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Guest Host: Susan Page
A Senate panel concludes the attack in Benghazi was preventable. Early vote tallies show Egyptians approve a new constitution. And the White House urges lawmakers to abandon a push for new sanctions on Iran. A panel of journalists join guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Indira Lakshmanan diplomatic correspondent, Bloomberg News.
- James Kitfield contributing editor, National Journal, Atlantic Media's Defense One and the National Interest; senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.
- Abderrahim Foukara Washington bureau chief, Al Jazeera Arabic.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's off today and will be back on Tuesday. A Senate panel concludes the attack in Benghazi was preventable. Vote tallies show Egyptians approve a new constitution and the White House urges Syrian rebels to attend peace talks next week. Joining me for the international hour of the Friday News Roundup, Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News, and James Kitfield with the National Journal and Atlantic Media's Defense One. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAThank you.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANGood morning.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDGood morning.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll free number, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or find us on Twitter or Facebook. Well, on Wednesday, James, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on that Benghazi attack. Did it tell us something we didn't know before?
KITFIELDYou know, I don't think it told us something we didn't know, but it confirmed, I think, a suspicion of a lot of us that that was probably the most politicized, quote end quote, scandal, that we've seen in years in Washington. Because, as you remember, it came up just months before the Presidential election. The Republicans, you know, blamed Hillary Clinton for ignoring an Al-Qaeda plot that was, you know, that we should have seen coming. And this was a very sober, bipartisan investigation that found that, yes indeed, the State Department ignored some warnings that it should have paid more attention to.
KITFIELDAnd could have prevented this by that. And everyone knew that before. That has come out, but it sort of refutes this narrative that this was a long time Al-Qaeda plot, timed to 9/11. It called it opportunistic. It basically said that, you know, there are some faults with the CIA not being co-located on the same compounded, so they couldn’t come to the rescue of Ambassador Stevens and the three other Americans who were killed. So, I mean, I think it's a very good report. It tells us, basically, that the fundamentals, the military, you've heard all this controversy about the military not being -- not reacting fast enough to get there.
KITFIELDWell, they confirm what the military has been saying all along, which is that they had no forces in place that could have gotten there in time, and that was not a mission they had been given. So, it kind of confirmed a lot of what we already knew.
PAGEWell, Abderrahim, it also, of these series of reports, it was the first one, it seems to me, that implicitly criticized Ambassador Stevens for declining offers of security before these attacks.
FOUKARAAbsolutely. And I think one thing that Ambassador Stevens had tried to do was to break out of the mold that had been strapped around US missions, trying to perform in various parts of the world. Remember that after 9/11, the isolation of US missions around the world had grown more stringent. And what he and the people close to him had said is that he actually wanted to get out there, get in touch directly and physically with Libyans and see what's happening, as opposed to just barricading himself inside the US compound, whether in Benghazi or in Tripoli.
FOUKARAAnd get, you know, news of what was happening outside. I think, and I know that you're gonna be talking about Syria later on, I think what Benghazi -- one of the important elements in all this is that Benghazi has shackled the Obama administration much earlier on, in terms of the help that it may have wanted to lend to Syrians trying to topple Bashar Al-Assad. Because the fear was that Benghazi having happened, if Obama had been much more forceful in supporting the Syrian rebels, given the extent of the so-called -- the presence of the so-called jihadis in Syria, that would become a huge problem for him.
FOUKARABut I suppose in any event, this will become a huge problem for Hillary Clinton, because Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State back at that time, and if she ever decides to run for President next time, then that will become a problem. We already from Republicans back then, that the Obama administration, particularly Hillary Clinton, in helping or opening the door for the US support for the so-called Arab Spring, opened the door for terrorism, not just in the Middle East, but also in sub-saharan Africa, such as Mali.
PAGEWell, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who of course is thought to have some ambitions for the Presidency himself in 2016, has said that he wants the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to take a closer look at Benghazi and what Hillary Clinton did before and after the attack. Does the report conclude that she bears responsibility, Indira?
LAKSHMANANWell, I think what's striking is that this entire report, which, let's keep in mind, was based on thousands of pages of intelligence that the committee reviewed, and State Department material that they collected. And dozens of committee hearings and briefings and interviews. In the entire report, there's only mention of the then Secretary of State. So, let's not forget that. So, they were not able to, you know, pin something directly on her, but the Republicans, in their separate annex, and this is a very important point, I think, that goes to how this has become -- it started as a partisan issue and it has remained a partisan issue.
LAKSHMANANEven though the Senate Intelligence Committee put out this so-called bipartisan report, they weren't able to agree enough on it that there was a separate Democratic annex and a Republican annex. Because the Democrats wanted to write in their report that, in fact, there was no conspiracy, there was no cover up by the White House, that they weren't trying to tell a different story. And the Republicans, in their version, and, you know, to which Marco Rubio was one of the signatories, said, well, there are still so many questions left unanswered.
LAKSHMANANSo despite going through all of this material, and let's not forget, this is not going to be the last such report we see. Because there are five House Committees that are still investigating Benghazi, so by no means is this the last word. And I don't think this issue has been put to rest. And I think, ultimately, this is one of those issues in American politics that people see it through the lens of whatever their political beliefs are and whatever their prejudices are.
LAKSHMANANAnd so the people who are pre-determined to think that Hillary Clinton and Obama were up to no good are going to continue to see it this way. But, I thought what was interesting, in terms of the very specific findings they had, was that the report said that the State Department did not increase security at its mission, despite warnings, including from the Ambassador, Chris Stevens. We already knew that. But they also said something else, which is that intelligence agencies were not sharing information about the existence of this CIA outpost. And that the US military didn't even know about the CIA outpost, which is stunning.
LAKSHMANANI mean, it goes back to so many failures we've seen over the years, and the lack of sharing and cooperation among our own intel agencies prior to 9/11/2001. It does make you wonder how could the military have responded properly if it didn't even know the CIA outpost was there?
PAGENow, there's an election in Egypt, a vote in Egypt on a new constitution with results that politicians everywhere must just envy. 98 percent of the votes cast approved the constitution, and yet, it is still controversial.
KITFIELDWell, because the opposition was intimidated and arrested. So, if you had the gall to actually, sort of, campaign for a no vote, you were -- if you weren't beaten up, you were, as I said, likely to get arrested. You know, this was the military leadership who ousted the former elected government of Egypt, and has basically been the power behind the throne in Egypt ever since. They were looking for this as sort of a referendum on the fact that they ousted the former Islamist head, Mohammad Morsi. They probably got that, because -- but they got it in such a sort of nefarious way, with all this intimidation, that a lot of outsiders are not gonna look at this as being a very legitimate vote.
KITFIELDBut it does, if you look at this constitution, it does have some things that we like. It does call for a segue to elections for the Parliament and the President later this year. It does, in trying some minority rights, including for womens' rights. So, there are some things in there that we can find that we'll like, but we kind of have to hold our nose on this whole process. But the Egyptians are not asking for our advice on how they run their internal affairs these days. In fact, quite the opposite. Apparently, Secretary Hagel has been on the phone constantly with General Sisi, who is the power behind the throne in Egypt.
KITFIELDAnd, basically, he seems to have no influence anymore on them. The Senate seems likely, next week, to approve a transfer of Apache helicopters to them, because there's this Islamic extremist attacks, and the Sinai have increased dramatically in the last six months. So, we're kind of gonna have to hold our nose on this, and see what happens with these elections next year. I mean, later this year.
PAGEAberrahim, this constitution is seen as a opening for General Sisi to run for president and win. Who is he? Tell us about him.
FOUKARAWell, General Sisi was the head of intelligence when Mohammad Morsi was still the President of Egypt, until he was ousted last summer. And apparently, he was put in the position that he is in today by Mohammad Morsi on the recommendation of Marshal Tantawi, who, as many people would remember, was the head of the Army when Mubarak was ousted in 2011. So, basically, with support from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, material support and other kind of support, he ousted Mohammad Morsi, basically riding on the wave of dissatisfaction that many Egyptians felt with the one year rule that Morsi had up to that point.
PAGEThis has gotta be disappointing, Indira, for Americans who thought that, at least at the very beginning of the Arab Spring, that Egypt was on a path to democracy. This seems to be a step away from that.
LAKSHMANANAbsolutely. I mean, it's stunning that three years after the Arab Spring in Tahrir Square, and all these protests that everyone thought, oh now we have a free democratic Egypt. In fact, we have what seems like a return to a military rule in many ways, in terms of the rampant arrests and crackdowns. I mean, we would say human rights violations. There have been arrests of all sorts of journalists, specifically targeting Al-Jazeera. You know, Abdur Raheem's outfit, because they're seen as being pro-Muslim brotherhood. And they have arrested and are keeping in solitary confinement, several journalists who've worked for other international media.
LAKSHMANANI mean, there's more to say on this, but I think, most of all, that there only was a 36 percent turnout for the vote, sort of undermines a bit of the 98 percent support for the constitution.
PAGEIndira Lakshmanan. She's the Diplomatic Correspondent at Bloomberg News. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll take your calls, your questions and your comments. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm for the News Roundup Hour, our second hour on international affairs. We're joined by James Kitfield. He's a contributing editor at National Journal and Atlantic Media's Defense One and the National Interest. He's also a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. And also Indira Lakshmanan. She's diplomatic correspondent at Bloomberg News. And Abderrahim Foukara. He's the Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic.
PAGEAnd, Abderrahim, let's -- will you bring us up to date, please, on what's happening in Egypt with Al Jazeera journalists who have been criticized and arrested by the government there?
FOUKARAWell, I mean, first of all there's been a series of acts of harassment of journalists working in Egypt, as Indira said before we went to break. Not just from Al Jazeera but right across the board from various news organizations, as opposed to the three who belong to Al Jazeera. There's one British correspondent, a veteran of the BBC formerly and two Egyptians, one producer and one cameraman who were arrested on charges of being in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood. They're currently undergoing trial proceedings in Egypt.
FOUKARABut as I said, that's just symptomatic of the trials and tribulations that journalists, including some from Australia, some Canadian -- there's a Canadian Egyptian journalist also in the same situation -- the trials and tribulations of the press, both Egyptian and the international press trying to cover what's been going on in Egypt. And incidentally, the trials and tribulations of journalists in Egypt are not confined to this one year that Sisi and his provisional government have been running Egypt since the coup. They extend way back to even immediately after Mubarak was toppled in 2011.
FOUKARABut it's actually the first time that some of our people, journalists are being put on trial. And the accusation is them working in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood. I don't know what the Egyptian government is relying on at this particular point in time to level those charges at journalists, but it's a real ordeal for them.
KITFIELDYou know, we should just mention for the listeners that, you know, after the military coup, which we didn't call it that but that's what it was. We didn't call it that because that would then trigger some sanctions that the administration was not quite ready to trigger. You know, they immediately -- almost immediately outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. This is an organization that, you know, a year earlier had won a popular election with more than 5 million votes
KITFIELDSo, you know, I distinctly remember Senator Lindsey Graham coming back from Egypt and basically saying at a press conference, you know, doing this is basically -- you're doing an Algeria here. You're basically marginalizing so many people that you're creating by the numbers an insurgency. And ever since he said that, that insurgency has come to be in the Sinai. We're seeing it -- the interior minister almost was assassinated by a car bomb. I mean, they are sort of reintroducing sort of a military authoritarian regime, you know, by the books.
KITFIELDAnd, you know, I talked to some Egyptians this week and they said, well, you know, we're not ready for what you'd consider a free democracy, because there's just not enough democratic players who understand that kind of give and take in Egypt. There still is some game between a lot of these groups. But you have to be very worried, like you said, that the Arab Spring, that Egypt was the most promising point of -- is being reversed.
LAKSHMANANI think, you know, it's an excellent point that James is making, and also that, you know, while they're talking about supposedly enshrining democratic rights and they've highlighted women's rights supposedly in the constitution, we're talking about by the government's own count, its interior ministry says that 440 people were arrested during two days of voting. Anyone who tried to put up no posters were beaten or arrested. Nine people were killed in clashes between Morsi supporters, Muslim Brotherhood supporters and backers of the current Egyptian regime.
LAKSHMANANAnd it's not that they're just cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood. They've also arrested many secular activists, intellectuals. They've put restrictions on the travel of people who were involved in the uprising against Hosni Mubarak. You know, some people who are well known in this country, Amr Hamzawy who's, you know, a well known intellectual is barred from leaving the country. Had to cancel a speech he was supposed to give at Yale.
LAKSHMANANSo I think there are a lot of concerns about what's going on. And if General Sisi thinks that this gives him a mandate that 38 percent of the population voting for this constitution and 98 percent of them saying yes, is that a mandate for him to run for president? Well, what about the other two-thirds of the country who weren't voting? I think it's a big concern.
PAGEAnd, of course, one of the things that's most striking is the United States, which in the past has had such tremendous influence with Egypt, now seems to be not a player.
FOUKARAYes. I mean, if you'd allow me just one quick thought that I wanted to tack to what Indira has just said. I mean, if you block out the -- what is described as the good things in this constitution, there's the issue of civilians being tried in military courts stipulated now in this new constitution. But even if you block out those things that are seen by many Egyptians as nefarious and you concentrate on the good things in this constitution, some of the good things that James talked about at the outset, Egypt was probably one of the first countries in modern times to have a constitution. And it's beautiful text.
FOUKARAThe words of that text have not always found their way to reality. And Egypt has had a series of constitutions since then with very lofty ideals, but they remain basically stuff written on paper. If you have somebody like Sisi running the country, if he decides to run and win, which is very likely according to many Egyptians, there are no guarantees that the good lofty ideals stipulated by the new constitution will actually be implemented.
FOUKARAAnd just one quick one, we talk about the return to Mubarak. Many Egyptians talk about something much worse because under Mubarak, yes, it was authoritarian rule but you could go out and stroll around Cairo at 3:00 in the morning. That's not necessarily the case. And there are no indications that Egyptians will be able to stroll out peacefully in Cairo anytime soon. So it's not just the military authoritarian rule but also the instability that's likely to linger.
FOUKARAAs to the influence that Obama may or may not have with Egypt, my sense is that the Obama Administration has concluded that Egypt is going to be turbulent for a long time. And regionally they've already shifted the focus. I mean, if you -- when you look at what's going on with Iran, Iran -- my reading of it is from the point of view of the Obama Administration. Iran looks like a much more stable proposition. And therefore the focus is shifting from Egypt, at least for now, to Iran as a pillar of stability in the region.
PAGESo let's talk about Iran and what's happening there. We did see a temporary agreement reached for the six-month interim deal on efforts to limit its nuclear program, James. Let's talk -- did this take longer than expected to work out the deal that allowed this six-month clock to start ticking?
KITFIELDYeah, I mean, it's taken almost two months and the basic framework was agreed, you know, as I said, two months ago. So everyone was kind of shaking their head and it probably is a precursor. You know, this deal, as promising as it is -- and we should say it's probably -- you know, this is probably the most promising moment in U.S. Iranian relations I can remember, certainly in the last 20 years that I've been covering this. But it's a foreshadowing of how difficult this comprehensive deal is going to be to reach because this basically didn't ask that much of Iran.
KITFIELDIt will -- you know, the good news about this is it kind of -- it freezes its stockpiles of uranium. It has to convert a certain amount of that into a form they can't readily use in nuclear weapons. It introduces a lot more UN inspectors into the country so we'll know a lot more about that program very soon, which is all too the good. But to reach a comprehensive deal in the six-months time, as this (word?) calls for, they'll have to roll back dramatically the number of centrifuges they have producing uranium. They'll have to get away from this heavy water reactor that's going to be producing plutonium at Arak.
KITFIELDThey're going to have to do a lot of very, very difficult things. And the start of this suggests it's going to be very hard to make those deals.
LAKSHMANANI do think it's important to note though, as James was hinting, that, you know, this is the first breakthrough in a nuclear situation that has been at a standoff for a decade. And so a year ago if we had been sitting here in these same chairs and talking about, oh well, you know, how long did it take to get to the implementation deal, people would laugh at us. No one would've thought it would've been possible a year ago to get this piece of paper, to get this deal. So, you know, let's just keep that in mind that this is, you know, the first genuine possibility to trying to stave off, you know, military action to prevent Iran from getting the capability to have a nuclear weapon.
LAKSHMANANI just want to say that one of the things that's come up this week, which has been really interesting, is again the polarized lens through which a lot of people see this. You know, the Obama Administration has said -- and a lot of Iran analysts and experts say, that don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. That it's impossible to get a perfect deal, that you can't get absolutely everything you want. And you want to get something that is going to ensure Iran won't get a nuclear weapon, that you can get that.
LAKSHMANANBut the demanding zero enrichment, which is what, you know, a lot of people want understandably, that that -- you know, that train has left the station. That there would've been a possibility ten years ago when Iran was willing to talk to the Bush Administration about its nuclear program, and then that all fell apart. It never happened. And that at this point, you know, it's no longer going to be possible to do no enrichment. But the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna has wanted to keep certain aspects of the technical implementation not for publication has raised suspicions of many, particularly on The Hill of, you know, is there some secret?
LAKSHMANANBut the White House and Tehran say no, this is the IAEA's wish to keep some parts of it confidential. And that's simply a technical issue. So, you know, I still think the White House could've done a much better job of selling this on The Hill and to its allies.
PAGEWell, meanwhile, the White House is engaged in really quite a fierce battle with The Hill on imposing new sanctions on Iran -- a new sanctions bill which President Obama has threatened to veto. Abderrahim, what's the energy behind the sanctions bill on the part of Republicans and some Democrats as well?
FOUKARAIt seems to me politics, like all politicians -- politicians like to play to the gallery. And I think many of these senators would like to at least be on the record with their constituency as having been tough on Iran. But I think as far as the executive in both Washington and Tehran are concerned, I think there's a meeting of the minds. I start from the general position announced by the Obama Administration reiterated several times, which is that all options are on the table obviously, including military force.
FOUKARABut I think the Obama Administration and the Iranian government have concluded that military confrontation is not in the best interest of the United States or Iran. Should there be military action against Iran, basically the sanctions regime fizzles out and you won't be able to maintain it after military strike. And then you would unleash horrific dynamics regionally in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Syria against Saudi Arabia, against Israel.
FOUKARAAnd the Iranians, on their side, they obviously have a dire situation, so they need the sanctions alleviated. They are in no position to match U.S. power should there be military confrontation, but they can create a lot of regional problems. So they have every interest in abiding by whatever agreement they reach with the United States and the rest of the western powers.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Well, let's talk for a moment, James, about Syria and international peace conference starts next week in Geneva. Are you optimistic?
KITFIELDNo, I'm not. I must admit, I have never seen a least auspicious beginning to a peace conference. You had Secretary Kerry, you know, pleading with the opposition -- the rebel opposition to even show up. You had the Russians saying Iran, which is supporting the Assad regime which is -- this is supposed to lead to transitioning away from, you know, saying that Iran should be at the table. You have the Assad regime saying, we're coming but only to talk about terrorism, which they refer to the entire opposition as terrorists.
KITFIELDSo, you know, I have been very supportive of Secretary Kerry's sort of lead-from-the-front diplomatic initiatives all over the Middle East. I think that, you know, he's adopting the old principle, good to get caught trying. But this one seems to me to be a stretch. And it's hard for me to see how this comes off very well, because they can't even agree -- the sides can't even agree of what they're there for. Kerry keeps reiterating this is to implement the Geneva One, which called for a transition away from the current regime and to another regime.
KITFIELDWell, no -- the sides don't seem to agree on that is why they're going to show up . And the rebels can't agree if they're going to show up at all. So I'm a little pessimistic.
PAGEScott from Dallas I think has a question or comment about Syria. Scott, hi. Thanks for joining us.
SCOTTYeah, this is so indicative of our general foreign policy coverage. The reporting's been terribly skewed on Syria. That's as grave an issue as there could be. The Christians, the Kurds, the Druze, the Alawites all support Assad. And even the Sunni businessmen support Assad. But a few Sunni radicals and a bunch of terrorists, we've armed, funded, trained -- I'm sorry, officially we haven't armed but we've done everything but that and more.
SCOTTThere is an MIT paper which confirmed Greece with the UN that the bomb with the sarin gas was most likely from the rebels. There were seven reports in Reuters, AP, The Independent of rebels having sarin, admitted using sarin, being arrested with sarin gas. But we never heard any of that in (word?) . All we've gotten is the administration's perspective. And, in fact, to all you reporters that's all you seem to report is what the administration says leaving the American people totally out of the loop.
SCOTTIran is in full compliance with MPT. Those stockpiles are under 24-hour SEAL surveillance in the closed caption. But you give none of that. And you talked about their weapons program, which they've never admitted having. Clearly they might.
PAGEAll right. Scott, thanks for your call. Abderrahim.
FOUKARAWell, I mean, it would be interesting to hear what Syrians would think of this question because many of them say that when this whole situation started in Syria, it started as peaceful protests. And Bashar al-Assad first of all militarized it. And by militarizing it he created the environment in which the so-called moderate opposition wasn't able to stand up to him. And that encouraged religious militants or people that he describes as terrorists coming from across the Syrian border from various parts of the world to fight him.
FOUKARASo he's turned it into a fight between his regime, the protector of minorities including the Christians, he would say against these terrorist Jihadists. But the bottom line is that the Assad regime has lasted for about 30 years. And many Syrians were happy to see it go. But he's turned it around, at least so far.
PAGENow Scott said that there was evidence that the sarin gas was in fact -- the bomb was from rebels not the government. Just very briefly, James.
KITFIELDThe UN report was pretty conclusive on that, that it almost certainly came from the Syrian army installation.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. In the studio with me for the News Roundup, Abderrahim Foukara, from Al Jazeera; Indira Lakshmanan from Bloomberg News; James Kitfield from National Journal and Defense One. Let's go to the phones. Let's talk to Jack. He's calling us from Salisbury, North Carolina. Jack, you've been really patient. Thanks for holding on.
JACKThank you, Ms. Page. My comment is about Benghazi. I'm a veteran and served during the Cold War, a baby boomer. And it seems the reporters forget the historical record that there's been numerous attacks on American Embassy personnel -- embassies, consulates, over the decades -- that, during the Bush administration, George W., there were at least 11 different attacks not including all the attacks on the embassy in Iraq. And over something like 60 personnel were killed. And I don't remember the flap being so big among the journalists and in Washington and the Senate over that body count.
JACKAnd also the last thing, to be a little partisan about it, the Republicans cut the security funding for the State Department after they came to power in 2010. In the 2011 period and 2012, they both cut -- they cut the security funding. And then they have the gall to act like this is something that's, A, never happened before, and, B, it's some horrifying unprecedented attack.
PAGEAll right, Jack. Thanks very much for your call. James.
KITFIELDWell, I mean, he -- as I understand him, he has the facts about right. I mean the Congress did cut security funding for the State Department. That's well known. These attacks, I have seen them, and it wasn't just, you know, it was during the Cold War, it was post-Cold War. These things do happen frequently, unfortunately and tragically to lethal effect. I think it's the State Department who has basically said, you know, we are in -- we're the front line of American diplomacy. We put ourselves in dangerous places because we have America's interests at mind.
KITFIELDI think they would take somewhat of a similar view that this is part and parcel of what it means to be in the frontlines of U.S. diplomacy in this period.
LAKSHMANANI think to answer his larger question of why so much attention has been focused on this as opposed to all of the other cases, it had been a few decades since an American ambassador had been killed in post. So that got a lot of attention. It happened on September 11, an anniversary date. That got a lot of attention. It was two months before a presidential election, so I think it became politicized. There's no question about it. It was picked up as a, you know, as a cudgel with which to beat one's political opponents. And, you know, certain news media have hooked onto it.
LAKSHMANANDefinitely the GOP on the Hill has. And certain news media have followed on that. And it just hasn't gone away. And because congressmen and senators get coverage for what they say, the issue never dies because they've kept it alive.
PAGEIs there any chance this issue is about to die? That these reports will put it to rest, Abderrahim? Or is this something we're going to be talking about on the Friday News Roundup for the foreseeable future?
FOUKARAWell, I mean, just to circle back to what we said earlier in the show about Hilary Clinton. I mean, if Hilary Clinton decides to run for president...
LAKSHMANANWhich I think, you know, we can be pretty sure she probably will.
FOUKARA(unintelligible) will happen. I...
LAKSHMANANThis will be brought up by her opponent.
FOUKARAYeah. I cannot see how her opponents would not continue to bring this up.
PAGEHere's an email we've gotten. The emailer asks: "If the Egyptian army becomes displeased with the new constitutional government, will the army dissolve the constitution in government, as recently done?" Is that a risk, do you think?
LAKSHMANANIt's the Egyptian military who is backing this current constitutional panel. I mean it's the Egyptian military, as James said at the beginning, that is the power behind the throne right now of this interim government. So I think they're fully supportive of this current constitution. I don't think that's a danger.
FOUKARAAnd I think there were at some point some reports, I don't know how credible they were, that there was some disaffection within the Egyptian military, at least at the level of the lower ranks, about what Sisi had done. And, again, I stress, I don't know how credible those were. Many Egyptians that I have spoken to tend to lend credence to those. But the fact is, Sisi, I think, has got the army sealed up in so many different ways. I think the top brass have their eyes not just on the political situation in Egypt and what they've done, they also have an eye on the military's economic clout.
FOUKARAI mean, this is an institution that, according to some estimates, controls about 40 percent of the Egyptian economy. So whatever happens, even if they by some miracle cancel this constitution, it doesn’t mean that they're going to dissolve or that their influence is going to dissolve.
KITFIELDWe're only six months away from the military coup, so anyone who counts the Egyptian military out of the equation, I think, is being a little premature.
PAGEYou know, the experience in Egypt to that in Tunisia, where they're also working toward a new constitution. Who can tell us about what's happening there? It's really a much more encouraging story.
KITFIELDYeah, the Tunisian Islamist party, you know, was the first to come after the revolution and be elected into power. And they were very inclusive. They understood that, rather than marginalize their opponents, they had to bring them in under the tent. And they drafted a constitution. And let's, you know, reiterate that it's been very tough for the Tunisians as well. There's been many arguments. There were assassinations. You know, then there was a crackdown against the Islamic extremist groups.
KITFIELDBut, in general, the Tunisians have taken an attitude that the only way this government's going to work is if it includes all the factions inside the big tent, and we work out our disputes politically. And that's been very different from what you saw in Egypt, for instance, where instead of bring the Muslim Brotherhood under the tent -- and, clearly, Morsi's one-year rule was very unpopular -- but making them -- outlawing them as terrorists, would be the opposite approach as the Tunisians'. And we're seeing what it's reaping in Egypt.
PAGEWhy the difference in the experience, do you think?
FOUKARAWell, there, I mean, there are so many different reasons. One of them, first of all, is that the Egyptian military is different from the Tunisian military. The role played by the military before the ouster of Mubarak, during the ouster of Mubarak, and after the ouster of Mubarak, was almost fundamentally different from the role played by the Tunisian army. The reports are when the former president asked the army to shoot at protestors, Zine al Abedine Ben Ali, the army said, "No. We're not going to do that."
FOUKARABut I think the Islamist movement in Tunisia has also learned from the -- what happened to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. And they've concluded that the threat was such that they had no other way but to try and reach compromise. And Tunisia is a much smaller country. But remember that the spark of the so-called Arab Spring started in Tunisia. Then it moved to Egypt. I don't think that the compromise in Tunisia -- the spark of the compromise in Tunisia now -- will necessarily fly to Egypt and change the dynamics there.
FOUKARABut the value of Tunisia in my eyes now is that it at least keeps the flame of the so-called Arab Spring alive; whereas, in Egypt and Syria, it seems to have gone into a completely different season.
KITFIELDYeah, you would have to say, I mean, the Arab Spring started with Tunisia and sort of spread throughout the region. And it's been rolled back in almost every place except Tunisia, if you think about it. I mean, you look what's happened in Bahrain, you look what's happened in Syria, you look what's happened even in Iraq -- which happened because of our intervention there, you know, happened before -- have been backsliding away from democracy, so...
LAKSHMANANWell, and Libya, obviously, is the other major Arab Spring country.
KITFIELDLibya -- Libya would be -- exactly.
LAKSHMANANAnd we've seen what's happened there with the complete breakdown of security.
PAGEThe Vatican was questioned by a UN panel this week about its handling of decades of reported sexual abuse by priests. Why is this significant, do you think? Why is this different from what's happened before?
KITFIELDWell, it's the first time that they've stood in front of an international, you know, body and answered very tough questions apparently about this whole sexual-abuse scandal. And, you know, whether it's the new Pope's sort of openness and outreach, or whether -- which I suspect it probably is, because this is not something they had to do. There's no subpoena authority that the UN has over the Vatican. But they put themselves in front of this, I think, as a way, sort of, as this outreach of openness of the current Pope. And the questions were apparently very tough.
KITFIELDAnd their answers were, "Yeah, we know that we got it wrong and we get it now." Whether that will, you know, be enough for the abuse victims themselves, I don't know.
LAKSHMANANI mean, and the question remains whether the Vatican is going to sort of overtake investigations into these cases. They still say that it's the job of individual bishops. And they're still not insisting that bishops report any suspected or alleged abuse to local law enforcement authorities, whether or not it's required by law in that jurisdiction to report that suspected or alleged attack. I mean, you would think that that would be a basic thing that the Vatican could do, given decades and proof of all of this abuse.
LAKSHMANANYou would think they could take the proactive step of requiring bishops to report suspected pedophilic priests to local law enforcement authorities. That step has not been taken yet. And they've faced criticism because of that.
PAGEJames noted that the UN can't subpoena the Vatican. The UN also can't issue sanctions on the Vatican. Would it make a difference if they have -- if they've come to a negative finding about the Vatican on this issue?
FOUKARAWell, I mean, let me, first of all, just reiterate what James said there. I mean, this is the first time probably in the history of the Catholic church that we're seeing something like this. And while it may hark back to the, what some people would describe as the good graces of the new Pope, who is trying to do something new, and you know, he's made some amazing pronouncements, including the one about the poor and the disadvantaged, about the capitalistic system and how it disadvantages further the disadvantaged and the poor.
FOUKARABut, if this harks back to him, then he has obviously opened a can of legal worms, because one of the things that he was asked about was the issue of extradition to the people within the church who were accused of abusing children. What would happen further down the road, if people started pursuing that track -- to have priests actually extradited. The panel, the Vatican panel said, "Well, many of them are actually, they're not under our jurisdiction. They continue to be under the jurisdiction of the country, the individual country that they're originally from."
FOUKARAThis is the beginning of a can of worms. And I'm not sure how Pope Francis or some of the people who are on the panel would actually deal with that, should it come to it.
LAKSHMANANAnd, you know, the other thing is that at the same time that this is all happening, this hearing in Geneva happened on the same day that Pope Francis celebrated mass alongside an American cardinal who had been disgraced in this abuse scandal last year. And, you know, we're talking about Cardinal Roger Mahony who was the former archbishop of Los Angeles, who was shamed last year when documents showed that he had a history of protecting priests accused of sexual abuse.
LAKSHMANANSo let's not forget, on the same day, Pope Francis -- I mean I'm sure he was showing forgiveness for doing that, but there are also questions about whether greater steps could be taken within the Vatican to force the reports to law enforcement about such cases.
PAGEIn that mass, though, the Pope also said some language, not totally directly, that seemed to be referring to this controversy. I mean this new Pope is quite interesting. I'm Susan Page. And you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Well, let's talk about Ariel Sharon. He died this week after spending eight years in a coma. What do we remember of him, James?
KITFIELDYou know, what I remember about him is that, you know, if you look at the arc of his career, I mean, this was the right-winger, hardliner, par excellence of Israel politics for most of his life. A former commander in the -- fought in all of Israel's many wars of the 60s and 70s. And, when he was prime minister, he had a sort of -- he had a change of heart. And he decided that he needed, you know, he led the invasion of Lebanon and he also led the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Southern Lebanon.
KITFIELDHe pulled out of Gaza. He was a settler champion who realized that if you -- the settlement movement was taken to its logical extreme, Israel would no longer be a Jewish democracy. So, and that arc of his career reminded me of Rabin, who was also, you know, a military commander and hardliner who came to see -- who came to be a peacemaker late in his life. Sharon very much was along that line. He built that wall, but was clearly also intimating that he was going to pull back from the West Bank to a certain degree.
KITFIELDAnd, sort of, my hope is that the current right-wing prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, will look with some inspiration at Sharon's career, because -- and Rabin -- which was that, you know, after being a war fighter and a warrior, when you got into a position of power, you realized, if you looked down the road at Israel's future, you needed to be a peacemaker.
LAKSHMANANYeah, I just wanted to say that it's interesting how Ariel Sharon was praised by, you know, the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, for his courage and determination. He was praised by Secretary of State Kerry for surprising many in his pursuit of peace. But, at the same time, let's, you know, not forget, this is a man who in the 1970s was seen as being the father of settlements -- so sort of starting the Jewish settlement movement. At the same time, in 2005, he was praised for pulling Israeli settlers out of Gaza under the so-called disengagement plan.
LAKSHMANANBut, you know, although we've gotten the quotes from the sort of top leaders who've looked at the arc of his career, you know, a right-winger, a hawk, who then was trying to embrace peace in his way -- or what he thought would bring peace. You know, you can't forget also he was defense minister of Israel at the time of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacres in Lebanon in 1981. And he apparently didn't stop those massacres when he found out about the atrocities. So that is part of what has made his legacy so polemical.
LAKSHMANANAnd why, you know, Human Rights Watch and other activists have criticized him, even at the same time as others were praising him. I thought it was really interesting, The Washington Post letters to the editor that you saw. You know, people pouring in with sentiments, both, you know, a woman who had been a nurse in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp, you know assailing him, and another local reader who basically said he gave away land and it didn't bring peace. It was a mistake. It brought more terrorism. So I think there's never going to be a way to unpack his legacy to everyone's satisfaction.
PAGEAnd it's such a complicated part of the world. And an incident, in fact, when John Kerry went there to speak at the funeral -- Israel's defense minister made some quite unflattering comments about the U.S. Secretary of State. What did he say?
FOUKARAI think, before I talk about that, I just wanted to tag one more thing to what Indira has said. The statement issued by the State Department for John Kerry, eulogizing Ariel Sharon -- for me it was another occasion for assessing the success or failure of the so-called Arab Spring, because many people, three years ago, had thought that it would -- the Arab Spring would take the Arab world in a different direction. It would give it more clout on the international stage and so on and so forth. Nothing that came in the statement said anything about how Arabs felt about Ariel Sharon.
FOUKARAHe called him Arik. And many Arabs interpreted that as Kerry trying to suck up to Israelis, especially Israeli hawks. But there was another interesting level to it. He was obviously, I mean in my book, Kerry was obviously saying what he was saying about Sharon because he was -- it's almost as if he was talking to Netanyahu and the hawks, saying: Look, this is a guy who did so much to defend Israel militarily, and yet when he came to the settlement, he actually did the undone thing up to that particular point in time and he undid the settlements in Gaza.
LAKSHMANANI just want to make one thing. Kerry did not actually get to go to his funeral, because of preplanned travel. But you're right about him being insulted by the defense minister. Maybe we'll have a chance to talk about that.
PAGEIndira Lakshmanan, James Kitfield, Abderrahim Foukara: thanks so much for being with us this hour on The Diane Rehm Show.
FOUKARAGreat to be with you.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back on Tuesday. Thanks for listening.
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