Roundtable: Africa, Iraq Offensive, FMLA

Topics on Tuesday's roundtable include a meeting of Condoleezza Rice and black clergy leaders to discuss Africa; U.S. forces on the offensive against insurgents in Iraq; and the Family Medical Leave Act. Guests: Yvonne Bynoe, author of Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture; Joseph C. Phillips, syndicated columnist; and Joe Davidson, an editor at The Washington Post.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon. On today's roundtable, Condoleezza Rice meets with black clergy about Africa, Iraqi and US forces back on the offensive, and Family Medical Leave Act forces a debate. Joining us from NPR in Washington are Yvonne Bynoe, author of "Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and the Hip Hop Culture." Also with us, Joe Davidson, who's an editor with The Washington Post, and at NPR West, syndicated columnist Joseph C. Phillips. He's in our studios there in Culver City, California.

I thank you all for joining us. Greatly appreciate it. One of the things that we want to take a look at today is the idea of the continued insurgence fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well. Part of the issue, particularly for those troops on the ground in Iraq, is that the insurgence seems to be a lot stronger than first believed by the Bush administration, and it certainly puts this administration and, in particular, these soldiers, in a quagmire. Joe Davidson, what do you see in this picture?

Mr. JOE DAVIDSON (The Washington Post): Well, I think that the history of the last couple of years in Iraq has demonstrated a number of miscalculations when it comes to the insurgency. They've clearly--the insurgency clearly has been much stronger and much more long lasting, I think, than the Bush administration ever anticipated. It seemed for a while that there was a big spike. It seemed to kind of level off for a bit. And now we're back into this incredible period of slaughter, really. Something like 700 people in Iraq have been killed in about the last month. And so I think it is a--it clearly indicates that the United States, the troops of the United States and the Iraqi armed forces are going to be in for a, big, long tough battle before this war is anywhere near being over.

GORDON: Mm-hmm. Yvonne.

Ms. YVONNE BYNOE (Author, "Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture"): I tend to agree with Joe, but I guess where I have some reservations still is whether or not, you know, this was even the right thing to do. That boat certainly has sailed. But I think if they had looked at the history of the--that area in Iraq and seen who had gone there before and the problems that have been in existence for not decades but hundreds of years, I think there should have been better planning as to what needed to happen, as well as what was the resilience factor of the people that are on the ground. You have a lot of different religious factions and you have probably secular issues, as well, that I just don't think are really being dealt with. I think they used a Western strategy to deal with a non-Western issue, and I think that as long as that remains the case, we're going to continue to see miscalculations that are going to result in more casualties.

Mr. JOSEPH C. PHILLIPS (Syndicated Columnist): You know, I think that miscalculations are part of life. It's part of war. We're all geniuses in hindsight. I think that what we're not talking about right here is something that has continued throughout the war and continues today even as we see a spike in the terrorist activity there, which is that young men continue to show up and volunteer at the risk of their lives, the lives of their families, to join the police force, to join the Iraqi national forces to protect the streets and to protect their families. They're--the tide is shifting there. I think that we absolutely need to be clear on who the heroes are. The insurgents there are not freedom fighters. They are fascists hiding behind keffiyehs. The heroes there are the young men, as I said before, who are fighting them. And I think it behooves us to do everything that we can to support their efforts.

Ms. BYNOE: But, also, too, I think we have to be clear that there's certainly some ambivalence on the part of many Iraqis as to who are the freedom fighters and who are--is the enemy. Certainly, we have people who are coming forward who do want to bring about a new day in Iraq, but there are also, too, people who are really just not clear, and we have to acknowledge that. They're not sure they really want the American presence there. They're not sure they want to fight their fellow Iraqi.

Mr. PHILLIPS: They are sure that they want liberty and freedom, and that is what these...

Ms. BYNOE: They're not sure how to...

Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, you know...

Ms. BYNOE: They're not sure how to go about it.

Mr. PHILLIPS: That is what the insurgents...

GORDON: All right. Hang on.

Mr. PHILLIPS: That is what the...

Mr. DAVIDSON: I think that the...

Mr. PHILLIPS: ...insurgents are fighting against.

Mr. DAVIDSON: I think that even...

Mr. PHILLIPS: As the--let me just...

GORDON: Hang on...

Mr. PHILLIPS: ...finish this one thought. Can I...

GORDON: Quickly.

Mr. PHILLIPS: ...just finish this one thought?

GORDON: Quickly.

Mr. PHILLIPS: As the new government takes hold there, as the forces grow and get stronger, the Iraqi forces grow and get stronger, we are seeing an increase in the number of people who are giving intelligence to coalition forces, who are fighting against the insurgency.

GORDON: OK. Joe...

Mr. DAVIDSON: You know, my...

Mr. PHILLIPS: I don't believe there's a groundswell...

GORDON: ...isn't part of...

Mr. PHILLIPS: ...of support for the insurgents.

GORDON: Isn't part of the issue here, Joe--and pick up on your point--some of what Yvonne brings in, and that is the idea that while we have all of this going on, you do have a United States presence that is tenuous, at best, across the board.

Mr. DAVIDSON: And, you know, I think that this is not just a matter of saying everything is 20-20 in hindsight or even that the ship has sailed. I think that a lot of this was known and discussed before the invasion of Iraq. There were a lot of misgivings in official circles, certainly in unofficial circles. And so there was a lot of the--a lot of what we're seeing now really was anticipated before the invasion. And so I think that to simply say--to kind of offer an analysis that one side is the terrorist and one side--and the other side is the heroes really does not begin to approach the complexity of this situation and really does not address the question, which for many people I think is still relevant, as to whether or not this undertaking should have begun to begin with.

GORDON: All right.

Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, that ship definitely has sailed. And I hate to say it, but for a number of people it was an issue and--but most people disagreed with that analysis and re-elected this president, gave a resounding defeat to that analysis.

GORDON: All right. And I--Joe, to be honest, I don't know that we can say because the president was elected that most people disagreed with the analysis, but clearly, those who voted with him...

Mr. PHILLIPS: Sure they did. It was an issue in the election...

Mrs. BYNOE: No, you can't...

Mr. PHILLIPS: ...and there was one side...

GORDON: It was certainly an issue, Joe...

Mr. PHILLIPS: ...that said, `Well, we shouldn't be there...'

GORDON: ...but there's no hard, fast numbers...

Mr. PHILLIPS: And then...

GORDON: Joe, there are not hard, fast numbers that suggest that most people in America, one way or another...

Mr. PHILLIPS: What I'm suggesting is that if the majority of Americans had felt as Joe Davidson expressed, they would not have re-elected this president and this administration...

GORDON: We won't...

Mr. DAVIDSON: ...to handle this war.

GORDON: We won't get into the numbers that came to the polls, and that's my only point. All right. We'll move onto a different issue, and that's Minister Louis Farrakhan, who has now asked for a congressional investigation into the alleged desecration of the Koran by guards at a US prison on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; this based on what was made--or what made a lot of news over the course of the last couple of weeks, and that's the Newsweek article. Newsweek, of course, has backed away from that premise that the Koran was desecrated by being thrown down the toilet. An investigation was had and released last week that suggested that there were some issues but not that particular one. Minister Farrakhan's point is there is, whether it be desecration by throwing the Koran down the toilet or not, there is an issue with the United States treatments--treatment of Muslims, as far as he is concerned.

Yvonne, do you believe that there should be a congressional investigation?

Mr. BYNOE: Frankly, I don't. I'm not sure that I'm going to totally buy the Pentagon's account, but I think more than li--it's more than likely. I'm willing to go along with the premise that there probably was mishandling. Some of it was inadvertent and some of it might have just been against what--their set aside protocols. That does not mean that I don't think that there might be prejudice or some bias against Muslims, but I think that we have to be clear that we can go over broad with some of these allegations, as well. I think that what we have to do is decide what is going to be a process that we're going to deal with in--when these allegations come up.

I'm not sure that I like the government policing itself. I'm not sure in--at this juncture what the best process would be. But this Gitmo thing, it keeps resurfacing. We've had other allegations: Abu Ghraib. There's certainly something there and we have to get some policy that's going to--that's transparent that people can have some confidence in. Right now, things keep cropping up. We have these investigations and they really don't get to the core of the issue. So I don't know that another congressional investigation is going to really solve anything or put a--or even as a PR process, I don't think that's going to be very helpful. But I think it behoves us to find some process to get to the bottom of these allegations...

GORDON: All right.

Ms. BYNOE: ...when they come up.

GORDON: Joe.

Ms. DAVIDSON: Well, I think that if there is going to be a congressional investigation, it would probably make sense for it to go beyond just the allegations involving the Koran. Amnesty International called Gitmo the gulag of our time, and many people think that's--it's overreaching, and it may well be, but that would be the purpose of any investigation, it would seem to me, is to find out exactly what happened, when it happened, why it happened, how up--and how high up the responsibility goes.

GORDON: Joseph?

Mr. PHILLIPS: You know, I'm sorry. I was just sitting here trying to remember--and I may have missed it--the news conference held by Farrakhan denouncing the shredding of Bibles by Muslims, the murder of innocent men, women and children by Muslims, the desecration of religious icons by Muslims. You know, after--coming on the heels of Memorial Day, I'm just a little bit offended by some of this talk that's going on. Americans have shed blood and defended Muslims all over this world, and I would like to see Minister Farrakhan or some prominent Muslim cleric stand up and give us some credit. The treatment of the detainees at Guantanamo has been extremely humane, given prayer mats, Muslim clerics coming to help them worship, special food, people bending over backwards to make sure that the Koran is not desecrated. I mean, it's just--it boggles the mind that--you know, that we're having this conversation. And I would also...

GORDON: Well, I don't know how it boggles the mind, Joseph, if, in fact, we saw a government investigation...

Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, what I...

GORDON: ..released again--hang on--released again last week that did suggest that there were some indiscretions, some problems, some issues with dealing with the prisoners on Guantanamo Bay, but not specifically about the Koran being thrown down the toilet. So while I agree with you credit should be given, that doesn't supercede the idea that if something is wrong it should be looked into.

Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, absolutely, and I think that, you know, the Army there--and I think that--my point is that we are bending over backwards not to have this kind of thing with--sensitivity training for the guards. And, I mean, I read a report they issued...

Mr. DAVIDSON: But does that mean if there's a lot of good going on, the bad should not be investigated?

Mr. PHILLIPS: No, what I'm saying, really, is that I think that this is a thinly veiled effort to embarrass the administration and embarrass the war effort. I mean, listen, Muslims are not...

Mr. DAVIDSON: But, you know, in the eyes of many people in Muslim countries, these kinds of allegations are like probably a minor part of their frustrations and anger toward the United States. They've have these--this anger towards the United States certainly since this--the invasion of Iraq. And so these...

Mr. PHILLIPS: I don't think it takes very much to get some of these people angry...

Mr. DAVIDSON: And so these kinds of things...

Mr. PHILLIPS: ...quite frankly. When you look at people like the murder of...

Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, my guess is some of them would say they have been quite a bit.

Mr. PHILLIPS: ...Theo van Gogh--the--a woman writes an article--What is it?--the Miss Universe Pageant a couple of years ago--talking about Mohammed and his marital practices, and people are ready to stone her to death. She needs armed guards. My point is that, you know, this--if it's not this, it's going to be something else, and we're not--when you balance that against what Americans are doing positively and you don't get any credit for that, then my...

Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, you see, I think the big problem is the invasion of Iraq overshadows everything for people in the Muslim world. It simply overshadows everything. No matter how much good the United States might have done, the invasion of Iraq kind of just basically overshadows that totally.

Ms. BYNOE: And, also, too, certainly there has been good, but, again, we don't have a transparent process, when these allegations linger in the air for weeks at a time, you add fire to the flames. So that's why I'm suggesting that I--again, I'm not sure that I would go along with a congressional investigation, but it has to be a quicker, transparent way of looking into these allegations. Because certainly there are people who are troublemakers and then looking to discredit the American efforts, but there's probably, very often, credible allegations that should be dealt with quickly rather than...

GORDON: All right. Let me...

Ms. BYNOE: ...hanging about.

GORDON: Let me get us to one other issue before we run out of time, and that is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is meeting with a number of prominent black ministers across the country. And what they're claiming is they are going to work hand in hand, a faith-based foreign policy initiative, to fight AIDS and other issues in Africa. And they claim this to be--from the Bush administration--part of their Africa mandate. Joe?

Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, I think that it's interesting that a predominantly conservative group of black ministers would meet with the administration on this, and I certainly hope that some strong action for Africa would come of that. Because, you know, it's--the United States is last among the developed nations in terms of its contributions--its overseas development assistance--as a proportion of its national wealth, gross national income. So I think anything that can be done to improve that record...

GORDON: Yeah.

Mr. DAVIDSON: ...so that the United States is not dead last would be helpful.

GORDON: All right. Yvonne, real quick for me.

Ms. BYNOE: I just really am troubled by the fact that these conversations seem to be very segregated. We--back in 2003, he had a discussion with quote, unquote, "urban leaders." Now we're having this black church thing. And I just really think that certainly the continent of Africa warrants a real thoughtful policy strategy, and I don't think it necessarily has to be all black. So when you kind of say, `Well, you black guys over there, handle Africa,' I don't see where that's much progress in terms of our nation's development.

GORDON: All right, Joseph Phillips, with about 45 seconds.

Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, I think that this administration has shown a real commitment to Africa, first of all, and I think that this kind of process is the kind of compassionate loving act that, as a Christian, I like to see. As a taxpayer, I'm not so thrilled by it, and I think that it's--it smacks of big government solution. Americans--contrary to what Joe Davidson just said, Americans are the most compassionate, most giving people on Earth. And I think if you free Americans up to do just that and take government out of the equation, we will see a lot of aid, and faith-based aid, in Africa...

GORDON: All right.

Mr. PHILLIPS: ...doing the kind of work that needs to be done.

GORDON: All right. Yvonne Bynoe, Joe Davidson and Joseph C. Phillips, I thank you all very much for joining us. Greatly appreciate it. Coming up...

Mr. PHILLIPS: Thank you.

GORDON: You're listening to NEWS & NOTES from NPR News.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: