Nine years ago, former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran while on a mission for the CIA. The story of his secret journey to Iran, the CIA cover-up that followed and efforts to rescue the longest-held U.S. hostage.
Guest Host: Frank Sesno
An Israeli airstrike kills the top Hamas military commander. Congress holds hearings on the Benghazi, Libya, consulate attack. And China’s ruling Communist Party names its top leader. A panel of journalists joins guest host Frank Sesno to discuss the week’s top international stories, what happened and why.
- Nathan Guttman Washington correspondent for Channel 1 Israeli News and The Jewish Daily Forward.
- Courtney Kube national security producer for NBC News.
- James Kitfield senior correspondent for National Journal.
MR. FRANK SESNOAnd thanks for joining us. I'm Frank Sesno. Excuse me, Frank Sesno. I think I'm still with you, of the George Washington University and facethefacts.org, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on a station visit today. Fighting escalates between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza raising fears of a ground war. China seats a new leader as head of both the Communist Party and the Armed Forces.
MR. FRANK SESNOAnd U.S. lawmakers hold hearings on the Benghazi consult attack. Joining me for this week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, James Kitfield of National Journal magazine, Courtney Kube of NBC News and Mr. Nathan Guttman of Channel 1 Israeli News and The Jewish Daily Forward. Hello to all of you.
MR. NATHAN GUTTMANYes.
MS. COURTNEY KUBEGood morning.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDGood morning.
SESNOLet us start with what is clearly the most urgent and that is the Middle East. Nathan, start us, what's the latest out of Israel and Gaza?
GUTTMANI think we're going into the second day of confrontation between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza led by the Hamas. Latest count has about 550 rockets shot from Gaza into Israel but the main thing is the extended, the way the war zone has extended from what used to be only the Gaza and its surrounding into Tel Aviv area. We've seen a few rockets land in the Tel Aviv region.
GUTTMANAnd recently we had a rocket in the Jerusalem area. Jerusalem was considered out of the conflict, out of this conflict at least for a while, and all over the southern part of Israel. So definitely it is changing, at least conceptually for Israelis, who have been used to these kind of rocket attacks. But now for the first time are having to face them even in the main metropolitan areas of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
SESNOAnd what is the Israeli leadership telling the Israeli people as to what is to come?
GUTTMANWell, there is no exit strategy that's been spelt out to the Israelis so right now the Israeli leadership is telling Israelis be patient, be strong, we are winning this confrontation and we are managing to deteriorate the Hamas' ability to fire rockets and missiles towards Israel. And so far, I think, Israelis are accepting this.
SESNOAnd, Courtney, in Gaza, what is happening there and what are Gazians being told?
KUBEWell, there were, I mean, there are two things that I thought were very striking today, alone. I mean, as Nathan said, there were, a rocket that landed inside of Jerusalem. It's the first time the holy city has ever been struck by militants from Gaza. So that is extremely significant. Also in Gaza today the Egyptian prime minister went in to visit with Hamas. He led a high level delegation, another very significant development.
KUBEBecause this proves, I mean, obviously when Mohammad Morsi came into power in Egypt, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood...
KUBE...as president, yes. It was obvious that he was going to be closer to Hamas than perhaps his predecessor Mubarak had been. But this is a very real, you know, outreach to Hamas today and a very evident expression of that to the international community that Egypt, this new government in Egypt, is going to continue to, is going to support Hamas perhaps at the expense we don't know of, Israeli and Egypt's, Israel and Egypt's very tentative peace.
KITFIELDYou know, what concerns me about this is, I mean, any, you know, Hamas has had this internal power tension between trying to rule Gaza and still be the face of the Palestinian Resistance, militants. And more recently the head of the military wing, Jaabari, who was assassinated by Israel this week, was elected to the Surat, inside of Hamas sort of governing council and it was a signal that there was going to be a more militant, sort of, the militants were sort of winning that internal power struggle.
KITFIELDAnd you saw rockets attacks on Israel crank up after that, you saw them fire anti-tank rockets at Israeli vehicles. So they definitely sort of escalated this and it shows that to me, the status quo is going to be harder and harder for Israel to sustain like this.
KITFIELDGaza's an open wound, they no longer can count on Mubarak and Egypt to sort of isolate Hamas and there's this uprising throughout the whole region and clearly the, you know, occupation of the occupied territories is an open wound that is going to inflame the whole region which is already very combustible.
SESNONathan, there are reports of buses of Israeli troops and trucks loaded with people and tanks and other armor personnel carriers headed to Gaza. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has authorized the call up of some 30,000 army reservists. Are we seeing preparations for a ground war?
GUTTMANWell, we're definitely seeing the Israeli military being willing to go into a ground war if needed and the Israeli cabinet approved that with no problem. The Israeli public seems to be supportive of this kind of action, although I think the general notion is that a ground war is the last resort and I believe that Israelis would like to resolve this without reaching the stage of ground war.
GUTTMANIn the past, we've seen Israel ground incursions into Gaza and the success of these incursions was very limited. Most of what Israel can do in terms of fighting Hamas can be done from the air and really entering Gaza would be seen as complicating the situation.
SESNOBut Nathan, respond to now what James is saying just a moment ago, about in this equation and Courtney was referring to this, too, in terms of where does this go with Egypt, with this incredibly tenacious peace, more tenacious after the Arab Spring as a result of the complete removal of the previous leadership which supported this peace deal for all these years.
SESNODoes this just open up a new Pandora's Box of uncertainty and tumult in the region?
GUTTMANDefinitely, it complicates the situation. In the past, Israel could always count on the Mubarak regime and albeit reluctantly to step in and try to rein in Hamas when they felt that things were getting out of hand. The head of the Egyptian Intelligence was the go-between person for Israel and Hamas and he had these informal negotiations between the two sides.
GUTTMANSo Egypt was a responsible player that was seen as being able to moderate Hamas. And we're not seeing that anymore. Having said that, Morsi is keeping in mind the fact that he does want to maintain a certain, he does want to keep the peace process and he does want to maintain good relationship with the United States. So it is likely to see him stopping short of actually endorsing this.
SESNOBut how does this uncertainty affect the calculus on the Israeli side, on Netanyahu's side? Does it at all?
GUTTMANI think it does at the end of the day because the Israelis do understand that there is no Egyptian player to count on to actually stop this...
SESNOSo how? How? Does it moderate slow, accelerate, what they're going to do?
GUTTMANI believe it would moderate them eventually, it would make them think twice.
SESNOAnd Courtney, in terms of what this means for the United States of America?
KUBEWell, I mean, obviously as Nathan was saying, Morsi does want to keep good relations with the Western world, especially the United States who provides about $2 billion a year in aid. So he needs to not have the international community, specifically the West, believe that an Islamist state in Egypt is a concern to them.
KUBEAnd there's another huge international player here that is going to have an impact on this and that's Syria. Right across the border in Syria there's this unraveling civil war that is showing very little sign of any kind of end anytime soon. And that's got to be another thing that's playing this growing uncertainty and instability in the region.
SESNOAnd now Syria, very prominent. Turkey, a NATO ally, a U.S. ally, is recognizing their newly formed rebel collation and suggesting that there could be military fallout, if I can use that term, surrounding them.
KITFIELDRight, I mean, I've said for quite a while, on this show included, that, you know, for the U.S. sort of arms link stands to the Syrian war and to let it sort of burn unabated. At some point the risk of that would outweigh cost of actually being more assertive.
KITFIELDAnd I think we've seen this week we basically twisted a lot of arms to get a more coherent opposition so that we can more directly support, now President Obama in his press conference this week said he's not going to arm the rebels but if they keep losing and this thing keeps spinning out of control, it's the logical next step because we've already taken sides on this conflict and Iran is not shy about arming the Assad regime.
KITFIELDRussia's not shy about arming them. If we've taken a side and this thing is headed in our trajectory that we can't stomach which increasingly the case with our allies, Turkey for instance, Lebanon, Jordan. It seems to me that we're moving a step closer to actually arming and getting behind the rebellion because they, it's a stalemate now and the stalemate's on a very negative trajectory in the region.
SESNOAnd well, it's not a stalemate for hundreds of thousands of people who've already been displaced unfortunately by this. There are 400,000 refugees who have spilled over the borders into other countries.
KUBEYes, not just, I mean, refugees. There are munitions spilling over the borders. I think the two biggest, I've been saying for since this started almost two years ago, the two biggest problems that this opposition has faced is they've been fractured...
SESNOThey Syrian opposition.
KUBE...the Syrian opposition, yes, is that they've been fractured. They've never been able to come together in any sense. And they hold no actual ground inside of Syria and hopefully the agreement that came together last week and now Turkey, France, some of the Gulf nations, are coming behind, backing this new opposition force. Hopefully now this will be the impetus, this will be what they need, the catalyst to actually start moving forward and create some sort of actual opposition that can actually give the Assad regime a run for their money.
SESNOSo we're juggling two themes in this conversation. Nathan, come back to the first. What precipitated the Israeli strike on Gaza to start this latest most immediate armed conflict, on Wednesday that killed Ahmed Jaabari, the military chief of Hamas?
GUTTMANWell, I think in the run up to the assassination of Jabari, Israel saw an increase in attacks from Gaza against, in civilians and military targets within its border. Now, these things happen all the time and Israelis living around the border are already almost used to these daily rocket attacks. But in this situation it just increased to a level in which it was expected that Israel would respond.
GUTTMANThe response that Israel chose in killing Hamas military leader was to a certain extent, a surprise, to Israelis and Palestinians alike because it was seen as taking this conflict two steps forward and to really escalating it. And the Israeli calculation was that once in a while there is a need to take these kinds of dramatic steps in order to deal these ongoing threats from the Palestinian side.
SESNOJames, we've seen this movie before, but obviously some of the set has changed because of the politics.
KITFIELDChanged pretty dramatically.
SESNODramatically. So as you're thinking about the week ahead, looking at the week just passed...
SESNO...what are you looking for?
KITFIELDWell, I'm looking for whether there is a ground incursion into Gaza because that would then immediately remind everyone of 2008 and the Iron, was case led or…
KITFIELD...Castle led operation which went on for three weeks, a lot of civilians killed. Really ruptured Israel's relationship with Turkey and then some other allies, was a very negative blowback from that operation. If we see something like that especially now with so much radicalization in the area, I mean, right across the border in Sinai, you see Salafi groups agitating a lot more. You see it, as we said, jihadists are pouring into Syria, radicalizing the Syrian opposition. You know, it seems to be one more step closer to a sort of regional wide sort of configuration.
SESNOAnd coming up, more discussion about the situation in the Middle East and the international situation this week on the Friday News Roundup. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
SESNOYou're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Frank Sesno sitting in for Diane today. She's off on a station visit. With us in the studio, James Kitfield, senior correspondent for National Journal, Courtney Kube, national security producer for NBC News and Nathan Guttman, Washington correspondent for Channel 1 Israeli News and the Jewish Daily Forward.
SESNOContinuing on with our conversation, and we will be incorporating calls from our viewers and your emails in a few minutes. Our line is open at 1-800-433-8850 if you want to call in. Or send us an email at email@example.com. Folks, I'd like to ask you this, the European Union is considering an arms embargo that they've had in place on Syria. How soon might that happen and what might--what effect might that have on the war there, James?
KITFIELDIt's a logical next step. As I said, this thing is a stalemate. We have identified ourselves as being on the side of one -- of the rebellion. We've now twisted their arms until they've created a more coherent opposition. The logical next step is to help them prevail in this conflict because it's going in a trajectory that we can't stomach in the region. France and the United Kingdom have been very forward leaning talking about this. If you'll remember, they're the two that really got NATO involved in Libya.
KITFIELDSo I think, you know, we also know that Saudi Arabians and the Qataris are already arming the opposition but they're arming, especially in the case of Saudi Arabia, some Salafi groups that cause us a lot of heartburn. So you really, you know, want to get your hands around who's getting the arms and can you trust them to not turn them on the wrong people when the conflict is over. But that is the logical next step, but I tell you, they will not move without the United States.
SESNOWell, Courtney, that's what I was going to ask you, where...
KITFIELDRussia will (unintelligible).
SESNO...where is the United States? Where is the secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Advisor, the president of the United States?
KUBEThey're not ready to arm the opposition yet.
KUBEAnd the biggest concern is it would -- they don't want a repeat of what happened in Afghanistan when they armed the Taliban and those weapons ended up going to people who fought against the United States. And it's a very real concern. You know, as we just said...
SESNOWhy is it -- but this is a question that came up repeatedly in the campaign, why is the Syrian opposition, disheveled as it is, any different than the Libyan opposition which, as we've seen, was very fractured?
KUBEWell, there's two things. Number one, there has been evidence throughout this entire conflict of Al-Qaida influence. And whether it's been some sense of the attacks that have occurred, of the specific strikes, of the tactics, whatever. So that's a huge concern. The other problem is they just don't know who a lot of these people are. And you'll recall, in Libya while the United States and France and other nations were helping, I don't recall a large portion of the United States weapons going to the opposition.
KUBEWe sent in, you know, hundreds of (word?) and whatnot and aerial, you know, assets and whatnot but that was it. I think the biggest problem is it's just almost impossible to ensure that all the arms that would go in would go to the "good opposition." I think that France will probably bring this up at an EU Summit in Brussels on Monday. But my sense from people I've been speaking to is that there is not enough agreement amongst the EU nations to actually -- even to send in any kind of defensive weapons to the opposition.
SESNOAnd, Nathan, there have been some flare-ups between Israel and Syria.
GUTTMANExactly. We've seen -- before this flare-up in the Gaza border, we've seen a few events and incidents along the Syrian border, which were described as mistakes. But still they made Israelis very nervous about what's going on there. I just would like to add maybe about really what Courtney was saying, which describes exactly the dilemma here in Washington about arming these opposition groups. There's also a concern about the next step.
GUTTMANSo it's clear that even if you arm opposition groups with light weaponry or with whatever you can, they still cannot stand up to the Syrian military. So what is the next step then? Do you move forward with the military intervention?
SESNOOne question before I move your international lens homeward for a few minutes to talk about what's going on with General Petraeus and these hearings that are taking place on Capitol Hill. An email from James from Fairfax County, Va., "Can your guests discuss the correlation between developments arising from the Arab Spring and the escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip in Israel? How does that bode for the future of the region? What does it mean for the U.S. during Obama's second term?" Correlation of Arab Spring and the violence, James.
KITFIELDWell, as I said at the outset, I think the Arab Spring -- and we have had -- we've tried to convince our Israeli friends of this -- that the status quo in the peace process is going to be harder and harder to sustain because it's an open wound. The Palestinian cause, if you will, is an open wound in the Arab world. The Arab world now has a lot of governments that have to reflect the will of their street. That will is very, very anti-Israel because primarily of the occupation of the Palestinian territories and Gaza. Gaza's basically a refugee camp surrounded by, you know, another military from other countries.
KITFIELDSo I think it -- the Arab Spring's going to make it much more uncomfortable for Israel to sort of accept the status quo. I think we strategically have been trying to get the Israelis to sort of launch this process, stop settlements. That didn't work very well in Obama's first term. I think they're going to have to try to go back at it with, you know, the recent evidence to try to convince the Israelis that status quo is very difficult to (unintelligible) .
SESNOAnd lean on the Israelis? Do you really expect Barack Obama to lean on the Israelis to do anything?
KITFIELDI think it'll require the Israelis to have a different mindset. And it may not be under Prime Minister Netanyahu but, you know, basically the situation is -- if the status quo is not sustainable, what will happen is it'll keep getting worse until there's a change of...
SESNOAnd Nathan, what comes out of Gaza are horrible stories and pictures of civilians and others who are going to get -- who are already being caught in these cross-fires. I mean, you talk about the rockets that are raining down on Israel. What's raining down on Gaza is much more significant militarily and is going to take a very serious toll that's going to reverberate around the region.
GUTTMANDefinitely, but I think the way the Israelis in view of the conflict and the broader Arab Spring and the changes in the Middle East is actually as a sign that Israel has to hunker down now and that Israel is not ready to make any concessions to the Palestinians. Because Israelis, in their minds, look around and they see Syria going to a direction they don't really understand, Egypt becoming more extreme, not clear what's going to happen in Jordan and in any other country around.
GUTTMANSo for Israelis they see the situation as actually being more threatening and therefore in their willingness if there was anyone in this to compromise on the Palestinian issue, it has definitely diminished.
SESNOSo here we have the world doing what the world does so well and what the Middle East does so well, which is to throw all these big question marks on the table. Meanwhile we have General Petraeus and sort of a vacuum at the top of the U.S. intelligence structure, despite the fact that Mr. Morell's going in there to hold the position. What is the consequence of this, Courtney?
KUBEWell, internationally right now it's not really clear. I mean, one thing that General Petraeus definitely is -- or Director Petraeus had was a good relationship with Pakistan. So the U.S. loses that, which is significant at this time. I mean, you know, I've really searched this week for any kind of international sentiment that shows how this is being viewed overseas. There was a -- the Afghans who have been asked about Afghan leadership and whatnot -- Afghan military, they seem to think that this is sort of a personal issue and that it's not something that going to have any kind of impact on the actual U.S. policy or on the ground there.
KUBEThere was an interesting quote from a Taliban spokesperson who laughed out loud when he heard about it and said, well that's the way, you know, Americans are and it's not surprising. And then had some ideas for how to punish General Petraeus and General Allen for their indiscretions. But it doesn't seem...
KITFIELDDid it involve stoning or...
KUBEIt involved both stoning and then his alleged mistresses' family shooting him. So -- but you know, there has been, you know, in the midst of all of this scandal that's had us all cringing all week, there also was a big story that General Petraeus was involved in still. And that was he went into Libya very quietly about two weeks ago, before -- while he was still CIA Director, to investigate what happened in Benghazi. He interviewed witnesses. He spoke to people who were on the ground there at the time. And he got a sense of it and that has been one of the biggest question marks in D.C. and around the world is, what happened on the ground and when did they know?
SESNOAddress that, James.
KITFIELDYeah, it was -- it's interesting. I mean, we -- I looked at this story when -- before the election. The Republicans were making a very big deal of this cover-up -- I mean, Watergate, as Senator McCain said -- and was told by senior intelligent officials that yes, what Susan Rice was reading off of on that Sunday morning talk show when she said it was the result of, you know, spontaneous demonstrations as a result of this video -- anti-Muslim video, were essentially the talking points that they gave her.
KITFIELDNow General -- Director Petraeus is apparently saying, if you can believe it -- it's in classified hearings. We don't know exactly, but we're hearing form Congressman King and others that he's saying that the CIA said from the beginning that this was a terrorist group involved in this attack and it might have been premeditated. Well, if that's the case it raises the question of, why didn't that make it into the talking points that were given to Susan Rice? Is there some different view from General Clapper who's the Director of National Intelligence and Petraeus' boss and the CIA.
KITFIELDAnd, I mean, that's an interesting point but I wouldn't, you know, stress that. There is a mountain being made out of a mole hill here.
SESNOYou think there is or there is not?
KITFIELDOh, I think there is a mountain being made out of a mole hill. Whether those guys were, you know, had heard about the video and saw a target of opportunity, whether they -- there was initially, you know, by the time the predators saw them they were already there and that was read as a demonstration but it was really these Jihadis, we don't really know. What we do know is we lost four people including the U.S. Ambassador.
KITFIELDAnd to me the sums of the questions are why wasn't that consulate better defended? They had asked for more security. That, to me, is a, you know, when someone knew it was actually a terrorist attack or it was just, you know, to me, is almost superfluous if it wasn't such a -- you know, a drum being beaten by Senator McCain and Senator Graham that this is a Watergate-style cover-up. I don't buy it yet.
SESNOBut Courtney, isn't there something to the argument from the other side that's seeking to climb the mountain here that what you tell your public, especially when you're in the middle of the -- of an election, goes right to the heart of your own credibility as an administration?
KUBEThe problem is, there is a very real perception here that Ambassador Rice lied, that she flat out lied. Now -- and here's why. My understanding of what happened was that within about a day of the attack, the morning after the attack, that the intelligence was that it was a premeditated, if not poorly planned attack, that it was -- and that there was some kind of a militant group -- Ansar al-Sharia was the name that came out -- that was involved. Later, a day or so later, there was more intelligence streams that were coming in and it was a significant number that were saying this was actually -- grew out of a protest.
KUBESo the problem is -- my understanding of what happened with Ambassador Rice was there was conflicting -- there were conflicting reports about what really happened. In the immediate aftermath there was belief this was a terrorist attack. The problem was rather than listening to their operators on the ground who were saying that frankly, they went with these other intelligence streams.
KUBEAnd the second problem was, the FBI didn't go in on the ground for what, ten days to get all the surveillance video that actually showed what it was. So I can understand why there are people on the Republican side who are saying it looks like Ambassador Rice lied. Which she may have been better off doing was frankly hedging her bets since there were two very real stories out there.
KITFIELDWell, unless the DNI's office is lying to reporters, then she was reading off the intelligence talking points they gave her. Now, they are responsible for taking all these intelligence streams and coming up with the most coherent picture. If that -- it's not for Susan Rice to actually, you know, pick up intelligence streams, you know, outside of the channels. She is supposed to -- I mean, he's the guy who briefs the president, you know, when he gives him (unintelligible) ...
SESNOThe Director of National Intelligence.
KITFIELD...Director of National Intelligence. So that to me is the best intelligence distillation that you have at the moment. And to call her a liar, I mean, I think this is why President Obama was so incense at that press conference was to call her a liar. Why not then talk about why she got those briefing points? It's not to me...
SESNOSo you're saying -- just for clarity you're saying that the DNI was saying the same thing to the president that she was saying publicly?
KITFIELDThe DNI was saying the same thing to the president she was saying publicly, the same talking points.
SESNOI'm Frank Sesno and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to join the conversation, please give us a call at 1-800-433-8850 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Nathan Guttman, I'd like to come to the question that matters most, it seems to me, in this conversation, and is any of this -- or does any of this -- how does any of this affect America's readiness, stature or perception abroad?
GUTTMANWell, I think it's interesting because the more we discuss this over here the more it seems strange to people watching it from the outside. I've been looking through...
SESNOAmerican scandals are always strange to people looking from the outside.
GUTTMANAnd especially this one. I think during the elections -- and people at least in the Middle East, understood this as some kind of a election season politicking between Republicans and Democrats. This attempt to discredit the president while -- and trying to gain some political points. But now people are just looking at it and are kind of baffled at this discussion. Because while it is clear that there was some kind of problem in Benghazi, this over hyped discussion about what exactly happened doesn't really come across as reasonable around the world.
SESNOI want to go to the phones now and bring Makti (sp?) into this conversation. Makti's calling from Houston, Texas. Go ahead, thanks for calling.
MAKTIThank you for taking my call. I appreciate it. My comment is about the Palestinian people who don't have a military or a (unintelligible) military to support them. And the United States needs to -- take a strong tone against this aggression against the Palestinian people who don't have any military. And while they're silent looking, this injustice going into Palestinian land.
SESNOOkay. Makti, thank you very much. Courtney, what about that? The Palestinian people don't have a military -- a formal military and they're going to be -- there already have been lots of civilians who have been caught in the crossfire. What does the United States have to say and do about that?
KUBEWell, they may not have a military, but they do have a lot of support in other nations. So -- and that's one of the things you asked James earlier what, you know, he was looking for next week and he said the ground invasion. Another thing that I would be looking for next week would be who else is drawn into this? You know, Hamas may have 10,000 odd rockets that they can fire into Israel but Hezbollah has 30,000. And Iran has long-range rockets they can fire from inside Iran into Israel. And they're much more accurate and they're much more deadly.
KUBESo it's true -- while it is true that the Palestinian people do not have a formal military, it's not necessarily accurate to say that they don't have any sort of a defensive or offensive capability.
SESNOOkay. Let's go to a question from Bob from Wells River, Vt. Hi, Bob.
BOBYes, thanks for taking my call.
BOBThat's my question is it seems to me that now that the election is over and Obama said in his news conference, I believe quite forcefully, that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon and that we're now sort of, you know, marching towards this nuclear abyss as far as Iran and what we're going to do about their nuclear weapons program. And it also seems to me kind of coincidental that now this new rocket technology the Palestinians are able to employ to actually get rockets into Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, in my memory it's really unprecedented.
BOBAnd so I'm wondering what the panel thinks about how this is going to inform the nuclear weapons -- the date as far as when and if we go and take care of Iran. And if it might not be that Iran is actually fomented this in order to -- you know, I don't know exactly what their outcome would be, but perhaps to (word?) the--or cloud this issue that has to do with them and their nuclear weapons program.
SESNOInteresting question, Bob. Thanks. James.
KITFIELDIt's a very good question. It's one that I've been pondering too because, you know, Prime Minister -- Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has very forcefully put the issue of Iran's nuclear program on a timeline on the front of the international agenda. He went so far as to get involved -- or perceived as involved in our presidential election, which is something you don't normally see Israeli prime ministers do. He is -- at his UN speech said, it's the spring this summer when Iran will cross a red line, as he put it, that beyond which Israel doesn't think it has the ability to stop them. So he's basically given us that kind of a timeline.
KITFIELDSo in that context I also look at Syria. I mean, Syria is -- if Assad prevails in that conflict it will be seen as a huge victory for Iran. And it's another case where I would think administration would be trying to get Syria off the dime because that effects exactly how Iran strategically views the region. It will feel more isolated if Assad falls.
SESNONathan, 15 seconds of fingerprint from Iran in all of this.
GUTTMANIran definitely supports the Hamas, but it's not because -- well, Iran doesn't operate Hamas and what is probably happy with what's going on in support of it. It isn't giving the instructions to Hama leaders.
SESNOComing up, your calls and questions as we continue our conversation on Iran, Middle East and China. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
SESNOWelcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Frank Sesno sitting in for Diane today. She's making a station visit. With us on our Friday News Roundup, James Kitfield, senior correspondent for National Journal; Courtney Kube, national security producer for NBC News; Nathan Guttman, Washington correspondent for Channel 1 Israeli News and the Jewish Daily Forward.
SESNOI want to go to some of the email questions that have been coming in as we've been talking about the crisis in the Middle East, spend a couple more minutes on this, and then turn to a very, very important story that's also happening overseas, and that's the change in leadership in China which really could be momentous as well, but in a very different way. First, an email from John in Virginia. "Do the guests know if the Israelis are allowing Palestinians to flee as this violence intensifies?" Nathan?
GUTTMANNo. The borders between Gaza and Israel have been closed for years, and they're closed now. Palestinians cannot flee towards Israeli. It is up the Egyptians, of course, to decide if they want to open the Rafah Gate and allow Palestinians out to the Sinai desert. So far they haven't done so.
SESNOOkay. Another question from Kevin. "What motive does the administration have for attributing Benghazi attacks to protests rather than to terrorists?"
KITFIELDWell, the argument from the Republican side is, you know, he -- and President Obama was very out front in his reelection saying, you know, I'm the guy who killed Osama bin Laden, I'm the -- and his counter-terrorism policies are extremely popular. He ratcheted up the drone program, has targeted a whole lot of al Qaida top leadership. So the argument was, he didn't want to story out just before the election that some terrorists had actually struck, you know, and American -- killed an American ambassador. You know, again, I think a lot of that was politicized.
SESNOAnd Courtney, here's one I'd like to put to you from Laurel, which asks whether you think the Libya investigation is really to understand what happened and to prevent future attacks, or a witch hunt against the administration?
KUBEWell, I think that it depends on who you ask, frankly. I mean, ultimately what they need to determine is whether they had enough security at the consulate, and whether they needed more.
SESNOWell, that's what really matters, right?
KUBEThat's the real question.
SESNOThat consulate and other outposts in the region.
SESNOAnd if they ask for more security and were denied it, who takes the fall for that?
KUBEWhy? Yeah. There was -- there's some speculation that there were budget problems and that's why they didn't get it. The fact is, you know, in overseas consulates and embassies, it's not uncommon for local authorities to secure an embassy, to secure a consulate. That's what happens in Iraq, in Baghdad. But that doesn't mean that it's necessarily the best thing if you're in such a tenuous, unstable area like Benghazi.
SESNOAnd here's to the phones, and Brad from Texas. Hi Brad.
BRADHi Frank. Thank you for having me on the show.
SESNOThanks for calling.
BRADI want to follow up on the previous caller's comments about Iran. How much of the (word?) into the Gaza strip is setting the conditions for an Israeli preemptive strike on Iran? Does Israel need to secure their borders prior to any type of preemptive strike on Iran?
GUTTMANWell, I think one of the considerations Israel always has regarding Iran is what will happen the day after Israel attacks Iran, and basically I think the conventional wisdom is that if Israel does attack Iran, a retaliation will come from two fronts, Gaza and Hezbollah and Lebanon. So in that sense, of course, the more you degrade the abilities of Hamas and Gaza, the better off you are. But I wouldn't say that you could interpret this as any kind of preparation for an Israeli attack. This has...
GUTTMANBecause this has more to do with developments on the ground, and because it seems that the Israeli timeline has shifted a little bit and that at least for the next six months or so, Israel is allowing diplomacy to run its course.
SESNOAll right. Let us turn the corner a little bit and look at another very, very important part of the world where a big change is underway, and that is in China where there's a new leader who is now the leader of the -- who is now the president but also commands the military, and that is Xi Jinping. He's known for shunning the spotlight, he's said to be something of a consensus builder. He's got a daughter, you know, under an alias at Harvard.
SESNOSo there's, you know, a strong connection to the west. He's younger to some extent than Chinese leaders have been at times in the past. What are we, the world, China, in for? What do we know?
KUBEWell, he's a blank slate right now, frankly. He's been a consensus builder, but he's...
SESNOHe's also married to a celebrity singer by the way.
KUBEHe's married to a singer who is believed to have -- to probably put her career aside now that she's -- he's in -- she's in the spotlight more. But, while he may be a consensus builder, one thing that we do not know is what he's going to do going forward. He's going to be surrounded by a lot of older leaders around him. So it's not likely that he's going to be implementing massive political reform during the next 10 years of his leadership.
KUBEOne thing that's already significant about him is -- about this change of power is that Hu Jintao for the first time ever has turned over all of his powers, or will turn over all of his powers for the first time in succession. He'll lead the military, he'll become the president in a couple months next spring, but it's still not quite clear what this is going to mean. He's got a lot of challenges on his plate. They have an economic slowdown. There's this growing outcry in China right now to tamp down on political corruption and on the elite, the powerful elite.
SESNOWell, his comments, his speech is very interesting. Here's what he said, and I'm quoting him. "Inside this party," this new president said, "there are many problems that need to be addressed, especially the problems among party members and officials of corruption and taking bribes, being out of touch with the people," imagine that, "undue emphasis on formalities and bureaucracy and other issues," he said.
KITFIELDYou know, the irony is thick when they have this secret (word?) and then they present this guy as the new leader and his cohorts as the new leaders of China, in this totally opaque, secretive fashion, and then comes out and complains about how the people feel distant from their government. You wonder why that's a surprise to him. But it is a real problem. This guy I think, the consensus I've heard, is that he's pretty much an aparachnic, he's not likely to be an aggressive reformer.
KITFIELDNow, these guys frequently have surprised us in the past, let me caveat that. But China needs reform. I mean, China has been -- had this sort of autocratic, you know, really sort of old-fashioned Stalinist almost government attached to this really hypercapitalistic economy, and that's getting harder and harder to manage, because when people have more money and they rise up, they actually want little more expression on how they're governed, and they're not getting that and so it's gonna be -- the tension there is gonna be very difficult.
KITFIELDAlso, the fact that he got the military committee makes me believe, and you've heard that he's pretty close to the military, and the military represents pretty much the hard line on these South China Sea territorial disputes, so that could also be a warning light for us.
SESNOCourtney, let me read another quote from the New York Times today reporting on this. Fascinating. From Jian Heng, who's quoted -- he's a guest professor at Shantou University in Guangdong Province. And he wrote, referring to the new leader, the new president, "He mentioned the word 'party' 20 times; 'people' appeared 19 times; 'responsibility' was said 10 times and 'problems' three times. He didn’t use anything related to law. No law, no constitution, no rule of law, no democracy, no freedom," as quoted in his speech. This is from a Chinese observer counting the words in the new president's speech.
KUBEWell, that doesn't necessarily bode well for people who want to change the rules of land being taken by the government at their whim, but, you know, one thing I think we need to -- since we really don't know a lot about what he's going to do going forward, one thing you need to look at is how did he get to the point that he is right now, and that is by, you know, getting along with other members of the party, kind of keeping quiet and not necessarily putting his views out there.
KUBEI think right now this guy is really a blank slate for -- that we -- and the biggest question obviously for us here is what is he going -- is this going to mean for U.S. and China relations? What is it going to mean for the global economy which China is such an enormous part of, and their economy right now is really slowing down.
SESNOAny tea leaves on that?
KUBENo. I mean, he's -- allegedly, you know, there's -- I've seen some analysis that he's going to try to implement some sort of economic reform, but his speech didn't really indicate that.
SESNOAnd Nathan, when we think about the role of China around the word in Africa and Latin America and Middle East, there's a lot at stake.
GUTTMANWell, definitely. I think we've seen in the past 10 years China trying to play a better role in all these conflict areas, and most important is the fact that on the key issues of Iran and Syria, China seems to be siding with Russia as the spoiler for the west and for the international community. So there doesn't seem to be any indication that he will change that.
SESNOBack to the phones, and Anna is calling us on the subject of China from Raleigh, North Carolina. Hi, Anna.
ANNAGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
SESNOWell, thank you for being so patient and waiting.
ANNAAs a child I lived under Soviet Union communism, and I cannot describe to you what fear -- terrifying fear it was. My question to your guests is why has America, a freedom-loving country, allowed America for the past 30 years -- American businesses, corporations, to go into China, which is communist, and make business with them. And I take -- thank you very much, and I'll take my call off the phone.
SESNOOkay, Anna. Thank you very much. James, why?
KITFIELDWell, we can thank Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger for that because we, you know, the China opening in the '70s, we adopted a new policy towards China trying to basically use it both as a counterweight to the former Soviet Union, which your listener came from, and also to make this bargain where China could be sort of drawn into the international community and to accept the rules of the road of the national community as it got richer and more powerful.
KITFIELDThere's been, you know, China is a much more open place than it used to be. So it's not like there hasn't been reform over the last ten years, it's stalled though, and that's, I think, China's big challenge now is it needs to go along this path and there's no -- there's a sense that it's gotten kind of paralyzed by, you know, looking at the democracy reforms it needs to take and being unwilling to go there. But we have that bet going on. We have had that policy for 30-odd years.
SESNOAnd Courtney, 1.3 billion people living in China, and one of the hottest cars there is a Buick.
KUBEOh, who knew? Yeah. I think that this comes down to capitalism in the end. They're an enormous exporter and the United States cannot ignore the fact that they have one of the biggest economies in the world.
SESNOThey want to sell there. There's potential business there. When we are looking at the early signs and signals out of this administration -- this reelected administration, Courtney. Where are they on China?
KUBEI wish I knew. I mean, I think hopefully with a new administration in China, with the leadership in China, hopefully this will mean there will be some sort of an out -- I mean, Hillary Clinton has already made quite inroads with Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao and whatnot, but hopefully this will be -- mean some sort of additional diplomatic work with China, and they can actually bring China over, as Nathan was saying, onto the United States, onto the rest of the U.N. Security Council's side and not side with Russia on issues like Syria and Iran, frankly.
KITFIELDAnd I think President Obama's gonna -- he's gonna be in Asia this weekend. He's gonna do a bilateral with China. I don't know if it's Xi Jinping or one of his deputies, but we'll probably know a little more after that.
SESNOI'm Frank Sesno, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And if you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call in our remaining minutes at 1-800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Now, Nathan, I want to come back for a moment because you mentioned China has been asserting itself in a number of regions around the world -- in conflict regions. Especially in your region in the Middle East, what has China's role been?
SESNOWhat has China's role been, I mean, we know where they have been or not been with respect to what the United States wants, for example, with Iran and the sanctions and the pressures on Iran, but what about Syria, what about Gaza, what about these new countries springing from the Arab Spring?
GUTTMANIt seems that China isn't all that involved in the Arab Spring or in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that is why I think many people in the Middle East see the Chinese involvement in the region as being based more on practical considerations on trade, on currency, on oil, and that is why they have the great interest in Iran. That is why Syria is a main issue for them, but it doesn't seem that China is in any way active on the Palestinian issue as such.
GUTTMANAnd I think for many this is seen as an encouraging sign because China is open to playing a constructive role on that, although the focus, again, is on Iran, and that's where they're not being very helpful.
SESNOCourtney, another topic which is, again, big. Big demonstrations, disturbances in Spain and elsewhere across Europe now is this austerity bites deep, and there are many people who said for example during the campaign that one of the things that was least talked about and least well understood was the implications of the Europe crisis on the prospects, economic prospects of the United States. Now we're starting to see it turn ugly and violent as people are taking their frustrations out into the streets.
KUBEYeah, exactly. There was this unprecedented day of austerity that was -- spanned several different nations in Europe this week, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, throughout much of southern Europe where they all went on strike and they protested the austerity measures. Some of the protests turned violent in Italy and Spain. There were protesters that were hurt, police that were hurt, arrested, whatnot.
KUBEI think what was most striking about this though was the disruption that it caused in that area. Travel delays, public service delays. I mean, we're not just talking small businesses that were closed down in the cities, there were flights that were canceled -- international flights that were canceled because of this. So it was a true show of force of just the outcry that the -- the overwhelming anger. But that being said, you know, you some places like Spain, it doesn't look like they're going to change their course based on the demonstrations.
KITFIELDYou know, it's often the crisis that you don't think is going to bite you is the one that bites you the hardest, and I've had a sinking feeling for over the last couple of years that this Euro crisis -- because I -- it doesn't seem like there's any way for them to get their hands around this, as long as they keep Greece in. Greece is basically in a spiral of austerity and recession that is...
KITFIELD...to depression. Fifty percent plus unemployment among the youth in Greece in Spain. Fifty percent, that's double what we had in depression in this country, and they don't see any way out because as long as you keep forcing -- force feeding this austerity on them, these economies are not going to recover. The European Union itself thinks that next year is going to be -- the whole Eurozone is going to be in a recession.
KITFIELDEurozone unemployment's already 11 percent plus and rising. So I worry that they're, I mean, the last iteration of this, they said they were going to do everything necessary to keep Greece in the union and to keep it bailed out, and here already again we are within a few weeks and it's back up, and it just seems to me -- and you have some very worrisome signs that Germany's economy is starting buckle under all this debt that they're having to assume to bail everyone else out, and that is the engine. Without German, none of this works, so I worry.
SESNOAnd the question to is with coordinated protests across Europe whether that has any influence one way or the other on Germany.
KITFIELDWell, it's got everyone's attention, that's for sure. I mean, the discussion needs to be can you implement a plan where you don't have such severe austerity right away, that you wait until there's growth, something quite like President Obama is trying to do here is not have too much austerity too quick, have growth, and once you have the growth then have targets for debt reduction.
SESNOAnd is the reelected Obama administration anything other than a bystander in all of this?
GUTTMANWell, it is right now, but there is no way to isolate the European economic crisis from the United States. So eventually...
SESNOWhat are we going to do? We gonna go bail them out while we bail ourselves out? I don't think so.
GUTTMANWell, there is no -- definitely no money to do that. You can provide political support for the actors there. You can help out whatever side, whether it's Germany that is trying to enforce these kinds of austerity measures, but beyond that there isn't much the U.S. can do right now.
KUBEYeah. And there was another, you know, as James was saying about Germany, this impacting Germany, now the IMF is asking the European Central Bank to forgive some of these debts, these loans that they've made of Greece. And that's not only domestically terribly unpopular in Germany who they have an election coming up next year, but it's also just gonna cause their economy to spiral further down.
SESNOCourtney Kube, James Kitfield, and Nathan Guttman, thank you both very much -- thank you all very much for joining us today on the Friday News Roundup.
SESNOI'm Frank Sesno sitting in for Diane Rehm. Have a great day and a good weekend.
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