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Who is Arming Whom in Syria?; American Nuns vs. The Catholic Church

Aired June 13, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

It is not us, it's them. Russia and the United States are hurling charges at each other, a war of accusations over who is giving what deadly weapons to Syria. This, even as the real war escalates. Another day, another city under siege, this time we're watching the city of Maarat al- Numaan, where unrest and fighting have gone on for months and rebels have had a strong foothold.

But in the last few days, government shelling has intensified. CNN obtained these pictures of an underground clinic treating the wounded.

Meanwhile, in the verbal crossfire, first Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, accused Russia of sending attack helicopters to the Assad regime. And then the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, fired back at the U.S.


SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): They are provided arms and weapons to the Syrian opposition that they can be used in fighting against the Damascus government.


AMANPOUR: The U.S. denies it, and the deteriorating relationship points to an Obama-Russia reset in trouble. As with Pakistan, the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere, President Obama's first term foreign policy has not all gone as planned, and that's my brief tonight.

Has President Obama's foreign policy stumbled in the execution or the high expectations? After all, he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize at the beginning of his term. A new Pew study released today captures the disappointment. Approval of his foreign policy has plunged across the world.

But President Obama wants to reset his reset. At least that was his message to then-Russian president Dmitri Medvedev in what was supposed to have been a private conversation a few months ago.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.

DMITRI MEDVEDEV, FORMER PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA: I understand you. I transmit this information to Vladimir, and I stand with you.


AMANPOUR: So what would an Obama foreign policy look like in a second term? And what would he do about Syria? I asked long-time presidential adviser and former assistant secretary of state, Martin Indyk, in a moment.

But first, a look at what's coming up later in the program.


AMANPOUR: What's wrong with this picture? We'll examine the growing gender war within the Catholic Church.

And not so long ago, they were Syria's glamor couple. Today they lead their country's descent into bloody civil war.

A match made in heaven or hell?


AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit. But first, grading U.S. foreign policy in Syria and beyond. Martin Indyk is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state, and he's just written "Bending History: Barack Obama's Foreign Policy."


AMANPOUR: Martin Indyk, welcome; thank you for joining me.


AMANPOUR: Martin, you've been in the negotiations when you were in the administration in various different negotiations. What we have now is a situation where the United States does not want to intervene any further than sanctions and other diplomatic pressure.

We see that it's not working yet. We see that they're trying to pressure the Russians, which possibly may be a reason for some of Hillary Clinton's public harsh words. Walk me through how the United States gets the Russians to pressure Assad.

INDYK: Well, the critical challenge is indeed that: to move the Russians away from Assad. They've shown a little bit of ankle here; they've suggested they're not wedded to the Assad regime. And if we could succeed in driving a wedge there, it would be hugely to the advantage of the overall effort, because then you could get U.N. Security Council support for more, tougher measures backed by the threat of force under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Security Council.

How to do it depends on your understanding of what the Russians want. I think the most important thing that they're concerned about, Christiane, is that, at the end of the day, Syria not be taken out from the Russian column and put in the American column.

And we don't have a very good track record on reassuring them of that because essentially, that's what we've gone around doing since the Cold War. So, there's a real mistrust of our intentions there, notwithstanding assurances that we might be trying to give there.

Beyond that, however, there is a concern, I think, in the case of Moscow, about a descent into chaos on their southern border. And that's the leverage that I think we can use more effectively.

AMANPOUR: Well, I was going to ask you, do you see a moment coming where the United States can hold Russia to its word? And that is that Russia wants the Annan peace plan to work, but doesn't seem to be doing the kind of leverage and pressure on its ally, Assad, as should be required.

INDYK: Well, that is, in fact, the game that I think is going on here, although it's not so obvious. That is to say, we are in the process of putting the monkey on Lavrov's back. Getting the Russians to step up and see if they can, working with Kofi Annan, put together this kind of regional grouping of interested states and neighbors to try to propose a kind of - propose Assad transition.

If they're unable to do that and if they're unwilling in the process to split from Assad, then as Secretary Clinton said yesterday, by mid-July, everybody will be able to make a judgment about whether that's working. In other words, what she's really saying is not whether Kofi Annan has delivered, but whether Lavrov and the Russians have delivered.

AMANPOUR: And then what? Is that another empty line in the sand, an empty threat? What happens mid-July?

INDYK: That's a good question and I think that's the heart of the matter. Is there a plan B? What does it involved? Does it mean arming the opposition, training them, covert activities?

I think you'll see a lot of effort from now to mid-July to try to produce a coherent opposition that's more unified, that can speak with one voice, try to, again, as the secretary of state said yesterday in her remarks, try to find ways to provide guarantees to those critical mainstays of the Assad regime.

The Alawite community, the Christian community, the business community, to reassure them that there is safety and security after Assad leaves.

AMANPOUR: And how about this paradox? On the one hand, U.S. wants to pressure Russia over Syria. On the other hand, the United States needs Russia in other areas of foreign policy, such as Iran and the nuclear program.

INDYK: Great point. It is a real irony that on the one hand, we're expecting Lavrov to go off to Tehran in these coming days and deliver a more flexible position on the part of Iranians towards the offer that's on the table in the nuclear talks that are going to take place in Moscow, in which we're heavily dependent on the Russians to cooperate with us and pressure the Iranians.

And at the same time, we're beating them over the head for being too supportive of the Assad regime, particularly by providing these attack helicopters. And it's a very hard balancing game and there is a - this tension between them that is not easily reconciled.

So, ultimately, I think we're going to have to decide which one is more important to us. And I suspect that, at the end of the day, it will be the Iranian issue and the nuclear weapons programs we run that trumps concern about what's happening in Syria.

AMANPOUR: And I bet you anything President Assad is counting on that very issue.

Let me move beyond, and that is President Obama's foreign policy, which you have written about. And we know that he's not very popular in Russia, but he's also not very popular in other parts of the world, too.

The Pew poll has just come out, talking about his personal popularity and also his policy. His popularity has dropped by 15 points in Europe, for instance, from 78 to 63, 19 points in Muslim countries, from 34 to 15; as I said, 18 points in Russia from 40 to 22 and 30-point drop in China from 57 to 27.

What is it that's disappointing people, do you think, from your perspective?

INDYK: Well, I think the key is that President Obama really excited the world, particularly Europeans who were very against George Bush's type of American foreign policy, but more broadly as well. Remember, his Cairo speech to the Muslim world, he raised expectations very high.

And inevitably, he disappointed them. I say inevitably because, in the world of today, the global world, it's really hard for the United States to get its way. And a lot of the issues that he was hoping to deal with and achieve, transformational breakthroughs, don't lend themselves to that. So, in that sense, disappointment was inevitable.

But in some ways, he promised too much and delivered too little. And that's not as glaringly obvious in the case of the Muslim world. And we talk about this in detail in our book on his foreign policy, where he promised them that he would shut down Guantanamo Bay, that he would solve the Palestinian problem, make it his priority from day one.

These are the two hot-button issues. And there was a third one that never came up at that time, that has become much more obvious now, which was the drone attacks, which would seem to be kind of attacks on Muslim civilians.

And so, the combination of a failure to deliver on the first two things that he promised, Guantanamo Bay and the Palestinian issue, and then the focus shifting to - in the Muslim world, collateral damage from drone strikes, I think explains that fact that, notwithstanding his intention from the outset that he would improve relations with the Muslim world, Obama's standing is not much better than George W. Bush's was.

AMANPOUR: What do you think he should and could do in a second term?

INDYK: Well, second term, if he should have it and I hope he will, is a very different kettle of fish. First of all, more experience on his part, I think, will lead him to promise less and try to deliver more.

Secondly, he'll be less constrained by concern about the applause meter in the American electorate and so will be more able to do things that, in the arena of trying to resolve conflicts, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, than he was able to do in his first term.

AMANPOUR: Martin Indyk, thank you very much for joining me.

INDYK: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And I asked him how he would grade various foreign policy issues. Martin Indyk said that when it comes to the war on terror to decapitating Al Qaeda, using those drones, he would give the president an A. But on the other issues that we talked about, a B minus or a C.

Now there is another kind of war, a quiet war, going on inside the Catholic Church, of all places, bishops versus nuns, when we come back.

But first, take a look at this picture. If you think the euro is in trouble, consider the Syrian currency. It's been running out. So Assad has had to ask his Russian friends for one more favor, please print me more money. We'll be right back.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And now turning to the Catholic Church, which recently released a report criticizing nuns here in the United States. It alleges that they stray from church doctrine, and it cites radical feminist themes in their programs.

My next guest is a practicing nun and a former president of the group that represents the majority of nuns in the U.S., Sister Joan Chittister, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: So this has come out, this document, and it's criticized you. And let me just say a couple of things that it cites. As we said, radical feminist themes: silent on the right to life, confusion about the church's authentic doctrine of faith -- in other words, straying from the Vatican party line.


AMANPOUR: How do you respond to that? Those are serious charges.

CHITTISTER: Well, I'd like to start with the first one, because I think -- I really believe it's the pillar upon which they build the rest of the case. They call us radical feminists. Now that's embarrassing.

And I'll tell you, it's not embarrassing to me. It ought to be embarrassing to them. And I'll tell you why. The term "radical feminism" is a very precise philosophical term. If you're going to accuse somebody of it, you ought to know what it is. Now radical --

AMANPOUR: What is it?

CHITTISTER: Well, comes out of the `60s with a bumper sticker. The bumper sticker says, something like this, "A woman needs a man the way a fish needs a bicycle." It is about separatism, in other words, exclusion, exclusion of the sexes. I don't know one woman and no nun who believes that or ever believed that or works in that behalf. The --

AMANPOUR: So why are they saying it, then?

CHITTISTER: Because --

AMANPOUR: Why do they use that term?

CHITTISTER: Because the problem is not radical feminism, it's radical patriarchy. That's where exclusion is built right into the DNA. Women are nowhere on any of these commissions, on the writing of any of these documents. So how would they know what a woman's answer is to these things? It's a measure of wanting to make the rest of the world part of your world and real.

AMANPOUR: So you -- well, the nuns of your organization met with the Vatican, who's in charge now, trying to figure this out. What was the result of that meeting? It seemed like the Vatican basically gave some very strict marching orders. You either stay in line or you get out of Dodge.

CHITTISTER: Well, in the first place, let's make it clear. I am not now an official member of the LCWR. I was in the past. So, no, I wasn't part of that elite, and like everybody else, I read the articles and they are clear. But the fact is that in that -- in that meeting, the women laid out, I'm sure, the plan. More importantly, they laid out the process.

They're about to be a model for the whole church. They're saying we aren't going to make this decision. We aren't answering you. We will go back and survey the sisters in the United States, our members, and we'll tell you what our corporate mind. That isn't happening in -- on the other side of this equation.

AMANPOUR: So let me push you on this, because you say corporate mind, and clearly you have forged where you believe your doctrine and your teaching and your mission and service leads you. But you are part of the Roman Catholic Church.

This pope, as well as his predecessor, has made it very clear that they are back to basics, no more Vatican II, no more of the liberal reforms. So if you want to stay a Catholic nun, do you have to toe the line?

CHITTISTER: Well, what line are we taking about? What line should the church be talking about? The sisters will tell you that their corporate mind comes out of the Gospel, that they're ministering to people. I believe that that's where this tension is setting up. I think we're seeing the distinction between the ideals and the street, the law and the people.

We have here an instance where we're confronted with a difference between the medieval and the modern mind. The medieval mind says there is an answer to everything, only one. It's either right or wrong, and we'll tell you what it is. The modern mind, borne in a scientific age, says there are many answers to many things, and we really have to look at them all to know which one is best.

AMANPOUR: So let me ask you, in that regard, then, how do you respond to the second major charge that they cite, and that is silent on the right to life?

CHITTISTER: Oh. That's almost humorous. The sisters live in the life questions. The sisters live beyond the pro-birth issues, to birth and the pro-life issues, from womb to tomb, everything we do is about the value of life.

In 1977 or '78, we said then, in an official LCWR document that we believe in what later became known through Cardinal Bernardin, the seamless garment, that all life issues are life issues, and that we didn't want to concentrate on any single ones, as if the rest of them were unimportant.

AMANPOUR: So when you say life issues, you're specifically talking about your ministry, about reaching the poor, about helping the dispossessed, about social justice?

CHITTISTER: Well, I won't call it social justice. It is life in this country at this time. When the sisters left the schools, where they had spent 100 years, healing the pain of illiteracy, they saw the pain in all these other places now. The state had taken over the responsibility for literacy. We saw the pain in the streets. We saw the pain in poor families. We saw the pain in the prisons. We saw the pain in health care.

Different sisters with different backgrounds went into each of those places, where they minister to the poor. Now they don't just minister to Catholic poor. They don't use ministry as a ground for preaching documents. They use the ministry that they would say comes out of the model of Jesus and the Gospels, and that is whoever is down, we will help rise up. Whoever is dead, we will try to give new life. If that's not a pro-life issue, I don't know where to go.

AMANPOUR: And do you think the Church doesn't want you to do this?

CHITTISTER: Well, it's their sentence. They're spending too much time on social justice issues, and not enough time on these issues. It isn't that those issues are unimportant. No sister has ever said they are.

But abortion, contraception, homosexuality, those are -- those are issues of theology and issues of science. Those are living dynamic issues. This society is struggling with them deeply. Nobody has solved them. Nobody can say with a kind of certitude, this is life. We got a -- we got a clone called Dolly, and none of us know any more. But --


AMANPOUR: The sheep, you're talking about.

CHITTISTER: The sheep, yes, that we cloned, confused the whole definition of life. And these questions aren't going to go away.

AMANPOUR: I want to go back to what you said before, it's about patriarchy. And of course we've had this amazing picture that we've put up on our screen, and it does show the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, the pope and all his men, all his cardinals and archbishops.

We also know, and we have a chart to show this, that the number of religious sisters here in the United States, nuns like yourself, is plummeting. And why is that, I want to ask you? You know, from 1965, when there were 180,000 to 2011 when there are 56,000?

CHITTISTER: Sure. Well, there are lots of reasons for that; many of them social. The Rotarians will tell you the same thing and so will the Tiresians (ph). The -- those numbers of entrance into institutions are now playing Nintendo games or something else.

But more than that, where women are concerned, up until this period, the options for women to really serve and make a significant difference in this world, were very limited, to mother, nursing and teaching. So what we have now is a very serious, very spiritual group who are concentrating then on the place of Christian ministry on the streets.

AMANPOUR: And when you tell the male hierarchy, the bishops and those who are charged now with investigating the situation, that it hasn't been nuns who've been responsible for the sexual scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church, what do they say, or do they not worry about their own credibility as they're attacking you?

CHITTISTER: I have no idea. They simply overlook that topic. They're making no relationship there whatsoever that I know of. But this much I do know: all religions, male-dominated religions, always exalt the place of women and then ignore them entirely, on any major issues. They're not in that picture; they're in none of those pictures.

You can look around the globe. We're being led into the fullness of women by you and this business and the businesses around you. The church is not leading on the issue they should be leading on.

AMANPOUR: We will continue to follow your story, Sister Joan Chittister, thank you very much for coming in.

CHITTISTER: Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: And we will be right back.


AMANPOUR: And finally, imagine a world where oppression is not in vogue. A little over a year ago, Asma Assad, the glamorous wife of Syria's president, was profiled in "Vogue" magazine. She was called "a rose of the desert." The author of the article wrote this, "She was extremely thin and very well dressed and therefore qualified to be in `Vogue.'"

Back in December 2010, as Tunisia was about to burst into flames and spark the Arab Spring, Asma and her husband were strolling in Paris, viewing a Monet exhibit, seeming to be the epitome of a new, enlightened Middle East.

But this spring, in the wake of the brutal crackdown that left thousands of Syrians dead, as we've seen so many of them children, "Vogue" has removed its profile of Asma Assad from its website. And earlier this week, "Vogue's" editor, Anna Wintour, issued a statement deploring the Assad regime.

But it wasn't just "Vogue" that was taken in by the glitz and the glamor. "Paris Match," "French Elle," as well as the Hollywood glitterati, all elevated and sometimes accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Assad to star status.

That star has waned, but Asma continues to stand by her man, even though his family is Alawite and hers is Sunni, hailing from the besieged city of Homs. Today, Asma Assad remains out of sight, an enigma no longer in vogue.

That's it for tonight's program. Meantime, our inbox is always open, Thank you for watching. Goodbye from New York.