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The Emerging Shia Crescent Symposium: Is Shia Power Cause for Concern? [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service, Inc.]

Speakers: Steven A. Cook, Douglas Dillon Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, Toby C. Jones, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Middle East History, Swarthmore College, and Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow, Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Presider: Ethan S. Bronner, Deputy Foreign Editor, the New York Times
June 5, 2006
Council on Foreign Relations New York, NY

ETHAN S. BRONNER:  Welcome to the second part of this three-part examination of the rise of Shiism and the Shia crescent in the Middle East.   I’m Ethan Bronner.  I’m the deputy foreign editor of the Times, and we have three terrific speakers today for this next hour. 

Again, a quick reminder to turn off your various electronic devices and to remember that today’s session is on the record and that when we get to the Q&A to please wait for the microphone and to identify yourself when you ask.  We’ll do this for about a half hour or 40 minutes and then we’ll—I’ll ask you to participate.

The speakers, as I think you know, are Steven Cook, from the Council on Foreign Relations, Toby Jones, who’s from Swarthmore and used to be with the International Crisis Group, and Ray Takeyh, who’s with also the Council on Foreign Relations.

So our topic today is the rise of Shia power.  Is Shia power a cause of concern to the United States?  And clearly, the answer must be to some extent yes, because that’s why we’re all here. 

It does seem clear that suddenly when the United States’ focus in Iraq became Najaf, and American officials visiting Najaf and trying to somehow get an audience with Sistani and Sistani-related people certainly must have asked themselves what exactly had they gotten themselves into when they looked at the sort of medieval quality of Najaf.  I haven’t been in some years, but it is certainly in no better shape than when I was there.  And it doesn’t necessarily feel like the place that Jeffersonian democracy is going to arise from.

On the other hand, if there is to be any kind of change in the political nature ofIraq, it’s clearly going to be—this is the bosom of where it’s going to come from, given the relative focus of Shiism and of power in the country. 

Vali Nasr says in his forthcoming Foreign Affairs article that the Middle Eastthat will emerge from the crucible of the Iraq war may not be more democratic, but it will definitely be more Shiite.  And it may also be—and that will be one of the questions we’ll try to address in the next hour—more Iranian.  Therein I think lies a kind of paradox for American policymakers and that is that the more they are pushing for democracy, the more rights that means for the minorities like Shiites and that may mean more influence for Iran, which at the moment doesn’t exactly feel like America’s best friend.

So is this a cause for concern?  Yitzhak Nakash has a new book out that says—he says in his book that the Shia in the Middle East, including Lebanon and Iran, have actually moved, he says, from violence to accommodation.  And he describes the current moment as a post-Khomeini stage.  And he says that Sistani and the Quietest tradition believe in a state run by politicians, not imams, and that Sistani and are increasingly the focus of Shiite and Shia attention in the region, including within Iran, he says.

So let’s—we’re going to get our conversation started.  I’m going to ask each of you to briefly address the question of the panel, which is that, is the rise of Shiism a cause of concern to the U.S.?  And I’ll just ask Steven to start.

Ethan Bronner, Steven Cook, Toby Jones, and Ray Takeyh
preparing for the session.

STEVEN A. COOK:  Sure.  Thanks very much, Ethan.

On a number of levels, I think yes, but not because the United States should see Shiism as a religion, as a sect, as a threat in and of itself.  It strikes me that on a number of other levels, though, it is a cause for concern for theUnited States.

First, as you mentioned, is this question of Iran.  What essentially U.S. policy has done in the Gulf is create this—help create this Iranian moment.  And as you quite rightly said, Iran doesn’t feel exactly like the United States’ best friend right now.  We have a number of outstanding issues with the Iranians.  And to the extent that the rise of Shia consciousness and Shia political power provideIranmore of an arena to play in Persian Gulfpolitics, it’s going to be a cause for concern to the United States.

The second level is what the kinds of things that the rise of Shia political consciousness and political power will do in places like Bahrain, where theU.S.5th Fleet is based, and the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia, the major oil producing places, in south Lebanon.  What do these things do to the domestic politics of those countries?  And then, how does theUnited States craft a new policy to deal with these countries?  Even in places where there aren’t large Shia populations—in places like Egypt—there’s tremendous concern about the rise of Shia power, which is a corollary to this emphasis on democracy in the region, so that regimes may in fact, instead of pursuing reform and more democratic openings, they may do other things, and we’ve seen quite a bit of that over the course of the last few months.

BRONNER:  Is it a cause for concern?

TOBY C. JONES:  It is.  I mean, I think Steven pointed out it’s, you know, an issue that touches on a number of places geographically.  In spite of the complexity within Shiism that we talked about this morning, there is the potential for Shias to think as a community—and I think Vali Nasr talks about that in his essay as well—and to see themselves as a community for a number of historical and political reasons.

But is Shiism a cause—is it a threat to U.S. interests?  It’s not now.  It could be.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be.  I mean, a lot depends on how things shake out in Iraq, but also how theU.S.pursues its regional interests and its policy, both in the Middle EastandSouth Asia.

I don’t think it’s necessarily uncertain.  I think the Shia in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and elsewhere in the Gulf, for example, don’t necessarily harbor the same anti-Western, anti-American sentiment that they did at one time.  They desire—they pursue a decidedly nationalist policy for the most part.  They seek integration and accommodation, as Steven also mentioned.

So, for the moment, things are okay, but I think also—because reformists struggle, democratization has not really taken root obviously—that a lot of these things are uncertain.  An ideologue or some other kind of charismatic figure or political movement can certainly come up that could disrupt all of that and lead it in another direction.  We’ve seen that before historically.

So, for the moment, I think things are okay, but I think, as in all cases in theMiddle East, things are uncertain five years down the road.

RAY TAKEYH:  All right.  I suppose I’m the odd man out because I don’t think so, just as a point of diversity in the panel—(laughter)—so we don’t have too much agreement.

First of all, a couple of things:  Increasingly, whenever you—the last moment when this issue came about, whether the rise of Shiism is necessarily a danger to American security policy and incumbent regimes, was in 1979, 1980 when the Islamic Revolution appeared awesome and ferocious and unrelenting.  And at that time, what you saw is the local Shia communities—whether in Saudi Arabia or Bahrain and others—Kuwait—utilized the Iranian threat, or the perception of the Iranian threat, to try to renegotiate the national compact in their individual countries, to try to become more integrated in the Kuwait, Saudi political and economic life.  So in that sense, they weren’t so much trying to become subsidiaries of Iran but trying to use the specter of Iran as to try to have a different relationship with the Sunni regimes that they were ruled by.

Now, people saying well, is the rise of Shiism a threat?  They’re not particularly talking about Bahrain, but they’re talking about Iraq—namely whether the new Iraq or at least segments of it are going to be sort of an adjunct of the Iranian—expanding Iranian empire.  If you—I hear this a lot from the Sunni leadership, from the Sunni papers.  You just don’t hear that much of it from the Iranians or, frankly, the Iraqi Shiites, who are not inclined to become subsidiaries of anybody.

I think the principal policy that Iran has in Iraq is not necessarily promotion of the Shia community, but prevention of Sunni domination of Iraqi politics.  By definition, that becomes promotion of the Shia community.  And not so much because they think the Shia community will act as their agents or subsidiary of their power, but simply because they recognize that Shia community in Iraq has had a different international orientation than the Sunni community.  Sunni community tried to justify its monopoly of power by embracing an aggressive transnational ideology—pan-Arabism. 

In case of Shia community, they also have a foreign policy identity and orientation, one that calls for improvement of relations with Iraq’s non-Arab neighbors.  Now, that includes Iran; that includes Turkey.  So in that sense, they’re much more likely to live at peace with Iran.  That’s good for Iran, that’s good for Iraq, but I will say that’s good for the United States.

One of the principal problems that has happened in the past 30 years in the Middle East, at least in the Gulf, has been friction and tension between Iran and Iraq.  If somehow those tensions are ameliorated or at least evaporated, I’m not quite sure a more stable Gulf is necessarily a proposition that’s against long-term American security.

BRONNER:  Ray, let me ask you to give me—to respond to what Nakash said, the quote that I read when I opened the thing, in which he said that actually Iran is in a not very aggressive stage right now.  Now he wrote it, obviously, a year ago.  Otherwise, you know, that’s how long it takes for a book to come out.  And I want to know whether you think that that is now outdated or you still think that’s true, given what we hear from President Ahmadinejad.

TAKEYH:  Iran is not a revisionist power like it was in the early 1980s when they were talking about, you know, Bahrain as just another province of Iran.  It’s not a revisionist power.  It’s a status quo power with incendiary rhetoric.  And if you look at the rhetoric of the Iranian regime, it actually does not suggest any changes in terms of the policy in the Gulf from the previous government.  The incendiary rhetoric tends to focus a great deal on Israel and the United States.  And that’s partly the reason the way Iran has always tried to overcome the sectarian divide in the Middle East and become a larger Middle Eastern power is by using those two issues, because otherwise, if it is cast exclusively as a Shia power, then by implication, its regional influence is limited.  However, if it’s cast as an anti-Israeli state and as one that resists American encroachment in the Middle East, then potentially it could have an appeal to a wider Arab street—Egypt—

BRONNER:  But to what end?


BRONNER:  To what end, and—

TAKEYH:  In terms of having a larger influence in (some of the ?) deliberations in the region, in terms of what happens in the Israeli-Palestinian and what happens in Lebanon and so on—having a voice on the councils of power.

BRONNER:  Okay, I don’t want to spend—yeah, go ahead.

COOK:  I just want to respond to something that Ray said.  If we take your argument at face value that it is not an aggressive power, it’s not a revisionist power, it has shifted its rhetoric on places like Bahrain, that doesn’t necessarily make a difference in terms of, for example, Bahraini politics in which Bahraini leadership—the Sunni-dominated Bahraini leadership—the way it relates to the United States about the concerns it has about its own stability and the stability of the region and then how the United States responds to that.  Clearly, throughout the Gulf and beyond, there is an effort on the part of Arab—(word inaudible)—to use this specter of a Shia crescent, as King Abdullah remarked, for their own political purposes.  And the fact that we can say that the Iranians have tremendous influence, regardless of whether they’re a status quo revisionist power or not, has an effect on the elite with whom the United States continues to work—with whom they continue to work with, and their own perception of threat.

BRONNER:  I mean, let me—the thing is, there are all sorts of problems.  One is, what are American interests?  Okay, as America—in other words, if the rise of Shiites creates some instability in places like Bahrain or inLebanonor other places but lead to greater democracy, is that an American interest?  That’s one question.

And then, of course, the other question is, can you separate out what happens internally—Shiite, Sunni issues—from what Iran is doing or might do? 

So I’m going to ask us to try to slice those so that they don’t become all conflated. 

Toby, is American interest served by greater Shiite expression of power in some of these countries?

JONES:  Well, I mean, if its primary interest is in the maintenance of stability in the region, then absolutely it’s served by sort of altering the nature of power in the Sunni regimes that dominate, that—you know, by the nature of their rule, they’re provocative; they’re incendiary; they’re the people that in fact allow the—(inaudible)—to Sunni governments—the al-Khalifa, the House of Saud and the others—who keep alive the Islamic Revolution.  It’s not the Shia communities that continue to maintain their grip on Khomeini as a symbolic figure.  It’s people like the prime minister in Bahrain who antagonizes by playing the sectarian card, which is “inciteful” and I think angers, justifiably so, the Shia community who then pursues a more provocative, antagonistic kind of politics.

So a shift in the kind of power in the political system in Bahrain, as an example, that would allow the Shia to sort of play a more representative role in politics would be more stabilizing in the sense that that would serve American interests—

BRONNER:  But only in the long term, not in the short term.

JONES:  Well, I think that it’s uncertain whether in the short term it would actually be a problem.  The 5th Fleet—I don’t think most Bahrainian Shia otherwise care whether the 5th Fleet is there in Bahrain at this point. 

There’s a moment of opportunity.  I mean, I’ll relate an anecdote.  When I was in Bahrain in 2004—or 2005—doing research for the ICG report on Bahrain, I sat down with Bahraini Hezbollah and asked them a series of questions about why they were doing what they were doing and what was their political line and what was it they were trying to achieve, and they had a number of answers that weren’t particularly satisfying.  But then I ended on this:  What could the U.S. do to serve sort of the issue of reform in the Shia communities?  And they didn’t have a good answer for that either.  But I was interviewing this group of about 15 young guys in thevillageofSitra—they had just staged a massive rally in Sitra; about 80,000 people turned out.  And the Shia community’s big claim to sort of political—they were trying to gain favor from the state and demonstrate their allegiance to Bahrain as a nation, so they carried the Bahraini national flag.  And they toted this around and thought that this was a better symbol than carrying around Hezbollah’s flag.

At the end of the conversation, I asked them about how the U.S. could serve their interests.  And they said well, if you think it’s appropriate, next week we’ll have another demonstration and we’ll carry the American flag.  (Laughter.)  I think there was a moment in 2003, 2004 and even early 2005 where the Shia saw the U.S. as perhaps, you know, a supporter in the region.  Iraq was read in many ways that way.  And there are other anecdotes in Saudi Arabiathat—they go in a similar way.

Are they going to be—in Bahrain particularly, are they going destabilizing—70 percent of the population?  Are they then going to treat the Sunnis like they’ve been treated historically?  That’s a harder question to answer.

Now, Nakash raises another issue, sort of regionally, when he says Shiism is a force for political progressive thought in the region, that they are the democratizers, and that’s a more complicated question to come to terms with.  I mean, the answer is yes, they do promote reform because they’re out of power, so they want an equal share, so they justify that political mind that way.  But they’re also retrograde in other instances.  I mean, you know, the Bahraini Shia are—they look to Iran and the most conservative elements in Iraq when it comes to women’s rights, for example.  They’re not particularly progressive.  In fact, they’re not progressive at all.

So are American interests served by seeing women, you know, sort of subordinated once again in a place where they enjoy rights—

BRONNER:  But is there—that was one of my questions for later, but since you’ve raised it, we’ll talk about their attitudes toward women.  Are they more retrograde than the existing order?

JONES:  Oh, yes.  (Laughter.)

BRONNER:  That is good news.

JONES:  The battle right now that’s taking place in Bahrain is over personal status law—family law, which governs rules and, you know, sort of divorce, inheritance, child custody, and the Bahraini—the Shia community, led by a particular number of clerics, has waged a fierce opposition to the government’s—the Sunni government’s attempt to codify Islamic law, family law, and basically guarantee the rights of women when they come before the court.  And the Shia have been the most forceful—

COOK:  Just (to give you ?) an idea, this political society, since they don’t have parties, political society Al Wefaq, which is largely an expression of Shia politics, is fighting the good fight in that they want to reopen the constitution to give the Council of Deputies more power.  But that seems—this is a democratically oriented group; this is great stuff; this is good for the United States.  But at the same time, their position on women is outrageous.  In fact, one of the leaders of Al Wefaq wanted to pass a law such that windows in Bahraini apartment buildings—you could not see out.  And there’s been a recent proposal that, you know, opening the political system more to women, and they’ve fought this tooth and nail.

BRONNER:  But this is a little surprising to me because in Iran the role of women, politically and otherwise, is in fact much more progressive, from my perspective, than it is in the more radical Sunni societies.  What’s the story?

TAKEYH:  Well, I mean, Toby and Steven say that the emerging Shia clerical class has perceptions that are bad for women’s rights.  I can’t believe they are worse than the Saudi clerical community—(laughter)—I mean, if that’s the question. 

BRONNER(?):  I think that’s a benchmark.

TAKEYH:  I mean, it can strive to get to that level, but it requires a great degree of resourcefulness and ability and power to get to that level of gender disfranchisement. 

In case ofIran , I think it’s sort of you see the legacy of the Iranian Revolution that was evolved by men, women, Marxists, liberals, conservatives.

BRONNER:  Unrelated to Shias specifically.

TAKEYH:  Yeah.  The way the coalition that brought the revolution to power was not entirely disfranchised after the revolution.  I mean, there are more women in universities in Iran than there are men.  However, that doesn’t necessarily reflect in the labor market.  The numbers drop to about 20 percent.  So there’s still, I mean, there’s still exclusionary policies—entire government posts and so on women can’t serve in.  But they do have a visible public role.  For a while, there were more women in the Iranian legislature than there were in the House of Representatives.  Now, people don’t say that those women are extremely conservative.  I mean, not every woman is sort of an advocate of liberal policy and so forth.  But there’s a greater degree of integration in the public society.

BRONNER:  Ray, I want to ask you to answer the question of whether if in a variety of countries, likeLebanon, Bahrain, Kuwait, others, if there is increased sense of Shiite empowerment, whether that serves American interests.

TAKEYH:  The curious thing about this—and this is perhaps a reflection of the war with Iraq—there is an identification with Shia parties even amongst secular Shiites, in a sense that they feel despite the fact that they might not be practicing that their interests are better represented and safeguarded by parties who are sort of self-consciously Shia in terms of there political composition.  That’s the interesting part in the sense that you can be secular but nevertheless have one aspect of your identity dictate your political perceptions.

The question comes, what are the American interests in the Gulf?

BRONNER:  Right—how to define them.

TAKEYH:  How do you define the American interests in the Gulf?  If number of things happen, if Iran remains a cantankerous but largely self-satisfied power, certainly not one inclined to become a revisionist state, if Iraq remains a unitary state with considerable degree of internal disorder and even some degree of violence but nevertheless is—(inaudible)— then I actually don’t know what specifically that Steven worries so much about us doing in the Gulf.  I mean, American soldiers are designed to do something very specific:  prevent one country potentially from invading another country, guarding the territorial demarcations.  If those territorial demarcations are not under threat, then what exactly is the 5th Fleet doing there?

I’m not suggesting American disengagement from the Gulf—American missionaries, American educators, American writers, American businessmen, American commercial interests—but we tend to equate American presence with the American military presence.  And at some point, you have to figure out what is the role of the military, and is it a suitable role for what is happening in the Gulf?  If Gulf is increasingly, in terms of its tensions, self-regulating, then is there a necessity for this sort of a robust and ultimately politically incendiary political presence in the region?

BRONNER:  Steven, let me ask you the same question—go from Ray to you.  I think Condi Rice said and I think President Bush has said at some point in the last couple of years that for 60 years American policy was to focus on stability in the region and look what that got us—9/11.  And so we’ve got a new policy where we’re interested in individual rights and democracy in these societies.  And that’s going to ultimately serve them and serve us in ways that we’ve failed in the past.

So I guess what I’d like you to talk about is whether you think that the rise of Shiism fits into that pattern, and also whether you think that they are right to say that that has failed and this is the way to go forward—all in a few minutes, please.

COOK:  Sure, of course.

The last part of Secretary Rice’s phrase was that this focus on stability has actually brought instability to the region, and I would take issue with that.  In fact, the region is ultra-stable in many ways and that’s the problem that we’ve run into.  And American policy has sought to not make it unstable but kind of inject some dynamism into the political process there. 

Now, if it is in the United States’ interest to promote democracy, individual rights and all those kinds of things that the secretary of State and the president have been talking about over the course of the last three and a half years, well, then certainly Shia—political rights being extended to the Shia in places like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and certainly Iraq are quite good things.  The problem that we run into is that we still need to work with al-Khalifa in Bahrain and the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia.  And what concerns me—I’m not so concerned about the status of the U.S. 5th Fleet, but what I’m concerned about is the reaction that these regimes, with whom we still need to work, will be to the rise of Shia power and their perception of threat and what then would be incumbent upon us to respond.  Because, after all, there still is a war in Iraq; there still is concern about Iranian nuclear proliferation.  So I think for at least the time being, there is a rationale for the presence of theU.S.5th Fleet to be there and a rationale for a large military presence inQatar. 

So we do still need to work with these—and, of course, the whole question of counterterrorism as well.  So I think that in the kind of broad abstract sense about promoting democracy and human rights and political rights, it can’t be a bad thing.  But the effect that that has then on Arab elites is where the concern is for me.

BRONNER:  Well, I guess we don’t—the trouble is we don’t know the end of the story.  But if we look at Iraq, there are many who would argue that it has not been a great thing, right; that actually, the helping the Shia in Iraq has not, at the moment, improved the condition of life in Iraq or improved our interests in the region, but far away from this the end of the story.

The problem is—and maybe, Toby, you could talk about this for a minute—now let’s take how the Saudis or how generally the Sunnis view what has happened.  Do they see American efforts in the region as really some effort to kind of ruin their own interests and hand things over to the Shia, and therefore they resist, and therefore violence arises, and therefore our interests in the end are not served?

JONES:  Well, I mean, I’ve argued before that in fact that Iraq war complicated both American interests in the Gulf for obvious reasons, but also Shia interests in the Gulf.

If you look very closely at sort of the trajectory of the Shia emergence, if you want to call it that, in Saudi Arabia, it predates the Iraq war.  The Shia have been politically active in Saudi Arabia since the late ‘70s—they were confrontational.  In the early ‘90s, they became accommodationists and essentially reached a political compromise with the ruling al-Saud that went nowhere.  There was no pressure on the government of Saudi Arabiato deal with this community effectively.  Nine-eleven changed a lot of things in Saudi Arabia and the thing it gave sort of the most hope for was this reform movement that emerged shortly afterward, within a couple of years.  And a large component of that was a group of Shia activists who had been active from previous decades that took part seriously in this sort of national liberal Islamic whatever—there’s lots of other labels—to sort of promote political reform in the kingdom.  The Iraq war set back their efforts.  In a lot of ways, the reform movement suffered a setback because American pressure, which was leveraged on the kingdom, was distracted elsewhere, diverted elsewhere. 

But also for the Shia community—the restructuring of the balance of power inIraqhas had deleterious effects for Shia interests in Saudi Arabiafor precisely the reasons that your question sort of raised.  And those have to do with the perception amongst not only the House of Saud but also their clerical backers in Saudi Arabia, about what’s taking place north of the border.  And the perception is thatIraq—Iraqi Shia have aligned with American imperial interests to occupy sort of this Arab state.  And that has set back the region’s interests in terms of, you know, its Islamic orientation, but also its political cohesiveness.  So the U.S. is seen as a destabilizing force and the Shia are seen as having latched onto this for their own opportunistic ends.  And in Saudi Arabia, that’s had real tough consequences for the Shia community.  They’re still able to participate in local politics, but they don’t have the same kind of national presence that they have previously.

So inasmuch asIraqhas altered the balance regionally, it’s also set back the specific nationalist goals of Shia communities, not only in Saudi Arabia but also Bahrain.

BRONNER:  Ray, do you want to address that?

TAKEYH:  Yeah, I think there are two things that happen when people discuss Shiism and then tend to equate sort of political expressions of Shiism with radicalism, which is no longer the case because, as you mentioned, that increasingly Shia political parties and activists began to see their empowerment coming through the electoral process, coming through the franchise and integration into their individual communities.  Second of all is that Shia political parties and so on are necessarily—I think the subterranean message is they’re anti-American.  I’m not actually quite prepared to accept that.  I mean, every panel should have a Shia chauvinist and since Vali Nasr isn’t here, I suppose that’s me. 

I think increasingly you begin to see Shiism becoming a political status quo movement.  And their empowerment is not necessarily, I think, something that should be disturbing to Americans.  It might be disturbing to the Saudi elite.  It might be disturbing to the Sunni elites of this region, but I don’t think the Saudi elite’s anxieties and sensibilities should govern our policy.  And maybe it’s good that Saudis are becoming a little more anxious and nervous and maybe in terms of their domestic reforms of their own political society, in terms of Saudi textbooks still tend the vilify the Shias in very uncompromising way while we tend to focus on their depictions of Christians and Jews and so forth.  So if empowerment of Shiism compels the ruling elites toward some degree—Sunni ruling elites toward some degree of political modernization, I’m not quite sure that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Second of all, we tend to view this particular movement as something that theUnited States can manipulate or control.  It’s just not beyond our manipulations or control.  There will be a greater representation of the Shia community in Lebanon, whether represented by Hezbollah, Amal that’s just a demographic reality of Lebanon.  I’m not sure if that’s necessarily a bad thing.  The Saudi Shia population should not remain disfranchised and second class in Saudi Arabia for the stability of the Saudi society as a whole.  In terms of Iraq, there will be inevitably a Shia empowerment.  That in no way equates with the Iraqi Shia community being necessarily, as I said, subsidiaries of Iran, but it may portend better relations between Iran and Iraq, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

BRONNER:  What Toby was arguing was that what has happened as a result of the war—the American war inIraq—that whatever progress was being made for Shia in places like Saudi were set back because of the reaction.  So you said look, I mean, we don’t—I mean, you could also—the American officials were arguing the opposite, which is what we’re worried about was stability and so, therefore, human rights was frozen in these countries. 

So it sort of feels like, Toby, that you’re arguing, you know, it’s either damned if you do and damned if you do—if you do nothing, then hell, we’ve helped create the situation, and we go in, but we’ve messed it all up and they’re going to react.  And so you kind of wonder, what’s an appropriate policy? 

You wanted to speak—was it toward that?

COOK:  No, I just wanted to take issue with Ray’s that somehow a greater degree of Shia political power consciousness will somehow force Sunni elite into more political modernization.  You just have to take a look at what they’re doing to suggest it’s precisely the opposite.  If you look at what the Bahrainians are doing through a whole—informal and formal ways they are doing to prevent the Shia from expressing themselves, through either coercion or inviting Saudis to come to Bahrain—Sunni Saudis to come and become citizens and thus vote to preventing the expression of Al Wefaq and its demands to open up the constitution, to things like in Lebanon where there’s going to be a very, very difficult battle that’s already shaping up to alter the electoral process that will then allow the Shia to have more than the 21 percent of the seats that they have in the Lebanese legislature as opposed to the 40 percent of the population that they supposedly represent. 

BRONNER:  So I actually want to talk about Lebanon, but I want to ask Toby to try to answer my question.

JONES:  It seems to me that sort of pursuing a Shia policy in the region is precisely the wrong way to proceed.  Any kind of policy that tends to empower the Shia community should address the ruling governments—in the Gulf, those happen to be the Sunni monarchies—to deal with various complicated questions that both they and the United Stateshave sort of collaborated in the past to make a problematic reality. 

So anti-Shiism, of course, is not necessarily timeless, as I think Ray mentioned earlier.  It’s not this timeless product of Sunni-Shia antagonism.  In Saudi Arabiayou can argue that it is more so than elsewhere.  But in fact, it’s after 1979.  This is a post-Khomeini phenomenon where anti-Shiism is politicized and it’s justified and rationalized as a way to fight the anti-Soviet, anti-Iran jihad in Afghanistanas well as contain Khomeini in the Gulf.

So that exists in a way that you have to deal with it, so the U.S. has to realize that.  But appearing to cater to or to appeal specifically to a Shia audience will basically serve those interests in the end.  I mean, sort of the anti-Shia forces that exist and have existed in the past will simply remobilize.

So the appropriate policy, I think, means that you continue to focus and talk to the al-Saud and the al-Khalifa about reform and political issues, which once resolved then ultimately allow for a level playing field.  That’s tough, especially in Saudi Arabia.  But the consequences of doing otherwise—and I think it speaks to Ray’s point about—I, too, think there’s more of a potential problem in marginalizing—making the Saudis uncomfortable with their Shia community.  And the pitfall of not then dealing with the Saudis on a host of other related issues is this:  that if the Saudis become uncomfortable with the Shia and they become uncomfortable with Iraq, the thing that they’re going to do is they’re going to open the faucet of jihadism and they’re going to let the—

BRONNER(?):  More?

JONES:  Well, I mean, arguably the Saudis don’t have an interest in pursuing that anymore.  I mean, they have a domestic problem that they’ve tried to contain.  But what they can do and what they’ve done in the past is simply allow these anti-Shia Takfiri, you know, ideologues to become more prominent in society and community.  And you know, this has powerful mobilizing potential.  I mean, it creates a series of problems, and the Saudis realize they can counter a more interventionist policy that appeals to the Shia community.  That’s—the Shia live in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, which is where all the oil is.  So strategically, this is a huge concern to the U.S. and how they handle it.  So it’s a sensitive issue.  And I think that—as, you know, sort of—when I was with ICG we heard that all of this has to be contextualized within a larger push, pressure for reform, for political reform.  Democratization may not be the right way to go but some kind of political reform that levels the playing field.

BRONNER:  Steven, talk a little bit aboutLebanon, about whether—how the rise of Hezbollah, of Shiism is serving or not American interests there.

COOK:  Well, certainly—first, broader context:  Hezbollah obviously is an—not the only Shia organization inLebanonand has a long history dating back to the late 1970s, early 1980s.  Hezbollah itself is a malevolent extremist organization, despite its vast array of social services and the fact that Hezbollah representatives have acted responsibly in the Lebanese parliament.

The question is, now how does the rise of Shia power in Iraq and other—and consciousness in other places affect the Lebanese?  And I think that it’s actually paradoxical.  Hezbollah and the Shia are certainly feeling a certain buoyancy from these developments, but at the same time, they’re limited in what they can do.  And you can only just look back to the mass demonstrations after Rafik Hariri’s assassination in Lebanon where Hezbollah could not come out brandishing Hezbollah flags.  They were forced to strike a nationalist tone.

BRONNER:  They did both.  They did both.

COOK:  But by and large, this was—they were signaling to the rest of the Lebanese population that they were interested in Lebanon and Lebanon’s well-being.  They were not necessarily at the direction of either the Syrians or the Iranians, despite what many people believe.  And so, they’re kind of hindered in certain ways.  They’re now constrained by this renewed kind of Lebanese nationalism, this unintended consequence of Rafik Hariri’s assassination.  But at the same time, they demonstrate a lot of power.  When the new government floated the idea of referring the Hariri assassination to International Criminal Court, Hezbollah representatives and the Amal representative walked out and created a governmental crisis and then the Lebanese prime minister had to give in. 

This is a similar kind of debate that’s going to be going on with regard to disarming Hezbollah.  And that’s why it’s so important that the Shebaa Farms be considered being occupied by the Israelis so that Hezbollah remains a resistance organization, because their arms—it’s not so much Israel occupation of Shebaa or Shebaa’s part of the Golan Heights or Lebanon, but Hezbollah arms are now seen in the current constellation of Lebanese politics as the great equalizer.  They don’t have the political power.  They may have the demographic weight on their half, but because of the way the electoral institutions are set up inLebanon , they have no way of cracking open this system in a way so that these arms are really the power which they’re able to leverage the political system.

BRONNER:  But do you feel their own government has moderated them?

COOK:  They have acted responsibly as members of the government and in the legislature, in which they’ve sat since the mid-1990s.  But what do we mean by moderated?  I mean, if you still—if you watch Al-Manar television, we can’t possibly believe that this group has moderated.  So it’s really—you know, you take a look at what’s happening in the suburbs of Beirut, the extension of social services:  it’s the same kind of Islamist story that you find throughout the region.  So it’s double-edged.

BRONNER:  I want to go to the audience, but I want to ask Ray one question first, and that is, do you think that Iran and the United States are eventually going to have to cooperate seriously on Iraq?  And if so, will that serve everyone’s interest by somehow forcing the United Statesto negotiate with a country and also forcing Iran to sort of play some realistic role?

TAKEYH:  I think the level of mistrust between the two countries is so great that I’m not quite sure if they can actually cooperate, because we tend to see projections of Iranian influence as necessarily a bad thing, while obviously the Iranians view continued American presence as detrimental to their interests.  So there’s a legacy of mistrust here that I think could preclude a more pragmatic cooperation on areas of common interest, particularly as Iraq gets its own sea legs and there’s a unitary government and moving on.

I mean, at this point, the Iranian interest is for several things:  for Iraq to remain territorially in tact; is to have a continued democratic process because tends to empower the Shia community; and for eventual departure of the American forces.  The way you can achieve all those is some degree of stability inIraq.  And so in that sense there is some degree of common interest.  But the level of mistrust between the two countries is just—the legacy of mistrust.

BRONNER:  Do you think Iran wants Iraq to maintain a certain level of chaos at the moment in order to make it more difficult for the United States?  Or do you think they want to actually stabilize the situation in order to help the United Statesouts?

TAKEYH:  It’s a tough balancing—(laughs)—it’s a lot of contradictions and paradoxes.  On the one hand, you want Americans out.  That requires some degree of stability.  At the same time, you want a type of society created in Iraq where there’s a federal structure—a weak central government with strong provinces, because weak central governments historically do not have strong central armies.  So you don’t want Iraq to once again emerge as a potential barrier to your influence.  So there’s a lot of difficult balancing acts.  And Iranians are pretty good at balancing different set of interests.  But I think the foremost concern is for eventual departure of the American forces.  And that requires, as I said, some degree of stability.

BRONNER:  Either of you want to address that before I turn to the audience?

Okay, so I think we have a half an hour or so, and would welcome your questions.  Joe—and please tell us who you are.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  Joe Klein from Time Magazine.

I’m really interested about Iran and especially President Ahmadinejad, and I’d be curious about your views about his impact on the Iranian establishment, number one; and number two, and far more importantly, whether his relationship with the Revolutionary Guard Corps will have any impact on the balance of power within Iran, and also what impact it will have on the activities of the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah in the rest of the region.

TAKEYH:  The Iranian president sort of represents a generation—a younger generation of conservatives who are austere, rather isolationist because they grew up in a state that was largely isolated from the West, and so they have very different perceptions.

Where he stands in terms of this political system—I always said, during the reformist era, that the notion that the Iranian president was irrelevant was flawed and wrong.  I say it today:  The notion that the Iranian president is powerless and irrelevant is flawed and wrong.  He has a seat at the table.  He represents a constituency.  He represents a movement.  He has, as you said, close association with the Revolutionary Guards, Basij and the security services.  So his point of view cannot be disregarded.  Now it may not prevail in this coalition government that constitutes the Islamic Republic of Iran, but it has to be taken into consideration.  And he does have a voice in terms of shaping the context of Iranian policies and in some ways the content of it.

In terms ofIran’s policy towardAfghanistanandIraq, I think you were asking, those—those are always in the hands of the minister of intelligence and the Revolutionary Guards—the (Ghods ?) Brigade of the Revolutionary Guard.  So they’re very—I mean, even the current Iranian ambassador to Iraq has a Revolutionary Guard background.  So they run out of those two particular organizations, obviously, with oversee and the supervision by the political authorities.  But operationally, day-to-daywise, they tend to be more in charge. 

QUESTIONER:  Actually, what I was asking was whether his relationship with the Revolutionary Guard represents any kind of threat to the Iranian establishment, and whether he could give direct orders to the IRGC and have them act in a certain way in Iraq, Lebanon, you know—

TAKEYH:  Well, this is much more centralized, particularly on issues of critical concern, such asIraq.  It still goes to the supreme leader’s office and so on.  If the supreme leader’s office asks him not to do something, he won’t do it.  But the problem is not so much who dominates who, as in The New York Times Story.  We’re talking about who’s consolidating power against whom.  The problem is the meeting of minds.  There’s not consolidation of power; there’s a consensus.  I mean, a person who’s against negotiating with the United Stateson the nuclear issue is the supreme leader.  So it almost doesn’t matter with all the subsidiary actors playing or how they want to address the situation, so basically the degree of consensus than before. 

BRONNER:  Either of you want to address this?

Right here, please.

QUESTIONER:  Good morning.  My name is Tagi Sagafi-Nejad. I’m from Texas A&M, the international university on the border of Texas and Mexico.  And I’m here to enjoy the conversation.

I’m hearing a disturbing undercurrent in your presentation that assumes a certain amount of status quo with respect to the role of religion and religious tensions between Shiites and Sunnis with regard to the stability of the political system in Iran and with respect to the desirability of reform and democratic movement on the one hand—which is allegedly the intent and the aim of the U.S. foreign policy—but on the other hand, we don’t want to live with the consequences.

My question is, how do you see this tension between religious elements—Shi’ite versus Sunni—playing out in the broader spectrum vis-a-vis, let’s say, the secularist movement?  There has been no mention of that in your conversation, and I got the feeling that you just assumed that these are really the two dominant forces that balance vis-a-vis one another.

And related question of the role of women, which was mentioned several times:  It is very disturbing to know that we advocate the policy of democratization, but when we see the manifestation of democratization in the sense of presenting the Shi’ite version of the role of women and the rule of inheritance and marriage and all of that, we tend to sort of accept it as a natural consequence and outcome of the democratization process, even though it runs contrary to the very fundamental ideas of Western democracy.

How do you see all these contradictions playing out in the near future?  And final indicative question of that is, how long do you think it’s going to be before hijab becomes voluntary in Iran and throughout theMiddle East?

BRONNER:  Steven, do you want to start?

COOK:  (Laughs.)  I appreciate that.

BRONNER:  Maybe just a broad—reflective of the religious politics.

COOK:  Sure.  I think that prior to theIraqwar, this kind of question of Sunni-Shia tension was not as prominent as it was.  I think there always was that kind of issue there.  But directly, indirectly related to the invasion of Iraq, we have—the way in which things have unfolded in Iraq, unfortunately, has created Sunni-Shia tension.

Now, this question of secularists:  There is a large reservoir of secularists, but as the political tension has developed between Sunni and Shia, as was mentioned in the first panel this morning, people have sought to choose up sides.  So even secular-oriented Shia or secular-oriented Sunnis, because they need to be protected in a place like Iraq or they fear what might happen in Bahrain or the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia, they tend to draw towards their own.  And I think that that’s an unfortunate scenario that is playing itself out throughout the region.  And even in the broader Sunni world there is this concern and this sort of choosing up sides against the Shia.  After all, President Mubarak said in mid-May, he said, well, after all, it’s clear: the Iraqi Shia are more loyal toIranthan they would be to Iraq or the Arab world, questioning the kind of Arabism of Arab Shia in Iraq. 

So I think that this is a creation, an unfortunate creation, and an unintended consequence of the invasion and the inability to put together a political process, or, in fact, a misapprehension—a misunderstanding of the undercurrents in the political dynamics and the sectarian undercurrents that were at play both in Iraq and in the regionwide.

Now, as far as democracy goes and women’s rights, this just points to the complexity of trying to promote reform and change in the region.  And it’s just—it’s brought out in sharp relief by just what happens when people are elected and you don’t like what they stand for.  And this is a major philosophical problem that we’re facing in the region, not just in the Shia world, but in Palestine, in Egypt, wherever.  And I’m not sure I have a very good answer what we should do about it, but it does open theUnited States up to these questions of inconsistency and double standards and hypocrisy.

BRONNER:  The other side of the question is what democracy means.  Does it simply mean that whoever the majority chooses is in power?  Or are there some broader philosophical underpinnings having to do with liberalism and human rights that really we’re talking about, even though we call it democracy?

COOK:  Well, I think that it depends on actually who you’re talking to.  But in the region, it’s a particularly majoritarian view of democracy.  For those of us who are interested in these issues and have looked into it, it is obviously broader than that.  It’s rule of law, development of institutions.  But if the people in the region go to the polls and they say, well, this is democracy—and that’s partly a problem of the Bush administration’s lack of clear vision and strategy on this.  Yes, they talked about democracy and freedom, and they’ve been very effective about it, but it stopped there.  Without the broader vision, you fall into these traps of problems of hypocrisy and double standards.

BRONNER:  Toby, do you want to address any of it?

JONES:  Yeah, the second part of your question is, I think, speaks at it as well as it can be said.  I mean, it’s paradoxical and it’s difficult and complicated.  And at the end, for us, it’s ultimately unsatisfying when these kinds of things happen.

But you know, I can connect that back up to the first question and that is, collaboration within the Shia community and between Shia and Sunni when it comes to secular groups and where does religion and secularism and whatever else we want to call that exists—where does it come together?

In Saudi Arabia, because they don’t have the demographic weight of Shia communities elsewhere, Shia leaders have displayed a tremendous amount of flexibility.  The driving force politically in the Saudi-Shia community, of course, is religious, but the people who get put forward to negotiate the Saudi political system are technocrats.  They’re business people who either have experience in the West or have a series of business or other kinds of relationships with other Saudis and can talk on a more sort of—you know, in a way that doesn’t necessarily make religion the central part of what it is that they’re trying to achieve.

With that in mind, I mean, the Saudi-Shia are always thinking that they’re Shia.  I mean, they always understand their relationship to everybody else.  Also, in Bahrain, there’s been a degree of collaboration between Al Wefaq and the secular opposition—the old Ba’athists, the old communists and other people who just consider themselves democrats—where they work together, but the political reality is quite different.  The secular opposition is beholden to Al Wefaq because they represent 65 percent of the population.  And you know, at the end of the day, they’re willing to give up women’s issues when it comes to political reform in the constitution.  Whatever their big goals are, they realize that this is complicated.

But reform, I think, in spite of the kinds of problems that it would produce at the ballot box, also offers an opportunity in places like Saudi ArabiaandBahrainas well.  And I don’t know that it’s a short-term fix, but it’s more of a hopeful, you know, vision for what could happen.  And that is that the problem politically is that we don’t have civil society in these places, but you have a lot of people that share common ground that don’t have the opportunity to organize and deal with one another.

The case was made to me in Saudi Arabia that liberals are more popular than they think they are, if you base this on a number of different things, by an Islamist.  So clearly, you know, Sunni Islamists in Saudi Arabia see liberals as a threat and they take the threat seriously.  So should we assume that seculars or liberals or liberal Islamists don’t exist because they don’t have a voice in Saudi Arabia?  Or do they exist and they need an opportunity to sort of pursue their interests?  And I think it’s the latter.

So I don’t know that women’s issues will necessarily work themselves out in this ideal world, but perhaps it’s the best we can hope for at this point.

BRONNER:  I just want to follow up on what you asked, because the question is whether there really is any kind of secular politics in the region.  And I mean, even if—when I was in Saudi Arabia last in December and women were seeking to promote their interests and their rights, they did it through discussion of what the prophet’s daughter did and so on.  In other words, the idea was you have to fight on that ground.  And even in the first panel, when the discussion was begun that in fact Shiism was originally a political movement in the sense that it had to do with who would succeed the prophet, I mean, I found it hard to distinguish between the political and religious discussion there because—who will succeed the prophet?  I don’t know if there are any secular politics in the region.

COOK:  I think it’s—sorry, Toby, but I think it’s quite shrewd for women who are trying to advance their interests to speak in the kind of vernacular politics —

BRONNER:  Certainly.

COOK: —people are going to understand it.  It certainly has squeezed out secular politics, I would say.  At the risk of being too extreme, I would say there’s very little secular politics.

BRONNER:  Very little.  Yeah.

Ray, do you think that there’s more than I think?

TAKEYH:  As I said before, the interesting thing to me is even secular individuals seek political empowerment by being associated with religious parties because those religious parties are now emerged as popular parties and capable of organization and all the things that politics thinks about.  They’re just better organized political parties.

And therefore, if you’re a secular Shi’ite, you tend to see Da’wa, or what have you, as representing of your communal interests and then are you willing to live with some of the restrictions. 

As far as when is hijab going to be—well, there’s good news, bad news.  The good news is the social restrictions are unlikely to become more onerous.  The bad is the social restrictions are in place already and remain intact.

BRONNER:  Other questions?

Sure, just take the mike if you would.

QUESTIONER:  My name is Nader Tolebzad.  I’m from Iran.  I’m a private company doing a documentary.

My first question is, I think it’s escaped everyone’s radar to realize that no Iranian press—no formal government Iranian press—is allowed in the United States because of the U.S. policy and why this is so, because after 26, 27 years, one of the main impediments, one of the main barriers for dialogue has been the absence of Iranian press, which is, in terms of television, all governments.

We’ve had a complete—I’ve come here as a private company.  And especially at such a critical time, such a—the present crisis, which we have no news from Iran, no news people from Iran to be present in the States, and had the opportunity to talk to the American political elites—as of course, we have—the opposite is very true:  In Iran we have over 100 American news-related people every year.  This, I think, I would like to ask the American intelligentsia, the academia, why haven’t they pressured the U.S. government for the serious presence of Iranian press within the United States, especially television, which I think has enhanced the present danger, continuing danger?  That’s my first question, why.

My second question is, how much effect does the American intelligentsia, the elite of the academia, have on the present crisis?  How much can they prevent this avalanche of catastrophe that might come forward? How much effect would they have in this present crisis, or do they have any effect?  Is it a feeble presence or can it potentially be effective?

BRONNER:  Thank you very much.

Okay, so how important are you guys?  (Laughter.)

TAKEYH:  I was under the impression thatIrannow had some sort of Iranian Islamic-run news agency had a correspondent inNew York.

QUESTIONER:  (Off mike.)

TAKEYH:  In the U.N.

TAKEYH:  Right, okay.

QUESTIONER:  (Off mike)—no Iranian television crew or correspondent—(off mike)—policy for the past 26 years.  

BRONNER:  I think that’s a fair point.

TAKEYH:  Yeah, no, it’s a very interesting question.  As far as relevance, I always when I write something, I assume no readership.  And I’m quite often right about that.  (Laughter.)

BRONNER:   It’s good to be right.  But I mean, on the question of Iranian media presence in the United States, I don’t know a lot about it; it sounds like you’re right.  Certainly Iranian diplomats are not permitted out of 25 miles beyond the U.N.  I mean, it’s part of a sort of blanket ban, clearly, that doesn’t strike me as very helpful.

Do you guys want to address it in any way?

JONES:  My understanding is that it’s also—maybe others can correct me if I’m wrong—but it’s also impossible, if not very, very difficult, for Iranian scholars to publish in American academic journals and other kinds of settings that might—not necessarily having the same kind of weight as the media—I mean, is significant of how deep this runs and how difficult it is.

BRONNER:  And does either of you want to address the question of whether the intelligentsia has any impact on American policy?

JONES:  I’m barely a member of the academia, let alone the intelligentsia.  (Laughter.)  I mean —

BRONNER:  Right.  And if you were a member of it?

JONES: —I would vote not relevant—or at least not listened to.

BRONNER:  Right.


QUESTIONER:  Yeah.  Dick Bulliet again fromColumbiaUniversity.

I think that the consensus of all the academics here would be that the academic community that knows something about the Middle Easthas zero influence on the policy.  What distresses me is that this is a joke and that everyone laughs as if it cannot possibly be otherwise.  And one of the questions that I have I my mind is, has the academic community actually comported itself in such a manner, or even considered organizing itself in such a manner, as to seek to have an influence? 

I mean, it’s one thing to write an article and hope that you have an audience, but if you look at the way intellectual communities behave in other countries, they don’t always take it as a foreordained conclusion that they are of no significance.  And this is the reason the question is interesting, because it bespeaks the notion that perhaps an intelligentsia—an informed intelligentsia—should have some sort of audience, some sort of influence.

And I think that there is a—there has been—50 years ago we establishedMiddle East studies in order to have expertise.  Now 50 years later, the Middle Eastis our greatest crisis and our expertise is considered to be useless.  Now, I think that that should be a problem rather than a joke.

BRONNER:  Of course.  I mean, it is clear that the administration does consult with scholars.  It just doesn’t necessarily consult with people in this room, although it has consulted with Professor Ajami; it has consulted with Professor Lewis.  It has consulted with serious people who have knowledge.  And it’s not that there is no link between the academic and intellectual communities in the administration.  It’s just that many people who are in the academy tend to see things somewhat differently.  I think.

Please—just wait for the mike.

QUESTIONER:  My name is John Brademas.  As a member of Congress exactly 40 years ago, I wrote the International Education Act of 1966, the purpose of which was to provide federal funds to colleges and universities for the study of other countries, cultures and languages.  President Johnson signed the bill into law; Congress never appropriated a penny to implement it.  And I believe that among the reasons the United Stateshas got into so much trouble in Vietnam, Iraq, Iran is ignorance of the histories, countries, cultures, languages other than our own.

In February of this year, the Committee for Economic Development issued a report calling for greater investment in international education and foreign language studies. The CED is composed of a couple of hundred corporate CEOs and a handful of university leaders, of whom I was one.  We are pushing at New York Universitynow, where I am now, for the establishment of a center for dialogue with the Islamic world.

I remember speaking some years ago to a group of U.N. ambassadors from Islamic countries and telling them that unless they wanted the American people to think that Osama bin Laden symbolized Islam, they’d better get busy teaching about the constructive part of their tradition.  And the rest of us had the responsibility to listen.  I made that comment, but I would be interested to know to what extent to the members of the panel see efforts being made in the American academic community to encourage the study of the Islamic world and, in particular, of Islam?

COOK:  Well, you looked at me so I’ll take it on.

There certainly has been an explosion since I left the university campus three years ago in students and faculty members who are interested in the Islamic world, interested in studying Arabic, interested in studying Persian.  So I think that we are well on our way; the question is how to make that sustainable and continue.

There was a boomlet of this kind of interest after the first Gulf War.  The question is now how that can be sustained so we can develop this expertise.

BRONNER:  Other questions?

QUESTIONER:  Pete Mansoor, Council on Foreign Relations.

This comment and question mark at the end will be addressed to Ray.  And I’d like to make the counter case that Shia power, especially Iranian Shia power, is going to be stabilizing to the Middle East.

The counter argument is that the major political party in Iraq, SCIRI, has very close ties to Iran.  Currently, the Iranian government is providing improvised explosive device technology to Shia groups within Iraq, which is directly responsible for the death of American soldiers there.  They have very close ties to the Syrian regime.  And should an Iraqi government emerge which has very close ties to Tehran, Tehran would have effective control over a good chunk of the world’s oil supply with ambitions to gain a nuclear status with its ongoing nuclear program.  And that is somehow, because it’s stabilizing for that portion of the world, good for theUnited States?  Question mark.

TAKEYH:  Is the Iranian nuclear bomb—a lot of people view it as a threat.  I tend to view it as an opportunity for personal purposes.  (Laughter.)

Is SCIRI and others—what can you attribute to the electoral success of Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution, Da’wa and so on?  Why have they been successful? Why has SCIRI essentially managed to become triumphant inBaghdad? 

I think part of that is their organizational capability.  Part of that is the establishment of their own identity.  And if you look at what the leadership of the Iraqi political parties, Shia political parties are saying, they’re saying very clearly that we have no intention of emulating the Iranian theocratic model here; we have our own identity, our own interests, and we recognize that we have to exist in an Iraqi political context and Iraqi national political context.

So we’re part ofIraq, despite the fact that we might have been in Iran for periods of exile. 

And Da’wa was also in Syria and Lebanon and elsewhere.  And they had no choice under the repressive regime of Saddam Hussein.  So I don’t think necessarily that could be held against them.

But also, as Iraqi political society matures, I think you begin to see the Shia organizations put greater distance between themselves and Iran, specifically to address that particular question—namely, your empowerment yields—(or ?) national subordinations to Iran.  So I think that’s actually going to change and I think it has continued to change.

On Iran’s nuclear program per se, I think no matter what happens in terms of American or international community’s response, we are going to have to adjust to living in a Middle East where there’s a second power with a mature nuclear capability—not necessarily weapons but a mature nuclear capability with an advanced nuclear infrastructure.  And that may essentially guide how the United States and other actors, regional and national community, reacts to the changing strategic alignments of the Middle East, because I think that’s just where it’s going to go, no matter what options are contemplated.  Perhaps with a different—greater degree of diplomatic, political changes between United States and Iran, you can have imposing certain degree of restrain on Iran’s nuclear program.  And at this point, the negotiations that are taking place are not for Iran to dismantle the nuclear edifice but to restrain and regulate it.  And I think that’s just where it’s going to go.

BRONNER:  Okay, well, I think we’re seeing the hook.  It’s beyond a quarter-of.

So I want to say, thanks, Steven and Toby and Ray.

And lunch is in 15 minutes.  (Applause.)







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