ISIS takes control of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. Several nations agree to take in Southeast Asian migrants. And the U.S. and Cuba move closer to full restoration of diplomatic ties. A panel of journalists joins guest host Indira Lakshmanan 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: An international chemical weapons watchdog wins the Nobel Peace Prize as they visit several sites in Syria. The United States temporarily freezes some aid to Egypt’s military government in response to the bloody crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Libya’s prime minister is freed after being abducted in Tripoli Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Asian leaders. And Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani education activist shot by the Taliban, tours the United States and wins a European award.
- Kim Ghattas State Department correspondent, BBC, and author of "The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power."
- Nicole Gaouette diplomatic correspondent, Bloomberg News.
- Thom Shanker Pentagon correspondent, The New York Times, and co-author, "Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Egyptian leaders voice anger over a U.S. decision to cut some aid to the military backed government. Secretary of State Kerry wraps up a trip to Asia on security and economic issues and the global chemical weapons watch dog wins the Nobel Peace Prize. Joining me for the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Kim Ghattas of the BBC, Thom Shanker of the New York Times, and Nicole Gaouette of Bloomberg News. You're invited, as always, to be part of the program.
MS. DIANE REHM800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And it's good to see you all.
MS. KIM GHATTASGood morning.
MR. THOM SHANKERGood morning.
MS. NICOLE GAOUETTENice to see you.
REHMGood to have you here. Kim Ghattas, the organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons won the Nobel Prize this morning. Tell us about the group and what they're doing right now.
GHATTASWell, this is an organization that was founded in 1997, and interestingly enough, it was also the year when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the international campaign to ban land mines. So, the Nobel Peace Organization does award often the Nobel Peace Prize to institutions, organizations that help advance the cause of peace. And the OCPW has been very much in the headlines over the last few weeks because they are in a conflict zone at the moment in Syria trying to find, remove and destroy Syria's chemical weapons.
GHATTASThat was the work that they were assigned to at the end of August, and in a U.N. resolution that was voted on just two weeks ago at the U.N. General Assembly. Which, in essence, was a way of averting an American led military strike against Syria. But it's not going to be easy. They are operating in a conflict zone.
GHATTASAnd already this morning, we're hearing that they're finding themselves in an area that is coming under shelling.
REHMAnd they, as you say, are in Syria. They've said they can meet the deadline to eliminate the country's production facilities. Thom Shanker?
SHANKERThat's exactly right, Diane. Syria's on the record saying they have about a thousand tons of chemical weapons. That's a lot. They are scattered across the country. Some in contested areas, not under firm government control. If there's good news in this situation, Diane, it's that Syria's chemical weapons stock pile is kind of old fashioned. And so, if the inspectors can actually get to all of it, it's relatively easy to destroy it on the ground in Syria by simply taking it apart, dunking it in water, that sort of thing.
SHANKERThese are not advanced binary weapons that the United States and the Soviet Union had fielded, which are far more complicated. The question, of course, is whether the Assad regime actually will come clean with all of its stockpiles. And let's not forget that while disarming Syria of chemical weapons is a Nobel Peace Prize worthy effort, civilians are still being slaughtered, every day, the old fashioned way.
REHMI wonder how large this group is. Nicole, the prize is 1.25 million. How is that going to be used? Will it simply go to further the objectives of the organization? How is that going to be done?
GAOUETTEI imagine it will be used to further their mission. It's a group that is funded by its membership, which is 189 countries. They will have an additional member on Monday when Syria joins, as part of this agreement. They, as Kim said, have been working since 1997 to enforce the Convention on Chemical Weapons, which is all about destroying chemical weapons and making sure they are not produced or used. And, even though they have been working for almost two decades, they are, I'd say only moderately successful.
GAOUETTEThere are countries that still haven't joined the convention, including Birma, Israel, Angola, and there are others that have joined, but have not met deadlines, including the US and Russia, which were supposed to have destroyed their stocks by April, 2012 and haven't.
REHMMany people thought that Malala Yousafzai might win the prize.
GAOUETTEAbsolutely. The young Pakistani girl who has, in a way, shot to fame because of the terrible circumstances that she found herself in, not only living in the Swat Valley of Pakistan where the Taliban hold sway and bomb schools and made it difficult, if not impossible, for her and others to get an education. But then she was also shot in the head in a very dramatic development a few years ago. She has been very much in the spotlight because she's made this amazing recovery. I watched several of the interviews she gave over the last couple of weeks to international media.
GAOUETTEShe has incredible poise. She still seems very, very grounded, despite all the attention that she is getting. It did make me wonder, though, whether perhaps her father should also be getting some attention, because she's the reason -- he's the reason why she has been able to become who she is. He was very much in support of education and he pushed her forward, and he pushed girls' education. And it's fantastic when women find a power within themselves to speak up. But we also need more men to speak up about it.
GAOUETTEBecause, in many ways, they're holding some of the progress back. I think a lot of people are disappointed that she didn't win, but, you know, as I saw one of the tweets this morning, in reaction to the nomination of the OCPW, people said well, you know, this is not the Oscars. You don't have to resent the fact that your favorite person didn't win.
REHMOf course. And she is, after all, a very young woman. And there's lots of time for her to continue her work. She did win a Sakharov Prize of 65,000 dollars. Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament, but at the same time, Nicole, the Taliban renewed its threat against Malala. What are they saying?
GAOUETTEThey've made very clear that if she comes back to Pakistan, which is what she says she would like to do, they will kill her, and they've made very clear that they would see it as a great achievement to do so. She's been very clear about her wish to return, but also her wish to deal with the Taliban and their threats in a non violent fashion. That said, the Swat Valley where she came from has seen conditions just grow steadily worse. There have been Taliban assassinations of military commanders.
GAOUETTEAnd official figures who are on the pro-peace councils that the government has set up. The school she attended has had to put an armed commando at the door and take down the sign identifying it. So, the threat remains. There's also been a very, sort of, interesting backlash in Pakistan, at large, to the fame that she's found in the West, and the renown.
GAOUETTEWhere, yeah, there's a fair degree of resentment and even some theories that the whole event was staged to sort of create a heroin for Western consumption. I just wanna add one thing. She has an autobiography coming out that's as much about her campaign as Pakistan, and the title is such a terrific declaration of not just identity, but her determination to continue her fight. Because, as Kim described, she was shot in the face. It happened as she was coming home from school in the back of a pickup truck with her school friends. They were stopped by two men.
GAOUETTEOne of whom got into the back of the pickup truck with his pistol and asked, who is Malala? And none of the girls said anything, but their heads all turned to her, and she was shot. So, for her to name her autobiography, "I Am Malala," is a real statement.
REHMNicole Gaouette. She's Diplomatic Correspondent for Bloomberg News. Thom Shanker of the New York Times. Kim Ghattas, State Department Correspondent for the BBC, and if you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Let's talk now about Egypt, Tom Shanker. The Obama administration announced a modest and temporary freeze on military aid to Egypt. What are the details?
SHANKERWell, you're exactly right. It was modest. It was temporary. The US, the Obama administration announced they would withhold the delivery of several big ticket items that the Egyptians wanted, of course. These are Apache attack helicopters, harpoon missiles, M1, A1 tanks and F-16 war planes. At the same time, Diane, it's very important to remember that, you know, the halt or the slowdown of these deliveries, in no way, really disrupts the Egyptian military.
SHANKERTheir security is not at risk. These are just upgrades and additions. And very importantly, the administration is going to sustain funding for the border security mission in the Sinai, they're going to sustain funding for counterterrorism operations, and they will sustain a program of exchanges of Egyptian military officers coming to the United States. Now, those are all positive things, to be sure, but in talking to a lot of Egyptian officials, yes, they would have rather, you know, green light open flow of weapons.
SHANKERBut they really don't see this as extremely punitive. And, in fact, the Obama administration was criticized by some human rights activists for really not doing enough. But they were trying to balance global security, national security with furthering democratization in Egypt.
REHMBut is there any concern that reducing or suspending that aid could undermine U.S. influence in that area?
GHATTASYou know, the U.S. has already limited influence in the area. They're withholding approximately 250 million dollars in cash aid, for example. Gulf countries are pouring money into Egypt by the billions. So, by the billions of dollars. So, influence is limited because the U.S. has less money to give, but also because Egyptians are saying, this is a new day. We don't necessarily want to listen to you. We don't want you to tell us what to do.
REHMKim Ghattas, the BBC. Short break here. We'll talk more when we come back. Take your calls. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Nicole Gaouette of Bloomberg News, Thom Shanker, the New York Times, Kim Ghattas of the BBC. Nicole, tell us about John Kerry's trip to Asia and his filling in for the president.
GAOUETTEKerry has just spent the better part of a week -- a little more than a week in Asia where he hop scotched from one summit to another. He was at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Bali and then he went to an Asian meeting. That's the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Brunei. The first meeting is all about economic cooperation. He was talking to people there about a trade pack that the U.S. wants to engage in with Asia. The second meeting is more about strategic concerns, tensions in the South China Sea and so on.
GAOUETTEOne of the most striking things about his trip was that he was trying to fill bigger shoes than he can. President Obama was supposed to be in Bali and wasn't. And there were visual from the meetings that were very striking, where the U.S. would be a presence, sort of front and center with the host. In a lot of the group shots Kerry was off to the side and at the back. And this is partly for protocol reasons because president like President of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia are in the center. But still it was a very symbolic visual of perhaps slipping U.S. influence in the region. Certainly the perception that the U.S. is not as engaged as it needs to be.
SHANKERWell, that's exactly right. And we have to remember that there's so much, you know, going on. There's the North Korean threat and the signals that the U.S. is trying to send to deter North Korea without angering China. You know, there was a lot of discussion during the Kerry trip, especially at the second stop, with the Asian allies about how to bring China into a more lawful relationship. I mean, China's engaging in what the American military calls law fare. Every time a ship sails through the South China Sea they complain.
SHANKERWe've written a lot about the very close near crashes of American military aircraft with the Chinese. And that's really on the mind of our smaller allies in Southeast Asia who have big territorial disputes with their giant neighbor. And, as was just said by Nicole, by Obama not going, there's a real concern among these partners who look to the U.S. to sort of extend our umbrella of security. And they look at the government shutdown. They look at the budget cutbacks at the Pentagon. And they're really wondering which way they should be leaning.
REHMSo did China and Russia take center stage, Kim?
GHATTASIn many ways they did. And I think that when John Kerry said to people at the summit -- the Asian summit that he brings President Obama's sincerest greetings and apologies for not being able to be there but I'm sure you all understand why, I actually think a lot of people said, well actually we don't really understand why.
GHATTASMr. Obama tried to make a joke out of it in one of his recent statements said, I think the Chinese leaders are probably happy that I didn't show up. But it is a real issue of concern for...
REHMDo you see long term consequences here?
GHATTASNot necessarily. I will have to see how long the shutdown lasts. And, you know, the U.S. goes through these crises and then bounces back. I think when we're in the middle of the storm there is a tendency to think this is going to have very long-lasting impact. It certainly does have an impact but, you know, there have been other crises like that. For example, the debt ceiling crisis in August of 2011, if I'm not mistaken, where Clinton was trying to reassure American allies in Asia as well, that the U.S. was not going to default, that the world shouldn't be concerned, that everything would be fine.
GHATTASShe even had a very interesting private meeting with Dai Bingguo, the Chinese State Councilor at the time who said, well, you know, your system doesn't seem to be working. And Mrs. Clinton shot back saying, well let's talk about your system. So there is still a sense that for small allies of the U.S. in the region, the U.S. is still the go-to ally when they want to face up against the big, you know, Chinese bully, as many countries see it in the region.
REHMWhat about the U.S. deal with the Philippines to gain access to more military bases?
SHANKERWell, it's a fascinating conversation, Diane. Obviously the history of the U.S. and the Philippines is one of good relationships and bad. It's a vital base for a long time. The Defense Department though does not want to get into the business of building up large overseas bases. They don't have the money and they know that politically it's difficult. So there's this whole process of by, with and through. And what the Pentagon wants to do is have relations with the Philippines to rotate through, to pass ships through, airplanes and personnel.
SHANKERThe only permanent military operation there is a small Special Operations joint task force working in the southern islands of the Philippines to help them fight some of the terror groups there.
REHMYou know, it's so interesting because at the beginning of President Obama's second term there was all this talk about the pivot toward Asia. That hasn't quite worked?
GHATTASWell, it started during the first term, of course, and Hillary Clinton was a big advocate of that, as was National Security's advisor at the time, Tom Donilon. And there's a sense that initially John Kerry as Secretary of State wasn't as committed to it. He was much more focused on the Middle East. President Obama had a lot of economic and domestic issues to look after within the U.S.
GHATTASThe policy of a rebalancing towards Asia, I think, continues. But there has been a lot of criticism of the fact that not enough resources have been allocated to that pivot. A lot of people don't like the word pivot so let's call it a rebalancing. Certainly the Europeans don't like the word pivot. They like to make sure that the Americans are still focused on the Trans Atlantic relationship as well.
GHATTASBut if you want to rebalance your relationship towards Asia, for example, you have to make sure that the staff in the East Asia Pacific Bureau at the State Department is fully funded, fully staffed. And there has been some -- there have been gaps there. So that also shows that you may have a great idea when it comes to policy but implementation can often be problematic.
GAOUETTEThere's also the question of energy and time. I mean, it's very striking when you look at the press conferences that Kerry did out of Asia. So many of them were devoted to either the aid cut to Egypt, the talks in Iran, the chemical weapons in Syria. And with Russia, he and Putin talked about a nuclear agreement they reached. So a lot of his public air time was devoted to things not Asian, which must be a real frustration for people there.
REHMLet's talk about Libya. The prime minister there was briefly abducted. What happened, Kim?
GHATTASOh my goodness, that was such an incredible story and just very symbolic in a tragic way almost -- Luckily it ended well -- of the instability that Libya is still suffering from because of the plethora of militias that are present all over in Libya. And that the prime minister is having real trouble getting under control. He was abducted in a predawn raid at the Corinthia Hotel by about 100 armed gunmen. And he was held, as far as we can tell, in a nearby ministry. So it just shows you the rivalries within the government itself and the fact that they...
REHMWhat were the abductors hoping to accomplish, Thom?
SHANKERIt's still a little unclear, Diane. The first thought was that this was retaliation for the government's tacit or official approval of an American commando raid that captured a longtime al-Qaida suspect. But as the day wore on, a lot of people in Libya were saying, well there're all kinds of grievances, back pay, oil revenues. So we might just look at this as sort of a labor...
SHANKER...a labor dispute. Right. Which makes the story more fantastic. If you think about it, as it was described by eyewitnesses, here is a senior Libyan government official in this swank hotel. And, as Kim said, 100 armed gunmen came in. They frog stepped this guy out in his nightshirt at 2:30 in the morning.
REHMWhere were his guards?
SHANKERThey apparently -- they were either outgunned or they were just very smart and they didn't get in the way, because these militias are truly the power on the ground.
GHATTASOr they had brothers and cousins in the other militia who was abducting the prime minister. And I saw another very interesting reaction from Libya to this abduction, which goes to Thom's point that perhaps it was a labor dispute. You know, this woman in Libya said, oh, you know, don't look at it as a kidnapping. This was a private compulsory town hall meeting with rogue militia men.
REHMBut, you know, it makes you wonder whether Libya is sliding toward anarchy. I mean, if a hundred militia men can walk into a hotel and kidnap the president for however short a period, it really makes you wonder, Nicole.
GAOUETTEIt underscores how tenuous and fragile that central government's hold is. I mean, these militias have sort of carried the mantel of the revolution that ousted Moammar Gadhafi. So they feel that they sort of have ownership of the country's freedom. And since his fall -- since Gadhafi's fall they've exploded in number and size. And the government is weak enough that it actually has to hire them for security.
GAOUETTESo, you know, as Thom and Kim were saying, this is all the elements of an inside job of a labor dispute or, you know, unhappy employees.
REHMTell us about the seizure of the al-Qaida leader in Tripoli, Thom.
SHANKERWell, it was, you know, a covert raid. They went in, it was -- according to all the public reports, it was a combination of American military and law enforcement, the FBI. This is someone who's been wanted since the '90s, had been living relatively openly. This mission was successful whereas a near simultaneous mission off the coast of Somalia -- you can't say it was a failure but the SEAL team there did withdraw. And as far as we know right now, this Qaida suspect is being interrogated aboard a U.S. Navy warship in the Mediterranean.
REHMAnd the BBC, Kim, made the comment that the U.S. made things immeasurably worse by saying that the Libyan government had tacitly approved.
GHATTASWell, I can imagine that for the U.S. government there was probably some kind of tacit understanding with the Libyans. Because the way that the raid was described by the family of Abu Anas al-Liby, the al-Qaida operative who was taken. It seemed impossible that American forces would just be able to do this without some kind of local or government cooperation. The way they operated with cars, with several armed men, etcetera it was just not possible to imagine that this could happen without approval from the local government.
GHATTASNow the issue with U.S. interventions or operations or strikes, whether they're drone strikes or covert operations like this one, is that there was a tacit unspoken agreement with the local government. And it is understood that it won't be publicized. But I can imagine how the U.S. government then gets upset when the local government actually denies any involvement for their own domestic audiences.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So you had one raid on the part of the U.S. succeed, the other in Somalia failed, Nicole.
GAOUETTEI think one thing that was interesting about those raids is that they might be the future model for the way the U.S. goes after terrorists its hunting. I mean, we saw a speech earlier this year from President Obama about the drone policy and about his desire -- stated desire to scale back. So this sort of more focused operation where they pull the target out alive might be what we will see going forward. And I think Thom can probably speak to this more with more depth.
GAOUETTEBut one of the things about admitting or leaking that the Libyan's gave tacit approval is that it makes it much harder to do this in the future, I would guess. I mean, there are still people in Benghazi responsible for the attack of last year who work and live openly there, and now know that they are not only within the reach of the U.S. but the Libyan government might be backing them up.
SHANKERBut here's the challenge, Diane. It's true. Obama's given the speech. He was elected twice by a public that wants no large overseas wars. And so the Special Operations tool looks like a great implement. And they are very, very professional at what they do. But here's the problem. There's a lot of concern in the Special Operations community that their successes could be their undoing because they will be looked to to solve all of our national security problems, when these raids do not get to any of the underlying problems that create radicalism and militancy around the world.
REHMThom Shanker, one more point about Secretary of State John Kerry. He made a surprise visit to Afghanistan today. Why?
SHANKERThat's right, Diane. He just landed. While I'm tempted to offer my favorite chicken (word?) shop down the road from the embassy, his schedule will be very packed. He's seeing President Karzai of Afghanistan, probably even as we're sitting here right now. This is the ticking clock that he and President Karzai are facing. The Obama Administration has set the last day of October as the deadline to negotiate a bilateral security agreement, the BSA, which would set the framework for a continued American military presence, however small, after 2014.
SHANKERThe NATO allies will not stay if the U.S. does not stay. And we saw that what happened in Iraq, everybody thought it'd be an easy thing but it didn't happen. So here we are a year away and President Karzai has put two impossible conditions. He doesn't want the U.S. to carry out any unilateral counterterrorism operations, which is why we got into Afghanistan in the first place. And two, he wants a NATO-like mutual security guarantee that should anyone attack Afghanistan, that we have to punish that country. Well, clearly we would be looking at war with Pakistan.
SHANKERSo the Obama Administration says these are nonstarters. Karzai says, I won't bend. And even though December 2014 is a long time away, military planning, especially among the smaller NATO allies, needs a lot of time.
GHATTASJohn Kerry made this stop to try to help push forward those stalled negotiations. But his senior advisors are putting a very low bar on expectations about what he's going to be able to achieve. They're saying he's not coming here to close the deal. Perhaps he will but they certainly don't want the expectation that this is what will be the outcome of the trip. I think that the points that Thom make underscore the tension that is there in any negotiation between the U.S. and another country when it involves American troops.
GHATTASIt is about sovereignty. It's about these countries feeling that their sovereignty is not being respected. And that's what was the issue with Iraq. But again, as Thom points out, if the U.S. isn't able to stay because the agreement doesn't meet its standards then other NATO allies will leave as well. And you will have to wonder what happens then if Afghanistan and what shape the future will look like. Is it better or not that everyone is out? And will the American invasion in 2001 have been completely futile? Will that whole war have become completely futile?
REHMKin Ghattas, State Department correspondent for the BBC and author of "The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton From Beirut to the Heart of American Power." Short break here. When we come back, time to open the phones.
REHMAnd welcome back to the international hour of our "Friday News Roundup." Time now to open the phones. Let's go first to Lars, in Miami, Fla. Hi, there you're on the air.
LARSHow are you today?
LARSYou know, I wanted to make a comment about the Nobel committee. I completely understand the paramount significance of what, you know, this organization does to rid the world of these horrific chemical weapons. However, you know, I know the environment there, they're working under, but I would have liked to have seen a little bit more how successful they would have been.
LARSAnd also the thought that they're sort of subsidized by all these countries that have, you know, signed on to the treaty. But you look at Malala, this is a young girl who has shown to the world that not only girls and women, you know, have the right to education in that region, but in the entire world.
LARSAnd what she's accomplished at the age of 12 has just, you know, we get very few, you know, very few young people like that.
LARSI think she would have put that money to use. Considering the chemical organization gets subsidized, I think she would have put that money to use in a very admirable and transparent way.
REHMThank you for your call. And Kim?
GHATTASThere are a lot of people who would say that it was premature to give the OPCW this award. They'll say let's first see whether they manage to remove and destroy all the chemical weapons from Syria.
GHATTASThere are others who will say, you know, this is an organization that does good work. Yes, a lot of people are still dying in Syria from conventional warfare but it is important to support institutions that are helping to advance the cause of peace, in the view of the Nobel organization, whether it's the OPCW or the EU or the international organization that helps to ban landmines.
GAOUETTEWell, we've seen the Nobel committee give the prize to people sort of on an aspirational basis. I mean...
GAOUETTE...they gave it to President Obama for his rhetoric about war as opposed to the things he subsequently did. I have to say the OPCW seems like a safer choice than Malala and I think Lars makes a great point about what she could have done with that money.
SHANKERAnd then speaking in favor of the chemical weapons group, I don't want to speak against Malala, but they are an organization that has to go sort of cap-in-hand every time they want to do a mission.
SHANKERIt's not like they have a standing army and all this equipment. They have to go and borrow technicians and equipment from all of the member states and it's also not just about Syria. Had Syria collapsed into civil war, well it already is, but had the security situation really become a mess these chemical weapons could have fallen into the hands of the most militant types of organizations and the entire region could have been at risk.
REHMAll right, to Cleveland, Ohio. Zamani, you're on the air.
ZAMANIHi, Diane, how are you doing?
ZAMANII'd like to just say, thank you for all the comments and information. I just really wanted to comment really quickly on the government shutdown and just to me it seems that if anybody else was in a position where they couldn't, where they had to borrow from somebody else every single day just to pay their bills, I mean we would basically call that person, you know, incapable of.
REHMZamani, you know, what we were talking about, the shutdown in the first hour. Now we're into the international hour. I thought you wanted to make another comment.
ZAMANIIt was. I'm sorry.
ZAMANIWe were talking about sending, I guess, aid to Egypt. They're sending aid to all these other countries when it seems that if America wasn't spending so much money on military all around the world it would have plenty enough money to run its own government. That's what I wanted to say.
REHMAll right. You want to make a comment, Kim?
GHATTASWhen it comes to the aid that goes to Egypt, yes, some of it is cash, but it's not that much. But some of it is military hardware that is put together by U.S. defense contractors and companies here in the U.S. So it actually means jobs in the U.S.
GHATTASAnd part of the problem, why it's been so difficult for the U.S. government to go ahead with halting some of that aid is because the contracts have been drawn up, the equipment is being built and it would mean the U.S. government actually being in breach of contract with those American military hardware companies.
GAOUETTEAnd taxpayers on the hook...
GHATTASAnd taxpayers on the hook, some of that money has already been allocated, has already been spent. The hardware has already been ordered. It is in production so it's a very difficult aid program to dismantle. But there is a cost to the U.S. for cutting aid to Egypt and it translates into jobs here.
SHANKERWell, I think American policy is clearly reflective of what your, what the caller was talking about. I mean the American military is out of Iraq. It is, the numbers are dwindling in Afghanistan. Even if there is a bilateral security agreement the American commitment might be 10,000 troops at the most compared to more than 100,000 so I think trillions of dollars that had been flowing into war zones for a decade will not be doing that any longer.
GAOUETTEI was going to say Zamani, there is a real link between the shutdown and foreign policy when you think about, especially perceptions of U.S. ability, willingness and capability to stand by allies where they need it. We saw it in this trip with Secretary Kerry where people are wondering about U.S. commitment to Asia, not just because they're distracted but because if the U.S. can't manage its own affairs, how on earth are they going tackle the myriad and complex, incredibly complex problems around the world?
REHMNow, on to Little Rock, Ark. Hi there, Ronnie.
RONNIEHow are you doing today?
REHMI'm just fine, thanks.
RONNIEYes, I've got a question about the national debt. They keep saying that China owns the country and everything. Out of the $16, point something, trillion-dollar national debt, China only owns about $1.4 trillion of it. And right behind them I believe it's Japan at $1.2 trillion so that all totaled, foreign governments only own about 4 percent of the national debt, the rest of it is held by American people in bonds and stuff and 2.7 of that is what the government is taking out of the social security trust fund.
REHMAll right, Kim Ghattas, do you want to comment?
GHATTASWell, there is this perception very often in the U.S. that, you know, the rest of the world now owns, you know, owns us and there's a lot of fear about China. The Chinese are actually terrified about the U.S. defaulting on its debt because, you know, if you owe the bank, let's say China is the bank. If you owe the bank a million dollars, the bank has you by the neck.
GHATTASIf you owe the bank a few trillion dollars, you bring the bank down with you, if you go down. So the Chinese are as connected to the U.S. as the U.S. is connected to China. It's an inter-dependent relationship and that does give the U.S. some leverage.
REHMAll right, to Abrahim here in Washington, D.C. Hi there.
ABRAHIMGood morning, Diane, and panel. I appreciate your program.
ABRAHIMI am an Egyptian-American. I was born in Egypt, but I have been living in the States for many, many years. I appreciate that President Obama and his cabinet are trying to maintain a balance between the two opposing factors in Egypt. And as far as the foreign aid, or the military aid to Egypt, why the administration does not transfer this aid to the military, to civilian and development would be wonderful if U.S. aid goes to build a hospital in each province in Egypt.
ABRAHIMThis would more than anything else, can improve the American image in Egypt. And so I'm asking the panel what do you think of this transfer?
REHMAll right, and to Nicole.
GAOUETTEYou know, Abrahim, I think that sounds like a wonderful idea, but as Kim was pointing out, the way this aid is structured, it's not really transferable. I mean there are these military contracts that have been longstanding and offer specific kinds of equipment and you can't. There's no budget magic that can dissolve the money that goes to those weapons contractors and that can then be, you know, switched over to build hospitals or schools.
GAOUETTEYou make a great point about the American image in Egypt suffering and I think you're probably right, that if there was more aid that, more sort of publicly reached ordinary people it would go a long way.
REHMHow is the aid that the U.S. is sending to Egypt being used?
GAOUETTEI mean the bulk of it, there's. It's $1.55 billion. It has been requested by the administration for 2014, for Egypt. $1.3 billion is in the form of these military contracts which means that $1.3 billion goes to domestic weapons manufacturers. The money is put into a trust account and Egypt, you know, makes its choices, its F-16s, its Apache helicopters. The money is drawn down from the account...
REHMSo Abrahim makes a good point, Kim?
GHATTASHe makes a very good point but as Nicole said, it is very difficult to restructure this aid and I think that that's partly what the administration is trying to do. I mean not only are they halting some of those deliveries but I think they're also looking at how their aid program works.
GHATTASBecause in essence since the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel, U.S. aid, military aid to Egypt has gone to Egypt very regularly and the Egyptians expect this aid to continue to flow to them year after year which means that in essence, you know, they have a credit card with which they can buy whatever they want, years in advance and the money is then reimbursed by the U.S. government.
GHATTASThat's an arrangement that very few other countries get. Only Israel gets this kind of arrangement. It's called, cash flow financing. You can buy it in advance, before the aid, before the money has been appropriated for hardware that is going to be delivered in 2016 for example. So that becomes very problematic to restructure that.
GAOUETTECan I just add something, Diane? The other thing is that this contract has very strong domestic supporters and defenders in the weapons contractors advocates. They are spread all over every single Congressional district so they have any number, hundreds of advocates on Capitol Hill. They don't want to lose these contracts. Why should they?
REHMYou didn't call them lobbyists. You said advocates.
GAOUETTEI just was choosing my words carefully.
GHATTASI mean, these are jobs in, you know, places like Ohio...
GHATTAS...for example, you know, a little bit across, you know, across the United States. But one of the longstanding complaints by American officials when it comes to Egypt military aid is that they've tried to convince the Egyptians that they don't need the fancy big toys. They don't need the F-16s. They don't really need the Apache helicopters. They need more, you know, smaller hardware for counter-terrorism for example.
GHATTASBut the Egyptian military does love its big toys.
REHMHere is a tweet: "Is the Nobel Peace Prize in bad taste with regard to the victims of conventional weapons in the continuing Syrian conflict?" You mentioned that a while back.
GAOUETTEIt's hard to say that it's in bad taste because there is value to advancing the cause of peace in any sort of way and removing chemical weapons from Syria and from the whole of the world is a good cause. But it's true that people who are still dying in the conflict every day in Syria and the average death toll per day in Syria has not gone down since the U.S. resolution was voted on at the General Assembly and the chemical weapons inspectors arrived in Syria.
GAOUETTEThose people will say, what's the point? What's the point of this Nobel Peace Prize? We are still dying here.
REHMAlright, to John in Danielson, Conn., as I remind you that you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." John, you're on the air, go right ahead.
JOHNThank you, Diane, and good morning everyone.
JOHNI wish to, is it true that if Congress and the Executive zero out military aid for Egypt, despite the Sinai agreement, that companies in the U.S. would be balking? We'd be breaking contracts if they just say no. We're not going to fund anything anymore for military aid and give it to humanitarian aid.
JOHNWould it be true?
SHANKERWell, exactly right as my two colleagues in the panel...
SHANKER...have already said so articulately. These contracts are light years before, in fact the weapons that were frozen in this latest order were signed four, five, six years ago. So you're absolutely right. But I wanted to come back to what Abrahim said earlier because I don't want contract law to let us, all citizens, off the hook here.
SHANKERI mean his point is very, very well taken. Every secretary of defense, every president, every secretary of state always says we have a lot of tools of American power. Let's focus on the soft tools, the smart tools. But the hard tool is just the easiest one to pick up.
REHMAnd here's a question from Tom on that very point: "Who is Egypt's enemy that necessitates such a military arsenal?
GHATTASThe big toys as I just, as I just said, the big toys.
REHMThe big toys.
GHATTASThey want to demonstrate their power. They want to be on the street with their tanks for military parades. This is a military Inc. They have companies and they have vested interests and they want to feel powerful. And they have a lot of supporters. I mean the people who took to the street and are now cheering for General El-Sisi, they support that. And they're very upset that the U.S. has decided to halt aid and they see that as proof in their eyes that the U.S. was in bed with the Muslim Brotherhood.
REHMHere's a final email from Geoff: "Would you address the aspect of a country's sovereignty in regard to the U.S. going into Libya to snatch up a suspected terrorist?" Thom?
SHANKERWell, that's why it was so important, this sort of uncomfortable dialogue behind closed doors with the Libyans if they gave tacit or overt approval then they surrendered their sovereignty. Some in the government were making the case that because this al-Qaida suspect had been named in various findings and legal indictments that the U.S. had the right to go in to arrest him because there's a principle that if the host government is incapable of enforcing international law, others can.
SHANKERNow that's an example that we really don't want to cite very often...
SHANKER...because that's what the Russians used in Georgia and elsewhere.
REHMAnd how would we react if a country did that in this country?
SHANKERThat's exactly right, Diane.
GHATTASWhen it comes to the U.S. there is a lot of pushback when it comes to sovereignty issues because exactly, how would the U.S. react if it was done here? You know what really stunned me when it came to those dual raids, one in Libya, one in Somalia? Is that the Somali Foreign Minister Fowsia Yusuf Haji was then on television publicly saying we welcome this raid. The U.S. does not need our invitation to come anytime.
GHATTASBecause they feel that they are having a lot of trouble fighting al-Shabaab which is undermining their legitimacy so there are very different approaches to the idea of sovereignty.
REHMKim Ghattas of the BBC, Thom Shanker of The New York Times and co-author of "Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda" and Nicole Gaouette, diplomatic correspondent for Bloomberg News. Thank you all for being here.
GHATTASThank you, Diane.
GAOUETTEThank you, Diane.
REHMThank you. Have a great weekend everybody. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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