Reporter Hotline: What Awaits Abroad After Election

Sep 15, 2012
Originally published on October 19, 2012 3:14 pm

As we approach the presidential election in November, Weekend Edition is seeking your questions about issues and candidates in a new segment called Reporter Hotline. This week, we answer inquiries about foreign policy and U.S. involvement in the Middle East and Afghanistan.


If Israel Strikes Iran

Question from Shane Eudy of Asheville, N.C.: "I think we saw with the Iraq War that we need to be absolutely sure and know what we're getting into if we send our forces into another country. So, if Israel goes it alone, I would like to see the U.S. think very, very hard about whether we support Israel."

Answer from NPR's Michele Kelemen: " 'Give this more time' is the message coming from the Obama administration to Israel. The problem for Israel is that they see this nuclear program in Iran as an existential threat. They have a very different clock ticking than we do from here.

"So if Israel does go ahead and strike, the U.S. is going to be brought into it one way or another, even if it's just managing the aftermath. ... And the U.S. is a strong ally of Israel, so if they ask for U.S. help, any president is going to be hard-pressed to deny that."


Drawing Down The War In Afghanistan

Question from Steve Cohen of Conway, Ark.: "We don't seem to know when enough is enough. Can we afford this much longer, in terms of personnel, money, political stress, world opinion of the United States? I could go on and on."

Answer from NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson: "The U.S. is in the midst of a drawdown at the moment. In fact, the surge that President Obama sent over a couple of years ago to deal with the growing Taliban threat, most of those troops are coming home in the coming days or weeks. And then on top of that, you have all of the international troops here with the NATO-led coalition ending their mandate in about 27 months, at the end of 2014.

"So the focus really has shifted here from nation building to sort of turning things over to the Afghans. And many Afghans are quite concerned that they're not really going to be ready, that there are still a lot of issues that remain with ... having the security forces able to handle the responsibility of taking care of their own country."


Negotiating With New Governments

Question from Patty Ryan of San Francisco: "I'm just wondering how the candidates would balance promoting democracy with the fact that this can often mean other countries will elect leaders unfriendly to America?"

Answer from Nelson: "It's been very confusing, I think, for the American government ... but it's also important to remember that the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups, they have to perform. It's not just about being angry at the U.S. or creating friction with the U.S., if you will. They have to be able to deliver for their people. And all these countries still very much depend on U.S. funding and U.S. support. ... So I think that will hopefully provide some balance."

Answer from Kelemen: "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when she spoke about the deaths of these four Americans in Libya this week, she talked about how 'the people of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob.' So I think there's also a lot of frustration on this end and a growing understanding that the U.S. is not in the driver's seat in any of these transitions."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And Michele Kelemen's staying on with us to help us launch a new segment where our reporters take your questions. It's called the Reporter Hotline. And this week it's about U.S. foreign policy and American involvement in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

We're joined by Michele in the studio. Thanks for being with us.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Nice to be here.

SIMON: And NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thanks you for being with us.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: My pleasure.

SIMON: Michele, let's follow up your piece about the U.S./Israeli relationship. We heard from one listener who's particularly concerned about the possibility of war with Iran.

SHANE EUDY: Hi, my name is Shane Eudy from Ashville, North Carolina. I think we saw with the Iraq War that we need to be absolutely sure and know what we're getting into if we send our forces into another country. So, if Israel goes it alone, I would like to see the U.S. think very, very hard about whether we support Israel.

SIMON: Michele, let me ask you this simply. What options face the U.S. president if Israel decides to launch a military strike in Iran?

KELEMEN: Well, what we've heard this administration do is to encourage Israel that there's more time. Sanctions are in place, there's a diplomatic process in place. Give this more time is the message coming from the Obama administration to Israel. The problem for Israel is that they see this nuclear program in Iran as an existential threat. They have a very different clock ticking than we do from here.

So if Israel does go ahead and strike, the U.S. is going to be brought into it one way or another, even if it's just managing the aftermath. We've already seen the military put more mine sweepers, for instance, in the Strait of Hormuz in case Iran decides to respond by mining the Gulf to block oil supplies from going. That's something the U.S. will have to think about. And there's also the possibility that Iran responds with terrorist attacks.

And the U.S. is a strong ally of Israel, so if they ask for U.S. help, any president is going to be hard-pressed to deny that.

Soraya, let's turn to you there in Kabul. The war in Afghanistan, of course, is now in its 11th year. And this week, we heard from Steve Cohen in Conway, Arkansas who's concerned about what seems to him to be a commitment with no end.

STEVE COHEN: We don't seem to know when enough is enough. Can we afford this much longer in terms of personnel, money, political stress, world opinion of the United States? I could go on and on.

SIMON: Soraya, according to the polls that's a frustration that a lot of Americans seem to share. Help us understand where the U.S. currently stands in terms of its drawdown, and what the commitments are and plans for the next few years.

NELSON: Well, the U.S. is in the midst of a drawdown at the moment. In fact, the surge that President Obama sent over a couple of years ago to deal with the growing Taliban threat, most of those troops are coming home in the coming days or weeks. And then on top of that you have all of the international troops here with the NATO-led coalition ending their mandate in about 27 months, at the end of 2014.

So the focus really has shifted here from nation building to sort of turning things over to the Afghans. And many Afghans are quite concerned that they're not really going to be ready, that there are still a lot of issues that remain with, you know, having the security forces able to handle the responsibility of taking care of their own country.

SIMON: And in addition to the war in Afghanistan, the next four years will entail obviously a lot of negotiations with new governments that are elected and established in world.

Here's one comment we heard:

PATTY RYAN: My name is Patty Ryan. I am from San Francisco, California. And I'm just wondering how the candidates would balance promoting democracy with the fact that this can often mean other countries will elect leaders unfriendly to America?

SIMON: Soraya, you're in Kabul right now, but you just left Egypt. Of course, that country recently elected the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate for president. Which I think we can fairly say was probably not the U.S. government's first preference; and we even saw this week that President Obama called President Morsi to - had to remind him, he felt, to protect U.S. diplomats in Cairo.

NELSON: Yes, it's been very confusing, I think, for the American government to sort of figure out who are friends, who are foes, and how do you promote democracy, and how do you support democracy in these countries when a lot of the people who come to power are perhaps not the best friends, or have not been the best friends of any American administration.

But it's also important to remember that the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups, they have to perform. It's not just about being angry at the U.S. or creating friction with the U.S., if you will. They have to be able to deliver for their people. And all these countries still very much depend on U.S. funding and U.S. support. Egypt, for example, as you mentioned President Morsi, I mean, his country, his military really needs American help. So I think that will hopefully provide some balance, if you will.

KELEMEN: I just wanted to say that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when she spoke about the deaths of these four Americans in Libya this week, she talked about how the people of Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Tunisia did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob. So I think there's also a lot of frustration on this end and a growing understanding that the U.S. is not in the driver's seat in any of these transitions.

SIMON: NPR's Michele Kelemen, thanks very much.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

SIMON: And Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Kabul, thank you very much.

NELSON: You're welcome.

SIMON: We'll be covering a number of issues as we get closer to the November election. You can send your questions to Reporter Hotline at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.