THOMAS R. MATTAIR, executive director, Middle East Policy Council
Well, if everyone’s ready, we can begin. I’m Tom Mattair; I’m the executive director of the Middle East Policy Council. And I’d like to welcome you to our 70th Capitol Hill Conference. Some of you know the council, but some of you do not, so I’ll just take one minute to tell you what we do. Last year we celebrated our 30th anniversary as a nonprofit educational organization. And this summer we published the 30th-anniversary issue of our journal, which is our flagship program and the most frequently cited journal in its field of contemporary analysis of Middle Eastern policy questions – Middle East policy. We have a website, www.mepc.org, where you can find archived articles from previous issues of the journal.
And our second program is this Capitol Hill Conference program, which, as I said, is our – this is our 70th. It’s being live streamed; anyone watching on live stream can ask questions from the website. And within a few days you’ll be able to see the entire video of this – of this conference on the website. And then a few days later, the entire transcript will be available there. And then it will be published in the next issue of the journal, which will come out, I suppose, in December – in December.
And our third program is an outreach program where we provide information to teachers – it has been primarily teachers in the past; we’re reaching out now to other people such as religious leaders, world affairs councils, Rotary clubs. And that’s an effort to build citizen awareness of the issues that we have to deal with as a government. And of course we have experts who provide commentary to the media.
That’s the Middle East Policy Council. If you would like to see articles, videos, et cetera, www.mepc.org.
Now, before we go to this distinguished panel, I’d like to make a few introductory remarks just to set the stage. And then the panel will speak, and then we will have questions. This is about policy choices facing the next administration, whoever’s going to be leading it. He is going to have some decisions to make. On Israeli-Palestinian questions, will the next administration resume the peace process in order to seek resolution of this conflict through establishment of a two-state solution? Will he be willing to expend political capital on this?
Is it a national security interest of the United States to solve this and to get a two-state solution to this? Various members of this current administration have said so, and if that’s true, it would be good to succeed. There are others who are not so sure that it’s achievable or that political capital is worth spending on it. That’s an important question, an important decision for the next administration. If the next president wants to do this, he’s going to have to build a domestic constituency to overcome opposition.
On the question of the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis, the administration will have decisions to make about sanctions, about diplomacy, about war. If the Iranian regime comes to the table with serious intent for any reason, either because the sanctions are biting so hard or because they’re worried about threats of military strikes or for any other reason, my question as an individual is: Will the American government take yes for an answer? Or will the American government have conditions that are – that cannot be met by the other side? And would the administration even consider what was previously called a grand bargain, which would attempt to resolve all the outstanding issues between the United States and Iran, including what should Iran’s role be in the region, and what kind of attitude should they take toward the Arab-Israeli conflict and any potential peace agreement? Or would the next administration actually engage in military strikes against Iran?
I would just note that there are three studies out very recently. Might want to think about one by the Iran Project, which is – has a title, “Weighing the Costs and Benefits of Military Strikes” (sic; “Weighing Benefits and Costs of Military Action Against Iran”). People such as Anthony Zinni and Tom Pickering were associated with that report. And as the title suggests, it weighs the costs and benefits, and it’s fairly comprehensive.
One issue it doesn’t touch on is covered by another report by Khosrow Semnani, published by the University of Utah’s Hinckley Center (sic; Institute), which goes into some depth about the casualties that would result from military strikes, the death and the – and the injuries. And then finally there’s a report by the Bipartisan Policy Council (sic; Center) or group, which goes into the costs of allowing Iran to get a nuclear weapon and the economic – particularly the economic costs that they think would follow from allowing Iran to get a nuclear weapon. So it’s a big issue for everyone to be considering, especially the next president.
And when it comes to Syria, such a difficult case in the Arab awakenings – and one question that is current is if we were to give them heavier weapons, would we promote the downfall of the Assad regime and promote the rise of a rebel opposition that would be friendly to the United States? Or would they fall into the wrong hands and result in militias with weapons that could do to any Western power, to the United States, what was just done to our ambassador in Libya? So is – are there really prospects for a democratic, pluralistic regime coming to power after Assad? And do we really have a role in a post-Assad transition, or would we be putting our people in harm’s way by trying to do that?
And when it comes to other cases in the Arab Spring, Jocelyne might want to correct me, but it looks as if we have a president from the Muslim Brotherhood who’s establishing a very strong executive authority. And there are questions about whether we should be giving them foreign aid. And that’s a question they’ll have to wrestle with. In Bahrain, for example, we’re dealing with a non-NATO ally with a record of progressive reform, still attempting to make some reform but facing very determined opposition that has very significant support, especially from international human rights organizations. So how much do – reform do we ask the regime to engage in? Or how much might we be playing into the hands of anti-democratic forces in Bahrain?
And finally, when we come to the gulf – and I can testify to this from many trips to the gulf – we need to decide what kinds of relationships we’re going to have with the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, who have security issues that they need to contend with; know very well that American defense industries can provide them with outstanding equipment, but at the same time they have some questions about the extent of our security commitments to them, particularly given the way the administration rather quickly called for the Mubarak government to step down.
They want business ties with the United States, but they see business opportunities elsewhere. They’re very distressed by our Arab-Israeli policies – very distressed by our Arab-Israeli policies. I hear it all the time. Now we know that they’re frustrated by our policies toward Iran and Syria, thinking we ought to be doing more in Syria and worried about everything we might do with Iran, even diplomacy, which they fear might provide Iran with some advantages. And they’re also concerned about our domestic Islamophobia and wonder what kinds of relations they can have with us when that kind of thing is occurring here.
So those are my introductory ideas. I now want to say something about the panel and turn it over to them. And on the back of your invitation, you have very extensive bios of these distinguished speakers, so I won’t repeat everything that is here. But our first speaker, who I’d like to be Scott McConnell, is a founding editor of The American Conservative, which was founded to provide an alternative voice to the neoconservative movement. And he identifies himself as an ex-neoconservative and has written for some magazines like Commentary. He’s the former columnist and editorial writer for the New York Post, has a doctorate from Columbia University and has written for our journal. And his articles in our journal have been some of the most popular that we’ve ever published.
Then I’d like to go to Jocelyne Cesari, who is senior visiting professor at Johns Hopkins SAIS, School of Advanced International Studies, where she co-directs the Global Politics and Religion Initiative. She’s also the director of the international research program called Islam and the West at Harvard University, so she splits her time between SAIS and Harvard. She’s a political scientist from the French National Center for Scientific Research. She has written several books about Islam, globalization, democratization and secularism.
And our third speaker will be Nathaniel Kern, also a friend of the Middle East Policy Council. He’s the president of Foreign Reports; provides incisive reports about Middle Eastern political and economic issues, particularly oil, particularly in the gulf. You can find some of his reports on our website – almost weekly?
NATHANIEL KERN: Monthly, I think.
DR. MATTAIR: Monthly? And I believe was the first foreign student to attend a university in Saudi Arabia, University of Riyadh – in the middle of his Princeton undergraduate career, spent a year there.
And then the fourth speaker is Paul Pillar, who spent 28 years in the U.S. intelligence community and had many high-ranking positions in it, including executive director for the – director of the CIA. And his final position was national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, where he provided analytical support. And he was a visiting fellow at Brookings in the year 2000 and is a reserve officer in the U.S. Army and has also been publishing extremely important literature in the last few years since retiring from the government.
So we have a good panel. I’ll step out of the way now. And again, thank you for coming. When we do finish this, there will be a question-and-answer session. Thank you.
SCOTT MCCONNELL, Founding Editor, the American Conservative
Good morning. What are the prospects for a new president achieving a fair peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians? I believe, unfortunately, that they are not very good. By a fair settlement, I mean a two-state solution, a Palestinian state on – comprising Gaza and the West Bank, with some minor negotiated land swaps, with control of its border – its borders, its water resources, its airspace – something similar to the Clinton parameters of 2000. I believe that this outcome, more than any alternative, would satisfy the core needs for security and self-determination of both Israelis and Palestinians.
As you know, every American president since Lyndon Johnson has tried to stop Israel from building settlements on the West Bank, because they understood that those settlements threatened to foreclose the possibility of a two-state solution. Some presidents pushed hard, some not very hard. At Camp David, Jimmy Carter believed he had received from Menachem Begin assurances that settlement building would stop and that a process leading to Palestinian self-determination and autonomy on the West Bank would commence. But settlement building did not stop, and both Carter and the Egyptians, for different reasons, did not make too much of a fuss.
Ronald Reagan called for a settlement freeze without making a big issue of it. George H.W. Bush did make a big issue of it and paid a steep political price, which may have cost him re-election. Bill Clinton wanted very much a viable Palestinian state, and he found that settlement building continued whether Israel was headed by Likud or by Labor and indeed accelerated throughout the 1990s. Barack Obama made a settlement freeze the jumping-off point for his peace efforts and was smacked down decisively by Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israel lobby.
The reason for these failures is obvious. Israel, no matter what coalition was in charge, wanted to build settlements on the West Bank more than the United States was committed to stopping them. The Israel lobby, which I would describe as a loose coalition of groups and individuals who are committed to ensuring American backing for Israel no matter what Israel does, was able to generate enough political pressure to thwart serious American diplomacy to stop settlement building.
Nevertheless, something important is beginning to happen: The Israel lobby is beginning to exhibit cracks and weaknesses. I believe we’re witnessing the beginnings of an historic transformation in which its power will be considerably diminished. First, the Democratic Party: On the second night of the convention, roughly half the delegates in the hall, perhaps a quarter of the 6,000, voted no to what party leaders had assumed was a routine platform resolution – amendment stating that Jerusalem was Israel’s undivided capital. Such planks had appeared in both party platforms before, and in practice presidents had ignored them, so not much of substance was at stake. But in the spirit, in the emotion, which is at the root of political change, a great deal happened.
I’m sure many of you have seen the video: three votes, three choruses of no, as unplanned as they were unexpected. Big party poo-bahs descended on the television booths to play down the episode. Alan Dershowitz described the naysayers as rogue elements, Arab-Americans and anti-Zionist Jews – 1,500 of them, apparently. What took place I would call nothing less than a collective Rosa Parks moment. Let me quote one reaction from Alana Goodman of Commentary Magazine, which is now unabashedly a Republican publication: This video, she wrote – this video of the voice vote should chill every pro-Israel Democrat – scratch that; every pro-Israel American – to the bone. Israel relies on bipartisan political support from the United States, its strongest ally. The floor vote at the Democratic convention portends a day when that bipartisan support will cease to exist.
As Tom said, I’m a former neoconservative in another life; used to write frequently for Commentary. I think Alana Goodman is completely correct that the contested vote does indeed portend such a day. How far in the future, I don’t know. It was a decade before – between Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the bus and the emergency of a sufficiently powerful anti-segregation consensus to pass civil rights legislation. For a major political party to become devoted to fairness between Israel and Palestine will take at least that long.
But the reason that Alan Dershowitz and Commentary find the erosion of bipartisan support alarming is that partisanship would let loose a torrent of competitive debate about the morality and the utility of America’s special relationship with Israel. Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians under the occupation would be subject not only to academic and journalistic scrutiny, as it is now, but to political polemics. Something like the openly expressed behavior – something like the openly expressed skepticism about Israel’s behavior now heard on elite university campuses would become widely disseminated.
The special relationship’s survival depends on its own rules of discourse. Israel’s value to the United States is held to be so self-evident, its interests and values so obviously congruent to America’s, that any criticism must be deemed marginal, weird, motivated by bigotry. Those who question the consensus are not debated and often smeared. But once the seal is broken, I believe, and I think Alana Goodman believes, the notion that it is some sort of metaphysical requirement to treat Israel as a privileged and adored touchstone of American Mideast policy could unravel with stunning speed.
For a long time, Protestant churches have been inhibited on these questions. Their leaders instinctively gravitate towards warm ecumenical relations with mainstream Jewish organizations, with whom the mainline churches have built historic alliances on civil rights, on Vietnam and on church-state relations. And yet these churches also have ties to the Arab world as educators and missionaries and social workers in refugee camps, and they have Arab co-religionists. They seem themselves as promoters of social justice. Historically, this tension has always been resolved in favor of silence, so as not to upset relations with American Jewish leaders. That period, which has lasted since the founding of Israel, seems to be now over.
Thirdly, the very obvious pushback against Israel’s effort to persuade the United States to attack Iran or to support an Israeli strike or to accept Israeli advice over what timetables or red lines Washington should adopt – this has involved some firm public language: the chairman of the Joint Chiefs saying we don’t want to be complicit in an Israeli attack, Secretary of State Clinton explicitly rejecting Israel’s red lines, Obama not rearranging his schedule to meet with Netanyahu in New York.
Of course, this wasn’t over Palestine. It was an – over an issue with more immediate and obvious economy and security implications for the United States. But it was also the most unmistakable public defiance of Israel’s wishes by an American president in a very long time. And though I’m assuming that the election is now a toss-up, the events I referred to were followed by Obama’s largest lead in the polls this year. And if Obama loses, I think we can say with assurance that a public disagreement with Prime Minister Netanyahu had nothing to do with it.
I could point to other areas, but you get the idea. Discussion of Israel-Palestine is opening up in historic ways. The Congress is a lagging indicator, still rolling out AIPAC-sponsored resolutions by the margins everyone is familiar with. But one day the glasnost will penetrate up here as well.
What relevance does this have for the next president? Unfortunately, I fear, not very much. I won’t say much about Mitt Romney. I would love to be proven wrong. But on the basis of his public statements, his private comments which have become public and his choice of foreign policy advisers, I believe there’s no chance he will become engaged in restarting a genuine peace process.
Obama is a different matter. He clearly wants a Palestinian state. He was decisively rebuked in the first year and a half of his administration. He couldn’t persuade Israel to carry out a settlement freeze, much less withdraw from territory. Could next year be different? I’ve fallen near to the camp of those who now think the time for a two-state solution has probably passed. I believe Israeli settlements on the West Bank have precluded the possibility. There are too many settlers armed and intensely committed to remain there. It is not clear that any Israeli government could remove them without risking a civil war. And though there are mild Israeli polling majorities in favor of a two-state solution, there’s no significant Israeli constituency for giving up any sovereignty over east Jerusalem. And a Palestinian state without Jerusalem as a capital is a nonstarter.
There is now one state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, a state connected by a highly-developed infrastructure of roads and water pipelines. I’m not sure when the point of return was passed. Seven years ago, on my first visit to Israel, it still seemed quite plausible to speak of a Palestinian state. Now it does not.
So I believe any kind of normal diplomatic process – appointment of a special envoy, searching for common ground, building on previous agreements such as those arrived at under Prime Minister Olmert and Prime Minister Barak – don’t have much chance of success. There’s no political majority in Israel in favor of withdrawing from the – from the territory and settlements Israel would have to do to allow a genuinely economically viable Palestinian state.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, I know, has given lip service to the idea, but people close to him have said he would never offer the Palestinians something he could accept. An archipelago of bantustans on the West Bank Areas A and B, cut off from the world without control of their air space, their water, will not produce a viable state.
So what can the next president do to change this? The only intervention which might shake Israel out of its current spiral would be if a president made clear where the United States sees this heading. Absent a two-state solution, Israel is en route to becoming an apartheid state. Israelis will not willingly accept granting Palestinians voting or civil rights. So we’re headed towards a state roughly half Palestinian, half Jewish, one group denied political and civil rights, the other group possessing them.
Could President Obama cite words that previous Israeli prime ministers have said, who have warned quite unambiguously that Israel would be facing an apartheid situation in the absence of a two-state solution? Could Obama tell the Israelis that, regardless of who is president, it will be very difficult for America to maintain a special relationship with an apartheid state in the middle of the Middle East; that such an alliance would contravene America’s values and interests; and that once the relevant question in the one state that exists between the river in the sea is whether Palestinians should have equal voting rights as Jews, it will be natural, given America’s democratic ideology and its history, that it will support Palestinian voting rights? Failure to do so would not make sense to most Americans and in a practical sense would render it impossible for the United States to speak credibly in favor of democracy or human rights in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world.
In other words, the centerpiece of the president’s intervention would be shifted from the Palestinians and their historic suffering and their need for self-determination. I’m pretty sure most Israelis don’t care very much about that. It would be about American values and American interests and where Israel fits into them. I’m not sure that such a speech, perhaps accompanied by diplomatic measures such as not using America’s U.N. veto on Israel’s behalf, or perhaps even supporting pro-Palestinian measures, would change the political calculus in Israel. Perhaps it would no have impact at all – it would have no impact at all.
Do I think President Obama might say something like this, speaking before the Knesset perhaps? Of course I don’t. If the Israel lobby is getting weaker, it is still very powerful. America is not yet ready for a presidential approach like this. A re-elected President Obama would have more pressing priorities beside the viable state in Palestine, and priorities more easy to achieve. But I don’t think anything less dramatic and less forceful has any chance of success. (Applause.)
DR. MATTAIR: Thank you. I hope you’re wrong. (Chuckles.)
But the next speaker will be Jocelyne.
JOCELYNE CESARI, Co-director, SAIS Global Politics and Religion Initiative; Research Associate, Harvard University
Good morning. I would like first to thank the Middle East Policy Council for this gathering and for this debate.
I would like to focus my remarks on the changes needed in the U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis the countries going through what was called the Arab Spring, now the Arab Awakening. And I would like to first say that we went through lots of up and downs since the revolution of last year. We – I say we from an American approach – we saw the Tahrir protests as the sign of democracy, that we thought were not there. Then after the elections, we were disappointed by the victory of Islamists. And in the last six months, so we went from enthusiasm to disappointment, and now we are in the pessimist phase, in the sense that recent events like the protest, again, the anti-Mohammed movie, hae led some of the analysts and policy makers to link the failure of the Arab Spring with this unfortunate episode.
So my talk will really focus first on the fact that democracy is a value that is now shared by the majority, especially the young people, of all Muslim-majority societies. Does it mean that it’s a democracy we experience in the West, and especially in the U.S.? Probably not. And we have to be aware of that. And based on this assessment, I would like to draw a few elements for changes in foreign policy.
In some way, the West – and that’s what the Arab Spring showed – the West is victim of its success in the sense that the Jasmine Revolution and the Tahrir protests show that now the democratic values are not anymore, I would say, Western. And this has not been thought through sufficiently. I mean, we are not paying attention enough to the fact that democracy is persistently praised by members, citizens of Muslim-majority countries. There are tons of pollings showing that, multiple pollings that repeatedly show that actually, in some instances, when they are polled, these people say that they are more in favor to democracy than the average respondent you can find in a Western country. And this hope in democracy’s still there, despite the – I would say the questioning or the skepticism around the new regime that came from elections. So people also disconnect the limits of the new regime with this hope for democracy. And I think it’s important to maintain this positive outlook on what’s going on.
And we turn unfortunately to go very quickly from one assessment to another, without taking into account indicators that are there, the fact that Muslim societies were in favor of democracy. We knew that, at least as callers, for a long, long time. This didn’t come with the Arab Spring. It was already there in facts and investigation that are available to everybody. So this is the first thing.
The second point here is, but what kind of democracy are we talking about? And in this regard, I would like to make a difference between what is showed as a consensus with – which is the principle of political freedom – freedom of political expression and opposition – in other words, the fact that rulers have to elected, that they can change from one election to another, is now pretty much grounded in most – the majority of these countries.
Does it mean that we are witnessing a sort of secularization in the American sense of this country? Probably not, probably not. So we have also to disconnect a few elements that we have considered as the whole package of democratization, which is democratization goes with secularization, and goes with decline of religion in public space. And this, we have to be very aware that this is not happening. And in this sense, the protest against the anti-Mohammad movie show us that Islam remains a very strong marker of the public space, which from the West is always difficult to understand, because we think that religion is private, that religion concerns only our beliefs. We’re going to have to understand – and it’s not true only for Muslims, it’s true, I could talk to you about India in the same way – we’re going have to understand that for Muslims, Islam is not only a question of belief, it’s also a question of belonging, and being the – (inaudible) – citizen.
What does it – what do I mean by that? It is not because, as I hear everywhere, that Islam doesn’t separate politics and religion, which is actually looking at Islamic tradition wrong. But it is that since the building of the nation states, even by very secular elite that we used to work with, like Mubarak or Ataturk or Burgeval (ph), Islam has been imbedded in the building of nation states. What do I mean by that? It’s not only mentioning Islam in the Constitution, it is also creating connection between being the national and being the citizen. And again, this didn’t come from Islamists. What we are witnessing is how the new regime, led by Islamists, have to work within a framework that already was there. So again, the blasphemy law were not an invention of the recent regime. They were already there. Today, it’s a major debate in Tunisia about how to remove laws that sanction people who would say something insulting against the Prophet of the religion. This was already there under the secular (Vogiban?) Ben Ali regime.
So again, we have to be very careful on how we assess this kind of event in a more, I would say, complex picture, where instead of looking at Islamist as a separate entity, challenging secular states, we have to take into account, what are the state institutions? What are the situations today that also influence the interaction with the Islamists? And I think we have not done that, and it requires a very different outlook on what’s going on and accepting that, indeed, democratic values are shared now beyond the West, but does it mean that everywhere we’re going to witness duplication of the American model of democracy? Probably not. Does it mean that then we reject the whole experience? It would not be a wise move.
And this brings me to my second point on what does it mean for the U.S. foreign policy? We are at a time now where talking about promotional democracy is very, I would say, criticized or rejected. And I understand why, because if you look at the popularity of U.S. – of the U.S. in this part of the world, you see a consistent and repeated decline of positive opinion vis-à-vis the U.S. And there have been lots of assessment of previous attempts to promote democracy, so I’m not going to go there.
But at the same time, it doesn’t mean that we have to abandon or renounce to a promotion of democracy. So it means not promoting values, not considering that the West has to teach democracy to the other parts of the world, but to create some kind of partnership. And this is possible, because this has been done by U.S. administration, particularly in the Eastern European context, you can see how successful democratization policy worked in the Eastern European context by two elements that maybe we can learn from, and invest in Muslim-majority country. It was establishing a good communication with the target audience, in functioning marketplace of ideas. And I think this is missing in the way we are dealing with Muslim-majority countries.
Of course, since the Arab Spring, we are aware that communication matters. Actually, we are, I would say, too much aware of it, because now the social media becomes a panacea to solve everything, while the social media – and I know there been a lot investment in the current administration to communicate through this channel with different segments of civil society in the Muslim world – but what do we communicate? What are we paying attention to? And I would say here that words are loaded. When we say democracy, again, it may not mean the same thing for someone living in Rabat or Tunis. When we hear the term Shariah, it doesn’t mean what we are afraid of here, which is, you know, the imposition of a medieval, barbaric code of law. And again, we don’t – we don’t make enough thought to clarify this kind of, you know, heavy-loaded terms in any communication with this part of the world.
I remember when the new transitory regime in Libya, took over, one of the first declaration was, we’re going to impose Shariah in the country. And this was, you now, considered as very, very worrying from the Western eye. Well, what is – what does Shariah mean there? I mean, maybe it means – and I’m – I can explain this a little more in detail, maybe in Q-A – it may be simply principles, like, you know, the Ten Commandments. If, in the U.S., some politician will refer to the Ten Commandments, it would not be seen as, you know, a backward move toward a religious state. So maybe Shariah is used this way and used in this particular context. Tunisia is a very good example of this move from reference to principle to – from imposition in concrete law of what would be Shariah.
I think this is also important to watch and just not take at face value what people are saying, because there is a lot of relationship of power in the use of words. I know, this may not be – sound too realistic in terms of international relation, but symbolic matters. And we have not paid attention enough to the symbolic aspect of the communication with this part of the world. And so, incidents are adding up, you know, from the Quran desecration to – I would not consider the anti-Muhammad movie as, you know, something that was part of U.S. foreign policy, but we have to deal with it, OK? And it’s – apology is good, but this is – this is, I would say, a very reactive approach, while we need to be much more proactive in the way we communicate.
So what does this mean? If we want to target audiences or actors that can promote a vision of democratization that include not only free and fair elections, but other element, like pluralistic approach of society, we have to change also the way we interact as multiple (set ?) of institutions and governmental agencies with this country. We have given too much priority to the leaders, and it’s true that in the current administration, also, there is a thought to diversify, and there have been before, so using, you know, NGOs. But then, it turns into a very compartmentalized approach with one hand of the administration doing one thing with NGOs and the other hand doing something else with the state. And sometimes, these two elements do not – do not adapt or do not come into synergy, and it’s – I think it’s, in some way, very heartbreaking for the – from an American point of view, because the – we put a lot of money through all this action in this particular part of the world. What comes back is – from the society is – we are doing nothing.
So again, how do we make this work in a way that is more transparent, that is more coordinated? And this goes with the (votes ?) and wishes of the population. You know, they toppled Mubarak and Ben Ali because they wanted transparency, because they wanted more equal distribution of resources. So it means also maybe thinking of another way that – instead of doing one thing here and another thing here, create platforms and make, you know, the different way that American is involved with the country meet each other. To give a concrete example, it did happen in American policy. When – in Sudan – you can object, and I take – I would take the objection – in Sudan, at the time of reconstruction – this is a very successful example of the convergence and synergy of multiple administrative and political units of the U.S. administration coming together to help rebuild the country and also bring in different elements, but only state institution, but also civil society’s movement. And in this sense, there is a lot of – to think of.
So the point would not be to add or increase the aid, it would be more about thinking of creating spaces or interfaces that would make this help much more efficient and that would also change the outlook of the U.S. in this part of the world. I think that focusing only on state work is counterproductive, because again, the state is seen as biased, and our previous speaker explained why the bias is there.
But there is a huge resources that American are not using enough, which is the American society itself. I was very surprised – I did lots of focus groups of American Muslim when they live in the U.S., and coming from Pakistan, Egypt or Iraq, the first thing that they discover is the energy, vibrancy of Americans. And they tend to dissociate between, you know, the U.S. foreign policy and American society, and most of them – all of them are very positive on that. And every time they tell in these groups, we didn’t know because we see only, you know, the foreign policy aspect. So there is something here in terms of communication, also, that could be helpful.
So what does it mean? It means also, multilaterally. And I know this is not very popular, but it may work, too, because also looking at what the EU is doing in this part of the world – lots of initiative could be put together, and especially in Libya now or in Tunisia.
And again, the most extremist resistant actors play on the division not only of their own politicians, but also of the division and compartmentalized work of the West (in these ?) different parts of the world. So again, the idea of platforms here something to think of, and it has been working in some – in some cases.
To finish up, I would like to say that the work is huge, because it means thinking of how we interact or engage from the very concrete aspects of who does what in these different parts of the world. One, it also mean being able to identify locally and not only through the Internet – the Internet is nice, but it gives a very deceptive approach of what people are doing, you know.
And I’m not – again, the social media doesn’t make revolution. Education makes revolution. The urban middle class makes revolution, not the social media, and for that, we need to be more aware of indicators – (inaudible) – emerging, and who is doing what now in these different – in these different civil societies. And for that, I think that the need is better understanding to be able to bring in skills. People in this part of the world – and I will finish, really on that – are admiring the U.S. for its capacity of education, for its capacity of entrepreneurship. I do not – I mean, of course we can bring entrepreneur from the Middle East to visit the U.S. or vice versa. It doesn’t create the positive cross-pollination with state institution. How do we make this work? And this would be a very important way to build more secure societies, because as we know, democracies do not fight each other. So what I’m lining up here is some element for more-long term approach which may be very frustrating, especially in time of election, but on the long run, there are sufficient assets that could be used and we could start using right now to change the interaction with this part of the world. Thank you. (Applause.)
DR. MATTAIR: Thank you – thank you.
NATHANIEL KERN, President, Foreign Reports
Thank you very much. My job on this panel is probably a little easier than the jobs others have, because it’s basically to discuss the policy choices that the next – the next person in the White House – could be Obama or the governor – will face in terms of dealing with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
The way I like to think of it is, I think in – whatever the outcome of the election, there’s going to be a new secretary of state, I believe – and how would a professional foreign policy official brief that new secretary before he or she had a first substantive meeting with Saudi leaders? What would be the issues that briefer would want to put on the table and say, hey, here are the things you’ve got to discuss, here are the questions that should be on the agenda? And I think any good briefer would go back and say, well, what have been the previous interactions between American presidents and the Saudi leadership?
And you would start, really, with the meeting between then Crown Prince Abdullah and George W. Bush in Texas in 2005, when the crown prince suggested and the president agreed that they would form a strategic dialogue committee. And one of the reasons for wanting to have a strategic dialogue committee headed by the foreign minister and the secretary of state was, prior to that, there were an awful lot of issues coming from all different parts of the government complaining about this kind of Saudi behavior or this, and there was no overall way to put things in context. What was the context of religious freedom, human rights, democratic values versus cooperation on peace process, oil markets and other things. And one of the things that the strategic dialogue did was put everything on a table for a once every six month review by the top leadership.
Back in 2005, the main issues that were on the agenda were counterterrorism – how do you go against terrorists themselves; terror finance, how do you clamp down on loose money going to – wittingly or unwittingly to terror groups; the issue of visas for Saudis; Saudi Arabia’s desire to finally join the World Trade Organization, peace process and oil prices and Saudi plans for expanding capacity. That was in 2005. I think you can say, if you look back – pretty much tick the box on counterterrorism. You’ve got a very well-admired counterterror operations in Saudi Arabia, where they’ve – both on the educating the public and in tracking down people – identifying them, tracking them down, prosecuting them and then often trying to rehabilitate them – I don’t know of any American official who thinks they’re severely lacking in that. There – been a great deal of praise on how far they’ve gone.
It took a little longer for the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to work together on terror finance, but a year ago, the Treasury held a – sort of a September review of where things stood on cooperation with Saudi Arabia on those two issues, and you had the fellows Stuart Levy and Fran Townsend from the previous administration and the current ones. And during that symposium, what I was struck with was the unanimity with which all those officials felt there’d been very substantial progress and that, basically, these boxes of counterterrorism and terror finance had been ticked off and they’d need continued attention, but those are no longer issues you would put on the next secretary’s agenda. They’re done; you can tick the box off.
The visa issue, which was very contentious in 2005, is pretty much done. Between 2000 and 2005, you had an average of about 3,000 Saudi students studying here in the United States. And of course, after 9/11, there was an awful lot of scrutiny of the visas. People were held up, students would often miss a year because you’d – their visas would expire, and then they’d have to go back and wait in line. Now you have 60,000 Saudi students here. The visa problem’s been solved; they get five-year visas and Americans get five-year multiple-entry visas to Saudi Arabia. And I think it’s worked very well. I think the fact that the – King Abdullah has provided scholarships for those 60,000 Saudi students is an example of where he wants to bring the country. He wants 60,000 people to come back with a good view of American values, and I would point out parenthetically that among those 60,000, there’s a disproportionately high representation of Saudi Shia. Saudi ID cards don’t identify whether you’re Sunni or Shia, but as people look and try to figure who’s who, yeah – it’s considerably – perhaps double the percentage of Shia in Saudi Arabia are getting scholarships here. I think that’s good.
Again, in 2005, the big question was oil prices and what the Saudi plans for expanding capacity were. Oil minister Naimi was there, Cheney was there, and basically, they described this program that they were then launching to expand production capacity by 2 ½ million barrels a day. And that’s done. We still have considerably higher oil prices now than we did in 2005; they’ve been accelerating, but that’s, I think, largely the result of growing world demand outside of the OECD, and unless there’s some change in that, we’re going to have continued – fairly robust pricing. Now, if you were briefing the new secretary, you could go over, what are the boxes that have been ticked and successfully done, but what are the new issues they would face? And obviously, one of them – an issue that is worth discussing because he can take actionable action together between our country and Saudi Arabia is the fallout from the Arab Spring, particularly in Egypt and Yemen.
I think we know that Saudi Arabia had mixed feelings about how quickly Mubarak was dumped, and – but they also – the Saudis played a very crucial rule in easing Ali Abdullah Saleh out of Yemen. It wasn’t easy – it was slow, it was bloody, but it – compared to some of the other changes, it wasn’t that bad. In April of 2011, just as the Arab Spring was in its full bloom, if you will, the G-7 finance ministers met in Deauville, France and formed something called the Deauville Partnership. Their vision was very simple – that Europe had been through this kind of thing before; after Eastern Europe broke away from the yoke of the Warsaw Pact, you had a whole bunch of newly independent countries struggling with democracy, but also with economy.
How do you go from a controlled communist economy to a free economy and make it work? And what Europe had done, basically, was establish the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which was modeled on what the World Bank did to help Western Europe and Japan after World War II. And the EBRD basically provided capital funds plus the things we’ve all learned about how to do things right rather than wrong in building a new economy. What laws do you need? What structural reforms do you need? What’s the best place to put money, not just throwing it down black holes? At the Deauville Partnership – it’s, again, the G-7 finance ministers – which is the G-8 minus Russia, and then they included in their meeting the Saudi finance minister, the Qatari finance minister and the Turkish finance minister. So the Deauville Partnership on the donor giving advice side was the G-7 plus those three countries, and then on the potential recipient side was Egypt, later Libya, in terms – not of money, but can we help you in planning and economic revival. Just last month, Yemen’s on the list; Tunisia, of course. And tangentially, Morocco and Jordan; they hadn’t gone through a transition period, but they also needed economic assistance.
Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been quite proactive in extending aid to Egypt both before and after Mohammed Morsi was elected. And I think it’s important to understand what sort of aid. Some of the things Egypt needed right away was an ability to sell government bonds and treasury bills, because it’s currently paying about 14 percent interest, which is pretty high for a government. And in the immediate depths of the summer, when things looked terrible, both the Saudis and the Qataris came in and said, OK, we’ll buy your one month’s issue of T-bills; obviously, you got pretty good security of repayment unless the government defaults on everything. But that has helped relieve some of the interest pressure and get – try to move Egypt out of the debt trap it’s in. It’s in a worse debt trap than Greece or Italy or Spain.
The second thing that both the Saudis and Qataris have done is they have, like the World Bank – there’s the Islamic Development Bank – various quite good development banks that help identify investment projects, make sure they’re built without corruption and that they become effective. I think it’s $4 ½ billion that Qatar and Saudi Arabia have extended to Egypt. And that has helped, now, the IMF – Christine Lagarde was out there in September – and they’re working on a loan program – very easy term, very low interest rate and forgiveness – that would be another 4 ½ billion (dollars) or so for Egypt.
If those things are combined, then Egypt has a fighting chance to get an economy back on its feet. If you have an economy back on its feet, then it’s a little easier to talk about equitable division of resources. (Chuckles.) If the resource base is going down the tube, you’re in a pretty desperate situation. And again, they’re starting to talk about doing this with Yemen, too, which is of course a very – the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have cooperated a lot on counterterrorism, on the GCC Initiative, to get the transition in power. But now, really, the thing is: How do you get this desperately poor country, running out of everything all at once, give it a chance to get back on its feet? We started working together on that.
The big issues that you want to brief the next secretary on are of course Iran sanctions and Syria. The imposition of the current set of sanctions by the U.S. and the EU would not have been possible without pre-agreement with Saudi Arabia last November. But if those sanctions led to Iran’s losing up to or a little more than half of its oil exports, would Saudi Arabia be willing to step in and make up those exports so the price wouldn’t go through the roof?
They agreed – and I think with the caveat that we probably can’t make up – Saudis can’t make up all of Iran’s exports, where there’d be some mechanism to totally shut them down, because that would take Saudi production right up to their – and leave no spare capacity, which tends to be a driver for higher oil prices.
So as the sanctions have come about, we had some bumpiness in the oil market, particularly in the spring, in anticipation. But as they’ve been implemented, I think we’ve had at least a stabilization of oil prices at somewhat lower rates than were expected. And we’re going to see whether these sanctions have an influence on Iranian decision making.
To me, the bottom line is, you know, is Iran really willing to seriously talk about giving up its nuclear weapons program? If they are, I don’t see there’s a big problem in resolving the whole issue. If they want to prevaricate and have a situation where it’s sort of, sort of, sort of talking about their nuclear weapons program, then the sanctions are probably going to remain for some time, at least until some other situation arises.
I don’t think the next administration is going to have a terribly difficult time with Saudi Arabia one way or the other. If diplomacy works, that’s fine; they have full diplomatic relations and fully correct relations with Iran; if it produces an end to the Iranian nuclear weapons program. If not – there are different views in Saudi Arabia, and some feel very supportive of a military strike and others are a little more fearful of it.
On Syria, we’re in a state of limbo, where the Saudis and Qataris have been providing more arms to the Syrian opposition. And I think it’s been widely reported that the U.S. has said, please hold off on providing the very effective shoulder-fired missiles that can hit airplanes and tanks. And we’re still sort of in limbo with that. I think there are some of those more sophisticated weapons near the borders of Syria, but they’re not getting to the opposition in Syria. That’s been a point that I think President (sic) Romney has made, that he would be in favor of working with the Saudis and Qataris to ensure that the Syrian opposition gets the weapons it needs to hit Assad’s planes and tanks. And as far as I know, this is still tied up in the Principals Committee in terms of what actions we should or should not take, and with arguments being, on the one hand, we don’t want these arms to go to people we don’t know, dangerous people, and the other being, if you leave Assad in place and he prevails, what kind of world is that?
So those, I think, would be the big issues on the agenda. Middle East peace process, if there’s something actionable that could be done, Saudi would be very supportive. I think at the moment, they want to get on with the rest of their lives as long as they can see that this is a riddle that is not going to be solved anytime soon.
The final issue is – would be – always on agenda, would be oil market stability. And that’s been an issue for – between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia since FDR first met Ibn Saud in 1945. The U.S. didn’t import any oil; we were an oil exporter at the time. But for FDR and the 12 presidents that followed him it’s been a very simple formulation, if you understand the size and importance of Saudi oil reserves. Whether the U.S. needs to import oil or not, you don’t want those oil reserves to fall into the hands or under the indirect control of hostile elements – whether that’s the Soviet Union, Saddam Hussein or, currently, the ayatollahs. The world would be very different if hostile powers held the oil resources of the Gulf. They would be able to control the world economy, and that’s something that, again, the past 13 presidents have not wanted to contemplate. And so that’s sort of be(en) the perennial issue on the table, and it tends to guide the rest of the relationship.
Thank you. (Applause.)
DR. MATTAIR: Thank you, Nat. Paul?
PAUL PILLAR, Former National Intelligence Officer, National Intelligence Council; Professor, Georgetown University
Good morning. As the cleanup hitter, I’ve been asked to address Iran and Syria, which I will do in that order, with most of the attention devoted to the first of those two topics. And then I would say on both of them, there will be as we head into the new administration next year pressures on the U.S. president, whoever he is, to do more, to get involved more on both of those issues. But on each one, there will either be no good choices for the administration to make, or if there are at least reasonable choices that could be taken it will be politically difficult back here in the United States for the president, whoever he is, to select them.
Let’s talk first about Iran. There are many potentially useful departures that a U.S. administration could make with regard to Iran which would involve trying to improve the absolutely awful relationship that we have with the Iranians and to actually get some benefit in areas where U.S. and Iranian interests, believe it or not, parallel or intersect – like Afghanistan, like stability in Iraq and so on. But there will continue to be a fixation on one issue above all, and that’s the Iranian nuclear program. And that’s mainly because of the unceasing agitation on this topic by the current Israeli leadership.
There will be, of course, an election in Israel, too, in the first part of the year, but all of the prognoses I’ve seen with regard to the likelihood – the likely outcome of that is that we will still have Prime Minister Netanyahu as prime minister, even if there might be some adjustments in the ruling coalition. And that, of course, means a continued political environment here in the United States – at least in the short term, even though we might hope for Scott’s long-term prognosis to come true – in which the issue of the Iranian nuclear program will necessarily be a political fixation and continue to be one here in the United States.
Now, an obvious constraint for either Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney as president, beginning in January 2013, would be that either would be boxed in by their own comments, repeatedly stated by both of them, that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be unacceptable. And of course, there have been statements here on the Hill by Congress along the same sorts of lines. Now, that would not necessarily have to be a problem given that there is no indication to date, as our intelligence agencies tell us, that Iran has decided so far to build a nuclear weapon. But certain aspects of their nuclear program, particularly enrichment of uranium, have come to be perceived in the debate as having a degree of unacceptability of their own. And of course, the Israeli prime minister talks about this constantly, and about so-called red lines and so forth.
Now, avoiding having this situation turn into a disaster, for whoever’s administration it is, is a problem mainly of political constraints here in this country rather than any lack of negotiating space between Iran and the P-5 plus one, the negotiating group that the United States is part of. You would have to have, to have an agreement, an allowing of some uranium enrichment, probably at the – no more than 5 percent level. The outlines of an agreement are pretty clear. They would involve trading severe restrictions, to be negotiated, on medium-level or 20 percent enrichment in return for sanctions relief. And we should bear in mind that sanctions relief is the main reason that the Iranians have to negotiate at all at this point.
Now, on the first aspect about the 20 percent, there is stuff that needs to be negotiated – not just ending the 20 percent enrichment that’s going on now but also what would be the disposition of the stockpile that Iran already has – although, happily, the Iranians have already helped resolve that problem by converting some of the fuel at that level to fuel plates for reactors, where it’s no longer usable to be further enriched to weapons-grade. And then there would also have to be negotiation over the sequence of when does each side live up to parts of its part of the bargain? And the Iranians reportedly placed a proposal on the table which was unacceptable to the West in that it – their preferred sequence, understandably, would be to have what they want in terms of sanctions relief come first, before they give up what they’d have to give up with regard to the medium-level enrichment. The P-5 plus one preference is of course the opposite.
And that’s a very common situation in international negotiations. Naturally, each side wants to get what it wants first before giving up anything else. And it’s also very common that this is one of the most eminently compromisable things in negotiations. It’s not an indivisible good. And the usual solution is some kind of sequencing arrangement in which, at each stage, each side both gives and gets.
So the outlines of an agreement are, as I say, pretty clear. And I would go so far as to describe our current state of affairs, if we were serious about negotiating over it, as a matter of details: Exactly how do we handle that 20 percent stuff that’s already been enriched, and exactly what will be the sequence for implementation?
Now, the sanctions that we talk about so much and that keep getting ratcheted up and up and up and up are supposedly, ostensibly, a form of leverage to get the Iranians to make concessions on this nuclear issue. And Secretary Clinton not too long ago described the sanctions in exactly those terms; she said if the Iranians will make concessions then this is a problem we can deal with in terms of, you know, lifting – or offering sanctions relief. The main problem so far is the P-5 plus one has not put any sanctions relief on the table as an offer, except for the sole minor exception of airplane spare parts.
And so the principal problem right now, in terms of where the negotiations stand, is that the Iranians have been given no reason – or certainly no assurance – to believe that the sanctions won’t just continue on and on and on no matter what they do with regard to the nuclear policy. And that obviously kills any incentive to make concessions on their part.
Now, the problem for the new U.S. president, whichever one it is come January, will be to find political space to be flexible with regard to the sanctions. Prime Minister Netanyahu will reject any loosening of sanctions; in fact, he’s rejected the whole idea of negotiations basically out of hand. And this, of course, will continue to have obvious implications with regard to shaping the political climate here in the United States.
We also have those who hope, both here and in Israel, that the squeeze of sanctions will somehow hasten regime change in Iran. In other words, it’s some other purpose besides leverage for getting concessions on the nuclear issue. And that’s notwithstanding the prospect that even if there were regime change – and I certainly would not advise holding our breath, you know, waiting for it – that it would mean whoever comes into power in Tehran would fold on the nuclear issue. Not likely, given the broad support that a nuclear program – a peaceful program has in Iran. Note, also, that a lot of the U.S.-imposed sanctions, as embedded in legislation, have had other issues besides the nuclear one stated as rationales – human rights, that sort of thing; relations with terrorist groups. And so it would be very difficult here on the Hill to get – back down on that, even if the negotiations went well with the Iranians.
All of these constraints, put together, do not augur very well for taking advantage of that negotiating space that does exist. And showing flexibility and using sanctions for what they ostensibly are to be used for – that is, is leverage, which requires you to be flexible, it requires you to put offers on the table; that you will get relief if the other side makes concessions, something we haven’t put on the table so far – rather than as some kind of unending punishment, which as I said gives the Iranians no incentive to concede.
Perhaps the only offsetting basis for optimism I could cling to is that anyone who is even halfway briefed on this issue will know that there is a clear basis for an agreement along the lines that I just briefly outlined. And with some flexibility on sanctions, an agreement can be achieved.
We shouldn’t be surprised that this issue, as we move through 2013, staggers on in pretty much the form that we see it today. Don’t be deceived by talk about zones of immunity and implied deadlines and so on; despite the bursts of talk that suggest urgency, you know, this talk isn’t all that new. I mean, it really hasn’t changed form for the last several years – certainly, since Mr. Netanyahu has been prime minister in Israel. Bear in mind that those agitating most loudly on this issue have other reasons to agitate, including distracting attention from other problems, particularly the problem that Scott discussed. And if anything, that’s a reason for them to continue agitating about this issue rather than to actually resolve it.
Although both presidential candidates have boxed themselves in with statements about the unacceptability of an Iranian nuclear weapon, there are bases for anticipating some differences with regard to how our own election is going to come out. The main one is that for Mr. Obama, if he wins, he would be a second-term president, never running for office again, with some more basis because of that for perhaps taking some political risks in the interest of introducing the flexibility that would be necessary to reach an agreement, whereas Mr. Romney would be running for re-election from day one, and on anything involving Israel and the concerns of Prime Minister Netanyahu, a President Romney would have to wonder what Sheldon Adelson would say the next time he happens to see him.
Now, Iran may not force any U.S. president over the next four years, even, to come to terms with the nuclear-weapon-is-unacceptable idea because as I say, they haven’t made a decision even to make one, and they could just stick with their declared intent not to make one. So we may never see the true presidential bottom lines on this issue on our side.
But one final observation on this: The fact that military force would be, certainly in my view, a counterproductive folly, should be clear enough that a second-term Obama administration would do just about anything they could to avoid it. For Mr. Romney, the issue, of course, has been so far – how shall I put it? – an epiphenomenon of the need to show no daylight between him and the Israeli leadership. Ad what his own personal bottom line would turn out to be on the Iranian nuclear issue itself if he were in office is anyone’s guess. But his election clearly would mean the return to policymaking positions of some of those who, indeed, do not believe that war with Iran would be a counterproductive folly. So that’s a huge fudge factor.
Now some briefer observations about Syria. And here the segue is that in many people’s eyes, some of what’s most important in terms of what’s going on in Syria is the Iranian connection, the idea that the Assad regime has been the biggest ally or the only ally of Tehran in the Arab world. And so there has been this hope that’s build up that if we can get regime change there, this would be a big blow to Iran.
Actually, the chief considerations in Syria and the problems it will present for the new U.S. administration are not so much about the Iranian connection but about other considerations, ones going on inside Syria. Two major factors, I think, shape this issue as we think about it in the year ahead.
One is there will be continued pressure to do something, to do more. One only has to read the, you know, Washington Post editorial page, where there’s, you know, tubthumping on this about every other day. And this, in turn, is driven by two things. One, the humanitarian concern about the bloodshed – very understandable – and secondly, a desire to give Assad a push to get rid of this regime, partly because of the Iran alliance consideration and just because of general, you know, anti-dictatorial sentiments and the hope that we’ll have something like a democracy that could emerge in Syria.
The other major factor is that there is, in fact, very little, if anything, the U.S. could do right now that would shorten rather than intensify the war and that would not run the risk of becoming some sort of slippery slope toward a much deeper U.S. involvement that most Americans, the overwhelming majority of Americans, would want.
The main problems that underlie the latter factor are not about to go away. The chief one is the prospect of the pro-Assad forces hanging on for a long time, however desperate their situation sometimes seems to get from day to day as we read about the opposition doing this or doing that. And I’d say the main factor behind that and something that makes Syria different Libya, for example, is the sectarian dimension, which we didn’t have in Libya, and the fact that you’ve got the whole Alawite community, that to greater or lesser degrees, mostly greater, sees itself linked, for better or for worse, with this regime and fears, with good reason, you know, what their fate and what their future would be if the largely Sunni opposition takes control.
There are also big questions and problems on the opposition side in terms of the disunity, in terms of the radical influence and not having anything close to something we could point to that gives us confidence and there would be someone or something that could establish stability and order if the regime were to – were to crumble next week.
Getting into some of the issues that Nat touched on – and there was a David Sanger article in The New York Times just few days ago that appropriately got a lot of attention – and that has to do with the arms supplies from the Saudis and Qataris to some of the Syrian opposition and the concern that was expressed, understandable concern, that these arms seem to be going into radical hands of militant jihadists.
All this kind of replayed in my mind what was going on in Afghanistan more than 20 years ago where we were trying to support – we and the Saudis were trying to support the fight against the Soviets, and we had to work with the opposition militias that were in place, the most effective fighters among whom were hardline jihadists, people like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who then later, you know, came to be considered an enemy of ours.
And that’s basically the kind of situation we’ve got in Syria. And it should not surprise us that not only can we not fine-tune who gets the weapons and have them go only to people who share our values but also that the more extreme militants are the ones who tend to be the best fighters in an extreme, brutal civil war. That’s the way it was at – in Afghanistan; that’s the way it seems to be in Syria.
Now, despite the efforts of candidates, of course, to show that they’re somehow different, you know, I look at what the current administration’s saying and doing and what Governor Romney is saying, and I don’t see much difference in the basic positions. The only basis one can has to – one can have to infer a difference is, again, the prospect that you’ll have a neoconservative entrée into a Romney administration, which requires us to take an all-bets-are-off approach with regard to any new initiatives that involve military force.
Some of what may shape or even force new decisions on whoever is the new president will involve how the Syrian civil war affects or is engaging other states in the region.
Now, I say that even though I don’t subscribe to the frequent thing you hear about civil war spreading across boundaries, as it they’re molasses that kind of oozes across the map. That usually doesn’t happen.
However, we’ve got some important players, the most important one being Turkey, because it’s a NATO ally, because the Turks understandably have to defend their borders – and look what’s happened to them lately: mortar and artillery shells that have killed their citizens across the border. They have to do something about that. And insofar as they want to make good on their opposition to support for the Assad regime, they also have to do things like force down airliners in their airspace that are shipping materiel to Syria. And so there might be things that happen to the Turks that force their hand, which, because they are an important ally of ours, forces the hand of the U.S. president in some way.
There is also the obvious potential for things being stirred up in Lebanon because of the special relationship and the geographical facts between Syria and Lebanon, but that can go into so many directions I’m not going to try to (game ?) it out here.
Then you have what Nat was talking about, the concerns of the Gulf Arabs and especially of the Saudis about the fate of their Sunni brethren in Syria. And I think this is something that the United States will have to deal with. And for this reason, I would say that the handling by the new administration of the Syrian problem will be at least as much a function of U.S. relations with the Gulf Arabs and especially the Saudis.
In some – except for the optimistic note that I struck earlier that there is negotiating space to be explored and exploited on this Iranian nuclear issue that’s got so much attention, I really don’t see many apparent opportunities for productive departures and advances in either of these areas by whoever is president come January.
Thank you. (Applause.)
DR. MATTAIR: Well, thank you for four great presentations.
I have an idea of how to ask just one question that came to me as I was listening to all the speakers. And it – start with an anecdote about going to an official at the State Department in the late 1990s when I was writing a book and interviewing him. And I actually quoted him in my book, which, although I didn’t name him – but I can’t remember his name at the moment; I’d have to go to my files. But he said to me, and I quote, we do not make our policy toward Iran based on our national interests, period. We make our policy toward Iran based on our domestic politics.
So Paul served in government, had to think about our national interests all the time, thinks that there is an opportunity for a diplomatic resolution of this issue. Scott has talked about importance of the lobby, and – although it may be cracking. And there are consequences, which I think everybody can talk about. So I think my question is to everyone. What can the next administration do to change that?
I remember being a graduate student – here’s another anecdote – and sitting in rapt attention, listening to Ronald Reagan’s 1982 address to the nation from the Oval Office about what was occurring in Lebanon where Israel had intervened, and we had either just deployed Marines, or we’re just about to deploy Marines, or – would it make a difference for a president to do that today, to talk about the way in which our failures in Arab-Israeli affairs have led to anti-Americanism in the region and even how popular governments emerging from the Arab Awakening will reflect that attitude toward American foreign policy when they make their foreign policy and how there is an opportunity for a diplomatic resolution? And I think probably many people in an American audience would not know the difference between uranium conversion and uranium enrichment and the design of a warhead and how long it would take and what it would require to deliver it accurately and how long all of that would take.
So that’s my question for anybody who wants to take it: Can an American president educate the American people in a – quickly enough to bring about a domestic constituency that supports a different kind of American foreign policy in the region? Anyone?
DR. PILLAR: I’ll take a first stab. Are these on? Yeah.
Admittedly, it’s very difficult to translate some of the things we may discuss in this room to this sophisticated audience into a way that’s going to play to Peoria. I mean, there’s no question about it.
But I think even on some of these issues, with the appropriate simplification – I don’t mean oversimplification, I don’t mean dumbing down, but simplification – and some appropriate, quite frankly, rhetorical artifices, some things could be done. On the Iranian nuclear issue, for example, you’re right, Tom. You know, 20 percent enrichment, how much does that mean to the man on the street in Peoria? Not to pick on Peoria, but –
But let’s suppose the president, in speaking publicly about this, emphasizes the theme, again and again, we’ve been putting these sanctions on again; we’ve ratcheted them up again and again; they have a purpose. The purpose of sanctions is to induce concessions by Iran on this nuclear issue. Repeat that again and again. And using sanctions that way means we have to be willing to lift them or reduce them if, indeed, we get those concessions. Pretty simple message, I think, that even, you know, John Q. Public can understand. It’s got to be repeated a number of times.
Or just take one other example, some of the issues that Scott talked about, challenging the lobby. You know, let me offer a slogan to whoever is the White House political director: America first. Shouldn’t we put America’s interest ahead of any other country? Any other country, ally, foe – America first. Keep repeating that – and applying it to the problems that Scott talked about. I think that would have some effect.
DR. MATTAIR: Well, if there is still a window, if there is still a window for a two-state solution, what do you think the president could do?
DR. MCCONNELL: I think the window for a – some sort of détente with Iran is more open than for a two-state solution in that you mostly – the domestic opposition would be easier to overcome. And I – it – I mean, I – the example that keeps coming to mind is Nixon going to China, which was considered hugely weird, and he could never have campaigned on it, and the Chinese were, you know, killing American soldiers in Vietnam by transferring weapons, and they had a regime that was considered a crazy state and ready to lose nuclear weapons because they would come out with several hundred million people, and the – and the West would not. And yet they also had a Zhou Enlai, and they had a government that was, you know, very businesslike in terms of being able to reply to Kissinger’s and Nixon’s outreach.
I think that situation may exist with Iran, and I think that would – that would change a lot in the region. If you get off the United States this kind of mindset that all Muslim states, except the most docile ones, are potentially adversarial, it’s – that seems to be possible. And I think that might – I mean, in a way, in an opposite way than the Israelis say that the – I think, the route to a Palestinian state may go through Tehran, but – not after wiping them out, but after finding some common ground with them.
MR. KERN: The only thing I’d sort of –
DR. MATTAIR: Is this on?
MR. KERN: Whatever. I can speak loud. The only question that I’d raise with Paul on how easy it would be or potentially easy to negotiate is I can’t figure out what earthly purpose Iran gets or value it gets out of a peaceful nuclear enrichment program. Their nuclear power plant at Bushehr could be fueled for $60 million a year with nuclear fuel. What is it costing them if this is purely a peaceful program? That’s what baffles me.
DR. PILLAR: It’s interesting, I was in the Emirates a couple of years ago, and the same question came up as to why the UAE, with all of its oil, it’s – is pursuing a nuclear energy (program ?).
MR. KERN: That’s different because they have just contracted to buy all the fuel they’ll need for their nuclear plants for the equivalent of $60 million. They’re going to have some more nuclear plants, but they’ll buying it. It will be enriched outside by Canadian, British, Russian, French companies, fabricated in Korea and then shipped in. They don’t want to do the enrichment. So it’s a separate question.
DR. PILLAR: Yeah. Well, there’s no question that there’s an Iranian interest in a nuclear weapon. They’ve even done design work in the past.
MR. KERN: Well, that’s my assumption.
DR. PILLAR: No, but that’s –
MR. KERN: There’s no such thing as a peaceful program.
DR. PILLAR: But – well, that’s – no, those are two different things. To say that there is an interest and potential future decisions with regard to weapons and weaponization, versus no peaceful purpose – those are not equivalent questions.
MR. KERN: Why would you suffer $50 billion of losses on an annual basis to protect a $60 million-a-year program?
DR. PILLAR: A former – a former Pakistani prime minister talked about eating grass to satisfy his prestige-fueled ambition –
MR. KERN: Yeah.
DR. PILLAR: – and he was talking specifically about weapons.
MR. KERN: Yes.
DR. PILLAR: But the nuclear program as a whole, if you look at what indications we have of public Iranian attitudes toward it, distinguishing between weapons and a peaceful program, is that there is very, very strong support for the peaceful program. It would be a major political hazard for any Iranian leader, including the supreme leader, to say, we’re just going to give up the program because of pressure. That’s just not going to happen.
MR. KERN: Yeah. I can’t believe that the Iranians are backing a $60 million program with the strength they do unless they believe it’ll provide them the weapons.
DR. PILLAR: The Iranians, like a lot of other decision-makers, haven’t made all their national security decisions that will cover them for the next 10 years in advance. This is a decision that has not yet been made. It is a decision that will be heavily influenced by what the West and what the United States in particular does. The decisions can still go either way. The Iranians can decide to build a nuclear weapon. They would almost certainly decide to do that if, for example, they were subject to a military attack.
MR. KERN: Yeah.
DR. PILLAR: But they haven’t done that yet, and whether they do it or not depends on things we do.
DR. MATTAIR: And I might add, in addition to these questions about pride and responding to popular sentiment and maybe stubbornness too would be potentially a fear that a foreign supply of enriched uranium could be cut off. It’s a country that’s been subjected to sanctions for a long time and even in the 1950s its oil was boycotted. So maybe it’s a concern that they can’t count on that. So – fuel. However –
MR. KERN: Lose 1 percent of their electricity – (inaudible).
DR. MATTAIR: However – yeah – however, and – however, I think in the – in the back of their minds the option of weapons is something that they want to have.
MR. KERN: Sure they do.
DR. PILLAR: Certainly.
DR. MATTAIR: So –
MR. KERN: We want them to give up that option.
DR. MATTAIR: And at the other – the other concern is more of a general security concern where you have nuclear states to the north and to the east and to the west and to the south and even the American military presences. So that’s why I spoke a little bit earlier about a grand bargain, which I know Saudi Arabia and some of the other Gulf states are concerned about, because if you negotiate not only about nuclear weapons but also about what kind of Arab-Israeli agreement are they going to accept and not try to disrupt, and what their role should and shouldn’t be in the Gulf vis-à-vis the Gulf Arabs – if you negotiated all those issues, maybe you’d have – be providing them with more incentive to give up these dreams of weapons. But it would have to be constructed in a way that guaranteed the Gulf Arab states that their security interests are not going to be compromised in the Gulf region; that we are not going to recognize an Iranian role that a dominant role vis-à-vis the Gulf Arab states. That has to be clear.
MR. KERN: And the fallback position, if you can’t – if they don’t capitulate and diplomacy doesn’t work, is containment. We know how to do that.
MR. MATTAIR: Yeah.
MR. KERN: We had 18,000 nuclear-tipped missiles pointed at the Soviet Union. We know how to do that.
DR. MATTAIR: Well, that’s right. If they’re a rational regime – and most people think they are a rational regime – most people –
MR. KERN: Eighteen thousand makes you rational. (Chuckles.)
DR. MATTAIR: Yeah.
DR. CESARI: Can I say something?
DR. MATTAIR: Yes, I want panelists to ask each other questions before we go to the audience. So please.
DR. CESARI: I would like to make two comments about what can be done short or longer term. I think that your – the point of making the public aware that the reinforcement of sanctions against Iran is against the interests of the U.S. and it will not – it will not weaken the Ahmadinejad regime; quite the opposite, because what we are witnessing now is a reinforcement given by people who cannot stand the regime as it is now, but because they think within Iran that Iran is attacked, so if this could be, you know, advertised in a way that, you know, is – and limiting the sanction is not putting out the whole challenge of the weapons in the long term and so on.
So this is something that can be done. The more we attack Iran, the more we reinforce Ahmadinejad domestically.
And this brings me to the second point, which is we – the new administration will have to think out of what I call the Camp David paradigm. It doesn’t exist anymore.
So indeed we can address Iran. We can address Saudi Arabia. We can address Syria. But what is really needed is a vision of the region, the geopolitical balance of the region. And this has to be also discussed with other partners, including Turkey – I think you mentioned Turkey – but also the Gulf states, all the – you know, it cannot just be, we solve Iran and then we solve the Palestinian issue and then we solve the Syrian issue. We need at least not a grandiose vision but a regional vision because all these new political actors, they think regionally, and we don’t have an alternative regional vision. That’s what I want to say.
DR. MATTAIR: Just one slight comment: Ahmadinejad will be gone soon, but we’re strengthening the regime.
DR. CESARI: Yeah, exactly.
DR. MATTAIR: Any other comment?
DR. PILLAR: Well, you invited questions?
DR. MATTAIR: Yes. Yes.
DR. PILLAR: I would like to ask Scott a question. If Obama wins the election and if he makes the kind of speech that you outline – a speech that would satisfy your fondest hopes, maybe even before the Knesset, what would be your fondest hope in terms of the Israeli reaction, given that you said you – you’re among those who believe that we’ve perhaps passed the limits of a two-state solution or – but – and I agree with you on this – the overwhelming majority of Israelis would not want to just grant the vote to Palestinian Arabs. So what would be the hoped-for Israeli reaction if that kind of speech were made?
DR. MCCONNELL: Pretty simply, I think the Israelis would vote or have a change of government, perhaps headed by Olmert or somebody like that, who understands that Israel’s current course is under great peril and that having a secure, recognized-across-the-Middle East, dynamic, respected state would satisfy the core ambitions of Zionism and that – and so to go to – go back towards something like the Clinton parameters and assume – which isn’t going to be easy – that you would have Palestinian interlocutors – I think you have, but it’s not obviously a done deal because of Hamas and things like that. But I – my hope is that a speech like that would change the political balance within Israel. It would make Israelis realize that we’re going off in a bad direction here.
DR. MATTAIR: Can I invite questions from the audience? We have a mic over here. We’d like you to, for the sake of the TV and the recordings, to go to the microphone.
Yeah, I want – I would like the questions from the mic, so it can be picked up. Yes.
Q: My name is Paul Gallagher with EIR News Service. I’d like to raise the question of controlling the war policy, including the drone war policy, of the current Obama administration, which completely ignores the Congress and the War Powers Act and the Constitution, and leaving aside what Romney’s might do, and – which is bringing about a kind of 9/11, take two, represented by the calamity in Benghazi and the possibility now of a retaliation, a bombing retaliation to the – to that calamity.
This has gotten into the election campaign only to the extent that al-Qaida is not being defeated by this strategy but appears rather the opposite. But the Saudis are in the middle of this 9/11, take two. Support from London for terrorism is in the middle of this.
There is a resolution in the Congress by Representative Walter Jones of North Carolina, who’s a militarily connected representative, to make the further waging of war by any president without congressional authorization, without going to Congress, impeachable – a shot across the bow resolution.
And I’d like to ask the panel how can this war policy and drone war policy – unconstitutional, completely ignoring the Congress, producing terrorism – how can this be controlled?
DR. PILLAR: That’s a very important set of issues. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not going to pronounce on – in any specific way on issues of constitutionality, but I think the question very appropriately raises fundamental issues of limits on the use of military force.
Basically, all of the forceful/lethal actions that were referred to in the question and much more are still being based on the single resolution that was passed by Congress just in the first week or two after 9/11, back in September of 2001. In my, again, nonlegal professional view, that’s an awfully thin reed on which to base continued justification for use of lethal force outside our borders. That resolution made reference to al-Qaida and to the perpetrators of 9/11. Well – and one of the things about this is the term “al-Qaida” has come, certainly over these 11 years, to be used in such a loose way to refer in general to, you know, sort of violent-minded Sunni militants in which the term does not correlate well at all with any particular organizational reality out there that describes the sort of enemy that – in which the laws of war would be appropriate and for which a continued use of congressional authorization of military force really can be considered sound.
So other than, you know, agitating on the issue, as your question implies, and taking other – devoting other careful legal attention to this on the Hill, I don’t have a particular solution. But I certainly acknowledge it’s a major and appropriate concern.
DR. MATTAIR: Yes, sir.
Q: I’m Len Weiss. I’m an affiliated scholar at Stanford University. And my question has to do with the nuclear issues in the Middle East. We’ve talked about short-term resolutions, possibly, with the Iranians, with some kind of an agreement being done where the Iranians would give up some measure of their nuclear program in return for relief on sanctions. But I want to ask the panel about a longer-term issue. Is it possible to have long-term nuclear stability in the Middle East as long as there is a monopoly nuclear power? Can we actually get something done in that area without talking about Israeli nuclear weapons and what their – and what their role is in terms of Israeli policy in the region? And if that is – and if it is the case that you have to talk about Israeli nuclear weapons, shouldn’t the United States and the American president in particular be willing to talk about them, even though the Israelis don’t want him to?
DR. MCCONNELL: I do agree that it’s not a stable situation or perceived as stable for Israel to have the only acknowledged nuclear arsenal in the Middle East. It’s seemed – would be – I can’t imagine the psychology in which you say to, you know, a billion Muslims, Israel can have weapons, but you can’t. It just doesn’t make sense.
As we mentioned before, I used to read and write for Commentary magazine, and in 1974 Robert W. Tucker, an extremely eminent and hawkish political scientist, wrote an essay in which he said that nuclear proliferation in the Middle East would probably lead to a more – more likely to stability and peace between Israel and its neighbors than the current situation. And I – that article is available in the Commentary website, and I think it is very provocative and informative and valid.
DR. PILLAR: The only comment I’d add to that is on the issue of whether to speak openly about the Israeli nuclear program. There are very thoughtful, informed people who believe it would be in Israel’s own interest to be open and not to, you know, pretend that this arsenal doesn’t exist.
Avner Cohen, who’s the foremost historian of the Israeli nuclear program, had an article in Foreign Affairs a couple of years back in which he argued exactly that – argued what I just said.
DR. MATTAIR: This article by Robert Tucker – you could argue that with no other nuclear power in the region, Israel’s nuclear power has given it a tremendous amount of flexibility in its regional policies and its ability to use force without thinking about the consequences and that there’s another eminent political scientist, Kenneth Waltz, who just wrote in Foreign Affairs that if Iran obtained nuclear weapons, you would have stability in the system because, you know, the concept of deterrence would pertain. It’s a very controversial argument, I’d – but the same general concept.
Q: Hi. Edward Wynne, Congressional Research Service. The question I have, I guess, is for Dr. Pillar but I’d welcome comments from anyone, specifically in regards to Syria. My question is, in the long term, say a year or two, the countries surrounding Syria are at least involved in the conflict, peripherally or otherwise. I mean, I read your blog post on the Afghanistan analogy, and so I was wondering what you would recommend – given the theme of this panel, what you’ll recommend in the future as far as how the U.S. should be interacting with those countries to try to prevent another Afghanistan scenario and also the possibility – I mean, hopefully we won’t be intervening any time soon directly. However, what I’m curious about is if that intervention does not happen, what would be the ideal scenario, given the other actors in the region and how they’re influencing events on the ground?
DR. PILLAR: Well, the sad reality is this is one of those situations where there is no ideal scenario or even a good scenario. That’s what I was alluding to in – when I opened my comments by saying, you know, there are some situations where there’s just no good solution.
I would commend, by the way – some of you may have read it – a piece by my friend and colleague Dan Byman that was in the Outlook section of the Post this last weekend in which he basically makes the point, you know, the world and especially the Middle East is an awfully messy place in many ways in which the United States just can’t be expected – no U.S. president can be expected to solve and resolve everything.
The bloodshed in Syria, you know, makes all of us shudder. That doesn’t mean there is some U.S. policy option that will bring it to an end or even reduce it. And most of the options I see in terms of trying to do more, if anything, would probably exacerbate it.
You know, the only other thing I can say is, as your question implies, it’s not just the U.S. but the other players in the region, and as Jocelyne was mentioning with regard to the Iranian issue, same thing applies with Syria. You know, we will and we should continue to work very closely with our Syrian ally (sic), with the Jordanians. Jordan, Iraq, Syria all – Jordan, Iraq and Turkey all have something like 100,000 refugees each in their countries, at least.
We can’t do it all ourselves, and I wish I could give you an ideal scenario, but there just isn’t one.
DR. MATTAIR: Nat, can I ask you – because you were talking about it – how did the – how did the Saudis and the Qataris and Emiratis and others view the possibility of militant extremists coming to the fore in Syria when they have to fight militant extremists at home and do a good job of it, but what if the money and the arms are going to these people in a disproportionate way?
And I’ll just say, about the David Sanger article, the beginning of the David Sanger article says the majority of the weapons are going to militant extremists, but if you read deeper into the article, it says intelligence communities are having a very difficult time determining who the rebel leaders are and who the rebel factions are. Well, if we don’t know who they are, how do we know the majority are going to militant extremists? But if they are –
MR. KERN: Well, it – the problem is – (sighs) – the militant extremists come to the fore the more the rebel opposition in general feels abandoned by the West because of a failure to get the weapons that they’ve been promised, or then that opens the space.
So in a way, it’s one of those problems that get worse with time if you’re doing nothing or blocking effective weapons. And that’s why it’s sort of a conundrum if you’re thinking the next president takes office on January 20th. What’s going to happen in between time? Overall, you’ve got the problem of, again, unpalatable choices, the lesser of two evils.
In my book, to the extent that the Soviet Union fall had something to do with the defeat in Afghanistan, then even all the repercussions we had from weapons going to jihadists in Afghanistan was better. It’s better that the U.S. and Soviet Union are not still threatening to demolish the earth compared to the other fallouts.
We’ve had tough decisions like this in the past. The second major recipient of U.S. arms during World War II was Stalin’s Soviet Union. We might not have won without that. It did leave bad consequences. Sometimes those are the choices. And you know, just – eyes wide open, please.
Q: Matt Abrahim (sp), a former member of the parliament from Bahrain who was detained during the uprising. My question is for Mr. Stock – Scott. For in fact, Mr. Kern gave bright images about the situation in the Gulf and their relation with U.S. government. So I’m looking to hear about the challenges from you. In fact, if we are looking to the Gulf, I think that the safest bet for stability and the interest of the Americans and the citizen in the Gulf – the safest path for reform is by support and encourage by the Americans.
What do you think is feasible for the next administration to play a positive and proactive role instead of the passive role that we saw with them in the past? There is silent about the human rights violation in the region. There is silent about all calls for reform. There is silent about the sectarian impact and the policies in Iraq and in Syria. So what is feasible to see in the next administration? Thanks.
DR. MATTAIR: And that question is for whom?
Q: Scott. Yeah.
DR. MCCONNELL: It’s far from my field of expertise, but I’m inclined to think that the United States can’t do a lot about the internal politics of the Gulf states or other Arab states, that it’s beyond our knowledge, history and experience. I think we can be an example. I think we can say we – I think we can speak out. I think we can encourage students to come here and study. I think we can be a good trading partner. But I don’t see – I just don’t see the American policy saying, all right, this is how you deal with your sectarian issues and the role of Islam in your public life. And it just – it’s just beyond us, I think.
DR. MATTAIR: Well, actually, there’s a related question here from the – someone watching the live streaming, which is: Should the next administration put more emphasis on human rights violations by the Islamic Republic of Iran in order to promote their – expose their and promote their crisis of legitimacy?
DR. CESARI: I would like to –
DR. MATTAIR: Yes.
DR. CESARI: -- to say something about that, because I completely agree that a discourse on values like human rights, democracy, doesn’t work. And we went through that already. And I think it would be very bad to give the idea that the U.S. is here to teach something to the countries. And – but there is – again, you need another approach that is working with the people in the region.
So there is no – you know, no tailored or retail situation. You have – solution – you have to look what are the protagonists at stake. You cannot just say and say, I’m going to come and solve the question of human rights or sectarian divide, because this doesn’t always reflect what are the relationship of power on the ground.
And if the U.S. cannot get that – and I agree, it’s not to – we cannot do domestic, you know, cleaning or correction. But again, we can have a geopolitical vision. And that’s also what was in your question, about, you know, the whole dynamic that is beyond – behind on the question of Sunni-Shia. And Iran plays a role in that too.
So this is something we can do, but it doesn’t mean that the U.S. – and all the questions show that it’s hard to get out of the mentality that the U.S. has to do something and to – you know, pull its sleeve and do. There is much more thought to put into multilateral thought, regionally grounded. And it sounds like words that don’t mean anything, but you gave example where this can happen, it did happen for the U.S. in some parts of the world and for other political partner too.
So I think it’s about time to think that U.S. cannot solve everything. And I know – I mean, but it – does it mean that the U.S. has a diminished role? I don’t think so. It’s another approach on what is leadership. I’m not buying the whole decline of the U.S. I think there is lots of things very positive going on. But it cannot be the sole actor in some very complicated issue. And we have not taken – paid attention enough to also the regional actors.
And one of the mistake in Afghanistan is not only arming the jihadi, is not to – was not to take into account the whole regional balance of the Afghan conflict because we were still in the Cold War framework. So I think this is something – we have to learn from past mistakes as well.
DR. PILLAR: I would just comment that trade-offs abound. U.S. interests are multiple. We’ve got a limited number of diplomatic and political chits to use. And the more you want to concentrate on one objective, the less chits you may have on some other objective.
So if we’re all tied up in knots about this nuclear issue on Iran, for example, and we really want to get something done on that, you know, the human rights issue – which is a genuine issue and on which we ought to make our preferences and principles clear – nonetheless, to try to do something about that may not only run into the inherent limitations that Jocelyne’s mentioned, but also may work against our attempt to advance other interests or achieve other objectives.
DR. MATTAIR: What the U.S. has done in the case of Bahrain is to encourage talks between the government and the opposition. So – and from the U.S. point of view, first of all, as I said, it’s a non-NATO ally. We have our 5th fleet there. Second, over the 10 – past 10 years, it looks like they’ve introduced more reforms than a lot of countries in the neighborhood. And so if we – if we lack the capacity to do more, at least we’ve asked for negotiations. And both parties have to be realistic about what they can get out of these negotiations.
Q: My name’s Joshua Jacobs. I’m an analyst at The Jamestown Foundation. And my question was for Mr. Kern. It seems to me that, when you talk about the Gulf and you talk about the problems and challenges that the next administration is going to have to deal with, one of the biggest questions is what kind of leadership is the next administration going to have to deal with? And with a 91 year old king, with a prince who’s 86, it seems almost certain that whoever’s president next is going to face new leadership in Saudi Arabia.
And my question for you is, who do you think that might be? And do you think it’s something that will have a significant impact on our relationship with Saudi Arabia and on the region at large? And I guess what I would tack on there is there’s been some – there’s been a Twitter insider – I’m sure you’re probably familiar – (chuckles) – who has been releasing a lot of, ostensibly, inside information from the inner circle of the royal family confirming a lot of rumors that people had heard about certain members’ health, certain members’ ambitions. And I just wanted to know what your thoughts were on this. Thank you.
DR. MATTAIR: That would be you.
MR. KERN: Yeah. I think you’ve tacked a few years onto the king’s age.
DR. MATTAIR: And a few onto the crown prince. You’ve tacked about eight – 10 on to the crown prince.
MR. KERN: Yeah, yeah. We’re in a better place now than we were two years ago when you had an incompetent crown prince in intensive care. Again, he was going to be the next king. That was not so good. And although opinions vary about the late Prince Nayef, I think by comparison Salman is certainly more worldly and more open.
Nevertheless, there is a pressing need – and I don’t believe I would be telling anything new to the Saudi leadership in this – to move to the next generation. We’ve got some terribly capable people in their 50s, and I would think particularly of the guy who’s been running the counterterrorism thing, Muhammad bin Nayaf, is capable but also a very good politician, a very well-rounded person, very sensible. And I’d love to see him elevated to a position of greater responsibility in the not-too-distant future.
As a policy matter, you got to wait till that happens. There’s nothing we can do. If there’s some changes, then the next changes, the next president, the next secretary of state has got to be apprised of what they are. But there’s not any particular policy choices we can make about how the family regulates its affairs and succession.
Q: I’m Analisa (sp). I’m a physician, from Bahrain also. I want to ask a question about the credibility of the U.S. values. I know – I know the complexity of the geopolitics of the region. I understand all the concerns about Iran nuclear weapon and all and how this – how does this have an impact on the policy in the Gulf. But as experts and as intellectuals, what would be your advice for the U.S. administration for the long-term interest of the U.S.?
Don’t you think that what’s happened in the last couple of years – the Arab Spring and what happened in Bahrain and eastern Saudi Arabia, does it – I mean, does it raise a question about the stability of the Gulf reign and how these monarchies are going to survive in the long terms and how these people in this region will perceive the United States – the United States, especially if they see the United States on the side of their repressive regimes?
So I come from Bahrain. And I know that Bahrainis look up to the United States as a model that they are seeking. They are looking for support, especially that they think the United States have obligations towards them because of the Navy presence and the 5th Fleet. But the frustration is growing. And the disappointment is growing.
And in Bahrain, we have a majority that are not represented – a majority that is repressed and ruled by a minority. And that has – that reflects – it’s not only the Shia is Bahrain. Shias are not alone. There are Shias in eastern Saudi Arabia and Iraq and Kuwait and the whole Gulf region. And this image of the United States is not only in Bahrain, it will be in every place of these regions.
So don’t you think that it’s not only a moral obligation to stand with the calls for democracy and rights but also in the interest of the United States? So I would like to know what will be your advice of how the United States should react to these people – to people’s demands. Thanks.
DR. MATTAIR: Dr. Cesari wants –
DR. CESARI: I would like to respond to that because it’s a very important question that shows exactly the vision from all this civil society we are not paying attention to. All the changes that happened in the last two years were not made by the actors that we are discussing on this part of the table. The societies did it. And we are not, as a power, paying enough attention to these different elements of civil society.
So change are not going to come from the monarch of Saudi Arabia, can come from the changes in the balance of power within Saudi Arabia in connection with other countries. And as long as we are not ready to change and include elements of civil society in the vision of our strategy in this part of the world, we’re going to miss the opportunity to have elements of talking differently to people. And again, it’s very interesting to see that whole – the whole angle is still and remains on how do I deal with this leader versus this leader.
And if we have one lesson learned from the last two years, the changes don’t come from the professional politicians. They will come because this is globalization. They will come from movements within societies, you know. And again, I don’t have any moral for that, but it’s already a complete different outlook on how we interact in the region.
DR. MCCONNELL: No, I agree with that. I don’t want to say too much more. I don’t think the United States – I think it’s America’s interest to not get too involved, but clearly we are involved. And I think it’s pretty obvious that in two generations the Gulf regimes won’t be monarchies. I think probably we can agree on that. I don’t think they’re eternal. Maybe one generation. Maybe 10 years.
DR. PILLAR: Actually, I disagree with Scott on that last point. Jack Goldstone over at George Mason has a thesis about this that what he calls the sultanistic regimes, you know, even if they’re monarchical in effect, like the Assads in Syria, they don’t have the historical legitimacy that royal families have in the Gulf, and Jordan and Morocco. And so those secular dictatorships, that don’t really call themselves monarchies, are inherently more fragile, whereas the monarchies have more of a potential – and here I think that Mohammed VI has done in Morocco provides some examples – has more of the potential of making the sorts of concessions and ceding the sort of partial political power to popular forces while still being on the throne. And the biggest, most recent change that Mohammed in Morocco made was to cede an awful lot of power to basically a government representing an elected assembly, but he’s still sitting, more or less happily, in his seat as the king.
DR. MATTAIR: Well, you know, the United States has strategic interests, has ideological interests. Sometimes it’s extremely difficult to pursue them both at the same time. The ideological interest in the long term is that we favor more popular participation in government. But how much strategic interest can you jeopardize in the short term?
DR. PILLAR: We always have to – I’m sorry.
DR. MATTAIR: That’s the dilemma for American government.
DR. PILLAR: We always have to make a distinction between making our principles clear, what we stand for, versus mucking in and messing up. I’m a strong believer in the Hippocratic principle of at first do no harm. And unfortunately, you know, despite noble objectives in a lot of places, we’ve wound up doing harm. But that doesn’t mean we have to retreat at all from making it clear what principles we believe in, and overall, that the Arab Spring and Arab Awakening, in my view, is a good thing from the standpoint of American interests and American principles.
DR. MATTAIR: Two other brief comments. And Jocelyne, you might be interested in this one. You know, I met a Saudi woman, pretty prominent, in Jeddah. She said, I hope we don’t get one man, one vote here, because if we get one man, one vote, I’m going to lose all the gains that women have made under this king, because actually this king reforms gradually while he has a population that’s more conservative than he is. So he walks a tightrope, in a way.
And lawyers are told never to ask questions that they don’t already know the answer to, but let me ask you a – (laughs) – I’m not a lawyer, so let me ask you a question. In the negotiations between the government and the opposition, is it true that the opposition asked for the legislature to have the power to name the cabinet? That’s a – is that a reasonable – is that a reasonable negotiating point? You know, here, the legislature in the United States does not name the Cabinet. The Cabinet’s named by the executive branch. The legislature –
Q: Yeah. I can tell you I think this is a detail – and (Mattair ?) might be the right person to ask – to answer, but I will answer if he will allow. This is a detail. What’s happening now in Bahrain, there is no talks. There is no dialogue, no incentive to engage with the opposition. And actually, there is no pressure on our regime to engage in a genuine dialogue with the opposition. Opposition declared it very clearly that they are ready for dialogue; they are ready to sit and discuss all these issues and do a road map. They don’t want a democracy to happen, like, overnight. They are ready to discuss the steps and how to get there.
But actually there is no incentive. And actually if you – if we would be in the place of this regime, why would they do so? They have all the support from their allies, OK? They don’t have any, like, kind of pressure. The people are unarmed. Even though they are majority, they don’t care.
We have, I mean, human rights defenders, political leaders, physicians in jail, journalists, lawyers. All kinds of life, all professions, they got tortured, intimidated, because they spoke out and they said we need more rights. We have a prime minister that is on his seat for 43 years. There has been no other prime minister since the state was established in Bahrain.
So is this something the United States would be proud of? I mean, we are not asking for a full-blown democracy tomorrow. We’re just asking for a fair representation, for an elected government. And even this can be negotiable, but at least to sit and talk. But this is not happening. And it’s not only this; the repressive – I mean the repressive measures, or let’s say the (security-fest ?) is going on and people are getting killed and locked up day after day. This is the reality and this is what’s happening.
DR. CESARI: Can I say something?
DR. MATTAIR: Yes.
DR. CESARI: I think what you are pointing at is exactly this low-key that may not be in the top of the news, but about the relationship that the U.S. can have with not only the states and state actors and one – but bring also the different elements of civil society, how does it work. It works not telling people what they have to do but to put some kind of also challenge of accountability of these countries and what do they do. And if they talk this talk, how do they walk the walk? And the point is not that the U.S. is going to say this is the right interlocutor for you or the wrong interlocutor for you. And sometimes, unfortunately, it has ended up being this kind of, you know, selection. It’s we bring everybody to the table. And I think this is something that we have never really tried. Exception, again, was the Sudan case from 2004 to 2008.
DR. MATTAIR: I just want to make sure that – do you have a question? Are you standing?
Q: I’m sorry, I have a comment. I can put it as a question.
DR. MATTAIR: Because we have about five minutes, so I want to get that question.
Q: Just one comment, very fast comment, is that when I was saying that the United States doesn’t want to engage, actually it is perceived by people as not doing anything. It’s perceived as doing, I mean, favor to the regime or being on the side of the regime. So choosing not to do anything or not – to be very neutral is actually doing, positively support to the regime. This is the perception of the people.
DR. MATTAIR: Yes.
Q: First, excuse my English. I just came here, so maybe – I just have one question. Has there been any successful sanctions in history? I mean, has there been any change in regime? I mean, why do the United States usually focus on sanctions? I’m from Iraq, and I tasted 13 years of sanctions, and I think they did – they empowered the regime and made us poor, made us, you know, really, really weak. We couldn’t fight the regime because we were trying to survive. And that happened in Cuba, that happened in Iran in the 1980s, and you are doing it again in Iran. Is there any reason for that?
DR. PILLAR: One has to be absolutely clear, first of all, what the purpose of sanctions are. You know, squeezing the regime to try to topple it is one possible purpose. Getting the regime – inducing the regime to make concessions or change a policy is an entirely different purpose. And part of the problem with these Iranian sanctions is we’ve got people who believe each of those things are objectives, and they work against each other. If you thought these sanctions were going to squeeze the regime to the point that it would fall, then that means keep them in, be absolutely inflexible, don’t concede anything; whereas if you’re going to use them, as they ostensibly are, as leverage to get change in Iranian policy on this nuclear matter, that argues for something entirely different. It argues for flexibility.
I am aware of no instance where sanctions could really be credited with toppling a regime. If you’re going to use them to get policy changed, then a very clear successful example was Libya under Gadhafi. And they work that way, and we should remember the change that Gadhafi made, a drastic change in policy, where he gave up his unconventional weapons programs, he gave up his terrorist programs and associations, and that was after he gave up the – you know, coughed up the Pan Am 103 suspects, and then the lifting of sanctions was a big part of that.
He was under United Nations sanctions for several years. They were broad sanctions. They stopped short of an oil embargo so that you didn’t have sanctions fatigue on the part of the countries that were imposing them. That was a successful example, and it worked because it was coupled with the offer and the negotiations to have a new relationship, to lift the sanctions. Then unfortunately a few years later, we said, well, we want to get rid of him anyway, when the opportunity came up. And that damages a lot of our credibility.
But that’s the only way in which they do work and have worked, is to induce – to help induce change in policy by a regime, but it has to be coupled with the negotiations and the carrots as well as the sticks.
Q: And has that made any more friends for the United States? I mean, let’s say in Iraq. When you imposed sanctions on 30 million Iraqis, they starved. Did that make them friends to the United States? Is that going to make the Iranians friends to the United States?
DR. PILLAR: I think you very appropriately make the point that there is a further downside with regard to just how populations will react to this. And perhaps Jocelyne or someone else would want to comment more specifically on the Iranian case. But that is – that is definitely a hazard that has to be taken into account.
DR. CESARI: Yeah, just on the Iranian case. You are absolutely right. The regime as it is now may not be strong, especially in urban areas, but the sanctions are used by the current president as a way to reinforce unity and cohesion among all Iranians, even the opponents, to face the outsider or the threat from outside. So instead of weakening Ahmadinejad or his regime, what we are witnessing is a sort of persistence of the regime because people are not going to protest or undermine his power at this moment when they see Iran as a community under attack. And so it’s helping him. He uses – we know that, and I could elaborate more on that – the sanction as a tool for controlling domestically the country.
DR. MATTAIR: And, you know, this has a domestic political utility, in a way, here. I mean, if you’re not sure what diplomatic deal you want, if you’re not sure you can sell the diplomatic deal to the public, and you think the costs of war are too high, sanctions is a way of showing people that you’re doing something while you wait to figure out what you want out of diplomacy or wait to find out if you can avoid a war. Because war – and interesting that you are from Iraq, because there’s a report coming out from the World Health Organization very soon that’s going to document how many miscarriages there have been in Fallujah and how many birth defects there have been in Fallujah since 2004, and that’s because of depleted uranium. And we don’t even talk about that very much when we think about war with Iran. A lot of people will die.
Q: (Off mic.)
DR. MATTAIR: Yes.
Q: Am I right that Saudi Arabia invaded Bahrain last year?
DR. MATTAIR: No.
Q: Sent their military into Bahrain last year?
Q: They were invited. They were invited by the king.
Q: All right. They were invited. Am I right that the royals and their foundations are supporting all the Sunni terrorist groups in the world? I mean why are we – (off mic)?
DR. MATTAIR: Well, actually, yeah, the Bahraini ruling family asked for support from other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The Saudis sent members of the national guard or – which unit was it?
MR. : National guard, yeah.
DR. MATTAIR: – national guard, and Emiratis sent police, and I think the Qataris sent police. Now, they went to protect major infrastructure in Bahrain so that the Bahraini security forces could deal with the demonstrations. The Saudis, the Emiratis, the Qataris did not deal with the demonstrations themselves.
But from their point of view – and this is – this is the dilemma from the United States, too. This is the dilemma from the United States. You know, Iran has exploited situations before. It has exploited situations before. There’s a fear that it could exploit this one again. And that is why when we look at al-Wifaq, we do not know what to make of this group and where it stands on questions of democracy and participation and where it stands in its relationships with Iran. We don’t – we have concerns about that that are hampering our decision-making.
Is there any other question? It’s 12:00. We really need to close because of the cameras.
So I guess I will say at this point thank you very much for coming. Thank you to the panelists. (Applause.) And again, we have a website, www.mepc.org. I hope you visit it.