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.
The U.S. and Afghanistan reached a tentative security agreement. But in a surprise move, Afghan President Karzai declared he would not sign it until the spring. Talks on Iran’s nuclear program resumed in Geneva as top Iranian cleric Ayatollah Khamenei warned his negotiators not to give ground. Twin suicide bombings outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut underscore concerns that Lebanon is being drawn into Syria’s civil war. China announced it will ease its one-child policy. And the death toll from the typhoon that hit the Philippines surpassed 5,000. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- James Kitfield senior correspondent, National Journal.
- Geoff Dyer foreign policy correspondent, Financial Times.
- Susan Glasser editor, Politico magazine.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. There's new uncertainty about a tentative U.S.-Afghanistan security deal. Talks on Iran's nuclear program resume in Geneva. And a Beirut suicide bombing heightens fears that Lebanon will be drawn into Syria's war. Joining me for the international hour, "The Friday News Roundup," Geoff Dyer with Financial Times, Susan Glasser at Politico and James Kitfield with National Journal. I hope you'll join us. Call us. 800-433-8850.
MS. DIANE REHMSend us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Welcome to all of you.
MR. GEOFF DYERGood to be here.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDThanks.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERThanks.
REHMNice to see you. James Kitfield, President Karzai says he won't sign this deal until Spring. What's gone wrong?
KITFIELDWell, it's the old adage. You know, Karzai's off his meds again. He's a very unpredictable guy, and I sense that as he's getting closer and closer to the end of his tenure, which is going to be next April when they have presidential elections, that he is jockeying for leverage. So he wants something here. And he wants to remain relevant. He doesn't want to be a lame duck. And as soon as he signs off on any deal, he's out of the picture basically. There's not very much through he -- you know, if he can string this thing out, he may be able to leverage that in a way that influences the election for a favored candidate.
KITFIELDI mean, that's the best guess. But you never know with this guy. He could just be -- you know, have some peak at his last discussion with American officials. You never really know, but this definitely took the administration by surprise. The day before, Secretary Kerry had said, you know, we have basically a formalized deal and agreement. The published the wording in Afghanistan itself. And then, they have said to this guy, we have to have something signed by the end of this year, or else the zero option's back in the play.
KITFIELDAnd we gotta be out of here, 'cause we need to plan ahead. You can't just do these things at the last minute.
REHMExplain the zero option, Susan.
GLASSERWell, I think, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel reiterated this today, when the news of Karzai's apparent flip flop came out. He said, you know, we can't -- I can't recommend to the President that we keep any troops in Afghanistan unless we can secure their legal status. And remember, of course, that was exactly what happened with Iraq, that we negotiating with them up until the very last moment. We intended to keep a security presence of some sort on the ground there.
GLASSERWhen we didn't sign a deal, we did pull out entirely. And so that is sort of the threat that's hanging over these talks with Karzai. Karzai doesn't want the United States, by the way, to leave. And I think that is what might be lost on some people, but I think it's a very important factor to recognize here. The dynamics are different than in Iraq, and there is a consensus, not among everyone, but across most of the major players in Afghanistan, that they would like the United States to maintain some presence ongoing over the next few years.
GLASSERSo, I think that's important factor number one. Looking ahead here, Karzai, as he has for the last 12 years, someone said to me, he's very likely to remain waffling about this and to flip flop and to, you know, come back with more and more conditions for the United States until the last hour of the minute of the last day that he's in office.
REHMSo, Geoff Dyer, is he, in essence, bluffing simply holding on for more time, or are there things that he really is pressing for?
DYERIt's, I think, as James said, it's largely about him and his role, and him trying to retain some leverage in the system until the elections next year. But it's a very risky gamble, because it's not just about U.S. troop presence after 2014, an international troop presence. There's a whole bunch of funding for the Afghan government that also is really partly dependent on this security deal, as well. And the Afghan government is hugely dependent on foreign economic assistance. And that's all, now, potentially at risk, if this deal doesn't get signed.
REHMSo, you've got the Afghan elders currently debating this whole thing. Could they simply approve it without Karzai?
DYERIt is possible that this is just a bluff by Karzai and he'll change his mind in a couple of days. Already this week, we've seen two or three issues in which the Afghanistan government has flipped, almost within the space of a day. There was this whole issue about whether there'd be an apology or not...
REHMAn apology? I didn't understand that. What was that all about, Susan?
GLASSERWell, remember Karzai continues to play to a domestic audience as well as to an international audience. And, so if you heard his account yesterday, the big Loya Jirga, that's the gathering of elders, a sort of democratic group that exists in Afghanistan, traditional group. Karzai's account there, you would think this was a major victory and that he enforced the President of the United States to send him a letter apologizing for intrusive American searches into homes. That's not exactly the American account of either what is contained in that letter, or the negotiations that led up to it.
GLASSERBut clearly, you have to recognize, it has been an enormous sore point in Afghanistan for this whole 12 year period, the idea that the United States military would undertake invasive searches of houses, storm into places, basically, in the middle of the night, to arrest people, to interrogate people. My understanding is that over the last year, we stopped doing that and relied on Afghan coalition partners, basically, to make arrests when that was happening.
REHMBut, clearly, what Karzai still wants is jurisdiction over those American soldiers who stay. And he's not gonna get it.
KITFIELDHe's not gonna get it. And the agreement that they thought they had reached earlier in the week basically, you know, the United States won that point. We've said in the show, they're not gonna give on that. They don't -- we don't give on that. There's no way we would let an American soldier be a subject to Afghan jurisdiction. It's just, it's a non starter. So, we basically finessed that and said, you know, that's not gonna happen. We finessed the idea about going into Afghan homes by saying it would only be done in extraordinary circumstances.
KITFIELDYou know, it's interesting to me, and Susan makes a good point about what Karzai really wants. He wants us to stay. He wants the funding that we have talked about. But he had this very strange speech where he said, you know, I support this agreement, but I don't trust the Americans and they don't trust me. And it's like, that basically is a perfect summation of this relationship at this point. There's no trust in this guy. He's back and forth. He's mercurial.
KITFIELDBut at the end of the day, he knows they're gonna be lost without what we represent and a continued presence to help the Afghan security forces.
DYERI think, looking forward now, the big issue that the U.S. should be focusing on is the election next year. That has to be a credible process. The last time around, it was a disaster. It undermined a lot of the credibility of the Afghan government. And the thing that you have to bear in mind here is that while the US government has signed this deal, that in theory would keep it involved for the next 10 years, Congress would still have to vote through this every couple of years. And if you have a very -- an election next year that lacks credibility, you have another President who doesn't have broad international support and legitimacy, the chances of getting Congress to keep funding aid and keep funding a military presence in Afghanistan beyond the next couple of years, will fall dramatically.
REHMAll right, let's turn now to Iran. Just two weeks ago, there were high hopes for a deal with Iran on its nuclear program. Now the talks have resumed. Negotiators seem to be holding their hopes in check, Susan.
GLASSERWell, that's right. They're back in Geneva, just a couple of weeks after Secretary of State John Kerry and other foreign ministers flew in for what looked like the ratification of a deal. Flash forward, and actually there's a much more negative surround sound coming out. We should caution, it's early in this, this is just -- there was one day of talks yesterday. They're continuing to discuss things today. Certainly, it would seem to be a sign that Kerry remains here in Washington. He has not left.
GLASSERThere's word, just now, that the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has departed Moscow for Geneva, but that may or may not indicate anything imminent is at hand. The real question, of course, is what kind of deal, and this is only an interim deal. I think that's important for people to remember. We're only talking, in effect, about a six month period where we're gonna agree to sit down and have the real talks about the very difficult issue. So this is actually only a deal about the less difficult issues.
GLASSERAnd even that is proving to be a bear to come to.
REHMSo what are the major sticking points now?
DYERIt does seem that the issue that's holding things up at the moment is the whole issue of the right to enrich. Iran believes that it has the right to enrich uranium under the international treaty that governs the nuclear industry. The US and other international governments say there is no such thing as a right. Effectively, they're saying that they will allow -- they'll give Iran permission to enrich uranium under certain strict conditions. But there's no such thing as a right. That's very important.
DYERBecause if you give the idea of a right, then that would undermine a lot of the whole power behind non proliferation. It would undermine a lot of the power behind the sanctions, as well, because, you'd be essentially giving Iran the legitimacy to do a lot more than it's doing at the moment.
REHMAnd now you have Iran's Supreme Religious Leader saying, don't give.
KITFIELDYou know, that speech was really unfortunate. It was a blast right out of the playbook of Ahmadinejad, you know, where he's talking about Israel's the rabid dog of the Middle East, and western power is the evil -- the Western countries is the evil powers. He was speaking before military commanders, so he's playing to his own domestic hard line audience, saying we're not gonna give up the farm here. I think there was language in there that sort of said that, you know, we support what's trying to be accomplished in Geneva, but don't go too far.
KITFIELDThere's a lot of subtle messaging going on here. But, you know, I take Susan's point that if this is only an interim deal that would then get to the real negotiations. And the real negotiations are gonna be very, very tough, because they've got 19,000 centrifuges. They would have to -- everyone I've talked to says this would be anything like what we could stomach, much less what Israel could stomach. They have to reduce those. Roll those back to some couple of thousand, at the maximum. Ship a lot of their already enriched uranium out of the country.
KITFIELDAnd get rid of this heavy water reactor they're building that's gonna -- and be another path to a bomb with plutonium. All those things are gonna be very hard for Iran to swallow. And it's gonna be very hard for us to give a whole lot of sanctions relief, with Congress watching our negotiators, unless those things happen in the six months deal. And so it's -- we got a long way to go on this.
GLASSERWell, a couple points. First of all, on the centrifuges, I think that's a very important point that James made. When I had an interview with Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this week, he pointed out that when talks began, this P5+1 process began in 2003, Iran had a few hundred centrifuges. Now it has many thousands. So, I think that gives you a sense of what's happened while we've had the very unsuccessful negotiations.
REHMAnd they certainly had harsh words for Israel, which we'll talk about when we come back. Also, criticism of the US for not responding more strongly. Short break. Your calls when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd we're back this week for our International Roundup of the week's top stories. James Kitfield of National Journal, Susan Glasser of Politico magazine and Jeff Dyer. He's foreign policy correspondent at The Financial Times. Just before the break we were talking about Iran and the fact that it has developed so much more in the way of the prospect toward nuclear weaponry. And Khomeini certainly had harsh words for Israel, Geoff.
DYERHe did indeed. And it put the administration in an incredibly tight spot because they've been under this huge amount of pressure from Israel -- very public pressure from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the last two weeks. He's been lambasting them on every American television network for basically being soft on Iran. And then for the Ayatollah to come out with this, you know, very sort of aggressive anti-Israel comment is almost the worst thing for the administration. Because they don't want to publically have a big fight with him at this moment when they're trying to do this deal.
DYERBut they're under this huge amount of pressure from Israel, so they're in an incredibly tight spot.
REHMSo how significant is it that the U.S. has not spoken out more strongly against Iran?
DYERIt has criticized the comments but, you know, no criticism will be enough given the nature of those type of comments. I guess the point for the administration is that they think they're right in the middle of these negotiations in Iran. They think they've got the people they want to deal with on the Iranian side. They think they've got them in the place they want to deal with them. And so they don't want to get distracted by having big public fights with the Ayatollah. That's personally what I think.
REHMAnd yet opponents here in the U.S. have called the president naïve for not dealing more strongly with Iran.
GLASSERWell, in a way each of the negotiating sides who are in Geneva today face this sort of pressure from their right flanks. And, you know, they have this sort of bad cop problem for the United States that comes in the form of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. It comes in the form of very activist pro-Israel legislators in both parties on Capitol Hill. It comes in the form of our Gulf ally, Saudi Arabia, for example, which while not as public is also vehemently opposed to this kind of a deal with...
REHMSo the question becomes, will President Obama be able to persuade the congress to kind of hold off?
GLASSERYou know, Diane, he hasn't a great record these days recently in persuading congress to do many things. And so I think that's why there's a skepticism. Can Obama, even if he makes a deal, can he deliver? And that is going to be crucial because clearly the Iranians -- the reason they're at the table is because of the effectiveness of these sanctions in crippling their economy and taking a real bite out. So they're -- that's explicitly what they're looking for is some relief, some way to get access to the billions of dollars in oil money that's been frozen and not available to them.
GLASSERIf they can't get access to that, if congress really obstructs that part of the deal then there is no deal.
DYERIt does seem to have won some relief at least for the next few weeks, and he's managed to push off Congress probably into December. And then when you get into December it's a very short month, we turn into Christmas, but potentially even then into January. So he's bought himself a few weeks. The pressure from congress and Israel will really count in the second stage and the real stage in the negotiations that Susan was talking about earlier.
DYERAnd for any deal to fly the U.S. would have to be able to offer substantial sanctions relief. And that would require Congress to sign off on it. So that's when this pressure would really come to bear.
GLASSERAlthough I did just see that Harry Reid just today reiterated that he's planning to bring up a sanctions bill to impose more sanctions after the Thanksgiving recess. So again there's a lot of positioning on both sides but he bought a little time for these negotiations. I'm not sure how much.
REHMAnd of course the congress leaves today for two weeks.
KITFIELDRight. And, you know, my sense is that congress is probably going to want to pass something that hangs over the talks -- the longer talks if there's a first-step agreement. And that we're probably going to have six-month window to actually do the hard stuff we talked about, rolling back their program. And I think they're going to want to have some sort of a, okay, if these talks fail, here's the additional sanctions that we're going to come crashing down on your head as an added incentive to Iran to actually reach a deal.
KITFIELDBut, you know, there's a lot of concern -- and it's probably pretty valid if you're the people who have sort of painstakingly -- and Obama gets a lot of credit for putting these sanctions in place, but it's taken years to build this international consensus. There's a real feel that as you start to ease sanctions that there is a psychological mindset that, you know, Iran's open for business again. You can do business with it. And they're really, really -- people who have built these sanctions are really skeptical about going too far down that road until they actually have a real deal now.
REHMSo how much could it or might it help the U.S. economically if a deal were reached and the sanctions lifted?
DYERThe short term deal will have very little impact because we're really talking about a small amount of relief on sanctions. In the long term, you know, Iran would then be producing a lot more oil potentially. That would have an impact on the oil price. So the implications being much more geopolitical it'd be about the U.S. having a more, I wouldn't say normal relationship, but certainly a much less hostile relationship with Iran. Iran's starting, perhaps, to behave more like a slightly more normal country within the international system.
KITFIELDAnd also, I mean, we have sanctions -- we've had sanctions on them since '79 which is different with these sanctions. We have a lot of international partners who are behind us, sort of an isolation of Iran. You know, Iran still is the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world, is exporting stability throughout the region in Syria, in Iraq and other places. It will not have any real dollar impact because there will be a lot of sanctions in place for American companies not being able to do business with Iran, even after and if this deal can be reached.
GLASSERYeah, I think Syria is one obvious immediate consequence. We don't know exactly what it would mean. But, you know, I just heard this morning a senior western official describe the war in Syria today as a proxy war in effect between the Iranians and the Saudis and their Gulf partners in Syria. It has already become, in effect, a regional conflict. It's right next door to Iran. It's become arguably the most significant military engagement they've been directly, not only supporting Assad's people, but fighting there themselves. So were they to pull back, were there to be a real significant shift, there might be an actual prospect for peace talks.
GLASSERRemember that we're just talking about having peace talks in Syria. There's no real progress at all on that front.
REHMAnd even as we speak, the suicide bombing in Beirut targeted the Iranian embassy. So is Lebanon somehow being drawn into this war?
DYERIt's hard to exaggerate the amount of stress that the Lebanese society is now under at the moment. This is a country of 4.5 million people. Three are now 1 million refugees from the Syrian conflict in there. This bomb this week was, I think, the fifth type bombing there've been in Lebanon this year that has been linked to Syria. So it's a country that's on the edge, that has similar religious ethnic fractures of its own, along the same lines as Syria that could easily be pushed into a broader, I think, ethnic conflict, religious conflict.
DYERBut I think the point to make is probably that they're showing surprising resilience. I mean, the surprising thing is probably that things haven't got worse in Lebanon, rather than things are this bad in Lebanon.
REHMBut, you know, it's fascinating to me that the Iranian ambassador who survived that suicide bomb blast is blaming Israel.
KITFIELDThe Iranians have a pretty simple playbook. You know, blame everything on Israel. The fact is to your question, Lebanon is definitely getting sucked into the Syrian conflict. And that happened because Hezbollah, which is Shia militia, the best armed group inside of Lebanon, you know, more powerful than their own military, decided to go all in. Send it's fighters in on behalf of Assad to fight the rebels -- to fight the rebellion there.
KITFIELDAs soon as he did that, he reopened the Shiite-Sunni divide inside Lebanon. And we're seeing the exact same thing happen in Iraq. The Shia groups are sending fighters to fight with Assad. The Sunni al-Qaida groups are taking territories in northern Syria. And one of them is probably behind this -- you know, a Lebanon offshoot of al-Qaida was probably behind -- took credit for this bombing in Beirut. So you've got the Shiite-Sunni divide. The conflict starts in Syria and it spread -- that fracture is spreading throughout the region.
KITFIELDAnd we've said it on this show many times, Diane, that, you know, this thing's going to keep getting worse until you figure out some way to stop the hemorrhaging.
GLASSERWell, you know, earlier this week, Samantha Power gave an interview and she said, well we're using all the tools in our toolkit in Syria except military intervention. And, you know, I think it sort of begs the question about our toolkit, if that's really the case. And, you know, you're talking about a 120,000 dead people. Perhaps we've learned lessons on the process but just because you have a lot of meetings on something doesn't mean you come up with an effective strategy. And I think that's kind of where we are at the moment.
GLASSERThe breakthrough on chemical weapons, to the extent that it was a breakthrough in September, came with costs as well. One of the costs was while some chemical weapons are being removed -- and that's unquestionably a good thing -- it may well have shored up the Assad regime. Given him the chance to hang onto power even longer in a way that makes a resolution, that makes the ability of having peace talks with fighters who are irreconcilably opposed to sitting down at the table with the Assad regime even harder. And so I think we're looking at a situation that is not, in any real way, significantly improved over where it was this summer when that horrific chemical weapons attack occurred.
KITFIELDHere's the toolbox -- the tool in the toolbox we're not using which is the arming of groups that we think are moderate that we can live with to be not only a counterweight to Assad, but also a counterweight to the al-Qaida groups. They're taking territory and plotting external operations already in northern Syria. And the idea -- and this is -- again, you talk about why Saudi Arabia has split off from us, one of our closest allies in the Middle East -- Israel is about to do the same. Turkey's doing the same. It's because of Syria. We have no answers.
KITFIELDWe said we're going to arm those groups. We said we're going to train those groups. No one sees that happening so there is a proxy war going on and we're saying we have no dog in that fight. And everyone in the region who's being affected by this is saying, well we have a dog in this fight and we thought you were an ally. And so that's the crux of the matter. We're seen as basically taking a hands-off approach to something that's affecting very close allies in very existential ways.
DYERI think another thing to point out is this does show the risks for Iran in the way it's been involved in the Syrian conflict too. It's exposed precisely these kinds of terrorist attacks. But also it's -- you know, at a time when it's under heavy pressure for international sanctions in this economy, it's plunging resources and money into Syria that it doesn't really have. And so our people with Iran who talk about the Syrian conflict as our Vietnam War. It's our quagmire. So this does have consequences for Iran as well, even though they do seem to be winning on the ground.
REHMAll right. And let's talk about China's decision to ease its one-child policy. You know, there are already huge concerns about population explosion, not only here, all around the world. How is China's decision going to affect that, Susan?
GLASSERWell, you know, the demographers have studied this, looked at this very closely. Remember, China's already well over a billion people. But paradoxically, Diane, the challenge that China's facing is not that it's going to have too many people, but it's going to have too few. In essence it's summed up as this. China is facing a situation where it's going to get old before it gets rich. And the numbers that I've looked at suggest that even though there's likely to be obviously a mini baby boom as couples, particularly urban couples, take the chance to have two children for the first time, that it's not going to be enough to overcome that demographic problem created by the on-child policy.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Geoff.
DYERI think that that's right. I mean, this is all about urban Chinese. This is -- the rural Chinese already are allowed to have two children. But the thing that you have to think about about urban Chinese is that it's already incredibly expensive to live in Chinese cities. Property prices are very high for Chinese wages. Education's very expensive.
DYERSo Chinese families were already choosing, on their own account, to have much fewer children. And so, you know, a lot of people -- demographers think that the kinds of effects you've seen on the Chinese population growth rate would have happened anyway, even if you didn't have the one-child policy because that's just the nature of a society that gets richer, gets more involved and which has all these huge costs when they have to live in the cities.
REHMBut you do have the elderly growing old without someone to take care of them, James.
KITFIELDRight. And traditionally that's how, in China, you know, the youth take care of their parents. And there's all kinds of -- the social engineering of the one-child policy had all kinds of impact. They have a total gender imbalance with many more boys who are favored as a one child, so they'd get an abortion if it was looking like it was going to be a female child. So you've got -- that also hurts your population prospects if you get too few women and you get a lot of angry men who are young and can't find a mate.
KITFIELDIt slows your economy because again, you don't have the youth to come into the workforce to do the sort of low-level jobs. So it's for all kinds of reasons. It's probably -- you know, and I think it -- you know, because of the -- how abhorrent it was in practice where you had forced sterilizations and forced abortions in late term and things like this, that we can say this is probably a good thing. And I think that the -- it was part of a -- the new president sort of -- reform package that came out of this plenum session that also included, you know, abolishing the labor camps for sort of trivial sort of offenses. And having more property rights for farmers whose land's been confiscated as these cities have expanded.
KITFIELDSo I think it's probably a net plus. We should probably look at it favorably that this is a kind of reformist agenda that this guy is coming out with in a lot of ways that we can find favor in it.
REHMThe Chinese are going to have to build a lot more of their cities up to house all these people they're moving in from the countryside as they confiscate these farms.
GLASSERWell, that's right. China's already in the midst of an extraordinary urban building boom. But, you know, there's plan development and then there's what really happens. And those are not always the exact same thing. And already you see these sort of fascinating haunting reports about these -- basically imagine building Chicago housing complexes on a massive enormous scale. This is not necessarily going to be a recipe for China's future prosperity and a good new way of living.
GLASSERAnd so I think the decisions that they're making right now are ones that are going to play out. And in 2050 we're going to see the consequences of those, whether it's a new generation of children who are born because of Xi Jinping or whether its -- they're going to live in squalid urban nightmarish housing complexes because of what central planning bureaucrats are doing right now.
REHMAnd today we learn that we have surpassed 5,000 deaths from the extraordinary typhoon in the Philippines, Geoff. And some climatologists are saying that these violent storms that are happening in these areas around the world are simply the canary in the coalmine, that we are heading into devastation from global warming.
DYERWell, I think it's important never to take one specific event...
DYER...and to extract a broad theory about climate change from that. But the overwhelming volume of evidence does show the world is getting hotter and that these types of violent events are getting more frequent. And some are like the Philippines which is a, you know, archipelago of hundreds of thousands of little islands, is extremely vulnerable to precisely these kinds of storms. And we'll likely have a lot more of these types of incidents in the years to come.
KITFIELDWell, you know, some things we do know. We know that the planet is warming. You know, you can argue as infinitum whether it's manmade or not or man influenced. But we know it's warming. We know the icecaps are melting. That's quantifiable. And then we know that sea levels are rising. Now if that happens and if it keeps happening at the trend levels we have now, island nations like the Philippines are going to be in a lot of trouble because the storm surges are going to go to places where they never reached before.
REHMAll right. Short break. Your calls when we come back. And your emails as well. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd here's our first email from Jim in Silver Spring. "The president should welcome Karzai, his unwillingness to sign an agreement. The American people would be happily out of Afghanistan," Jim says, "that sinkhole of American lives and treasure." I'm sure there are a lot of people who agree with him, James.
JAMES KITFIELDHe's absolutely right. This war is extremely unpopular. The American -- people have moved on. Obama doesn't have quite that luxury. He's the Commander in Chief. You know, it was interesting because Kerry came out, you know, Karzai came out and said the agreement that he supports but won't sign, you know, includes having an American presence for 10 years. And quickly that became the news, we're at 10 more years of Afghanistan war. Kerry had to quickly roll that back and say, "No, we're not contemplating anything like that.
JAMES KITFIELDThe fact of the matter is, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, some residual force was always contemplated to help secure the gains that we've accomplished over the last 10 years. People may not want to hear those gains, but the fact is Afghanistan is in a much better place now than it was 10 years ago. There's every sign that the security forces there are capable of keeping the Taliban at bay, if they have some residual help in logistics, command and control, intelligence gathering.
REHMBut here's another email on this from Wesley, who says, "I recall the U.S. wanted to leave troops in Iraq, but pulled all military out when Iraq refused to give U.S. personnel immunity from the Iraqi justice system. Would Iraq have been better off, worse off, or the same had 10 to 15 thousand American military remained? Might it be a good outcome, if all U.S. military personnel leave Afghanistan?" Geoff?
GEOFF DYERWell, I understand the question, but there's a very real possibility that Afghanistan will spiral back into a civil war after 2014. And then, if you remember, to get back to the point, it's not just about the U.S. international military presence, it's also about a whole bunch of funding for the Afghan government that comes on the back of it. It's possible you could see a real kind of collapse in the capacity of the Afghan government to function if it doesn't get that funding.
GEOFF DYERAnd that goes back to, again, why Karzai is being so potentially reckless with this tactic he's doing this year. He's putting at risk the political support that Afghan then is going to need from the U.S. and from the international community in the years to come.
REHMAll right. Let's...
KITFIELDDiane, can I just make one real quick point?
KITFIELDIraq would definitely be better if we had left a residual force there. Look at Iraq today. Al Qaida in Iraq was basically a defeated organization. Right it has had a resurgence mainly because of what's happening in Syria. This year has been the most violent year since 2007, at the height of the surge in Iraq, 5,000 dead because of Al Qaida attacks. They're trying to, you know, spin that country back into a civil war and showing pretty good signs it might be able to pull it off.
KITFIELDIraqi president was in here recently in Washington meeting with President Obama saying: Please, we need your counterterrorism help back. To me, every indication is it would have been a lot better place if had -- and, again, these are not troops on the front line, these are not combat troops. These are enablers that'll let the Iraqis go fight the people who we don't like in that region.
REHMHey, let's hear from Ann in Greenbackville, Virginia. You're on the air.
ANNNice show. I've been trying to get through since this summer. I just have a couple of comments. I want to know, why do we Americans have to step into every bloody country and help them, when they hate us. We leave our boys there and they die there. We give them money. And they hate us. And we still go back there. And the other thing I wanted to say is, we tiptoe around all these things about Obama not doing this and doing this wrong and he shouldn't have done that. And, for me, it's a racial issue. Everybody's tiptoeing around and everybody knows it.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call, Ann. James.
KITFIELDWell, we're there because, I mean, just a quick point. You know, we're in Afghanistan because on September 11, 2001, a government in Afghanistan supported the terrorist group. That terrorist group struck us a very existential blow. And we went into Afghanistan to topple that government and get rid of that group. You know, the Iraq war was, to me, in my mind, a huge strategic mistake, but does not mean we don't have interest in Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq is a threat not only to us but our regions. Whenever these groups plant their flag on territory, trouble usually comes to us and our Allies.
KITFIELDSo we're trying to keep the terrorists that struck us in 2011 at bay and at a manageable level.
GLASSERWell, I think it's also important to point out that actually the United States doesn't intervene in every country, as the caller suggested. Right now, in fact, we're facing the terrible spectacle of mass casualties in Syria and other civil conflicts like the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Around the world, where the United States has basically chosen a course of, do nothing, because there's no support from the American people, because Congress won't back it, because in the case of some more remote conflicts, there's no perceived national interest beyond simply the humanitarian concerns.
GLASSERSo the reality is that around the globe in many places, the conversation is about American withdrawal and how could we get American engagement in this situation, not the reverse question of here's the Americans coming in and invading every country.
REHMAll right. To Rita in Cleveland, Ohio. You're on the air.
RITAThank you. For a long time -- well, were through the Cold War with Russia and denuclearization. And, in the Middle East, Israel doesn't belong to any kind of treaty or anything. They won't let anyone in their country to inspect. They have nuclear weapons. So what makes -- I mean, common sense says that others in the area are going to want to equalize. Israel has to get rid of this problem.
REHMGeoff, do you want to comment on that?
DYERWell, that is one of the ironies of this situation is that a very strong U.S. ally in the region -- the strongest ally, Israel -- does have nuclear weapons. They're not declared. They're not part of any of these international treaties that are being painstakingly discussed with the Iranians in Geneva. It is a fair point in that sense.
REHMAll right. To Haim in Wichita, Kansas. Hi, there. You're on the air.
HAIMHello. Two quick points about Iran. Number one is, if Syria -- if, the only reason Syria dismantled their chemical weapons is because they knew for sure, 100 percent, that the United States was going to attack them. And if you want -- if Iran will have felt exactly the same way, not only just saying that all the options are on the table, they would have also dismissed their nuclear weapon.
HAIMThe second point is, I think the West missed the Arab Spring. If they would have started with Iran, what is the only country in the region who is able to transition quick -- very quick from the dictatorship to a democracy because they're a different culture than the Arabs, they're Persians -- I think it would have been a great example for the whole Arab world and all the dictatorships how to do it. And they would have -- it would have been a great success towards Iran and everybody would have looked (unintelligible) from it.
REHMAll right. Haim, thanks for your call. James.
KITFIELDWell, you know, the administration believes the military threat being on the table was an absolute necessary part of the course of diplomacy that's going on with Iran. They also think that the only reason that Assad gave up his chemical weapons was because he thought -- he took that threat very seriously, even if congress refused to. So I take a point -- the military threat is very much a part of this equation. And, when we back away from that threat, you see Israel standing up and say, "Well, we haven't backed away from it." So it's part of this whole dynamic.
REHMHere is an email from Dan in Ann Arbor. He says, "John Kerry has been secretary of state for about six months. Can your panel evaluate his tenure to date? Seems to me he's been dealing with bigger issues than did his predecessor, though how effectively," Dan says, "I don't know." Susan, you've just talked with Secretary of State Kerry.
GLASSERWell, you know, as the writer suggests, we're sort of in the middle of the story with Secretary Kerry. On the one hand, he's come in with a really sharp contrast to Hilary Clinton. And I think there is a sense that Clinton played a very cautious hand -- that she was reluctant to take on big, strategic challenges that she might be able to post big, strategic successes at.
GLASSERSo, for example, she avoided the issue of Middle East peace talks between Israel and Palestine, once the initial foray by her and President Obama -- it was clear that that was not going to produce any quick results. So there's a sense that, if she was cautious, perhaps because she was looking toward 2016 -- perhaps because she was kept on such a tight leash by the Obama White House. That Kerry came in, this is his last job. He's not going to be running for president again. He's eager to put some wins on the board. And he's been out there.
GLASSERHe's 245,000 miles already on the airplane. He's been indefatigable in going around the globe. But there's also an emerging critique here in Washington, which stings Kerry, and understandably so. His old friend John McCain said he's like a human wrecking ball. He's just careening around the globe with this frenetic diplomacy. What has it resulted? We're in the middle of the negotiations with Iran -- inconclusive. We're in the middle of negotiations with Russians and Syrians to try to restart peace talks that really haven't gone anywhere and they keep putting the date back and back and back.
GLASSEROn the Middle East peace talks, which really Kerry personally insisted upon restarting, there's been little to emerge from the cone of silence. But the suggestion is that that's not because great progress is being made. And, quite frankly, we're in a holding pattern. We're waiting to see about the Iran deal. And I think the Israeli's and the Palestinian's are too. So it's a mixed record. Kerry was very defensive in a way. When he spoke with me, I asked him about these criticisms. More or less, his response boiled down to this: "What are we supposed to do? Sit on our rear end," and that's a quote, "and do nothing? We've got to make an effort at it."
GLASSERAnd I think that's, you know, he's eager to say, I'm not tilting at windmills here. I'm not naïve. I'm not Don Quixote. On the other hand, it's frustrating because you can only point to showing up and to process for so long before you achieve a certain set of results. And we just haven't seen that yet for Kerry.
DYERI think Susan's absolutely right. I think I would say to the listener, call back in again in six months' time. John Kerry has set up a bunch of things over the next six months and we'll have a much better idea. We'll have an idea whether these Iran talks are going to get anywhere or they're going to collapse and face a very difficult situation. The Israel-Palestine peace process -- we'll know in about six months' time whether there's anything really substantial there or whether that's just another failure.
DYERThe Syrian peace process that John Kerry has been pushing -- we'll have a much greater sense in six months' time whether there's really anything there or not. So we could find in six months' time he is this heroic secretary of state who's achieved these incredible things. Or we could find that he's holding a whole -- a big bunch -- a bunch of failures in his hand in six months' time.
KITFIELDDiane, can I just make a quick comment?
KITFIELDYou know, ironically, it was, I think, Bill Clinton who said this. But it's, occasionally it's important just to get caught trying. He's getting caught trying. And I think, given the nature of how serious all these crises are, that's to be commended.
REHMAll right. And we've had several emails like this one. It says: "I just want to say, every time I hear on the news about Karzai's complaining about the U.S. or complaining about our president, I can't help but get very angry. He is only in power because of the tax dollars that come out of our paychecks every week. And to hear him whine at every turn, makes him appear ungrateful and weak. Has he ever said, 'thank you' to the American people for supporting his country?" Has he?
KITFIELDHe has said, in some forums, he has said that. But what you always remember is the thing he says next, which is, you know, some stupid thing like you owe us an apology. So I take the listener's view that he has been an extremely frustrating ally who seems incredibly ungrateful given the blood and treasure we've sacrificed for his country.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Let's go to-- You know, on that typhoon in the Philippines, as we talk about the number of deaths, the amount of aid, pardon me, there was some criticism of China initially for sending just $100,000 in aid. But they have now sent this enormous hospital ship with something like 300 beds. Is that sort of competing with the Americans to win Southeast Asia?
DYERI think it's a reflection of the Chinese of what they did. And the initial reaction to the typhoon was inept and stupid. They were involved in this political dispute for the Philippines, a very intense political dispute over certain islands in the South China sea. And effectively what they said to the Philippines is, in your time of worst need, we don't really care because you're in the freezer at the moment with us. And so we're not going to do very much.
DYERThey've now realized that that was a very inept thing for them to do and they've responded in the way -- precisely the way they should respond, which is to send this ship that they've spent a lot of money on. And it's there precisely for these kinds of circumstances. They're precisely for natural disasters, which are very common in those seas around China and to send and help out their neighbors.
KITFIELDYou know, if we would have a competition, who sends the hospital ship first? That's the kind of competition I can get behind. That'd be great if China starts acting like a responsible player and wants to use its soft power in a way to gain influence. I think we -- it's -- we're fine with that.
GLASSERWell, you know, in recent years, in fact, that has been a whole hallmark of Chinese diplomacy is to try to grow into more of a -- at least a regional power, if not a global power when it comes to this. Until a decade ago -- or I should say, a decade ago, China did not even have the ability to project that kind of force for positive or otherwise reason to, outside of it immediate area. So China spent an enormous amount of money over the last 10 years on its military, on increasing its capacity.
GLASSERIt can be used for humanitarian reasons or it can be used in more threatening ways.
REHMAnd, Geoff Dyer. Finally, it's not just here in this country, but in other parts of the world, that people mark the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination. What can you tell us about how the world reacted?
DYERI think it's a similar sort of sense of emotions that you have here -- less intense, but similar sense of this of a country whose innocence was lost. I mean, that's the striking impression that I think people around the world have about that era, about that moment and about this day 50 years ago. A sense of country whose huge sense of optimism and potential was punctured, was damaged in an important way on that day.
KITFIELDI totally agree with that. I mean, I was in third grade. And the first time I saw an adult cry was when my teacher came in our classroom and said that, you know, the president has been shot. And it's something I've never forgotten. I think it has hung over us. I mean, he was that optimism that said, "We're going to the moon." And we went to the bloody moon. And we lost something when we lost him.
GLASSERWell, you know, I think, as well, remember, too, the political context of the times. It was very much a Cold War moment when this occurred. And I think that it took so long after the assassination of Kennedy for that Cold War to come to an end. It's really striking. But that it did so, more or less peacefully, is something he could not necessarily have anticipated on that day. You know, remember that Lee Harvey Oswald had spent time in the Soviet Union, had gone to Minsk, had talked about going to Cuba. And so, that was very much -- it was in a Cold War context that this assassination occurred. And I'm glad that we're well beyond that now.
REHMSusan Glasser of Politico, James Kitfield of National Journal, Geoff Dyer, foreign policy correspondent at Financial Times, thank you all. Have a great weekend.
GROUPThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks to all of you for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCERSupport for NPR comes from NPR member stations and from Novo Nordisk.
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