The National Endowment for the Humanities turns 50 next year. William “Bro” Adams, the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, wants to make sure that the study of history, philosophy, and literature remains accessible to everyone. A conversation about his new "Common Good" initiative.
Russia arrests dozens after suicide bombings just weeks ahead of the winter Olympics. Fighting in South Sudan escalates while diplomats gather in Ethiopia to press for a cease-fire. Secretary of State John Kerry returns to Israel for Middle East peace talks. Two deadly bombs shake Beirut as factional tensions rise in over the war in Syria. Lebanon and Syria fire on each other in hills used by Syrian rebels and refugees. And the U.S. says an agreement on implementing limits on Iran’s nuclear program is almost finalized. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Susan Glasser editor, Politico magazine.
- Bruce Auster national security editor, NPR.
- Mark Mardell BBC North America editor.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The U.S. evacuates more of its staff from South Sudan as fighting there threatens to become a civil war. Russia detains hundreds after bombings in the region where the Winter Olympics will be held in February. And car bombings in Lebanon underscore the danger Syria's civil war poses to the region. Here for a look at this week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Bruce Auster of NPR, Susan Glasser of Politico and Mark Mardell of the BBC.
MS. DIANE REHMDo join us. 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you. Happy New Year.
MR. MARK MARDELLHappy New Year.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERHappy New Year.
MR. BRUCE AUSTERHappy New Year.
REHMGood to see you all. Well, peace talks are about to begin in Ethiopia, Mark Mardell. Who's gonna be there?
MARDELLWell, both sides in the conflict in South Sudan. It's very difficult to disentangle what's happening here. It appears to be both a political split and a split along ethnic lines, so both sides are there in Addis Ababa in the Hilton hotel. Neither side talking directly to each other. Unfortunately, as yet, they're talking through mediators. But what this stems from is that the President Salva Kiir sat his deputy, Riek Machar, in July. Now, what happened after that, last month, the end of the year is difficult to say, but the president says that the vice president tried to carry out a coup against him.
MARDELLThey say, on the other hand, that it was an ethnic massacre. They come from different tribes. But I've also seen very moving comments from people, American South Sudanese, saying, this is not about ethnicity. That this is about democracy.
GLASSERWell, you know, it's a real tragedy, right. South Sudan is both the world's newest country and it's also, undoubtedly, its most fragile. And what I'm struck by is that this is almost this sort of slow motion car wreck. When South Sudan became independent, just a few years ago, from Sudan, there were great fears of exactly this sort of splintering occurring. And when it didn't occur, it was sort of the, you know, great victory for the process.
GLASSERThe Obama administration, in particular, took great credit for sort of midwife-ing the birth of this new country. There was a thinking that the president, by bringing in a former rival into the government, as the vice president, that they had sort of papered over this potential for conflict. What's unfortunately happened in the last few weeks is a very dramatic suggestion that there just weren't any institutions that were built around this. Again, this is a long running conflict. And while there is talk of peace talks this week in Ethiopia, what really happened this week suggests that this is going to not be something quickly solved.
GLASSERWhich is that the former vice president and his forces moved on and re-conquered a strategic town on the way to Juba, the capital of South Sudan. And so they've had a sort of military victory that suggests that the government, in fact, may be under more threat right now. Not less.
REHMBruce Auster, how much of a role is the US playing in these talks? They're currently evacuating their own personnel, but are they playing a role?
AUSTERThere is a US special envoy involved in all of this. And as we've heard, the initial discussions are through a mediator, so the negotiations are at the early stages. What the outcome is is not clear yet. I mean, it may be that the best you can get is a cease fire where you're at least trying to stop the killing and the fighting and the displacement of all of these people. Whether there can be some sort of a power sharing is not clear. The president has said that he has no interest in such a program.
AUSTERWhat I think Susan said that's very interesting here is that when the creation of this state, and only two and a half years ago, it's how fragile it was. I mean, this thing started, really, December 15th or thereabouts, and in a matter of weeks, has gone from a small conflict among essentially the Presidential Guard to a national borderline civil war. The speed with which things have fallen apart, and the numbers of people who've been killed, more than a hundred and fifty or so thousand people displaced.
AUSTERAnd we're talking about two to three weeks. That suggests just how fragile the initial institutions were.
MARDELLAnd I think beyond that, I mean, clearly it's a very bad background for peace talks, that when the rebels are moving on the capital Juba. But also, the government forces are moving on Bor, one of the places that the rebels have seized. That's a bad background in itself. But then, you look at these two tribes. If it is an ethnic dispute, which made up the main party, the SPLM. Now, they make up 30 percent of the population of that country. So, there are lots of other tribes involved.
MARDELLSo, one gets the worrying feeling that the fragmentation of the top could only just be starting, and it goes further down into smaller and smaller disputes between different groups.
REHMAnd you've now got child soldiers involved, Susan.
GLASSERWell, that's right. Again, there's, in effect, this is the resumption of conflict in the strategic town of Bor. There's a history of this very same militia group invading the town a decade ago, and the same accusations of atrocities and the like. But just going back to the US announced this morning, you know, that it was withdrawing, that it had urged all American citizens to leave. There'll be one evacuation flight, and that's it. And otherwise, you should get out of the country any way you can.
GLASSERThat was the very dire warning that emerged. I'm told they're taking this very seriously inside the White House, but what is striking is what we're not doing. Which is to say, we're really not playing a role here. We were eager to embrace a role as helping to mid-wife the birth of this new country, but when it falls apart in seemingly quite predictable fashion, unfortunately, you're not going to see the United States, I think, trying to play a role in patching it back together in a very public way.
GLASSERAnd right now, I think that the main concern is can you get the US citizens, who are still there, out without there being a sort of Benghazi like scenario. That's the only way in which Americans, probably, unfortunately, would pay attention to this unfolding tragedy is if we are enmeshed in some greater way, which I believe the White House is very eager to avoid.
REHMAnd one has to wonder, is this all about oil, Bruce?
AUSTERWell, oil is the primary resource by which this country, you know, that is the wealth of the country. The problem is, of course, that, as we've seen in many places, it is not wealth that trickles down to the people. It's an incredibly impoverished place. And I think it's helpful to remind people where this all comes from. I mean, years ago, what did we talk about a lot? What was the popular cause? It was Darfur. Well, this isn't connected to Darfur directly, but it is an offshoot in the sense that South Sudan essentially became a country because it was born of the end of the original conflict between the northern part and the southern part of Sudan.
AUSTERSo, when we were all preoccupied with Darfur and the genocide there, years ago, this was the result. This was the success, two and half years ago, and now, again, because it was created but then not really dealt with in a substantial way, we're left with the collapse of what supposedly was an achievement.
GLASSERWell, that's right. I think it's a good cautionary tale, unfortunately, with a real human tragedy at stake. But it is, in fact, a cautionary tale about what good process and the international community coming together. The idea behind partitioning Sudan into two different countries was to avoid a resumption of what had been one of the bloodiest civil wars in Africa in the preceding decade, and it was occurring against this backdrop of the unfolding massacre in Darfur.
REHMSo, what happens if you cannot negotiate the cease fire? What happens if the right people don't come to the table? What happens going forward?
MARDELLWell, I think, very sadly, what happens is fairly obvious. The violence goes on and I think that a region that was, or a country that was born out of civil war, there are lots of arms around. There's lots of people who are used to fighting and killing as a way of life. And very sadly, that looks as though it is going to continue. I was looking at the president's New Year's message, which was against cattle rustling. It doesn't seem as though, that he's actually sort of managed to grasp the enormity of what's happening here.
MARDELLSo, I think that it's a very sad lesson that enthusiasm for a state and a separate state is not enough. You have to have the structures to make it work. You have to, in the end, and all these conflicts do, in the final analysis, end with negotiation, and I suspect, some sort of power sharing. But I think that these talks that have just kicked off in the last few hours are nowhere near getting there. It's a process that's going to continue throughout this year, I imagine.
REHMBut hasn't the president already said he will not allow a power sharing situation?
AUSTERRight. That's correct. I mean, and that's the problem. You have the president, who, in July, essentially evicts his vice president from the ruling party. Those are the two people who are leading, essentially, the two factions that are...
REHMAnd who has more power?
AUSTERWell, I mean, that's an interesting question. I mean, it's the vice president who has formed this group that is essentially now marching on the capital, that maybe seems to be, have the momentum. What the settlement is that in any way resolves this is not clear at all, I don't think.
GLASSERWell, I just want to make one other point, which is that there is a UN peacekeeping force present in the country, and right now, it's unclear, entirely, what role the international community will play in this. This is where people have fled. There are no refugee camps. This has all happened, as we pointed out, in a space of weeks. And so this, by some accounts, as many as 200,000 people who've fled internally from the fighting. Many of them, thousands of them, have taken refuge at various bases of UN peacekeepers around the country.
GLASSERAnd so, I think we have to also look at what's going to be the international role in this. And we've seen this happen before. This year is the anniversary of the tragic killings in Rwanda two decades ago when UN peacekeepers were present in the country.
REHMSusan Glasser of Politico. Bruce Auster of NPR. Mark Mardell of the BBC. A short break here. We'll talk more when we come back. Russia is next on the agenda.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup, this week with Mark Mardell of the BBC, Bruce Auster of NPR, Susan Glasser of Politico. Well, Bruce Auster, here you have the Olympics about to begin in February in Russia in Moscow, in -- not quite in Moscow but you've got two suicide bombings in the Moscow area this week.
AUSTERThat's right. So the Olympic Games are going to be in Sochi in February.
AUSTERSo in Volgograd, which an earlier generation would've remembered it as Stalingrad.
AUSTERSo historically a very significant city in Russian history. Two bombings back to back at the very beginning of this week. One at a train station, one on a trolley car, essentially a trolley bus, and 34 people killed, so a substantial loss of life. There's a lot of information still to be learned about what exactly happened. There are assumptions about who might be behind this. The Russian government, Vladimir Putin has used it as an opportunity. He traveled there on Christmas Day. He said that they would go after these people. There have been roundups of something on the order of 700 people.
AUSTERSo this is a significant milestone both for what happened but also for what it suggests about maintaining security as we head into the Olympics.
GLASSERWell, I think there's a couple important points to think about. One, clearly this is occurring in the run-up to the Olympics. And, you know, there has been, in effect, a low-grade and significant insurgency occurring across southern Russia in the caucuses, the northern Caucasus, not just Chechnya, but the neighboring territory of Dagestan. That's widely believed to be the potential source of these suicide bombers in Volgograd.
GLASSERThere was a quality of sort of roundup the usual suspects to the announcement that the response to these suicide bombings had been to pull in a dragnet of 700 people. Even the Russian accounts that I've seen so far say, well actually none of them have been explicitly linked to these. But, you know, clearly the Russians have got to be gravely concerned about the potential security threats in Sochi. Which is not only quite near to these restive regions of southern Russia that have produced acts of terrorism and really an ongoing almost low-grade fight for the last decade-and-a-half, but also very near to the separatist regions of Abkhazia and the country of Georgia, the breakaway region supported by Russia.
GLASSERThere's just enormous potential for instability in having the Olympics take place so clear to the most...
GLASSER...the single most unstable part of Russia.
REHMAnd Volgograd had its own other terrorist attack in October.
MARDELLYes, so this is part of a pattern. And some people worry that some analysts say that this could be a probing attack. And there have been patterns before where you see a couple of attacks and then a much bigger one. I mean, that happened before the terrible attack on the school. But I want -- Sochi is a Black Sea resort which is a favorite in the Soviet Union and still is of senior Russian officials. So there's pretty heavy security there anyway.
MARDELLAnd I'm not sure that this does follow a pattern in the sense that often the groups from Dagestan do claim responsibility for attacks. Nobody has. It seems to me it is more a part of what we're going to see more of unfortunately throughout the world, but where it's not an organization like al-Qaida or a particular terrorist group. It is people who are inspired to do something by a movement. And clearly the separatist movement in Dagestan is an Islamic movement.
MARDELLAnd they don't need to be coordinated or very much of that sort of thing, that people just carry something out and there is no claim of responsibility. Now, in one sense that is all the harder for security services to cope with.
REHMBut this risk for Putin, if there were to be violence at Sochi, is enormous.
GLASSERAbsolutely. Putin -- as I remember Putin stakes his personal prestige. This is the Sochi Olympics. We're all about in effect being a crowning glory for his long tenure as the leader of Russia. It is the home of Putin's own sort of favorite retreat, you know, which by all accounts cost something like more than $100 million. He has an absolutely lavish over-the-top presidential palace that's been constructed during the period of his tenure there. He personally lobbied to have the Olympics there. His own credibility and prestige is on the line.
GLASSERThat's why you've seen his acts recently such as releasing Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the dissident that has been in jail for the last ten years, once Russia's richest man. He clearly did that in an effort to sort of undercut some of the negative coverage of the political environment of Russia that was already starting to begin in the run of the Olympics. He released the two young women singers from the group Pussy Riot who had been given extraordinarily harsh sentences for singing a protest song in a Moscow cathedral.
GLASSERSo, you know, this is all about Putin and what image in the world Russia is going to have as a result of bringing the world's attention to Sochi.
REHMBut, you know, at the same time, athletes are not just bodies. They are also minds. And the kind of psychological effect that these bombings could have in preparation for Sochi is really worrisome.
AUSTERNo, that's right. And they're also symbols. They're symbols of nations. They are representatives, essentially ambassadors of those nations. I mean, we all remember 1972 in Munich. I mean, it's an enormously symbolic place to strike people. And so for Putin it's essential that those games go off without trouble, without any kind of incident.
REHMBut he's already brought his own trouble to them, hasn't he, with the announcement about homosexuals and that sort of thing?
GLASSERWell, that's right. The other political sort of uproar surrounding this has been Russian's very, very punitive and clearly anti-free speech law around what they call homosexual propaganda, which is a law that Putin signed, that he championed that was past a year ago. I think the Russians were shocked and surprised by the uproar that greeted that law in the west. It's one of the reasons that President Obama is not attending the Olympics.
GLASSERAnd it shows in a very, I think, in-your-face personal gesture toward Putin to send two openly gay former athletes as part of the official U.S. delegation, that was a clear protest and a clear signal to the Russians of our disapproval of this very restrictive and punitive law. But just on the security question. Clearly the Russians may be able -- and we certainly all hope that they will be able to protect the security of the athletes who gather for the Olympic Games. They could basically put Sochi on lockdown. They can't put all of Russia on lockdown.
GLASSERAnd I think that's what we saw this week with the Volgograd incident is that it may just be that those who wish to embarrass Putin, those who have been waging a violent struggle against the Russian state for the last decade-and-a-half could strike almost anywhere in Russia and may be able to garner attention unfortunately by taking an action like that, whether it's in Sochi itself or not.
MARDELLYes. He too talked about how the athletes are feeling. But of course this is the point about terrorism. It's not about the number of bodies. It is about creating an atmosphere of terror and getting a reaction to it, a political reaction, because that's what's happened. And Vladimir Putin has said in his -- he used his New Year address to say he would completely annihilate the terrorists. Well, it'll be interesting to see how he does that.
MARDELLIn the doom of the Russian parliament, people have started to say that this should see the bringing back of the death penalty that's currently a moratorium in Russia. So obviously it is provoking a reaction but it's difficult to say that, yes, he can probably keep a lid on Sochi, one hopes. But it's impossible to prevent everything in every city.
AUSTERRight. I mean, this is an important point because people have been asking why here, why Volgograd of all places. And it may be that from the point of view of a person trying to perpetrate an incident like this, Sochi is probably a very difficult target to penetrate. Whereas this was Volgograd that's a very -- as we said, a very symbolically important city in Russian history. But also it's a place where the targets -- or what are called soft targets. They were transportation targets which is a favorite of terrorist groups, train stations, buses, places where a lot of people can be killed.
AUSTERThese weapons, I believe, had projectiles essentially so when the explosive went off it was guaranteed to cause mass casualties.
REHMDo you have to go through Moscow to get to Volgograd?
AUSTERIs there a direct route to Sochi?
MARDELLI would assume so.
GLASSERYou know, it's only a few hundred miles away. Volgograd is not in far southern Russia, but it's -- I believe it's less than 400 miles...
MARDELLIt's about 400.
GLASSER...from Volgograd to Sochi. So you could just drive there. You could take public transportation. You could take trains. So, you know, this whole area consists of enumerable targets for a potential terrorist attack. But remember, Russia has been waging its own version of the war on terror for the last decade-and-a-half. When I lived in Moscow, the beginning of Putin's tenure, there were a series of spectacular terrorist attacks, more spectacular than these two Volgograd bombings. They brought down two planes nearly simultaneously in the air. The attacked the theater in Moscow and held 800 people hostage at the Nord-Ost. They killed the school children of Beslan.
GLASSERAnd, you know, Russia -- Putin vowed to annihilate the terrorists after each one of these incidents. Various laws were promulgated. The response to the Beslan school massacre, which was so horrific which we remember, was Putin cancelled the election of governors all across Russia from Siberia to the Volga. And so basically, there have been many pretexts used to create a new kind of security state in Russia as a result of this series of terrorist attacks over the course of Putin's time in office. And of course it hasn't eliminated terrorism in Russia. And this insurgency has continued.
AUSTERAnd one other quick point just to orient people, but if you remember back in April at the Boston bombings, the older brother, the Tsarnaev brothers, it was -- this was the place he went to in Dagestan, part of the Caucasus. This was the connection at the time where we thought that might be the link to why the Boston bombings happened. It turned out that probably had nothing to do with it. But just so people remember, it was that sort of separatists movement in that part of Russia that was the link to the Boston incident.
MARDELLAnd if it's not too far a stretch, I wonder how this plays into Russia's Syria policy because just as this is an internal conflict, just as the Uighurs in China are internal. But both see it as a way of saying to the west, look, this is what we're worried about. We're all in this together. And of course Russia is continually saying to the west about Syria and about Assad, he is the bulwark against this sort of terrorism.
REHMMark, do you see anybody pulling out of the Olympics because of the antigay statements or because of these bombings?
MARDELLI certainly don't see anybody pulling out because of the bombings. I mean, I suppose you might get individual athletes who are worried who do that but I certainly don't -- absolutely don't think any nation would. There have already been snubs because of the attitude of Putin towards gays. We have seen that from the president and certainly sending a delegation, which I'm sure is based entirely on merit from America, but also contains rather a number of prominent gay activists.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You mentioned the relationship between Russia and Syria. And there in Syria you had two deadly car bombs hit Beirut this week. What about tensions in Lebanon? Have they turned into a full blown conflict?
MARDELLIt's not a full blown conflict and I suppose some people might say why was it so long in coming. But there are certainly worrying signs of, well, of course the Syrian civil war is spilling over into Lebanon, that the Syrian air force has attacked a border region around -- I may need some help with the pronunciation -- Arsal is it? The town where there's a lot of Sunni-based rebels. There's lots of refugees. There were two -- there was a rocket and bomb attack by the Syrian air force on those.
MARDELLBut more significantly perhaps, a bomb attack in the suburbs of Beirut on a Hezbollah stronghold. A bomb attack that -- and I think too often probably perhaps use the term proxy civil war. But there is a struggle between Hezbollah and al-Qaida that appears to be being played out more and more in Lebanon.
GLASSERIt's also playing out next door in Iraq as well. And you had the astonishing news, I thought, that emerged yesterday that basically an al-Qaida offshoot that sort of re-morphed a version of al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, which is fighting and is one of the strongest fighting groups inside. That a branch of that group known by the acronym ISIS had taken over or partially taken over parts of Fallujah and Ramadi in Iraq where there seems to be an escalating sectarian conflict between Sunni groups and the government of Iraq, which is led by Prime Minister Maliki, a leading Shiite politician.
GLASSERAnd so I think, you now, again you have a real sense that it's like a vortex, right. You have this -- call it a black hole, call it what you want -- this ongoing ungoverned space in Syria that armed men are flowing into, that all sorts of groups are formulating. And then they're spreading back out across the region. Of course arms and money are flowing in from all the different countries as well.
REHMAnd that's what I wanted to talk about, Saudi Arabia pledging $3 billion to strengthen Lebanon's army. So how is that going to affect what's going on there?
AUSTERNo, exactly right. I mean, this reveals again how all of these things are connected. That when you look at Syria you can't just look at this as the Assad government against rebels. That the fighting going on there plays out at several different levels. It's an ethnic dispute but it's also now a regional dispute. The key proxies are the Saudis on the one hand. So they're providing this aid to Lebanon. The Iranians, on the other hand, who are providing the aid to the Syrian government. And I think what Susan said is very important because what we're seeing now is that the spillover effect, not just in Lebanon but now in Iraq.
AUSTERI mean, what we're talking about here today is a group that we've associated with an al-Qaida-linked group, associated with the fighting inside Syria is now holding parts of cities in Iraq. That's a significant development. What's happening in Lebanon is a version of that. The bombing is seen as an effort to maybe insight the same sort of ethnic divisions you're seeing inside Syria. So you're seeing this fighting in Syria that you could simply define as the government against the rebels broadening into something that's both ethnic and regional, and really global if you bring in the Americans and the Russians as the sort of patrons of all of these folks.
GLASSERWell, that's right. And, you know, looking ahead, on January 22 a major peace conference is supposed to take place in Geneva called Geneva II, because there was a previous iteration of this. And Syria -- I don't think anyone holds out any great hopes that this is going to actually have a significant step forward in terms of leading to a political solution. Why not? Because the major groups that actually have fighting presence on the ground, the rebel groups on the ground who actually matter at this point, refuse, perhaps understandably, to come to the table with Assad.
GLASSERAnd even to consider a solution that includes Assad and his party as part of this, a man who used, after all, chemical weapons on his own people. You can understand why they're not negotiating but unfortunately the world has focused on this.
REHMSusan Glasser. She's editor of Politico. Short break. Your calls when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd, welcome back. Time to open the phones for the International Hour of the Friday News Roundup. First, let's go to Dallas, Texas. Hi, there, Katherine.
KATHERINEHi, Diane. It's so great to speak with you.
KATHERINEI just wanted to make a comment about what one of your panelists said earlier about how terrorism is just that -- it's to inflict terror. And my father has been doing -- working the Olympics. He's not a competitor, but he does do the slow-motion replays that you get to see after, you know, a competitor does something really cool. And he's been working the Olympics since Athens in Greece. He's done Beijing, London, Torino.
KATHERINEAnd one thing that really struck me when reading about the Volgograd explosion was some of the comments that they had and that of that terrorists had -- terrorist factions, terrorist groups, what have you, have actually come out and said, for the first time, We will do everything in our power to disrupt these games. And, when I brought that up to my father, you know, he was obviously a little scared but, you know, he put on a brave face. And he basically said the same thing. You know, they will do what they wish. And we will not back down.
KATHERINEWe will just have to go about our day and do what we can.
MARDELLWell, it's obviously important -- most governments feel it's important for people not to be cowed by terrorism and to carry on as normal. But, of course, nobody can carry on quite as normal. And I think that, you know, just the raising of the security that Russia will inevitably -- they say they're not raising the security any higher, but clearly they're -- it focuses attention. It makes for greater that greater tension. So it does have an effect.
REHMBut, even in Munich, is this the first time that an Olympics has been targeted before the Olympics?
AUSTERI know that there was a great deal of preparation ahead of Athens. There was a lot of fear before Athens that something might happen. But, in this case, there was an explosive threat against these games. So there's no doubt about that.
GLASSERWell, and I do think, while it's absolutely important, as the caller points out, and I think that, you know, there's a broad international consensus that countries and athletes should not bow before a threat. And that the point of the games, in fact, is to show that the world can come together. That's their origin in ancient Greece. It's their sort of founding myth in a way.
GLASSERHowever, I would say it's very fair to look back and to perhaps understand a little bit better and to scrutinize the process by which Vladimir Putin got the International Olympic Committee to agree to hold these games in Sochi, which certainly, first of all, has a lot of questionable assets when it comes to hosting a winter Olympics. It was not prepared. There are enormous reports of massive corruption and just absolute scandal when it comes to the building of the facilities and the putting together of the massive infrastructure required to host these games.
GLASSERThat just absolutely should be embarrassing for the International Olympic Committee. And then there's the question of the fact that Putin has been at war with a good percentage of heavily armed insurgents in the southern part of the country in which the games are being located, at exactly the time when the world awarded these Olympics.
GLASSERSo I think that's a fair question to scrutinize.
REHMLet's go to Mohammed, here in Washington D.C. You're on the air.
MOHAMMEDYes, Diane. First of all, let me say I'm absolutely amazed by you. You're so well accomplished in your readings, your preparation and the way you handle your guests.
MOHAMMEDAwesome. Awesome. I flew from Nairobi to London in 1955. We were supposed to land in Juba to refuel. We didn't because the place was in flames. And that was three months after independence of Sudan. Sudan's a creation of the British, that while they were ruling it, there was peace and quiet. Otherwise, the tribes are fighting each other and caused the invasion of Egypt. And once that overriding authority went, trouble started. And, if you look at Sudan, you've taken up Europe and you plunk onto Western Europe and you go from Poland to Holland to Italy to Ukraine.
MOHAMMEDAnd look at the record of that piece of real estate. My view is that, you know, these are artificial boundaries. They're not nations. And that applies to almost every country in the sub-Saharan Africa. And we have to accept the fact that there will be a tremendous amount of terrorism going on. And we have to accept the fact that the countries have to be broken up because...
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Bruce?
AUSTERWell let me -- I mean, let me take that idea and take it to a different part of the world, because I think it may also explain a little bit of what we're seeing in the Middle East. We were talking about Syria earlier. But so much of what were happening also involves borders drawn a long time ago there. But we're seeing divisions that cross those boundaries. So we're talking about what's happening in Syria spreading into Iraq. It may be a similar phenomenon.
AUSTERAnd I think, going forward over the next decades, one of the things that we're going to be grappling with is the question of what people call transnational conflict -- conflicts that go across boundaries. And I think alludes to something that may be playing out in a different way in that part of the world.
MARDELLI think there's no question that the legacy of colonialism, as the Brit round this table, I will admit is huge. And that, you know, we see that absolutely right, not just in sub-Saharan Africa, but in the Middle East. You look at the relationship between Syria and Lebanon. Why are they separate countries? Iraq and Kuwait: why are they separate countries? Well, because some old white guys decided that they should be some time ago. You know, then -- and of course those tensions and conflicts stretch across borders that -- maybe it's something that both British and Americans, because of perhaps a more cohesive sort of unit, don't quite get in the way that other people in Europe might.
REHMLet's talk about Israel and Secretary John Kerry's attempt to mediate peace talks in Israel. He's optimistic. Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, is not. What do you think we can expect, Susan?
GLASSERWell, Secretary Kerry is making another visit to the Middle East to focus on resurrecting peace talks. I think all the long-time watchers of this very, very long-time peace process are not as optimistic as John Kerry is. And his joint appearance with Prime Minister Netanyahu suggested some of the reasons for that pessimism.
GLASSERIn the very same platform with the Secretary of State, there was Netanyahu, once again, calling into question the integrity and motives of his presumed negotiating partner, Abu Mazen Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, saying that he's not serious about peace, that he's not, in effect, a credible negotiating partner. And I think that suggests what a long shot it is. There was a very interesting announcement earlier this week where basically what you had was the State Department and Secretary Kerry dialing -- trying to dial back the expectations.
GLASSEROriginally, Kerry said we'll get nine months. And we're going to get to a final status peace agreement. That means the whole deal. Well, clearly, nobody really thinks that's happening. So what they said this week is, Okay, we've changed tactic. Now we're going to ask the parties to get to a framework agreement. And we're going to try something different. A framework agreement is basically where they put out a piece of paper, and we had this before...
GLASSER...in the period of the Quartet during the Bush administration. A framework agreement is where we say, Well, this is what we're trying to get to, but we haven't actually agreed to it yet. And it suggests that the actual goal of a final status agreement that Kerry had hoped to achieve is not actually achievable in the time that he originally set out. So now he's trying to switch the parameters in a time-honored diplomatic way and sort of move the goalpost back a little bit.
REHMAll right. We've had a number of emails like this one from Marilyn, who's in Colorado: "Would you comment on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's odd comment in his press conference with Secretary Kerry. Netanyahu began by criticizing the Palestinian leader for welcoming freed prisoners as heroes, even though they had 'murdered' Israelis. But it was Netanyahu, himself, who had freed these prisoners.
AUSTERWell, this was part of a series of prisoner releases. There are going to be four of them. This was the third. And so it had just taken place. And so there's a sort of ritual to these things. And it happens that Secretary Kerry's visit comes just as this release had happened. So at the very moment that he arrives and is welcomed by Prime Minister Netanyahu, you have this sort of odd moment at the press conference in which the welcome by the prime minister is essentially a diatribe against his negotiating partner on the Palestinian side, with the Secretary of State, United States, right beside him.
AUSTERSo it creates this odd dynamic. The other twist to it is that typically, when these prisoner releases happen, the Israelis counter it by then increasing settlements on the West Bank. And that will happen. But because Secretary of State Kerry is there, Netanyahu has agreed to sort of postpone that. So, looking ahead to the weekend, by Sunday, after the secretary of state leaves, we should see the Israelis then announce more settlements, which again will complicate any effort to reach a deal.
MARDELLI think you can understand that Netanyahu, he's perhaps saying that if you're going to have peace and reconciliation, yes, release these people. But don't necessarily treat them like heroes. And I think it is part of one step forward, two step back. That isn't particularly what would worry me. But it's just that I don't see what either the Palestinians or the Israelis have in this, apart from pleasing Kerry -- pleasing the Americans. It doesn't seem that there's anything to push them to a deal.
REHMAll right. To John in Cleveland, Ohio. You're on the air.
JOHNHey, you know, I'm calling. I wanted to say -- I'm calling and I'm a war orphan from World War II, okay? I'm over 50. And I want to tell you something about these conflicts. One of the things is it's so hard to have democracy when you have enemies on your borders. There's an old saying: Don't wish for a new king. You know, if you take the stance, Take your shoes off and get your feet dirty, like these people, and live rotten dirt poor, okay?
JOHNThink about when they see all the money getting wasted, their land getting plundered, people making billions of dollars for things that they shouldn't make so much money for. And these people are poor. They have no food. They have shelter. But, for some reason, there's enough money to buy guns. There's enough money to buy weapons. There's...
REHMAlways enough money to buy weapons, unfortunately. But, again, you're back to the oil wealth in Sudan, and to what extent that does continue to fuel what's going on there. What do you think?
MARDELLWell, I think, clearly, when there's a source of wealth that people are interested in...
MARDELLYeah. And it does make that worse because it makes the prize worth fighting for, as both sides would see. And also, of course, as we've seen, particularly people on the left have been saying for generations that it -- that attracts the outside interests. Other people become embroiled in those conflicts.
REHMMark Mardell of the BBC. And you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Let's go to Logan, Utah. Hi, there, David.
DAVIDHi, Diane. How are you today?
REHMI'm fine, thanks, sir. Go right ahead, please.
DAVIDI was in Salt Lake City during the Olympics and the immense increase in the amount of security when I was there, not just on the news, but you saw, as you drove down the street, much more cops in marked and unmarked cars. And it was just a constant topic on the news, just how much hiring they were doing and increase in security. And me being an ex-competitive athlete, it was real nice to hear because you can only imagine how much stress and how much focus you would have to have to be breaking world records and such.
DAVIDSo, for that kind of competition, I'm just wondering -- I haven't heard any news about increase in security in addition to what they probably already do in Russia. But because of the bombings, I'm wondering . I haven't heard any news. Are they hiring any? I mean, are they going above and beyond, you know, like they did here?
REHMThanks for your call.
GLASSERI would say, Think above and beyond. Whatever you saw in Salt Lake City, magnify it. What they'll be doing is almost certainly screening spectator-by-spectator. You won't just be able to buy a ticket and walk into a stadium in Sochi, that's for sure.
REHMAnd here's an email from Pam in New Hampshire on the violence in Russia: "Have we forgotten our own Atlanta Olympics? Let's be fair. Terrorists are everywhere."
AUSTERNo, that's right. I mean that's the problem. They can strike anywhere. They can strike these targets that are unprotected. You cannot protect everything. And the problem, as we've discussed, with terrorism is that as much as you try to say that terrorists won't win, whenever something happens, the reaction is so intense. The media jumps on it. And it gets the attention that it is intended to get. And, at some level, it's our reaction that makes it so powerful.
MARDELLDuring the troubles in Northern Ireland, the leader of the IRA said something chilling. "We have to be lucky once. You have to be lucky all the time."
REHMAnd the Russians, my goodness, how much will they be investing in the Olympics, Susan?
GLASSERWell, we're talking about oil money. There's plenty of it in Russia. And a huge percentage have gone to these Olympic games, both to the billions of dollars that they've spent on creating the facilities for this and now on the security. But I think that's an important reminder, just to go back to this. There's no monopoly. Russia is no more a terrorist target than the United States is. After all, in many ways, you know, we remain target number one. But, I just keep going back to the question of having the games here.
GLASSERRemember that, you know, there's an enormous interest in an authoritarian country, and a semi-dictator like Vladimir Putin using this to show off and burnish the image that he wants to show to the world. Remember that that's exactly what the communist leaders did with the Beijing games several years ago, which did, by the way, go off more or less without a hitch and became a gigantic showcase for what they wanted to showcase, which was the modernization of China with the problems airbrushed out.
GLASSERWith the questions of political representation, with the questions of the terrible environment more or less papered over for this period. And I think that's...
REHMAnd think of all those structures they constructed -- still there.
GLASSERThat's right. The world has been invited to witness a political show by Vladimir Putin in Southern Russia. And, you know, the questions surrounding security and terrorism are part and parcel of the questions surrounding Putin's rule of Russia.
AUSTERAnd remember, in 1980, it didn't go so well, because those were the games in Moscow that were boycotted because of the Afghanistan invasion. So the stakes are pretty high this time.
REHMBruce Auster, he's national security editor for NPR. Susan Glasser is editor of Politico magazine. And Mark Mardell is BBC North America editor. Thank you all so much for being here.
GLASSERThank you. Happy New Year.
MARDELLThanks very much.
REHMAnd Happy New Year to you. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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