Friday News Roundup - International

MS. DIANE REHM

11:06:53
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. International observers report Egypt's election did not meet democratic standards. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says Russia is pulling back some troops from the border of Ukraine. And President Obama lays out his foreign policy agenda. Here for the "Friday News Roundup" of this week's international news, Paul Danahar of the BBC, Elise Labott of CNN and James Kitfield of Atlantic Media's Defense One. And throughout the hour, we'll welcome your comments, questions. Join us on 800-433-8850, through email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And happy Friday to all of you.

MR. JAMES KITFIELD

11:07:48
Happy Friday.

MS. ELISE LABOTT

11:07:49
Happy Friday.

MR. PAUL DANAHAR

11:07:49
Thank you very much.

REHM

11:07:49
Good to see you. James Kitfield, let's talk about the President's foreign policy speech. What is the most significant thing you said in your book?

KITFIELD

11:08:02
You know, the most significant thing, actually, is that he gave a foreign policy speech. Because the administration has been on its heels, trying to counter a narrative that the United States, as it withdraws its troops from Afghanistan, is sort of disengaging from the world. And is weak, and that weakness is spurring people like, or nations, like China and Russia to be more aggressive. So, I think the fact that he actually tried to give a speech to lend coherence to his foreign policy is important.

KITFIELD

11:08:30
To me, the biggest takeaway was that terrorism is still the greatest threat to the United States for the foreseeable future. And he actually made some news by saying he was going to create this fund of five billion dollars to sort of help our partners build up their capacity to fight that terrorism. That was, to me, the biggest news.

REHM

11:08:47
Paul Danahar.

DANAHAR

11:08:48
The problem was, it was billed as us finally understanding his foreign policy. And we didn't. I mean, he talked a lot, and everyone kind of thought, okay, finally this man's gonna stand up and say, I believe this, and this is where we're going, and this is why I've been doing what I've been doing. And actually, just said, I'm gonna carry on doing what I've been doing, and if you don't get it, that's not my fault. He, again, went back to that either we do everything or we do nothing. And he didn't really explain how he was going to do the middle bit.

DANAHAR

11:09:15
And I think many people, if you look at the reaction to the speech, just thought, I still don't understand what you want to do. I don't understand what your foreign policy legacy's going to be.

REHM

11:09:23
Even the New York Times editorial page came out saying, you know, what was really of substance in this speech?

LABOTT

11:09:34
Exactly. And I think most foreign policy experts and analysts say that there wasn't much, and that's because why did President Obama give this speech? He's been faced with a lot of criticism of not doing enough in Syria. Not doing enough in Ukraine. And so, a lot of times when President Obama wants to answer his critics, he'll give a speech. But what they're really looking for is a change in policy. And I think when you look at how he addressed as he's wrapping up the war in Afghanistan, you are done with Iraq, now you have more resources to fight terrorism around the world.

LABOTT

11:10:12
But then he also said, you know, he laid out a very fine line of where the US shouldn't get involved and his answer was not really that much.

REHM

11:10:21
So what is he going to do about Syria, for example, James?

KITFIELD

11:10:28
And that, actually, was a little bit more news. He is going to up his support of Syria's neighbors to help them deal with the refugee crisis. And he's also gonna up the training and equipping of the moderate Syrian rebel forces.

REHM

11:10:41
Elise is shaking her head no.

LABOTT

11:10:44
I think that that's what they're hinting that they may do, but certainly when afterwards, and this is what I find so interesting. After he gave his speech, then they put all these officials out to kind of spin what the speech meant, as if the speech didn't say enough about what the foreign policy was. And officials are saying, well, we need to go to Congress. We need to think about it. There's still a lot of opposition to...

REHM

11:11:10
To doing anything.

LABOTT

11:11:11
...within the administration. And I think one of the things is President Obama gave very little mention in that speech about Syria. No mention of the year long political effort to bring the regime and the opposition to the table. And this is one of the problems of how looking through Syria as a counter-terrorism lens is a big problem. Because if you look at what happened in Iraq, you look at what happened in Libya. When the US takes its eye off the ball in terms of really hard intense political engagement, these countries are now back in the throes of political chaos. And that's where the violence comes and the terrorism comes.

DANAHAR

11:11:51
And the thing is, a counter-terrorism strategy is a sad strategy. I mean, he's basically accepted what Assad has said all along. I'm dealing with terrorists. I mean, I think there's two -- the two things about this speech were if you remember the UNGA speech he gave last year in New York, he said, my two big foreign policy things are going to be Mid-East peace and Iraq. Mid-East peace wasn't even mentioned in this speech, which is kind of radical, really, when it was going to be one of his two priorities. And then, as, I think Elise and I were on the same briefing, and they were talking about, we may do this and we may do that.

DANAHAR

11:12:22
But anything they do do was suggested two years ago by his own administration, by Hilary Clinton, by Petraeus and he ignored it. So, if they do do it now, that's an admission, by this President, he should have listened.

REHM

11:12:33
All right, let's turn to Ukraine where you have a new President, Petro Poroshenko. How far is this going to go to stabilize the country? Paul Danahar, what are going to be his priorities?

DANAHAR

11:12:51
Well, his priorities are going to be to try to reign in the separatists in the eastern part of the country, and he's probably going to fail. Because the Russians are fiddling around in that area. We saw the fighting at the airport in Donetsk. 30 bodies were sent back to Russia. Now that tells you that these are not locals that are getting upset. If you've got a third of the people dying there, on the separatists' side, coming from Russia, they're not going to walk away from it straight away. It's going to be very, very difficult, and the man is going to have to compromise to hold his country together.

REHM

11:13:21
Compromise how?

DANAHAR

11:13:23
Well, no one really knows how to do that. I mean, the thing about Ukraine at the moment, if you look at the map, a third of the country is Russian speaking and then the other bit is not, and they don't know how to square this circle. And the European Union has really opened this big Pandora's Box and they don't know how to stuff it all back in again.

REHM

11:13:38
James.

KITFIELD

11:13:39
You know, I think it's a guardedly optimistic fact that he -- we now have an elected President. This President, interestingly enough, Putin has said, you know, he recognizes the legitimacy of the vote. They, apparently, are going to meet in the next month, which is a hopeful sign. There is some talk -- there's actually some evidence that Russia's pulled at least some of its troops away from the border. But, as Paul says, the violence continues in the east, and this guy has said that he is going to continue, sort of, Ukraine's outreach to the West, and Western orientation, and it's very hard for me to see how a President with that agenda is going to get along with Vladimir Putin.

REHM

11:14:18
And how quickly would you expect Poroshenko to move into an agreement with the EU, Elise?

LABOTT

11:14:27
I think it's going to take some time. I mean, I think there is room for cautious optimism here, because this election, where virtually 90 percent of the country went off without a hitch, and the turnout was very large, they reversed the narrative. I mean, two months ago, Putin was going into Crimea, there were fears that he was going to annex the east. There is some evidence now that things are calming down. But, you know, there's still plenty of room for Putin to destabilize the country. The EU is trying to help out the Ukrainians with this gas deal. They're trying to pay off some of Ukraine's gas debt, so that Russia doesn't call the debt.

LABOTT

11:15:11
And really destabilize how the EU is getting some of its gas through Ukraine. But I do think he's gonna -- while on one hand, he's saying look, Ukraine's future is very solidly in the West, he does say that he wants to have good relations with Russia. He said one of the first things he's gonna do is try and gain the confidence of people in the east. He wants to go there and say, this is a Ukraine for all Ukrainians.

DANAHAR

11:15:38
I think what's interesting is if you look back, we're all now grateful Putin hasn't seized the eastern part of Ukraine. We've stopped worrying about Crimea. In fact, you can have that. Just don't take anymore. I mean, the man's got what he wanted. I mean, he wanted Crimea, he threatened more. We all think he's given up going for the rest of the country, but he's got what he wanted. He's got Crimea.

REHM

11:15:56
And now he's pulling back thousands of troops.

DANAHAR

11:15:59
The man's clever.

REHM

11:16:00
But still leaving some there on that border.

KITFIELD

11:16:04
There are still some on the border, and so we don't know exactly what his intentions there are. He's played this game, you know, for weeks now, where he says he's pulling back and then there's no evidence. Now, there's some evidence that some are being pulled back. You know, to Paul's point, he does have Crimea, and the fact of the matter is, pushed into a corner, there was nothing we were going to be able to do to stop that anyway. I mean, that is an area where the population is overwhelmingly pro-Russian. It is the only warm water port for the Russian Black Sea fleet.

KITFIELD

11:16:33
It was a given, you know, if there's going to be a tug of war between the West and Russia over Ukraine, Crimea was going to end up in the pocket of Vladimir Putin. That's what's happened.

REHM

11:16:43
So, what about this Eurasian economic union? Tell us about that.

KITFIELD

11:16:49
Well, I mean this is kind of what started this whole thing was Putin sees the encroachment of Western organizations like the European Union and NATO as a threat to, and he's quite right here, is a threat to sort of the Russian model of authoritarianism and tyranny and oligarchs. And so, he's trying to create a buffer zone of like minded countries with his Eurasian Union and basically, Ukraine was absolutely a linchpin in that.

REHM

11:17:17
And Paul Danahar, let's talk about what happened with the European Union. You've got extreme right individuals winning elections there.

DANAHAR

11:17:31
You have, and this is another example of the European Union basically not managing its affairs, or anybody else's, particularly well. I mean, what you're seeing in countries like France, like Britain, is a backlash against the policies of the European Union. I mean, in England, for example, or in the UK, when Poland came into the European Union and there was free migration of the work force, the then labor government said we think about, I don't know, maybe kind of 30,000 Poles will come over. In the end, half a million came over.

DANAHAR

11:18:02
It's not really about migration. People, I think, accept that we live in a multi-cultural Europe. It's about managing those affairs. And again, the EU has been shown to not manage things very well. And they've done that in Ukraine. They've done that across Europe.

REHM

11:18:14
James.

KITFIELD

11:18:16
You know, and exhibit A is the fact that it was the European Union that pressed this issue of inviting four of Russia's close neighbors to include Georgia, and Ukraine and Maldovia into this -- into the European Union through these sort of accession agreements at a time when Putin was sort of distracted by the Sochi Olympics, but knowing that they were giving him an either/or choice, and he was, you know, likely to not accept that choice. So, I would take the point that the European Union was not thinking very strategically.

REHM

11:18:43
All right. And we should say that the VA Secretary, Eric Shinseki, has just submitted his resignation. That has been quite a story, Elise.

LABOTT

11:18:57
It's been...

REHM

11:19:58
And welcome back to the international hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with James Kitfield, Elise Labott and Paul Danahar. James Kitfield, you were actually expecting Secretary Shinseki to either step down or be let go. We've just learned he has resigned and the president has accepted his resignation.

KITFIELD

11:20:28
Yeah, I was -- I've been covering this story for National Journal this week and, you know, it was -- kind of a death watch went on at his office in recent days just because this interim VA report that came out was just so damning about the problems in Phoenix where people were kept off a wait list, where the times waiting for care was triple what people were saying it was, that that was a national systematic problem. Once that came out -- and he's been in that job for five plus years -- you could just see all the defections amongst the Democratic Party.

KITFIELD

11:20:59
I think 20 House Democrats and basically 20 percent of the Senate Democratic caucus...

REHM

11:21:07
...including today Tammy Duckworth.

KITFIELD

11:21:10
Right. I mean, once you start seeing that kind of defection in election season, there was no way that he was going to be able to last very long.

REHM

11:21:17
Okay. The only thing I'd like to say -- and this is simply my own personal feeling -- is that these problems with the Veterans Administration go back so many years and through so many regimes, if you will. And, you know, Shinseki was brought in to fix the situation. He couldn't.

LABOTT

11:21:43
He couldn't and we have to remember that the Bush Administration did alert the Obama Administration. This is a big problem that you need to get on top of. And this is what came out in recent weeks. It was all scandal.

REHM

11:21:54
And of course you've had so many wounded veterans coming back from both Iraq and Afghanistan, simply overloading the situation.

DANAHAR

11:22:04
I think the important thing to remember about these wars is the way that the medical practices moved on meant that no one expected that many people to survive their injuries. It's an awful thing to say but it's a fact. Medical technology moved on and we had massive injuries coming up. Many of those people would've died 20 years ago.

REHM

11:22:24
Exactly.

DANAHAR

11:22:24
And because of that the system wasn't ready to cope.

REHM

11:22:27
But there was clearly fraud going on. There was clearly bonuses being accepted because the system was apparently working, but it wasn't.

KITFIELD

11:22:40
And that's right. And I think that, you know, his office felt very let down by the fact that that -- you know, the people who were supposed to be -- that he trusted were supposed to tell him that there were problems were basically hiding those problems. And so, you know, it's one of those cases where if you don't know it than that's a bad thing. And if you know it, it's even worse. But could I just say one thing about his legacy?

REHM

11:22:57
Sure.

KITFIELD

11:22:58
I mean, here's a guy who was himself a disabled veteran. He was a change agent that made a lot of progress, cut the backlog of disability claims by half. He, you know, had this huge outreach to veterans through -- in rural areas through these sort of veteran clinics on wheels. He has done a lot on a lot of fronts. But this is a problem, as Paul says, that it's not only the fact that you've got ten years of wounded and, you know, more than half a million who might have PTSD because of multiple combat tours, but you also have the agent of the Vietnam generation of veterans who are getting to that age where they actually requires a lot of health care. And they're overloading the system.

KITFIELD

11:23:38
He -- Shinseki himself, you know, created 250,000 new disability claims when he said, okay, if you suffer from, you know, things that had to do with agent orange exposure, we're going to consider that a viable disability claim. So he was trying to do the right thing by his fellow Vietnam vets. But there's 200,000 more claims on the system. So we have a problem with supply and demand with health care in veterans right now.

REHM

11:23:59
And was the congress providing enough money for the VA?

LABOTT

11:24:04
Well, it looks now that they probably weren't because they certainly needed more staff, the administrative to go through backlog claims and doctors and medical personnel.

REHM

11:24:10
And doctors.

LABOTT

11:24:13
And I think the question now is, now that Secretary Shinseki has resigned, how are we going to get on top of this problem? How are they going to fix it? Because, listen, yes you wound down the war in Afghanistan. Troops are going to be coming home. They're going to be having PTSD. And now there needs to be a look at the military going forward. How are they going to recruit people for the military going forward if they don't have the confidence that if they're going to go to places now that the counterterrorism strategy seems to be, that's what the U.S. is going to be focusing on.

LABOTT

11:24:47
If I come back from Libya, if I come back from one of these countries, from Mali for instance after a terrorist attack and I'm hurt, is the U.S. going to look out for me?

REHM

11:24:57
Who's next in line, James?

KITFIELD

11:25:00
Well, I don't know who's next in line. I'd be very surprised if they hire from within. So they're going to pick someone...

REHM

11:25:06
What about Tammy Duckworth?

KITFIELD

11:25:08
You know, that's -- I haven't -- I think it's -- you know, we just now heard that he's resigned so I don't have a good beat on who's next. But I can tell you whoever's next is in for -- you know, he's going to be a punching bag between now and the November election because this becomes, you know, a good talking point for Republicans running against, you know, Democrats who are associated with the administration.

KITFIELD

11:25:28
I would also say this. You know, there's a very strong sense within Shinseki's office that they got caught up in this hyper partisan debate about health care in this country where the Republicans who look at, you know, the VA as the sort of epitome of single payer socialized medicine would do anything to undermine that system. So they're saying that we should privatize a lot of that.

KITFIELD

11:25:47
And the Democrats, on the other hand, saying, you know, this is -- we can't let them sort of take potshots at the VA because this is kind of the socialized medicine that we sort of support. So it got kind of caught up in this hyper partisan debate. And whoever takes that job is going to be right in the middle of it, and prepare to be a punching bag for the next seven months.

REHM

11:26:06
All right. I'm going to open the phones, take a call from a listener in Hollywood, Fla. Chris wants to talk about Shinseki's resignation. Hi, Chris. You're on the air.

CHRIS

11:26:21
Hi, Diane. One thing I don't understand was all the handwringing about why -- whether he should resign. I mean, it seems pretty obvious and I just want to make a statement about Paul O'Neill who is the former Treasury secretary who was CEO at Alcoa. He made a point of walking the floor at Alcoa to see what was affecting the business of Alcoa.

CHRIS

11:26:42
So what I wanted to say was that the VA delivers health care. So if they're not delivering health care -- I mean, the wait, they're clearly not delivering it, so he should be done. I mean, he can't be oblivious. And it just seems that -- yes.

LABOTT

11:26:58
Well, I think the question is whether the president wanted Secretary Shinseki to fix the problem and then think about a transition. And you look at what went on with Obamacare and Kathleen Sebelius. Should she stay and fix the problem and then talk about a replacement or should they have a scapegoat which really isn't going to fix the kind of scope of the problem. There's -- and you were talking about this a little in the first hour. There's the question of accountability and making sure that someone is held accountable or versus a scapegoat and saying what -- how Speaker John Boehner was saying is, is his resignation going to fix this massive problem that we have. And the answer is no.

REHM

11:27:35
Exactly, exactly. And the answer is no.

KITFIELD

11:27:39
The answer is no and, you know, on the point of, you know, he should've been walking the halls, I mean, this was a guy again who had a very good relationship with most of the Veterans Affairs organizations. He spent a lot of time asking vets -- one of the ironies here is if you ask vets on many surveys, they like their VA health care. The problem is they like it so much that there's a backlog of demand for it. But they -- you know, the veteran community in general -- and survey after survey have shown this -- is actually -- really likes their VA health care.

KITFIELD

11:28:12
And again, that's part of the problem. They prefer it to their -- going into the private sector. And because they prefer it and they have such great need now because the Vietnam veterans are aging and because of these wars, it's overloading the system.

REHM

11:28:26
You know, talking about bringing up ideas of socialized medicine and single-payer and the like, we hear so much praise and criticism about the European model. How do you think it works, Paul?

DANAHAR

11:28:45
Well, as an English person who grew up using English medical care, emergency care is brilliant. I mean, if something happens to you, you get dealt with straightaway. It tends to be focused more towards younger people. So if you're an older person, your health care -- you're from part of the back of the cue, frankly, unless you live in an area of the UK, for example, where there's less young people and there's more old people.

DANAHAR

11:29:08
So it depends where you -- it's hit and miss. If you're waiting for a hip operation, you could wait a very long time. If you're waiting for a heart transplant it could be very quick. We tend to look after our veterans like everybody else. They have -- their injuries are coped with by the National Health Service, so we don't have a separate system. But it has the same problems. We have the same failings in the UK.

REHM

11:29:32
Same failings.

DANAHAR

11:29:33
Same failings. I think any big organization fails in some areas. I think the difference in America -- and I have to say to America's credit, it worries much more about its veterans than people in the European Union do. We tend to -- they finish service and we kind of forget about them. That is very American and, you know, very good that you do still care about your people, and it is a big issue.

LABOTT

11:29:54
The question for me is, if they knew that this was a problem when it came -- when they came into office, and they've been in office for some five years now, why weren't there some benchmarks put in place and said, okay we're going to give ourselves X many years to improve the problem and then see. And why did it have to wait, as always, until there's this big media attention and calls for the resignation? And this, I think, is an issue for White House leadership.

LABOTT

11:30:19
I mean, the president puts in someone and then -- you know, recently, and the White House would say, oh well, the president didn't know and these type of things. I mean, you know, if you're the leader of the executive office, you need to delegate but yes, hold your employees accountable.

KITFIELD

11:30:35
You know, ironically one of the problems here was they put a benchmark in. They established this benchmark that within 14 days of, you know, wanting to see someone, you get to see a physician. Well, the system couldn't handle 14 days. In fact, I suspect you're going to see that stretched out because a lot of private hospitals couldn't handle a 14-day window either.

KITFIELD

11:30:55
So they set this benchmark. They couldn't meet it so instead of the organization being honest to itself about its inability to meet these benchmarks, they lied.

DANAHAR

11:31:04
Look at Robert Gates' book. I mean, you know, you read that, it's all about the failings of the system. And yet, they got upset about lots of it but not about that bit. They just carried on as normal.

LABOTT

11:31:14
And again, I think it goes to the whole idea of leadership. And I do think -- and, you know, I think that there are a lot of people recently that have been hinting that Secretary Shinseki should've been held more accountable in saying -- you know, the president himself saying, oh if he didn't feel that he could serve our veterans in the right way he should resign. I would think that he would've asked for his resignation a little bit earlier.

REHM

11:31:38
Are we going to see any criminal prosecutions here, James?

KITFIELD

11:31:44
That's an interesting question because there are a number of senators who've asked for that very thing. So I wouldn't -- it's certainly in the realm of possibilities. Whether they -- you know, whether this rises to the level of criminal fraud is an open question.

REHM

11:31:58
Taking bonuses when you're falsifying information sounds to me as though it's pretty...

KITFIELD

11:32:07
You know...

LABOTT

11:32:08
There's going to have to be at this point. Some people -- it may not be kind of widespread, but there certainly will be, I think, some people (unintelligible)...

REHM

11:32:15
Okay. Let's talk about Afghanistan. President Obama announced that after more than a decade of war, U.S. troops are going to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016. What's the withdrawal plan, Paul?

DANAHAR

11:32:32
Well, they're hoping that -- Obama's hoping by the time he leaves the White House, America has pretty much left Afghanistan. That's upset some people because now they're saying, oh great, the Taliban will just wait and then they'll start taking Afghanistan back over. I think the -- what is true though, I don't think that Afghanistan is any longer, and the president's identified this, the al-Qaida homeland. That's been dissipated. It's moved around a bit. So the threat perhaps has moved away for America but not for the Afghans.

REHM

11:33:00
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And of course the president made a surprise visit to Afghanistan.

KITFIELD

11:33:11
Yes, he did. And, you know, with the combat troops withdrawing by the end of this year, it's a big milestone for him. His whole presidency has been based on getting out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. You know, quite honestly I was disappointed in this idea that you say you're going to keep a residual force mostly for counterterrorism and for some support of the Afghan security forces who will be fighting the Taliban. And then you give it a two-year window, another deadline. At the same time you announce that you're going to be sending more help and more special forces to Africa where all these al-Qaida affiliates are growing up.

KITFIELD

11:33:45
Well, it seems to me that you're setting yourself up for -- in Afghanistan for the very same thing. You're going to need some residual counterterrorism operations in that country. It's just...

REHM

11:33:54
And in the meantime, the CIA station chief in Afghanistan got outed, Elise. How did that happen?

LABOTT

11:34:03
Got outed. The White House put out a list of people that -- military advisors on the ground that the president was meeting with. And he was among the list. That went out to the pool and that went out to thousands of reporters including all of the people that received the pool note. And when they quickly recognized the error, they tried to say, oh well, use this list instead. Most new organizations did not publish the name but a lot of it, it did get out. And now the question is, is this person's career kind of ruined for their foreseeable future at least?

LABOTT

11:34:36
And I just want to make a point on the troop issue. I think that one of the criticisms is that this is an arbitrary deadline. The president had said all along that it would -- he would listen to his advisors in terms of the conditions on the ground. And now it seems as -- his critics are saying that this is a kind of -- as Paul said, by the end of my term I will have all troops out of Afghanistan. And I think aides would say, look, this gives predictability to the Afghans that they know they'd be ready.

LABOTT

11:35:05
But as we've been talking about, it's unclear whether they will be ready. There's a lot that needs to go forward. The Afghans are still deciding who will win their -- or still figure out the results of their election. The United States still has to have a partner -- bilateral strategic agreement on the status of forces with the Afghan government. So a lot needs to be worked out between now and the end of 2016. And it remains to be seen whether those Afghan troops will be ready or whether the president will need to keep a few more troops in. And a lot of people think that he should've left his options a little bit more open.

REHM

11:35:40
Okay. Let's take a caller in Baltimore, Md. Zach, you're on the air.

ZACH

11:35:48
Thanks for taking my call, Diane. I'm no staunch defender of congress' funding priorities but I think the nature of the scandal through VA where they were reporting they were seeing people in timely fashion doesn't signal the congress that they need to fund the VA more. And I think that it created this self-perpetuating cycle in which congress wasn't funding the VA because they were reporting they were seeing everyone in a timely fashion.

REHM

11:36:11
That's an interesting point.

KITFIELD

11:36:13
It's a good point. When the system starts lying to the leaders and the leaders -- it's hard to know where culpability lies in the leadership if, you know, basically the baseline you're going off of is a false one.

REHM

11:36:23
But with a new director, do you believe more money would be forthcoming?

KITFIELD

11:36:31
I think there will be more money forthcoming. The fight will be over whether it is to fund the ability of VAs to go to private hospitals. That's something the Republicans are very anxious to have more of. Already 10 percent of the VA budget goes to that but because of this debate about health care in this country, that's going to be where the Republicans are going to be pushing and the Democrats will push for more money for the VA proper. And we'll have, you know, another...

REHM

11:36:52
Is that sort of an effort to get rid of one more government agency?

KITFIELD

11:36:58
Well, they certainly -- I mean, they're philosophically sort of opposed to the idea of a big nationalized socialized health care system. So they would like to privatize it to the event possible, yeah.

REHM

11:37:07
James Kitfield of National Journal, Elise Labott of CNN, Paul Danahar of the BBC, author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring." Short break. We'll be right back.

REHM

11:39:55
And welcome back. We are talking about international issues in this hour of "The Friday News Roundup." Let's turn to Pakistan where the Obama administration says the CIA has quit using immunization programs as a cover for spying operations. What's the story there, Paul?

DANAHAR

11:40:24
Well, basically, they set up a lot of sham vaccination programs to gather intelligence. And that was also part of the hunt for bin Laden. But the consequences have been catastrophic in Pakistan. It's basically meant that if you're a health worker, the Taliban consider you to be a spy or a potential spy, and they have been murdered. And that has set back the public health initiatives dramatically. And the reality is there are kids that are going to grow up crippled in Pakistan from polio or from other health issues because of this CIA program.

REHM

11:40:56
And there was another honor killing in Pakistan, Elise.

LABOTT

11:41:01
An honor killing. A woman was stoned to death for refusing to take part in an arranged marriage. Originally she was supposed to marry this other Pakistani gentleman, who I might add by the way killed his first wife in order that he could marry this woman. But that's a side issue. But it goes to the whole idea that women are expendable in this way. She married him. Her family wanted her to marry one of her cousins. And instead, the father and a bunch of brothers and cousins stoned her to death. And this is very common in Pakistan, these honor killings, where if the woman has brought shame on the family, the family feels justified.

LABOTT

11:41:40
And in this particular instance, Diane, this was in broad daylight. And bystanders, police, just stood by and watched.

REHM

11:41:49
Hmm.

LABOTT

11:41:50
Now the prime minister has said, this is unacceptable. The father has been arrested. They're looking for the others. But this pervasive culture in Pakistan and...

REHM

11:41:59
Going back centuries.

LABOTT

11:42:01
Centuries, but also not just in Pakistan, but throughout the Middle East...

REHM

11:42:04
Exactly.

LABOTT

11:42:04
...of these honor killings, where women are allowed to be killed, in some cases legally, because they have quote, unquote "brought shame" on their families.

REHM

11:42:14
James.

KITFIELD

11:42:14
Yeah, I man it's a really horrific, cultural sort of, you know, overlay from centuries past. The UN says 5,000 honor killings happen each year. A lot of women's groups think that number is very underreported and as high as 20,000. So, but I mean the idea of a pregnant being stoned to death by her own family because she doesn't want to marry a guy who killed his first wife so he could marry her, I mean, it couldn't -- it doesn't get much more horrific than that. And hopefully this will be one of those teaching moments that the Pakistanis will look at and say, we need to change this culture.

REHM

11:42:48
And what's happening in India?

LABOTT

11:42:51
India, another case of gang rape of a woman. And we were talking about before the show about how this isn't about an Islamic -- these crazy Islamists raping a woman. This is also a pervasive part of the culture of India, where gang rapes are very common.

DANAHAR

11:43:11
And this was also to do with caste. And these were what used to be called untouchable girls. There were two girls in a village. And there's many issues here. The reason why they're away from their families was they had no toilets at home. They had to go out into the fields. That left them vulnerable to men attacking them. And when they went out in the morning, they were attacked. They were attacked by people that were also of the Dalit or untouchable caste, but lower down that section of the caste than they were.

DANAHAR

11:43:38
So when their parents when to the police and said, our girls are missing, they just dismissed them. And so, you know, this is a problem. It's not about religion. It is about culture. And it does go across the whole of South Asia -- Afghanistan, it happens in India. And we've even had honor-killing cases in the UK where this culture has been carried into the UK by immigration and it hasn't been unlocked yet. That's -- it's still an issue there. A very small number of cases, but it does still happen.

DANAHAR

11:44:03
The reality is that India and Pakistan are countries where women are not seen as equal to men on any level. Even though you've had prime ministers of India that have been women, they're still seen as being something that you own if you're a man, if you come from a poor, rural, backward community. It doesn't happen so much in the urban centers.

DANAHAR

11:44:23
But why the Pakistani case was so shocking was it happened outside of court. Many of these honor killings happen in rural areas, away from the public eye. This happened outside of court as policemen were standing around watching. They intervened when the girl was dead. And that's what's really caused concern. It's the middle classes in these countries -- it's the middle-class media in India that's brought this to the forefront, because it's been getting out of the rural areas and into the urban centers.

LABOTT

11:44:48
Yeah, on the larger issue of women and their expendability. I mean, if you look at what's happening in Sudan also. There's a woman who was arrested for refusing to convert from Islam to Christianity, a pregnant woman, now has been sentenced to death. And there's been a lot of pressure on the United States to do more, to maybe use aid as a lever.

LABOTT

11:45:13
And I think the question is, the US holds itself up as the moral authority on women's rights around the world and says that this is part of its policy. But you look at some of these countries and the kind of lax laws and the failure to prosecute some of these people available, and you want to know where the consequences of US policy are really on these women's rights issues.

REHM

11:45:35
All right. Let's go back to the phones to Jerry in O'Fallon, Mo. You're on the air.

JERRY

11:45:45
Good morning.

REHM

11:45:45
Hi.

JERRY

11:45:46
I just find it hard to understand how we can exercise our rights or say we're the moral authority when, you know, I'm not endorsing honor killings, but, you know, up until maybe 50 years ago, lynchings and other violence against African Americans was quite common. I don't think we would have invited another country to come in and intervene in that. And I think maybe we should talk a look at our own cultures before we're out criticizing or even acting on the actions of others.

DANAHAR

11:46:16
But I think these issues are of a concern inside those countries. I don't think it's a matter of trying to push an alien culture on to Pakistan or India. Urban, middle-class Pakistanis and Indians and Afghans, they don't treat their women like that. They don't want their women and their girls to be treated like that.

DANAHAR

11:46:35
There is a move within these countries to change that culture, because that culture is old fashioned and people need to move on. It doesn't help their economies. When you don't educate women, it undermines your economies. And people know that if they don't look after their women and their girls, it will damage them in the end.

KITFIELD

11:46:53
I actually disagree with the listener in the sense that I think whenever you call out these things, you probably -- it's helpful. And if in the 1950s and '60s when we were -- had segregation in the South, if we were called out on that, then I think that was probably a helpful thing. I think you should be called out. And we all understand what's right and what's wrong. If something wrong is being committed, let's air it. That's my view.

REHM

11:47:16
All right. Let's talk about the Egyptian elections, which were extended for a day because of extraordinarily low turnout. And General al-Sisi won by 47 percent, in what had been deemed questionable elections.

LABOTT

11:47:38
Won by about 97 percent, 47 percent turnout. That is really low, and that's why...

DANAHAR

11:47:44
Allegedly 47 percent. People said it goes even lower than that and they fiddled the books.

LABOTT

11:47:48
So that means that roughly most of the half of the people voted for him. But that really does -- and that's why they had to extend it for a third day, because it was such low turnout.

REHM

11:47:57
And people demanding that others come out to vote and swearing at women on the air for not coming out to vote.

LABOTT

11:48:06
And, you know, the international observers had said, listen, the lack of a credible opposition, the political climate that's going on in Egypt right now, really cast doubt on the international legitimacy of the elections. That's not to say that they're not -- the United States and the rest of the world is not going to acknowledge al-Sisi as the next president and deal with him. But he -- the question is, does he really now have a mandate? And how does this affect how he's going to be able to implement his agenda?

REHM

11:48:36
And how much aid does he get from the US, James?

KITFIELD

11:48:41
Roughly $1.3 billion a year. The second recipient...

REHM

11:48:43
And will that continue?

KITFIELD

11:48:44
Yes, because the administration has found no way to disengage our security interest, including Egypt's peace treaty with Israel and its fight against terrorism in the Sinai, with really a lot of distaste in the Obama administration about their sliding farther and farther away from any kind of a democracy that could bear the name. You know, listen, the last person who -- before this election, the last free election was won by a Muslim Brother who, you know, al-Sisi, you know, deposed in a coup.

KITFIELD

11:49:17
He claim, you know, he quickly sort of proclaimed them a terrorist organization, made them persona non grata, killed more than a thousand in demonstrations, locked them up, persecuted them. So the idea that there's been no great turnout or a viable opposition shouldn’t surprise anyone, right?

DANAHAR

11:49:31
And the reality is that what's really damaged him was that extended day. That extra day completely undermined the whole idea that people wanted to come out and vote for him. Then it just took it back to the old days of Mubarak and fiddling the books. So he's begun his term completely undermined by the process that got him elected in the first place.

REHM

11:49:49
All right. To Marika -- no, I'm sorry, to Mike in Fort Wayne, Ind. You're on the air.

MIKE

11:49:59
Thanks, Diane. I just wanted to comment that it seems like a lot of the commentary today has been pretty critical of the president and not very consistent. In one way, people are saying he's not leaving his options open. In the other way, they're disappointed by the speech -- not kind of giving his doctrine or a statement. And that kind of prejudices, you know, our policy toward things like axis of evil or some preemption or something. And that's -- that doesn't fit with who this president is. It just doesn't fit with where we need to go in an era of the Arab Spring and cheesed-off Europe at us.

MIKE

11:50:34
That's, in fact, you know, what's worked for us recently and what worked in the Cold War, frankly, was this pragmatism. And what got Iran to the table now wasn't axis of evil. It was pragmatism. And what got Benghazi saved from being a bloodbath was pragmatism, working with the Europeans. So what got Ukraine to go Westward -- we're worried about Crimea, what about what we have with Ukraine now? So...

REHM

11:50:57
All right. James, what do you think? Pragmatism on the part the president works?

KITFIELD

11:51:04
Well, I, you know, I think probably on this panel, I am a little more supportive of the difficulty of giving a foreign-policy speech to sort of make sense and coherence of many disparate crises that are around the world. But I took the president's point on trying to describe a middle ground between idealism, which says you intervene everywhere if you're moral values are being assaulted like they are in Syria today or wherever, and sort of a realism that says only when your vital -- most vital interests are involved.

KITFIELD

11:51:32
For instance, an attack on the United States is eminent or something like -- or your allies. Only in those cases you use military force. He's trying to say, no, it's something in between. But if it's not a vital interest, we need more partners. We need to do that in a much more multilateral way and the bar for military action is higher. You know? And we can all criticize the way he has applied that. I have been very critical about doing nothing on Syria for so long. But the general concept, I think, is probably as good as you're going to get for a country that's very weary after a decade of war.

REHM

11:52:00
Absolutely.

LABOTT

11:52:02
I agree with that, that the country is weary. But I do think that the speech was perceived anyway as being at the farther end of those two scenarios, between doing everything and doing nothing. And I think people did see it as a retreat. I mean, the way he explains it, this new doctrine, if you will, would have looked back to many years of some of the involvements that the US got involved in -- in Bosnia, for instance, in maybe Rwanda, for instance, in Somalia. The US would have not gone after those crises.

DANAHAR

11:52:37
But I do think the problem with the president is that he makes big, grand statements. And then there's no follow up. I mean, if you...

REHM

11:52:43
That red line, people will not forget.

DANAHAR

11:52:45
They will not forget it. But it's not just that. And he talked about a new beginning with the Middle East, when he went to Cairo. And that never happened.

LABOTT

11:52:50
Exactly.

DANAHAR

11:52:51
He talked, just as I said earlier, in the UNGA, my two big foreign policy things are Middle East peace -- and then he forgets to mention it in a speech about foreign policy. I think it's not that America should be expected to go around the world bombing. America shouldn't suggest it might do, and then not do it afterwards. It's a case of credibility.

REHM

11:53:10
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We'll go back to the phones to Marika in Potomac, Md. You're on the air.

MARIKA

11:53:22
Hi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.

REHM

11:53:23
Certainly.

MARIKA

11:53:24
I'm calling because I'm a Ukrainian-American. My uncle was murdered, first of all, tortured and murdered in 1948 -- '45, at the age of 20 by Russians while fighting the Nazis and the Soviets for Ukrainian independence. My grandfather was a political prisoner in a Siberian gulag. This oppression of Ukrainians has been going on by Russia for centuries. And Putin is a proud successor of the Soviet system and he's determined to kill even more Ukrainians. 20 million Ukrainians have been killed by the Russians so far in their history. And there's no sign of them wanting to stop until they take over Ukraine again.

REHM

11:54:07
James.

KITFIELD

11:54:07
Well, I mean, the history is correct. Stalin, you know, basically starved Ukraine to death. I think the 20 million was a pretty close figure for who died in that famine. Putin does see the dissolution of the Soviet Union as a huge catastrophe, the worst in the 20th century in his words. So I think his intentions on Ukraine is that it becomes a subservient country that looks first to Moscow to do its bidding. And he -- so far, he's getting his way.

LABOTT

11:54:35
I think he has accomplished his objective, which is really to make sure that Ukraine becomes a semi-failed state, which isn't going to move towards the West. He has plenty of opportunity to do that, even if he does some kind of tactical withdrawal for the meantime. I think that Ukraine has to step up now. I mean, they have a dismal record of kind of lost opportunities, with their independence from the Soviet Union, after their Orange Revolution.

LABOTT

11:55:00
There's going to be a lot of international aid now, a lot of international attention. And yes, they need to be wary of Russia's intentions. But I think one of the things that the US is saying now is, we'll help the Ukrainians, but they now have an opportunity for the future. They need to step up and show leadership.

DANAHAR

11:55:16
I think, Elise, what we've seen here is that Putin, when he draws a line, he sticks to his line. And I think that's the contrast we're seeing here is that the Russians are projecting power and they're acting on the projections and the promises that they make. And America is not seen to be doing that. It's seen to be making threats -- Assad must go, red lines, et cetera, et cetera, without the follow up. I think the president's either got to mean what he says or not say it.

REHM

11:55:38
But how much farther do you see Putin going here? Is he simply going to keep everything off balance? Or is he going to be more aggressive?

KITFIELD

11:55:50
I think it's pretty clear that he's not going to invade Eastern Ukraine. There was a point there, after he had annexed Crimea and had his, you know, 50,000 troops on the border where you thought, okay, that maybe he's actually going to do that. It's become very clear that he's having really second thoughts about that. As I said, he embraced this election, said it was legitimate. He's going to talk with the new president. But I also agree with the comment that he's going to keep it off balance. He's going to keep it -- he's going to fight its coherence in a way that keeps it subservient to Moscow's wishes.

REHM

11:56:19
James Kitfield, Elise Labott, Paul Danahar, thank you all so much.

LABOTT

11:56:24
Thank you. Have a good weekend.

DANAHAR

11:56:24
Thanks to you.

REHM

11:56:25
Have a great weekend everybody. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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