Last October, Yale lecturer Erika Christakis sent an email questioning whether university administrators should advise students on what Halloween costumes to wear. It resulted in protests on campus and a heated debate around the country.
Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Asia for a diplomatic push on North Korea’s nuclear weapons. A new round of Syrian peace negotiations begin. And the U.N. warns of ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- David Ignatius columnist, The Washington Post, and contributor, "Post Partisan" blog on washingtonpost.com; author of the forthcoming novel, "The Director."
- Michael Hirsh chief correspondent, National Journal; author of "At War with Ourselves: Why America Is Squandering its Chance to Build a Better World."
- Nancy Youssef Middle East bureau chief, McClatchy Newspapers.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Secretary of State Kerry travels to Asia for a diplomatic push on North Korea's nuclear weapons, a new round of Syrian peace talks begins with the U.S. and Russia joining the negotiations, and the U.N. warns of ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic. Joining me for the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup: David Ignatius of The Washington Post, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy, and Michael Hirsh of National Journal.
MS. DIANE REHMYou are always invited to be part of the program. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. And follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And Happy Valentine's Day, everybody.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFHappy Valentine's Day.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSHappy Valentine's Day.
MR. MICHAEL HIRSHHappy Valentine's Day.
REHMThank you. David Ignatius, what does Secretary of State Kerry hope to accomplish on this Asia trip?
IGNATIUSWell, in part, he's showing the flag for the U.S. This is in a period when our president has announced that we're pivoting toward Asia and putting more emphasis on Asia after this decade of wars in the Middle East. And there's been relatively little meat on the bones with the policy. So Secretary Kerry's visit is an attempt to talk to regional allies.
IGNATIUSThis is a time of some growing tension in Asia, in particular between China and Japan over what the Japanese call the Senkaku Islands. The Japanese have just kind of raised the ante on that by taking the issue of a naval incident several years ago in which Japanese Coast Guard ships were bumped by Chinese "fishing vessels" into court.
IGNATIUSInterestingly, as Secretary Kerry was arriving, North and South Korea were conducting their own diplomacy. North Korea was very threatening in saying that planned family visits should be called off until after U.S.-South Korean military exercises. And they backed down on that when Secretary Kerry said, absolutely not.
REHMThey changed their minds.
IGNATIUSWe're not going to change our schedule.
IGNATIUSAnd they backed down. So Secretary Kerry will do the same thing in each of the capitals he stops at. I think he's now on his way to China. And those visits are especially important.
REHMWhat about North Korea and its nuclear program? What can China do there to help that move along? Michael Hirsh.
HIRSHWell, China potentially could do a great deal. The issue right now is whether it's willing to because what's happening -- this Kerry visit is part of a multi-layered effort to both use China as a friend or an ally and pressure China at the same time, which is largely what the so-called Asia pivot is about. I mean, among his stops in Indonesia -- and Kerry officials described that to me earlier as an attempt to continue this policy of building up alliances, relationships with countries on China's southern underbelly.
HIRSHSo -- and China is, of course, aware of this. And you have a new somewhat more nationalistic leader there. President Xi who was doing his own care to diplomacy. So the point is that, you know, North Korea remains China's main ally in the region. And whereas several years ago, there was great willingness on the part of Beijing to pressure North Korea over the nuclear weapons tests it was doing.
HIRSHAnd indeed, as recently as late last year, Beijing was upset when North Korea went ahead with the test. Now, with all of this U.S. pressure on China over these other issues and evidence of some instability inside North Korea itself, in terms of the regime there, I think there's a lot less willingness by the Chinese to pressure the North Koreans over this issue. So these are all interconnected.
REHMExactly. And, Nancy Youssef, welcome back.
REHMIt's good to see you again. Tell me why North Korea did back down from this family issue and what it could achieve by allowing families to meet once again.
YOUSSEFWell, it's an interesting way to try to broker relations. These are families that haven't been united since the Korean War. It's an effort to sort of start to open some negotiations and show that it's not simply this bellicose nation that is conducting one nuclear test after another. And I think this is an effort to signal that.
YOUSSEFBut once the United States said it would not back down from its exercises, it seemed to walk away from it because I think it was very hard for them to make the case that, on one hand, this was a humanitarian issue and yet linking it to naval exercises being conducted by the United States. I think it was a very difficult link to make as an argument for why these reunifications should not happen.
REHMHmm. And what about the South China Sea islands, David, that are in dispute? Why is it so important who controls them?
HIRSHWell, in practical terms, these are just pieces of rock. I mean, they couldn't matter less in the scheme of things. But they're pieces of rock on which China is asserting claims, expanding its territorial water claims in a way that the Japanese, I think, rightly see as an assertion of growing Chinese power in the region.
HIRSHSo in a sense, this has become an early test case of what the nations of Asia, with their security partner, the United States, will do to deal with this rising, increasingly assertive China. The Senkakus are particularly dangerous, it's believed, because there's so much chance for miscalculation. You have the Chinese who haven't really been in crises like this pushing, you know, sending ships in, challenging the waters.
HIRSHYou have the Japanese who are very shy of military operations. But under Prime Minister Abe are becoming less so, becoming more aggressive. And you have the United States, which has made a security guarantee to Japan, which extends to these little pieces of rock in the middle of the ocean.
IGNATIUSAlthough the U.S. has taken the position wisely, I think, that it does not come down on, you know, whose sovereignty is dominant here. I mean, there's a long history here in which both China and Japan can lay claim to these islands.
IGNATIUSIn -- and the U.S. has been part of some of these agreements. And in 1971, the U.S. handed back control of Okinawa and surrounding islands to Japan, which Japan has taken to mean it owns the Senkakus. But at the same time, there was an agreement in 1943, the so-called Cairo agreement, where FDR, Churchill, and Chiang Kai-shek, then the leader of China, voted to strick Japan of any territories that it had occupied during the war.
IGNATIUSSo there's all sorts of cross currents of claims over these islands. And the U.S. does not want to take a position on it. What it probably needs to do is to try to mediate some sort of a face-saving, you know, settlement between China and Japan over these.
REHMAnd now China and Taiwan are talking, Nancy.
YOUSSEFAnd these were historic talks. It is the first talk since the end of the China Civil War in 1949. And they were so sensitive that they didn't even display the flags of their respective nations during these talks. And they were -- there was no expectation of really moving the ball forward. But it was seen as an opportunity that's come about since President Ma's 2008 election.
YOUSSEFHe's been seen as someone who's been more friendly to China than his counterparts. And his term ends in two years, and this is seen as the final chance to sort of try to take advantage, to forge a new relationship. For Taiwan, there are lots of interest in doing this, among them more economic. President Ma's approval rating now is as low as 9 percent in part because of the economic situation that it's in, low salaries, the threat to its exports, high inflation.
YOUSSEFAnd China can offer economic leverage, but the talks didn't seem to yield anything substantive on the face of it. But the fact that this is happening and that there's a possibility of brokering some sort of a negotiation, I think, is promising. And the window for it is closing in as President Ma's terms ends.
REHMBut isn't there also fear on Taiwan's part that it could undermine its own sense of its own control?
IGNATIUSYes. I mean, there's modus vivendi that's evolved between Taiwan and China, the mainland nation, that really has been beneficial for both sides. The extent -- when you travel in China, the extent of Taiwanese-Chinese investment is just startling. The two nations' economic destinies now are so totally interwoven that the idea of separating them, I think, is unthinkable to most on both sides.
IGNATIUSSo this is a modus vivendi that each side is quite comfortable with. It's significant that they actually met together in Nanjing, I think, symbolically important. That's Chiang Kai-shek's capital before he fled to Taiwan after the Communist Revolution. First meeting since 1949. You have to take that seriously. In terms of changing the status quo in some way, I'd be surprised. I think both sides are happy to live with this somewhat vaguely-defined future where everybody kind of knows they're going to stick together.
HIRSHYeah. I mean, I think David is mostly right, except that the Chinese have been subtly pressuring the Taiwanese on the political issue. And I think that's partly what these talks are about, you know. For President Xi of China, I think there's a little bit of Don Corleone here. You know, keep your friends close but your enemies closer.
HIRSHI mean, there's an effort to begin these historic talks specifically to raise the political issue that the Taiwanese have been resisting -- dealing with, I mean, which is the resolution of Taiwan's status ultimately. The Chinese have insisted that Taiwan is part of China. Up until now, they've allowed an ambiguity to continue in terms of both sides' claims on Taiwan, whether it's sovereign or not.
HIRSHBut what you see here is subtle pressure, particularly because there's only two years remaining in the Taiwanese president's term. And he has been more friendly to China than his predecessors who were more pro-independent, so I think there's an effort here for the Chinese to move in and say, OK, let's start to talk about what your political status is going to be in the future. And, of course, we the Chinese say, you're going to be part of us.
REHMMichael Hirsh, he's with National Journal. And he's author of "At War with Ourselves." Nancy Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers, David Ignatius, a columnist for The Washington Post, author of the forthcoming novel, "The Director." Short break. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back to the international hour of the Friday news roundup this week with Nancy Youssef of McClatchy, Michael Hirsh of National Journal, David Ignatius of the Washington Post. Let's talk about Syrian peace talks, which have started up again. Nancy, how optimistic are you?
YOUSSEFThe problem is you have the Syrian government saying that we want to talk about terrorism and the opposition saying that we want to talk about how to start to negotiate the end of this government. So you have two sides that are essentially talking past one another. Moreover, the Syrian government represents part of the country, because they don't control all of it. And the opposition represents a very small fragment of the opposition.
YOUSSEFOn top of that, you have a war that's become a proxy for a lot of different elements and countries -- United States, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia. So all these factors come into play that make it a very, very difficult negotiation process. That said, diplomacy is the only answer. We did learn a lot, though, this week in the -- out of Homs where the evacuation was allowed to happen, 1,100 civilians were evacuated.
YOUSSEFWhat I found most interesting was that two-thirds of those who evacuated were men, which told me a lot about who was still there and who was leaving, potentially fighters who are leaving that you had so many men there at this stage of the game was very telling. And I think there's a case to be made that the way that the evacuation happened was actually favorable to the government.
YOUSSEFAnd that it was -- it created terms in which potentially the fighters that they were confronting were now leaving the country. So all very interesting developments. But in terms of a peace settlement, I think we're very, very far from that.
REHMIt almost broke down, did it not, David, and then finally -- both sides agreed to come back together.
REHMThere was an initial meeting in Geneva and nearby (word?) in the end of January which was a disaster. I saw Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special representative who's the mediator for these talks, in Munich at the Munich security conference at the end of January, beginning of February. He was so downbeat. I mean, this was a man who just felt I am failing. I cannot bring these parties together.
IGNATIUSIt was quite disturbing to see the U.N.'s machinery dealing with this humanitarian nightmare that's Syria failing utterly to make progress.
HIRSHYeah. I think the basic problem here is that the terms of the conference in Geneva just don't recognize the military realities on the ground. Now, this is not what it was a year and a half ago, where Assad's regime was in much greater trouble. There appeared to be a lot more unity among the opposition, less of an outbreak of the Islamic radicals who proved to be the real military powers on the ground.
HIRSHThat are barely representative at all right now in Geneva. So you have these, frankly, somewhat unrealistic demands for Assad to go even though in its document this week the Syrian opposition did at least keep that out of its demands in terms of what they actually put down in writing. But it wasn't enough for the Syrian regime. You know, Assad now sees himself as someone who could potentially win.
HIRSHSo I think you need to move more toward a truce type of thinking where it recognizes the fact that you have different power centers in different parts of the country between the regime and the rebels.
REHMAnd what about the U.N. as some of this is playing out there?
YOUSSEFWell, they were able to send in relief efforts into Homs. We saw that. And that was reassuring. But as David said, they U.N. at large was quite pessimistic. I mean, in his public comments, Brahimi was very pessimistic. He said, I need help. He said we need lots of help from lots of people outside, that things were not going well. And so, his assessment was not optimistic at all.
YOUSSEFI should point out that one of the sort of most telling measures in terms of where things are going is the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights came out and said that, on average, 236 people have been killed daily in Syria since these talks began January 22nd. And so, I don't know what a more telling figure to demonstrate the impact of these talks on a very dire situation on the ground.
REHMIs there anything that can be done to try to stop this killing? To try to get this settled and done with, David?
IGNATIUSWell, I think that the answer is yes, it's going to take a while and it's going to take an unusual kind of rebalancing of great power relations the region. And the analogy I would make is the Lebanese Civil War, which I covered years ago. Lebanese Civil War continued for 15 years until it was finally stopped by the Taif Agreement in 1989. What was the Taif Agreement? It basically involved an understanding between the U.S. and what was left of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War to work together for peace.
IGNATIUSIt involved an understanding by all of the regional powers, which had been competing in Lebanon, using Lebanon as their battlefield, that they would stop doing that, or at least, you know, tone it down. And we're going to need something similar to that, a Taif-like agreement in which Iran and Saudi Arabia who are using Syria to fight their regional rivalries say enough, in which the U.S. and Russia -- Russia is playing an outrageous game of kind of pretending it's still a superpower using its veto power to obstruct a settlement.
IGNATIUSAnd, you know, tens of thousands of people dying as Russia continues this. So somehow it's going to have to move from that to a structure for cooperation. And once that happens, then that may be -- Lebanon took 15 years. But once that happens, then you've got a settlement. Until then, you won't get anything.
HIRSHYeah. David's precisely right about that. It is going to take time. But there are possibilities of the U.S. and Russia working together rather than being at odds, which is basically what you have where the Russian is very forthrightly backing the Assad regime. U.S. officials are even saying now that they'd like to get a new U.N. resolution through before the end of the Sochi Olympics, because they know that Vladimir Putin is extremely conscious of his, you know, international image at this particular moment.
HIRSHBut if you do have concerted pressure by Moscow on the Assad regime, because its principal ally, along with Iran, then you could see some movement here. There's one other thing that maybe some odd way a positive development, which is that this terrible infighting going on between the Islamic radicals may be finally getting a little bit more rational.
HIRSHYou had the unprecedented action by al Qaida a week ago to cast out the group called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which was the radical group that actually had been dominating in some parts of, you know, of the north and the west. And now, you have, with that group apparently being run out of Syria and there's a lot of foreigners involved with that, some of the other radical groups might be more willing to align themselves, you know, with the secular opposition in the future if that intra-Islamic radical fight gets resolved.
HIRSHSo there could be some potential glimmer of hope of the horizon there.
REHMNancy, you look skeptical.
YOUSSEFWell, you know, I always say -- I live in the region and I can just tell you there's a feeling that the region is so on fire now and it's so unstable and so unpredictable that it doesn't feel like a climate for negotiations on the ground. That everybody is vying for power. It just -- it doesn't feel like an environment where people want to negotiate. But want to power grab and stake their claim on a volatility we haven't seen in 50 or 60 years at a minimum.
YOUSSEFAnd so, it's hard to think about negotiations because who were some of the brokers that would be involved in that? Traditionally, some place like Egypt is very volatile right now. I mean, all these players that would be there to help negotiate aren't in a position to do it. And the climate, as someone who lives there, is not one of negotiation but one of this is our moment to grab, to reclaim, to redraw borders, to reclaim power.
YOUSSEFI mean, I think everything Michael is saying is correct, I'm just -- I just want to say that on the ground, it doesn't feel right for it.
REHMBut, Nancy, talk about Cairo, talk about Alexandria, talk about Egypt where you are stationed now and where you do live. What's it like?
YOUSSEFIt's extremely volatile right now. And it's -- I think it's something that's very surprising for Americans because we went in the span of a year embracing a democratic process to a population that supports the return of a military, un-elected, backed government. And it's sort of breathtaking in the scope of change that's happened in such a short period of time.
REHMAnd with Russian President Putin now supporting al-Sisi as the president.
YOUSSEFThat's right. General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi who's the minister of defense and de facto leader of Egypt went to Russia today. It's an extension of a dialogue that began in November when the Russian delegation came to Cairo. I was there for that. And there's talk of this $2 billion arms deal that would include an air defense system, helicopters, fighter jets. The problem for Egypt -- and this is seen by many as an effort by Egypt to shift away from the United States.
YOUSSEFOne of the things I think the United States misunderstood is when the United States supported the democratic process that led to Morsi's election, ousted President Mohammed Morsi, the U.S. saw this supporting a process. The people who are now in charge of Egypt saw it as supporting Morsi. And they are angry about that. And this is sort of a retaliation against that. Now, there are practical challenges to it.
YOUSSEFThe U.S. and Egypt have had a very robust relationship, military to military, and its defense systems is all U.S. That's 30 years. And how you would align that with the Russian system is quite complicated. And $2 billion is a lot of money for a country that is economically desperate right now. Where that money would come from, if you get it from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, how much more can you owe them?
YOUSSEFYou've already gotten $12 billion. And so, there are practical challenges to this, but they are certainly the optics that Egypt is trying to present not only to the international community but domestically is that we are moving away from the United States.
IGNATIUSThe only thing I'd add is whenever I see big arms in the Middle East, I think of all the people who are going to make money as intermediaries in those deals. And that's especially true, I hate to say it, in arms deals with Russia, which is well known as one of the more corrupt countries on earth. The Egyptians do have a close long-standing relationship with the U.S. military. T That's one thing that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has done well.
IGNATIUSHe's on the phone two or three times a week with al-Sisi and other officials. When I was last in Cairo, I interviewed the chief of Egyptian intelligence who, to my astonishment, said in the beginning of the interview when I asked him if he was still in contact with the CIA and the Americans because the Egyptians were attacking the U.S. every day. He said, absolutely. You know, I talk to them every day.
IGNATIUSYou know, they are our strongest supporters. So, you know, you don't want to overstate the degree to which under the surface these two countries have split apart because they haven't.
REHMDavid Ignatius of the Washington Post. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And with the eyes of the world on Russia and Sochi, there you have fears about terrorism that had been there before the Olympics began. Michael, in some ways, do you think those fears were overblown?
HIRSHWe won't know for the next nine days until the Olympics end on the February 23rd because this is really the first Olympics, I think, that anyone can remember that's been held in an actual war zone, which is this is what this is. Putin has been in somewhat denial of this, but the world was sort of rudely awakened to the realities there, you know, late last year when there were those suicide bombings in Volgograd, only a few hundred miles from Sochi.
HIRSHNow, the Russians have put down an unprecedented degree of security, the so-called ring of seal, some 40,000 security police around the actual area. I think when you talk to intelligence experts, perhaps the greatest fear is not so much something will happen at the actual Olympic venue but somewhere nearby, which would be, you know, itself terribly embarrassing to the Russian government to happen during the time of the Olympics.
REHMYou know, I think there has been lots of talk about how Sochi was chosen in the first place. I don't know the answer to that. But the second question I would have is whether what we've seen at Sochi and everything leading up to it is going to, in any way, change that system of choice, David?
IGNATIUSThe system of choice for which of the city gets the Olympic Games? Well, you know, that is one of the great, appalling examples of horse trading in the world. The International Olympic Committee gets wined and dined and, you know, lobbied.
REHMYou got to wonder.
IGNATIUSIt's an unbelievable process. And then -- in this case, so a year ago, Putin say proudly that he'd managed to keep the budget for the Olympics down to $6.3 billion or something like that. It turns out, the spending will be $51 billion. This will be seven times more expensive than the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver. It will be the most expensive Olympic Games ever held. I just had been looking at interesting reports about corrupt deals that's alleged to build all these venues that we're seeing sparkle on our TV sets.
IGNATIUSAnd it's just amazing stuff. And it illustrates something that Russians really are getting upset about. I think Russians are -- feel that their country has gotten too corrupt. One of the dynamic young politicians, Alexei Navalny, has made this his signature issue. And he's got a lot of support in the country.
REHMAnd there's the other question of what happens after the Olympics are over? What happens to all these infrastructure?
HIRSHWell, I mean, sadly the data show that no country really makes any kind of return on investment, indeed they lose. The infrastructure often -- if you look at the most recent Olympics, London, you know, Athens, the infrastructure falls largely into disuse. Beijing. So the statistics just don't support the idea that this is a wise financial, you know, investment for a country. It's simply about prestige.
REHMAnd with weather, as it has been there in Sochi, with the snow not being packed enough, Scott Simon last week on Saturday "Weekend Edition" post the question as to whether we need to choose a single site for the Winter Olympics, eliminate all this wining and dining, eliminate this competition. Choose a site you can count on, choose a site you know will be cold, rather than all of this competition. What do you all think of that? Make any sense?
IGNATIUSI think Bashar Assad will be persuaded to leave power that happens. You know, the question is where would such a place be? Which country would be the beneficiary?
YOUSSEFAnd how would they become the beneficiary?
YOUSSEFHow do you become the beneficiary? What do you have to do to be that chosen site? Imagine all the deals and wining and dining that would be involved in that. So, I'm not sure -- you'd get rid of one problem and create the other.
REHMBut you would certainly reduce the amount of spending to create that site.
IGNATIUSYou would in terms of, you know, global welfare and populations, I'm sure it would be a good idea. Just to say a good word for this goofy Olympic process, I just -- I like watching them. And absurd amounts of money are spent, but each place is different. You know, the difference between Vancouver and Sochi is interesting. London, I mean, those were Olympics that just kind of got you excited.
REHMAnd I'm glad David Ignatius is excited. We're going to take a short break here. When we come back, we'll open the phones, take your calls. Stay with us.
REHMAnd we have a story from the Associated Press. France says it's increasing its military deployment in the Central African Republic by 400 soldiers, bringing the total to 2,000. This week a U.N. official warned of ethnic religious cleansing there. Powerful words. Tell us what's happening.
YOUSSEFIt's a horrific situation actually. You have these groups called anti-balaka, which were Christian groups that were formed in anger over the Muslim group that controlled the country -- took control last March, stepped down last month. There were accusations that they had raped women -- Christian women -- taken property. And one would think that the step-down of this government would lead to a calmer situation. But, in fact, it's led to a retaliation by these Christian groups angry about and essentially carrying out revenge attacks on what they say happened under that government.
YOUSSEFAnd at least 2,000 people killed, a quarter of the nation displaced, horrific crimes -- lynching of people, assassinations, widespread hunger as food is not even able to be driven in but it instead is flown in. And so the Central African Republic, being a former French colony, has been of particular interest to France and its neighboring African countries who have sent in troops. The interim president has vowed to bring stability. But the situation has gotten so out of control and is so horrific, it's hard to see how it's going to be stabilized anytime soon.
YOUSSEFBut it will fall on these troops to try to stabilize a very, very dire situation.
HIRSHYeah, I mean, this has the potential to be, you know, a sort of horrible hybrid of Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s, in terms of potential for something close to genocide, where you have clear efforts at ethnic cleansing going on in a tit-for-tat way -- where you had the previous was pushing back against the Christians. And now the Christians are cleansing and killing Muslims. I think the only possible saving grace is that the Central African Republic is a former French colony and the French have shown a certain sense of proprietaryship, if you will over their former colony, as we saw in Mali.
HIRSHSo the 2,000 French troops coupled with African Union troops, several thousand more of those, potentially could put a stop to it.
IGNATIUSI think Michael puts his finger on the one positive element here, which is that the French, whose restraint or just disinterest in what happened in Rwanda, was part of the story of that tragedy, have decided to really step up and be responsible. And they did that in Mali. They did that, now, in the Central African Republic. And, you know, that's a very encouraging step.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones now. We'll go to William in Durham, N.H. You're on the air.
WILLIAMHi. Thank you.
WILLIAMI was just wondering if your panel could comment. Last week during your show there were significant riots actually taking place or a civil disturbance in Tuzla, Sarajevo Bosnia Herzegovina. And I worked there during the war in the early 1990s. And I'm wondering, you know, what your panel thinks. You know, there's 40 percent unemployment. There's ramping corruption. Does the U.S. or the E.U. really taking any of this seriously?
WILLIAMOr is it they just forget about it after the Dayton Accords?
IGNATIUSThat's a very useful comment, because I don't have an answer. But that puts the issue on my radar screen. I don't -- I hadn't heard about the incidents. And I can't really respond, except it sounds worth looking carefully at.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Rebecca in Plainwell, Mich. You're on the air.
REBECCAGood morning, Diane.
REBECCAThank you for taking my call. And my husband's company, Flowserve International, has actually made some of the seals and wet tanks for the snow machines there at Sochi. So we kind of feel we have a piece of it. Yay. But my question would be, would it not be beneficial to have several of the Olympic venues still in operation as training facilities, like, I don't know, a half a dozen or so. And keep them, instead of letting them just fall into disrepair, use them to train the athletes.
REBECCAAnd when the Olympics are taking place, wouldn't it be better than to prove yourself on tracks and in arenas that you have been practicing in and that you are familiar with, instead of -- and nothing against going all the way across the world, because I would have loved to have been at Russia.
REHMSure. All right, Rebecca. Thanks for your call. Michael.
HIRSHWell, you know, there is something useful in the idea of reusing some of these venues. You know, why not a model, like, for example, the way the U.S. does the Super Bowl, where you go back and forth from some premier -- between premier stadiums. And then everyone gets used several times. I mean, why wouldn't you do that with premier Olympic venues. I mean, I think some discussion should be had over the idea that you spend multiple billions of dollars building venues that are never again used -- or at least substantial portions of them are never again used.
REHMExactly. All right. To Kevin in Houston, Texas. You're on the air.
KEVINHello, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
KEVINYes. My comment is that earlier dispute in regards to Asia, I realize the discussion involves dispute over the Taiwan's territory. I guess Taiwan's territory had been confused as the Chinese territory. Taiwan has been a self-ruled country and it considers itself as a country itself and not part of China.
IGNATIUSThe caller, Kevin, is right that Taiwan has a separate legal status. China asserts that Taiwan is, in an ultimate sense, part of China. Taiwan formally asserts its independence. The U.S. has committed to various sources to protect the integrity of Taiwan. I think in our discussion we were talking more about the way in which the two have become integrated economically. That was once seen as one of the real flashpoints. You know, you'd think about how World War III could start and people would talk about the Taiwan Straits during the Kennedy years and the Johnson years.
IGNATIUSPeople don't talk that way anymore. And I think it's because of changes in the political leadership in Taiwan as the Kuomintang and its approach of confrontation of China has given way to something different.
REHMAll right. To Amnon, in Jackson -- no, I think we have Al in Baltimore, Md. You're on the air.
ALYes, it's a two-part question. The first is that if any money is in on the Olympics, it's coming from the U.S. taxpayer. It's not. Why you are so worry about, you know, how much money they spend in the game? Thank you very much.
REHMWell, I'm sure Russian citizens may be somewhat concerned about that.
YOUSSEFWell, billions of dollars. And it is -- he does -- you raise a great point about why are we talking about it now? The Olympics in London were quite expensive. But every Olympics, they seem to rise more and more and these games get more and more elaborate. I think it's interesting that these Olympics, in particular, have raised so many questions about costs and venue choices. It's been an Olympics sort of mired in questions about the state of Olympics in a way that I think past Olympics haven't. And to me that's a more interesting question.
YOUSSEFWhat is it about this Olympics, at this site, at this price level, that has stirred so many questions about how the Olympics should be held; how venues should be chosen; and what's a reasonable cost to spend on these games? So that, if nothing else, are one of the few things that bring the international community together at a single event and that shouldn't be dismissed.
REHMAll right. To Achmed in Cleveland, Ohio. You're on the air.
ACHMEDOkay. Ex-Secretary of State George Shultz, according to our people, is the finest secretary of state you ever had. He suggested, not too long ago, that Syria should be divided into several state or provinces, the same way as Yemen just did not too long ago. All politics are local. Why this shouldn't be like this? I mean, do you see what I mean?
IGNATIUSI think, Achmed raises one of issues that the negotiators in Geneva are going to have to grapple with, which is that Syria today de facto partitioned. The government controls certain areas. The rebels control certain other areas. And I don't think the government will ever be able to regain control over some parts. So, increasingly, I hear people talking about a kind of federal solution for Syria, in which the different enclaves -- they're pretty geographically distinct -- the Kurds live in particular parts of Syria, the Druze live in other parts.
IGNATIUSAleppo and Damascus are complicated because you have a great intermixture of Alawite and Sunni. But I do think that in Syria's future is greater devolution of power to the regions, in part as we get local ceasefires, I hope, in particular places, to allow humanitarian aid in. You can, in effect, be drawing the lines of those future cantons or federal enclaves within the larger Syria.
REHMDavid Ignatius, Nancy Youssef, Michael Hirsh, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To John in Spring Branch, Texas. You're on the air.
JOHNGood morning. Thank you for taking my phone call.
JOHNThe mess in Syria, I'm overwhelmed by its complexities. Is there a person over there like our Abraham Lincoln that will solve the problem and make those poor people get it together?
HIRSHWell, I'm sure Assad sees himself that way, but on one else does. No, I don't think there's any figure potentially unifying like that. Getting back to what David was just saying, there needs to be at some point a realpolitik recognition of the way the country's been split up. You know the regime is basically controlling a good part of the South and the West. The mainly Islamist rebels are controlling more of the North and the East. And don't forget about the Kurds who control the extreme North and actually have been very effective at doing so.
HIRSHIt's not to say the country needs to be partitioned or split apart. But probably some kind of peace settlement -- and it may take years -- will ultimately need to recognize those realities on the ground.
YOUSSEFI hear this a lot about, you know, the borders of the region are so arbitrary and seem to be coming apart once you've removed dictatorships and strong men holding them together, that there's a more natural divide. That we go from the five states in the region up there that we have now, to potentially seven. But I worry that there are new problems that are created, that once we divide the nation so -- the region, that is, so starkly between Sunni and Shia, particularly given Iran's relationship in the region, that we create very sharp sort of Sunni/Shia dividing lines that I think pose their own threats to stability in the region.
IGNATIUSI think Nancy's absolutely right. I think the biggest mistake for U.S. policy would be to embrace, for tactical reasons, one side in this Sunni/Shia schism. Our traditional ally, Saudi Arabia, certainly would like us to embrace its line. And, as Nancy says, it's important to maintain multi-ethnic states, even though these are somewhat artificial, because they do keep these different factions together. You know, somehow Lebanon, multi-confessional, suffered through a civil war, still holds together. I mean it's, you know, so I don't think it -- people's notion this is impossible, I don't accept.
REHMAll right. To Jacksonville, Fla., and Rick. Your turn.
RICKThank you very much. I think it's time we get rid of the Olympics. And here are my reasons. It's got away from the sport. You have professionals playing it. It seems to be a money generating or construction boom for the country that gets it or the city that gets it. Prior to the Olympics, every sporting event almost, has a world championship that has been using either similar or same venues year after year, so there's very little construction cost. I think it's time that the Olympics go away. There's no value in it. There really -- national pride doesn't mean anything to the Olympics.
RICKAnd the amount of costs that we have and now we have professionals playing, I think we really need to look at get rid of them.
HIRSHWell, I mean, if that were to happen, you know, most of us would never get to see curling competitions, which, you know could... No, but...
RICKMost of us don't watch it.
HIRSHThat's true. But there are a lot of fun things that go on in the Olympics. And, you know, practically speaking, I don't think anyone would be in favor of eliminating them.
YOUSSEFYeah, I kept -- I just wanted to say, you know, I understand the argument. But I do think something that's wonderful about the Olympics and sort of the Super Bowl, in the same spirit, it's one of these events that unites a population together at a time when we're so un-united that we're able to sort of filter out other opinions. We're able to sort of hang out with only people who share our point of views. And this is one of these rare events that still resonate across populations and bring people together. And I think there's an argument that that alone might be worth keeping them.
IGNATIUSYeah, it's arguably the truly global event.
REHMOne last call on the Olympics. Victor, very quickly please.
VICTORYes. I just wanted to make the comment that I believe we should have a centralized location for the Olympics. And then each country that's chosen, you know, the country that's chosen at the time to do the Olympics, would just be in charge of, you know, decorating it and setting it up with their cultures and traditions. But the location would stay the same.
REHMWhat do you think about that, David?
IGNATIUSWell, it would save money. It sounds sort of like the common party room in the dorm. You know, and you could take turns putting up the decorations and making the punch. I mean, this may be a really retro view, but speaking for couch potatoes, I'd say, it's the Olympics. You know, it's, you know, I love these cities tarting themselves up. And, as I say, this is very politically incorrect, but I hope they don't go to a system that's uniform and has a single venue.
REHMYou -- you really, really don't want to see that happen?
IGNATIUSI'd like -- the Russians shouldn't have spend $51 billion, but...
REHMWell, precisely. Who's going to stop the next guy?
IGNATIUS...and people need to ex -- but, you know countries and cities have exercised, in recent years, greater caution. The Vancouver Olympics were wonderful. And they were done fairly inexpensively.
REHMThink about China and these structures still standing.
IGNATIUSSo authoritarian states seem to think they have to use the Olympics to say how great they are. So I'd be in favor of having authoritarian states. But let's keep the Olympics.
HIRSHI mean, arguably, international diplomacy could even be helped by these Olympics, if Putin gives in a little bit, you know, on the Syria issues -- as well as moderating on his anti-gay stance. So, you know, you could make that argument.
REHMLast word, Nancy Youssef.
YOUSSEFWell, I'm with David. I -- maybe I'm old school, but I think we should keep them. I think there's just something wonderful about it and every night we can watch someone go for the Gold. And I think that's great.
REHMNancy Youssef, Middle East Bureau Chief for McClatchy News; David Ignatius of The Washington Post; Michael Hirsh of National Journal; have a great happy Valentine's.
YOUSSEFThank you. Happy Valentine's to you.
HIRSHHappy Valentine's Day to you.
REHMAnd to all of you, thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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