Session Four: Regional Consequences: The Geopolitics of the Changing Middle East
Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; Author, The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square
Visiting Lecturer in International Affairs and Visiting Research Scholar, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University (Currently on leave as Fellow at St. Antony's College, University of Oxford)
Emeritus Fellow, St. Antony's College; Former Professor of International Relations, University of Oxford
Deputy Foreign Editor and Former Cairo Bureau Chief, New York Times
MICHAEL SLACKMAN: I'm Michael Slackman. I'm the deputy foreign editor with The New York Times now. Previously, I had been in the Middle East for eight years.
We have a distinguished panel here today. And according to the program, it says we're going to discuss regional consequences of the Arab Spring. But of course, that touches on an awful lot of subjects. And we'd love to hear what you have to say as well, and what questions you have.
We'll start with our panelists up here today. To my furthest left is Mr. Avi Shlaim -- did I get that right -- emeritus fellow, St. Antony's College; to my immediate left is Marwa Daoudy, visiting lecturer in international affairs, with an expertise in Syria; and in the middle is my friend Steven Cook, who many of you know, author and the Hasib Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies, Council on Foreign Relations.
As I said, the general topic for us to discuss here is regional consequences. The old paradigm of the Middle East has been shaken and, in many cases, has fallen down. The Muslim Brotherhood appears to be the predominant power in Egypt. Islamists also are coming to power in Libya. Turkey is on the rise. Syria is under siege.
Steven, what do you think it all means for the regional relationship?
STEVEN A. COOK: (Chuckles.) Thank you very much, Michael.
First of all, thank you all for being here this afternoon. Thanks to the folks from Oxford for traveling all this way -- except for Marwa who just had a 90-minute train ride, as Jim Lindsay pointed out this morning -- for joining us here at Council on Foreign Relations world headquarters.
And Michael, thank you for agreeing to do this. I have many fond memories of sitting in the garden at the Marriot Hotel in Zamalek chewing over what was Egyptian politics, with you, during all those years.
I think that it's probably banal to say that the region -- the regional order has changed quite a bit as a result of the Arab uprisings. So I think you have to look at trends in one direction and changes in another direction. I think we are seeing three kind of dominant political trends in the region.
One is, quite obviously, the rise of Islamist movements in the region. That's not necessarily a bad thing. But clearly, Islamists now and in freer and more-open political environments are winning elections. I don't think that should be a surprise to anybody who's been even casually paying attention to what was going on in the Middle East over the course of the last three, four decades, or so.
The second trend in the region is quite obviously the rise of Turkey and the emergence of Turkey as a regional player. Turkey had, at one time, been a kind of passive observer of events in the region, not wanting to get entangled in the region and keeping with the Ataturk maxim "peace at home and peace in the world." The Turks just wanted to stay home, they didn't want to go anywhere else.
And that is -- obviously, the role of Turkey in the Middle East has been changing since 2002 when the Justice and Development Party came to power, this party of Islamist patrimony, which was intriguing to many in the Arab world. Because for Arab liberals, it seemed like a party of Islamist patrimony that could advance a liberal or a quasi-liberal political agenda.
And for Islamists, it was a group of Islamists who had accumulated political power and have since held onto it. And they obviously became more active in the Middle East. But since then, we have been just bombarded with discussion of the Turkish model and Turkey this and Turkey that. And clearly, the Turks have a role to play.
And I then I think the third trend in the region is the rather peripheral role that outside powers, and particularly the United States, is playing in the region. And I think that overall for the United States, this is a massive shift.
Egypt was a linchpin of a regional political order that made it relatively easier for the United States to pursue and achieve its objectives in the region. That order was made of Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the small Gulf states. But Egypt stood at the center because of its peace treaty with Israel, because it sits on the Suez Canal, central to U.S. strategy in the region, and that has -- that is unlikely to be the same kind of relationship that we had over the course of the last 30 years, that we had with President Mubarak.
So the region is quite scrambled. And it's still working itself out. We have tiers of countries. We have countries that are struggling to achieve its revolutionary promises and goals. We have countries essentially where leaders are ducking and trying very hard to make sure that they are not consumed by people power. And then you have repressive states that are trying to stave off and reestablish the fear factor in hopes of hanging on.
And it is going to be uncertain going forward. But I think those three trends and the position of the United States are abundantly clear, no matter what the outcomes are in any of these countries.
SLACKMAN: Interestingly, one of the roles you -- one of the dynamics you talk about, Steven, is the diminished role that foreign powers are playing in the region. That's in part because everyone has flown off, it seems to me. They're not sure that the old paradigm is gone.
Mr. Shlaim, Professor Shlaim, can you tell us how the Israelis reacted to the changing paradigm now? How are they behaving without a Hosni Mubarak to rely on or even, to some extent, a, you know, Arab League to rely on?
AVI SHLAIM: The Israeli reaction to the Arab Spring has been very, very negative at all levels of Israeli society -- the public, the defense establishment and the Israeli leadership.
Arab Spring also gives Israel opportunities as well as dangers. And the Israelis have greatly exaggerated and highlighted the strengths and the dangers to their security of the Arab awakening, and have tended to ignore the opportunities to become part of the region.
So it's not just political reasons that explain Israel's reaction, it's also broader, long-term, cultural reasons.
The truth of the matter is that Israel never wanted to be part of the Middle East, and still does not. Israel has always regarded itself as part of the West.
The first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, used to say, it's only as a result of a geographical accident that we found ourselves here in the Middle East. Our culture and our values make us part of the West.
And there is another issue, and that is Israeli security, which is paramount. And Israeli security in the past was based on cooperation with Arab dictators, that was riyal politik. And Israel's experience of dealing with Arab dictators justified the belief that Arab dictators are the best way to promote regional stability and to preserve Israeli security.
Examples of Arab dictators would be Anwar Sadat, King Hussein of Jordan but, most of all, Hosni Mubarak. Hosni Mubarak, when he became president, one of the first things he did was to send a message to the Israeli leadership to say he will honor every commitment entered by his predecessor, to Israel. And for the next 30 years, Mubarak was the enforcer, the faithful enforcer of the unpopular peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
So Mubarak was a linchpin. Mubarak, not to put too fine a point on it, was the subcontractor for American and Israeli security in the entire region. And when -- this is why Benjamin Netanyahu lobbied the White House so vigorously to support Mubarak all the way and also lobbied European capitals to support Mubarak, arguing that anything that replaces Mubarak would be worse.
And after Mubarak decided to step down, the Israelis offered him political asylum.
So with the fall of Mubarak, the whole of the regional, political and territorial order began to disintegrate. So Israel now faces all the dilemmas connected with the Arab Spring.
And the final point I would make is that the Israeli response to Arab Spring has completely sidelined the issue of democracy. In the past, Israeli leaders, Benjamin Netanyahu, would usually insist that a shift to democracy on the Arab side is an essential precondition to genuine peace, lasting peace, because you only make real peace with democratic state.
And Benjamin Netanyahu used to echo the claims of Western political scientists about democratic peace here, with democracies don't fight one another. Now we see a trend towards democracy throughout the Arab world, and Netanyahu changes his tune. Now he says, this is a real problem for us, this is a threat for us, and those who believe that this is a democratic evolution are naive. As he said to the Knesset, this is an Islamic revolution, it's anti-Western, anti-democratic, anti-liberal, anti-Israeli, and it's a threat to our security.
So I'm afraid -- I wish I could point to one positive aspect of the Israeli response to the Arab awakening, but I can't.
SLACKMAN: We don't want to spend a huge amount of time focusing on the Arab-Israeli conflict, but you do raise an important question, and I'm curious what you guys think about this.
As a result of the fall of Hosni Mubarak and the changing paradigm in the region, could you have a situation where a peace is actually negotiated by leaders, that is unpopular with the people, and that would be implemented?
In other words, could Camp David happen today? Because what we've seen happen across the region is, the rise of the Arab street, even in Egypt where there's a military on power that has all the authority of the Emergency Law that Hosni Mubarak had, who are responsive to the street.
Is it time for a new paradigm, that the United States and Israel need to recognize that the claim to bilateral, leader-driven negotiations won't work?
MARWA DAOUDY: First, talking about the paradigm shift, I think it's very important to note that where the focus comes. Over the years, there was a focus on the need for a paradigm shift within the Arab world -- meaning, you have these undemocratic regimes, political stagnation, economic stagnation.
And finally with the Arab Spring, people just -- (inaudible) -- they had. And we were all, you know, endogenous, genuine movement -- continuous movement where people just confronted very brutal systems. And they led their own revolution. And there was a shift there within the Arab world.
I think there's a need for a shift within the Western and also (for me ?) within the USA, a shift in this paradigm through which the Arab world is being appraised. We hear words such as -- (inaudible, background noise) -- we hear words such as "their values, our values" or the need for the Western mind-set.
I mean, clearly, there, there's a need to change also this perception that the Arab world has been this stagnant, you know, area of the world, which is outside of the international system. Finally now, here we have bottom-up approaches, people to the streets; it is -- there are real revolutions, in that sense.
And it's not something which is inherent to the culture or to the religion, because we had also discussions this morning about, is there something inherent to Islam, which prevents the Muslims from changing their system or moving beyond stagnation?
So the paradigm shift should be on both ways, on both sides of the (equation ?).
Now, going back to the issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Of course, this is an overarching conflict, overarching, you know, the current situation. It hasn't been resolved so far. There has been peace protests, peace negotiations. But you still have the conflict between Israel and Palestine -- negotiations which have stalled and stalled -- Israel and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon.
And what is happening within the Arab states will have an impact on this issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
What is interesting also, for example, is regimes such as the Syrian regime -- despite its very brutal and authoritarian and security-based system which was preventing any freedom of speech or any multi-party system, and repressing, I would say, any dissent -- it has some sort of religious -- (inaudible) -- within Syria and outside of Syria because of its strong position vis-a-vis Israel.
So the question now, this Syrian revolution is not about Israel, it's merely about the Assad regime. But what would be the situation after? Does this mean that the post-Assad government will just not seek to have the Golan Heights back? I don't think so. I think that will still be a red line for any post-Assad regime.
And if that's -- if there are calculations that, if there is a new post-Assad regime, would that mean that peace with Israel would come just at any price for the Syrians, that would need to be taking into account the priorities which are seen as the return of the occupied territories and the Palestine question?
So I think it's not about the Palestine or the Arab-Israeli conflict, but it is -- it's a bad (channel ?), and it will have a role in the immediate future of the Arab world.
SLACKMAN: Steven, you have seen -- we've seen really a fundamental shift in the way that leaders are now driving the agenda or the street is driving the agenda. How does that affect the regional dynamic?
COOK: Well, clearly, the age of either the Israelis or the United States or any other outside power making side deals with the regional authoritarians and being able to count on these authoritarians to do things that run counter to public opinion, is over. And that's why, by definition, to the extent that you have, if not more-democratic systems, but systems in which public opinion matters in new and different ways, it's going to be harder for the United States to do the kinds of things that it has traditionally done in the past, and it's certainly going to be harder for Israel to do the things that it has done in the past.
I think it's incumbent upon Israelis and Americans to shift and adjust to new regional realities. Clearly -- clearly -- public opinion is going to drive certain aspects of foreign policy.
A moment that was so vivid for me, for a variety of reasons, and I wrote about it in my book, was the Egyptian opposition's response to the Mavi Maramar incident. Remember this incident with the boat off of Gaza, and the Israelis were -- you all know this story.
Well, here was Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey, speaking very strongly about what the Israelis had done, while the Egyptians were not only quiet, they were complicit in enforcing a blockade on Gaza, both land and sea. And Egyptian opposition said, how is it that this Turk, we admire him, but how is it that he is taking the position that our leaders should be taking?
And those are the kinds of things that you are going to see. And that is what is rearranging the kind of geo-strategic map in the region. Neither the Israelis nor the United States are going to be able to count on having implicit alliances with regional authoritarians, whether they had peace treaties with them or not.
And directly to your question, is it possible to have Camp David today, I don't think so. I don't think so. And in fact, in Egypt, people want to renegotiate key aspects of the peace treaty because it is widely regarded as a shameful piece.
SLACKMAN: So does this lead -- and anybody, please jump in -- does this lead to greater stability or greater instability?
COOK: Well, I can continue to talk, but I want to give everybody --
SHLAIM: I think it leads to greater instability in the region because, as far as the Arab-Israeli conflict is concerned, because peace in Israel, peace you make with dictators. And it's a lot easier to conduct a relationship with a country which is ruled by one individual and his cronies, whether it's an Arab dictator or an Arab king, as in the case of King Hussein of Jordan, popular opinion, the Arab street, as we call it, has always been hostile to Israel.
So it's only pragmatic Arab rulers who could take the change of making a peace treaty with Israel. It's happened between Egypt and Israel, and then Jordan and Israel.
And there was no support in Jordan for peace with Israel, not only the people in public opinion, but also the political class was opposed to a peace treaty. And the situation hasn't changed in Jordan. The overwhelming majority of Jordanians are anti-normalization.
And in Egypt, ever since the peace treaty, their lead, the intellectuals, have had a cultural boycott of Israel, which persists to this day. So Israel didn't really have much of a choice. But today, the situation is unpredictable and unstable because it's one thing to have a relationship with one ruler and his cronies; it's quite another to engage with a pluralistic society, with a democratic society. This is an experience that Israel hasn't had in the past, and it doesn't know how to handle it.
And there is a comment by Ehud Barak, the defense minister, which summarizes all this. He says, Israel is a villa in the jungle. Well, if that's how Israelis view their neighborhood, then there isn't much hope for reconciliation, coexistence or stability.
DAOUDY: I think it's (been dismissed to saying ?) that the region was stable before the Arab Spring. Clearly, if you look at it from the regional perspective --
I mean, you have the Iraq war in 2003. It was like consequences not only for Iraq, but for the neighboring countries, as well. You have the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006, the Gaza War in 2008. And the serious border -- you know, tensions between all of these countries.
So the question is, will instability continue, or is the Arab Spring a turning point to a change in the regional, you know, geopolitical order which might bring in fact all of these new actors or the old and new actors together to achieve a real peace in that sense, not just dragging on a process of negotiations which has not led, so far, to much in terms of -- even in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian process. The agreement was not implemented, you have hurdles on the way.
And perhaps there would be a chance here. So if you want to be an optimist, you could say, perhaps there's a chance because the people are -- will be in power. And that would lead the Israelis to deal with the people instead of leading with, you know, unelected or authoritarian regimes.
And in that case, the United States also has a role to play, to help to open the way for effective, meaningful negotiations to achieve there, too.
SLACKMAN: So the very concept of stability is also in play right now.
COOK: No, I just want to make the point that it strikes me that, obviously for the short run, we're going to see more instability in the region, because countries that are undergoing transition are more unstable. That's not to suggest that the authoritarian regimes of the region, prior to the uprisings, were stable, but that we will see more instability, uncertainty in the politics in the region.
But there is one thing -- and Marwa will be surprised because we're going to actually agree on something -- is that you can think that Egypt, for example, is even halfway successful in building a political system that is reflective and representative of what the people want, and thus have legitimacy. Egypt will reestablish at least some of its lost luster in the region, and will be a more appropriate interlocutor for the United States and the Israelis, in the region.
And that way, you will have more durable agreements and more durable governments.
SLACKMAN: And Marwa will say?
DAOUDY: I'm grateful to say, but I have to say that I agree with you on -- (inaudible, laughter).
DAOUDY: I think legitimate rulers and having perhaps a legitimate government who would renegotiate Camp David, in the sense that Camp David was also seen as an emblem of the Mubarak regime -- not peace necessarily with Israel, but having a peace which was not achieved on Egyptian terms in the collective mentality, the Egyptian collective mentalities.
And I would say on the Syrian side as well, and the Palestinian side, if you have the capacity of the possibility of having people who represent some sort of majority rule, and have a legitimacy in that sense and would be able to enter into meaningful negotiations on a peace-against-land formula, why not? That would be, I think, the way forward.
And that's what Mubarak has been doing clearly, so far.
SHLAIM: I'd like to make a comment about the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty. I don't think it's in any imminent danger of being renounced. I think it's fairly safe for the foreseeable future, because that peace treaty follows the security interests of both parties, not just the Israeli interests.
And the first thing that -- (inaudible) -- said after the revolution was that Egypt will honor all of its international obligations, which included the peace treaty with Israel.
And as far as I know, not a single Muslim Brotherhood leader has called for the renunciation of the treaty. So the treaty is likely to stay in place for practical reasons, but there is a new mood in Egypt and throughout the Arab world, which is much more critical of Israel, much, much more critical of Israel for its occupation of Palestinian lands and its oppression of the Palestinians.
And incidentally, also a lot of hostility throughout the Arab and Islamic world towards American for its complicity in the Israeli occupation and for its complicity, if not active support for the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.
So there is a new mood in Egypt, and the treaty will be observed, will be honored. But the treaty doesn't say that Egypt has to cooperate with Israel in imposing the illegal and inhuman blockade of Gaza, which has been there since 2007.
The treaty doesn't say that Jordan has to help Israel in suppressing Hamas and suppressing and democratically elected Palestinian government. The treaty doesn't say that Egypt has to conspire with Israel to overthrow a democratically elected Palestinian government. And all these are revelations in the Palestine papers. They reveal that after the Hamas victory in January 2006, there was a secret committee which included Israel, America, Hamas and Egypt, to isolate and weaken Hamas and overthrow it and prepare the way to a Fatah coup against Hamas.
So these are all very dangerous revelations, and they are part of the "Palestinian spring," protesting in the streets of Ramallah, against the Palestinian Authority, for its secret collaboration with Israel, against Hamas.
SLACKMAN: And one of the challenging things about our panel is it's tough to tell where they stand on these issues. (Laughter.)
Let's switch to Syria for a second, because it is, at the moment, probably in the greatest crisis in the region. But I have kind of a roundabout question not directly related to the actual bloodletting that's occurring there right now.
You said earlier that the Syrian regime drew its legitimacy from being kind of the vanguard of resistance to Israel. How has the events in Syria redefined the concept of a resistance?
And what does that do to the regional dynamics for a group like Hezbollah and for Hamas, that have taken different views towards Syria now?
I mean, what is happening to this whole idea of legitimacy through resistance, for Syria, and how that's affected the region?
DAOUDY: That's a good question. This legitimacy -- by the way, this position by the Syrian regime is a traditional Syrian position. It's not only the Assad regime. Since 1948, Syria has had a very strong position on the Palestine question. Meaning, considering that since 1948 it's been the thorny issue in the region because of the disposition of the Palestinian people after 1948.
So it's a tradition. And there's some sort of solidarity feeling within Syria between the Syrian people and the Palestinians, knowing also because of the historical link between the two people.
So the regime has also, you know, fed on that position. And it has managed to build some sort of legitimacy, I would say, on the Arab street as well, as having been part of this act of resistance, you know, even in the negotiation process.
I worked on -- I've done research on the Israeli-Syrian negotiation process. It was very interesting to see accounts on even, you know, American mediations, account, Israeli firsthand witness, you know, writing their memoirs -- and on the Syrian side, as well -- to see how long these issues were on the table. And how somehow, despite the appearance, for very in-depth discussions on co-issues between the two sides. But at the same time the Syrian side planning strong on its position: the return of the occupied Golan Heights and in the beginning the support to the Palestinian cause.
I would say, since what happened last year in Syria, this legitimacy has been completed eroded, because it's not anymore about that. It's about what the regime is doing to its people, killing its people. And in that sense, it's not enough anymore to resort to that.
They tried in the beginning to say, we're the vanguard of resistance, et cetera. And now within Syrian, people who have, you know, who still believe in the Palestine issue, the Palestine question and are activists in that sense, are separating the two issues. And they're saying, now we're dealing with a regime, what they're doing, the brutality.
And I think the regime realized that it was not enough, and now it's building more or feeding more sectarian strife, I would say, to try to remain in power, plus as a survival strategy. But --
SLACKMAN: How does that radiate out then?
DAOUDY: What is very interesting is, I have students of mine who tell me they meet -- and they are Syrian activists -- and they meet other young activists who tell them that now the regime is the only anti-imperialist power remaining in the region. So they feel a bit torn between supporting the regime for it strong stance vis-a-vis Israel, which no other Arab country has so far, and what it's doing to its people.
So it has -- there has been very heated debates in that sense. And of course, the ones who are very lucid are separating because they say now it's a question of what is happening within Syria, and there's a need for a change in that sense for a complete change, a political change.
And it comes back to the point that I made previously. Within the Syrian national conscious, I would say, the issue of Palestine is still there, and the issue of the Golan Heights.
So there was an assumption for a while if there would be a post-Assad regime, Israel would just, you know, be able to settle for any agreements. I think that would not be the case, because the patriotic agenda in Syria is important. And I think that would have to be dealt with.
In terms of Hezbollah, of course, Hezbollah's position with the Syrian regime has this kind of basis amongst many of the young activists who were very much in support of the Lebanese resistance because they see it as Lebanese resistance vis-a-vis Israel. And they haven't understood -- (inaudible) -- has still taken sides, when he's talking about, you know, standing with the oppressed. And very clearly, there are strategic calculations which are -- (inaudible).
SLACKMAN: Should we go to questions, Stacy (sp)?
QUESTIONER: My name is Khalid Azim. Since we're talking about changing geopolitics, we haven't mentioned Iran at all in the conversation. I wondered if we could address how Iran -- what role Iran plays in the change.
SLACKMAN: Well, since we were talking about Syria, and Syria is often seen as kind of Iran's linchpin to the region, why don't we start with you, Marwa? What do you think?
DAOUDY: Well, there are two things. There is first what is happening within Syria can be seen through different lenses. Either you look at it as a very powerful movement which started last year, which had a lot of strength because it was non-sectarian, and it has kept as a non-sectarian movement since -- until very recently. It was not militarized; it was peaceful. And it was completely indigenous. There was no foreign interference.
So that work made the Syrian revolution a very powerful, internal movement, which made it last, despite the brutality of the regime.
You could look also at what is happening in Syria from a different lens, which is the wider, strategic ambitions. And unfortunately, since a few months, Syria has been, you know, entering into the cold war which is being played by, I would say, a broad coalition, Saudi, wider Saudi, American, Israeli coalitions vis-a-vis the, you know, rise of an Iranian -- what they perceive as an Iranian hegemony.
And Syria has been used for that, in the sense that if there's a weakening of the Syrian regime, that would also indirectly weaken Iran. And some would say the rulers of an Israeli strike against Iran, since a few months, and looming, you know, this looming scenario, entering into that game as well, that would be the way to completely have two fronts: a weakening of the Syrian ally and, at the same time, a strike on the nuclear capabilities in Iran.
And I would say, looking at it from the Syrian perspective, it's very unfortunate, because the revolution is being instrumental, aside this cold war. And we know that the Saudis and the Qatari are sending sending weapons to the opposition, to have this dual-effect strategy.
SLACKMAN: Steven, how has the overall dynamic of the Arab Spring impacted on Iran, which had clearly been on the rise prior to this moment?
COOK: Well, I'm not sure it actually had been on the rise, per se. I think that there were moments when Iran loomed larger in Arab politics than perhaps its natural capacities to do the kinds of things that it wants to do in the region, more broadly.
And you think about the Lebanon war in 2006 and the stand that the Iranians took, and that that was -- and Hezbollah, to the extent that it is regarded as an ally of the Iranians, that was one of those moments.
But if you look at the people who have instigated uprisings throughout the region, the people who have outmaneuvered the people who have instigated the uprisings and now hold a lot of the political power, Iran doesn't really have anything to offer them.
Certainly to the young activists, they don't look to Iran, they don't look to Saudi Arabia. They look elsewhere. One of the places that they're looking actually is Turkey. But even that, in and of itself, is problematic, given significant, historical legacies there that are just beneath the surface.
You know, 10 years ago in the Arab world, you couldn't really say anything nice -- Arabs couldn't say anything nice about Turks. I mean, you know this from your time in Cairo. So I think that the Iranians have sought to capitalize this in a way.
I remember being Tahrir Square and the Iranians saying, oh, yes, well, this is just an indication of our revolution, you know, 30 years on. Nothing could have been further from the truth. So the Iranians are, I think, more isolated as a result of the uprisings than they'd like to be.
And then you have these kinds of external -- these external pressures that Marwa is talking about, that the temptation to instrumentalize what is essentially a domestic uprising and an effort to throw off an illegitimate government and regime, like the Assad regime, and the temptation of, you know, strategic thinkers of seeing the benefit of the end of the Assad regime, if your goal is to isolate the Iranians from the region.
Because ultimately, 30 years after the Syrians struck a strategic relationship with the Iranians, this has boiled down to, in essence, an alliance between a family, a country, Iran, and that there is enormous strategic benefit to be had as a result of the end of the Assad regime.
Now, whether we have the means to make that happen or make the decision to make that happen, I don't know. But Marwa's certainly right that that thinking is out there.
SLACKMAN: Well, that's two times.
COOK: Well, no, we actually disagree -- (laughter) -- because I think it's a great idea. She thinks it's a terrible idea. I'm just trying to maintain panel comedy.
COOK: So beat me up outside later.
DAOUDY: (Inaudible) -- with me --
SHLAIM: May I respond to the last question on Iran?
SLACKMAN: This --
QUESTIONER: (Inaudible.) And how -- these upheavals happening inside the Arab states, what happened to Nasserist ideas of pan-Arab something? And how does that impact Turkey, who has now the leadership of the OIC, and that is based in Saudi Arabia?
SLACKMAN: Who wants to jump in on --
DAOUDY: Avi wants this?
SHLAIM: No. (Laughter.)
DAOUDY: He can --
SLACKMAN: Do you want to answer the Iran question?
SLACKMAN: We'll get to that, I promise you.
DAOUDY: Well, I can jump in, too.
SLACKMAN: Sure, go ahead.
DAOUDY: What happened to pan-Arab is main fact, and the full equation, right? I mean, clearly, the war of 1967 and the defeat has put a big blow on pan-Arabism in the sense that the defeat has somehow impacted on the dreams of a united and strong and powerful Arab world.
These ideas are still part of the world, you know, of the Arab region. I mean, a lot of people dream about a strong, powerful nationalism which would bring forward modernization, et cetera.
Now, looking at the -- (inaudible, background noise) -- regime, I think, in terms of their foreign policy, it's not a pan-Arabist, I mean, agenda at all. Each one has its national interests, national security interests. And in the case of even the ones who claim to be pan-Arab, we just see that even Iraq, before 2003, or the Syrian regime, until recently, the pan-Arab discourse is used, but in act it's very much national security interests or regime-oriented interests.
QUESTIONER: How does it --
SLACKMAN: Do you have a question? I know --
QUESTIONER: -- impact Turkey? And how does Turkey work with the Saudi government having the OIC placed in Saudi Arabia?
SLACKMAN: Let's go to the next question, over here. One question, to a person.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Ron Tiersky (ph). This is an extremely interesting discussion on the fundamental factors in the Arab Spring.
I don't want to bring this fascinating discussion into gossip, but Professor Shlaim, you did say that Israel offered asylum to Mubarak. Maybe I'm in the minority, but I hadn't heard that before. So I'd ask you and others, if they know more, to talk more about this offer of asylum and perhaps talk about if there were any other countries that offered asylum to Mubarak and why, if so, why is he still there on trial? You know, what's in his head? And where do you think the treatment of Mubarak will end up, and what will be its significance?
That's a long series of questions.
SHLAIM: Two countries supported Mubarak: Saudi Arabia and Israel. Israel was the strongest supporter of Mubarak. The Saudis wanted to give Mubarak a dignified exit, whereas the Israelis wanted to keep him in power. And the Saudis, as we heard earlier, thought that the Americans treated Mubarak, the old ally, very shabbily, and they took offense.
But the Israelis tried to mobilize as much support as they could in the West in order to keep Mubarak in power. And they failed. Obama wobbled, and he was influenced by the Israeli arguments, and he nearly came down on the wrong side of history. But just in the nick of time, he managed to come out in support of the revolution.
And as for the Israeli -- once Mubarak had made his own decision to step down, the Israelis offered him political asylum. I read this in Haaretz -- I think I read it in Haaretz. It hasn't been very widely circulated, this story. But from what I can remember, it was Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, former leader of the Labor Party, and a minister, who conveyed the offer of political asylum to Mubarak, and he didn't take it up, obviously.
But it shows a certain Israeli -- it shows, on the one hand, loyalty to a faithful ally, who had served Israel well. And on the other hand, it shows insensitivity to the Arab street, to the Egyptian people, because as we have said many times before in these discussions, this revolution is not primarily anti-Israel or anti-imperialist. It's an internal revolution.
The best feature of this revolution is that it's homegrown. And the agenda is the same everywhere. It's economic opportunity, social justice, political reform.
And karama wataniya -- national dignity. And the Israeli relationship with Mubarak, the perception that Mubarak was an Israeli stooge, is an affront to Egyptian national dignity.
COOK: Let me just quickly talk about Mubarak and the Mubarak trial. There's actually no evidence that the Israelis officially offered, extended an offer of asylum to President Mubarak. It is something that Ben-Eliezer has said, that was picked up in the newspapers, saying, he could come here if he could come here if he'd like. I thought it was a result of a glib tweet that I did, perfectly, absolutely glib.
But I think that the Mubarak trial is extraordinarily interesting. I also think it was an extraordinary mistake in one way. At the time, all of my Egyptian friends said, they'll never put him on trial. And literally, the next day, they said, he's going to be on trial as of August 3rd.
The reason why I thought it was a mistake was that Egypt -- this took up time during a transition period, during the long, hot summer of 2011 when groups had been politically organizing. It also has gotten in the way of finding out what the truth is during the Mubarak era.
Everybody seems to think that they know what's happened. But I will tell you, having been there during the uprising, very, very early on they started burning documents, crushing CDs, burying things. And I thought it would have been wiser -- of course, Mubarak needs to answer for his crimes, of which there were many, not just the 800-plus deaths during those 18 days, there were many, many crimes.
I thought that the best way to go would have been a truth and reconciliation commission in which people were given certain protections in order to come forward and give up their assets and so on and so forth, and tell everything that happened, explain where everything is and so on and so forth. That didn't happen.
I also think it would have been important for the rest of the region had the Egyptians gone that route. And there's evidence that the SCAF thought about that. They sent a delegation to South Africa to find out about truth and reconciliation.
But the power of public opinion demanded that Mubarak be put on trial, and that's where we are right now. And we may never find out some of the great secrets we'd all like to know about what happened during the Mubarak era.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Jeff Laurenti with the Century Foundation. When we had the last big pan-Arab awakening, the anti-imperialist awakening, if you will, of the 1950s, there was an outside power ready to fill in the need of breaking Western dominance, and that was the Soviet Union.
In this go-around, is the movement essentially one that rebuffs, that excludes outside powers? In the case of Libya, the French, the Italians had oil interests that were driving them. But elsewhere in the region, do the Europeans, either individually or collectively, have any new role that they are building for themselves?
Are the Russians basically just desperate to keep their last toehold of influence in Syria, no hopes of expanding it?
China, India, the so-called BRICs of the future, do they see any roles? And what is the sentiment among the Arab publics as to what role, if any, they want from outside powers or the international community, collectively, the U.N., as they chart their future?
DAOUDY: Well, I think the issue of foreign interference is a very sensitive issue. Traditionally, I mean, we had a brilliant lecture yesterday by Professor MacMillan about the history of, you know, foreign powers and their mingling with local politics and the way they drive to the region, which has impact, until today, which has an impact, until today.
We had also a discussion this morning about conspiracy theories which are still very much there in the region. But they are based also on fact. I mean, there's been a history. For example, the case of Syria, you hear about, you know, there hasn't been any democracy. After the independence, you had a democratic, parliamentarian system in Syria, and it was toppled by a coup in 1949, which was a CIA-led coup.
So it's not just part of the myths. It's something which is true, historically. So it's there, you know, and it has impact on people's collective mentalities.
Nowadays, however, everything is shifted, in the sense that it's not anymore about the foreign powers, et cetera, it's about regimes which have been there too long and have abused too much their populations. So we're changing the discourse.
However -- (inaudible) -- the Great Powers -- I mean, the foreign powers are back in the equation. We're talking about the U.S. still for trying to redefine its policy. And we'll have a panel later about that. Russia also having an alliance and having also strategic interests in the region.
And I think now the smartness of the local actors would be how to manage that. Will they be recuperated and instrumentalized? And will they accept that. And in that case, I think this is where the discussion about military intervention is also very sensitive in the sense, if you have military intervention, you allow the foreign powers to come and put troops and boots on the ground. And we have a history of disastrous impacts on that foreign military intervention. And how do you manage that?
At the same time, you need some sort of international involvement, because you have violations -- human rights violations.
But then you have to define what type of involvement are you looking -- condemnation, sanctions, pressures, et cetera.
But then there's also the need for a strategic partnership to be redefined by the external powers in dealing with these emerging new actors, and perhaps to have more a symmetrical relation than a domination.
COOK: Let me just get in on this quickly for a second. I think you're buying into a little bit of too much of the regime narrative about them being these kind of pan-Arab, resistant. That is what they said, they were resistant to outside powers and responding to foreign domination.
In fact, Ambassador James Caffrey, the ambassador to Egypt during the coup d'etat, referred to Nasser and the Free Officers as his boys. Kermit Roosevelt set up the General Intelligence Service in Egypt. These were officers who were willing to hook up with the United States under certain conditions. They were hoping for $100 million of military aid from the United States; when we only came up with 40 (million dollars), they got angry.
So what Nasser's foreign policy was about was called positive neutralism. That was playing everybody off of everybody in order to extract rents from them.
So let's be a little historically grounded in what this was about. It was only a kind of cover, this kind of -- this rhetoric about pan-Arabism, more than reality.
Now, when we come to today, I think there is genuine sentiment on the streets throughout the region that they would like the United States and other powers to back off. Tahrir Square, the uprising in Egypt was a movement of national empowerment indignity.
On the eve of Mubarak's departure, one of the chants in Tahrir Square was, hold up your head. The Egyptians don't want to have us -- in the last 30 years, the United States in particular became a negative political issue in the United States (sic) that everybody tried to use against each other. Now Egyptians, they don't necessarily want our help.
President Obama gave a big speech about the Arab uprisings and the so-called Arab Spring, May 19th of last year. The only people who paid attention to it were people like me who live inside the Beltway. In the Arab world, nobody paid any attention to this.
And that's why I think the Brotherhood -- to ground this into current things that are going on in the region right now -- the Brotherhood is going through certain kinds of contortions in order to be able to accept an IMF agreement, because they know they need it, but it doesn't track with what they want.
And to the extent that I've been asked, when I've been asked about what I think we should do, I think we should take a step back from the region, because the Arab's certainly do not want it. They don't want us to be in there to be seen as trying to influence the trajectory of the region.
But don't believe those regime narratives about how they were responding to foreign domination -- only in rhetoric.
SHLAIM: The answer to the question is yes. Arab resentment of foreign interference is one of the main things in the history of the region since the first world war. One Arab leader was asked, what is the significance of the Arab uprisings? And he said, it's the biggest turning point in the history of the region since the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916.
Britain -- foreign imperialism has a very, very bad record in this, in the Arab world. Britain, in its time, was quite an effective imperial power. America has been a much less success imperial power. One former British ambassador told me that -- this was during the Bush administration -- America is unfit to be an imperial power in the Middle East for three reasons, all three beginning with "i": ignorance, incompetence and ideology.
This was neocon ideology. And when I say neocon, I include Tony Blair. In many ways, he was the worst of the bunch.
So the American -- the record of the American era in the Middle East has been a disaster all around. And I'm not anti-American. Some of my best friends are Americans. (Laughter.) But you just have to look at the consequences of American policy in the Middle East, of the last 10 years.
And now, I want, if I may, to make a plug for my former boss Eugene Rogan, who wrote a book, "The Arab History." And it's a very neutral book. You don't know where he stands. Very neutral. But if you just read the facts about the era of British and French colonialism in the Middle East, you'll see what I'm talking about, about the iniquities of imperialism.
So yes, the answer is that there is very, very strong Arab -- comprehensive Arab resentment of foreign interference in the region.
SLACKMAN: As there would be probably anywhere.
QUESTIONER: (Off mic.) George Schwab, National Committee on American Foreign Policy. My question is, six months ago, eight months ago, one heard a lot about the "Turkish-Israeli conflict," quote-unquote. Everything is quiet on that front. To what do you attribute this?
I've heard that there's a lot going on on the track one-and-a-half level, but I'm not 100 percent certain.
COOK: The Turks are concerned with other issues right now -- namely, what's going on in Syria and on its border and what that might mean.
But Israeli-Turkish relations remain in a deep freeze. The one bright spot is that business continues to be conducted. And when I was in Istanbul a few months ago, businesspeople were saying that they hoped to capitalize on this and perhaps push the government towards a new understanding with the Israelis.
This is a pipe dream, because you had the U.N. report, the inquiry into the Mavi Marmara incident, which essentially gave a pass to the Israelis, not only their enforcement of their blockade, but made the argument that the blockade was actually legal. That remains enormously controversial.
And the Turks outright reject the legal reasoning in the Palmer report, and continue to demand an apology and compensation. But the fact that the Palmer Report actually suggests -- indicates clearly that the blockade is legal and, indeed, the Israelis have every right to enforce it, means that there is going to be no apology and no compensation is going to be forthcoming. And we remain at a status quo.
And of course, we had a very, kind of destabilizing type of incidence in the Eastern Mediterranean where the Israelis -- it was the prospect of the Israelis and the Turkish navies getting into some sort of conflict. I think that the United States has played an important role there in helping to de-conflict, at least in the Eastern Mediterranean. But I don't think we can expect, going forward, both with the current composition of the Israeli government and any Turkish government at this point, given what the narrative is, that these relations are going to return.
And let me just say, they'll never return to where they were in the 1990s, because where they were in the 1990s were a function of political calculations by Turkish domestic political actors -- namely, the military, which saw that it had much to gain domestically by striking a strategic relationship, and to the extent -- with the Israelis.
And to the extent that the Turkish general staff has now gone out of business, it's unlikely that you'll see these kind of strategic relations return.
QUESTIONER: Ralph Buultjens, New York University. I want to follow up on your comment, Steven, by asking you, we've been hearing all these reports about potential oil and natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean. How will that affect the geopolitics of this and the relationship between Turkey and Israel?
COOK: Well, I think there's two schools of thought here. One is that, for the moment, there's a lost of chest-beating and posturing, and the Turkish navy is down there kind of showing the flag, although they were doing that long before there was an American -- one, before there was an American company prospecting for gas up the southern coast of Cyprus, there was a Norwegian company, and the Turks were doing the same thing.
But now that there's an American company, we seem to be upset about it, and the fact that the Israelis are now moving closer to Greece and the Republic of Cyprus.
So one school of thought is that this is going to make the situation far more dangerous, more difficult. The Turks are demanding that whatever gas is found, that it be shared by all the inhabitants on the island; the Republic of Cyprus has a different view, et cetera, et cetera.
The other school of thought, that the amounts of gas are likely to be so great that everybody's minds are going to be focused on benefiting from the windfall coming from the amount of gas, and they'll strike some sort of deal.
QUESTIONER: (Off mic.)
COOK: That's what they said.
SLACKMAN: If you don't mind, I'm feeling a little guilty that I cut (Pincus ?) off. So I'd like to ask a little question that's slightly related to what he had asked.
Saudi Arabia -- we've talked a little bit about Iran now -- Saudi Arabia is one of the other big, you know, 800-pound gorillas in the room. It's been both called the head of the anti -- the counterrevolution, and also an encourager of trying to overthrow -- an encouraging factor in trying to overthrow the Syrian regime, who wants stability and it wants to take out Iran.
What role is Saudi Arabia now playing in the region? And where do you see it trying to push things?
Anybody -- Marwa?
DAOUDY: Well, I think we should say Saudi Arabia and Qatar, because Qatar is also playing a very interesting game there. And I find it a bit ironical when I heard Saudi officials talking about violations of human rights, you know, and wanting to defend human rights in the Arab world, when we know what happened in Bahrain and what is happening within Saudi Arabia.
But clearly, here it's not about human rights; it's about Iranian supremacy. And unfortunately, I don't like to talk in sectarian terms, but here, there's clearly a feeling on the Saudi side that there's a rise of the Shi'a power through Iran, Iraq, and that there's a need to counter this with a Sunni power.
And a lot of the support to the armed groups within Syria, who are, you know, fighting the regime, is about a Sunni sort of agenda. They portray it as against the Alawi general regime, when in fact the revolution initially was anything but sectarian. It was about Syrian citizens, whatever their, you know, religious affiliation. And you have Christians, you have Alawis, you have Sunnis in the revolution against the regime, whatever the regime was.
So now it's turning into this game. So Saudi Arabia is in fact using every strategy possible to undermine the rise of this Iranian power in the region.
And Qatar is also joining the game, and Qatar also has its particular agenda, you know, in that sense.
SLACKMAN: And how about in Egypt? Are they involved in trying to push the direction of events in Egypt?
COOK: We shouldn't think about Saudi Arabia in terms of counterrevolution or whatever. Let's think about how Saudi Arabia approaches the world and approaches the problems that it confronts.
And there's one consistent policy that the Saudis undertake when they perceive a problem or an opportunity, and that is riyal politik -- r-i-y-h-l (sic), and what -- r-i-y-a-l politik. And that is that they use the vast resources at their disposal to try to shape events in order to protect the kingdom.
So it doesn't matter that they are widely regarded as counterrevolutionaries among Egyptian revolutionaries. Is it any coincidence that not only did they invest $130 billion into their own society -- invest $130 billion into their own society, as Mubarak was falling -- but also 10 billion (dollars) into Oman, which was having -- experiencing uprising in Mach 2011. And Bahrain, which is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In that sense, they are counterrevolutionary. Right. But because they really pursue a policy of riyal politik, the idea of the end of the Assad regime does tremendous benefit for the Saudis, so they're pouring money into the, quote-unquote, revolutionaries in Syria.
So it's -- you can't label them either way. You have to think about it in terms of what they're thinking about, how do we keep whatever problems we perceive around the region, outside the kingdom, and that's where we're going to invest.
SLACKMAN: And how does Israel see Saudi Arabia now?
SHLAIM: They're quite close, because for both parties, Iran is a main threat. And the rumors that Saudi Arabia gave a nod and a wink to Israel that they wouldn't do anything if Israel used Saudi airspace to launch an airstrike against the nuclear installations in Iran.
So the common threat perceived to come from Iran brings these two sides into an unholy alliance.
And this -- briefly back to the Iran issue, which I think is a key issue today -- the greatest danger to stability in the region is an Israeli strike against Iran.
And I'd like to approach this from the perspective of American-Israeli relations. The very first meeting in the White House between Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama, Obama only wanted to talk about Palestine, and Netanyahu only wanted to talk about the Iranian threat. And Obama gave the right answer, the right sequence. He said, first, we must address the Palestinian issue, then we'll get all the Arab regimes on side, and then together we'll confront Iran.
At the last meeting in the White House, Palestine was completely off the agenda. The only issue was the Iranian threat. In other words, Netanyahu had imposed his agenda on Obama. And in your newspaper a couple of days ago, there was an extremely revealing article by Ethan Bronner about Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu, who had made Iran the only issue.
But Iran isn't an Israeli issue; Iran is an issue for the entire international community. With a great deal at stake, the international community is dealing effectively with this issue.
And military action against Iran would be a catastrophe. And I'm astonished at how little people remember the lessons about -- of the Iraq -- the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, a war which was fought on a false prospective and had disastrous geopolitical consequences.
And now the only real language that Israel can talk to its neighbors is a language of military aggression.
And America is trying to restrain Israel, but it's not clear that America will succeed with restraining these two leaders. The former head of the Mossad, General Meir Dagan, a very hawkish general, described Barak and Netanyahu as reckless -- reckless. He said Israel doesn't have the capability to carry out an effective airstrike against a nuclear installation and Israel shouldn't be talking about it. And these two individuals are reckless.
And the danger is that Israel will do something reckless and drag America into a very dangerous confrontation with the region.
The region is like a tinderbox, and one spark could set off a huge conflagration.
SLACKMAN: Down in the front.
QUESTIONER: Rita Hauser. Just so we don't lose it altogether, a little bit about Palestine. There is now -- clearly, America's stepped back from it. That's plainly clear, won't be anything further through the election year.
The Egyptians have taken a fairly interesting and active role. And from what I'm hearing, they're promoting the unity of Hamas and Fatah in a fairly active, aggressive way. And with Meshaal sort of kicked out or left Syria, the action is going to be down in Gaza.
Is there any prospect that the Egyptian role will become significant, real, in promoting the Palestinian cause, given the failure of the U.S. on this one?
SHLAIM: Yes. Those immediate change after the fall of Mubarak, on the Egyptian side, at the time the foreign minister was Nabil Eleraby, who is now the secretary general of the Arab League. And one of the first things that the new government did was to lift the blockade of Gaza. So this was a clear signal that they are not going to continue the old policy.
And also, the Egyptians have played a very constructive role in trying to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians together, a role for which they have received -- they haven't received the recognition that they deserve. But in the end, Israeli expansionism meant that there was no possibility of an agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
And you may remember that the Egyptians brokered the ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel in June of 2008. And the number of rocket attacks on Israel dropped dramatically.
SLACKMAN: I think what we want to do is move this ahead to the actual present-day events.
SLACKMAN: What will -- now that the Muslim Brotherhood is running parliament and Hamas has basically taken up residence in Egypt, how is that going to affect the peace process at a time when the institutions the Palestinians generally relied on are basically powerless, you know? They're powerless.
QUESTIONER: (Off mic.)
SLACKMAN: Right. Let's look at -- get right to that.
SHLAIM: Then I think that the Egyptians would encourage reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah and another national unity government, and a long-term ceasefire between such a government and Israel.
SLACKMAN: And Steven, is this a long-term game that we're looking at, or more medium results?
COOK: I think that the Egyptians have moved from where they were under Mubarak and Omar Suleiman in going after Hamas, because they saw them as an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood. Thus, a problem for Egypt domestically, as now an opportunity for Egypt to carve out the role that it was supposed to play in the region. And I think that that is going to happen regardless of what the outcome is in the presidential elections and regardless of what the status of the SCAF is going to be after these presidential elections.
I think that Egyptians are going to move on this issue. And they are going to provide the support that was expected of the Egyptians when that peace treaty was struck 30-plus years ago now.
It is extraordinary if you think about what the Egyptians have accomplished on this front over the course of the last 14 months. They got Shalit out. They got a bunch of other people out. They are working on this Hamas-Fatah unity deal that could bear some fruit.
The problem is whether the Israelis will stick to the same kind of formulation that they have before, which is they're not going to deal on this front.
But I think the Egyptians -- this is one area in a kind of 15 months of really difficult circumstances for the Egyptians, that they are driving this in a way that is very different and, in potentially ways, going forward.
SLACKMAN: One of the most interesting things I've heard that the Muslim Brotherhood leaders said -- and you would expect that they would, as Steven said, draw in Hamas, because Hamas is basically an arm of the Brotherhood, sprung from the Brotherhood -- but they said, we're not going to make the same mistake that Mubarak made, which is bring one side close and reject the other side.
They've also reached out to Fatah and tried to present themselves as a fair broker between the two in order to take the long view.
COOK: This is where SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood essentially agree on this approach.
DAOUDY: But Hamas has a role also. Hamas decided also to take advantage of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood movements within the region, after the Arab Spring, to be able to take, you know, some role also.
And you mentioned Meshaal. Meshaal is part of the reconciliation process. He's not outside of it. And I think Egypt, in that sense, would benefit. One of the direct benefits of the Arab Spring was that Egypt was able to play effectively that role of broker, neutral broker, but also trying also to savor this reconciliation, because it's in the Palestinian national interest to have a united front.
But you still need a third party. And I would say Egypt cannot replace the United States in brokering peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, because you need a strong party with resources and who wold be able to bring the Israelis to the table and to make concessions. And I don't think the Egyptian new government would have the capacity to do that.
So we're still relying on Obama after the elections to do that.
SLACKMAN: And of course, one of the other factors that helps bring Hamas in is the chaos in Damascus now.
DAOUDY: Yes, that's true.
SLACKMAN: You have a question?
QUESTIONER: Yeah, I just want to go back to the region, sort of the landscape of the region. And in the case that there will be no change in Damascus -- we've had change in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and if it stops and the status quo remains in Damascus, whether it's through the Kofi Annan plan, an understanding between the United States and Russia so that they'll look better with each other these days -- what is then the, you know, the regional new order or old order? What's it all about then?
SLACKMAN: It does seem clear that, regardless of the short-term consequences in Syria, that it can't quite -- it can't really ever go back to the way it was.
What do you guys think? What happens if there is no momentous moment that forces President Assad out?
DAOUDY: I think the Kofi Annan plan is -- the point is to find a political solution outside of a military solution, you know, to the crisis in Syria. But somehow, there's something irreversible, which happened in Syria. It might take longer than expected. There were people predicting last year that the regime would fall within six months. It hasn't happened.
And it doesn't seem that it will happen, because the regime has taken over the advantage militarily, because it managed to bring also the confrontation on its favorite ground, which is military confrontation where it has the advantage, the military advantage in that sense.
And again, it's using the rhetorics about armed groups being, you know, fueled from outside terrorist groups, et cetera. So it can also bring -- mobilize the people who were still on the sidelines so far. But it will take time.
But in my view, there wouldn't be a status quo in the sense that we could go back to a pre-2011 period and have still, you know, the Assad regime there for the next 20 years. It might take a bit of time. It might be one year, two years, three years, we don't know.
But I don't think any solution which would be implemented will not lead somehow to a transition. The question is, do you want transition outside of the bloody solution, meaning you have to enter into negotiations somehow with a regime to find a way out, or you just confront the regime, and in that case you're leading to a civil war?
And some of the oppositions movements now, who refuse to talk to the regime, are considering the possibility of having a negotiated settlement to avoid the civil war.
SLACKMAN: Do we want to ask one more question, or do you guys want to answer this?
COOK: Well, I just -- I don't see how actually the Annan plan does anything but play into the hands of the outside regime to gain -- to build on -- to build on its military advantage in the field and essentially snuff out this revolution, this uprising, whatever it is that you want to call it.
And I think that you -- what you can essentially have is, if Assad hangs on, which I think is entirely possible, he will continue to hang on in some different type of form. The regime will look different, but it will be more repressive. All of his incentives are to hang on, to hold on, to keep fighting. And it may be the situation that we prevented from happening in Libya, happening in a place like Syria.
What that does to the regional order, well, it maintains the Iranian-Syrian relationship. To the extent that that is still something that the Iranians can leverage to the benefit that they have in the past, strikes me as it's going to be much more difficult, because you are going to have the changes in Syria.
But you can have a Syria that is a pariah, that is closed off from the rest of the region -- that's entirely possible -- in order to keep a lid on it, on it happening. It can exist outside the Arab League, outside the region, in ways that have -- as Marwa said, people were saying six months ago, it's only a matter of time. Now it looks like he may even prevail.
SLACKMAN: I think one of the lessons of the Arab Spring is, everyone who thinks they know what's going to happen discovers that they can't possibly know what's going to happen.
COOK: Yeah, that's exactly right.
SLACKMAN: What we've done here today is discuss the dynamics that we see happening in a region that is completely in play. It's anybody's guess for how it actually turns out.
And we want to thank you very much for joining us.
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