an operation as Libya was in their view at the time.
REHMAnd here's a question from Mike in Cincinnati: "How does the North Korean nuclear issue define or affect U.S. foreign policy toward Iran and its nuclear program?"
GJELTENWell, at this moment, Iran looks like a relatively rational actor compared to North Korea and ,you know, given some of the statements that have come from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that's quite a statement. But I think that, you know, there's two points here.
GJELTENOne argument is that having allowed North Korea to get a nuclear weapon, having not intervened to block it when it had a chance, the United States could be accused of a double standard in not allowing Iran to sort of follow that example.
GJELTENOn the other hand, the other argument would be that we now see what happens when you allow a rogue state to develop a nuclear weapons capability and that should give us some advice on how to deal with Iran.
REHMSo will South Korea now push for its own nuclear weapons?
MARDELLYes, well, it's certainly pushing for nuclear energy and I think that's one of Kerry's purposes on the visit to say, don't go down that path. And of course, it's one of President Obama's strongest messages to the world is that nuclear proliferation is something that has to be stopped and this is what people fear about Iran getting a hold of a weapon as well as that other people will want it naturally. And that if you allow these states to get a hold of them, other people will want them as well.
REHMSo if South Korea were to begin developing nuclear energy, what's that going to do between the north and the south?
LAKSHMANANWell, I mean, there already is an existing agreement between the U.S and South Korea about civil nuclear cooperation and what we're talking about is the renewal of that in certain strictures. I mean, the U.S. a couple of years ago, at the very end of Condoleezza Rice's time as secretary of state, had inked a deal with the United Arab Emirates, a very sort of tough deal about civil nuclear cooperation which involved that the UAE pledged to not do any of their own enrichment and only seek fuel from the outside.
LAKSHMANANAnd what the Obama administration has tried to do is use that as a model for all civil nuclear cooperation going forward but it's not, you know, that's easier said than done. And a lot of countries have said, look we have a need to produce our own nuclear fuel and so I think that this, you know, I think we do need to separate a civilian nuclear program from the question of a nuclear arms program.
LAKSHMANANBut as I mentioned earlier in the program a recent poll shows that a majority of South Koreans now think that they should have a nuclear weapons program if North Korea continues to...
REHMLast word, Tom.
GJELTENThis is a very important issue to South Koreans. They insist that they want to re-process plutonium not as part of a nuclear weapons program but for their own purposes but that plutonium could become an element in the manufacture of a weapon in the future.
REHMTom Gjelten of NPR, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and Mark Mardell of the BBC have a great weekend everybody.
MARDELLYou too, Diane.
REHMThank you and thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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