President-elect Trump chooses a retired Marine general to head the Pentagon. Syrian rebels agree to form a new alliance as the regime bombards Aleppo. And thousands of Cubans turn out to watch Fidel Castro's funeral procession. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories: Russia recalls its ambassador to NATO after NATO suspends operations with Russia over the Ukraine crisis. NATO’s chief warns that Russian troops are prepared to attack Ukraine. The U.S. scrambles to rescue faltering Middle East peace talks, and weighs the release of Israeli spy, Jonathan Pollard. A wave of Taliban-led violence continues in Afghanistan ahead of Saturday’s elections. And North Korea and South Korea exchange fire across their disputed western sea border, after the North threatened to conduct more nuclear tests.
- Paul Danahar Washington bureau chief, BBC; author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring."
- Indira Lakshmanan diplomatic correspondent, Bloomberg News.
- David Ignatius columnist, The Washington Post, and contributor, "Post Partisan" blog on washingtonpost.com; author of the forthcoming novel, "The Director."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Russia recalls its ambassador to NATO after the western security alliance suspends cooperation with Russia over Ukraine. Middle East peace talks are in peril and Taliban led violence in Afghanistan spikes ahead of tomorrow's Presidential election. Joining me for the week's top international stories on the "Friday News Roundup," David Ignatius at The Washington Post, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and Paul Danahar of the BBC. You are always a guest on the program. Join us. 800-433-8850.
MS. DIANE REHMSend us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Welcome to all of you.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSHi Diane.
MR. PAUL DANAHARHi Diane.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANThanks.
REHMIndira, the wave of violence in Afghanistan ahead of Saturday's election has certainly hit two women you know very well.
LAKSHMANANWell, Kathy Gannon, who has been covering Afghanistan and South Asia for 30 years to the Associated Press is the person who I know well, who, thankfully, has survived this attack on her and her colleague, a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, who was killed, tragically, in the attack. And, you know, this is just one more example of the violence being turned against anyone in an effort to disrupt the elections. And this has happened just a few weeks after the horrible attack on the Serena Hotel, that killed a number of foreigners.
LAKSHMANANAnd also killed AFP's reporter in Kabul, along with his wife and two of his three children. And so, now, to have two more well known journalists, these two for the Associated Press, attacked on the eve of the elections, is just horrible, and I have seen some reports that the Taliban has denied responsibility for these attacks. I don't think anything is really well known at this point. They were shot at point blank range by a man in an Afghan police uniform at a checkpoint, as they were part of a convoy of election observers.
LAKSHMANANAnd that man is in custody. Apparently, he yelled Allahu Akbar and turned himself in, according to the reports we've seen. So, you know, this is one more example of the risk of violence and, you know, also the possibility, not only of people being kept away from the polls, but also worries about fraud. All sorts of things that could mar this historic election for Afghanistan.
DANAHARAnd I think the turnout's quite important, because if you look at the first election, when Karzai was voted in, three quarters of the Afghan voters turned out to vote. You look at the next poll that he took part in, only a third turned out. And that was largely because they were just pretty much sick of what was going on in Afghanistan. They weren't getting security, they weren't getting schools, they weren't getting anything out of the government. So people went to the polls very reluctantly. It'll be very interesting to see whether, in this election, people go to vote because they believe they may get some kind of difference with a new president.
REHMWhat do you expect, David?
IGNATIUSWell, the expectation is that the winner in the voting tomorrow is likely to be one of three candidates, all of whom, from the US standpoint, would be a great improvement over current President Hamid Karzai. The leader, for the moment, appears to be a former World Bank Economist, one of the most thoughtful, articulate people I've encountered anywhere in the world, a man named Ashraf Ghani, who went back to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, has courageously stayed there and worked to try to implement good policies, even with President Karzai, a very difficult person to work with.
IGNATIUSHe's Pashtun and he appears to be polling as unreliable, appears to be in the lead. There's another man named Zalmai Rassoul, another Pashtun, who's a Nephrologist by trade. And the third major candidate is Abdullah Abdullah, who's a Tajik from the north, well known to the US, because we work with the so-called Northern Alliance that he's part of, in the initial toppling of the Taliban regime. So, the election results, from the American standpoint, are likely to be a positive. The run-up to the election has been horrible.
IGNATIUSAnd I just wanna say, with Indira, knowing Kathy Gannon, having worked with her, visited her in her home, she is a courageous journalist, as was Anja Niedringhaus, the photographer, who's well-known to many people in our profession. And it's a terrible day for journalists.
REHMAnd the fact of the matter is it could be just one element to lower that whole voter turnout.
LAKSHMANANSure. That's definitely what the effort is, intimidation and fear. And we have a story running today, by myself and a colleague in Afghanistan, that begins with a whole anecdote about a woman who's friend was killed, an election worker who was killed, in the run-up to the election. And so this woman, whose husband was earlier killed in Afghanistan's violence, is afraid to go to the polls because she doesn't want to leave her children as an orphan. So, this is real, this fear.
LAKSHMANANI mean, at the same time, I just wanted to say about the logistics of how this election is gonna work. United States officials have told us that they're prepared for it to be a month's long process, that it could draw out, because of course, if one of the candidates today, and we have eight candidates left. The three frontrunners, who David described very well, that if any one of them does not receive more than 50 percent of the vote, then it will go to a runoff between the top two. We're not even expecting the Afghan authorities to so-called certify the initial results until April 28th.
LAKSHMANANSo, that's a ways off before we even know. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that fraud is happening in the meantime. It means that there are basically votes are having to be carried by donkey pack from very rural communities. So, Afghanistan is an interesting place where you have a real combination of some very high tech voting procedures in the urban areas, like Kabul, where you have some up to date voting machines. And very, very, you know, I don't want to say backwards, but very difficult circumstances, like distance, that make it hard to bring some of these ballots from areas. And they're trying to do everything.
LAKSHMANANThe authorities have tried to triple check the results and put into place a system whereby there are going to be so many different people counting and checking the ballots, they want to decrease the possibility of fraud. But that means, if there is a runoff, it could be months before we know who the new President is.
REHMWell, I was about to say, with low voter turnout, you're probably unlikely to get a clear majority for anyone out of these eight.
IGNATIUSYes. I don't want to prejudge how the voting counting or final results will go. I just note that compared to the current impasse, with an absolutely impossible President Hamid Karzai, it's conceivable that the situation will be a little bit more manageable from the standpoint of the US and its allies. And it is said that any one of the three frontrunners would be likely to endorse a continued US residual force in Afghanistan, which would help stabilize the situation. So that's another factor Americans should think about.
REHMWell, our condolences to Anja Niedringhaus, her family. And to Kathy Gannon, we wish you a complete recovery. Let's turn now to the Ukraine. NATO says Russian forces could take a large portion of Ukraine in just days, Paul.
DANAHARYeah, and the Russians are saying that they're not gonna pull their troops back. They're saying that it's their territory, if they want to have exercises on their border, they can have it. We've seen a real sea change in relationships between Europe and Russia in the last few weeks. I mean, we really have just been dragged back to a kind of Cold War mentality. And nobody really knows how to get out of this. NATO have tried to be kind of tough, and, you know, they've started a little row with Putin, but at the end of the day, it's an illustration of just how little leverage anyone has over what Putin may or may not do.
DANAHARThe man is entirely of his own devices and there's no one out there that can really check him. And he knows that.
REHMIs what President Obama is doing now, in terms of trying to talk to President Putin, trying to instill economic sanctions, to what extent is that gonna have any impact at all? David.
IGNATIUSWell, so far, it's had very little impact. A week ago, with the phone call from Putin to Obama and the dispatching of Kerry and the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov for additional talks, there was thought that, perhaps, President Obama's oft discussed exit ramp might be possible. A week later, absolutely nothing has happened. All of those same diplomatic issues are still in play, but increasingly, this discussion about how NATO can protect its members. You have the Baltic States, which feel very vulnerable. You have Poland, which has asked for additional NATO troops on its territory.
IGNATIUSAnd you have the question of whether some weapons and other military assistance should be supplied to Ukraine itself. As Ukraine looks at this large Russian force, 35 to 50 thousand troops across its border, Ukraine, with a small, weak army, is in no position to really counteract that. So, Ukraine is saying, we need vehicles. We need ammunition. We need mine removing devices. We need intelligence. And these are very difficult questions for the US and NATO to think about.
IGNATIUSBecause Russia would perceive them as direct military threats on its border.
LAKSHMANANYeah, well, it's interesting, because NATO and the Ukraine, in their meetings this week, where, you know, of course, Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but the Foreign Minister did come to the NATO meetings in Brussels and did meet with all the foreign ministers there in a sign of support by NATO for Ukraine. They already discussed and announced that they were going to intensify their cooperation. And that could include joint training and other kinds of programs, other kinds of ways that NATO could give assistance to Ukraine.
LAKSHMANANAnd that's really significant, because, in a way, you could say that at the base of all of this, of what Vladimir Putin has done, it's probably coming from his concerns about -- remember when Viktor Yanukovych, the Russian backed leader, was in power, and there looked like he was gonna sign the EU Association Agreement last fall. And Russia was furious about this, and cancelled a deal that they were going to give him money and support. And then finally, when he cancelled the agreement to sign with the EU Cooperation Deal, that's what sparked all the protests.
LAKSHMANANAnd Russia is deeply afraid of Ukraine joining the EU, joining NATO, so all of this is seen as a threat by them.
REHMIndira Lakshmanan. She's Diplomatic Correspondent for Bloomberg News. Short break here. We'll talk more about Ukraine when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International portion of our Friday News Roundup this week with Paul Danahar. He's Washington bureau chief for the BBC and author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring." Indira Lakshmanan is with Bloomberg News. David Ignatius is a columnist for the Washington Post. Here's our first email from Nick in Reston, Va. "Will NASA kick the Russians out of the space station due to the Ukraine situation," Indira?
LAKSHMANANWell, NASA has, this week, ended all cooperation with the Russian space agency with the exception of the international space station. And, you know, to do that, to take that step, I'm not sure we could do that because NASA relies on the Russians to use rockets for U.S. astronauts to travel to the space station. Because, well, remember this is after the decision made in 2011 to end the 30-year-old space shuttle program. So we rely on the Russians to take us to the space station. So I don't think that part would happen.
LAKSHMANANWhat is striking to me was the Russian reaction to -- you know, the U.S. is trying to take every move it can make as it ramps up sanctions, tries to warn Russia, try to say you're isolating yourselves. And so this was one more, you know, tool in its toolbox before it does things like cut off Russian access to credit card networks. I mean, it could really turn into full fledged economic warfare. They haven't gone that way yet.
LAKSHMANANWhat was striking to me was the deputy foreign minister of Russia Sergei Ryabkov, whose his reaction in an interview that he gave to Interfax was just stunning in its condescension, in where he basically said that the U.S. is acting like childish tantrums. And that U.S. officials need to calm themselves. And he gave them advice that they should take fresh air, do some yoga, eat better food and maybe watch some sitcoms. And calm down and accept the fact that Crimea belongs to Russia and that Russia's going to do what it needs to do.
DANAHARI think the thing is that for many, many years, Europe just hasn't thought very carefully about its expansion, its political expansion, economic expansion and the military expansion, if you look at NATO and the new members. It just kind of assumed that Russia was basically dead and buried as a big power. And it could kind of carry on and expand and do what it wanted without really putting a lot of thinking into it.
DANAHARWhen the Georgia war happened, there should have been a really big mindset that changed in Europe. And they should've been much more careful about what they did and thought about the possible reaction of Russia when you've got Putin in power. And they basically stumbled into this. They've been very unsophisticated in many, many different ways. They have not really thought about Russia under Putin. And they're not trying to dig their way out of it. And I don't really think there's any way back from this. This is going to last for a while.
IGNATIUSI think Paul makes some good points about the lack of clear European preparation, especially in dealing with the revolt in Ukraine which Europe encouraged but wasn't really prepared to deal with the consequences of. I just would caution that Putin is not a superman. He is playing a weak hand very effectively. But there's a way in which if you stand back and look at this, the further he goes the deeper into trouble he gets.
IGNATIUSI mean, stand back a few months and you see that he has lost most of Ukraine. Kiev is now moving, I think, evermore toward Europe, wanting certainly to be part of the European Union. Yes, Putin has got Crimea. Yes, he is rattling the border of Eastern Ukraine and threatening cities like Donetsk and Kharkiv, but that's not the same as having Ukraine as a reliable buffer. So, you know, the same would apply, I think, elsewhere.
IGNATIUSEuropeans are now looking at Russia in a different way and making plans to reduce their dependence on Russian energy. And if I were Putin, I'd be thinking five to ten years out I have a big problem.
REHMBut could it be possible, David, that Putin would push this just a little too far and perhaps make a very serious mistake that could affect everyone?
IGNATIUSThat's the thing that's haunting everyone who looks at this. We're at the anniversary of World War I where we see that miscalculation that leads to absolute disastrous consequences is possible in real life. So it is possible. You know, the idea of a war in Ukraine that could become a broader European war, which would've been unthinkable a couple months ago, is now something people really have to plan for.
IGNATIUSHow would -- the U.S. has two effective combat brigades in Europe now. How would the U.S. deliver on its commitment to NATO allies? Suppose Putin moved across the border to protect Russian speakers in Latvia or other Baltic states? And those discussions are now beginning in earnest in NATO. And they're scary discussions. And it's going to take a while to sort them out. But as Paul says, Europe has really delayed this too long.
LAKSHMANANI want to build on a point that David made, which I think is a really good one about Russia and its energy supplies to Ukraine and the rest of Europe. And the fact that Russia has now decided it's going to raise Ukraine's natural gas price effectively 81 percent this month, which means that Ukraine, which is right next door to Russia and which has all these key pipelines through its own land that take Russian gas to the rest of Europe, is going to be paying more for gas than all of the rest of Europe. Higher gas prices than Germany is paying for Russian gas.
LAKSHMANANAnd, you know, Ukraine relies on gas from the state gas provider in Russia for half of its gas. And it carries about 15 percent of Europe's gas through its pipelines. Now, what's stunning about this is that it is accelerating the discussion in the U.S. congress about trying to lift restrictions that we have in this country about the export of American liquefied natural gas, exporting it to other countries with which we do not have free trade agreements. And this has been a contentious issue because trying to keep gas in the United States for U.S. use.
LAKSHMANANBut now you see more and more members of congress saying, wait a second. We need to get this gas out there to Europe. We need to get it to Ukraine, to Germany and to other countries who need our help. Now, that discussion is in some ways ahead of itself because we don't have the infrastructure to do that yet. But I could certainly see these rules changing. And let's remember, Putin has built up his economy and his oligarch towards his allies largely on the back of a petro state.
LAKSHMANANAnd, you know, there are a lot of people in the U.S. government at high levels who think that his weakness is that he doesn't really make anything, that his country's economy has been built on this extractive resource model. And that if that's all you do, your economy is vulnerable to changes in the energy markets and specifically to the loss of customers if you start behaving this way.
REHMSo what do you think, what further steps do you see NATO actually taking, Paul?
DANAHARI don't think NATO can do much more than bluster on many different levels. But I think that the economic point is an important one. I think it really is changing the way that all of the western powers look at their energy supplies. I think the interesting thing now with this shale oil and gas revolution that we're all talking about, increasingly that's being seen as a potential not only economic tool, but political tool in the future, not just for Europe but for the Middle East.
DANAHARWe've seen kind of Obama recently off talking to the Saudis. They're absolutely in hysterics over the potential for losing their political influence because of the rise of American energy power. So I think we are seeing a shift. I think perhaps Putin is trying to act now before he does become much weaker, as David was saying. But I think the key thing is the Europeans didn't think this through. They are having lots of conversations now. They probably should've had them a few years ago when the Russians went into Georgia.
REHMIs there any truth in at least your own surmising that Putin is trying to reconstruct a Soviet conglomerate, a Soviet -- a second Soviet Union, David?
IGNATIUSWell, when Vladimir Putin dreams at night about, you know, the -- he sees red banners and hears the old communist anthems. But I don't think realistically that he thinks about reconstructing the Soviet Union. He is -- one thing about Putin is he does say what he feels. And he's described the end of the Soviet Union as a catastrophic event. And he's obviously deeply marked by it.
IGNATIUSAnd so the sense of loss of prestige, we were on the top of the world, we were the other super power and now we're nothing. We're treated like dirt. We were governed by some of the Russians viewed as a unreliable drunk, is what people would tell you. We had a corrupt criminal class. The country was falling apart. And now I, Vladimir Putin, am going to restore Russian pride. The Olympics were about that and you'd have to say that the invasion of Crimea followed the Olympics, you know, this sort of dark, you know, tough military side of what was on display in a very attractive way at the Sochi Olympics.
LAKSHMANANYeah, I wanted to say that while I don't think he wants to restore the Soviet state, you know, as in the U.S.S.R. and the old communist model, I do think he wants to restore, as David says, the old glory of what Russia's empire had at the time. And, you know, he's been famously quoted as saying that, that he's -- remember this is a guy who was the KGB chief and he said that it's been a catastrophe for his country, the breakup of the Soviet Union.
REHMBut how can he do that without acquiring...
LAKSHMANANWell, what he -- I think what he feels, and he has said this out loud, is encirclement. He feels encirclement by NATO and by the West. And on one level you can't blame the guy. In that 12 former Warsaw Pact Soviet, you know, or Soviet Republics that used to be part of the U.S.S.R. are now part of NATO, including, you know, Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Latvia, Estonia. So he does feel encircled. And I think it's striking that President Obama, in his own words speaking in Europe last week said, we are not trying to encircle Russia.
LAKSHMANANAnd so he's tried to say, you know, we understand Russia's concerns but I think when he saw the possibility that Ukraine might be, you know, linked to EU or NATO and the whole idea of Russia losing its Black Sea fleet in Crimea, I think that's why he acted. But I do agree, he's trying to rebuild some of his empire. And we don't know at this point how far he's going to go in Eastern Ukraine.
IGNATIUSEurope and NATO are just the beginning of Putin's problem. He has a 2500-mile border with the Islamic world. He has a 3,000-mile border with the rising China. When you look at Putin's long term prospects in a country that's losing population every year, every year Russia becomes smaller and weaker, you realize this is very, very -- I think he's just sort of the man on the edge of the cliff, which is why this is dangerous.
REHMAnd you agree with that, Paul.
DANAHARYes, I do. I think, you know, the reality is you would really want to be trying to reconstruct the Soviet Union from where he is at the moment. I think it's about pride. And the Russians have had a kicking over the years. They've felt that what they had has been lost. So you can understand why they're doing that. And I think it's always very difficult to manage people's pride and manage how they get that back. And I think, you know, the irrational always comes out.
REHMAnd that's the part that worries me and I'm sure is worrying analysts who are watching Vladimir Putin who know his sense of strong pride, his belief in the Russian ethic or ethos and want to see it restored. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's talk about another part of the world, North Korea, South Korea. What is happening, David?
IGNATIUSWell, the North Koreans are continuing to try to rattle sabers, talking about new missile tests that -- or not just missile tests but the nuclear weapon tests that might -- analysts think test a small enough nuclear device that it could be carried on an ICBM and pose a real threat beyond its borders. There's talk now that people who were associated with Kim Jung Un's, the new North Korean leader, his uncle who was executed in December, that 200 of them may be killed in a purge that reminds you of the days of Stalin. North Korea just seems to keep racing backward in time even as it has this very modern nuclear program.
DANAHARAnd North Korea is perhaps the oddest place I've ever been to. I mean, it's like going into a James Bond movie circa 1960 something.
LAKSHMANANBut with none of the girls and none of the humor. That's the problem.
DANAHARNone of the girls, none of the humor, all of the pictures and all of the craziness. And the thing about it is that no one in North Korea believes necessarily they may end the day alive. You just don't know. You just don't know how you're going to get through the day. There is massive paranoia. People just disappear. You worry that whether your next door neighbor or your wife may be kind of informing on you. So this is a paranoid nation with a man at the top who is incredibly paranoid.
DANAHARAnd the problem for the South is they don't know how to deal with him. He's too much of an unknown quantity because he's very young. He has proved to be incredibly brutal. And so every time something happens the South Koreans have to calibrate what they do because they have to do something for their own political necessities. But they can't go too far. So this is -- every single time this is, how far can we go, what can we do? We've got to do something. We can't wait, but we mustn't push it too far because we don't know what he'll do.
LAKSHMANANRight. And remember that every one of the conflicts that we've had between North and South Korea in the last half dozen years, some of which have ended in deaths on a South Korean island and, you know, the sinking of a ship, you know, have all begun with what South Korea and the United States referred to as North Korean provocations. And we've seen -- we're seeing more of that. So we saw North Korea firing 100 artillery rounds into the South Korean waters as part of a drill. And then that prompted the South Koreans to fire back.
LAKSHMANANWe've seen reports about two North Korean drones found in South Korea with spy cameras on them. And even though the South Koreans are describing them as crude and low tech still, you know, drones on their land. And all this talk about the execution of the 200 relatives of the -- 200 loyalists of the uncle plus that a thousand of those people's family members are to be sent to concentration camps.
LAKSHMANANAnd what I found striking about all of this is that, you know, North Korea's state-run media has been not only as bombastic as it always is, but has also added to it the element of sexism, making constantly sexist remarks about the female president of South Korea, about the treacherous swish of her skirt and, you know, similar comments. And what is striking, as Paul says, when you go to North Korea is either how brainwashed the people are who you meet or just completely terrified.
REHMNow how many American troops are stationed there on the border between North and South Korea?
IGNATIUSDiane, forgive me, some thousands is the way I'm going to answer that because I don't have a precise number. But we're still there as a tripwire really, as a way to deter North Korea from even more extreme actions. And it's believed that we have nuclear weapons close by as a way of deterring North Korea.
LAKSHMANANRight. And, of course, South Korean and North Korean troops who actually face off at the border there at Panmunjom. But the United States forces in ROK, Republic of Korea and South Korea, they are there but, you know, it's really the South Korean forces who are doing the main defense at the border. There's been a lot of discussions in recent years about where our forces should be based within the country, but we're still very much there and backing them up.
LAKSHMANANAnd they're of course a treaty ally which means if they are threatened, we are required, we have a treaty obligation to protect them. And they do fall under our nuclear umbrella, just like Japan does.
REHMSo once again, it could take just one mistake.
DANAHARIt could but I don't think that mistake will come because the Chinese don't want to have a catastrophe on their border either. So I think they will manage it even though the guy is very difficult to manage. It's just going to carry on like this for a while.
REHMPaul Danahar, Washington bureau chief for the BBC. Short break here. We'll come back and open the phones, your comments, questions. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to open the phones, your comments, questions. First to Dan in Sharon, WI. Hi there, you're on the air, go right ahead.
DANI'm just wondering how many thousands more die both Americans and indigenous in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and now I'm afraid coming up in the Ukraine simply because we look at all problems of the world through the filter of our culture and our political structure?
DANAHARI think lots, unfortunately. I think the problem is that these are very complicated parts of the world. America has got itself -- I don't think America can be blamed for the Ukraine, but it can be blamed quite heavily, I think, for the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan where both were botched. But I think that's really a consequence the decision that's taken a long time ago. In Afghanistan's case, America didn't want to be in there.
DANAHARSo I think we have to measure this with regard to the fact that America was called into these conflicts, apart from Iraq, didn't seek them. And certainly the way the administration now doesn't really want to be in any of those three locations. So there is an attempt by America to pull itself out of wars. But it's very difficult when you're the only superpower.
IGNATIUSOne of the hunting things about watching President Obama conduct foreign policy is that he very much wants to, as he says, end the decade of war, end this period of very costly mistakes for the United States and get American foreign policy on a new footing. But in a world where you have people like Vladimir Putin who are all too willing to invade their neighbor, where you have Kim Jong Un who is a reckless dictator, killing 200 of his citizens, one day firing off missiles the next, it's been tough for Obama to make that policy work.
IGNATIUSAnd as we see in much of the world he is increasingly criticized as a weak and feckless leader. So while sympathizing with the caller's point, when you look at Obama's efforts to try to get things on a different footing, you see how hard it is.
REHMAll right, to Samuel in Upper Marlboro, MD. Hi there. Sam?
SAMUELHey. How you doing?
REHMFine. Thank you, sir. Go right ahead.
SAMUELMy statement and question is, why we keep being jaws of war when it comes to Russia. Russia already said that's all they were going to do. They said it before they even went in there that they don't want Ukraine and that side of Ukraine to join NATO and get too close to Europe. It's like we're just trying to stir up a conflict where there's no conflict. And I don't think Americans have appetite for all that military talk.
SAMUELBecause if Russia is not a military war, I don't think the American people would back us going to war with Russia, especially not for Ukraine. I don't think so. So...
REHMAll right, thanks for you call.
LAKSHMANANI think Samuel's absolutely right that the American public would not support a war with Russia and certainly not for Ukraine. And that's the hard truth of it. At the same time, you know, you see not only John Kerry and President Obama who've repeatedly said that it seems unthinkable of it in the 221st century that a country should be allowed to redraw the map of the world using force.
LAKSHMANANOf course the U.S. leaders were mocked for saying this in the aftermath of what the George W. Bush administration did in Iraq. But even the NATO secretary general, you know, Rasmussen said this week that it's absolutely impossible and that Russia's aggression is the gravest threat to European security in a generation and it threatens our vision of Europe as whole and free and peaceful.
LAKSHMANANSo I think the problem here is that the U.S. and its NATO allies do have to react, do have to draw a line and say you can't just go seizing parts of other countries.
REHMHere's an email from Ed, "If Putin were to invade one of the Baltic states like Latvia, Estonia on the presumption of protecting an ethnic minority, it would trigger the NATO Mutual Defense Cause assume that Germany, France, Holland, U.K. would be reluctant to honor such a cause and the U.S. doesn't have the stomach, wouldn't such an action be a calculated risk that could result in the emasculation of NATO?
DANAHARBut I think it's too much of a risk for Putin to take. I think he's -- he's not a stupid man. He may be a proud man, he may be slightly erratic, but he's not stupid. I really can't see him deliberately forcing the issue with NATO.
IGNATIUSI agree with Paul. I think it's unlikely that he would directly threaten NATO. There are discussions that have been ongoing for years, but they've become very, very intense in the last month about how NATO would react when you have limited movable force. NATO has nuclear -- tactical nuclear weapons. You certainly don't want to be put in a situation where that's your only recourse.
IGNATIUSSo there are brigades that could be moved quickly into the Baltic states, how would you do that. That's the kind of thinking that's going on. I think the big fear is that NATO, this alliance that's been so important to the U.S. and Europe will be shown in this crisis to be hollow.
REHMAll right. And to Tim in Lambertville, MI. Hi there.
TIMHi, Diane. Panel members, would you please comment on the irony of the Red Army pushing the foreign fascists out of Ukraine in 1943, '44 if the western Ukrainian fascist sympathizers and talking about the Stepan Bandera-led UPA fringe group at that time, fringe group fighting against the Red Army. And now, 70 years later, the official central Ukrainian authority with German-made military weapons takes an artillery pointing at Russia. Pointing in the opposite direction. What has gone about this grand historical reversal in just 70 years?
LAKSHMANANWell, your caller certainly knows his history and has made some really interesting parallels. But I will say that I think the difference now is that while there were, you know, some fascists and extremists members among the demonstrators in Ukraine and Kiev that started back in November, they are by no means the people who actually took control of the government.
LAKSHMANANSo while it's convenient for Vladimir Putin and for the Russian state run media to whip up public support and propaganda in Russia and in the Russian community overseas by saying that they're fascists who are running the government, there are actually no evidence of that. You know, as I said, while those people were some of the fringe members among the protestors, they are certainly not representative of the acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsensenyuk or his government.
LAKSHMANANAnd so, it just becomes a convenient foil for Putin to blame it on fascists when we actually have no evidence or reports of Russian-Ukrainians being persecuted or have actual fascists attacks on people. So all of the things that he's saying are threat, we have no evidence that any of that actually took place.
DANAHARI do think, you know, when historians look back at this administration, this American administration, they will wonder to what extent the decision to step back from the red line last year over Syria to basically show America indecisive when it came to taking some kind of military action. I think that will be seen as a turning point within the administration in terms of how it saw itself, but how the outside world saw it.
DANAHARI think that was incredibly important moment. You can argue that while George Bush had Georgia and that -- but I do think -- George Bush was a different kind of president. He'd already gone to war. So he proved that he could do it if he wanted to. Obama hasn't done that, and I think that was a key moment and I think he fell that moment.
IGNATIUSIt will be a question for historians. Right now, I'd be inclined to agree with Paul, but certainly in terms of perceptions. When I travel overseas, I do hear people talk about a weak, somewhat unreliable Obama and they usually trace that to the failure to deliver on the red line. I mean, when a president say they are drawing a red line, if they don't back it up, they do lose credibility for real. And that's what we're watching.
REHMSo, how is that mistake, if you will, that is drawing that red line for Syria going to be compared or contrasted to President Bush's decision to go into war in Iraq? I think, you know, they're parallels, opposite parallels here in terms of how history is going to judge.
DANAHARI think one of the important things is that people in the Middle East certainly will look back at the way that America didn't get involved in the mass murder of 150,000 people and counting. And that would do almost as much damage, perhaps as much damage to the perception of America in the Middle East as the War on Terror did, as Abu Ghraib did, as all those kind of, you know, the water-boarding, the CIA extractions.
DANAHARIt's a really damaging thing. I spoke to General (word?) who was trying to kind of impose or at least observe some kind of ceasefire and help impose some kind of ceasefire. And he said to me, a generation of young Middle Eastern people have felt betrayed again by a president that they thought was bringing them a new beginning, if you remember the title of that speech in Cairo. And I think that will be a lasting legacy for Obama in the Middle East.
LAKSHMANANI want to say that I think that what we've seen here is a pendulum swing. Remember that you had eight years of President Bush that created an image of the United States overseas as aggressive, as invading countries without reason, as acting unilaterally, not listening to the world. And when Obama was elected, he was elected to get the United States out of wars, to pull the United States out of Iraq and out of Afghanistan.
LAKSHMANANHe made that commitment and he also said I'm going to spend the next year or eight years with repairing the United States image. And remember, he send his first secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. And having traveled with her for four years, I can say she's spent a lot of her time doing damage control, image repair, public diplomacy all over the world. And that was seen as being a big success, repairing the United States image.
LAKSHMANANBut I can also say that after President Obama made the decision that despite having said that about the red line that he was not going to strike Syria even though the United States tried to present it. The administration tried to present it as this is a victory because we got the chemical weapons out in cooperation with our Russian partners, and so we don't have to bomb Syria. It was presented as a victory.
LAKSHMANANBut I heard from foreign ministers from Asia, senior leaders from the Middle East, you know, this is sending a bad message. And at the time, people were worried about the message it was going to send to China because of the South China Sea disputes. People were concerned about the message it was going to send throughout the Middle East. This was the beginning, I would say, of the rift with the Saudis that we are seeing the results of now. I don't think anybody at the time realized it was going to be sending this message to Russia that, you know, of potential weakness.
IGNATIUSI don't want us to end this conversation without noting that one of the lessons of Iraq is be careful about using force to topple authoritarian regimes if you don't know what's going to replace them. We've seen that in Iraq, still suffering from chaos. We've seen it in Libya, a terrible mess. We're seeing a very destabilized Syria. So the idea that President Obama should have just let the missiles fly in Syria and then worry about the details later, no, that's not the lesson of this.
IGNATIUSI thought, since I traveled to Aleppo with the Syrian opposition in the fall of 2012 that the U.S. really does need to be training, assisting, helping in hundred different ways the opposition, not just to fight Bashar al-Assad, but to fight the jihadists and to rebuild the country, to have people who are trained, who know how to work together. So it'd be wrong just to, I think -- just to say the lesson here is, you know, is go in and use military force because we've seen actually that doesn't work very well unless it's combined with a lot of these other things.
REHMAnd now we've got more than a million refugees from Syria into Lebanon.
DANAHARI think to pick up on David's point, the lesson is not to bomb, the lesson is not to threaten if you're not going to follow through on your action.
DANAHARI mean, that's the big mistake.
LAKSHMANANAnd if you're damned if you do, damned if you don't on some level.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Speaking of damned if you do and you don't, Secretary John Kerry.
IGNATIUSSecretary Kerry who has made Israeli-Palestinian peace really his signature issue is in the process, it appears, this week of failing in that endeavor. We're seeing as kind of a slow motion car wreck as one thing after another the Israelis delay release of prisoners who were supposed to be released March 29. The Israelis announced plans to build new settlements in an area the Palestinians think is part of their territory in the future.
IGNATIUSPalestinians do what they said they wouldn't, which is to join UN agencies. The Israelis cancel of this, suddenly the whole thing is unraveling. And Kerry is trying desperately to see if he can pull some pieces together. We'll just have to watch over the next 48 hours how he does.
DANAHARI think the big thing here is what we've seen is a secretary of state who wants the deal more than the two sides. And America has always said it can't work like that. And I think that Pollard, the discussion of whether to release the Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard was an illustration of that. Kerry has got himself into a situation where everybody thinks the peace deal was about him and not about them.
DANAHARAnd the two sides don't really want to do a peace deal at the moment. Certainly, many people on the extreme ends of both sides. Much of the Israeli right doesn't want to deal because he wants Area C, which is about 62 percent of the West Bank for themselves. And many of the Palestinian hardliners are saying, let's just get rid of the P.A., the Palestinian Authority, let's try and fight the apartheid campaign like we did in South Africa. So there are elements on both sides that are saying we want it to fail.
LAKSHMANANJust to say it would be wrong for us to blame President Obama for all of the problems we're having around the world. I think it's also wrong to blame Secretary of State Kerry for the failure of Mideast peace process in the sense that the two sides have to want it, as Paul said. And, you know, there are a lot of long-standing problems that preexist John Kerry's involvement in all of this.
LAKSHMANANI think the problem at this point is that there are hard-line elements on each side that are making it hard for the moderates to make a deal. And when you have a minister in the Israeli government who was announcing new settlements, it's a real slap in the face to Mahmoud Abbas, then he says, well, fine, then we're going to go try to join 12 UN agencies unilaterally and try to go it alone.
LAKSHMANANThink about the serious implications for U.S. policy if that goes forward, because the U.S. would then be congressionally mandated to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority, which is the only moderate force there. It would be required to cut off funding to the UN agencies who then recognized the Palestinian Authority as a legitimate state. So we have -- you know, there's a whole heap of problems here.
LAKSHMANANAnd I think the U.S. administration have been trying very hard to say the peach process is not unraveling, but there's no question that at the moment it seems to be on life support. But how realistic and how useful would it have been to release Jonathan Pollard, David?
IGNATIUSWell, in terms of keeping the peace process going, if that would have been the ingredient that would have gotten Israeli concessions there, that gotten their release of Palestinian prisoners, Kerry would argue that it would have been worth it.
IGNATIUSBut I think there's a general feeling that it was just unseemly that it was -- that it appeared desperate and in a way demean everybody involved in it. Just to quote, one thing come to realize in too many years in Washington at least it's never over even when it's over. I mean, even when -- you written the postmortem as we are now, be careful about that, there, it's...
REHMBut it does seem to have been a fairly depressing week, you guys. So...
REHMI'm going to end on that note. I keep hoping for something else, but it hasn't shown up yet. David Ignatius of the Washington Post, author of the forthcoming novel, "The Director." Indira Lakshmanan, diplomatic correspondent for Bloomberg News. Paul Danahar, he's with the BBC, author of "The News Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring." Thank you all.
REHMHave a great weekend, everybody. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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