Week in Review: Assistance to Myanmar and China
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
This week another disaster struck Asia. Tens of thousands of people die in a powerful earthquake in China while Myanmar continues its slow recovery, often despite its leadership from a devastating cyclone. President Bush visits the Middle East, and Hillary Clinton won another primary battle in the race for the White House, but Senator Barack Obama may have come even closer to winning the war for the nomination.
NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us. Hello, Dan.
DAN SCHORR: Welcome home, Dr. Simon.
SIMON: Thank you very much, thank you. Let me ask first about Myanmar and China because, of course, Cyclone Nargis has left terrible fatalities. An excess of 100,000 people died, perhaps closer to 150,000 there in Myanmar. And central China was struck by an earthquake, which has caused tens of thousands of casualties.
This week what can you say about the response of the outside world.
SCHORR: I think the response of the outside world has been most heartening. How do you react to a great tragedy of that sort, whether it be an earthquake or a cyclone, is really the measure of civilization and how civilized we really are. And I think in both of these cases, the outside world and as to say the United Nations as well as individual countries, the United States among them, really came forward to do all they could, and I must say in certain case, all they would be allowed to do.
SIMON: You raised an issue last week I want to get you to expand on this week. The whole question about national sovereignty.
SIMON: Because the generals that rule Myanmar are refusing to let all but a trickle of aid into the country. And the foreign minister of France, Bernard Kouchner…
SIMON: …has said - I think he might have said it after you - suggested that the United Nations or groups of nations must now be moved to contemplate delivering aid despite the generals and not what (unintelligible).
SCHORR: That's right. Now, there is a legal background for that. When the United Nations celebrated its 60th anniversary with a big summer session of the entire assembly, they adopted a resolution, which established a new principle of international law. And that principle is responsibility to protect - a government has the responsibility of protecting its people.
The implication being that they won't do that that the world has to step in. So, there's been some talk about whether that would apply now. I don't think it'll get very far. I don't think some of the countries would allow that to happen. But, yes, you face in this a question of if they allow their own people to die of cholera, to die of starvation and so on, can we stand idly by. And the word is idly.
SIMON: Sixtieth anniversary of the state of Israel was observed this week and President Bush was on hand, made a speech to the condescant(ph). A speech that became a point at the presidential campaign.
SCHORR: Yeah, I guess it's been a long time since they say that politics stops at the water's edge. I think nowadays it almost starts at the water's edge. And this was a very strange speech. Because aside from celebrating the 60th anniversary of Israeli statehood, the president also made another point.
Without mentioning the name of Obama he nevertheless laid into those who would do as Neville Chamberlain had done and try to appease Hitler. In other words, singularly inept kind of thing to say anywhere but certainly to say this in a foreign country and in Israel to carry on an election debate there, yes.
SIMON: Senator Obama, although he wasn't named…
SCHORR: I know.
SIMON: …as John McCain (unintelligible)…
SCHORR: He wasn't named but it was clear.
SIMON: …nonetheless made a statement on Friday in which he said he thought his position was certainly being misinterpreted.
SCHORR: Yes. It is very strange that the election campaign, which is in full progress here, extends itself without precedent all the way from Jerusalem manages to say something, which had a lot of people condemning him for him. But not only for what he said but for raising American foreign policy issues elsewhere while he's in a foreign country.
SIMON: Senator Clinton won the West Virginia primary by more than 40 points…
SCHORR: That's right.
SIMON: …on Tuesday but does not seem to have gotten any closer. In fact, she seems farther from the nomination. Superdelegates and major endorsements, like John Edwards and union endorsements, have all gone to Senator Obama.
SCHORR: Well, if she looked forward to it and it was a big victory in West Virginia. Unfortunately for her, before anything could get into the evening news the next day, then came John Edwards who had been a candidate for president, now endorsing Obama. And that stole the headlines away from one victory.
SIMON: And Senator McCain in his campaign this week seemed to articulate a somewhat different position on the possibility of American troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. He actually mentioned a year by which he felt that would be possible.
SCHORR: Well, it is very clear if you're running for president you can't really afford to tell the people you're going to stay in Iraq until maybe 100 years from now, until the next century or whatever. And so…
SIMON: You know, he always pointed out we have U.S. troops in Germany…
SCHORR: Who (unintelligible)…
SIMON: …as far as we know in perpetuity.
SCHORR: And in Korea. Totally different situations but never mind. And so we had to trim his sails a little bit and now he says that he really believes that by the end of his first term, he expects to have troops will mainly be back here. This is what he has now decided is a better position to take.
SIMON: And Congress wrestled two major pieces of legislation - the farm bill and funding for the Iraq War.
SIMON: Do you see any resolution?
SCHORR: Well, Congress has mostly acted on it and there were a couple of vetoes involved. The president has said he's going to veto the farm bill because he thinks it spends too much and he's also indicated that if any change in the money for Iraq bill - and that is, for example, a GI bill for returning veterans or something else that would cost money - he might be done with that.
And so here we are as we approach Memorial Day with two major pieces of legislation simply hung up, waiting for action.
SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.
SCHORR: Sure, Scott, welcome home.
SIMON: Thank you.
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