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Russian President Vladimir Putin warns Ukraine over pro-Russian militant deaths. Rival Palestinian factions announce plans to unify. And President Barack Obama begins a four-nation trip to Asia. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Matthew Lee diplomatic writer, Associated Press.
- Scott Wilson White House bureau chief and former foreign editor, The Washington Post.
- Nancy Youssef national security correspondent, McClatchy Newspapers; she just completed a two-year posting as McClatchy's Middle East bureau chief.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Russia launches military drills near Ukraine, rival Palestinian factions announced plans to unify, and President Obama is on a four-nation trip through Asia. Joining me for the international hour of the Friday news round-up, Scott Wilson of the Washington Post, Nancy Youssef with McClatchy Newspapers and Matthew Lee of the Associated Press.
MS. DIANE REHMAs always, you are welcome to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Welcome to all of you and happy Friday.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFHappy Friday.
MR. SCOTT WILSONThank you. Nice to be here.
MR. MATTHEW LEENice to be here.
REHMScott Wilson, what's happening now on the border between Russia and Ukraine?
WILSONAs you noted, there's military exercises going on. Russia has had tens of thousands of troops there for a couple of weeks now. And one of the administration's -- U.S. administration's demands is that those are pulled back and the threat of them be reduced. But at the same time, inside eastern Ukraine, you still have confrontations between Ukrainian security forces and pro-Russian groups in a series of towns, mostly around the town of Slavyansk.
WILSONAnd Ukraine says it's not backing off from these. And of course this is what Vladimir Putin is saying is what prompt his intervention in eastern Ukraine if ethnic Russians are not protected in this region. And so, it does not look like tensions are cooling in the region. It looks like the Geneva agreement reached last week is precarious at best and on the verge of probably being declared dead. And next steps are being considered, including some additional sanctions.
REHMAnd you've got Russian President Putin saying it's all being generated by the West?
WILSONBy the West and that they were orchestrating this. And he points to what U.S. administration officials call sort of circumstantial evidence. John Brennan, the CIA director's recent visit to Kiev and the general, you know, an open support for the government in Kiev that Vice President Biden showed this week in his visit.
WILSONAnd there is a -- some of the things that Russian foreign secretary Sergei Lavrov said today and yesterday is that if Kiev can't clear out what they believe are sort of the fascist forces in the Maiden, the center of Kiev, that they'll begin telling pro-Russian groups in the east to pull back, too. But that's at the heart of the Geneva agreement as well. And so they're sort of still where they started.
REHMMatthew Lee, how precarious a situation is this?
LEEWell, I think it's quite precarious. I'm not quite sure that I would agree with what the Ukraine -- some in the Ukrainian government are predicting, which is that Russia wants to start World War III. I don't think that it's going to escalate to that level. But it is very serious. And I think what it just -- it underscores this divide between the United States and Russia approaching what could be Cold War.
LEEEssentially, you have the two sides talking past each other, if I can quote from "Cool Hand Luke," you know, what we have here is failure to communicate on the most basic level of, one, what is going on on the ground in not only Kiev but in the east. And also, a failure to even agree on what they agreed to in Geneva, as Scott was just talking about.
LEEThe Russians regard in the line in the Geneva statement about disarming all illegal groups and ending the occupation of illegally seized building as applying to what the United States and the West believe is the legitimate government of Ukraine right now in Kiev. And that is, you know, that is an insurmountable hurdle as long as those train never meet.
REHMAnd, Nancy Youssef, you've also got Standard & Poor's cutting Russia's credit rating. How does that figure in to the whole scenario?
YOUSSEFNot only did they cut their rating, they put them just above junk status just this morning and cited the instability in Ukraine as one of the reasons for it. It's interesting because John Kerry, the secretary of state, came out and suggested just yesterday that there would be additional sanctions put on Russia in addition to the ones that are put on later this month. And so, the S&P ranking and the sanctions suggest that the country is hurting economically.
YOUSSEFWhat's interesting is not that the sanctions themselves are necessarily doing economic harm, but it's the environment of sanctions, the feeling that businesses and investors perhaps shouldn't be in Russia right now. And it's that environment that's creating economic instability in Russia. And so the question becomes whether these sanctions and the environment that they create will lead to a change in behavior. So far they have not.
REHMAnd on the part of the Russian people, how are they being affected, Scott?
WILSONYou know, the ruble is crashing. Anyone with, you know, equities in the Russian stock market are hurting. But I think that the key is does Putin who is responding to kind of a nostalgic nationalism in Ukraine and did so by annexing Crimea, does he respond to economic pressure? Does he -- or does he see it more as a confrontation with the West that he needs to resist? Some of the sanctions have been targeting the sort of cronies of Putin.
WILSONThe idea being you get people with a lot of money that begin to start hurting in the environment that Nancy describing. And they'll go to Putin and say, you know, you have to stop this.
REHMYou can't keep this up. Yeah.
WILSONExactly, yeah. Now, I don't know. But from my point of view, that'd be -- I'd be worried about trying to make that argument to Putin right now who is seeing his popularity run pretty high based on this kind of...
WILSONThe nationalism, the rallying around, you know, the president at a time like this, maybe it's own self-created kind of conflict presents. And so far, the administration, if you talk to officials there say, they're not seeing a lot of pressure from that group of wealthy Russians who have been targeted going to Putin and saying, hey, stop it. But, you know, as they tighten, as their debt gets downgraded...
REHMYou never know.
WILSON...you never know.
YOUSSEFI think one of the advantages that Putin has in this situation is that there is a limit to the sanctions in terms of what Europe will allow because of their economic dependency on Russia. And I think that's one of the things that he is taking advantage of in the situation.
LEEYeah. I think the other thing to point out is that the sanctions really haven't gone that far. It's only a handful of people so far. It's only a handful of these oligarchs that we're talking about here who have been hit and none of their actual businesses yet with the -- were exception.
LEEAnd so I think that what we're going to see probably in the course of the next 72 to -- 72 hours to four days is additional sanctions that may, at least the West would hope, get the cronies, get the Putin cronies to start putting pressure on him to reverse course. But it hasn't happened yet. And as we've seen, his popularity has skyrocketed in the meantime.
REHMSo what happens if Russia takes over eastern and southern Ukraine? What does the U.S. do, Scott?
WILSONI think the first thing they do is apply what they're calling sector sanctions. And that is targeting, as Matt said, businesses, entire segments of the Russian economy. Russian gas, Russian oil, mining interests, banking. Do to Russia -- try to do to Russia what they've done to -- what they did to Iran, what they've done to Syria. Now, as Nancy said, Europe is key to that. It can't just be an American...
WILSON...and extremely reluctant. And, you know, Biden's trip -- I was with him in Lithuania and Poland and I was with Obama in Europe. And all of the officials who were on those trips came away saying, they're just not sure where the Europeans are on these and they're not sure how far they want to go. And even, you know, while the Europeans would be hit hardest, you know, taking Russian oil out of the market, for example, will have an effect on the American economy.
WILSONSo there is an argument within the administration, not so much about where they are now, but do you apply sector sanctions? Now, if they go into eastern Ukraine, I think the debate goes away and they all, you know, the administration gets behind it and possibly Europe as well given the gravity of that. But if it stays in this kind of unstable situation, maybe Russia pushing into other breakaway region, Transnistria and Moldova and those kinds of places sort of stirring up trouble, what then do they do? Do they go as far as sector sanctions or do they stay roughly where they are?
REHMWhat about these so-called 600 advisers the U.S. has put on the ground?
LEEYou're talking about the Russian allegations of these mercenary force? There are certainly U.S. people on the ground, intelligence that the administration claims backs up the Ukrainian government's claims about these Russian guys and the little green men or the green men as they're known. But, yes, it is in the -- if the U.S. wants to stabilize, the administration wants to stabilize the situation, they're certainly going to send people to advice and to help.
LEEAnd I don't think that that's an accusation that they can really deny. And as Scott noted, you know, John Brennan was there, Joe Biden was there. This isn't entirely a secret operation. It's pretty -- a lot of it is very overt.
REHMBut how likely could it be to expand if the situation gets worse?
WILSONThe problem is if the Ukrainian security forces are not, you know, not viable against a Russian invasion. You know, you talk to U.S. officials who've done some assessment on it basically in the context of whether or not supplying some forms of lethal aid to Ukraine would work and they say, you know, there's 2,000 to 5,000 Ukrainian who are really capable of fighting at all. So what's the point of sending, you know, 15 F-16s or something like that? So it's hard to see where a military kind of confrontation with Russia would go. And, of course, Putin knows this. And so, it's a difficult spot.
REHMScott Wilson, he's White House bureau chief, former foreign editor for the Washington Post. Short break here and we'll take your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd we do have some news from the BBC reporting in Asia that North Korea has detained a 24-year-old U.S. tourist reportedly for rash behavior at immigration. And then apparently the North Korean state news agency is claiming he has requested asylum. So we'll be following that. Scott Wilson, you talked about traveling with Vice-President Biden to Kiev. Of course President Obama is on his Asian tour. What does the administration hope to achieve? What have they accomplished?
WILSONI think in the Biden trip it was largely, again, kind of another symbolic visit that Biden has been making in Eastern Europe since the Russian Ukrainian conflict has started. What I found most interesting about it is that Biden was quite public about the need for Ukrainian officials, supported by the United States, to clean up their act so to speak, to end corruption, to move very quickly, first of all, to stage successful presidential elections on May 25. And then to move very quickly in reforming the constitution in a way that gives regions more power.
WILSONIt's a really long process. In the best of circumstances that's going to take a very long time. And yet American officials believe that's the best way to legitimize the Kiev government and to keep -- and delegitimize Russia's claims in the east. Obama is trying, again, in Asia to focus American diplomacy on a part of the world that is growing economically and in this administration and previous ones, is basically seen as the future. And that the United States wants to engage with trade -- the trade agreement they were talking about in Tokyo yesterday.
WILSONAt the same time, what has he been asked about on this trip? He's been asked about Ukraine, he's been asked about Israel Palestine.
WILSONSo it's the struggle he's had for the last three years in trying to make this so-called Asia pivot.
REHMAnd he's been criticized for going to the East, Nancy.
YOUSSEFAnd the fact that he wasn't able to secure a trade agreement with Japan, which was one of the goals of this trip, was seen as quite a disappointment. Remember that in 2009 this administration had announced that it was looking to do an Asia pivot and then was never able to do it. The fact that Obama had to cancel his trip in October because of the government shutdown was seen by Asia as a further confirmation that he was not as committed to Asia as he had said.
YOUSSEFAnd the big headline from this trip will be that there are no headlines and that there will be no big announcement or big agreement and whatnot. And so rather it seems to be a trip of sort of mending fences and making friends and trying to build personal relationships such that the U.S. is seen as indeed committed towards this Asia pivot, not only economically but visa vie China.
REHMDo you agree?
LEEWell, or worse than no headlines. The headline could be, North Korea sets off another -- you know, does another nuclear test or something happens that this report...
REHM...which they threatened to do.
LEEExactly. And so which would really throw the attention, which is already not particularly focused on Obama's stops and more on the Middle East and more on Ukraine, onto another belligerent country, North Korea. And let's remember that the countries that Obama's visiting, that the president is going to on this trip, three of them -- two of them definitely and one of the arguably are incredibly preoccupied with natural disaster or disaster.
LEEOne of them, the Philippines which happened a while ago, the typhoon, but the South Koreans are incredibly preoccupied with this ferry capsizing and sinking. And then of course Malaysia we have the missing Malaysian plane. So these are countries that are not exactly focused to themselves on the visit of the President of the United States, which can be problematic...
REHMAnd he's there in South Korea today as we get this report today of the 24-year-old tourist. How does a visit by a U.S. President to South Korea affect the thinking and the behavior of the North Koreans?
LEEWell, this North Korean leader, as we all know, has become even more unpredictable than his father and his grandfather. And so it's really difficult to say how they'll react. But if this arrest turns out to be correct, I mean, it just shows that he is willing to try to escalate things to the point where they get more attention.
LEEYou know, this is the way successive U.S. administrations have seen the North as they -- if they're not being paid attention to, they're going to try and do something to get attention. Arresting a U.S. citizen or another nuclear test will certainly do that and will certainly take away the focus from what Obama's trying to do, which is shore up the U.S. alliance with South Korea and Japan.
REHMAnd speaking of Japan, what did the president have to say about the disputed islands claim by Japan and by China?
WILSONHe tried to walk that middle line by saying we're obligated, under treaties we've signed with Japan, to support Japan against aggression. At the same time he didn't say, Japan's claim to the Senkaku Islands is legitimate and China's is not. He called them a pile of rocks. He tried to downplay, in a very Obama way, right, the sort of logic of, I can't believe you two are thinking about going to war over this thing.
REHM...fighting over these rocks.
WILSONRight. So he did a bit of that. We're with you but we don't necessarily agree with you. We don't want you to escalate. And by the way, this is a big waste of time and energy for everybody, so let's move on.
REHMAnd what about China not being invited to join the TPP, Nancy?
YOUSSEFYeah, I mean, China's one of the countries that you could argue is hovering over this Obama trip more than any, because all the four countries that he's going to, the Philippines, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan all have territorial disputes. And, as Scott mentioned, the trip is really focused on walking this tightrope of building alliances without agitating China. And so that decision sort of played into all this the delicacy of the trip that he's on today -- this week.
REHMSo now we turn to Afghanistan where three Americans were killed at a private hospital on Thursday morning. One doctor was among the victims, Nancy.
YOUSSEFThat's right. It was at CURE International Hospital in Kabul which is a Christian-run hospital that's been there since 2005, again, someone attacked by an Afghan police officer, two-year veteran. What was interesting to me relative to other attacks that we've seen is the Taliban did not claim responsibility for this attack, which suggests that perhaps we're seeing not only people who are being pushed by the Taliban but now Afghans angry about the continued U.S. presence, now lashing out even at doctors who are there to help them.
YOUSSEFWhat was fascinating in the stories coming out of Kabul is that you had people leaving the hospital who were being treated by these doctors, celebrating the attack on them. Good, we want the Americans to leave, which was so breathtaking. And this comes on the heels of two Associated Press reporters being killed last month, attacks on western frequented businesses.
YOUSSEFSo it's become a perpetual problem and a continuing one. The fact that no one's claimed responsibility suggests that you're not just seeing orchestrated attacks by the Taliban but Afghans. Afghans trained in some cases by the United States lashing out at westerners saying, it's time for you to go, essentially.
REHMAnd this all comes in the midst of elections, Scott.
WILSONYeah, absolutely. And, you know, the election will determine the sort of shape and future of an American presence beyond this year. The next president will be asked to sign the agreed upon security agreement that will take effect and determine the number of U.S. troops that stay behind. But this kind of event is -- anyone within the U.S. administration and even in the military sees something like this and says, yes, it's time to go.
WILSONAnd so it really -- it undermines arguments within the administration for those who like to keep a fairly sizeable troop presence. And you do hear that Obama himself now, you know, asks himself, what would it be like to be killed in Afghanistan in the last six months of this war (unintelligible) ...
LEEWell, I mean, I think what this administration is encountering is the same thing that Victorian England and Czarist Russia and then Soviet Russia found in Afghanistan, which is they don't like outsiders. They don't want people coming in telling them what to do. And no amount of money or development programs is really going to change this. The Afghans are proud and they're fiercely independent. And whether they're motivated by religion or just simply anti-westernism or anti-Americanism, they don't want outsiders telling them what to do.
YOUSSEFI wonder if there's a correlation between the fact that U.S. troops are pulling back on their bases a lot more and the fact that these attacks are increasingly happening on civilians because U.S. troops are not as out amongst the Afghans. And that civilians have become more susceptible to these attacks rather than we used to see two years ago, for example, a lot of Afghan troops killing their American trainers. We haven't heard of that as much, and rather an uptake on civilian attacks. And I wonder if there's a correlation.
REHMBut to kill doctors who are there -- pardon me -- helping Afghan people is really so sad. I'll open the phones here. Let's go first to Blacksburg, Va. Hi there, Michael. You're on the air.
MICHAELHi. I was calling asking about -- your panel was talking earlier about how Russia's economic outlook is looking pretty grim, especially since their reliance on energy exporting. If we were to continue with -- or go ahead with sector sanctions in the long term as anti-west sentiments are building up in Russia, it seems like it's going to put them more in line with states like Iran, which, you know, we're desperately trying to prevent from getting a nuclear bomb. How is the potential for a poorer Russia that's very anti-west with lots of nuclear weapons -- what's the potential for that future? What are the U.S. calculations?
REHMWhat do you think, Matt?
LEEWell, I think that, yes, the west, and the United States in particular, is going to try to isolate Russia the more that it continues to do -- the more that it continues to hold to this line and to escalate the situation in the East of Ukraine. But let's remember, this is 2014, we're in the 21st century, it is really hard to isolate a country in the way that you could've done just even 20 or 30 years ago before the internet.
LEEI don't see much chance of this escalating into a nuclear confrontation or even World War III, simply because there isn't the appetite on the western side of this for a war, for a shooting war.
REHMAnd a lot depends on those sanctions on Europe.
WILSONAbsolutely. I mean, unilateral American sanctions in a situation like this just won't have much effect. They all have to get onboard. And the other thing is, you know, they are hoping that -- you talk to U.S. officials and they say Putin is such a student of the collapse of the Soviet Union. And his -- the lesson he most learned from that experience was that Russia has to be economically independent and stable to be a power.
REHMScott Wilson of the Washington Post and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's talk about these Palestinian factions that have united, Nancy. Israel says it's halting peace talks.
YOUSSEFSo just five days before the American-set deadline about continuing this peace process that Secretary Kerry's been pushing for so aggressively, Mahmoud Abbas announced that these two rival Palestinian fractions Fatah and Hamas had agreed to unite under the PLO and to form a national unity government in the next five months.
REHMWhy did he do that?
YOUSSEFThere are a couple theories. At the minimum it tells us that both Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas are in weak positions. Mahmoud Abbas had lost his popularity in the sense that he could effectively advocate for the Palestinian cause. Hamas has been hit -- and maybe I bring too much of an Egypt perspective to this -- but by the crackdown that has happened on Islamists in the region. Just the tunnel closings alone that have happened in Egypt, the destruction of those tunnels has caused huge economic impact to Hamas and Gaza, the territory that they control.
YOUSSEFAnd I think both of those groups had an interest in coming together and trying to create some national unity government. And I think from Mahmoud Abbas' perspective, it was an opportunity potentially to say to the Israelis, you have to deal with me. I represent the Palestinian people.
REHMBut surely he would have known that doing that was going to create some big backlash from the Israelis.
YOUSSEFWell, the way they tried to get around it was to say, look those who are going to be part of our national unity government are willing to recognize Israel, that this -- the Hamas line that Israel must be destroyed will not be a part of that national unity government. I think he was rolling the dice to assert himself as the undisputed Palestinian leader. And Israel immediately said, that's it. That's the end of the negotiations. Now arguably they were looking for a reason to end it and this provided a very good opportunity.
WILSONBut it does highlight this problem, this bind that Israel, in some ways, has put the Palestinians in for quite some time. Back when Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2005 Israel begins to argue that the Palestinians are so hopelessly divided, there's no point in talking to them. They can't -- Mahmoud Abbas cannot enforce any kind of peace deal we have with them because Hamas is the political power within the Palestinian national movement right now.
WILSONSo the two come together, as they've tried before in unity governments, and to say we're together. And they didn't say, let's stop the peace talks. As you said, they did know it would probably cause a reaction. But now they're together and Israel says, well they can't be together because Hamas is a terrorist organization.
WILSONSo it's hard to know where Israel goes from here. And most anyone, including many Israelis you talk to, will say, the reconciliation between the Palestinian factions has to happen if there's going to be any chance for a two-state solution. So is this that opportunity? I don't know but it does seem -- it seems harsh in some ways to immediately stop peace talks when this step has been taken.
REHMYeah, right. Any way around this, Matt?
LEEWell, but also let's remember that the -- I mean, the peace process that Secretary Kerry's been trying so hard for the last nine months to, you know, get off the ground and then produce actually something, was on its last leg. It was on life support anyway before this latest Palestinian move. You know, he described it himself as going poof after a series of events that happened when he -- and I was with him then in the region -- after the Israelis decided not to go ahead with this final prisoner release.
LEEAnd there was another -- the announcement of new settlement construction on the West Bank which has infuriated the Palestinians. That was followed then by really the breakdown. The Palestinians announced they were going to go to the UN and it's on to these 15 conventions. So this has been a mess for some time.
REHMMatthew Lee, diplomatic writer for the Associated Press. When we come back, more news and your calls, email. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Let's go right back to the phones now to Mike in Big Rock, Ill. You're on the air.
MIKEI think geography is destiny in the Ukraine case. Russia does not have a land route to the Crimea. I think we all probably can say the Crimea is a done deal. The Russians want a land route. They will fight for it. They will take it. They have the power to take it now. The Ukrainians probably would be smart to negotiate and compromise a perhaps land access for commercial vehicles along the coastal route there and get something back.
MIKENo longer talk about the former president coming back, get money back from the Russians, put a toll gate right there. Let vehicles come across. They would look smarter, more diplomatic. They're in such a weak militaristic position right now. The Russians will take what they want. They'll go...
REHMWhat do you think, Steve?
WILSONYou know, I think that Putin wants more than that. And I, you know, and I'm not -- that may be part of what he's looking for. But I think he's looking for something far more broadly. He was losing Ukraine to the West. And I think it's really more about Russian influence in Ukraine and in an array of former Soviet republics. And so I think that that's maybe a piece, but it's not the whole picture.
REHMI want to go back for a moment to what you were saying, Nancy, about Hamas and Fatah and why they would decide to come together now? What's -- what's the momentum for them and where does it take them?
YOUSSEFWell, in Hamas' case, they're much weaker than they were just a few months ago. And this was part of the sort of anti-Islamist push that is happening in the region. Egypt, for the last year, since it ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, July 3, has been destroying these tunnels -- hundreds of tunnels that run between the Sinai and into Gaza and provide all sorts of weapons and food, supplies, everything you can imagine. I mean, they're big enough, I've seen them, you can drive cars through them literally.
YOUSSEFAnd so, in this context, they are much weaker economically. And this notion of going around and saying Israel must be destroyed -- there's not the room for it that there once was. So I think that's the Hamas perspective on it.
REHMAnd what is the role of the U.S. at this point?
YOUSSEFWell, I think it's interesting that the U.S. was caught so off guard by this announcement. So it certainly speaks about where that relationship is, in that it seems that they had done it with sort of surprising everybody around them and almost usurping, if you will, this sort of U.S. outlying...
REHMScott, would you agree?
WILSONYeah, I would. And I, I mean, I think that the U.S. role is to think of something more creative than the U.S. has thought about in the past when something like this comes up. You're still locked into terrorist organization, can't be a part of it. You're not locked into forcing the issue. The Palestine Liberation Organization recognizes Israel. If you are coming into the PLO under their umbrella, you are, you can be forced or should be held to PLO standards. And so there seems to be a way that you can, say, find tacitly Hamas has just acknowledged Israel's right to exist.
WILSONLet's move on. Let's start talking. Let's negotiate. I know it's more complicated than that politically here and politically in the region. But you're back to the same place you were in 2005 and before.
REHMSo you don't think there's any silver lining here?
LEEWell, I mean, I would just point out that at one point Israel regarded the PLO in the same way that they regard Hamas now. And it wasn't until the Oslo agreement, that, you know, let's -- all groups like this, like Hamas, which are fighting against what they say is illegal occupation and unfairness, that have resorted to militancy and to violence, have been considered terrorist organizations at one point. Let's look at the IRA for example. I mean, the line has been out there for ages. You don't make peace with your friends, you make it with your enemies.
LEESo at some point, if Israel really is going to be interested and it wants to have a two-state solution -- is willing to allow for a Palestinian state, they're going to have to talk to them -- to Hamas or whatever it evolves into.
REHMRight. All right. To John who's in Vendetta, Texas. Hi, you're on the air.
JOHNVendetta, Texas. What...
REHMThat's right. You're on the air.
JOHN(unintelligible) more than one state the last time I called, back in June.
JOHNWhat I said about Egypt -- American Democracy's not for all nations. And your guest took off and I was proved so right. And I just wanted to say, Russia's known for chess playing, but they're better poker players. Europe does want hot gruel, and they will get it. And the other thing, they folded their cards in Afghanistan and look who picked them up. And back to China, you're not going to be blowing smoke in that dragon. America's just got to learn how to tiptoe and stay out of the way.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for your call.
LEEWell, an interesting series of analyses.
REHMShort, sweet comments. Yeah, exactly. All right, let's go to Kevin in Cleveland, Ohio. Hi, there.
KEVINHi, Diane. This is to you and the panel, kind of a 30,000 foot comment from Syria to Egypt to the Middle East to Ukraine -- I blame it on the inept, almost amateurish handling of foreign policy by this administration that is going to take years for us to repair. I think it's atrocious. Our enemies don't fear us. Our friends don't trust us and believe us. I'd like to get your opinion. Thank you very much.
YOUSSEFWell I've just come back from Egypt after two years spent there, and in Libya, and I've spent quite a bit of time there. And I don't know if it's inept. I wouldn't go there. But I do think what's happened is that the region has changed so dramatically in the post-Arab Spring that the rules that the world knew for the past 30 years were completely obliterated in an instant. And so the transition period from that leads to a very complicated process of forming foreign policy.
YOUSSEFIn Egypt, for example, the government that they were dealing with on July 2 didn't exist on July 3. And not only did they not exist, they were diametrically opposed to one another. So how do you build alliances? How do you build relationships? And I think...
REHMAnd how do you conduct foreign policy?
YOUSSEFYeah, and it's just, from my experience on the ground, and you guys see it here in Washington, it's moved a lot quicker. And the alliances that you made a few months ago could come back and hurt you just a few weeks later. And how you navigate that is very, very complicated.
LEEWell, and look at the fast-moving events around the world. The administration is forced to become reactive in a lot of ways rather than being, and I don't like the word but, proactive. And rather -- I mean, so many things are going on at once and so many things are going wrong all at once that, although the administration will deny it, they actually are really trying to play a game of Whac-A-Mole here. I mean, it is putting out one fire -- or trying to put out one fire, after another. And in that kind of a situation, it's very difficult to come up with something that's a cohesive, broad strategy.
WILSONYeah, I mean, and to use Matt's nice phrase earlier, you know, this is an administration that came in to talk with enemies, not to coddle allies. And that did throw people off at first. This was going to be an administration that talked to Iran, to put some distance between itself, rhetorically, with Israel in order to regain Arab trust and try to make something happen in the Middle East. Those did not work out particularly well in the first term.
WILSONAnd so I think it's easy for the administration coming in very much in response to the Bush administration and what they saw as its excesses in the world and to over read that to some degree -- not to become engaged more assertively in the Arab Spring with the belief that anything America does in the Middle East poisons it. And so I think there is a sense of retrenchment among countries around the world and where is the United States. And I think it can lead to a vacuum. But I also think that people -- many Americans dramatically overestimate the ability of the United States to shape world events.
REHMLet's go to Ann Arbor, Mich. Hi, Toby.
TOBYHello, Diane. Thank you for taking the call.
TOBYJ Street, the pro-peace, pro-Israel organization, recently called on Secretary Kerry to lay out at this point the framework that he feels, on the basis of the year that he's invested, the framework he feels is essential to guide future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. What do your panelists feel about this approach that might at least provide a new start at negotiations?
WILSONThe approach to make public these parameters? You know the...
WILSONOkay. You know, I guess I'm -- I don't think that's a very dramatic gesture. I mean, we -- and President Obama has said it quite a bit -- but previous presidents have and anyone who's really thought a lot about Israel, Palestine, and subscribes to the two-state solution, knows roughly what the parameters are. There are details about the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their families.
WILSONThere are certainly very granular issues to take on over the status of Jerusalem. So I'm not sure that the Kerry parameters are going to clarify for the world what's at stake here. But, I mean, I'm also in for -- I'm all for knowing what they're actually talking about. But I don't know how surprising it would be.
LEEYeah, I think that everyone -- I mean, what is most frustrating I think for not only the administration but for people who are watching this and who have been watching it for the last 20 years, is that everybody knows what the final two-state solution is going to look like. Everyone knows what a comprehensive deal is going to have to be. And it's just getting...
LEE...them to agree to it.
LEEI mean, this fight that we were seeing in the last couple days -- last couple weeks, has not even been about those issues. It's been all about process and how you actually get to the point where you can deal with those issues. And it just looks clear that neither side, you know, is ready, willing or able to do that. I used the expression the other day that Secretary Kerry has pulled what you could call the full Quixote here, which is, you know, not only tilting at windmills, but tilting at windmills and then losing, because the two parties just aren't ready to engage.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about the one-year anniversary of the garment-factory fire in Bangladesh. Nancy, reforms were passed. Are workers any safer now?
YOUSSEFIt doesn't seem to be. So one year ago, almost exactly -- yesterday, I believe -- there was the worst disaster in the garment industry ever, in which a building called the Rana Plaza, part of it collapsed, this very poorly built building. And at least 1,129 people were killed. Another 2,500 were injured. And this was supposed to be the precipice of real reforms in the garment district. Because workers there get paid about a quarter of what they make in China, this has become the fastest growing place for the garment industry.
YOUSSEFAnd there are all sorts of laws on the books about regulating buildings. These are buildings where people don't have fire escapes, where they -- where things aren't labeled, where the construction is so shoddy you can walk through the building and feel cracks and the building's sort of moving. And so this was supposed to lead to real reforms after a fire had killed 100 leading up to the Rana Plaza collapse. And here we are a year later and it doesn't seem that those reforms have happened. And then so it's really putting pressure on a lot of companies, including U.S. ones, to reassess whether they continue to support the Bangladesh industry.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." There was significant compensation promised to the families but, you know, apparently the survivors are really struggling.
LEEYes, it's quite a tragedy. And I think it speaks to the -- one thing that it speaks to is the insatiable desire among the consuming countries for cheap, inexpensive clothing -- or at least the companies who are contracting with these garment factories of -- and not just in Bangladesh. I mean this is a problem all over Southeast Asia. Clearly, the tragedy in Bangladesh, you know, enormous. But these workers are everywhere -- in Latin America, in Southeast Asia and starting to be in Africa.
REHMAnd, of course, the owner is still behind bars, but no trial yet, Scott.
WILSONYeah, just, you know, the problem in a lot of countries like this and of a real rule of law, of a real judicial system that's going to take care of this and move quickly on it and appease public outrage, most specifically, expressed by the surviving families.
REHMAnd finally, a group of Sherpas in Nepal decided to cancel expeditions after an avalanche last Friday killed 16 Sherpas. What happens now?
WILSONWell, it's interesting what's happening. And I don't think it's entirely unrelated to the Bangladesh situation. You have a place where the West goes to climb Everest. And you have a group of Nepalese Sherpas who serve them, who are paid very little, who do most of the work -- take most of the risk. Sixteen died, and now they are -- they're extremely angry. They've canceled the season.
REHMBecause the country makes a huge amount of money.
WILSONA huge amount. And they make $2,000 to $5,000 per season. The licensing fees to climb Everest are exorbitant. And so there is an, almost a unionizing taking place now among the Sherpas in the base camp. They won't climb. Those Sherpas who are inclined to climb, they pressure not to. They want some changes. And...
LEEAnd let's remember that these -- most people who are climbing Everest -- most, I say -- are going to do it once. These guys are at it every single season. And maybe they don't make the full ascent, but they're hauling stuff up and down and assisting at, you know, multiple times a year. The danger for them is exponentially higher.
REHMSo, presumably, unless Nepal wants to lose and continue to lose a great deal of money, something's got to give here, Nancy.
YOUSSEFThat's right. Today, already, those who are there are reporting that there was such a somber mood around the base, as the Sherpas were morning those that they had lost. That people were already starting to leave because, as Scott mentioned, those that do agree to climb with them are penalized within their community for it, for not sort of standing behind one another. And so it's already started to change, just days -- just days after this avalanche, the worst in modern history.
REHMNancy Youssef, she's national security correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. She's just completed a two-year posting as McClatchy's Middle East bureau chief. Matthew Lee, diplomatic writer for the Associate Press. Scott Wilson is White House bureau chief, former foreign editor for The Washington Post. Thank you all so much. Have a great weekend.
LEEThank you. You too.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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