Roundtable: U.N. Report on Iran, Military Hospital Care
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.
On today's Roundtable, Iran sticks to its nuclear plan and is sexual media causing psychological problems in children.
Joining us to talk about these and more are political consultant Walter Fields, Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, professor of immigration studies at NYU, and Ron Christie, vice president of the lobbying firm D.C. Navigators and former special assistant to President George W. Bush.
Welcome, and let's talk about Iran. The U.N. Security Council has put the finishing touches on a report confirming that Iran continues to enrich uranium. Now it could mean harsher sanctions against Iran. Officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran has expanded enrichment efforts instead of freezing them like they were asked to.
Now the president said earlier this week he'd be happy to stop the enrichment program if Western nations would do the same. Ron, what is the Bush administration making of all this?
Mr. RON CHRISTIE (Vice President, D.C. Navigators): Well, I think this is a very delicate time in foreign policy in the Middle East. Iran has continued to enrich uranium, much to the detriment and much to the concern of the United Nations community. The United Nations, working through the Security Council, has asked Iran to stop their proliferation and enrichment of uranium.
And I think the United States is looking, as are all nations, to ensure that there is compliance with the U.N. mandate. And if Iran does not comply, then I think the United States will be in a position to seek counsel and to seek alliance with other members in the Security Council to impose sanctions, economic sanctions and other sanctions on Iran.
But it will be very interesting, I think, to see particularly what Russia and China do - two friends of Iran who are permanent members of the United Nations security council - whether they would block such efforts to impose sanctions.
CHIDEYA: I mean, do you think they will?
Mr. CHRISTIE: I think if in fact the report comes out and it says what we believe that it will say, that Iran continues to enrich uranium for purposes other than domestic energy, I think that the international community will be very swift in trying to impose economic and other sanctions to bring Iran back to the negotiating table and make them feel a little bit of pain, not in a military way but from an economic perspective to bring them into compliance.
CHIDEYA: Marcelo, let's break it down on sanctions for just a second. Iraq was under sanctions for many years. Some human rights advocates argued that it hurt the people but not the president because he had access to the wealth. Zimbabwe's been under sanctions. Again, many people arguing that it's the people who suffer, not the presidents. What do sanctions really do? Are they effective?
Professor MARCELO SUAREZ-OROZCO (Globalization and Education, New York University): Well, we might have also said Cuba has faced sanctions for a long, long time. Well, the preponderance of evidence shows that sanctions are highly symbolic, they're political in the sense that they telecast a message to the parties, to the larger region, to the world at large.
But in fact there is little evidence to suggest that, as a strategy to induce change in terms of the internal dynamics of governmental policy, sanctions are anemic. This is politics, heavy in politics, but it is quite light in terms of consequences other than hurting typically the most vulnerable citizens. It's children, it's the poor folk, the ethnic minorities that tend to pay the price of politicized sanctions. The leadership protects itself.
CHIDEYA: So Walter, if you've got a situation where Iran is pursuing a nuclear program that the West doesn't like. At this point, Western governments don't seem too eager to try to go in militarily. Sanctions may not work. What are the options?
Mr. WALTER FIELDS (Political Consultant): The options are to sit down at the table with Iran and negotiate. You know, the United States doesn't have any credibility on this issue. We are the only nation that has ever detonated a nuclear device and killed and maimed people. And I think what's happening now in the Middle East is that you have countries like Iran that are looking at the United States and saying how dare you suggest to us that we cannot develop, whether it's weapons or nuclear energy.
Particularly when you look at the state of Israel, which has nuclear weapons and is in their backyard. So I think, you know, the U.S. has a real credibility problem. And also I don't think any of these nations trust the U.S. as a fair negotiator through the United Nations process. Because everyone knows that the U.S. manipulates the United Nations as much as it can.
And I don't think sanctions will fly, because I think Russia and China have already said they're going to veto it. So I think this is a new awakening for the United States that, you know what, you're in a different era and you're going to have to negotiate differently. And I think this time around this Congress is not going to allow this president to even think about military action against Iran.
So the Bush administration has created a hole for itself here, and it's going to be very interesting to see whether they try to talk their way through this and come to some settlement with Iran or whether they try to play the bully again. And I think if they try to play the bully again, we're going to lose.
Mr. CHRISTIE: And see the premise of what you just said, Walter, I just disagree so strongly about. First of all, the United States did not play the bully as it related to Iraq. You seem to forget nearly 17 sanctions, I should say, resolutions that were passed by the United Nations Security Council as it related to Iraq.
And going back to Marcelo's point, I would not take - I would not agree with you when you say that sanctions are anemic and have very little value. Iran's major export to the world is petroleum. If the United Nations and the United Nations Security Council decides to impose an oil embargo, an economic embargo against Iran and cuts off that stream of revenue, I think that they would be in a far better position and want to come to the negotiating table to sit down and listen.
Mr. FIELDS: When that happens…
Mr. CHRISTIE: To suggest, Walter, to suggest that the United States has no credibility because we detonated…
Mr. FIELDS: When that happens, elephants will fly, Ron.
Mr. CHRISTIE: To suggest, Walter, that the United States has no credibility because we detonated a bomb in World War II, when the empire of Japan attacked the United States and used suicide kamikaze individuals who were killing thousands of Americans, I think is mixing apples and oranges. And that actually…
CHIDEYA: Well, guys, I'm going to have to wrap this topic up because…
Mr. FIELDS: Apples and oranges…
CHIDEYA: …I have another whole military-related story that I want to get to.
But first of all, let met reintroduce everybody. We've just been hearing from Ron Christie, vice president of a lobbying firm, D.C. Navigators, former special assistant to President George W. Bush, Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, professor of immigration studies at NYU, political consultant Walter Fields.
And of course this is NPR's NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya. Always here with spirited discussion, and this one should really raise a lot of questions.
The Pentagon is reviewing charges that wounded U.S. soldiers are being neglected at military hospitals. Now, The Washington Post brought this story to light, reporting that wounded vets who served in Iraq and Afghanistan lived in deplorable conditions. Many had to wait for months to get their disability pay. And Senator Claire McCaskill of the Armed Services Committee told NBC News she's troubled by the revelation.
Senator CLAIRE MCCASKILL (Democrat, Missouri): I can't believe that there's an American out there who isn't outraged at the idea that men and women would be wounded in combat risking their lives for us and then have to live in a place that has rats and rodents and cockroaches and mold.
CHIDEYA: Ron, is this going to be damaging to the administration if, in fact, these allegations are documented?
Mr. CHRISTIE: I think it's damaging to the United States Army, who runs the Walter Reed facility. I think this is deplorable. And I was watching a piece yesterday about the two-star general who is in charge of Walter Reed, and he said their sole responsibility for what has taken place in this institution is mine and mine alone.
There's so much effort of anytime that anything bad happens in government, it's, oh, let's go after George W. Bush. In this particular instance, Walter Reed is a military institution. It is a military hospital that is charged with taking care of our brave men and women in uniform. And if, in fact, that these allegations are true, the responsibility in my opinion lies with those who are in charge of running that facility. And…
CHIDEYA: But, Ron…
Mr. CHRISTIE: …the Pentagon itself.
CHIDEYA: Ron, at the same time there's also requested budget appropriations that Congress has the final say over the budget. But has the president allocated enough money in his budget requests for aftercare for veterans?
Mr. CHRISTIE: Well, that's something that we're going to have to take a look at, Farai. We'll have to look and see whether or not the secretary of defense has had the proper consultation with those who work with him and those who are in a uniform who have advised him on what's best for Walter Reed.
But I don't want to have a rush to judgment to say, oh, this is President George W. Bush's fault. Let's see what the budget allocation was last year, let's see what the budget allocation is for this year. But most importantly, let's see what's going on and whether these charges are in fact true.
CHIDEYA: Walter, how should we proceed in really looking at this? Because U.S. veterans obviously have played an enormous role in supporting this nation and it sounds as if there is evidence - still being looked into - that they are not getting a fair shake.
Mr. FIELDS: Well, first of all, there's a reason why the president of the United States is the commander-in-chief. He is ultimately responsible. You can't pass this off on the Army. The fact of the matter is this administration has failed miserably. So when we start talking about credibility, this administration has none.
It has none domestically. That's why we saw the change in Congress in the midterm elections. It has none internationally. That's why the U.S. has the lowest approval ratings ever across the world. So we have to look at the White House.
This is an administration that didn't even send our young men and women to war with the proper protection. Didn't have the proper armaments - parents sending armaments overseas to protect their children. This administration should be held responsible.
CHIDEYA: But, Walter, I don't want to just debate the administration…
Mr. FIELDS: No. I'm not debating the administration…
CHIDEYA: What can be done now?
Mr. FIELDS: What can be done now?
Mr. CHRISTIE: Yeah, you know, why don't you answer the question?
Mr. FIELDS: What can be done now is you hold the administration's feet to its fire. That's why we have a Congress. That's why Congress has oversight power. We have a Republican Congress that let this administration get away with murder. There were no hearings, no oversight, no nothing, no investigation…
Mr. CHRISTIE: I believe we're talking about Walter Reed. We're not talking about the murder, Walter.
Mr. FIELDS: A time for the Congress to play its constitutional role of oversight, and that includes holding the administration responsible for the failures of the executive branch and executive branch agencies, including the Department of Defense.
CHIDEYA: So, Marcelo, when you think about veterans and - I have many in my family - luckily, none of them wounded seriously and certainly, I hope it stays that way even though one is active duty still. What responsibility do American people who are not fighting - who are not even military families directly -have to really paying attention to these issues and making sure that veterans get a fair shake?
Prof. SUAREZ-OROZCO: Well, they are the sector of the U.S. population - the veterans, and, of course, the active duty personnel - that are really making the greatest sacrifices in the context of this conflict in Iran and elsewhere in Afghanistan.
So the duty of a democracy here - there are legal issues that have to do with the oversight and the various responsibilities of, A the commander in chief, B the Congress, to investigate - to have a fact-finding series of initiatives to get the evidence out to address the problem - to correct the problem.
There are deep ethical and moral questions here of how we treat our bravest - those who've given the most to the country after they're - they've completed their service. So this is really where politics and ethics and moral principles come together. And here, we're dealing with the people that have given the most to the nation, to the Armed forces, the ones that have really sacrificed in the context of a war that has outsourced the sacrifice.
So it seems to me that this is an area where robust, transparent fact-finding congressional initiative could do some good where we would find out exactly who is responsible, where is the budget? How come our veterans are in these substandard banana republic hospital and clinic accommodations? And how do we fix it?
CHIDEYA: All right. Well, being framed as a moral issue, I want to turn to another moral issue unrelated, but one that is very important to a lot of parents and to anyone who loves kids - media saturation of sexed-up girls and women posing as adolescents.
Now, it can cause psychological damage, according to a study by the American Psychological Association. And sexualization, they argue, can lead to depression, eating disorders, poor academic performance - affects girls both black white who seem to be affected - I'm sure, Latinas as well - seem to be affected by images mainly of people they are own race.
Is this something - again, since we've been talking about government broadly -where there should be some government intervention, government regulation of images targeted at kids? There have been all sorts of proposals about regulating advertising to kids about sweet and sugary and fatty foods - hasn't really gotten a lot of traction in the U.S.
But, Marcelo, you are an educator. You're at NYU with a lot of these teenage girls who are just coming in as freshmen. I'm sure that they are in New York City, a media-saturated environment. Do you see it making any difference in their lives, first of all? And secondly, should government step in?
Prof. SUAREZ-OROZCO: Well, what's really worrisome is, A, what the scientific -with the research evidence that was just released suggests, and B, the link between sexualization and the whole commercialization of sex that is increasingly part of the, you know, the business as usual in our global, capital society.
So it seems to me that this has to do with fundamental issues pertinent to the relationship between families, the raising of children, socialization of children, the kinds of ways in which families need today to deploy huge resources to protect the children from a lot of the toxicity that circulates in our media, and, unfortunately, in our schools - in the public sphere in general.
So, this is the eternal pension. And unfortunately, the families that are more robust, the communities that have the resources, both financial and symbolic resources to protect the children, are sometimes in a position to do a better job.
It's often our most vulnerable families are families with the least resources that are most susceptible to these very, very predatory forces that are increasing the circulating all around us. So…
CHIDEYA: All right. Well, I have to jump in because we're in pretty much out of time. But I want to give Ron and Marcelo - excuse me - Ron and Walter one chance on this specific issue. Should there be more regulation, either within the industry or from the government of sexualized images of teens? Ron?
Mr. CHRISTIE: Within the industry, absolutely. I mean, as a lawyer, I would tell you I'm always nervous about government encroaching on the first amendment right of individuals to have freedom of speech and freedom of expression, but at the same time, as the good professor just noted, it's almost predatory the way that these individuals market and target children. And I think that has a devastating impact on the psyche of young men and young women as they're growing up and as they reach maturity.
CHIDEYA: Walter? Walter?
FIELDS: Absolutely. When I was a child, they had the Marlboro man on TV. He no longer appears.
CHIDEYA: All right. With that note, we're going to have to leave it there. We've got political analyst Walter Fields, Ron Christie, vice president of the lobbying firm D.C. Navigators, former special assistant to President George W. Bush - Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, professor of immigration studies at NYU. Thank you all. Mr. FIELDS: Thank you all.
Mr. CHRISTIE: Thank you.
Prof. SUAREZ-OROZCO: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: Next on NEWS & NOTES, we get the scoop from Washington, D.C. on Political Corner, and our nutritionist Rovenia Brock dishes out advice on healthy eating on the road.
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