GWEN IFILL, MODERATOR: Hello. And welcome to the WASHINGTON WEEK Webcast Extra.
I’m joined around the table by Tom Gjelten of NPR, John Harwood of CNBC and “The New York Times”, Karen Tumulty of “The Washington Post”, and David Sanger of “The New York Times”.
While we were consumed with North Korea and Cuba and the annual Washington holiday rush to the exits, a lot else was going on in the world. In Pakistan, more than 140 were killed in a Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar, all but nine were children. In Sydney, Australia, a man described as a lone wolf took hostages in a chocolate cafe.
The unpredictability of it all was a reminder that whether organized or carried out by individuals, terrorism is real and the first call for help almost always comes to the U.S.
How worried is the U.S. government about this kind of widespread, all over the world little pops of terrorism? The president has actually made that point that we’re always in the lead.
DAVID SANGER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: We are usually in the lead. And he’s also made the point: wouldn’t it be nice if some others would take in that lead?
Pakistan was an example of an old problem we’ve had for a long time. TTP, which was the Pakistani Taliban, did this horrific attack which they said was a retaliation for the Pakistani government going up and cleaning up areas that Pakistan has never really controlled.
But it was a reminder that on the very weeks that we’re ending our combat mission completely and pulling all but 20,000 troops out of Afghanistan, the region itself and that border area is basically as violent as it was in the weeks after we went in 2001. And it raises a lot of questions about the stability of the Pakistani government.
IFILL: I think I found it interesting -- among the things I found interesting -- about the Australia hostage-taking was we have now seen in Dubai, we’ve seen in Canada, where lone wolves, we think that they’re acting alone, have taken these out of the blue actions, whether killing a woman, an American, in a restroom or killing a Canadian soldier just standing duty, do people who are expert on this see a link?
SANGER: Well, they see a link but they don’t see an organization. So, in the Australia case, even in the Canadian case, there’s no particular evidence that anybody was centrally commanding when they go do this. Unlike those cases like the Times Square bomber or the airplane plots, where you think there was an attack in the United States that was organized centrally.
But also makes this almost impossible to pick up, because if they’re not centrally organized, you’re not going to hear that phone call or see that computer transmission that might give you a chance to prevent them.
And, you know, the Australian case, certainly, a lot of questions asked because the suspect in this case was killed in the shootout at the end was known and who had been charged a number of assault cases and was on everybody’s list, and yet was still walking free.
IFILL: I want to go back a little bit revisit the Cuba story here. Two different pieces of it, both what happens after the fact and this case domestically.
Cold War politics, as you wrote about this week, Karen, has always been a feature of our relationship with Cuba, with places. But with Cuba, it’s been now. It’s still been present. It never went away.
And with the release of Alan Gross and with shifting that’s going on domestic -- in domestic politics, it feels like we have turned a corner.
KAREN TUMULTY, THE WASHINGTON POST: In fact, the corner was starting to be turned even over a decade ago when polling started for the first time when people were asked, should we resume diplomatic relations with Cuba? About 12, 10 years ago, public sentiment in favor of doing it for the first time began to exceed the sentiment opposed to it. And we’ve also seen --
IFILL: Not just among people with Cuban heritage.
TUMULTY: No, this is nationally.
But among Cuban-Americans, the younger generation has been much more open to this idea, and much more open to voting for Democrats. So, President Obama in 2012 actually won the Cuban-American vote nationally by 2 percentage points, and he carried the Cuban-American vote in Miami.
Now, I do think the big question going forward is likely to be, you know, how much has this put Florida in jeopardy? But also, how much were the Republicans going to be able to weave a narrative that President Obama didn’t negotiate a good deal, that he negotiated from a power of weakness and this is sort of yet another argument that he has not been a strong and steadfast leader in the world.
IFILL: And, Tom, I want to talk a little bit about what happens on the island. It feels like we’re in a post-Castro moment, even though we’ve been waiting it feels for months, for Castro to actually lead the scene, Fidel, and his brother, who also is incredibly long-lived, is still on the scene.
But it feels like politically and I don’t know, culturally almost, that we’re on a post-Castro period.
TOM GJELTEN, NPR: Well, actually, Raul Castro has said that he will step down in 2018. That’s only three years from now.
GJELTEN: So, you know, 55 years of Castro brothers with only at the most three more. And this -- I think this deal that he had struck with the United States has to be seen in that light. I mean, he is now recognizing that the next leader of Cuba will be somebody who did not have historic ties to the revolution.
And, meanwhile, Venezuela and the Soviet Union, the two major patrons of Cuba over all these years, both -- Soviet Union doesn’t exist anymore. Russia doesn’t provide that much help. And Venezuela is in no position to continue providing the kind of help that they have provided.
So, clearly, Cuba has to be integrated into the world in the way it never was before, economically and to some extent politically.
IFILL: And, John, I want to wrap up by talking about the president’s year-end press conference every year about this time, every Friday, before he escapes to Hawaii and gets away from the rest of us. He comes out and says, these were all the things that went right.
Now, I recall a year ago him looking exhausted, barely getting the words out, having a really hard time making the case. He seemed to have a little spring in this stuff today and a few more examples.
JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC: He did. And I think the foremost for that, even though it may not have been the dominant focus of the press conference today, is the fact that the economy really has completed its recovery from the Great Recession. Three hundred fourteen thousand jobs created in November. People expect a strong December as well. The growth trajectory of the economy is pretty solid right now.
Now, that doesn’t mean the economic job is done, and the president made that point in the press conference, because while we have recovered in a cyclical way from the downturn, we haven’t really done anything to raise the long-term living standards of average people. In fact, they’ve stagnated for more than 30 years. So --
IFILL: Two interesting things the president said today that caught my ear. One was about the state of the auto industry, which we know was on the brink of collapse not terribly long ago, that they repaid everything that they were loaned in the bailout.
And the other thing he talked about was gas prices, which if gas prices have gone as high as they’ve gone low, the president would be running out of the town on a rail. Yet, I don’t hear that much about it.
HARWOOD: No question.
There are actually three things going on in the economy, which are quite beneficial. One of them is the moderation in the medical cost, which we’ve seen over the last several years. So, we’ve had much slower health care inflation. And we’ve seen a general moderation in energy prices. And now, the really nose-dived down of gas prices, that’s like a tax cut for average families.
So, again, that doesn’t solve the problem of middle class families being able to expect better living standards for their children than they’ve had. There’s still a lot of debate, an exhilarating debate really. It would be a big part of the 2016 campaign. What are we going to do long term.
But, right now, things are much, much better than they were.
IFILL: It allows the president to go off 17 days of golf and not feel so bad about it. Mahalo, Mr. President.
If you’re dying for more, be sure to check out our online feature, “The Vault”, where you’ll find out what Tom Gjelten had to say about the Castro regime on WASHINGTON WEEK back in 2009, and he looks the same.
And we’ll see you here next time on the WASHINGTON WEEK Webcast Extra.