2008 Foreign Policy Symposium: The Greater Middle East
This session was part of a three-day symposium during the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, cosponsored with the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.
MR. JACOBS: Good morning. I'm Larry Jacobs. I direct the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance here at the Humphrey Institute, University of Minnesota, and we've been the lead organizer in pulling together this week of really quite extraordinary programs. I want to welcome you to the University of Minnesota and to its Public Affairs School at the Humphrey Institute.
A little bit of announcements as we get started today -- there's been some additions to our program. Joe Lieberman will be joining the 12:30 program today. Tomorrow morning, the panel that's being co-sponsored with Council on Foreign Relations will have Henry Kissinger joining that panel, and there may be one or two other additions we move through today and tomorrow. A reminder -- there's a bookstore outside. As a university, we have a certain fondness for books and everybody who's got a book on any of the panels has it displayed for sale outside. Feel free to pick one up. You probably can get it signed while the authors are here.
I want to thank our lead sponsors who have made this programming possible, the Rockefeller Foundation in particular, but I also want to recognize the Wallen (ph) Foundation, which is a remarkable Minnesota-based foundation. I encourage you to go to their website. The work they're doing to get children from inner -- largely inner city communities and lower-income backgrounds to go to college is remarkable, and they've made it possible for us to carry all of these panels live through the Internet, which is really a remarkable revolution and there are many -- when you look around you see people here -- there are many more people watching this program online and those numbers are growing as we go through the week.
All of the programs we've put on here are also archived there. So if there's, you know, Krista Tippett, who has "Speaking of Faith" on National Public Radio, she had a remarkable conversation with Richard Land and Jim Wallace on Monday morning. I'd encourage you to go look at it and you can very easily just by going to our website and there's a quick link -- it brings it right there.
A couple nos -- think of this as a large studio, meaning please shut off your cell phones, not just mute them. Just shut them off -- the squeaking and the beeping. We had a couple programs that have already been on public radio and I was told you could hear cell phones going off in the background. In any case, please do that. It's also irritation. No flash also. If you're going to take a picture that's fine but mute the flash because it disrupts the broadcast.
There will be questions and Richard will take care of that. I want to give you a quick preview of what's coming. After this panel at 10:00, there will be a panel on the coming elections. It's a remarkable lineup -- Tom Mann; Ramesh Ponnuru, who's a brilliant young columnist at the National Review; Larry Sabato is one of our leading, you know, handicappers of elections; Vin Weber, and then the panel on -- (inaudible) -- McCain's national security policy that Senator Lieberman will be on along with Rob Portman, Bud McFarlane, and others.
And then the later afternoon at 2:30 there's a panel on transportation and climate change that is equally remarkable and includes Senator Slade Gorton, Representative John Mica, it's moderated by Ray Suarez, and there are a number of other people participating in that so a lot to look forward to. We're very excited about this panel which is being co-sponsored with the Council on Foreign Relations. I turn things over to Richard Haass, president, the Council on Foreign Relations.
MR. HAASS: Thank you, Larry, and good morning to everyone. Thank you for getting up at the crack of dawn here. Yesterday, for those -- as those of you who were here know, we solved the problems of what's known as ROTW -- rest of the world -- and this morning we are going to solve the problems of the greater Middle East. Before we do that, let me just again thank the -- our partners here at the Humphrey Institute. This is an extraordinary facility and as you've heard they're putting on a great array of programs and we are pleased to be a part of it. We also want to thank those who have made our participation possible and that includes Chevron, Coca Cola, and the Stanford Financial Group. I want to thank them in particular, again, for supporting us.
I've got four talents up here with me to get us through what is, I believe, the most difficult thicket of issues that will face the administration of 44, and we would be hard pressed to come up with four people who could help us navigate this any better. And we'll start with Vali Nasr. Vali's a -- divides his life between Tufts University, the Fletcher School, where he teaches and he's also an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and I believe he is one of this country's leading experts on Iran, the greater Middle East more broadly, Islam, and so forth. He is a, I believe, one of the emerging -- indeed, I think he's already emerged -- (inaudible) -- thinkers and writers on that subject or set of subjects.
To my immediate right is Meghan O'Sullivan. Meghan now is largely based up at a struggling young university that had the good judgment to reject me, known as Harvard, on the faculty there. She served with great distinction in the current administration first. I was fortunate enough to have her working with me in policy planning where she was heavily involved with issues dealing with Northern Ireland, also reform of the Muslim world. She then was one of the first Americans to go off to deal with Iraq -- spent a great amount of time on the ground in Iraq working among others with first, the coalition -- the CPA -- then one of Jerry Bremer's principal aides, rose to being -- then came back to the White House where she was the deputy national security advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan, and had as much to do as anyone else with putting together -- with overseeing or driving the process in government that is normally referred to as the policy of the surge.
Steven Cook, my left, also works at the Council on Foreign Relations. He's a senior fellow there, now based in Washington. Steven is one -- I think one of the leading writers about comparative politics in the Arab world and is really -- thinks hard about questions of political stability, democratization throughout, in particular focusing on Egypt of late, which is alone approximately one-third of the Arab world, and has been writing some very interesting articles in addition about this part of the world.
Lastly, Michael Barnett, who represents the home team here in Minnesota as the Harold Stassen Chair of International Relations. He has written with distinction about both international relations as well as about the Middle East in particular but we're also going to claim his slightly as our own as he spent the year as an international affairs fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations dealing with the United Nations. So again, what we're going to do is have a conversation among ourselves which we are happy to let you in on and then we will try to save a chunk of our time for your questions.
Let me begin with Iraq. It's not simply a question of ladies first but so much of the last eight years U.S. policy towards this part of the world, and by the way, just for -- we're going to take a generous definition of the Middle East, not simply the Levant but essentially we'll do North Africa, the Levant, the Persian Gulf, and we'll take it through Pakistan and Afghanistan so we'll do it the greater Middle East. A big chunk of the policy was consumed by Iraq and a considerable amount of the resources of 43 where Iraq -- let's just sort of set the baseline though where we are. And Meghan, let me turn to you which is we seem to be at a point -- I say we're two things. One is a degree of quote, unquote, "success", and second of all, that we seem to be negotiating the fine points of a timeline and which would result in the end to U.S. combat presence. Is that about right? Have I -- I mean, are those sort of the essentials? Where -- just sort of quickly paint where we are as we meet here in the -- in early September 2008.
MS. O'SULLIVAN: I think that, as you've put it, a degree of success is right, and it is related in fact to the timeline issue -- that the fact that there is this tentative agreement probably on an aspirational timeline is a reflection of the degree of success that we've seen in Iraq the last 18 months. It's a demonstration of how quickly things can turn in Iraq in the security situation and how those are reflected in the political situation.
I haven't seen a draft but my expectation would be that that framework -- the SOFA that is currently being negotiated between the Iraqis and the American administration -- will have aspirational timelines in it, probably having to do with getting out combat troops out of the city and then having to do with getting all troops out of or all combat troops out of Iraq by a certain date.
Now, the interesting thing about this is it will change the dynamics in Iraq. I could go into the pros and cons of the timeline but let's just take it that some kind of aspirational timeline is a given.
MR. HAASS: Could you say what an aspirational timeline is?
MS. O'SULLIVAN: Sure. Aspirational would mean something that would say based on the environment or it is the hope or the expectation of the Iraqis and the Americans that these things would happen by this date certain, and that's a very important qualifier because these conversations actually have happened with Iraqis for years. We've been talking to them about their desire to pull American troops out of cities going back to 2005. The difference today is actually they may have the capabilities to take over those missions rather than just the desire.
But the point that I really want to leave you with with the timeline is let's look ahead, let's not have the debate about whether an aspirational timeline is good or bad, and let's acknowledge this is going to change the dynamics in Iraq in important ways, and therefore the next administration should configure its strategy in such a way to take into account those new dynamics. We can talk about them more but I'll just lay out two of them. One is it will probably make reconciliation a bit harder is my guess -- that in fact, generally what we have seen over the last five years is that when Iraqis think that there's a limit to American support and commitment they're more likely to try to consolidate the gains of their sectarian or tribal group. Some of these dynamics has changed but I think particularly on the Kurdish side we can expect to see that they'll want to consolidate these gains before Americans leave.
And then secondly, I think there will be this question about how to preserve the flexibility to the aspirational side of this timeline, and there I would recommend that the next administration really put into place, or even this one if possible, very strict and to the best extent possible objective criteria upon which to base whether these timelines can be met because you don't want to leave it to a political judgment on the Iraqi side as much as on the American side.
MR. HAASS: I noticed that when people most recently testified and spoke publicly about Iraq, for the first time the word "durability" entered into the discourse, and I think it might have been Ambassador Crocker or General Petraeus and others. What is your sense of what will determine durability? What are the one or two principal drivers essentially of whether -- how would I put it -- an Iraq that would allow an aspirational timeline to actually be realized where it will come about?
MS. O'SULLIVAN: Right. I think the most important thing is the continuation of (audio break) call and (audio break) I think have also called a virtuous cycle, and that there's been a lot of discussion about what has caused the improvement that we've seen over the past 18 months. I would say it's three things: the change in the U.S. strategy and the addition of troops; the Awakening, which are the Sunni tribal militias that have kind of come on side of the Iraqi government and the U.S. forces -- coalition forces; and then the stand down of a very large Shi'a militia. All (audio break) in a virtuous cycle to (audio break) improvement.
You need to sustain that virtuous cycle in order for the potential that we're seeing to be realized. And here (audio break) I'd like to say you don't want to change too many variables of that cycle at once because you don't want it to spiral downwards and rather than spiraling outwards, and we're looking at a change in the American troop level. We've already seen (fighter brigades ?) come out and now (audio break) brigades (audio break) come out in the last half year or so.
We have questions about (audio break) Awakening is how (audio break) to the new government. And then thirdly, the Shi'a militia -- there's always a big (Iraq element ?) to that. So all of these variables are fragile and (audio break) many of them too quickly we could see a downward (audio break) rather than a (audio break) spiral. So I would say you want to pay attention to each of those areas. But at the end of the day, ultimately durability is determined by Iraqis (audio break) with a political (audio break) that allows (audio break) share resources in a way that keeps the state together and allows for a modicum of stability.
MR. HAASS: You spoke of a virtuous cycle and then you raised the question of the political consensus in Iraq. We've seen some (audio break) security (audio break). We've seen improvement on the economic (audio break). We've seen much improvement on the economic (audio break) one of the rising debates is why aren't the Iraqis taking some of those $70 billion odd dollars and helping to pay for the costs of all that, but are we seeing -- how would I put it -- commensurate progress (audio break) in particular (audio break) Iraq to wake up and (audio break) do you think that we're increasingly seeing (audio break) Iraqis or do you still think a largely (audio break) Kurds and Sunnis (audio break) at the emergence of a truly national identity and (audio break) national political (audio break)?
MS. O'SULLIVAN: Yeah. (Audio break) with that (audio break).
MR. HAASS: Just one of them. (Laughter.)
MS. O'SULLIVAN: Exactly. First, I would say that I think Americans tend to underestimate the Iraq identity. There is such a think as an Iraqi identity, and most Iraqis if you ask them to give the top two or three things -- ways that they would describe themselves they'd put Iraqi on there. It might not be first but it's on there, and this is unlike some other countries that have had active insurgencies. I spent a lot of time in Sri Lanka. There's a big population there. They do not consider themselves Sri Lankans.
So I would say that one, there is this identity there. Secondly, I would say I think we overplay the extent to which there has to be this major nascent Iraqi identity for stability to ensue. I think if you look at our country there were long periods of time where our country people saw themselves not necessarily as Americans first. They saw themselves as belonging to different parts of this country. So the question isn't does every Iraqi consider themselves an Iraqi first. The question is simply have the groups that represent Iraqis come together in a way and cobbled out a modus vivendi -- a way that they can operate together and share the power and resources of the country. I would say that has not yet happened but that there is a vision or there is a model under which I can imagine this happening quite clearly, and that is a highly federal model in Iraq. A lot of Iraqi players are still grappling with this idea, particularly on the Sunni side. But I think that there is an arrangement -- a political arrangement -- that they could come to agreement on while still seeing themselves as Sunni, Shi'a, Kurds, Yezidis, what have you.
MR. HAASS: We could spend the entire session on Iraq, but I will uncharacteristically resist temptation and move to some other issues. But we will get back to you.
MS. O'SULLIVAN: Thank you.
MR. HAASS: Let me just turn -- we're going to actually go through the I questions and the first I is Iraq. Now we're going to turn to Iran and we'll get to Israel in a minute. So let's talk about Iran and let me turn to Vali Nasr with the entire question of Iran. Let me begin first with the issue of negotiations. This administration has moved a little bit. You've now had the joining directly by the under secretary of state for political affairs in the talks with Iran. It did not lead, shall we say, to a breakthrough at least that was apparent to me or any other observer. A new administration will come in and let's assume the situation sort of looks like it does now where Iran is gradually increasing the number of centrifuges that it's spinning. What are the prospects for negotiation, and then let me add a slight twist to it. Is the principal determinant the content of the offer or is the principal determinant the Iranians right now?
MR. NASR: Well, I think both elements are there. It's very clear that the Iranians want some degree of engagement. They've welcomed the participation of the United States in the last round. They have flirted with the idea of supporting opening of a U.S. intrasection (ph) for the first time in sending diplomats to Iran. They clearly do not want to end up in a military conflict with the United States. And one could say that this thing might have moved faster had this Russia-Georgia spat not happened because literally the conflict began on the day where the Iranians were supposed to give their response and everybody's eyes went off the ball and nobody talks about why the Iranian response to the offer hasn't come.
I think, you know, for a long time we've thought in the United States that there's one silver bullet meeting in which a set of offers can be given to the Iranians and that they will then suspend enrichment, and it's very clearly that for them it's not the result that matters but it's the process that matters -- that they want to weave the United States into an -- into process of engagement, the results of which is recognition and the results of which is ultimately creating some kind of a relationship with the United States -- some entanglement.
When the Iranian chief negotiator recently said that democracy moves millimeter by millimeter and it's like a Persian carpet -- it's going to look beautiful at the end -- that literally is the Iranian strategy, and I think what the Iranians -- they know where they're going to end up at the end of a successful negotiation. The question is how they're going to get there. So I think the Iranian attitude is an obstacle now. They're not going to give up things easily, and what they like is for the next step is essentially a commitment by the United States to a diplomatic process.
MR. HAASS: Well, I would think that any administration would at most give an aspirational commitment to a diplomatic process in the hope -- on the basis that it would succeed. It's inconceivable to me that any American administration either, this one or its successor, would give more than a conditional or aspirational. So when you say commitment -- so when you say the Iranians have a sense of what this beautiful carpet looks like, would you share with us what it does look like? I'm just curious what you think they think a -- an acceptable and likely outcome of a diplomatic process would leave them with.
MR. NASR: Well, first of all, the result -- I mean, in the best case scenario would be a normalization of relations, although I don't see that happening in the very near future because the two countries are too far apart and there's a lack of trust in terms of where they are. But I think the Iranians would like to see the United States by and large leave its military presence in the Persian Gulf region -- that there will be a recognition of Iran's position in the region -- in other words, Iran's stakes in Iraq, Iran's stakes in Lebanon, in Afghanistan, and also in the Persian Gulf -- that the Iranians essentially will secure regime stability and guarantee of survival, which I think is at the top of this regime's list of things they want, and you guarantee regime survival by first backing any kind of a military threat to Iran away. So you want to veer the United States towards engagement rather than confrontation.
But ultimately, regime survival comes when there is a ongoing process where the United States begins to become vested in a negotiation. So as a result, the Iranian approach is that nothing will happen before the negotiations. Everything will happen -- have to happen -- after successful negotiations, and I think, you know, if they were to look at a -- saying that -- (say a new ?) administration would send a new team to another set of meetings in Geneva and then there will be a millimeter move by both sides towards the middle and then this would continue that somewhere two, three years down the line the United States has now become committed to a process that is very different from the one right now, and I think the Iranians essentially have the North Korea model in mind (then ?) that's a successful path for them.
MR. HAASS: For what it's worth, if that's their view my own view would be that their understanding of us and the Israelis is way off base and just that their timelines don't intersect well with the timeline of their own enrichment advancement, and it's not clear to me that two or three years of letting things simply move on is that they're going to have those several years. Again, there's a entire school of thought that's concerned that negotiations could simply give the Iranians a cover for advancing down their path, and again, the way you're describing it seems to me as potentially unrealistic from the point of view of either the United States -- (inaudible) -- let me sort of come back to that a different way in the form of a question, which is what do you think the Iranians would be prepared to give up whether -- whatever the timeline is -- two years, three years, however many years they may have? Do you sense at the end of the day that in order to get this Persian carpet that they are willing to accept significant ceilings on their nuclear program?
MR. NASR: I would say yes but we're not -- nowhere close to that, and I would say you actually put your finger on something important, which is that the Iranian leaders don't travel outside of Iran. Their perception of, you know, the way that public opinion, diplomatic issues work in the West is not based on first hand knowledge. The supreme leader in Iran which -- who actually holds all the cards in particular is isolated. He hasn't left Iran for the past 20 some years. So even when we talk to the Iranians -- wouldn't you want some more prosperous future, wouldn't you want to look like Dubai -- not many of these leaders have actually seen Dubai first hand, for instance.
Secondly, I would say that the Iranians ultimately also are in a position right now that they may very well overplay their hands. They've become overconfident. They come away with the notion that our hands are tied in Afghanistan and Iraq, and now even to some extent -- (inaudible) -- on this whole Russia issue may play to their favor. So one of the dangers is that you have a regime that thinks that it can keep pushing the envelope and that this may not be the time for the deal and they may very well, as you mentioned, overplay their hand.
MR. HAASS: Well, on that happy note, we're going to open the bar early this morning, by the way, so not to worry. The screwdrivers and Bloody Marys will be poured at 9:45. The -- let me turn to Professor Barnett and to the Arab-Israeli equation. What is -- let me just deal with, in some ways, the biggest chestnut. We've just discussed Iran and Iraq -- both incredibly complicated important issues. Let's just take the largest leap of faith any of us are ever going to take and say for a moment that we could actually -- the 44th president early on could resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Would it have any serious impact on either of the subjects we've just discussed? I mean, is it as central as many analysts and others are constantly saying?
MR. BARNETT: Well, I guess if we're going to take that kind of leap of faith then we might as well take the further leap of faith and hope that that kind of miraculous solution would lead to some kind of miraculous recovery of the Middle East. My sense, though, is that assuming the proposition for the moment that in fact we have a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the next year or so, it wouldn't change a tremendous amount.
MR. HAASS: It would or would not?
MR. BARNETT: It would not -- would not change a tremendous amount -- that what you would see are reverberations in the neighboring countries like Lebanon and Syria and Jordan, especially with respect to how they deal with their own Palestinian populations because for so long there's been, except for the case of Jordan, denial of Palestinian citizenship or willing to extend citizenship to the Palestinians in part because of an argument that there will be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- we don't want to preempt it.
So I think that in terms of the way it plays out in domestic politics it would be limited. I think as you move beyond there would be, I think, some up side in the sense that many of -- especially in the Gulf many of the Gulf Arab countries have been waiting to develop more full-blown relations with the Israelis and, you know, waiting for that Israeli-Palestinian conflict to desist, and at that point they'd be willing to take the next step and full diplomatic relations and commercial ties and so on. So I think it would have modest reverberations throughout the Middle East. Would it necessarily change the fundamental calculations of regime survival in the Middle East for many of these countries? I don't think so.
MR. HAASS: And we can all (audio break)?
MR. BARNETT: Not in the next year.
MR. HAASS: Okay. But let's now (audio break) I've been looking at this (audio break) between Israelis and Palestinians for three and a half, four decades now. I would (audio break) find it hard to look back historically and see a time when there was less to work with if in the (audio break) administration one has a divided Palestinian leader (audio break) people with (audio break) can't deliver a lot -- the people we don't want to work with probably could do it if they want -- don't seem to want to. Israel is going (audio break) their political (audio break) Middle East (audio break) the Palestinian equation (audio break) looks like it looks now in six, seven months when a new administration takes office. Do they have anything (audio break)?
MR. BARNETT: Not much. (Audio break) Iraq (audio break) depressing (audio break) subject (audio break) pale in comparison with what we may be seeing in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Like you (audio break) Israeli-Palestinian issue (audio break) I guess almost the whole time now (audio break) more (audio break) the way I liken it now is as an outside observer (audio break) watched that the (audio break) national community (audio break) have some degree of national determination and statehood, and I think that is more elusive in some respects than ever before.
So if we think about the possible solutions to civil wars -- and I do think that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a -- can be thought of as a civil war that's been raging now for decades, not just recently -- then we've got three possible solutions. One is a negotiated settlement, but I think that's as many observers have said we're close to midnight and that's unlikely to happen given what's taking place -- the meltdown in Gaza, the political crisis in the West Bank, and of course, the ongoing political sagas in Israel.
So let's assume for the moment that negotiated solution is no longer available. Then what are we left with? I think we've got two possibilities. One is the way most civil wars are settled, and that's through violence. So if you look historically at the conclusion of most modern civil wars it's done with one side becoming victorious over the other. It's not a negotiated settlement. So if we were to take that as some kind of insight then I suspect you'll find that at one point there will be the extinction of the other national community.
I suspect with the balance of forces right now, and especially given the facts on the ground, Israel is likely to come out ahead in any kind of war, but then again, what would that mean for the Zionist dream? What would that mean for an Israeli democracy? I think it would be over. So in terms of a conception of the Israeli state as it was first imagined by the leaders of Herzl and Ben-Gurion and others I think it would be over.
The other possibility is some kind of federation -- a two-state -- no longer a two-state solution but a one-state solution, and federation has many different kinds of meanings but I think what's important here is that the climate on the ground is changing where many Palestinian intellectuals are increasingly saying there is no possibility for a two-state solution so let's now imagine the alternative. So recently Sari Nusseibeh, the president of Al-Quds University, has intimated that he might run for mayor of Jerusalem and in doing so represent the Palestinians, but of course that represents, if you will, something of the nuclear option for the Palestinians at least as Israelis are concerned because if the Palestinians start clamoring for representation -- start clamoring for citizenship -- for the right to vote, then over the next decade that would mean the end of an Israeli Zionist entity.
MR. HAASS: I also think there's a fourth option, which is simply the continuation of some version of the status quo -- some version of stasis. Let me -- just to clarify, do you -- when you say we're getting close to midnight is your analytical point that right now there's really no prospects for moving ahead or that if we don't move ahead shortly the -- a whole idea of a two-state solution will essentially have been passed by by history -- that the -- it will be irretrievably lost? Is that your argument?
MR. BARNETT: Yeah, the latter, although let me now pull back for a moment and say that in politics I'm always worried about the so-called midnight metaphors.
MR. HAASS: Okay.
MR. BARNETT: (Our own Ben-Veniste ?) talked about it in the West Bank. We talked about the nuclear clock. There are ways to go back but I do think we're close.
MR. HAASS: Let me ask one other question, which is not for the first time a debate in the United States about the Middle East in some ways lags the debate in Israel, and things that are politically loaded here are actually less politically loaded there, and one way I would say this is true now is with Hamas, where the Israelis are finding ways to talk to Hamas both directly and indirectly through the Egyptians. If the Palestinians -- (inaudible) -- to talk to are too weak to do anything, however well intentioned they may -- the people surrounding Abu Mazzan -- what do you think is the possibility or desirability of bringing Hamas into the equation?
MR. BARNETT: Well, I think in some way it's rather like the situation between the Israelis and the PLO back in the 1970s. It's not a inappropriate analogy in the sense that Israel at least formally says they will refuse to recognize the PLO until it recognizes -- (inaudible) -- Israel to exist. On the other hand, there were back channel conversations that were taking place on an annual basis. My feeling is at some point Hamas either informally or formally will have to be brought into the process. There is no way around it. Hamas has got political power and as Yitzhak Rabin liked to say, "Don't make peace with your friends. You make peace with your enemies." So even if it's going to be a kind of tacit recognition as a way of trying to produce some stability, as we've seen right now in the attempt between Israel and Hamas in Gaza it's going to have to happen.
MR. HAASS: Okay then. So Steven, let me turn to you for a second. We just discussed Iran, Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. What is it about the Middle East that makes it the most difficult part of the world for American foreign policy?
MR. COOK: It's a very good question. I think that the problems are so complex and so interconnected and our ability to understand the reason -- our capacity of our foreign policy professionals to actually understand culturally, linguistically, what is being said in the region is extraordinarily difficult. The fact that we have six or so proficient Arabic speakers in the entire Near East Bureau of the State Department is telling of the not so benign neglect of U.S. government towards this part of the world when suddenly 2001 the Middle East came home to the United States. But more importantly, there's been a whole range of assumptions about the Middle East that I think are wrong -- assumptions about the use of force in the region -- assumptions about how the United States can go about engineering the political trajectory of the region -- that has proved to be counterproductive to the United States and to American interest there.
MR. HAASS: When one looks at places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the rest, are you worried that the 44th president, in addition to everything else we've talked about in this part of the world -- in addition to everything we talked about yesterday -- that on his watch in those four years, say, he could have a problem of major instability in a significant Arab country?
MR. COOK: I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions of the Middle East, particularly after the September 11th terrorist attacks. Americans were told that this was a region that was inherently unstable and it's -- there's reason to think that. There's violence. There's sectarian conflict. There are insurrections. But if you look historically at the region and the challenges that the regimes of the region have had to confront -- massive defeat in war, economic stagnation, political assassination, domestic insurrection, civil war -- none of these regimes have actually ever faltered, and they are much stronger than popular conception.
These are not the old regimes of Eastern Europe -- the old East Germany or Hungary or Poland that are going to be swept away. They're actually much stronger, more supple, more flexible, and have a proven capacity to deflect, undermine, and repress political challenges to them. I would expect that the next president of the United States will likely confront a transition in Egypt, but that transition is not going to result in the Muslim brotherhood taking over Egypt. It may result in the president's second son, Gamal Mubarak, becoming the president. It may result in some as yet unknown unnamed military officer becoming the president of Egypt.
But those people come from within the ambit of the regime, and after that inflection point of change, where there will be a difficult period for the next administration in Egypt, things will go back to the way they had been under Hosni Mubarak for the last 26 or 27 years. A number of years ago, people were very concerned about the stability of Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia did have a domestic al Qaeda problem, but no longer. The Saudis were never really in danger of faltering. They have too much oil wealth and too much resources at their fingertips to take control of this -- what is really essentially a (meddlesome ?) domestic security problem. But the House of Saud is not going anywhere.
MR. HAASS: So you seem to be challenging the intellectual threat of Secretary Rice who basically made the famous comment, the United States -- help me with it -- sort of ignored democracy in the name of stability and got neither. You're essentially saying we've pretty much ignored democracy but we've gotten some stability.
MR. COOK: That's precisely the case. I think that that stability may ultimately be not necessarily in the interest of the United States because these stable regimes have a knack, in particular Egypt and Saudi Arabia, of producing people who want to do harm not only to their own states but to the United States, as we all saw on September 11th and a variety of other terrorist outrages. But nevertheless, it was not a question of lack of democracy. It was a question that we were supporting essentially authoritarian stability in the region.
MR. HAASS: Let me ask one question and it somewhat gets into what we're going to be talking about tomorrow morning but it's impossible to leave it all for then -- to what extent should the new administration make the promotion of democracy a central part of its policy towards this part of the world?
MR. COOK: I think that given the configuration of politics in the region right now and our standing in the region -- Richard, you yourself have written that American influence in the world and in the region in the Middle East in particular is waning -- that it's time for a certain amount of retrenchment of American power where we need to match our resources with our core interest in the region which is the free flow of oil out of the region, Israeli security, and confronting rogue states to pursue these kind of larger broader goals. A promotion of democracy in the region I think doesn't necessarily fit where we are in the region in terms of resources and prestige.
And importantly on this question of democracy promotion, Meghan may know more about this, although she wasn't my understanding not specifically dealing with the democratization portfolio when she was at the National Security Council, but it strikes me that neither policy makers nor academics working on this question of transition to democracy in the Middle East have ever been able to answer the question, how does the United States protect its interests in the short and medium term in that politically fraught and unstable period of a transition to democracy in hopes of getting to that period of consolidated democracy where we believe that these regimes would be better partners for us, and nobody's been able to answer that question and until you answer that question we're going to see things like the Muslim brotherhood doing better in elections in Egypt and Hamas winning in the Palestinian elections and the United States stepping back because of that concern about the short term, and nobody's -- until we answer that question I'm afraid we're not going to be able to promote democracy in an effective way.
Now, all that being said, I do think that we should continue the conversation about freedom and change and rule of law and accountability. Let's give credit where credit is due. The president's forthright outspokenness about freedom and democracy did have an effect on political discourse in places like Egypt, in places like Saudi Arabia, in places like Jordan. Political activists were able to pursue their agendas in ways that they've never been able to before. All that being said, of course, they have confronted the coercive apparatus of the state as a result.
MR. HAASS: (Inaudible) -- just put a couple of other issues on the table and then we'll open it up. Vali, let's talk about Pakistan for a minute. The coalition against Musharraf seemed to have had one thing that binded them together, which is they were a coalition against Musharraf. And now that they have succeeded in realizing that political agenda, it looks like the unraveling is well under way. Are we facing a Pakistan -- and this is a Pakistan with several dozen nuclear weapons -- a Pakistan that's home to al Qaeda -- that's now a sanctuary for the Taliban, 175 million people -- are we facing the prospect of a Pakistan of a failed state?
MR. NASR: I think the question you put to Steve as to whether the next president would confront a major situation of instability applies actually to Pakistan. That's the one country where what Steve said does not apply. In other words, if you looked at Pakistan now, a country of about 175 million with nuclear weapons with unstable government, and you -- only last month its fourth largest city was put under a siege by a Taliban army which (had to literally beaten back ?) and is now just sitting on the outskirts of the city of Peshawar -- Pakistan could very well actually collapse, and I would say the Musharraf era really didn't serve Pakistan well. This is the one case where I think Secretary Rice was correct -- (inaudible) -- supporting a military dictator did -- bought us no security.
In some ways nothing has changed. In other words, we have a civilian government but all of the key decisions that matter to us will be made by the Pakistan military. In other words, the nuclear issue, the Afghanistan issue, confrontation with India -- these decisions will continue to be made by the core commanders, how they will deploy in Afghanistan, whether they support our position or not and to what extent. The problem that Pakistan faces is that yes, in its civilian apparatus now there's going to be a lot of bickering. The Parliament is going to be divided.
That opens the door for a failed government and also for corruption and for a great deal of social frustration. Inflation in Pakistan is now 24 percent. There's shortage of electricity, there's shortage of food, there's ample amount of disgruntlement on the ground, and unless you're able to contain these at a time where you're also fighting a war next door and you're fighting extremism, you have a serious problem. And I think for the first time, I think, since maybe the 1970s there is a real possibility of a total ethnic social breakdown in Pakistan. I mean, in many ways you could characterize the current fight between the Punjabi-dominated military and the Pashtun tribesmen as a civil war in Pakistan. In fact, one of the reasons the Pakistan military is not eager to take on the extremists has nothing to do with extremism. It essentially can rip Pakistan apart.
There are reports of desertions of Pashtun officers from the Pakistan military that are going over to support their Pashtun brethren in the tribal areas. And, you know, we've sort of looked at the fundamental issue that matters to us which is the war on al Qaeda -- the Taliban issue. We've looked to the Pakistan military to continue to hold onto things, but the major challenge is actually that the next administration will have to consider that the Pakistan military may no longer be up to the task -- that this is not just about what they're doing on a day-to-day basis about extremism but actually the entire foundation of the country on which we are relying to manage Afghanistan and Pakistan may actually be unraveling, and we need to essentially, I think, have a two-tier strategy.
We need a (short run ?) strategy to avert the worst case scenario in the next six months but we really need to have a longer run strategy so that, as President Clinton once said, this most dangerous country in the world does not actually become the single biggest headache for the United States. We really sort of have to find a way that we're not constantly babysitting Pakistan from one government to the next every six months.
MR. HAASS: You know, it is quite possible that dealing with the government in Islamabad that is either unable or unwilling or both to fulfill the obligations of sovereignty and to police itself and so forth could emerge as the greatest national security challenge for the next administration.
Let me put one or two other issues on and then we'll, again, open up. Afghanistan -- we seem to be in a situation while we're winding down to some extent in Iraq we are winding up in Afghanistan. The question I have is does that make sense given that we're beginning to see from Afghanistan some pushback. We're seeing the -- what seems to me like the emergence of greater Afghan nationalism. So do we have a dilemma here where we need to do certain things to help the Afghans but we're beginning to see a political environment emerge in Afghanistan which won't allow us to do the things that need doing to help them?
MS. O'SULLIVAN: Right. No, I understand the dynamic you're describing. Iraq and Afghanistan are very different places so we have to be very careful when we take the lessons from Iraq and translate them to Afghanistan and vice versa. One thing I do think is worth noting -- in Iraq, you actually had the same dynamic. You had a lot of Iraqis getting very frustrated with the coalition in large part because it wasn't providing security and it wasn't bringing about the stability that Iraqis thought had been promised.
And I think you're seeing a similar dynamic in Afghanistan. People are becoming more frustrated with the coalition and it is because it is underperforming, in their mind. They are bearing a lot of civilian casualties or -- and that is exacerbating the situation there and they're seeing a rise in violence. So in some ways I think the sense is you're getting the negatives of a foreign presence without the positives of stability.
The other lesson from Iraq is that doesn't mean that you turn around and go home. The reality is you look at your strategy and you figure out do you need to change your strategy, and if so, do you need to resource it differently. And I think like almost everyone in our political spectrum I'm an advocate of sending more troops to Afghanistan but that's not the solution in Afghanistan. What we see happening in Afghanistan is in large -- not entirely but in large part a symptom of what's happening in Pakistan, and so these things obviously need to be brought together. I would even say the next administration should begin by looking at how our government is organized to make sure that the people who work on Pakistan also work on Afghanistan and that these things are seen as in one orbit.
It's too easy for us to say, look, we put more troops in Iraq and therefore if we put more troops in Afghanistan we'll get results. We should be looking at some of the other lessons about how do you provide security in a country where you don't have adequate resources. We will never be able to put enough troops in Afghanistan to bring security in the absence of thinking more creatively. We need to think about how we work with tribal forces in Afghanistan as we did in Iraq. There's also the whole question of drugs, which we can get into if anyone is interested, but certainly that needs some tweaking at the same time.
MR. HAASS: All righty then, and Michael, let me just raise one other question in the diplomatic realm that we didn't have a chance to get to, which is Syria. If you're right, and you may well be, that prospects for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are somewhere between bleak and dismal, what about Israeli-Syrian negotiations and what are the prospects there and should the United States in some ways put aside its distaste for the regime in Damascus and do more to facilitate Israeli-Syrian negotiations, or, as some argue, are the Syrians simply using this as a tactical screen to insulate themselves from what they fear will be the repercussions of the inquiry into their role in the assassination of the former prime minister of Lebanon?
MR. BARNETT: Well, I think there are a myriad set of motives for why the Syrian regime at this point is -- has reopened a door to the possibility of a settlement on Golan, and the same goes for the Israeli government as well. Both are feeling domestic political pressures in various ways and I think it's important though to note that the Syrians and the Israelis were oh so close to a peace treaty -- to a settlement several years ago, and the variety of interesting sort of diplomatic kiss and tell stories that tell us how close they were and how close they might be again.
So I do think that it's still possible. One of the heartening things, though, I think about the Syrian-Israeli negotiations is that in contrast to the 1990s where it was an article of faith among the Syrian level -- of the Syrian government that they would actually not beat the Palestinians to a peace treaty with the Israelis -- that they would actually wait until there was substantial momentum on the Israeli-Palestinian side before they actually brokered a peace treaty. That discourse is gone. They've now basically decoupled and have said that they're willing to actually pursue what may be seen as Syrian national interest. And so even the rhetoric coming out of Damascus is different. It's no longer Arab national interest as strongly. It's now more Syrian national interest, which I think actually is a very much a good thing.
The other interesting element to note about -- and there has been some interesting diplomatic activity as you know over the last several months in the region between Israel and Hamas and Israel and the Syrians and so forth -- is that in some respects it's gone outside of American sponsorship -- that what you've seen is, for instance, between the Israelis and the Syrians, Turkey has played a leading role and that, I think, again is heartening because it suggests that in fact the governments in the region can actually get things done either with the United States' absence or despite the United States, and that they have their own existing interests that may lead them to actually make peace irrespective of what U.S. foreign policy might be.
MR. HAASS: I think as while we're meeting here this morning I believe the Monsieur Sarkozy is in Damascus doing what he can to promote a rapprochement of sorts between Israelis and Syrians. Steven, let me ask you the last question and then we'll open it up which is as we meet here oil is -- well, it's come down a bit. It's still probably what, $120, give or take -- $110, $120 a barrel. This has been over the last few years a time of tremendous infusion of wealth to certain places in this part of the world, not to all. Assuming that oil will remain fairly expensive over the next few years, what is this likely to do? What's been the effect? What -- how is the Middle East different as the result of the inflow of resources on really an unprecedented scale?
MR. COOK: Absolutely right. It's an unprecedented level and in particular in the Gulf what you see with this explosion of wealth is the creation of essentially what I described as plastic countries gilded in gold. Essentially Dubai is a Lego-type country, a city-state, but with enormous, enormous financial power. I think it was the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority that just bought the Chrysler Building in New York City -- Richard's hometown -- and this has sparked all kinds of fears that are reminiscent. I was just a little kid but I remember in the 1980s about the rise of the Japanese and so on and so forth, but -- and now we have this idea of Arab wealth taking over the United States.
We do -- we live in a globalized world and I don't think we should fear those things. But we do have to recognize that this, in particular the Gulf, is positioned to take advantage of the rise of India and the rise of China, and in many respects people in this part of the world are turning their back away from Europe and the United States and looking towards Asia as a place of tremendous opportunity, which is yet another reason why it's going to be more difficult for the next president to manage America's interests in the region because we don't have that kind of -- the kinds of resources and influence that we once did.
MR. HAASS: But what's it doing to the societies? Is it -- coming back to the earlier question -- both for the big oil producers and gas producers and others, is it making the societies more or less stable? Are they coming more or less to terms with modernity? Will it increase or decrease the role of religion? What or what prospects will it have for democratic reform? On balance, is it a blessing, a curse, or it depends, or what?
MR. COOK: Just by way of anecdote, when I was in Qatar not too long ago I was meeting with some young Qatars and talking to them about democracy, and they said, "Why does the (emir ?) want democracy? Everything's pretty good here." These are countries -- if you think of politics as the competition over the control and distribution of resources, these are societies where there's so many resources there's no competition over it, so they don't really see a need for opening things up. That's not to suggest that there aren't people who would like to see things better, but in terms of their grappling with democracy it's a veneer of democracy -- a veneer of modernity in these incredible, you know, architectural monuments to the wealth of the Gulf Arab states. But it hasn't fundamentally altered a basic world view.
Now, what has been interesting has been the fact that those countries in the Gulf that have experienced this tremendous wealth in the last few years have started investing in other parts of the Arab world like Syria, like Egypt, that have seen GDP growth as a result of this unprecedented and foreign direct investment. But in places like Egypt that wealth has gone to the very few within the ambit of the regime and essentially have impoverished the rest of society, which throws another variable into, as Richard said, Egypt is a country that's one-third of the Arab world where you have a grinding poverty yet an increasing gap between extreme wealth at the top and poverty below. You don't have that in the Gulf. You have a series of wealthy, wealthy countries.
MR. HAASS: Okay. We've got about a half an hour left so why don't we open up for questions. If people would wait for a microphone -- just give us their name and where they're from and please keep the question in the form of a question and keep it as succinct as possible. I would be forever grateful and I'll do my best. The shorter you are the more I can (recognize ?). Sir, in the gray suit in -- (inaudible).
Q I was wondering if the panelists could talk briefly about (off mike) specifically Libya. Instead of the changes that you've seen there (off mike) the changes there, the reforms there, and then on the nuclear question with Libya have there been any lessons that we've learned in applying those to Libya that could be applied with Iran? Thank you.
MR. HAASS: Steven, why don't you start on that one?
MR. COOK: Sure. It's notable that the secretary of state is either in Libya today or going to be in Libya -- the first secretary of state visit to Libya in I think 55 years. My own sense is that the changes in Libya are absolutely reversible. Qadhafi has said himself that he's basically gotten nothing from his change in course and there are a series of people and power structure in Libya that would like nothing less -- I'm sorry, would like nothing more than to turn their back on this course.
This is not -- this is a tactical change on the part of the Libyans but as things are changing in the region and there are more options for countries in the region -- a resurgent Russia, Chinese investment -- there's by no stretch of the imagination should we think that Libya is firmly in what you can arguably call the Western or American (cross talk).
MR. HAASS: Okay. You say it's tactical. Are you suggesting that their change on weapons of mass destruction is tactical? They're going to --
MR. COOK: Well, that's something different. I think that the change on the weapons of mass destruction is something that is -- that's over. But in terms of where Libya falls -- its political trajectory and where and who it aligns itself with -- is by no means a done deal. Qadhafi is erratic. It's unclear whether his son can succeed him. There are others who are vying for power, and as I said, he himself has said that he's gotten nothing from his change in course.
MR. HAASS: Okay. Yes, sir? If people could just wait for the microphone and we'll try to get them to you as quickly as we can because there's people who want to hear who aren't in this room.
Q You spoke earlier with the context of Syria that the countries are pursuing their own interest, their own agendas -- just kind of how normal countries do it. What are the interests and agendas in the Pakistan area which you highlight as probably the highest danger spot?
MR. HAASS: Vali, you want to talk about how Pakistan sees itself and its future?
MR. NASR: Obviously, domestically Pakistan (off mike) want to maintain stability and avoid either an economic breakdown, any kind of a civil conflict, or that extremists would be able to hold and sit on a portion of the country. But when it comes to Afghanistan, I think the Pakistanis have seen Afghanistan very differently from the United States. For them, it's all about rivalry with India. It's a territory that they owned until 9/11 and then they lost it because of the fall of the Taliban. But their strategic priorities in Afghanistan is still decided by the rivalry they have with India.
So for them, the current Afghan government is essentially a potential satellite of Delhi. They don't like the Karzai government. They don't particularly like the idea of a centralized strong government in Afghanistan that's not under their control. When you talk to Pakistani generals they don't talk about the number of Taliban attacks or the volume of drug trade. They're only interested in one statistic, which is how many Indian consulates are open in Afghanistan.
So, you know, we're looking at the same country -- we're seeing very different priorities. And that's the one reason why we haven't been able to get the Pakistanis to fully collaborate and to completely shut down the Taliban because I think in Pakistan's mind they -- the Taliban are the one way in which they can still be relevant to deciding the future of Afghanistan and not losing complete control to what they see as an independent Afghanistan that's going to be close to India and then is going to put Pakistan in a much more disadvantageous position.
MR. HAASS: And on that side of the room -- KT?
Q Thank you. Could somebody talk us through what happens if Israel launches a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities?
MR. HAASS: Okay. Lots of us could. (Laughter.) Michael, why don't you take -- why -- well, in terms of -- well, actually, I'll start with Vali. Vali, what do you think would be the -- let's not talk about -- you know, I think yesterday we talked a lot about what it would accomplish. I think just to posit it for a second the feeling was that Israel or the United States could destroy a large part, conceivably all of that we could target. What we don't know is about -- you can't destroy that which you can't target. So we don't know what, if any, percentage of the Iranian capability would survive and obviously there'd be questions of reconstitution -- (inaudible). But why don't we talk about what would be the large -- the likely consequences of a strike that destroyed most or all of what was known?
MR. NASR: Well, we can hypothesize what would happen. One impact definitely would be that the population would rally to the flag and to the Iranian government -- that the regime at least, unless it is so catastrophically destroyed in an air attack to be weakened, it is likely at least in the short run to be much more popular. So talk of human rights, women's rights, democracy, et cetera, would probably fall by the wayside. There is a potential that the Iranians would retaliate, and I'm of the opinion that I think they cannot afford not to retaliate because they would lose a lot of face given the grandiose way in which they've stood up.
So where they would retaliate, whether it be in Iraq, the Persian Gulf, in some other theater of conflict, in Lebanon, we do not know. What would be the nature of it we do not know. But very clearly there would be some kind of Iranian retaliation and then the ball would be in U.S., Israel, and other countries' court to respond in kind and that can then escalate much higher to something else. And thirdly is that I think the Iranians have for a long time for reasons that I think Michael also suggested counted on the fact that the public opinion in the Muslim world and the Arab world is likely to be anti-American and I think the Irani have calculated exactly as Michael said -- that the Arab-Israeli issue will not be resolved easily and that the United States probably has hitched its hopes in the Middle East too closely to success there, and that the -- and that a direct attack on Iran whether -- regardless of what it achieves would actually swing the public opinion in the region and probably in the broader Muslim world in their direction -- that then they can leverage that much more in terms of what they see. I think though that the Iranians are calculating that all of this will actually prevent a military attack, which is one reason why they're so difficult to deal with around the negotiating table.
MR. HAASS: Just to be specific on one thing -- so you actually have a situation where privately several of the Sunni-led governments are fairly sympathetic to the idea of an attack -- a so-called preventive attack -- on the Iranian sides but are they simply not thinking through their own popular reactions?
MR. NASR: No, I think they are, and that's why publicly they're trying to distance themselves from us. Privately, they would say, yes, go ahead and, you know, take care of the problem. But then, you know, they also invite the Iranian president to the GCC meeting. They invite him to Riyadh. They say that you cannot launch these things from our territory and, in other words, they very well understand that if the public mood in their country changes, I agree with Steve -- the regimes will not fall but it just will complicate life for them. And in the case of the Gulf I think it's a very critical issue because it doesn't take much to disrupt this entire economic boom that we see in the Gulf. It's premised all on the notion of security. Tourism, money, all of these towers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are housed by law firms, banks, et cetera, that are there to do business. Price of oil may go up but there's not going to be much direct investment in business in the Gulf if you know you have to worry about a wayward Iranian rocket coming across the Gulf at any time.
MR. HAASS: Steven, you want to --
MR. COOK: Well, I just want to amplify something that Vali said. Recent polling in the Arab world, to the extent that you can trust polling in the Arab world, reveals that the three most popular people are the leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, number one; number two, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; and number three, the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad -- (all either the Iranian leader or are allies ?) of the Iranians, and this is the reason why the major city-states, although as Richard pointed out, privately are sympathetic to, as one senior official said, putting Iran under siege they are carefully hedging because they perceive that public opinion is in the direction of Nasrallah, Ahmadinejad, and Bashar. When it comes to sectarian differences in the Middle East and you insert Israel into the equation, those sectarian differences magically go away.
So I think that if the Israelis wanted to take a strike, which is uncertain at best, the Iranians would be successful in whipping up anger throughout the region. They would raise a storm of violence in Afghanistan, a storm of violence in southern Lebanon, northern Israel. That is why Hezbollah has been rearming at a clip much greater than it did prior to July 2006. This is the second front for the Iranians, and they would raise a storm of violence in Gaza while at the same time completely unnerving our major (sitting ?) allies in Riyadh and Cairo.
MR. HAASS: Professor?
MR. BARNETT: Well, I think it's also important -- it's important to note that this is -- it is a hypothetical but as we speak Israeli military officials are actually preparing and are seeing this as a very real contingency plan. This is not simply war gaming. This is something that they're actively talking about. So there's reasons to be concerned. I do feel an obligation to be somewhat contrarian in terms of the whole drift of our conversation, and let me give an up side to the possibility of an Israeli strike and bring it back to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for a moment.
As you may recall in my remarks, I was pretty pessimistic about the possibility of any kind of breakthrough. If there's one factor that has almost always opened up things for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, it's been this exogenous shock that forces everybody to wonder what they have done or where they may go. So if you look at the history of the conflict it's these, you know, grand external shocks that sort of causes everybody to sort of -- to do a gut check and to ask themselves where are they, where they may go, as they move towards the precipice.
If I was part of that next administration and I imagined that there was going to be an Israeli strike against Iran, I would actually -- the next thing I would do is actually get together my diplomatic team to deploy them to the Israeli-Palestinian front because you know there's going to be a lot of pressure on the United States to be evenhanded and to demonstrate that they can actually really provide a breakthrough and give something good back in response to the violence.
MR. COOK: The question of -- (off mike) the question, Michael, is that -- there have been those gut checks but it hasn't ever gotten us anywhere on the Arab-Israeli front. We're at that point -- that dismal point -- that you pointed out in your opening remarks.
MR. HAASS: So there's two schools of thought about the Middle East. What you've just heard from Professor Barnett is things sometimes have to get worse before they get better. My second law of the Middle East is things sometimes have to get worse before they get even worse -- (laughter) -- and we may have a test case of that as things play out. Yes, sir?
Q Thanks for doing this for us or with us. My great-great-grandfather was secretary of war and a CFR member back in the '20s.
MR. HAASS: You have to introduce yourself then.
Q Okay. My name is Joe V. Weeks. I'm a delegate from Denver, and I got your invitation in the mail. Anyways, my question is pretty simple for either one of you guys or all five of you or whatever the panel. The question is about bin Laden. I was reading in your Foreign Affairs journal an article titled, "Combating Catastrophic Terrorism" written by John Deutch and Philip Zelikow -- describes the need for a major terrorist attack -- something of the magnitude of Pearl Harbor -- to justify the creation of a national terrorism intelligence center which would essentially be a Cold War-like structure or a network on a global scale. Philip Zelikow became the executive director of the 9/11 commission and personally wrote the commission's report which --
MR. HAASS: Do you have a question in this?
Q Yes, I do.
MR. HAASS: Great.
Q -- which omitted the collapse of Building 7. It doesn't answer 70 percent of the victims' families' questions. Why hasn't the FBI or the, you know, the Justice Department connected bin Laden with 9/11 and formally indicted him for the crimes of 9/11? Why hasn't a grand jury been called to indict Osama bin Laden?
MR. HAASS: Do you want -- (inaudible) -- I don't know the legal thinking behind that one way or the other. Did you -- (inaudible)? Okay. Sorry. Wrong panel for that.
Q The web site said there's no evidence -- (off mike.)
MR. HAASS: Well, no. The website does not say that and clearly I can't speak for the FBI. I think it is without a shred of doubt about responsibility for 9/11 and among other things the United States removed a government in Afghanistan as a result of it for having directly abetted those who carried out 9/11, and we are doing what I understand to be everything we can to one way or another quote, unquote, "bring to justice" those who were involved with 9/11. So I don't think there's any doubt either about who did it or the fact that the United States is doing everything in its power to bring to justice those involved and to also make sure that those -- such people can't do anything remotely like it again. Anybody on this side because this side of the room's been -- yes, sir? We'll get this -- (inaudible) there.
Q Hopefully, I have a simpler question for you. Let me preface it by saying I'm a noninterventionist, which puts me in the company of Thomas Jefferson. There may be three primary reasons the Middle East doesn't like the United States so much. It could be a religious issue, a cultural issue, and foreign policy issue. If the only issue us as Americans and our government has control over would be foreign policy, why don't we change to something that may be more to their liking and get back to our own country -- remove the bases that we have in 140 other countries, become noninterventionist, and be safer that way?
MR. HAASS: Meghan, let me begin with you here or turn to you, which is for those who think if one of the reasons we are -- the Middle East is as costly as it is to us is because we are involved there so why not practice a policy of either less involvement or noninvolvement, would a version of isolationism and distancing serve American interests?
MS. O'SULLIVAN: A complicated question and I guess I would answer it by asking you to imagine a Middle East where there is not a U.S. presence or U.S. involvement, and particularly if you looked at the Middle East today and what if we were to remove ourself from the Middle East today I think we could spin out a number of scenarios that would be worse, not just for the United States, but it would be worse for a lot of the people who live in the Middle East and it would have some major global ramifications.
So that's one way of looking at it, and I think that there is -- and let me take Iraq as a country that I have spent close to two years in in the last five. There's really a love/hate relationship there. I think you find really two consistent themes when you talk to Iraqis about an American presence in Iraq and in the Middle East. As one, they want us to go, and two, not exactly right now. It is simply a recognition that there is a certain amount of stability that the U.S. presence brings but at the same time that it is inherently undesirable. So you're dealing with some conflicting emotions there.
I'd also say there's a whole other line of thinking to be explored in answer to your question having to do with whether or not actually, you know, the people who are most vocal in the Middle East about what they want American foreign policy to be -- and I would say a lot of those are the extremists -- whether they're representing, you know, they are people who -- to be negotiated with, and I would say that in most cases some of the political demands that you get by the most extremist vocal groups are ones that if satisfied would not lead to peace and sweetness and light in the world and in the Middle East but in fact they would just morph into other more extreme demands. And so I think you have to take that into account as well.
MR. HAASS: Yeah, I agree. Those of you who studied economics, there's no invisible hand that would sort out the Middle East by itself without us and no way could we escape the consequences of the Middle East even if we wanted to. Sir? Yeah.
Q I want to go back to something Michael -- I'm beating the live horse of attack on Iran. What nobody has really talked about is how likely is it that Israel would act. Lots of the scholars, lots of the military -- (inaudible) -- and so on are talking about it. How serious is it? Is it likely?
MR. HAASS: Okay. I'm going to answer that because I don't think anyone sitting here knows because -- (inaudible) -- people who can give policy analysis it's hard to get policy predictions. I would just say I take the Israeli government at its word -- that Iran's -- Iran with a nuclear capability, particularly one that were weaponized or near weaponized, would constitute what they believe to be an existential threat. So I would simply say no policy maker could reasonably dismiss this as a real possibility. I don't think any of us can attribute specific quantitative likelihood but I would simply say that over the next couple of years if Iran continues to advance the way it is advancing I would think that this is -- there's a significant chance that this could happen. Again, I can't quantify it but I would simply say far more than negligible and no way dismissible so policy makers need to take this seriously as a prospect and need to therefore think about either what they might do to try to prevent it, manage it, deal with it.
MR. COOK: I was in Israel a number of months ago and I spent time in the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Defense Ministry, and to a person that I spoke to, 2010 is their date. If nothing is done -- if the situation continues -- now, that may be for public consumption -- could come before, could come after -- but that's publicly their position is that 2010 is the date in which if the Iranian nuclear program continues they will take military action against it.
MR. HAASS: I can't see. Is that Mr. Singer?
MR. HAASS: It's good to see a young struggling journalist get a chance to answer questions. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you very much. It's been a great session and 2010 is what the Israelis keep saying but two years ago they also told us it was 2008, so who knows. My question is for Vali, who made the interesting point that he thought that our reliance on the Pakistani military as that ultimate backstop is not any longer necessarily a viable strategy, and I'm asking whether or not he could expand on that a little bit and whether there is something that has changed in the nature of the military leadership since Musharraf left or that has changed over the past year that makes you think that they aren't the fallback that so many administrations have relied on.
MR. NASR: I don't think -- I mean, they're still the only institution we can conceivably work with. In other words, for the things that we have to do in Afghanistan and Pakistan itself, as Richard pointed out, the government obviously is -- neither has its act together nor does it control the levers of power. Ultimately, we have to go back to the generals, and I think one of the undesirable things that has happened in Pakistan is that because the military is not sitting in the presidential office they can pass the buck to the civilians. It gives them one more degree of removal for foot dragging and not getting things done because they can claim that they have no direct day-to-day oversight.
I think that the Pakistan military was never on board -- not on September 12th, not on 2012. The fall of the Taliban was not strategically advantageous to them. They certainly had no option other than to go along. They hedged their bets. They, you know, went two steps forward, one step back. I mean, you look at the record the past eight years. The president of Afghanistan has systematically been saying that the Taliban have safe havens in Pakistan -- has been pointing the finger at Pakistan.
Ambassador Khalilzad, when he was in Kabul as ambassador, constantly made the same complaint, and the attitude was, you know, to talk to General Musharraf who basically would give a little but end of the day the fundamental apparatuses that supported the Taliban were never really dismantled. It is only very recently that the United States has basically decided to call the Pakistanis on it when delegations have gone to Islamabad and presented them with documents, and that publicly United States in your paper in particular accused the Pakistani intelligence of being behind the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.
Now, one or two things have happened. One is that the removal of Musharraf may have brought the more recalcitrant strains of Pakistani military to the top -- that General Kayani simply cannot control the military the way Musharraf did. It may very well be that Kayani is probably less willing to play the game, and definitely within Pakistan from people in the military I've talked to they thought Musharraf was particularly good at managing Washington -- of presenting the most pliable face of a liberal moderate pro-American ally and then protecting the Pakistani position at home, and simply the other generals are just not as good at it.
And then the other question is that I think the United States, because we're in an election year -- because there's a perception that our hands are tied in Afghanistan and Iraq -- many countries are beginning to try to sort of push a rollback on the United States, and they see an opportunity. The new administration will have maybe 90 days before it has a fully operating foreign policy apparatus -- before it has a national security council. There is a window of opportunity between now and, say, March of 2009 to change the facts on the ground in Afghanistan, and if the Taliban are controlling large parts of southern Afghanistan, you know, end of the day (what is a new president can do ?). He has to deal with the situation at that point in time.
So in a bizarre way, the Pakistanis are not behaving very differently from the Iranians, and in fact, if you looked at and you said that, you know, our ally in Afghanistan is playing the same game that our enemy Iran is playing in Iraq, you have to think that there's probably a trend at work and the trend at work is I think the Pakistanis are beginning to show their true colors. They're trying to take back a lot of what they gave up in Afghanistan and they think between now and a new administration being fully in place this is their moment.
And what I fear is that what we're seeing with the escalation of activity along the border is not the full picture. It's really the preparation of the Taliban for a major surge that will come probably later in the fall and in the spring, and by the time you go back to the Pakistanis they're controlling a lot more territory, and the Taliban -- I think their end game would be the Taliban will be back in Kabul in some form, and, you know, we're going to see the Pakistanis demand the same thing that the Russians demanded in Georgia -- that the president of Afghanistan has to go.
MR. HAASS: That's actually a perfect place to end because I actually think this is part and parcel of the world the 44th president is going to inherit, which is going to be increasing number of actors (and forcers ?) that are, if not beyond the control of the United States, certainly resistant to it who will have their own agendas, their own capacities, at a time that our own capacities are constrained. And if yesterday didn't serve you up when we talked about dealing, for example, with Russia and other such challenges, today is a pretty full plate of them, and again, it's a reason that if you're not sobered by the international prospect of the next four years you should be.
Let me thank this panel. These are, again, I think, four people who not just today but day in, day out are contributing to the quality and intelligence of the debate in this country and beyond about the Middle East. Let me again thank our partners, not just for this session but really for an extraordinary few days here at the institute. Remind you that tomorrow morning, Brian Atwood, who's the dean here, will be leading a panel -- I think there's six of us involved -- talking about to what extent democracy should be a priority for the United States and to the extent it is, how should the United States go about promoting it around the world. Let me again thank Coca Cola and Chevron and the Stanford Financial Group and, last but not least, let me thank you all for your questions and your interest in this set of issues. So again, thank you and I think we resume in about 15 minutes with another panel. (Applause.)
The winner of the 2012 U.S. presidential election will likely confront a greatly changed Middle East political landscape due to ongoing civillian upheaval, says Steven A. Cook, CFR's senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies. This video is part of a special Council on Foreign Relations series that explores the top foreign policy issues debated in the run-up to the 2012 elections.