Russia launches another round of airstrikes in Syria. In Afghanistan, fighting with the Taliban continues in Kunduz. And a Palestinian flag flies at the U.N. for the first time. A panel of journalists joins guest host Melissa Block for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
Pro-Russian militants extend their reach in eastern Ukraine. Iraqis turn out for their first nationwide elections since the U.S. troop withdrawal. And Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams is questioned over his alleged role in a decades-old IRA slaying. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- 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.
- Joanna Biddle State Department correspondent, AFP.
- Jonathan Tepperman managing editor, Foreign Affairs.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Ukraine says pro-Russian separatists shot down two of their helicopters in eastern Ukraine. Iraqis turn out for their first nationwide elections since the US troop withdrawal and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams spends a second night in custody over his alleged role in a decades old IRA slaying. Joining me for the "International Hour," the "Friday News Roundup," Jonathan Tepperman at Foreign Affairs, Joanna Biddle with AFP, and James Kitfield of The National Journal and Atlantic Media's Defense One.
MS. DIANE REHMI hope you'll join the conversation. Give us a call. 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Welcome to all of you.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDGood morning.
MS. JOANNA BIDDLEGood morning.
MR. JONATHAN TEPPERMANGood to be back.
REHMGood to see you again. Do we know, for certain, that it was pro-Russian rebels who shot down the two Ukrainian helicopters?
TEPPERMANI don't think we know for certain. What we do know is that whoever did it had the capability to shoot down a helicopter, and that means one thing. That the Russians were involved in one way or another, either directly by having their own people -- you know, eastern Ukraine, now, is filled with what the Ukrainians are calling little green men. These are the soldiers in matching, brand new uniforms, stripped of insignia, who are carrying high tech Russian weapons.
TEPPERMANIncluding shoulder mounted surface to air missiles. So, it could have been them. Or, it could have been the thugs and Mafioso and Ukrainian nationalists that -- or, excuse me, pro-Russian forces that they've cobbled together into this resistance movement. But, the weapon had to come from Russia, whether or not the individual did.
REHMDo you agree, James Kitfield?
KITFIELDWell, I suppose it's possible that the weapon came from an armory. But it does suggest that, you know, that it was a Ukrainian armory. But it does suggest that members of the armed forces, or the Russians, you know, members of the previous Ukrainian armed forces have gone to the other side and have taken the side of the pro-Russian protestors. Or, as Jonathan says, you know, Russia has sort of supplied these. What we do know is that there are Russian special forces in eastern Ukraine. There was a very good media expose that showed pictures of the same guys that were involved from the Russian special forces in Georgia in 2008.
KITFIELDI mean, you can see their faces. I mean, so we know that is happening. We know that anyone flying helicopters is probably the government. There's no, you know, the pro-Russian mob doesn't have helicopters. So, there's someone who didn't want the government to be able to fly helicopters in that region. So, I suggest it's the pro-Russian forces, and as Jonathan says, it strongly suggests it's a sophistication, militarily there, that suggests either Russia has a hand in it or there are military people who have gone to the other side.
REHMSo, Joanne Biddle, you have President Putin talking with German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday. And today, she is here at the White House speaking with President Obama. What are they all saying about this mishmash in Ukraine?
BIDDLEWell, I think, today, the Russians came out after the shooting down of the helicopters and said that this is going to complicate the mission to rescue the OSCE observers, who are also believed to be held in Sloviansk, as well, in the same town where we see these helicopters having been downed. And also, I think the Russians also said this morning that because of this, this is going to make it very difficult to implement, if they were ever going to implement, the terms of the Geneva Accord that was reached a couple of weeks ago between the US, Kiev, Ukraine and the EU.
BIDDLEOn the American side, I must admit, I did not see what was said this morning. But, I think the Americans are increasingly worried about what's happening in Ukraine and also increasingly finding it very difficult to contain this. I'm worried that this, incrementally, this could become a flashpoint. I don't know if anybody saw yesterday, but the Ukrainian President actually issued a general military conscription. So, he's obviously trying -- thinking of pushing up the number of forces that he has available on the ground. And again, this just increases tensions, which is a very serious situation on Europe's doorstep.
TEPPERMANI suspect one of the things that the President is stressing with Chancellor Merkel, today, is to increase ways that Germany can cooperate with the sanctions regime that the United States is trying to build. You know, the big problem, thus far, and one of the reasons that the United States has still been moving relatively slowly on sanctions. There are two. One, it's a graduated approach, right? And you don't want to fire your big gun right away, because you want to save it in reserve.
TEPPERMANBut the other is that all of Europe has a much closer economic relationship with Russia.
TEPPERMANAnd especially Germany. Germany buys a third of its gas from Russia. European trade with Russia, is 370 billion dollars a year. American trade with Russia is 26 billion dollars a year. So, whatever measures are taken to hurt the Russians, economically, are going to have some big impact on the Europeans.
REHMBut how much of an impact are they gonna have on Russia, James?
KITFIELDWell, I mean this is the point. We've been trying to get European unity behind tougher sanctions. As Jonathan says, Germany is key to that. They have, as he said, 30 percent of their energy comes from Russia. But even more importantly, they have the closest relationship with the Russians, of all the Europeans, you know, and let's not forget that Angela Merkel grew up as an East German speaking -- as part of the Soviet Union back then. Putin was stationed in East Germany. They speak German together when they're talking.
KITFIELDAnd there's a lot of speculation that after they took these OSCE monitors prisoner, the pro-Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine, took a monitoring mission prisoner, four of those were Germans, and so there's speculation that maybe Merkel's getting off the dime, that she's reached, really the limit of her tolerance. And if that's the case, we might see the announcement come out of this meeting that there will be somewhat tougher sanctions coming.
REHMI'm still asking what kinds of sanctions do you have to impose that are truly going to have an impact, Jo.
BIDDLEI think, on the American side, what they have said that they're prepared to do, if they see a full scale invasion, is impose sanctions on sectors such as energy, Russian energy, Russian mining, Russian finance, you know? So far, what they've done is limited targeted sanctions against individuals and one or two companies. The Europeans haven't really even targeted the companies. They've targeted individuals. So, I think there has been somewhat a frustration on the American side that they can't get the Europeans to step up more.
BIDDLEOn the other hand, they realize that it's difficult for them.
REHMOf course. And still, the question becomes how stubborn is Putin? How much will he hold out and continue to march forward in Ukraine?
KITFIELDYou know, and to your point about what sanctions. The big gun in the sanctions is the banking sector. We, because we have the dollar as the global reserve, if we tell, if we have sanctions that sort of limit Russia's banks ability to do any kind of dollar transaction, and this is what brought, basically, Iran to the table too. It was the banking sector's sanctions that are the really big guns and potentially effective. Putin's very stubborn here.
KITFIELDI mean, he has proven himself as someone who believes his rhetoric about wanting to have, sort of -- he's a revisionist power, who basically thought that the dissolution to the Soviet Union was the worst catastrophe of the last century. And he wants to start rebuilding that near abroad in ways that, if he doesn't, you know, basically own those countries, he wants them to sort of look first to Moscow. And I think what we're seeing right now is the slow dismemberment of Ukraine along those lines. Eastern Ukraine's gonna either be in his sphere, or it's gonna be -- he's basically saying, the country's gonna be split in half.
REHMSo, how far is he gonna go? That's the issue. How far will he go if those kinds of sanctions are imposed on the financial sector as a whole?
KITFIELDWell, the problem is those sanctions take a while to bite. I mean, this is a slow motion process, and he's -- you know, time is on his side, because events are really spinning out of control very quickly in Ukraine. So, you know, we're looking at something like a Cold War chill coming back in relationship if Ukraine is split in half, even if he doesn't invade. Because everyone understands that his forces are behind a lot of this agitation. So, you know, it's hard to see how this ends very well.
TEPPERMANI agree with everything that James has said. Whatever measures we're going to take against the Russians are going to take time. That said, in the long term, I can see a scenario where Putin is forced to pull back, and as stubborn as he is, there are two reasons for that. One because Putin has staked his popularity and his Presidency on two appeals to the Russian people. One, this new muscular form of Russian nationalism, which is why events are playing so well. But the other is improving Russians' economic conditions.
TEPPERMANAnd that's, of course, done through Russian energy imports -- exports, excuse me. And as the Russian economy continues to tank, that's gonna get harder and harder to do. Two, the sanctions are already starting to go after many of Putin's close cronies. These are the oligarchs who keep him in power. The bank sanction this week, for example, where small boutique banks, owned by childhood friends of Putin, Judo sparring partners, and these boutique banks are very interesting, because Putin uses them to finance pet projects.
TEPPERMANSo, by attacking, by sanctioning those banks, the -- Washington has done two things. One, we're saying we know how crony capitalism in Russia works. We can follow the money. And two, we're gonna make it harder for you to spend your secret dollars, or secret rubles, in this case, the way in which you would like to do. More pressure on the oligarchs means that this key support base of Putin's may become more and more uncomfortable with his rule. And if they start to withdraw their support and the Russian people, suffering from severe economic decline start to feel the pinch as well, that could eventually affect his calculus.
TEPPERMANBut, as you say, we're dealing a very stubborn man.
REHMAnd in the meantime, the IMF gives a 17.5 or one billion dollar bailout for Ukraine. Jo?
BIDDLEYes. That was approved just a couple of days ago, and I believe the first (word?) of around about three billion is going to be available in the next couple -- almost immediately. So, this money will become available. Of course, the irony, to a certain extent is a lot of this going to have to go to pay off the gas bill. So, they have a gas problem.
REHMJoanna Biddle is State Department Correspondent for AFP. Short break here. When we come back, we'll talk about Iraq going to the polls for the first time since US troops have left that country.
REHMAnd here is our first email from Michael who says, "I still haven't heard a logical explanation for why the U.S. has an interest in Ukraine." Let's talk a little about that, Jo, and the upcoming elections in Ukraine.
BIDDLEWell, I think the U.S. is very keen to avoid any kind of instability in Europe basically. United States and Europe are obviously huge partners. Instability in Ukraine would have an effect not just on Ukraine but also could have spillover effects to other Baltic countries, to countries like Poland, that are terribly worried about what's happening in Ukraine. Which is why we see NATO step up some of its military assets in the region as a kind of signal that they're taking this seriously.
BIDDLEI think one of the reasons that this is playing out so badly at the moment is because, as you mentioned, there's going to be elections on May 25, presidential elections. Many people feel that it's in Putin's interest to try and create as much chaos as he can ahead of those elections so that they can't hold what would be considered a free and fair election. And that any government that resulted out of that would be seen to be illegitimate.
TEPPERMANThere's one other reason that the United States cares, and it's a matter of principle, which is that the United States does not want a world system in which it is seen as legitimate to take the territory of other countries by force, which Russia has now done with Crimea and is in the process of doing in Eastern Ukraine. It's not hard to see why that would be problematic.
TEPPERMANAnd, by the way, that's why one of Russia's closest allies, in fact its closest friend, China is extremely uncomfortable with what's been going on, which is why China has abstained rather than voting with Russia against UN Security Council resolutions condemning what's happened there. The Chinese are very uncomfortable with any move that is seen to weaken national sovereignty. And that’s exactly, of course, what the Russians have been doing in Ukraine.
REHMDo you see NATO putting boots on the ground in Ukraine, James Kitfield?
KITFIELDAbsolutely not. There's not a chance -- I won't use an expletive, but that's just not going to happen. And, you know, Ukraine is not a member of NATO. There was talk at one point and basically Putin sort of made some sort of threatening comments. And it was understood that, you know, there's a -- part of the NATO charter says you must add to the security of the alliance if you ever become a member. Well, you know, if you're a country that, you know, has Russian troops, you know, infiltrating and half your people speak Russian and it's not clear that you're a unified country, you're not going to add to NATO security.
KITFIELDBut I will say this about NATO. I mean -- and I've talked to senior U.S. officials -- military officials this week. I mean, this has really got their attention. It's going to force us to reinvigorate NATO's deterrent posture, which means more U.S. troops, whether on a rotational basis -- I think quite possibly put some troops back into Europe. We took two heavy brigades out of there. We left a brigade of tank preposition equipment.
KITFIELDYou're going to see a lot more emphasis placed on, you know, NATO deterrence again. And that was not something the military, which is downsizing, looking at the problems in the Middle East and hoping to pivot to Asia. You know, to take Jo's point, was really hoping to have to worry about but that's back on its plate.
REHMAll right. And before we turn to the elections in Iraq whose outcome we won't know for at least a couple of weeks, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, Republican of California, has now issued a subpoena to Secretary of State John Kerry to testify about the 2012 attacks in Benghazi.
REHMThat subpoena comes one day after Issa accused the Obama Administration of potentially criminal behavior over allegations that the White House withheld emails from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, discussing the attacks which sadly killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, Jonathan.
TEPPERMANWell, if you need any more evidence that the Republican attacks and focus on Benghazi in general is political and an attempt to hurt the administration, this is your evidence. Because of course Secretary Kerry was not Secretary of State at the time of the event. So...
REHMWhat could he offer?
TEPPERMANExactly. It's pretty mystifying to me, unless he's expected to read through all of the correspondence of his predecessor and testify to that. But of course he wasn't responsible in any way.
REHMWhat do you think, Jo?
BIDDLEYeah, Secretary Clinton testified a couple of times on the Hill to this. The State Department has provided tens of thousands of documents related to the Benghazi attacks already. This email that they relate -- they just found, it was under a foyer, Freedom of Information Act. They found it, they handed it over. They say -- the State Department contends that the email doesn't actually change the narrative of what happened on the ground.
REHMWhat does the email say?
BIDDLEWell, it was general talking points which were going to be provided to then Ambassador Rice ahead of the talk shows -- the infamous talk shows we now know that she went on. It was issued around, I think, September 14. It covers a whole variety of subjects including Iran, Israel, Egypt. And it does mention Benghazi and it does say in it that the -- she should push the idea that this was as a result of a video -- the protests of the video, and also that they should make sure that the Obama Administration didn't come out to be seen to be weak in this.
BIDDLEBut then subsequently, of course, we now know there were Benghazi talking points which were then put together by the CIA and by the State Department. And those are the other talking points that have been the kernel of this whole row.
REHMOh wow. James.
KITFIELDYou know, this -- as Jonathan said, this is probably the most politicized story I've seen in all my time working in this town. We're not going to learn a whole lot more than we know about Benghazi. And there's not going to be a smoking gun, even though congressman Issa is going to, you know, chew on this bone right up into 2016 elections I imagine because it plays well to his base.
KITFIELDBut, you know, there was a pretty exhaustive review of this by former chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen and former top Ambassador Pickering. They looked at this, they said there were mistakes made. There were requests for more security from that consulate. They were not honored. The people who were in charge of State Department security had lost their jobs over that. But this idea that there was some conspiracy and that the military was told to, you know, stand down, there's just been no proof to it.
KITFIELDAnd if -- and I've talked to the military guys and they've run me through, you know, what was available on what timelines. There was just nothing we could've gotten there in time once this thing came about. And oh, by the way, you know, this argument that it was caused by the video tape or not, the military certainly believed that at the time because there were riots in other places, in other countries going on simultaneously that were caused by that video tape. And so they just assumed this was one of them.
KITFIELDNow it turns out there was an Islamic extremist group involved in this. It was on the anniversary of September 11. So, you know, it's one of these muddled things that happened out there in a sort of very chaotic world. And I don't think we're going to find much more than that.
TEPPERMANAnd I just want to add one thing, which is that if, in fact, the United -- the Obama Administration was guilty of choosing to emphasize the video over the presence of al-Qaida or other extreme militants in Libya as being responsible for the attack because the administration was trying to push this line ahead of the election, that we have defeated or decimated al-Qaida, they're guilty of nothing more than spin. And if that's going to be a crime in this town, we're going to need investigations going all the way back to the Washington Administration.
BIDDLENot just -- I think it's -- what needs to be emphasized in this horrific attack in which four Americans were killed was the fact that the State Department failed in its security, which they have admitted. And I think going forward the important thing that people really should be concentrating on is how to show that that security is enhanced and improved so that this doesn't happen again in the future.
REHMAnd, Jo, talk about what we do know as yet about the Iraq elections. Lots of people went to the polls, but it's going to be a while before we know the outcome.
BIDDLEI think it's going to be three to six weeks before they know the results. I think what happened was to me amazing. You had a 60 percent turnout of 20 million eligible voters, 60 percent of 20 million in a country which has been absolutely decimated by horrific attacks. Last month, April -- AFP keeps a running total of this -- AFP (sic) was one of the deadliest months since about 2006. There were 1,000 people killed across the country in various sectarian attacks by various different groups.
BIDDLESo the fact that I think millions of people turned out is courageous and heroic. And it shows that they want some kind of democracy in their country. And it shows the beginnings of vibrant democracy. How it plays out, there were 9,000 candidates for about 323 seats, which again is a little testament to the fact that people are interested and engaged in their political sphere, and they want a say. How the results go is yet to be told.
BIDDLEMaliki -- sorry, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is already predicting he will have some kind of small majority, which would allow him to stand again and be the prime minister for a third time.
REHMYour colleague James is looking very skeptical here.
KITFIELDI read the tealeaves pretty negatively. I mean, clearly I agree with Jo, it's a good thing there's a big turnout. But the fact that Maliki already feels comfortable saying that I'm clearly going to be the winner here and oh, by the way, I have no interest in forming a national unity government that's going to include Sunnis as well Kurds in my government. Tried that once, not going to work.
KITFIELDThis could be the worst case scenario where he basically wins a mandate to stamp down on the Sunni terrorists who basically have captured and held Fallujah for weeks and months. And if he does that, I mean, the Kurds are already looking for an excuse to basically spin out of Baghdad's orbit. I just don't read this as being very positive for the next months to come.
TEPPERMANAnd the key question will be whether Maliki will, in fact, win even a small enough majority to form a government. And I'm a little bit skeptical on that point. What's very interesting to me about this election is that all of the main factions in Iraq have split. So going into this election the Shiites who had been split but unified before the last election split into three major factions. The Sunnis split into three major factions. And even the Kurds, who on the national level have always marched in lockstep, split into different factions.
TEPPERMANSo you had lots and lots of little parties and alliances forming across sectarian lines on issues like the federal nature of Iraq, which had nothing to do with purely sectarian issues. The -- so there's a real possibility that Maliki will not win any kind of a majority. The scary thing for me is what happens if he doesn't because I'm not sure that he will then respect the democratic process and step aside.
REHMDo you agree with that concern?
KITFIELDI absolutely agree with that concern. I mean, this is a guy who basically has his own praetorian guard that he's carved out of the Iraqi services. So sure, that's a threat.
REHMWhat about outside influences here in Iraq's election?
BIDDLEWell, of course Maliki has been widely -- what's the word -- condemned by his own people for some of his growing moves towards Iran. And the Iranians are helping to fund some of the military operations, which they're trying to do against the al-Qaida Sunni uprising insurgency. So, yes, I think that's of a concern definitely.
REHMWhat about Turkey? What about the U.S.? What about other countries trying to get in there to influence the elections?
TEPPERMANFrom the American perspective, the big story is the lack of American influence over these elections and the -- a lack of American aid and participation, which has led Iraq to the point that it is at today. These are, of course, the first elections since the United States withdrew. And since it did leave the country, the country has effectively fallen apart. The army that the U.S. trained has seized functioning. And Maliki has become more and more autocratic and continued to alienate all non-Shiites.
REHMJonathan Tepperman. He's managing editor of Foreign Affairs and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Six-hundred-and-eighty people were sentenced to death this week in Egypt, James. The Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader is among those. How can this be a sweeping sentence to death?
KITFIELDWell, we've seen, since the military coup last year, that this government has become extremely nationalistic. It has absolutely -- it is now the -- it has now banned the April 6 movement, which are the liberals who basically were behind the original protests in Tahrir Square that got rid of General Mubarak. So they are consolidating power ruthlessly. As you said, 600 people -- and that was -- that's on top of 500 people who were condemned some weeks back. So you've got over 1,000 people condemned for the death of two policemen in this sort of mob activity.
KITFIELDSo they're guilty of basically being members or -- of the Muslim Brotherhood. And if you have any sympathy, which means that you're probably a majority in Egypt because the Muslim Brotherhood won the one free election they had since Mubarak has left, then you basically can be arrested, summarily charged and condemned to death.
REHMSo are these executions really likely to be carried out, Jo?
BIDDLEWell, Egyptian officials who I've been speaking to this week say most likely not. This is a judicial process that has to play itself out. It can be appealed by the government at some point. And I think we already saw that some of the evidence was overturned and thrown out by the courts. So I don't know. I mean, it clearly is very worrying. The trend is not good. By all stretches of any bar or standards we have is becoming more and more autocratic in Egypt.
REHMBut how independent are the courts themselves?
TEPPERMANOh, I don't think they are at all. Right. There are several takeaways from this. One is that the regime has completely eviscerated the rule of law in Egypt. So to speak of independent courts today in any context is, I think, very unrealistic. The -- too, the regime is moving so far to -- and so quickly to consolidate control that I think it's more accurate now to speak about them as a totalitarian regime and not even an authoritarian regime. Because what this -- these mass executions -- or at least these condemnations sent this message that they send is you are either with us or you are against us. And if you are against us, we will wipe you out.
REHMAnd what is it going to mean for USA going to Egypt, James?
KITFIELDWell, I mean, this week, the -- Senator Leahy basically said he's going to hold up anymore military aid. The Pentagon wants to send them ten additional Apache helicopters to fight sort of Islamic extremists in the Sinai. But basically it's going to be very difficult for the administration, which has, you know, failed to say this has been a military coup because that would then kick in a Leahy law that says you -- you know, you cannot send military aid to a military junta in essence.
KITFIELDSo it's going to complicate the administration's relationship with Egypt dramatically if this continues. And we saw that with Senator Kerry, you know, meeting with the Egyptian foreign minister this week in Washington. But at the same time saying, you know, basically everything you're doing is unhelpful. And that's pretty tough for diplomatic, you know, circumstance.
REHMSo what if our relations with Egypt really went down the tubes? What would that mean, Jo?
BIDDLEWell, I think why the Americans have got this mixed message is because they're keen just to see that not happen. I mean, Egypt has a peace treaty with Israel. At the moment they're fighting a militant insurgency at the Sinai Peninsula. So the Egyptians are very keen to have some kind of relationship in which they can have some kind of influence, I think, still in Egypt.
REHMJoanna Biddle is State Department correspondent for Agence France-Presse. Short break here and when we come back, your calls and comments, especially Secretary Kerry's apartheid comment about Israel.
REHMAnd welcome back. Before we open the phones, we've had lots of emails and tweets asking us to talk about the recovery of the Nigerian school girls. Is there any -- talk about this story first, Jonathan.
TEPPERMANWell, it's an absolutely horrific one. In short, what happened is a group of 234 school girls in northeastern Nigeria were kidnapped, everyone assumes by this militant, very radical and arbitrary group called Boko Haram.
REHMAnd this was several weeks ago.
TEPPERMANSeveral weeks ago, right. And the girls have not been recovered. The key takeaway here is this is yet another sign of how completely ineffective the Nigerian government and the Nigerian militants -- military, excuse me, have become in extending rule of law throughout the country, but especially in the troubled northeast. And that's been highlighted not only by the fact that the militants -- the Boko Haram terrorists were able to conduct this operation wearing, by the way, stolen Nigerian military uniforms.
REHMHow did they do it? They simply walked into the school?
TEPPERMANThat's right. Dressed as soldiers and said, come with us. And the Nigerian military then responded by doing nothing. Actually they did worse than nothing. The next day they claimed, we've gotten the girls back. And of course they had done no such thing. So they then had to recant that pledge. They then proceeded to launch a recovery effort which consisted of absolutely nothing, doing so little that eventually the parents of the schoolgirls decided to arm themselves with bows and arrows and to go into the bush themselves and were headed off into the jungle until local villagers that they encountered said, don't do it. Turn around because you will all be slaughtered.
BIDDLEIt's just horrific. There were reports this week that they fear that the girls have what they've called been married to these soldiers. We can imagine what that might mean. They're about -- they're aged between 16 and 18 and were about to do their final exams in school. And the name of Boko Haram, I think means, loosely translated, Western education is forbidden, something like that. And so this is not the first attack we've seen on schools. There was one sometime last year when they went into a college of young men who were studying to be farmers and slaughtered in their beds whilst they slept. I mean, this group is just horrific.
REHMWill the U.S. become involved in this in any way, James?
KITFIELDAbsolutely we will, I think. We have -- U.S. Africa Command has, you know, this Boko Haram is an Islamic extremist group. It's not an Al-Qaeda affiliate but it's got the same exact ideology. We've seen how these guys operate. We saw it with the Taliban. They don't believe girls should go to school. They're trying to push a 7th century sort of fundamentalist view of Islam. And we see that as a threat. And these groups are spreading throughout Africa. And we put -- they took over North Mali last year, if you remember. And we helped deploy the French troops and African troops to push them back there.
KITFIELDWe have a new drone base in the area. We have given assistance already to Nigerian military. You can read drones surveillance help. I think that you'll see us -- because we know these guys are a threat to us. Anytime these guys get a sanctuary, bad things start to happen that are very inimical to our interests. So I do believe we'll get involved in helping the Nigerians.
REHMBut why did the Nigerian government do less than nothing?
TEPPERMANI think the answer is sheer incompetence. That's answer number one. Answer number two is that Nigeria is riven (sic) by divisions by Muslims in the North and Christians in the South. And this government, as the previous governments, has done a very poor job of trying to bring those two parts of the country together. And the third is corruption. There's a total lack of development in the North, which sets the conditions for this kind of thing happening in the first place.
TEPPERMANAnd that's because most Nigerian government officials, all the way up to the top, are more interested in stealing government money than they are in spending it on their people. Which is why Nigeria, which is one of -- despite being one of the largest oil producers in the world, has actually seen its poverty rates go up in recent years.
REHMAll right. We're going to open the phones now. 800-433-8850. First to Boston, Mass. Hello, Marina, you're on the air. Marina, are you there? Ah, she's listening to the radio. Let's go instead to Rockford, Ill. Roger, you're on the air.
ROGERThank you. Good morning.
ROGERMy question goes back to the Ukrainian situation. I believe the -- there's an upcoming referendum on autonomy for eastern sections of the Ukraine. I'm not sure if the date is correct. I thought I'd heard March 11. But at any rate, my question is, is there anyone on your panel who actually believes that that referendum will be conducted fairly or that it's already a foregone conclusion that those sections of Eastern Ukraine will vote to reaffiliate with Russia through their autonomy for their particular regions?
TEPPERMANIt's a really good question, Roger. The referendum is on May 11. Nobody knows what will be on the referendum yet. Nobody knows how it will be conducted. We'll know the answer to your question on May 11 or whenever the results come out, because polls are consistently showing that even in Eastern Ukraine, a substantial majority of the population wants to remain part of the country and does not want to associate with Russia. So if you see an election result that shows anything other than that, then you have your answer. It's been rigged.
REHMNow we have a report from the Associated Press that Ukraine's acting president says pro-Russia insurgents have suffered significant losses, including many killed and injured after his government launched an offensive on the Eastern City of Slavyansk.
KITFIELDThat's surprising news to me because that's pressing the issue of a very -- I mean, a very volatile situation just got much more volatile, because it makes you wonder what Russia's going to do then.
REHMAll right. And to Tony in St. Petersburg, Fla. Hi, there. You're on the air.
TONYHi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
TONYI look forward to listening to you. My comment is basically on Benghazi. I think Benghazi is the same as Obamacare, it's going to keep coming up again and again and again. It's a political way to stop Hilary Clinton if she runs in 2016. And then on the apartheid comment that was made by Kerry, I think it's appropriate because we need to show Israel that, you know, we're on their side. But they need to stop building settlements. And there's not going to be a safe solution unless we, you know, basically bring that to the forefront.
REHMFirst on Benghazi, Jo.
BIDDLEYes, I do think it's going to come up again and again until 2016. And, yes, I do agree with Tony's assessment, that it's a way of trying to muddy the waters for Hilary Clinton if she decides to run.
REHMAnd then on Secretary Kerry's comment, and give us some context.
BIDDLEWell, what happened was Secretary Kerry was appearing and giving a private talk at a closed-door meeting to something that's called the Trilateral Commission, which includes a number of international experts from Japan, Europe, America, all over basically. And in it he said that if there was no peace settlement, no peace treaty, that Israel risked becoming an apartheid state. This was then leaked to an online website, The Daily Beast, and it became a big issue because obviously apartheid is a very strong and loaded word.
REHMNot the first time this word has been used.
KITFIELDNo. We had a president who wrote a book using the word apartheid...
REHM...and he was so criticized for using that title.
KITFIELDShunned. It is a loaded word. But I mean this a case where an official gets caught actually telling the truth. I mean there is a truism about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has been repeated by going back to Israeli Prime Ministers Sharon, Olmert and others. Which is -- Israeli is facing a future where it has to make a decision between remaining a Jewish state or a Democracy, because in the lands that it now occupies, it's going -- Jews will be a minority at some point.
KITFIELDSo at that point, if you don't have a Democracy, you have something that looks like an apartheid system, where ethnic Palestinians, Muslims, Arabs in this society are treated -- don't have the right to vote, are treated very differently than Jewish citizens. And that is what's happened already in the West Bank and occupied territories. And if it's -- if there is no peace deal and this becomes a permanent situation, it starts to look like apartheid.
TEPPERMANI absolutely agree. I mean, the great irony is that the word apartheid gets used all the time in Israeli politics and doesn't generate much of a controversy. I understand why the Netanyahu administration reacted the way that it did, especially given that the Palestinians are shifting to an international law approach to try to either gain concessions from Israel or just punish it for the occupation. They want to bring it to the ICC, which they've applied recently to join, as well as to other international bodies.
TEPPERMANSo naturally the Netanyahu administration's going to be very sensitive towards a word like apartheid. That being said, given the fact that it gets used all the time by Israeli politicians and, more importantly, that John Kerry is the best friend that the Netanyahu administration has in Washington, for them to go after him in this way I think is just shameful.
BIDDLEI totally agree. I have traveled with Secretary Kerry on a number of these trips to Israel. This was the week -- April 29 was the deadline he set, nine months ago when he met with the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and negotiators in the State Department for a treaty. Now, obviously that deadline has slipped. We knew that was slipping.
BIDDLEBut he was still hoping to extend the talks, to keep them talking. He believed -- who knows whether it's true -- but he believes there is something on the table that could eventually form the framework of a deal. For it to collapse around semantics I think is a tragedy for the Israeli and Palestinian people.
REHMDo you think it could still be on the table?
BIDDLEI don't know. I mean I think both the Israelis and the Palestinians have obviously made it quite clear that they don't have the willpower, really, to make the compromises that Secretary Kerry and the American administration believe they have to make.
REHMAll right. Let's go now to Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein, who spent a second night in custody after his arrest for the decades-old IRA murder. It was an American oral history project that led to the arrest, Jonathan.
TEPPERMANRight. This is a bit of a complicated story. The case, in particular, involves a woman named Jean McConville, a 37-year-old widow, mother of 10, who is one of about two dozen citizens of Northern Ireland who were disappeared in the early '70s, suspected of being informants and later ended up dead. The case came to light because over the years, in recent years, Boston University embarked on an oral history project called the Belfast Project, in which they spoke to key participants on both sides of the conflict and got them to tell their versions of the story under the condition that their names and the details would never be released.
TEPPERMANAnd the -- part of the scandal here is that what was supposed to be secret -- what was discussed under the promise of secrecy, has been exposed.
REHMThere are no secrets anymore.
TEPPERMANIndeed. And you can understand, of course, why it happened. The exposure was the result of pressure from the victim's children, who, after hearing rumors that Adams may have been involved, pressed the British police and the British government to launch an investigation. The British and the Americans tend to work very closely on criminal matters. The Americans agreed to try and penetrate this veil of secrecy and get the contents of the BU secret oral history projects.
TEPPERMANAnd in the course of several court cases, which BU fought, they won and it all became public. After that, the arrest was something that I think the police had to do. But the tragedy is that this could now set the peace process and general reconciliation back in several major ways.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." There are claims that this arrest of Gerry Adams, head of Sinn Fein, purely political. Why?
BIDDLEThere are elections coming up in a few weeks' time in this devolved government, which Sinn Fein, which used to be the political arm of IRA and is now a political party in its own right, shares power in Belfast with another -- with the Unionist Party. So there are claims that the arrest, actually he surrendered. He voluntarily walked into the police station. And he denies any involvement in this murder. I think we should say that outright.
BIDDLESo there are claims that this coming to the fore now, so publicly and so internationally, is a way of trying to discredit Sinn Fein ahead of these elections -- which they were tipped to actually improve their standing within the Parliament.
KITFIELDI have the same concerns that Jonathan mentioned that, you know, there was always a thin veneer between Sinn Fein and IRA, and Gerry Adams had a foot in both camps. But if we start going back and relitigating every murder case from a 42-year-old case that goes back through three decades of basically civil war, you can see the peace process start to unravel, because there was a lot of, you know, that whole reconciliation happened because you were willing to not look in the past anymore and look to Ireland being at peace.
KITFIELDSo I do worry that this, if it is carried out -- so they can then open the cases against the Protestants who murdered, you know, Catholic-Irish people. You know, if you want to go back there, I could just see this unraveling the peace process in a way that would be very unhelpful.
REHMHe's in jail. He's being held until tonight. That's as long as, under law, unless they actually charge him...
REHM...he can be held.
BIDDLEThat's right. Under British habeas corpus law, you only have 48 hours. And you either have to charge or release. I believe, after that, you can then -- if they want to continue to hold him, they would have to go to a court and present an argument for why he should still be held even longer. For me, this was a throwback story. I grew up as a child in Britain in the 1970s. IRA was hugely influential in -- our news casts were full of it. There was Brighton...
BIDDLE...hotel bombing in 1984 against the conservative party. We've moved on, I think. Britain and Ireland has -- and Northern Ireland have moved on from this. Really they need to just pursue the political process and make sure that these Good Friday Accords stay in place.
TEPPERMANI think that's absolutely right. There is no question in my mind that whether or not Adams was guilty of this particular crime, he was in the battle days, one of the bad guys. I think Martin McGuinness, another leader of Sinn Fein, is the same. But the point is, in recent years, they had become the good guys. And by the way, it should not be shocking that in a country at civil war or in an independence struggle, you have national leaders who committed crimes in their youth, but then renounced violence and took up the political process.
TEPPERMANThat's happened in countries around the world, including Israel, where many prime ministers had been terrorists in tier youth. The point is Adams had given up all that and had really embraced the political process. Taking him out of the picture does two things. One, it enhances the more radical fringe elements of the IRA who can now say, you embraced the political process and, see, this is what it got you. Number two, in order to heal, Ireland needs a full accounting of events, and this is going to make it more difficult.
REHMJonathan Tepperman, managing editor of Foreign Affairs. Joanna Biddle, State Department correspondent for Agence France-Presse. James Kitfield, in addition to many reporting jobs, he's also a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. Thank you all.
KITFIELDThank you, Diane.
REHMThanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Nine people and a gunman are dead after a shooting at an Oregon community college. Bernie Sanders narrows the fundraising gap with Hillary Clinton in the last quarter. And Congress avoids a government shutdown – for now. A panel of journalists joins guest host Melissa Block of NPR News for analysis of the week's top national news stories.
Russian President Putin is widely popular in Russia, despite his ruthless reputation abroad. A former Moscow bureau chief for The New York Times explains how Putin rose from obscurity to become one of the world’s most powerful and enigmatic leaders.
The owner of a drug company has come under fire for dramatically raising the price of medicine that fights deadly infections. And the prices of some heart medications have also spiked. We look at the renewed controversy over high drug prices in the U.S.