Helms, Betencourt And Mugabe NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr weighs in on the week's news: the rescue of former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt; Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's re-election; Barack Obama's comments about "refining" his Iraq policy; the shake-up in John McCain's camp; and the death of former Sen. Jesse Helms.
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Helms, Betencourt And Mugabe

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Helms, Betencourt And Mugabe

Helms, Betencourt And Mugabe

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This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. Scott Simon is away. I'm Linda Wertheimer. This week, a daring rescue in Colombia freed hostages held by FARC guerrillas for more than six years. Robert Mugabe claimed victory in Zimbabwe's controversial election and Senator John McCain changed the leadership of his campaign staff. Senior News Analyst Dan Schorr joins us to talk about all of this. Hello, Dan.

DAN SCHORR: Hi Linda, and welcome aboard.

WERTHEIMER: Thank you. Thank you. Let's start with the events in Colombia this week. After more than six years as a hostage of FARC guerrillas in Colombia, Ingrid Betancourt, three American contractors, and 11 other people were freed by Colombian forces on Wednesday. It was like a movie-style rescue, wasn't it?

SCHORR: Yes, it was. It was really quite amazing. And you sort of wonder what went into it. I imagine one thing that went into it, it was done all by Colombians, without a great deal of American help. What they did, however, was quite exquisite. They had one disgruntled guerrilla who worked with them, as a result of which they were able to call the people holding on to the hostages and give them orders from the supreme commander, which was somebody who was using his voice to make sound like a supreme commander and marched them to a place where there were some helicopters, which happened to be Russian-made helicopters on the idea of transferring them.

And then it turned out that as they got into the helicopters, only then did they find out they were not in the hands of guerrillas but in the hands of the saviors. It was rehearsed for a month. Some went through acting school to do it. It was quite an exquisite job.

WERTHEIMER: Coming soon to a theater near you, I bet. Robert Mugabe was sworn in again this week as president of Zimbabwe. Last week's run-off election was boycotted by the opposition. The results have been condemned internationally. Many countries, including the U.S., describe the election as a sham, but what can the U.S. and the international community do about this sham election?

SCHORR: You know, it occurred to me as we look back at the events of this week, it is in Colombia, the good guys won, and in Zimbabwe, it looks as though the good guys are losing and the bad guys are very much entrenched there. In order to be able to do something about Zimbabwe, you have to have some sense of unity by the outside world. The United States is talking sanctions, you know, UN sanctions. South Africa says, no, no, no, no, no. Russia and China cannot be counted on to support sanctions. So without sanction, what do you do?

The answer is, there seems to be nothing you can do, and you just look at this horrible situation. There was the African states, suggested to them maybe Mugabe would bring in his opponents, they would talk about a unity government. It's not in the cards. It's not going to happen.

WERTHEIMER: Politics of the U.S. stance. Senator Obama had some trouble articulating his position on pulling troops out of Iraq.


WERTHEIMER: Do you think that that amounts to a flip-flop or...

SCHORR: I don't like the phrase "flip-flop." Let me say this. It is very clear that the things you need to say when you're running for nomination are different than the things you say when you think you are nominated and have to run in election. You move from the extreme, in the case of the Democrats, move from the left, in the case of the Republicans, move from the right, and try to get somewhere near the center. And so what simply is happening is that this game is being played all over again.

WERTHEIMER: Well, he did say that he would wait to see what to do about Iraq...


WERTHEIMER: Until after he had been there and talked to the commanders. That sort of raised flags for people.

SCHORR: With this whole business about Iraq, he said he's going to go to Iraq. Yes, he'll go to Iraq. He thinks his ideas might be refined but he doesn't expect to change his ideas about Iraq. In other words, he's walking a very, very delicate line in which, yes, you're going to do it, no, you're not going to hurry to do it, I want all of you to support me and see me as your savior here.

WERTHEIMER: Mr. Obama said that he would attempt a withdrawal that would keep American troops safe. That would be one of his primary concerns, but he wanted to be sure that Iraq would remain stable. Now that sounds like a tall order to me, considering what the last few years have been like in Iraq.

SCHORR: That's having it both ways. I'm going promise you to take the troops out, maybe a brigade a month. However, don't worry. We're not going to leave them in the lurch. And though the thing may not be entirely consistent, but that's politics.

WERTHEIMER: Senator McCain now traveled to Latin America this week. In fact, he was in Colombia when that rescue happened.

SCHORR: Right.

WERTHEIMER: But the papers...

SCHORR: They told him about it, too. They didn't ask for any help.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: The bigger story seems to be, though, that he is making changes in his campaign staff. He says that it's a natural evolution. What do you think?

SCHORR: All I know is having seen changes in campaign staff over many, many years, I've never seen a big change at the top of campaign staff that was not connected with the leader's idea that he wasn't doing very well.

WERTHEIMER: We lost a figure who once loomed very large on the American stage, certainly he did in the Senate. Senator Jesse Helms died on the Fourth of July, yesterday. What do you think about Jesse Helms? Remembering Jesse Helms, he is...

SCHORR: Remembering Jesse Helms as a person who tried to run on being against affirmative action, tried to talk about blacks taking white jobs away, about a lot of things like - I don't know if he would do them today, but in those days he was rather extreme.

WERTHEIMER: Senior News Analyst Dan Schorr. Thanks, Dan.

SCHORR: My pleasure, Linda.

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