Many say the current presidential race is the most uncivilized in modern American history. Civility in public discourse, why it seems to have hit a new low and long-term implications for the democratic process.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls for anti-government protests to stop and says charges of excessive police force are being investigated. Syrian troops, with help from Hezbollah, capture two cities in the country’s opposition heartland. A U.N. peacekeeping unit says it will withdraw from the buffer zone between Israel and Syria following fighting between rebels and Syrian forces. And an Egyptian court convicts 43 defendants, including 16 Americans, in a case against democracy promotion groups. A panel of journalists join Diane for the international hour of our Friday News Roundup.
- Matt Frei Washington correspondent of the U.K.'s Channel 4 News.
- Susan Glasser editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine.
- David Ignatius columnist for The Washington Post and contributor to the “Post Partisan” blog on washingtonpost.com. His latest book is titled "Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The Syrian Civil War draws near to the Golan Heights in Israel. Anti-government protests in Turkey continue and President Obama meets with China's new leader. Joining me for the international hour of the Friday News Roundup, David Ignatius of The Washington Post, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine and Matt Frei of the UK's Channel 4 News.
MS. DIANE REHMYou're welcome as always to be part of the program. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com, follow us on Facebook or send us tweet. Good morning everybody.
MR. MATT FREIGood morning.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSGood morning.
REHMGood to have you here with us. David, remind us what triggered the protests in Turkey?
IGNATIUSIt began with a protest in the middle of Istanbul over what had been a park, one of the few green spaces left in Istanbul, that the government wanted to turn into a kind of shopping mall, a commercial area. And to everybody's astonishment because I don't think anybody saw this coming, there were suddenly mass protests in the street and the protests were put down aggressively with tear gas.
IGNATIUSThere were some disturbing photographs of demonstrators being gassed. Then the protests spread to cities around Turkey. One was killed but there have been many, many hundreds reported wounded. Prime Minister Erdogan, the strong man of Turkey, the person who's presided over the remarkable story of Turkey's growth but is, by most accounts, become autocratic as he's been in office, was away from the country as much of this happened.
IGNATIUSHe came back early this morning and he was ferocious in denouncing the protestors, calling on, essentially calling on the supporters to put them down, to regain control. He said, "Nobody can stop Turkey's rise but Allah." So he really, so I think we're now going to head into the most interesting face of this where Erdogan has said he will not compromise these protests, this illegal, they must leave.
IGNATIUSAnd I'm sure the protests are going to stay on the street and we're going to see a scene like what we saw in Egypt. In the beginning the demonstrations against Mubarak, we'll see many thousands of people in the streets and then what will happen? That's the question.
REHMMatt, David said Erdogan had become more autocratic in recent years. Give us examples.
FREIWell, let's start with this park. Now, the building that he wanted to put into this park which is a very popular in Istanbul wasn't just any ordinary shopping mall. It was supposed to be a replica of an Ottoman Military Barracks. Now we all remember the Ottoman Empire as the great Turkish empire that then collapsed after the first World War.
FREIAnd this is the issue, is he not, is he trying to be a strong man at home with a sort of moral intervention as an Islamic democrat who wants to, you know, restrain kissing in public, restrain alcoholic consumption just about everywhere, which is something that many Turks who have elected him agree but many others and perhaps the majority don't like.
FREIBecause if you've been to Istanbul has I'm sure you have you know that, you know, this is a pretty edgy, funky, modern city. But it also has, obviously a large element, that likes the idea of an Islamic minded leader who is, you know, who has sort of moral integrity and wants to get away from a Western lifestyle.
FREIBut really if you like, his strong man politics are partly about the soul of Turkey today and this has always been a debate in Turkish politics, is it an Islamic nation or is it a secular nation, and also it's about how long he wants to stay in power. Does he want to become the Vladimir Putin, you know, of the northern Mediterranean basin?
FREIHe wants to have constitutional change, interestingly enough brought about with the help of the Kurdish minority parties that would allow him effectively to rule in two presidential terms of five years each until 2024. and there are a lot of Turks who don't like that.
REHMTurkey is under a lot of stress right now because Syrian refugees have moved in overwhelming Turkey's ability to deal with them. put on top of that kind of stress could this really destabilize the government, David?
IGNATIUSWell, we'll see. This will be the most important test yet of Erdogan's leadership. He is popular, he has presided over a remarkable period of growth for Turkey. Just a few years ago he and his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, were talking about having no problems on their borders.
IGNATIUSThey were imaging Turkey has this kind of center of an area of peace and posterity. Well, now in every direction there's trouble and so Turkish public has become more restless. This revolt that we've been seeing in Istanbul and the other cities is described by Turks as a revolt of the middle class which feels that its freedoms are being threatened.
IGNATIUSI mean, Turkey is a very modern country, a very sophisticated population. A place where women have achieved a lot and have a prominent role in life and there is an anxiety on the part of the middle class that this very Islamic leader of a very Islamic party may threaten their freedom.
IGNATIUSSo I'd be surprised if Erdogan didn't have to bend some. He's not a man for bending but I want to see how he gets out of this crisis without a little bit of that.
REHMCould he have to make concessions, Susan Glasser?
MS. SUSAN GLASSERWell, you know, I mean this has been a long time in coming as I'm sure, you know, everyone has thought about. but the truth is, the question of Turkey's democracy at home as opposed to its rise internationally is really what's being put on the table right now.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERAnd, you know, I think that rising middle class, right, which is what's fueled his power at the same time, you know, he may well have to negotiate in a way that he hasn't in the past.
FREICan I just add one thing to that? one of the really interesting things is not just that there might be some road blocks to his political ambitions as we're now seeing on the streets. But also road blocks provided money because what you've had in Turkey in the last decade is an extraordinary boom that now might look a little bit like a bubble.
FREIThe Turkish stock market has risen by 500 percent in the last 10 years. There's a 20 percent increase each year but a lot of the money that has been plowed into Turkey is basically hot money, what they call hot money, so it's money that's created by the excess of capital in European or indeed American banks.
FREIIt's put in but it can also be withdrawn very quickly. The Turkish currency has dropped eight percent in the last two months, the stock market has dropped I think 12 percent in the same period and of course investors looking at Turkey at this, what used to be this sort of paradise of quick investment and a quick return, are very worried about the political implications of what's going on in the streets and key investors, key banks are basically advising their people, take your money, stay out.
GLASSERWell, you know, I was struck by the chord that Erdogan had when he returned to the country and he said, "Nothing can stop Turkey's rise except Allah." And I think there is a sense of, you know, when you're riding a boom or is it a bubble, you know, you feel pretty invincible.
REHMSusan Glasser of "Foreign Policy" magazine, Matt Frei Washington correspondent for the UK's Channel 4 News, David Ignatius, columnist for "The Washington Post." The Syrian government and rebels are fighting near the Golan Heights border, what do we know Susan?
GLASSERWell, in a way this starts to look like the scenario that we've been worrying about since the beginning of the Syria conflict, which is the prospect of it spilling outside of its borders and drawing in its neighbors. And I think you're seeing that both with Israel in the Golan Heights and the prospect that Israel will now have some sort of military action.
GLASSEROf course they've already had several times when they've launched air strikes across the borders in the effort to stop Syria, according to them, from being used as a transit point for weapons that will be pointed against Israel. You also see Hezbollah on the other side in Lebanon being pulled into the conflict and so, you know, you have this specter of regional sectarian conflict.
GLASSERWhich again, has been what's been warned about for the two years of this. It now seems to be, you know, that this is the summer when it could happen.
IGNATIUSI was talking yesterday, Diane, to Syrian rebel sources about their defeat this week in the strategic battle for Qusayr, which is a crossroads town near the border of Lebanon. It's a transit point for Syrian regime forces moving from Damascus up into the Alawite homeland where Assad and his family come from in the northwest.
IGNATIUSThis was a big defeat for the rebels and I was asking their commanders, what have you learned from this, that's relevant for the future of this fight? And they've learned some interesting things. The central point I think is that without a more centralized command and control structure there's no way that the rebels will be able to pull their fighters together from Aleppo, from (word?) or from the other parts of Syria into key battles like this.
IGNATIUSAnd if that lesson has finally been learned so that the rebels will turn to the group of nations led by the U.S. including Saudi Arabia, Cutter, etc and seek some kind of coordinated help, then that it actually could be a turning point towards at last an effective national opposition fighting force.
FREII think you're right but I think it's still a huge if and you remember what the administration used to say about Europe, you know, when we have a phone number we'll give them a call. And I think that's part of the problem with the Syria opposition, it is so divided and what you get is a really sort of self-fulfilling prophecy on so many different levels.
FREIWhether it’s the division of the opposition, whether it's the Islamic radicalization of some of the opposition groups, whether it's the regionalization or the balkanization of this conflict and what I find really fascinating is talking to senior members of the administration, they really are still deeply divided about what to do.
FREIAnd I think there is a school of thought, correct me if I'm wrong, that I've heard from some people that with Hezbollah getting involved, with this really becoming overtly a proxy war on the Sunni-Shia level and the involvement of Hezbollah and Iran plus Russian weapons making all the difference to the Assad regime at the moment.
FREIYou know, there are those like Senator McCain who are saying time is running out, we need to get stuck in here on the other side. but there are others in the administration and perhaps they have the majority at the moment who says you know what, let's just do to them what they did to us in Iraq. Let's just watch this one bleed out because if we get involved, if we get involved in whatever shape or form, you know, from the sky, on the ground, this is exactly Hezbollah wants because it's the next level of internationalization because they expect us not to get involved so much they would actually have a decisive military difference.
REHMMatt Frei, Washington correspondent for the UK's Channel 4 News. Short break here, we'll talk more, take your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd just a few more words on Syria. Both France and Britain said this week sarin nerve gas was likely used in Syria. How is this different from prior reports, Matt?
FREIWell, what's beginning to emerge is a pattern of, you know, a series of events where sarin gas or other nerve agents have been used probably by the regime. That's what the European now believe. That's what the British government certainly believes. It's what the UN increasingly believes. The problem is that this is not enough to persuade President Obama that his famous redline has been crossed. In fact, the redline is beginning to look increasingly like a sort of Congo line that moves and is slightly squishy and is rather ill defined.
FREIAnd the impression I get from talking to people here, and indeed in London, is that this government is trying to do everything it can not to cross that line because it isn't convinced that anything it does militarily will actually make all the difference -- the right difference in Syria. And the British government is getting very frustrated by what they see as kind of Obama's obscurantism on this particular issue.
IGNATIUSWell, what was new this week from France in particular was a more decisive statement that sarin nerve gas had been used. And they base this on urine samples of victims that were brought out by the French people who were on the scene and other evidence. The UN report was vague. They talked about reasonable certainty that these things had been used but not by whom.
IGNATIUSI think given the magnitude of the military operation that would be required, if the United States announced that the redline had been crossed -- I mean, this is a big war. You have to go in and secure -- it's, you know, well over a dozen sites and some of these weapons are in movable laboratories. I mean, it's a big military operation. You'd effectively have to invade the country. So people shouldn't be, I don't think, surprised that President Obama is being very careful about this. The moment you announce decisively that this has been done, you're almost required to do something that then leads to a whole series of actions that may not be in the U.S.'s interest.
REHMBut other things are happening behind the scenes, Susan.
GLASSERWell, that's right. You know, there has been this effort announced by Secretary of State John Kerry in conjunction with the Russian to hold a peace conference in Switzerland. There's one problem though, which is that it's not looking good. Not only was it supposed to take place in June, now it's been pushed back to July, but there's a quintessential quote I think from Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN special envoy trying to arrange this the other day. He said, yes the arrangements are looking fine for the conference except for the Syrians.
GLASSERYou know, and I just thought that really summed up, unfortunately, the state of play in this negotiation which is that it's not even actually happening.
REHMAnd of course Russia's Putin has his own problems, not only nationally but personally.
GLASSERWell, that's right. There was the surprise announcement, oddly enough, at the end of a ballet showing of Esmeralda in Moscow...
FREIBut there he stayed for the first act.
GLASSERExactly. They gave a television interview, Putin and his wife Lyudmila and announced that they were divorcing. In many ways...
REHMThirty years of marriage.
GLASSERThat's right. Although it's been so long since she was regularly seen with him in public, that in many ways perhaps this is merely ratifying or saying publically what has long been the case privately. But, you know, I lived in Moscow during President Putin's first term. And, you know, there was a brief rollout of Lyudmila along with Putin at the very beginning of his presidency. And that was really it. It was clear she was uncomfortable in the spotlight.
GLASSERIronically she said yesterday one of the reasons for the breakup was that she didn't like to fly. She was an aero flight attendant when she met Vladimir Putin. And some people have suggested perhaps that's why she doesn't like to fly. But clearly they weren't really together for a long time.
FREIWell, as a sign of their intimacy, I think her statement was Vladimir, Vladimiravich and I have decided to part ways, which would be a little bit like Hillary Clinton saying, William Jefferson and I have had our differences. I mean -- or maybe I got that wrong, but...
GLASSERWell, to be fair in Russian...
FREII know, I know. Still...
GLASSER...you know, that is the way of referring to...
REHMWell, a little gossip on the side here, David.
IGNATIUSYes. I mean, it's not as if the world needed another reason to think that Vladimir Putin is a difficult person to deal with. There's gossip in the Russian press, speculation about whether this will hurt him, whether traditional Russian, orthodox Russians will think it's outrageous or whether it will help him. He sometimes acts as if he thinks he's starring in a Russian version of a James Bond movie. So...
FREIHe looks like (unintelligible) ...
REHMHe sort of looks that way (unintelligible) .
IGNATIUSWe'll see what the next installment is.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about what's happened in Egypt and the nonprofit workers who were convicted and sentenced, many of them in absentia because they had already left the country, among them Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood's son. What's going on there, David?
IGNATIUSWell, this is a series of cases that have been moving along now for two years. They were egged on by pre President Mohamed Morsi figures in the Egyptian government who were playing on what is always, I'm sorry to say, a popular theme in Egypt, which is anti-Americans on a phobia, this view that foreign hands are manipulating Egypt, I've seen -- in all the 30 plus years I've been going there.
IGNATIUSIn this case it really is potentially a very damaging moment for Egypt. NGOs are essential for them in their transition, I think, in terms of helping move their economy forward, helping them build political parties, just helping build a modern Egypt. And by going after this very broad group including this very prominent American groups, the National Democratic Institute, it's Republican counterpart, they have really poisoned the well. You'll find congress -- the next time an issue involving Egypt comes up, you're going to find a very unhappy U.S. Congress.
GLASSERWell, I think that's right. There's the irony that these were democracy promotion groups. I mean, it's not lost on -- you know, it's not like they were, you know, groups doing some other work. It very explicitly gets at the heart of the question of how and in what ways the U.S., which has spend so long in Egypt giving aid to the military for example, you know, that the irony that it would be the people coming to try to organize and aid a new kind of civil society in Egypt is not only not lost on the U.S. Congress. But I think it points out the broader challenge of nobody really knows what the relationship is going to be going forward.
GLASSERWe've invested billions, in effect, in a strategy that worked in terms of preserving the peace next door with Israel, in terms of having someone in the Middle East, but clearly didn't work in giving the U.S. a long term, viable, good image with the people of Egypt.
FREIAnd this isn't even just about America. I mean, there are -- you know, there were (word?) and Serbs and German groups involved. There's a German foundation called the (unintelligible) Foundation which is a very, very benign center right-wing organization that has an office here in Washington amongst other places and does things like, you know, holds talks with members of the public and academics. And this is about basic, you know, intellectual civic building blocks, which is exactly what Egypt needs.
FREIAnd so to turn against not just a particular nation that is promoting this, America, but a whole raft of nations that feel that Egypt needs a leg up on this particular issue is a terribly bad idea.
REHMSo how many of those workers are still there and will go to jail, David?
IGNATIUSDiane, I don't know the answer to that. I know that most of the Americans have left already and that's a good question. And I don't know the answer. My guess would be that the Egyptians would seek to avoid a kind of confrontation of that sort, lets people slip away. That would be the way that tend to handle these things. Again, we should stress that Egypt under President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood government is not on a democratic course, but this case is not theirs. We shouldn't saddle them with responsibility for this very bad case because they didn't bring it.
REHMAll right. David, talk about Pakistan's new Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif calling for an end to U.S. drone strikes.
IGNATIUSWell, first the return of Nawaz Sharif for his third term as prime minister is a remarkable political comeback story. He was thrown out of office in 1999 in a military coup that brought General Musharraf to power. He was forced into exile the next year. He's a man who has been a very popular leader. His base is in Lahore in the Punjab in the northeast of Pakistan, a very traditional agriculturally based party there.
IGNATIUSAnd he's come back into office with the drone issue obviously at the top of his agenda. And he is reflecting Pakistani popular sentiment when he says we need an end to the daily pattern of drone strikes. Now I would just note that that's a carefully, artfully phrased denunciation of drones. He's saying daily drone attacks but he's not saying that Pakistan will never consent to use of drones where there are targets that Pakistan thinks it's in its interest to go after them.
GLASSERWell, and I think that's a really important point is that obviously this program was not launched without the at least tacit and in some cases much more than tacit explicit permission of the Pakistanis. And at times we have targeted, for example, leaders of the Pakistani Taliban as opposed to core al-Qaida targets. And have clearly worked at various points in the ramping up of this drone program in coordination with the Pakistanis.
GLASSERSo, you know, I think David's right to flag that phrasing in Sharif's statement but it's also clear that politically this became an important mobilizing issue. Not just Sharif but remember in the election campaign that just took place, you know, this was a core part of Imran Khan's campaign platform. He was the immensely popular star cricketer who ran in the elections. He did not, you know, finish first or second but I think he galvanized public sentiment in Pakistan around this issue.
REHMBut to what extent could this signal some kind of change in Pakistan's relations to the U.S., Matt?
FREIWell, I think -- I mean, I guess you could say on one level that if he's calling for fewer drone strikes or an end to the program he sort of chimes what President Obama said just last week. But I think the more important part here is this, that I think the administration, which has been kept, you know, up at night by Pakistan for a very long time now, ever since 9/11 essentially, sees the possibility -- and it is a very faint one -- but it sees the possibility that -- excuse me -- Nawaz Sharif may have learned from his previous mistakes. Will become less authoritarian, will indulge less in crony capitalism and might just about make this first peaceful transition through the democratic ballad box work in Pakistan.
FREIIf he can do that, if he can revive the economy, establish some sense of national solidarity, defuse the divisions between the secular and the Islamic radicals, the whole box of tricks that need to be sorted out, if he can do that than it's worth some rhetoric on drone strikes.
IGNATIUSI would agree. I think the election of Nawaz Sharif provides an opportunity for Pakistan and for the U.S. Two interesting points about Nawaz, first, he's somebody who's associated with opening to India. He was the host, the participant in famous diplomacy in which the Indian prime minister came across the border to see him in Lahore. And it was a moment in the '90s when you thought maybe these two can find a way to a better relationship.
IGNATIUSSecond, there was speculation by a particularly well informed Pakistani journalist, Ahmed Rashid in the New York Times this week about the possibility that Nawaz Sharif, because he has a party called the Muslim League, because of his Islamic roots might be able to be a more effective broker of negotiations over Pakistan than President Zardari has been.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Staff Sergeant Robert Bales pled guilty to a massacre in Afghanistan. How did he explain his actions, Susan?
GLASSERWell, I think this is going to go in the long chapter unfortunately of, you know, horrifying American incidents in both Iraq and Afghanistan that have taken place over the last ten years. I mean, you know...
REHMHe said, I just did it.
FREIWell, I think he also -- he was very open about the number of -- the amount of medication that he was using.
FREIAnd I think there was a horrifying quote from him. He said, you know, I took all these pills and I felt jacked up and something else. But, I mean, he basically -- I think the story, as far as I can recall, is that he went out and he slaughtered I think it was six civilians, women and children in one village. Went back to his camp, told his -- the guy he was sharing a room with that he has just done this. The guy said, you're crazy. Let me go back to sleep. He went back to sleep and then he went out again, having taken some more pills, and slaughtered another 12 people.
FREII mean, this is a story of post traumatic stress. It's a story of someone who's been sent to Afghanistan too often, and this was his fourth tour of duty. Like so many soldiers, he signed up after 9/11 to do his patriotic duty but was then perhaps overextended. Four tours of duty. Imagine what that does. This is a father of two young children. I mean, there's so many horrible levels to this. And, of course, in Afghanistan people are very upset that he didn't get the death penalty because of the plea bargain.
REHMExactly. But he will face life in prison, David.
IGNATIUSYes. This was just a searing case. The murders were so brutal. As Matt said, this is somebody who had three tours in Iraq who really was ready, wanted to change. He wanted to become a recruiter. Then he was sent into Panjshir district, which is one of the toughest parts of Afghanistan, toughest fighting. And he snapped in this horrifying way. I think every American looking at this feels a sense of horror about what these deployments have done to our military. Now it's not to excuse what Bales did, but to see it in the larger context.
REHMAnd I shouldn't have spoken so quickly. A jury will decide in August whether he's sentenced to life with or without the possibility of parole. This week the U.S. announced a number of new sanctions on Iran in response to its disputed nuclear program. Like how many companies will Iran be forbidden from even talking to?
FREIWell, it's going to be -- I mean, any company that deals in the Iranian currency will be forbidden from doing so from July the 1st. So this is actually really significant. And what you have to see is the administration has been very publically touting the fact that the sanctions policy imposed by President Obama and indeed by the European Union is working. It's putting the squeeze on Iran. The currency's already dropped quite dramatically in its value. We've got elections coming up in Iran, so this is putting the final squeezer on it.
FREIAnd we know from what happened last year with Standard Charter Bank it was, you know, held before the courts in New York for having done trades with Iran in the past -- and this is a long time ago -- that any financial institution out there, any company that deals -- that has any sort of Iranian rival sitting on its box is going to be absolutely terrified that it'll have sanctions taken out against them after July the 1st.
GLASSERWell, I think this is really important in a way. You could argue this is one of the big undercover stories of the last couple years. It's hard to get a feel for it. It's hard to wrap your mind around it. But already the Iranian currency has lost two-thirds of its value in the last two years. And, you know, just being someone who met a number of Iranian businessmen on the sidelines of events and said, you know, that's all they talked about was actually the devastating impact of the sanctions.
REHMSusan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine. Short break. Your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back, straight to the phones to Sherko in Detroit, Mich. you're on the air.
REHMGood morning, sir.
SHERKOGood morning, basically the issues here, I'm representing the Kurdish groups in Syria and always the media and including the U.S. administration is trying to basically talk about two views. You know, either with the regime, keeping the regime in place or replacing the regime with groups that are promoted by Islamic groups so you know, the alternative you know, there is an alternative.
SHERKOThe third alternative is really promoting the democratic groups in Syria. I know your guests had mentioned that, who to talk to, which group. In fact there are many of them. There's the one on the sideline. But the issue at this moment, the U.S. is only promoting groups that are supported by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
SHERKOAnd so in other words the U.S. State Department is subcontracting its foreign policy to these countries and promoting Muslim Brotherhood groups and ignoring all the democratic groups such as Kurds, Christians, Alawites and others and this is the issue you know.
REHMAll right. David.
IGNATIUSThat's a very interesting comment. I would have said that that criticism of U.S. policy would have been accurate six months ago. I think there has been a very specific effort, not entirely successful, to reach out to precisely the minority groups that the caller is mentioning, to Kurds, to Christians, to Alawites and to push the opposition leadership to expand and draw in membership from these groups.
IGNATIUSOne of the really sad stories is that the political mess of the opposition, they are the most disorganized, fractious group of people. The U.S. officials these days often just throw up their hands when they talk about them.
IGNATIUSBut it is true that for a modern Syria to work it's got to find a way to fit in these pieces of the mosaic. One of the great things about visiting Syria is there's so many diverse communities and so the caller is right and I just. I think if State Department officials were joining us on the show they'd say we want to do this. We're just having trouble figuring out how.
REHMAll right. And here's an email from Anita in Notre Dame, Ind. who says, "Your guests did not explain the facts or the law involved in the Egyptian case against the NGOs. What is the law and registration and funding of those NGOs? What is our law on the issue of registration and operation of NGOs?" David?
IGNATIUSWell, just briefly, the technical issue on which these NGOs and their workers were tried does involve a question of registration. Were they legally registered as required under Egyptian law? And if they weren't, as is alleged and there's an awful lot of paperwork to fill out, then were they receiving funds illegally as non-registered groups?
IGNATIUSAnd yes, it's true you have to register in the United States to do various things. The problem I think is that these forms are so complicated to fill out. Nobody in Egypt, I'm told, can really tell you exactly what to do. And the decision to prosecute in these cases after years of ignoring these registration requirements was a political decision.
REHMAll right to Fort Bragg, N.C., good morning, David.
DAVIDGood morning. I want to some degree take your guests to task for, I think, underplaying the role of personal responsibility in the Bales case. While I'm sure that combat fatigue and the number of tours has played some part in, and perhaps even potential over-medication I mean, I was on, in the same brigade as Sergeant Bales for two of his tours.
DAVIDI've been on another one to Afghanistan subsequently and I think to put too much emphasis on the PTSD on the medication really does a disservice to those who are dealing with PTSD and are able to deal with these issues without going crazy, without committing atrocities like that.
REHMDavid, I surely want to thank you for your service. How do you all react, Matt Frei?
FREII think he's got a very fair point, I think, and obviously he knows him and I don't know him. I've never met the man so one has to, you know, you've got to take that very seriously. And I think there is a point here, of course these acts are down to a degree of personal responsibility and there's no. I don't think anyone would suggest that wasn't the case but I think one has to ask oneself, not just looking at this atrocity but at suicide rates in the military and a whole number of other issues.
FREIYou know, does the environment, whether it's repeated tours or the use of medication or post-traumatic stress, does it move you closer in some individuals to the trigger point where these atrocities are committed. That does not mean that you abrogate any personal responsibility.
REHMAlright let's hear another view on this from Michael in Louisville, Ky., good morning to you sir.
MICHAELHello, I haven't, wasn't in the military but I worked in the aviation safety which is a very intolerant field about insomnia, the effect they specifically write down at least for government work, that you aren't even permitted to take sick leave due to lack of sleep and I've always fought with insomnia.
MICHAELNow I got out of that field and I take Ambien now which from what I understand he took and it's sort of scary because one or two times a year now I will have a few, where I am up and about and I'm doing things, sometimes very odd things and my Michael's not there anymore.
MICHAELAnd I'll wake up the next morning and say why did I reverse this?
REHMMichael, it's my understanding he was also very high on steroids. Susan?
GLASSERWell, that's right. I do think that the first caller has a powerful point that shouldn't be lost in this conversation and actually if you go back and look at one point in this hearing he was asked, you know, what was your reason for killing them?
GLASSERAnd he did say, there's not a good reason in the world for why I did the horrible things I did. And so while we can talk about medication and post-traumatic stress disorder and the horror of repeated tours in isolated Afghan outposts I think, you know, murdering 16 people is something that, you know, unfortunately that's the terrible inhumanity of war, a war that has gone on for more than a decade.
REHMIndeed, here's an email from Geoff who says: "Could your guests address the increasing violence in Iraq? It appears the U.S. intervention may have produced mixed results at best. How does the average Iraqi view the American endeavor?" Matt?
FREIWell, if you look at the numbers of increased violence in Iraq they are striking. I mean I think it is a thousand civilians killed in the last month alone. This is, we're back to almost 2006, 2007 levels of domestic violence, I mean sectarian violence.
FREIAnd I guess on one level what seems to have happened is that there has been a genuine and alarming spillover from the violence and the proxy war between Sunnis and Shias in Syria into neighboring Iraq. And to think that what's happening in Syria could somehow be contained in Syria, this idea that it would implode rather than explode was of course nonsense.
FREIIt is exploding and it's exploding into Iraq and the sectarian violence there which was reduced by the surge of American troops and they've sort of put a damper on it has always been there to some extent. It's always been bubbling along but it's now flourishing.
IGNATIUSThere's no question that the violence has moved both ways. It moved from Iraq into Syria. It's moving from Syria back into Iraq. The one particularly dangerous part of this is the al-Qaida-linked factions in both countries, the al-Nusra front in Syria and al-Qaida in Iraq which have a seamless supply chain back and forth.
IGNATIUSWhat's obvious is that Iraq's Sunni community is emboldened by what is essentially a Sunni uprising against the Assad government, emboldened into challenging the Shia leadership of Iraq under Prime Minister Maliki that it never really accepted.
IGNATIUSAnd I have been hearing from contacts about the Free Sunni Army in Iraq which is modeling itself from the Free Syrian Army and wants to take the war...
IGNATIUS...out of Anbar Province, out of the Sunni areas of Iraq back to Baghdad. And it is, it's a nightmare and this is one reason President Obama so often talks about how glad he is to have gotten out of Iraq and the absence of U.S. power, the vacuum that exists there. It's dangerous and you have to ask what's the level at which we begin to get concerned, when it's a 1,000 a month? When it's 10,000 a month? What's the point at which we say this just isn't an acceptable level of violence?
GLASSERWell these are, I mean I totally agree with what David is saying. Two quick additional points, going back to the first caller we had today making the point about what is the role of Qatar and Saudi Arabia in fostering or are we outsourcing U.S. policy in the region to them?
GLASSERThat's going to become more of an issue and not less it seems to me not only as the conflict in Syria goes on but to the extent that there is a widening kind of Sunni jihad being launched inside Iraq as well. You know, will Saudi Arabia and Qatar also be fostering that?
GLASSERYou have in effect the possibility for a widening shadow war across the region between the Shiite groups, the Iranian-allied groups and those allied with those in the Gulf who traditionally the U.S. has been working with. And so I think we stand to be pulled in in so many different ways...
GLASSER...that you can't just sort of wash your hands of it, throw up your, and say okay we're pivoting to Asia now and of course we're going to talk about the summit with Xi Jinping...
GLASSER...but these are, this whole conversation is a reminder that the U.S. as much as many people would desperately just like to say, okay thanks guys, it's not our problem anymore, you know, that can't be the case.
FREIIt reminds me a little bit of the great game played in the 19th century by the colonial powers, the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire, the Russian Empire and something similar is happening in that neighborhood now and there's so many. It's on so many different levels.
FREIIt's Turkey trying to assert itself in a regional role. It's little Qatar, immensely wealthy playing, suddenly playing a foreign policy game to what end actually one isn't quite sure but they're there flexing their muscles. The Saudis are doing the same. There's the Sunni, Shia divide. I mean this is fiendishly complex and potentially very, very dangerous beyond the borders.
REHMAlright and let's talk about China. What distinguishes this weekend from a typical heads of state summit? David…?
IGNATIUSWell, as pitched by White House officials, Tom Donilon spent much of the last year thinking about and organizing this summit but and here's what people like that would say about it.
IGNATIUSThat whereas most summits are totally precooked and the point is to come up with a communique that's got a list of deliverables and a joint announcement on this and this and this. The idea of this summit is different.
IGNATIUSYou have Xi Jinping, the president who is likely to be a president for ten years. I mean he is fairly young as a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo and so he's going to be a dominant figure in China for a long time. He's very confident.
IGNATIUSAnd so the idea is, at the beginning of his tenure sit down with him and get to know him. These are meant to be largely unscripted in the normal diplomatic sense, talks.
REHMAnd in California?
IGNATIUSThey're in California at a retreat far from the press. They're going to spend, you know, the idea is eight hours talking about strategic ideas, China's future, America's future. And it's the kind of thing that is smart diplomacy. We'll see how it does in the hard details like cyber-war.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What about that cyber-warfare that the U.S. has been concerned about?
GLASSERWell, I would say that the disclosures of the last few days about the U.S. internal surveillance state, if you will, certainly would seem to sort of overshadow and make it much harder for President Obama push and give a concerted message about, you know, the snooping done by Chinese.
GLASSERI think, you know, we're still in the early days of processing these revelations and trying to understand, you know, the scale and scope of what clearly is a massive American government spying effort. And so it's very hard to think about the macro thing. How much that comes up behind closed doors it's going to be hard to tell.
GLASSERThis really was billed, as David said, as an effort in personal diplomacy and I'm struck actually how that also goes against sort of the Barack Obama of the first phase of the Barack Obama foreign policy presidency. Once again he's come to the idea of personal diplomacy. I'm going to look this guy in the eyes basically.
GLASSERWe laughed at George W. Bush for having done that with Vladimir Putin and misreading what those eyes told him and I think it's an interesting question here. Clearly the Americans are very frustrated with what they've been able to achieve so far through the more boiler-plate diplomacy that has so far been traditional in the U.S., China relationship. So they're trying to break through that.
FREII mean, it reminds me a little bit of the meetings between Reagan and Gorbachev all those years ago when there was a sense of, although that was a more formal setting, there was a sense that these guys needed to do business with each other. And, you know, the most important bilateral relationship in the world at the moment without a doubt is the one between Beijing and Washington.
FREIAnd it's not just important because of all the things that have to go right but also because some of the things have gone wrong like cyber-warfare or cyber threats. But also remember China is America's banker. If China stops buying American treasury bills this country is in trouble. America is China's biggest market.
FREIWithout Americans buying Chinese-made toys or electronic goods the Chinese economy doesn't grow at 7 percent, it grows at 5 percent. There are millions more people unemployed in China. This creates political problems. So they have a huge amount in common. There's a lot of vested interest there.
FREIThey are joined at the hip economically. But the cyber thing has really upset people in this city because it's not just about targeting one or two agencies, it's across the board. I mean we're talking about newspapers. We're talking about law firms. We're talking about banks and it is, as Tom Donilon said, quite clearly in March, when he mentioned and named and shamed China, it is with the sponsorship and the support of the government that this is happening.
REHMWhat's the significance of Michelle Obama's not going with the president? David.
IGNATIUSWell, that was a bit of a surprise because the early accounts of this secluded retreat, summit had it that Xi Jinping's wife who is very interesting. I think she's an opera singer or actress, that she and Michelle were going to get to know each other and that there would be this sort of the two families bonding and so why Michelle Obama isn't going is a bit of a surprise.
IGNATIUSI don't think it will change. In a sense you could argue that this summit is about the biggest question of this, the next, you know 50 years which is, can this rising China, this superpower rise to prominence without getting into a confrontation with the United States? And that's really what they're going to be talking about the next two days.
REHMDo you think? What do you hope will come out of this? Susan…?
GLASSERWell, you know. I think it's really interesting. You hear the talk now and this new notion of a Chinese dream and you know that that really is a guiding principle, a sort of, a much more assertive and nationalistic Chinese vision. Is it going to include political reform that enables it to weather changes without the kind of upheaval we're seeing in the Middle East or not? That's the big question and unknown that is the backdrop of this meeting.
REHMSusan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine, Matt Frei of the U.K.'s Channel 4 News, David Ignatius of The Washington Post, have a great weekend everybody.
REHMThank you and thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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