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.
Guest Host: Susan Page
The U.S. is pressing for a comprehensive United Nations investigation of chemical weapons use in Syria. Canada foils a terror plot to derail a passenger train. And the deadly collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh. A panel of journalists provides analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Jonathan Tepperman managing editor of Foreign Affairs.
- Susan Glasser editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine.
- James Kitfield senior correspondent for National Journal.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I’m Susan Page of US Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's in Michigan accepting an award. She'll be back on Monday. The United States suspects Syria has used chemical weapons. Canada foils a terror plot to derail a passenger train. And the deadly collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh. Joining me for the international hour of our Friday News Roundup to discuss these and other stories, James Kitfield of National Journal, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy Magazine and Jonathan Tepperman of Foreign Affairs. Jonathan you're making your first appearance on the News Roundup, welcome.
MR. JONATHAN TEPPERMANThank you very much.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation during this hour. You can call our toll free number, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email anytime to firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Susan, we had really an extraordinary announcement yesterday by the Obama administration on Syria and chemical weapons. What did they say?
MS. SUSAN GLASSERWell, they said that they do now believe -- although not with the highest likelihood of certainty -- that there has been use most likely by the Assad regime of chemical weapons as part of Syria's ongoing civil war. The reason this is incredibly significant, not only in and of itself, is that such a weapon would be used, but President Obama himself had declared last summer that this was a red line and that if crossed it would trigger some response by the United States. So it appears to back President Obama, in some ways, into a corner of being forced to either take action on his red line having been crossed or risk undermining the United States' reputation in the Middle East.
PAGEWell, Jonathan, why did the administration send these letters to Congress and have Defense Secretary Hagel make this statement on this yesterday? Why did they choose to say this now?
TEPPERMANYou know, it's a really good question. I suspect it's a combination of factors. One, it's significant that the day before the American declaration the Israelis and the British and the French all came out saying essentially the same thing. And that may have -- and I'm sure was in part driven by evidence, but in part I think was an attempt to nudge the United States into action. And then it's possible and likely that the United States has finally amassed so much evidence itself that it felt like it could no longer sit on the sidelines.
TEPPERMANBut as Susan has said, this creates a big problem for the Obama administration, which is when you promise action you then have to act. And this is a president who's made it very clear that he does not want to get involved in Syria.
PAGEWell, James Kitfield, you write in National Journal. I guess posted just this morning or last night, that doing -- you know, the headline on your piece is, "Doing Nothing In Syria Is Riskier Than Getting Involved." Why is that?
MR. JAMES KITFIELDWell, because we've seen this slow-motion train wreck play out over the last year. You now have refugees in the hundreds of thousands pouring over the borders to all the neighborhoods and really exacerbating the sectarian divides between the Sunnis and the Shias in these neighboring countries, like Iraq, like Lebanon. Jordan is really inundated with refugees it really can't afford to take care of. Turkey has hundreds of thousands of refugees. There is a lot of concern that the opposition now is being sort of--the Islamist extremists are coming to the ford. Al-Qaida linked groups, linked specifically to al-Qaida in Iraq, have really taken the fore in the fighting because they're very experienced. They've had 10 years to go to school on our forces in Iraq.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDThey are doing a lot of these suicide bombings. The concern is the day after Assad falls you've got the most powerful actor in Syria who will be Islamic extremists. It starts to look a lot like Afghanistan so it's a big concern. And the longer you wait, all the neighbors are saying this to the Obama administration, the longer you wait the more deeply rooted the extremists get inside of Syria so we need some action.
GLASSERYes. And that being said, I think those are very important points. I would not expect, necessarily, to see that a major deployment of U.S. troops any time in the immediate future. First of all, there's a question of what's going to happen now that we've said, and our closest allies have said, that chemical weapons appear to have been used. Well, the Obama administration is now going to join the British and the French who actually have demanded a full United Nations investigation. Well, as we all know, that could take a very long time. And, in fact, one of the things that you're hearing from the sort of background senior administration officials who are being quoted right now is, well, because the president has said this is a red line, that makes it all the more important that we're absolutely, certainly positive about what's gone on here before we do anything.
GLASSERSo, on the one hand, they're still buying for time. You know, they're looking to get as much space and leeway as possible while they decide what is a commensurate and proportional response to something like this. So there's that factor. And then secondarily, I do believe that there is just such a resistance to intervention at this point. The president himself has shown that he's deeply, personally allergic to even the modest escalations of engagement that his own advisors have been recommending. Remember that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former CIA Director David Petraeus last year were aggressively lobbying internally the president -- this has come out -- to send more forms of nonlethal aid to the rebels.
GLASSERHe did not agree. Secretary of State John Kerry came in, picked up the mantle from Hillary Clinton, made it his first order of business in fact, to try to persuade the president to send things like body armor and night vision goggles to the rebels. Even that has caused Obama to personally balk, when all of his advisors were more or less united in recommending that he do this.
TEPPERMANWhy are they recommending?
PAGENo. Why is the president not willing to do even relatively modest steps to help the Syrian resistance?
TEPPERMANI think the simple answer -- and it's understandable -- is that the last thing this president wants is to get involved in another conflict in the Arab world and in the Muslim world. Having successfully withdrawn from Iraq and being in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan, this is a chief executive who does not want to get drawn into yet another conflict, especially at a time when his main priorities are all domestic. But in terms of the case for action, I think that James is absolutely right. The best metaphor that I've heard so far is that Syria is turning into Yugoslavia, combined with Somalia.
TEPPERMANSo you have a Balkanized state that's falling apart, but is also already becoming a breeding ground for international terrorism and has the potential to destabilize the entire region. So you have really good reasons to get involved. You also have pretty good reasons not to get involved.
KITFIELDI agree with all of that. And his reluctance is real and palpable and we all see it, but let's look what's happened just since his reelection. We've doubled our assistance to the opposition. We are now -- and the White House official confirmed yesterday -- spending $250 million buying things like body armor, buying things like communications equipment, buying things like field medicine, you know, triage equipment for them. The next step is whether or not we will okay some sort of weapons transfers, whether from ourselves directly or from our allies that can take away his advantage in air power.
KITFIELDYou have hawks in Congress saying that we should also establish sanctuaries inside Syria for these refugees to go to that we would protect, but with a no-fly zone or whatever. That may be a step too far. Clearly, Susan's right. There'll be no huge military footprint inside Syria because as we've seen in a lot of these cases, as was with the case in Libya, as was the case in Somalia, we can do a lot of things with surveillance, special forces, intelligence on the ground that could really empower the opposition. I wouldn't be at all surprised if that's down the road.
PAGEOur phone lines are open. You can give us a call on our toll free number, 1-800-433-8850. Susan Glasser?
GLASSERWell, you know, that's an important point I want to pick up on, which is, you know, we talked about Libya, Somalia. The unintended consequences of potential intervention are also those being weighed very heavily by President Obama right now. First of all, Syria is in a far more strategic position in the world than Somalia, for example, was. And so the spill-over consequences of both action and inaction are enormous. James mentioned refugees already spilling across the borders into Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey. You have the question of our already disastrous relationship with Iran and, you know, what is this going to mean in terms of a possible escalation of our conflict with Iran over their nuclear program.
GLASSERNext door is Iraq, which seems to be unraveling and I think is one of the big under-covered stories of this week, frankly, is the incredible escalating violence and renewal of sectarian warfare inside Iraq that really threatens to pull apart the fragile governing consensus that has existed since the United States pulled out. And that's right next door. It's driven by many of the same circumstances that are driving and powering the civil war in Syria. You may see a spillover effect of fighters going both ways across that troublesome border.
GLASSERSo, you know, I think the consequences of action by the United States could backfire as well. And I think that that's the cautionary things that you hear right now from the White House, as well. Like, we can see what happens when we don't act. There are 70,000 dead inside Syria. There are now an estimated three million refugees, both internal and external from the country. But what if an intervention in Syria causes Russia and China to back Iran's nuclear program, for example, which is something that former Ambassador Jim Jeffrey argues, you know, on our site today.
PAGEOn the other hand, hard for the United States not to respond if, in fact, chemical weapons are being used there. Jonathan, how confident is the United States that they, in fact, have been used? Because the statement yesterday seemed to be trying to have it both ways, saying yes, we have evidence they have been used, but then saying, they were with varying degrees of confidence.
TEPPERMANThat's right. You're seeing a lot of prevarication and a lot of waffling and a lot of definition games. I mean, I wouldn't be surprised if we get down to discussions about what the meaning of 'is' is. And this in part reflects the administration's caution, but some of it, I think, is well motivated. And the one piece that we haven't raised yet is a certain historical analogy. Intelligence assessments saying that weapons of mass destruction have been used, making a case for action, invasion of a Muslim country. Does this ring any bells? Of course, we're back to Iraq 10 years ago. And so that is a reason for the United States to hesitate and to make sure that the evidence is as firm and as concrete as possible before you go in.
TEPPERMANThat said, I think calling for a U.N. investigation, for example, when, by the way, we already have U.N. inspectors in Cypress who haven't been able to get into the country, isn't going to get us anywhere.
PAGEGlenn Thrush, in the first hour of our News Roundup, made the point that the White House put out this statement as the president was taking the podium to speak at the George W. Bush Library dedication, certainly a presidency was defined by that invasion of Iraq.
KITFIELDAnd President Obama, you know, is defined by his opposition to that invasion of Iraq. So his instincts on this are very, very clear. Wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Don't start any more wars. We understand that. We're finding out right now what the cost of that doctrine is going to be, though.
PAGEJames Kitfield. He's senior correspondent for the National Journal. And we're also joined in the studio by Susan Glasser. She's editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy Magazine. And Jonathan Tepperman, he's managing editor of Foreign Affairs. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue our conversation, we'll take some of your calls and we'll talk about the foreign policy implications of that terrible bombing in Boston. Stay with us.
PAGEBefore we move on from the issue of Syria, let me read a couple emails that we've gotten already in this hour. Here's one. "My redline, if the administration gets involved in another war, they will lose me as a supporter. Our involvement in wars in the past have not gained significant achievement. More wars will sink us." And here's an email from Brian who writes us from Jackson, N.H. He writes, "Why is it always up to us, the United States, to keep the peace in countries where we are not wanted by large numbers of the population. Isn't it someone else's turn?"
PAGESo, James, what's your sense about U.S. public opinion when it comes to taking action in Syria?
KITFIELDI think that was a very good reflection of U.S. public opinion. This country's very war-weary. We've spent masses amounts of money in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have a worse, you know, economic meltdown since the depression. So unsurprisingly, you know, the populace does not want another war. Obama sensed this. He's a consummate politician and he doesn't want another war either. Why doesn't someone -- why can't someone else do it?
KITFIELDI mean, if you understand how this system works, we are the global super power that keeps sort of the -- that polices this sort of international global architecture of alliances and governance. And we can step back from that. That's a perfectly rational decision but there will be cost also to not -- you know, we have very close allies in the Middle East, Jordan, Turkey who is a NATO partner and a close ally. We're trying to make an ally out of Iraq. We have the Gulf monarchies close -- Qatar who have a U.S. base there.
KITFIELDWe have very tight alliance structure ever since the Carter doctrine of the '70s said the Middle East is an area of strategic interest to the United States. And we will defend our interests in that region. And we can step back from that. All I'm saying is there are costs to that because no one's going to step in. You know, there's not -- China's not the least bit interested in stepping in and being sort of the big player in this. So it just leaves it to a lot of regional actors like Iran, some of it who work directly against U.S. interests.
PAGEHere's an email from Hailey who writes us from Oklahoma City, Okla. "I keep hearing reporters questioning if the United States should seek to secure the possible WMDs in Syria. What would it mean to secure these items? Where would they end up? I wonder what it would look like to the world if the U.S. secured them and stored them?" Susan, can you help Hailey?
GLASSERWell, you know, that's an excellent question. And part of the answer is that no one really knows. There has been talk in the administration when President Obama last summer declared this WMD used to be a redline for him. There was discussion at the time of what would that look like. And, you know, there are units -- there's a special unit of the Syrian forces that is believed to be in charge of the chemical weapons store. Assad is believed to have one of the largest storehouses of chemical weapons of any military in the world. He's believed to possess not only this sarin-like gas that is -- allegedly was used in March, but also mustard gas and VX gas.
GLASSERIt's also believed that, you know, those are terrible military weapons, right. You know, James is the expert here, but this is a tactic of terror. So the U.S. presumably, if they were looking to secure these, would be targeting sort of a special operations type swooping in to try to identify right now. Gather as much intelligence on where exactly the weapons are stored, how to secure them, taking over that unit. Potentially reaching out through defectors from Assad's military to send the message to those who remain on the inside, the generals and what have you.
GLASSERThat, you know, you better give this stuff to us if it's a choice between us and the al-Qaida linked militant who might be coming to take them over. You know, you probably want to give them to the U.S. So I think all channels would be worked to do that and you might see a kind of special operation. But that would be a very risky maneuver in a country that, by all accounts, we have very little good intelligence of that.
PAGEIf in fact we secured them, would we destroy them?
TEPPERMANAlmost certainly we would destroy them. Getting our hands on them would be the problem. And as Susan said, they're spread out. We don't know for sure that we have a handle on them. He's moved them around a bit and there were some reports about that. You could bomb them but that would -- you know, you would kill probably a lot of people and it would maybe risk having some of these things explode and kill civilians.
TEPPERMANGoing in in the middle of a civil war is very risky. Whoever did that would have to be a pretty, you know, strong force. I don't think just a handful of people can do that. You have to fight your way into these, you know, guarded facilities. So it's a very (word?) problem and, you know, they very much want not to have to do that.
KITFIELDAnd there's one other nightmare scenario, of course, that we have to acknowledge, which is the possibility that this is precisely the kind of action that would trigger Assad to use the chemical weapons that he still has in a big way, which he hasn't done so far.
PAGELet's talk about the Boston bombings this week. We saw the focus in the investigation turn to the Republic of Dagestan. Susan, tell us about this place. I think a lot of American's probably hadn't even heard of it before.
GLASSERWell, that's exactly right. It really cast a spotlight, I think, on a corner of the world that -- you know, I spend four years living in Russia. And, you know, Dagestan and Chechnya were front page news. But unfortunately except when there were these terrible mass terrorist events, that's pretty much the only time that the global public -- the American public paid attention. When I was in Russia, those were the taking over of a Moscow theater siege. I'm sure you remember that 900 people taken hostage by Chechen fighters.
GLASSERThen you had a few years later the horrible incident in Beslan where hundreds of school children were killed ultimately in a terrible nightmare terrorist scenario. So the Republic of Dagestan is in the North Caucasus, borders on Chechnya and actually has been the scene in many way of as active of a war in the last few years as in Chechnya itself. Every day there are violent incidents there. And this is a very restive area where the Russian crackdown, and their war on terror if you will, has been taking place right inside their country in the North Caucasus.
PAGEJonathan, is there an Islamic insurgency there?
TEPPERMANIs there -- sure there is. There is an organization that calls itself the emeritus of the Caucus, which is a classic Islamist -- radical Islamist organization that's determined to turn the region into an Islamic state governed by Sharia Law. Now the extent to which they are interested in exporting terror abroad is open for question. What you've seen in the last few years actually is a reduction in the amount of terror that is coming from the region to other parts, both of Russia and to the rest of the world.
TEPPERMANAnd that's why, in part, the Dagestanis, including this -- the emeritus of Dagestan themselves were very quick to denounce -- declaim any responsibility for this.
PAGEWell, do we know that there are ties between them and the Boston bombers?
GLASSERWell, no. I mean, no, not at all. We don't and that's what's being under investigation. I think that's very important to say. But on the other hand, I think what's so striking about this story and why this is a very relevant part of the conversation is, what you see in the recent years is in effect the globalization of Jihad and the al-Qaida brand on the internet. And so that anyone who is disaffected, whether they're in Boston or Cambridge, Mass. or in Makhachkala, Dagestan has...
PAGEI'm very impressed you could put out the name of that city in such a fluent way.
GLASSERYou know, everybody has access right now to this more globalized form of Jihad on the one hand. On the other hand, you have very specific historical circumstances, the Chechen people. And remember that the Tsarnaev brothers are, you know, Chechen through their father. Their mother is Dagestani by nationality. These are perhaps the most oppressed minority in the world. They have the most horrific history. And if you don't think that's relevant, you know, there's a bridge in Brooklyn.
GLASSERSo the entire nation of Chechnya was deported by Stalin in 1944 after, by the way, ,more than a century or two of war with the Russians who tried to and successfully did absorb Chechnya into their empire. That is followed by history of exile, of diaspora, of two -- not one but two wars since the Soviet Union collapsed with Russia. And so you have this not only an independence movement in Chechnya and a sort of element of national liberation struggle that's gone on, but of course, as they lost -- as they became more and more marginalized that became more Islamicized. It became more an Islamic Jihad and less of an independence struggle per say.
GLASSERBut you have all of these complicated strands coming together. The Tsarnaev brothers were part of that Chechen diaspora. They were eager to know more about their history. They didn't grow up in Chechnya so on the one hand, you know, we're not talking about people who were fighting for their independence and took their fight from Chechnya to Boston. I think that's too simplistic of a narrative.
GLASSERBut clearly they were very curious. And as they became more engaged with Islam, especially it appears the older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, they were both eager to find their history and perhaps embrace a more radical form of Islam than had traditionally been present in Chechnya, due to this globalization of a more hard line Islam -- a Salafi Islam. And he was reported to have gone to the most hard line mosque in Dagestan when he visited there for six months last year.
KITFIELDWell, there's an interesting profile and I agree with what Susan says. I mean, if you look at this phenomena of immigrants who have a hard time assimilating, young men who come from regions of the world that are engaged in conflict, specifically Muslim conflict of separatist nature, a lot of these guys tend to radicalize. Those -- the London bombers were -- fit that profile. They were sort of Pakistanis with tribal ties to Cashmere, which is a separatist section of India that's overwhelmingly Muslim.
KITFIELDThe Madrid bombers had ties to the Algerian civil war, which was, you know, a war between Muslim factions, Islamic extremist Muslims and the government there. And this -- the guy who wanted to bomb the New York subways was -- came from sort of the Pakistan -- had traveled -- ties to Pakistan and where a lot of our enemies in Afghanistan are holed up. So you see this profile again and again. It's not necessarily a connection to a particular group, but it's a sense of grievance, an alienation from having a hard time assimilating. And they look back to their home country and see, you know, this conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims and that can radicalize them.
TEPPERMANI think the point about linkage is an important one. Of course, we don't know the details yet but if there turns out to be one -- a connection, I should say, between the brothers and what's happening in the region, it is much more likely to be that they were inspired rather than directly directed. And the simple reason for that is the last thing that the movements in Dagestan and Chechnya want is for the Russian war on terror and the American war on terror to link up.
TEPPERMANThe Russians have been trying to convince Washington for a long time that this is the same battle. And that's absolutely the last thing that the Dagestanis want.
PAGESo, Susan, what is the attitude that the Russians have taken to this bombing in Boston?
GLASSERYeah, I think that's a very important piece of it. You know, this is a classic I-told-you-so moment for Vladimir Putin. As, by the way, historically over the last decade, right, that has been the attitude after 9/11. And in many ways that was the reason that Putin was so quick to call up George W. Bush and to offer his pledge of assistance. Because the Russians have long believed that Americans were dangerously naïve about the threat that Islamic fundamentalism posed to their Western way of life.
GLASSERAnd so -- and of course, Americans have been very critical of the massive human rights violations and the brutal conduct that the Russians engaged in in suppressing these two rebellions in Chechnya. And so this looks like vindication of any sort to the Russians, and they'll take it. Even if of course it does not -- at the same time very interestingly you saw Ramzan Kadyrov, the very brutal Kremlin-approved leader of Chechnya come out quickly after the Boston bombings and say, hey wait a minute. You know, these are American boys. They have nothing to do with Chechnya. And, you know, they're your problem, not ours. So there are conflicting messages.
GLASSERChechnya wants to say, no thank you, we don't own this. But Vladimir Putin wants to say, see look, we told you. And literally in this case the Russians appear to have warned the United States about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and possibly the mother as well.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Well, speaking of the mother, we saw this extraordinary news conference yesterday in Dagestan with the mother of the two suspected bombers saying that it was a fraud and a setup and her boys weren't involved. And amazing comments we saw on the TV last night.
TEPPERMANYou know, I think we can be sympathetic to any parent whose lost one son and is about to lose another one for life. She can't believe it. And you get that and, you know, it makes for good TV but should we be surprised that a mother can't believe that their sons turned out bad? I don't think so. To me it was pretty tragic.
KITFIELDThere's another important point here, which is conspiracy theories that may sound crazy in Boston sound a lot less crazy in Russia, Especially in the Caucasus. We've had at least one incident, the tragic apartment bombing in Moscow in the late '90s, which was blamed on the Chechens. But there are a lot of questions about whether there was actually a Russian connivance. And all the time Chechen boys are killed in the region and are accused of being terrorists and are not necessarily so.
PAGELet's go to Katherine. She's calling us from Ann Arbor, Mich. Katherine, you're on the air.
KATHERINEHi. Thank you for taking my call. I was wondering if you could comment on the two Orthodox Bishops who were kidnapped in Syria this week, and if that reflects the larger situation of the Christian minority in Syria?
PAGEAll right. Let me ask if anyone on the panel can respond to that. Susan, how about you?
GLASSERWell, you know, I don't know a lot of details about this particular incident, but I think the caller is raising a very important point, which is the point about the Christian minority in Syria so far. Actually they have stuck more or less with the Assad regime. Remember that Assad himself comes from a minority, the Alawite minority. And that's part of what he's used more or less successfully to hold parts of his governing coalition together is to say, look the opposition -- the rebels to me are really Sunni Islamic hard line fighters.
GLASSERThey're allied with al-Qaida. They're terrorists. In some ways it's out of the Putin Russia playbook. And especially saying to, you know, the Christian minority, which has long existed for hundreds of years in Syria saying, you know, they're going to come for you if you don't stick by me.
PAGEKatherine, thanks very much for your call. Let's talk about what happened in Canada. The Canadian government accuses two men of planning to derail a train in a plot they say was linked to al-Qaida. What do we know about this, James?
KITFIELDWell, they've been under surveillance for over years. They probably have a fair amount of evidence. And before they arrest these guys they wanted to derail a train outside of Toronto. Ties -- the real interesting thing about this case is ties to al-Qaida elements inside Iran -- I mean, we've not seen -- Iran is a Shiite country that has been kind of at war with Sunni extremist groups for a long time. Supported, you know, the different factions in Afghanistan back in the day. Because they see these -- you know, the Shiite/Sunni divide is really the most inflamed divide in that part of the world.
KITFIELDSo it's very weird that they did allow, after 9/11, some of bin Laden's sons and his wives and children who -- to come to Iran and be in a quote unquote "house arrest." More recently they've started to expel those people purportedly because they have had friction between them and the Shiite sort of government over what's happening in Syria. So it's very weird that -- and that group of al-Qaida people in Iran have not been known to actually be operational, because that would be something that we would call Iran on if it happened.
KITFIELDSo that's a kind of weird twist. And we're not sure exactly -- it hasn't been revealed, you know, exactly what al-Qaida elements, although the Canadian government did say it was not state-sponsored. So the Iranians apparently didn't know about this.
TEPPERMANJames is absolutely right. Iran and al-Qaida would seem to make very strange bedfellows. But there have been, as he pointed out, some elements of cooperation before. There was a 2011 statement by the U.S. Treasury Department that Iran was allowing al-Qaida to fund -- to send funds and personnel through the country. And there are now good reasons for the two -- the country and the organization to join forces, which is that old principle that the enemy of your enemy is my friend.
TEPPERMANThese are both groups that are on the ropes. Al-Qaida has been decimated by the killing of Osama bin Laden and by the controversial but very successful drone campaign. Iran is being devastated by American sanctions, which are crippling its economy. So it's not hard for me to imagine that the two of them would decide to join forces and strike back as hard as they can.
PAGENow we had a report last night that Canada tried in 2004 to deport one of the two men who are accused of this crime. But he was able to stay because he argued he was a stateless Palestinian with no place to be sent. And they also pardoned him for some crimes that had been a problem in his past, Susan.
GLASSERWell, you know, it's striking listening to that, thinking about the Boston story as well, that in a free society, no matter how much you decide to make security a priority, you're going to have your own systems used against you.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break and when we come back we'll talk about that terrible incident in Bangladesh that has left so many dead at a garment factory. And we'll take your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio for the second hour of our Friday News Roundup, Jonathan Tepperman, managing editor of Foreign Affairs magazine, Susan Glasser, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine and James Kitfield. He's senior correspondent for National Journal.
PAGEWell, we've just gotten news from the BBC that a large group of people in Bangladesh have been found alive inside that garment factory that collapsed. As many as 50 people trapped at various places on the third floor have now been found, but the death toll has risen to at least 307 people. Susan Glasser, how could this happen?
GLASSERWell, you know, I think this is one of those, you know, sort of tragic globalization moments when we sit back and we realize, you know, we actually have no idea where our iPhones come from, where our dresses come from in the case of a factory like this in Bangladesh, which made clothing for American and European brands.
GLASSERWhere our, you know, all those great, cheap things at Walmart come from, that was the last big fire, you'll remember, was a Walmart supplier. And I think that's part of the horror of it is that you're looking at a country that doesn't have the same basic standards for building codes, for the political governance and system that would go along with enforcing real building codes, with the kind of emergency response.
GLASSERYou know, think about the difference between Boston and when, you know, this trauma happened at the Boston Marathon, six major trauma centers within a mile and a half of the finish line. You know, those people in Bangladesh, look at the pictures. It's just men on the street who ran to help those poor people trapped inside.
TEPPERMANI think Susan is absolutely right. I would frame the issue slightly differently, which is we have four or five interlocking problems here. The first is the rise of global supply chains. The second is the fact that American consumers have been led to expect and now demand incredibly cheap commodities.
TEPPERMANThe third is you have countries like Bangladesh, which are desperately poor and are desperately dependent on these kinds of exports. In Bangladesh, clothing exports alone accounts for $19 billion a year. What this has created is a desperate race to the bottom, a competition where poor countries around the world are trying to produce goods as cheaply as possible and that means paying their workers as little as possible and not doing much about worker protection.
TEPPERMANAnd then, finally, you have these very complicated chains contractors and subcontractors and subcontractors so it's not like this was a Walmart factory. This was someone working for someone working for someone working to send goods to Walmart. And what that does is it makes the legal and even the moral chains of responsibility very difficult to disentangle.
KITFIELDI mean, it's a very good point. There's, you know, plausible deniability. It's almost like as people launder money, you know. By the time you get to the contractor who's actually overseeing the factory, you know, Walmart can say, well, we don’t know this guy. You know, that contract has been passed through four or five subcontractors.
KITFIELDJust since the fire in November that killed more than 100 people, there have been 40 fires in the 4,000 factories in Bangladesh. Nine people killed. It just shows you, you know, everything my colleagues are saying is right that there is a gross violation of individual rights and humanity here.
KITFIELDBut Bangladesh is not going to get to it until it finds pressure from these big suppliers who, you know, like Walmart and others. We don't mean to single out Walmart. I'm sure that these garments show up in all kinds of stores in America and the only way we're ever going to get, you know, improve the situation is for them to just put their foot down.
KITFIELDApple has done a bit of this themselves and say, you know, we're going to call for an independent inspection agency that comes in there and actually makes sure that these guys live up to some sort of standard that the workers there are safe.
TEPPERMANJames is right. I'm sorry to interrupt and I think it's important to give Bangladesh a little bit of slack in this one sense that they know that if they increase protections and if they increase wages, they risk being undercut by other countries who won't do the same thing. And so they're in a very, very delicate position, especially when they're so dependent on these kinds of exports.
GLASSERWell, I think that's actually the most important point is that, you know, in fact, pressure from U.S. and other big multi-national corporations can probably only go so far for that reason. Number one, you know, a country like Bangladesh looks at the success of India and China over the last decade in bringing millions and millions of people out of poverty.
GLASSERHow did they do it? They did it through low-cost manufacturing. What's happening now? As China moves up in the global economic ladder, that opens up opportunities for other countries to come in at the low end of manufacturing whether it's Bangladesh in the case of textiles and they're really probably aiming at India next door in undercutting their industry.
GLASSERIndonesia, Vietnam, those are ones who are targeting and undercutting the Chinese. Guess what? Wait until Africa gets into manufacturing in a big way, which is already something that's happening. And you're going to see this story play itself out over and over again. But remember, too, that is something that has accompanied industrialization in every society, including in the United States.
GLASSERThe Triangle Shirtwaist fire going back to the very early 20th century was a sort of landmark moment at which workers' rights and the question of, at what cost manufacturing and industrialization, really came to the forefront in America. Obviously, we had a very different political system. This was at the height of the progressive era passing laws that were designed and that still form the basis of our protections for workers today.
GLASSERWill this be Bangladesh's Triangle Shirtwaist fire? Unfortunately, global economic pressures suggest perhaps not, but they have the opportunity certainly to respond in some way.
PAGEDo American consumers have some kind of responsibility here, James? Or is there any moral obligation on this or not? Is this just the way the global economy now works?
KITFIELDWell, I mean, you'd like to think that there would be some organized opposition to the idea that these companies, you know, subcontract out to places where they know they're just basically sweatshops. We've seen that happen with Adidas and Nike, you know, when it was revealed that they basically had sweatshops that were producing these shoes.
KITFIELDYou know, there was a public outrage and they forced those companies to take a very hard look at that and I think something like that could happen, but you know, do I think that every American who pulls a pair of cheap shoes or a shirt off the rack is somehow, you know, has a cloud of guilt over them? No.
PAGEHere's something that will break your heart. Workers had actually been evacuated from there on Tuesday because a large crack appeared on an exterior wall, but the next morning they were told to go back to work. Let's go to the phone. Michael is holding for us from Charlotte, N.C. Michael, hi, thanks for being with us.
MICHAELHi, how are you doing? Thanks for taking my call.
PAGEYes, please go ahead.
MICHAELAnd I just want to go back a little bit on the topic where one of the correspondents said something about how the Russian President Putin said, I told you so, about the whole incident of 9/11 and then now we have the Boston Marathon that happened. And I'm a Russian immigrant. I came here quite a while back. I've been in America for quite a long time, as the Tsarnaev kids have.
MICHAELI've had my chance to see the culture here, see what the kids are talking, what they know about and I've noticed that a lot of people don't understand those people. It is Middle Eastern countries like Afghanistan, Tajikistan, you know, those countries. They're born almost to what happened. It was just inevitable. It was going to happen.
MICHAELWhen I lived in Kazakhstan, we were bordering all those countries and those kids were, because of their Muslim uprising, a lot more violent towards Christians. And just our way of life, the way we live, you know, as Russians, as Americans, as Europeans, as you know, we live differently than they do and they see that as a threat. So I'm not really shocked that this happened. I'm just shocked that American people and the American government didn't want to do something about it right away, that they're still holding back.
PAGEAll right, Michael, thanks so much for your call. Susan?
GLASSERWell, you know, I think that's a, you know, that's a point of view that you will hear a lot in Russia. They have, you know, their public discourse has a lot more open -- what some Americans would call racism, but, you know, there is a view of an inevitability of a clash between Islam and Christianity that really is a part of the public conversation, the political conversation in Russia.
GLASSERAnd I think, how is that relevant to this conversation here? I'm struck by how, in many ways, the Tsarnaev story is not one of inevitability, at least when we look at the narrative as it's emerged. Look at the conflicts, the many decision points along the way, the effort that was clearly visible of this family to assimilate early on, the success that each of the brothers seemed to achieve at various points in this American story.
GLASSERAnd then I think, you have to wonder whether you really think this was inevitable and how much is shaped by something as broad as "religion” versus the tragedy of a family that clearly was unraveling over the last couple of years.
PAGEI mean, one thing you have to remember is despite the urgings of terrorist networks elsewhere, American Muslims have been among those helpful in investigations like this, you know. I think you'd have to give some credit to that. Jonathan?
TEPPERMANThat's right, and that's the good news that came out of the Canadian story where it was members of these individuals' own communities who were the first to flag them to Canadian authorities. And what this speaks to is the very high level of successful assimilation of the vast majority of Muslims in all of North America.
TEPPERMANAnd that helps explain why we've seen so few of these home-grown terror attacks and gives us, or me at least, some optimism that we're not going to see a huge amount more of this. The communities especially have been very, very cooperative.
GLASSERWell, and even in this Tsarnaev case, I think there are a couple of very relevant and interesting data points, that in the mosque that the brothers would attend, there was a shouting match in which Tamerlan Tsarnaev stood up when Martin Luther King was referenced recently as an example for American Muslims to follow. And he shouted, no, no, you shouldn't talk about him. He's not Muslim. And the congregation shouted him down and told him to leave.
GLASSERFirst of all, second data point, as soon as they showed the pictures of the Tsarnaev brothers that were from the footage of the Marathon and the FBI asked for people's help in identifying them, many members of the Boston Islamic community immediately called that FBI tip line and said, we know exactly who that is.
PAGEHere's an email that we've gotten from a listener. He writes: "I understand how we in the United States phrase the conversation in respect to our responsibility when it comes to something like the Bangladesh incident. I however believe that the core issue is Bangladesh corruption and poor governance. In that respect, how do we influence another country's poor governance?" What would you say James?
KITFIELDWell, I mean, I'd go back to the -- I think our most direct line of influence is the companies that are buying from them, you know, sort out this Gordian knot of subcontractors and figure out who can put pressure on these countries that can be effective. You know, I think our government can talk to the Bangladeshi government, but it's very hard for a government to dictate to another country what safety standards it has.
KITFIELDThat's not really something that governments typically try to do so. Can I just make a point on, you know, your previous listener said, that, you know these guys these Muslims from this area are always going to be sort of violent. Now I want to let that stand because if you and I go back to a lot of these alienated terrorist wannabes or terrorists, they can be traced back to places where their homeland is in a state of conflict.
KITFIELDBut there are many places that we have all been in in the Middle East and elsewhere that are Muslim societies that are more stable, where that dynamic is definitely not in play and they are -- a lot of them are very close friends to the United States like Indochina and Malaysia.
KITFIELDThere are places in the Middle East and we have a lot of friends and you can travel as an American, but they're more stable societies. I think the common factor is if these societies, these people, come from -- like this Palestinian from Canada, same profile, he's tracing back to a place where the Muslim majority Palestinians are being occupied by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza or at least in the West Bank and surrounded in Gaza and there's a sense of grievance there.
KITFIELDSo the profile more often fits, to me, coming from a conflict zone than it is being a Muslim.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Frank who is calling us from Charlotte, N.C. Frank you've been really patient, thank you for holding on.
FRANKOkay, thank you, you know, I'm actually -- I'm a Christian. I actually have read the Bible at least three or four times and I study it every year. I also read the Koran and there is nothing in the Koran that would cause people to create the violence that they have done. Okay, the Koran isn't much -- any more violent than the Old Testament or the New Testament. If, in fact, if you read the Koran, you would be thinking that you read the Old Testament and part of the New Testament.
GLASSERAll right, Frank, thank you so much for your call. Here's an email I love from Joe writing us from Osprey, Fla. Here's the email: "What happened to North Korea? It was the lead story of almost every news program for the two weeks before the Boston Marathon. Now we hear nothing. Did they fall off the earth?" Susan?
GLASSERYou know, good for that listener. You know, I think that's a very fair point. It tells you something very essential, first of all, about the media, which is that we are like seven-year-old children at a soccer game and we're all headed after the ball and the ball was in Boston. That's an important point.
GLASSERSecondly, there is some reason for it, which is to say that the rhetoric was toned down from North Korea. We've moved back from the brink, it seems, and so while there's still, I think, an ongoing crisis about what to do in North Korea and this question of what kind of transition the regime is undergoing there, it doesn't look like, you know, at the same level of crisis and the same level of threatening rhetoric that was coming out of Pyongyang in the two weeks before the Boston Marathon bombings.
PAGEAnd I can make a promise, Joe ,that North Korea will be back later as a topic on the news roundup. Here, if you want to talk about how difficult the issue of Syria is, here are two emails I'll read. One is from Romy who says: "I'm an American of Syrian descent. Funding the Syrian crisis on either side is only fueling fire that is devastating the country and may eventually affect the global community in bad ways as well."
GLASSER"The most effective intervention would be a neutral diplomatic effort to bring forth peace talks.”" But here's one from Jennifer who writes: "I understand President Obama does not want another war. No president wants to go to war, but at some point, he needs to step up and be the leader of the free world." Jonathan?
TEPPERMANWell, on the first point, I mean, we may decide to stop funding the crisis, but that doesn't mean that other players are going to. In fact, they're not. The Saudis are sending money. The Qataris are sending money. The Turks are sending money. And so the question is if we want to help determine the outcome, we can't sit on the sidelines and that speaks to the intervention question as well.
GLASSERWell, but the -- I think also that letter writer makes a very important point, though, that we haven't talked about, which is that, of course, the United States would prefer some kind of international consensus action in Syria to stop this, but because of the Security Council system, the way that it is, Russia and China sit with their vetoes on the Security Council and are determined not to do anything.
GLASSERRussia has continued to be the chief arms supplier and the chief overall backer of the Assad regime in the international community and they have made it very clear they're not going to change their position and allow any kind of international action. So that's the reason that we keep talking about U.S. and Western action outside of the framework of the United Nations, not because the U.S. wouldn't prefer that, but because it has been a political option that they've been unable to make any progress on.
PAGEThis must be the two points of view, though, that President Obama hears every day, James?
KITFIELDOh absolutely. As we said, his former senior advisors in Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus, you know, wanted to be much more forceful about intervening here and I suspect he's hearing a lot of it from their replacements, you know. But the problem is, you know, we tried the neutral diplomacy thing for two years with 70,000 dead and it gets worse every day. At some point, you've got to not keep trying the same strategy and try a different one.
PAGEJames Kitfield, senior correspondent for National Journal and in this hour we've also been joined in the studio by Susan Glasser, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine and Jonathan Tepperman joining us for the first time, managing editor of Foreign Affairs. Thank you all for being with us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show."
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane's in Michigan today to pick up an award. She'll be back on Monday. Thanks for listening.
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