Russia launches another round of airstrikes in Syria. In Afghanistan, fighting with the Taliban continues in Kunduz. And a Palestinian flag flies at the U.N. for the first time. A panel of journalists joins guest host Melissa Block for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories, including: President Barack Obama shortens a trip to Asia because of the U.S. government shutdown. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urges the world to keep pressure on Iran. And an international team begins work on dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons.
- Yochi Dreazen senior writer, Foreign Policy, and author of the upcoming book, "Invisible Front."
- Moises Naim senior associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and chief international columnist, El Pais; author of "The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be."
- Elise Labott foreign affairs reporter, CNN.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama cancels a trip to Asia because of the US Government shutdown. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu urges the world to keep pressure on Iran, and an international team begins work on dismantling Syria's chemical weapons. Joining me for the International Hour, the Friday News Roundup, Moises Naim at El Pais, Elise Labbott with CNN, and Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy. I invite you to be part of the program.
MS. DIANE REHMGive us a call. 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a Tweet. Welcome to all of you.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENThanks, Diane.
MS. ELISE LABBOTTThanks, Diane.
MR. MOISES NAIMThank you, Diane.
REHMMoises, President Obama has said Secretary of State John Kerry is going to go to Indonesia and the Pacific Rim Economic Conference. How significant is it that the President is not going himself?
NAIMIt's quite significant and important. The President was going to visit Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, several countries, and they explained that because of the government shutdown, simply the logistics of putting together the trip were impossible and therefore they had to cancel. This is a very good example of how reality interferes with the best plans and intentions in foreign policy. A few months ago, a year ago, in fact, the White House and the President stated that one of the main foreign policy innovations is what they called the Asian, the pivot through Asia.
REHMPivot to Asia.
NAIMThey were going to start emphasizing more Asia and Asia would become the most important priority. And, therefore, a lot of attention, both military and diplomatic and security, economic, was going to be placed in Asia. And this trip was going to imply, include several important conversations with the leaders there. And the attendance of the President to the economic summit. But domestic politics forced the cancellation of the trip.
REHMIsn't he still going to some of those countries later on, Elise?
LABBOTTNo, not right now.
LABBOTTNot right now. He originally canceled part of it, the Philippines and Malaysia, and then he had really hoped to go to this summit. There were some, you know, there was this Trans-Pacific partnership that he wanted to negotiate, which would really be the biggest kind of free trade deal in American history. There were other things he wanted to do, and then he ultimately had to cancel this last part.
LABBOTTAnd this pivot to Asia, this was really welcomed by countries in Southeast Asia to counter this rising China. And these overtures have been built on the premise that the US was gonna be this reliable partner, its democratic values were to be emulated. And it could stand by these nations to counter rising China. And now this is, I think it's a significant setback. And you see now, the Chinese are seizing on this. Yesterday in the South China Morning Post, this Hong Kong paper that's tied to the Chinese Government, says, oh, well, domestic politics really hurt the President from going to Asia, but President Xi Jinping is traveling through Asia right now, and he's really capitalizing on this great Chinese influence in Asia.
LABBOTTSo, you see exactly what the US had feared is happening. China, these countries, if the US is not going to be reliable, are going to turn towards China.
DREAZENThe timing is interesting, because at the same time that the President canceled, you have the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State Kerry both in Asia simultaneously, which is unusual, and I've traveled with Secretaries of Defense for quite a long time. It's very rare that they both be in the same place at the same time. They were in Japan signing a deal for drone flights out of Japan yesterday. The interesting thing about this is, initially, the White House explanation was that there were technical challenges.
DREAZENThat because of the furloughs and the shutdown, they couldn't have enough White House Staff, so they had to do it because of technical stuff. It's clear that this is politics. I mean, it's very, very clear that this, the initial excuse of it being a technical thing, not enough advance stuff, not enough communication support staff. That may be true on some level, but fundamentally, this is a political issue that, and it's a huge embarrassment.
DREAZENPolitics that it would look terrible to have the President -- I mean, it would be an easier thing for the Hill to say, we're here trying to make a deal, the President is gallivanting around the globe at tremendous taxpayer expense, why isn't he here in Washington?
LABBOTTBut now some of the President's aides were worried that, you know, that is true on one hand, but on the other hand, then he looks like he's kept hostage in Washington and not able to engage on the world stage. So, they really had hoped at least to do this, this little summit part.
NAIMAnd the trip to Malaysia, for example, was very important. Malaysia, as we know, is a rising power, is a very important partner, and a very important country. And President Obama would have been the first President to visit Malaysia since Lyndon Johnson. So that tells you a little bit about how the attention to East Asia and Asia, in general, was not what it should have been.
REHMAnd what about possible trade deals along the way?
NAIMWell, as Elise has said, they are now pushing the Trans Pacific trade partnership, which is a very ambitious trade initiative that links the United States with Japan and with Malaysia and with countries in Latin America that have -- there in the Pacific. This is a very ambitious game changer. But unfortunately, it's already beginning to face very important obstacles in Congress.
REHMYochi, the Washington Post and some Democratic lawmakers are saying that the government shutdown is really posing a national security risk.
DREAZENI mean, it's incredible, actually, if you go through the halls of the Pentagon, it's physically deserted. So, you know, you think about it in sort of the abstract about the government being shut down. We've seen that incredible footage of the World War 2 veterans, you know, shoving the barricades away to go to the memorial.
REHMWith a Republican Congressman at the gate.
DREAZENExactly. I mean, it was mildly -- the political side was absurd, but just the visuals of these old men in wheelchairs with canes trying to get in. But when you go to the Pentagon, there's no one there. I mean, you see people in uniform, you see very few people who are civilian. You have the policy staff, the people whose sole job is to help develop US strategy around the world. Almost 80 percent, 90 percent has been furloughed. So the people who do policy towards Syria, towards Israel, to Egypt, to Iran, none of them are working right now.
REHMBut, just to clarify, the Armed Forces have been exempted.
DREAZENThe Armed Forces are exempt. They're not being paid, but they're there.
REHMThey're not being paid?
DREAZENTheir pay is being halted. It's been made clear they'll eventually get their money back. It is not clear that the civilian staff will get their money back. But right now, on the policy side, which matters, I mean this is a kind of, the head of policy within the Pentagon is the number three person, the number three civilian at the Pentagon. Everyone below him, on the civilian side, except for three people here, four people there, had been furloughed. So there's no one on the civilian side of the Pentagon doing the strategy towards Syria, towards Iran, towards Egypt.
LABBOTTOr in the Intel agencies. A lot of the intelligence agencies right now, nobody is coming to work. I think like 70 percent, is it, of the Intel staff isn't coming in. And then, you know, the State Department is saying, because the State Department, for instance, is funded in multi years. So, they have a little bit of money, and that's why a lot of people from the State Department are, most people, are coming to work in Embassies and Consults are open. But, if this were to be prolonged, there are issues related to Embassy security.
LABBOTTThere are issues related to peacekeeping in areas like Mali or Somalia where Al-Shabaab just attacked this mall in Kenya. Republicans who are staunch supporters of Israel might be surprised to know that if this prolongs, this effects aid to Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, all in the most volatile areas of the world, this would affect US aid and military cooperation with these countries.
NAIMAnd what is really perplexing, Diane, is how the Republican leadership and some of the media that are very sympathetic to them continue to insist that the consequences of this are negligible. That, in fact, it doesn't really matter, for all practical purposes, that the government is shut down. And we have daily evidence that this is really a very, very negative shock to the system.
REHMMoises Naim, he's Chief International Columnist at El Pais. He's also Senior Associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Do join us. 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Send us a Tweet, or follow us on Facebook. Yochi Dreazen, bring us up to date on US efforts to engage with Iran over Iran's nuclear program and the comments about Secretary of State Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
DREAZENIf I could maybe start on the second one first, in part because it's just so colorful. It's not often the case in diplomacy that you get phrases that are really viscerally interesting. And this time you did. You had Bibi Netanyahu talk about a wolf in sheep's clothing, in talking about President Rouhani of Iran. Yesterday, with NBC, he talked about Rouhani being basically a pawn of the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Referred to him as the head of a cult.
DREAZENSo you have very colorful language from the Prime Minister of Israel. Then you had Secretary of State Kerry talk about how it would be diplomatic malpractice, was the phrase he used, to not at least figure out if this is a real possibility for there to be talks. What's fascinating is that what Prime Minister Netanyahu is deeply afraid of is that the sanctions which have taken years to put into place, and which very clearly are having a gigantic effect on Iran's economy, driving down the value of the rial, destroying its oil export industry.
DREAZENThat they will be lifted. And fundamentally, that is his fear, that the longer these talks continue, the more the West believes Rouhani is legitimate. Those sanctions will be lifted and it won't be possible to put them back. Just as a last point, you hear those exact same concerns from the Gulf countries, from the Saudi Arabians, from the Qataris and Bahrainis. Exact same concerns. They just don't say it as vocally or as publically as Prime Minister Netanyahu does.
REHMBut is, John Kerry, Secretary of State, sort of saying, be patient, we've got to engage diplomatically?
DREAZENHe's saying it and neither the Israelis nor the Gulf countries really believe it is the problem.
REHMYochi Dreazen. He's Senior Writer at Foreign Policy and author of the upcoming book, "Invisible Front." Short break here. When we come back, your calls, your questions.
REHMAnd just before the break in the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup, Yochi Dreazen, you were talking about how the Gulf states, the Middle East in general, feel about concern regarding lifting sanctions against Iran.
DREAZENYeah, this weird quasi alliance that nobody wants to talk about that exists, but it does between the Gulf states and Israel. They've been concerned about President Obama's willingness to use force against Iran for years. That concern spike with Syria, with this idea of a redline that he would use force. And then of course we know what happened. It delayed, delayed, delayed and went to Congress and of course never happened.
DREAZENThe concern here is much more specific. The concern here is that the Iranians, their demand is, we're potentially willing to talk to stop enriching 20 percent uranium, which is kind of getting into his weapons grade if you start lifting sanctions. And the fear that all these countries have this that took years to put these sanctions into place, took years for them to have an impact. And that if you lift them, getting an international consensus to put them back in, getting the technical ability to put them back in will be impossible.
DREAZENAnd so once they're gone -- and really this weapon that's proven to be very powerful -- that once it's gone it won't be possible to use it again.
MS. ELISE LABOTTI was in New York last week for the United Nations General Assembly. And that's basically what everybody was saying, that I don't think you can really underestimate how Syria affected what's going on with how these countries are seeing Iran. Because they saw the president walk it back and they say, if they don't have our back on -- if he's not going to go ahead and make good on his promises on Syria, why would he on Iran?
MS. ELISE LABOTTAnd you see the administration, Wendy Sherman, the top nuclear negotiator telling a Congressional panel yesterday, yes we will lift some sanctions on Iran if they're negotiating in good faith...
LABOTT...if they take some steps to suspend the uranium enrichment. To suspend, Not to halt entirely, which is what Israel is looking for, but to suspend. And it looks pretty clear that the Iranians have gotten the memo and are going to make some kind of deal where they have some small suspension of their enrichment to start getting these sanctions going again -- lifted. And you saw the Iranian parliament endorsing what President Rouhani is doing this week. I mean, there is a reason to be distrustful of Iran. but at the same time it looks as if they are willing to make some concessions to start this diplomatic process going.
NAIMAnd the question is, who is going to move first? In diplomatic parliaments there is this concept of trust-building measures. These are parties that deeply distrust each other and have good reasons to distrust each other. There is a long history of Iran lying about what they're doing in terms of uranium enrichment, about where are the facilities, about everything. Any -- the Iranians are rightly distrustful of a country -- in a group of countries that have imposed the most severe sanctions and they have crippled their economy.
NAIMSo the question is, who's going to move first? Are the United States going to take the first step and dismantle a little bit of the sanctions, as Elise said, have taken years to put together and are working, in fact, in creating the pressure and bringing the Iranians to the table. That's one of the -- let's -- it's very important not to lose sight that a lot of these -- that President Rouhani won the election in large measure because the economy in Iran is crippled by the sanction. And he offered -- he ran on a platform of saying, I want to engage. I want to change our diplomacy.
REHMBut what about the Ayatollah? Is he backing Rouhani?
NAIMAnd that's what president -- that is what Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has said, you know, don't be fooled, this charm offensive of President Rouhani is in fact just a farce. Because who runs the shots is Ayatollah Khomeini and he should be the one that makes very clear moves. What Bibi Netanyahu and all those in his side have said, is that they want Iran to dismantle completely their nuclear program. And most experts think that that is unrealistic -- an unrealistic demand.
LABOTTIt's pretty clear, Diane, that President Rouhani has at least some backing from the supreme leader. He's -- first of all, if you look at what happened during the last election, the supreme leader was involved in how this went down. Clearly he is supporting Rouhani. Let him go to the United States -- to the United Nation General Assembly, make this pretty unprecedented speech in terms of outreach, had a phone call with President Obama. This doesn’t' happen without the backing of the supreme leader.
LABOTTThere is some decent in Iran, as you saw when President Rouhani returned. There were some throwing of the shoes at him, some protests. But as we saw, the parliament endorsed this diplomacy. And President Rouhani in interviews last week said that he does have the backing of the supreme leader. And you can bet that none of this would be happening if the president -- if the supreme leader wasn't onboard.
REHMYesterday, Steve Inskeep of NPR talked with Prime Minister Netanyahu. And Netanyahu called Iran a terrorist regime bent on world domination. Do you agree with that?
DREAZENBent on world domination is a bit much. Terrorist regime I think is a bit much. That said, support for terrorist groups, unquestionably. I mean, there are ties between not just Hezbollah in Lebanon but some of the attacks that were carried out in Buenos Aires and some of the other Latin American countries that targeted a Jewish community center as opposed to Israeli embassies that tie back to Iran.
DREAZENWorld domination, again, is very strong but there's no question that Iran sees itself as a hegemonic power in the Middle East and has for centuries, I mean, for a millennia. That's not new. You know, the Turks have seen themselves that way as well. In the Arab world the Egyptians have seen themselves that way. But Netanyahu is legitimately scared. I mean, what he sees happening is the pressure, the sanctions all beginning to fade. He doesn't have President Obama on his side. They don't trust each other. He feels very genuinely afraid of what's coming.
REHMAll right. Another assassination of an Iranian security official was reported. What happened there, Elise?
LABOTTThe commander of an Iranian cyber warfare unit of the IR -- the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp. was shot dead. He left his home and then was found later that day outside of Tehran. And, you know, some local police were quoting it as an assassination. The IRGC was not ready to say that. But this kind of hearkens back to the assassination of several Iranian commanders and security officials related to the nuclear program, that Iran has blamed the Israelis on. Of course the Israelis have never commented on that.
LABOTTBut, you know, this issue of cyber, Iran has been blamed for cyber attacks around the world and the United States and Israel were, you know, cited as being responsible for the Stuxnet issue. And it just shows how important the cyber has become as a tool of warfare.
REHMOf course. All right. Let's turn now to Syria. Moises, chemical weapons inspectors arrived in Syria on Tuesday to start dismantling the arsenal. What have they done so far?
NAIMThey have met with their Syrian counterparts. And the first report is that they are encouraging. They have had some encouraging initial conversations. They have been provided some documents and now they are proceeding to try to inspect physically some of the locations and try to create the conditions for the actual -- dismantling this thing. It's very interesting that they are part of the organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons. This is one of these obscure organizations that works in the world.
NAIMIt's an independent organization attached to the UN but it's not a part of that. That is the executing arm -- the operational arm of the Chemical Weapons Convention. This is a treaty that the world -- many countries in the world has signed. And this is actually the organization that executes inspections.
REHMSo why did Bashar al-Assad agree to have this happen?
NAIMI think that the ones that agreed to have that happen are the Russians. And once they agreed, you know, he has no options. He depends -- at this point as we know, he's only backed by Iran and by Russia. And Russia decided -- there was this framework agreement that was undertaken by the United States and Russia.
REHMBut in the meantime, the Syrian regime reportedly stopped a UN convoy -- a food convoy from entering a town that had been gassed. Will inspectors be allowed there?
DREAZENYou know, if the inspectors are going to get any access, of course it will be now because Syria's in the headlines. The question will be six months from now, a year from now when this effort -- it's impossible that this will be done in a year. It's just physically impossible. You have to build destruction sites pretty much at every facility. There are at least 50 of them. They take a long time to build. Libya's been doing this for a decade and it's done barely half of its weapons. And Libya's not in a civil war. So this idea of it being done in a year is just nonsensical to farce.
DREAZENThe question is when Syria's not in the news, when the world is not looking, then what happens? Another point just very quickly, a friend of mine made the argument -- which I actually kind of agree with -- that this whole deal in a weird way, we are now partners with Assad. This deal only works if President Assad is there to show where the sites are, to allow the inspectors access. If he falls and there's further chaos in Damascus, no one will know where these weapons are and there'll be no control over them.
DREAZENSo in a weird sense, by using them he has become more of a partner as to become more valid in the eyes of the International Community. You're not hearing as much talk about getting him out. Now you're hearing him give interviews. He's been seen as this leader who has control over the weapons. It's very hard to square regime change with reliance on a person to get rid of these weapons.
LABOTTAnd that's why you hear the opposition saying this agreement actually gives him job security. And if you look back to what's going on on the ground, a lot of these sites are in rebel-held areas. And when you have these -- and the rebels are not party to this agreement and they might not allow access to these weapons inspectors. And when you have these shifting battle lines, as Yochi said, in -- this organization is very small. It doesn't have a lot of resources.
LABOTTAnd in a good situation where you have full cooperation of the government and all parties involved, it takes years. So the fact that these inspectors are going to do it and in the middle of a hot war between two warring parties, one of which is not party to the agreement, it's really a daunting task. That it's unclear whether this tiny arm of the UN is really able to do it.
NAIMAnd to illustrate some of the things that Yochi has said about the need now to have Assad as a counterpart to execute the agreement, is that among the rebels, among the insurgents against him there are very, very deep factions. Yesterday there is a town called Azaz close to the border with Turkey. And that town has been taken over by the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria, an organization of rebels called ISIS.
NAIMISIS, which is an affiliate of al-Qaida. And they're fighting a very, very strong-armed, you know, confrontations between them and the other rebels. So there are rebels that are bent on ousting President Assad. And ICIS (sic) ISIS has other goals, which is that, but also to create a caliphate in that region.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I want to open the phones. We've got lots of callers waiting, 800-433-8850. First to -- is it Letia (sp?) in Woodstock?
LYDIAThis is Lydia.
REHMYes, go right ahead.
LYDIAWell, thank you for taking my call.
LYDIAI do want to support the instincts of your friend. Yes, we do need to be concerned. Yes, we do need to be scared. Yes, President Obama did get the Nobel Peace Prize but he needs to understand that he is more than the catcher in the rye. And I'm borrowing that phrase from a book that I know that he did read. And that book is "The World That American Made." We have to protect our own democracy rather than being out there and catching other young democracies. He needs to find the time -- it's essential -- to read the "Study of History" by Arnold Toynbee. And that is volumes 1 through 6 and he has said...
REHMAll right. Thank you, Lydia, for your call. I appreciate your comments. And I think everybody this morning, first hour, second hour, is indeed worried about our democracy considering everything that's happening with the gridlock here in Congress, with the inability of elected members of Congress to work with the White House to solve problems to move us forward.
DREAZENI mean, there's the immediate question about what does this do for markets, what does this do for the bond market, for the currency market.
DREAZENBut then there's the broader question of what does this mean for the idea of democracy being the system that the world should adopt? You know, it isn't simply China that is saying, your democratic system is a laughing stock and is broken. In our system you don't see this kind of nonsense. And if you're a developing a country and you're looking at the U.S., you're looking at China, one model looks like it's functional, one model looks like it's broken perhaps irreparably. And that I think is the lasting damage. However this plays out, that's the lasting damage I think of what's taken place.
REHMAnd then in addition, Yochi, two U.S. generals were ousted for failing to defend a major base in Afghanistan from a deadline Taliban attack. I mean, this is really big stuff. What happened?
DREAZENIt is. I've spent considerable time actually at both bases. And, first of all, just so listeners can picture them, these are bases built literally in a desert that before they were built was just sand. The bases were built. They expanded from 1,000 to 10,000 almost overnight. And what you have, the problem is the U.S. side which is called Camp Leatherneck is immediately adjacent to a British side called Camp Bastian. All the airplanes, all the helicopters that fly in and out of the base are on the British side, Camp Bastian.
DREAZENThe British are responsible for security. The American are nominally responsible for the whole security, but primarily for their side. You had a Taliban attack, one of the worst of the wars, in which Taliban fighters breached Camp Bastian, managed to destroy $200 million worth of American airplanes and helicopters, killed two American soldiers. The two generals who were relieved were relieved for not doing more to protect the helicopters, not doing more to protect the base.
DREAZENAmerican generals in wartime have not been relieved since Vietnam, since 1971. And what's really striking is that you can have a degree of sympathy for these two generals. They were asked to secure a base when troop levels were falling. They had requested more troops from Kabul. It was rejected. They didn't have as many troops as they thought they needed. The base was breached. They're being held responsible. Arguably the responsibility rests in Kabul or in Washington.
NAIMWe have not seen something like that since Vietnam when the commander of the Marines asks to generals to resign and to retire. We saw an example but not exactly identical with General Stanley McChrystal that was asked by President Obama to resign as a result of comments he made to a reporter in Rolling Stone magazine. But this is precedent-setting and a very important change in the way in which the military have historically tolerated errors. And it is a call for accountability and responsibility for...
LABOTTOriginally there was an investigation but then members of Congress started asking questions like, how did the Taliban literally walk onto the airbase and cause so much damage, really, as Yochi said, one of the worst in the war? And ultimately the investigation found a systematic pattern of failure in judgment by these two generals. And that's why they were released.
REHMElise Labott. She's foreign affairs reporter for CNN. Short break here. When we come back, more of your calls, your email, your Tweets, your posting on Facebook. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back and one more subject, Greenpeace, Russian prosecutors charge a number of Greenpeace activists with piracy. Moises, what happened?
NAIMThis is in the Arctic Ocean where a Russian oil...
REHMIn the Arctic Ocean?
NAIM...well, in the Arctic actually.
NAIMAnd where there is an oil rig run by this Russian company and a number of activists, Greenpeace activists using inflatable boats tried to climb, to climb on these things and were accused of piracy. They have been detained and now they face possible prison terms of up to 15 years.
LABOTTI think it's caught up in this whole kind of rush to claim, you know, territory integrity of the Arctic. This came as, just as Russia's entire fleet of nuclear-powered ships had been kind of dispatched to the region. President Putin, on the heels, just getting ready to hold this Arctic summit and so this is kind of a warning to countries like the U.S., Denmark, Finland, Norway, Canada to say, hands off the Arctic.
LABOTTYou know, they saw this as an affront to their territorial integrity. I mean President Putin has said recently that, you know, clearly these people were not involved in piracy but they did break international laws. So the charge for piracy is about 15 years. Maybe they'll get something less than that. Maybe they'll let them go entirely but this was more of a kind of warning to countries to say, the Arctic is ours.
REHMSo what kind of impact on U.S./Russian relations could this have, Yochi?
DREAZENRight now it's an impact on frankly, Netherlands/Russian relations because The Netherlands have taken Russia to the U.N. to try to get this arbitrated. It's worth a point, remembering that this was, one of the more surreal moments of the last six or seven years when Russia sent a miniature submarine to the Arctic sea floor to plant a miniature Russian flag.
DREAZENThen the miniature submarine left and they said, pouf, we've claimed it, like this was the 13th or 14th century. And actually the Canadian foreign minister said, this isn't the 15th century. You can't just plant a flag and say, pouf, this is now ours.
DREAZENIt's a strange moment. There's many, many, many countries trying to vie for resources. It's not clear who will get them.
NAIMThere is an organization called the Arctic Council which is made of the countries that claim sovereignty over parts of the Arctic. The number of countries that now say that they deserve to be part of this has exploded. The numbers are very, very high, including China.
NAIMAnd this is an unintended consequence of climate change. As a result of climate change it is now far more possible to mine the Arctic and to navigate the Arctic and therefore it's becoming economically viable and therefore a lot of countries very hungry for resources are paying a lot of attention and devoting investment and deploying their ships in that region and claiming parts of that territory is their sovereign.
REHMAll right, let's go back to the phones. To Ahmed in Cleveland, Ohio, you're on the air.
AHMEDSure, George Walker Bush accused the press of not being fair to him. Guess what? He lost the election. The press is not fair to Obama. He should be given the credit for making Iran reach out to the U.S. because, change, the last U.S. presidential election he said, he said, if Iran makes nuclear bomb, I'm going to bomb them. And the authority in Iran heard this.
AHMEDAnd after making the credible threat to use military force against Syria, Iran, you know, approached the U.S. I mean Obama, really, should be given the credit. He's infinitely powerful internationally.
REHMAll right, sir thanks for your call. This goes back to the issue of whether the sanctions should be eased on Iran or held in place. Yochi?
DREAZENI think the sanctions have worked much better than even their strongest advocates thought they would work. I mean they have demolished the Iranian banking system. They've demolished the Iranian oil exports. They have worked very, very, very well. I think more than the credible threat of force is just what the sanctions have done to everyday life in Iran.
REHMAll right, to Illona in Cleveland, Ohio, it's your turn. You're on the air.
ILLONAYes, thanks for taking my call.
ILLONAI have a statement to make. I think Israel will have to go this alone. I do not trust Iran. I don't believe they are really going to be in a peaceful mood. After all these years why should they be? But we need to stand tall for them.
LABOTTWell, I mean, if the international community does want Iran to give up its nuclear program they're going to have to get something in return. So unless Israel is going to bomb them which I don't, even though Prime Minister Netanyahu talks about Israel's willingness to go it alone. I don't think Israel or any, the United States or any country wants to see military action in Iran.
LABOTTWhat it would do to the Middle East, what it would do to world markets, what it would do to Israel in terms of retaliatory attacks, I don't think anybody wants to see that. And when I talk to Israeli officials, yes they're skeptical, yes Prime Minister Netanyahu is legitimately skeptical but I don't think any country would like to see a deal where Iran gave up its nuclear program more than Israel.
LABOTTSo there could be a deal. I don't think that President Obama is ever going to sign a deal with Iran that doesn't take Israel's interests into account, that doesn't protect Israeli security because he knows that he needs Prime Minister Netanyahu to keep forces at bay. He wants his help on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
LABOTTHe's really done a lot to repair his relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu over the years so I don't think, and I think a lot of analysts agree, that Israel doesn't really have to worry that the U.S. will sell them out because they can't.
REHMUm-hum, all right. To Tony in St. Petersburg, Fla., you're on the air.
TONYYes, my comment is, never underestimate the power of the purse. And the only reason why we're going through what we're going through with Iran right now is because the sanctions have worked so well and it would be a mistake for us to not use that power to diplomacy. Okay, and basically by using what we have we can diplomatically resolve it without having to use military force.
TONYIt's an opportunity. It's an opportunity that is based on the fact that what we've done with the sanctions and...
NAIMIt is true that these are the most sophisticated, extensive and international sanctions ever imposed on a country. They are highly sophisticated. They tackle the banking system, the financial transactions, not only trade and all kinds of things and they, as Yochi and others have said, they have worked much better than anticipated and much better than any other sanctions.
REHMHere's an email from Marilyn in Arvada, Colo. who says: "If the government shutdown weakens the U.S. position in the world then the Tea Party sees that as one more advantage. They don't want us to be a globally-dominant country. They want us to stay home, mind our own business and ignore the rest of the world altogether." Yochi…?
DREAZENThere is unquestionably rising isolationism in the U.S., unquestionably. You have it in parts of the Tea Party. You frankly have it in parts of the Democratic Party. There's a feeling that we're over-extended, that we've spent a trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that we're functionally a broke country, infrastructure is quite literally crumbling.
DREAZENI agree with the email about the Tea Party, but it's worth remembering that it's not just Republicans. You hear that among Democrats as well.
REHMAll right, to Corey in St. Louis, Mo., you're on the air.
COREYGood morning everyone.
COREYLove the show.
COREYOne of the things in which I want to reflect on was the Greenpeace activists and the actions of which they did upon that Russian vessel. I understand that we do have a need to be aware of our environment and yes, the Arctic is a very, very prime region as one of your spokesman have said, that the resources are becoming more and more available.
COREYBut one of the things in which these people did do, they did cross into and try to board a vessel. Now I can understand the need for protest but I think that this call, falls into the category of a forced protest. And I think that we're starting to see this more and more and yet they're still, they're looking to their home country to say, rescue us, but we're just going to go ahead and literally violate this ship's right to be here.
COREYAnd I just think that, yes, it's great, but the forced protest I don’t agree.
NAIMGreenpeace has a history of staging these kinds of events to attract attention to what they see are very important, very sensitive issues. They did it with whaling boats and very often they try to get in front of the whalers and we have seen them in all the, many other instances and that's their strategy, to stage a spectacular event that everyone covers and that calls attention to an issue and in this case they succeeded.
NAIMThey have called attention to the fact that the Arctic is becoming now a fiercely contested arena for the exploitation of minerals and other resources.
REHMAnd to Hassan in Burbank, Ohio, you're on the air.
HASSANGood morning everyone, how's everyone doing?
HASSANGood, listen I have a thing. I heard Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday on "The Sean Hannity Show." Sorry, I didn't mean to be disloyal to you guys, but he was saying that Iran should disarm and everybody should disarm and Iran is so hostile. Well, here's the thing.
HASSANBenjamin Netanyahu is sitting on top of, over 200 nuclear warheads that he's not recognizing but he shut up Vanunu for that one. And another thing is that everyone's saying Iran is so hostile. Iran hasn't been engaged in a military conflict in over decades and the last military conflict that they were involved in was with Iraq and the people that supported Iraq was the United States with chemical weapons.
HASSANNow I think these chemical weapons that Iran, Iraq had, I'm sorry, shifted to Syria before the 2001 invasion. I think that the only reason why everyone's dragging their feet and going to Syria and dismantling the chemical weapons is because I think that they're going to say made in the U.S.A. on them. Am I right or wrong?
REHMWhat do you think?
LABOTTWell, this is one of the reasons that Prime Minister Netanyahu is afraid he's losing the narrative here with this, you know, really smooth rhetoric of President Rouhani who also talked about the kind of unspoken secret in the Middle East about Israel's nuclear program.
LABOTTAnd you know, all of these countries, not just Iran, but all the countries in the Middle East feel it's time for Israel to give up its nuclear weapons and we should talk about a nuclear-free Middle East.
REHMBut you know Steve Inskeep was smart enough to ask Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning, this very question, saying well, sir, there are many people who say, if Israel has these nuclear weapons why can't Iran? And the prime minister said in response. We don't acknowledge we have nuclear weapons.
LABOTTWell, it's kind of like the emperor wears no clothes. I mean, even the United States privately acknowledges that Israel has a nuclear program. But there's this thing called constructive ambiguity about it. But then they say, well Israel is a democracy. Israel would never...
REHMWho called it constructive?
LABOTTWell, that's the term for it in terms of the United States.
REHMYeah, okay, one of these diplomatic terms.
LABOTTExactly, exactly but then the United States says, well, Israel is a democracy. Israel would never use nuclear weapons against another country. But, you know, if you look at what analysts say about Iran, that Iran is a little bit too rational to actually use nuclear weapons against Israel also, that they want the capacity, but don't really have the intent to use them.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Middletown, Ohio. Hi there, Jordan.
JORDANHi, how are you?
REHMI'm good, thanks.
JORDANMy question, I'm a rural-minded eco-friendly biology student so me saying this might be a little bit naïve, but my question is, similar to how in the U.S. how we've established national park systems, with, you know Carter and other presidents basically shutting off resources to not be touched. I wonder if, with more international awareness about global warming and resource sustainability, what you guys think is the possibility of possibly establishing international sanctions on areas such as the Arctic, where we just shut off resources that are kind of earth's resources and don't belong to a country or and/or basically prohibited from being mined needlessly.
DREAZENI wish the answer were different, but I think it's about zero percent. This potentially is one of the wealthiest parts of the world in terms of oil, resources, other things buried underground that wasn't reachable until global warming.
DREAZENRussia wants it. The U.S. wants it. The Netherlands wants it. I wish that I could think that the odds were higher than zero, but I think there's absolutely no chance of that happening.
REHMHow do you all believe the current government shutdown is affecting right now, our standing abroad? Has it begun to in any way, to erode the belief that the U.S. is the superpower, the U.S. is the model for democracy around the world?
LABOTTWell, I think it actually reinforces an opinion that countries have been having for some time, Diane. I think that American leadership has been in disarray for many years, starting with the Bush administration and now continuing with the Obama administration.
LABOTTPresident Obama said he would come in and engage all these countries. He didn't make good on a lot of those promises. I think, as we discussed, I think the crisis in Syria kind of really hurt U.S. leadership in terms of, he made this big case that he was going to take military action, then walked it back as we've discussed.
LABOTTCountries in the Middle East are kind of mortified by what they see as weak, indecisive, lack of leadership and I think that this issue with the shutdown, this, you know, while the U.S. preaches to the world on one hand about democracy and see this going on, on another. I think it just reinforces what a lot of countries have been feeling for some time.
REHMI don't think we should forget that the Congress kept hollering about bringing the Congress into the decision-making on Syria. And finally, the president said, okay, you guys decide.
DREAZENAnd frankly the biggest favor that a foreign leader has done for Congress in decades was Putin coming out with the Russian peace plan. I mean we can argue about whether that peace plan should be in quotes. Obama would have lost the vote on the Hill. The only question is, by how embarrassing a margin. There were estimates that he might have gotten as few as 30 or 40 Republican votes. So he would have gone to the Hill and lost.
DREAZENSo the question is people on the Hill who were wavering about whether to vote yes or not. People who wanted to vote no but were worried about looking soft, because of this they didn't have to vote.
NAIMYou ask a good question Diane, concerning how the United States is perceived in the world. And what are these accidents, these governance accidents doing to its reputation, its standing, its power. And there's no doubt that they are very negative. But we have already seen that. Remember we already saw that a few, a year ago with the other negotiations over the debt ceiling and that it's coming again.
NAIMSo we need to wade into, because that is a conversation, a negotiation, that is going to take place now and that can be even worse than this one. But at the same time international relations is what matters. It's not the standing of one country but the country relative to others.
NAIMAnd others are also full of problems and difficulties. When you go around the world and you ask, what if the United States is weak? Would you like the dominant country to be Russia? Would you like the dominant country to be China? Most people would still say that they prefer the United States, democracy.
REHMMoises Naim, Elise Labott, Yochi Dreazen, thank you all, have a great weekend.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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