STEVEN N. SIMON: Welcome to the council this morning. I am Steve Simon. I’m just going to set the stage for the day’s events in about 30 seconds—won’t take me longer to do that—and then introduce the man who will then introduce me—(laughs)—as a member of the panel.
Our purpose here today is to explore the implications for the United States of its intervention in Iraq. The United States has been in Iraq for three years now, since March of 2003. There have been some dramatic ups and downs in that country. The United States, in the process has staked its prestige certainly within the region in Iraq and on progress in Iraq. It’s had—our intervention there has had political effects here at home. It’s likely to be a big issue in the November election. So the intervention is, as I think we would all agree, a supremely serious American initiative whose outcome will have equally serious implications for the ability of the U.S.—act in the world and influence events in the world in the coming years.
So that’s why we’re here. We’re here as a practical matter of—through the generosity of Rita Hauser, who has funded this project. It’s part of a larger project that will result in publications which we hope you will all read when they emerge. So that’s our larger purpose. That’s what brings us here today, and this first panel will be introduced by Greg Gause.
F. GREGORY GAUSE III: Thanks very much, Steve. I’m Gregory Gause. I teach at the University of Vermont, where I can tell you the foliage is rounding into form. So if any New Yorkers want to come up, now would be the time. Come up, take a look at the leaves, buy some maple syrup, and then I—I think speak for everyone who lives in Vermont in saying, “And then please go home.” (Laughter.)
Our first panel today is on Iraq’s impact on the future of U.S. foreign and defense policy. That’s the topic of the whole day. Our first panel is on the U.S. in the Middle East. Very briefly introducing our participants because their bios are in your little booklets there—Toby Dodge on my far left, from the International Institute of Strategic Studies and the University of London. Toby is the author of an excellent book—well-timed, too, published in 2003—called “Inventing Iraq: The Failure of Nation-Building and a History Denied”—one of the leading observers of Iraqi politics in the world. To my near left, Steve Simon is the Hasib Sabbagh senior fellow for the Middle East here at the Council on Foreign Relations, the author of numerous books and articles, probably most well known with Dan Benjamin, “The Age of Sacred Terror” and their recent book, “The Next Attack.” And on my right, Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor of Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, also the author of a number of books and articles, the most recent of which is “The Stakes,” a best-seller on America’s role and America’s interest in the Middle East.
Toby, let me start with you. Do you think we’re on a particular trajectory in Iraq? And if we are on a particular trajectory, what could bounce events in Iraq off that trajectory?
TOBY DODGE: I think in seeking to understand what’s going on today on the ground in Iraq, there are three dynamics that are intertwined. The first, and I think the most profound and most important to understanding everything else is the collapse of the state in April 2003. If you think of the Iraqi state being placed under—having gone through three wars in the last 20 years, placed under sanctions from 1991 onwards that were deliberately designed to strip it of capacity; as U.S. forces get to Baghdad, the three weeks of looting that triggered ripped the state to the ground. Looters as—I was in Baghdad at that time, and you see looters going from one government office to another and not only taking the furniture, the computers, but coming back and stripping the wiring off concrete to sell for scrap metal. Now that gave rise, I think, to the next and the most obvious thing, which is the security vacuum, that with the collapse of the state, the disbanding of the army, there was a space created for criminality, first and foremost. I think it’s organized crime that shapes the lives of ordinary Iraqis most. And then, the insurgency—20,000 to 50,000 people in disparate groups fighting firstly against the U.S. presence and now against a nascent Iraqi government. And then, finally, the militias: 100,000 armed individuals loosely organized around sectarian identity. So you’ve got these super-dynamics intertwined, driving Iraq to the instability and the chaos we see.
And finally, that’s given rise to what we could call ethnic politics. Now I’ve deliberately put this on—the third on the list because I think it springs from insecurity, state—(inaudible)—and violence. As the state has been removed, as anarchy and criminality have become everyday factors in most people’s lives in Iraq, they’ve seized upon what organization, what militia, what identity best gives them what they desperately need, which is some form of predictability.
Now those three dynamics are spinning out. We see it most powerfully in the aftermath of the destruction of the Al-Askariya mosque in Samarra in February 2006, where you have ethnic cleansing, violence, and another lurch toward civil war. Now that could be, and that could remain as the status quo, that you have a low-level civil war with violence, insecurity, and to be frank, the Iraqi state having very little impact on people’s lives. I think that that’s one scenario that we could think about today.
The second and much more positive one—again, keeping in mind the dynamics that I’ve set out—is the slow growth of state capacity, that the police—(inaudible)—largely responsible in Baghdad for the majority of kidnappings is reformed, disbanded, retrained and brought back together. The army, one of the few institutional success stories of Iraq after the invasion, slowly is able to impose its force on the rest of society, and the institutions of the state start to grow beyond the Green Zone.
That would be the most positive scenario. The negative—i.e., the worst-case scenario—is what Greg was alluding to, that things take a lurch for the worse—I mean, much worse than we have today in Iraq. I think that would be a sharp increase in violence, a descent into a much more unrestrained civil war and violence across the rest of the country. And I think if we’re looking for potential triggers for that, I think the first would be a U.S. withdrawal. That if a public opinion and the elite in the United States decide to pull American troops out, that takes the brakes off the violence that’s unfolding.
And third—the second, I think, is a military attack on Iran, that I think Iran has been very careful in first putting a lot of influence, both governmental and charity, into Iraq, and I think it’s clear that they’re funding anyone who can continue to make the situation in Iraq unstable enough to tie U.S. forces down. Now if the U.S. attacks Iran, I think the Iranians have made it perfectly clear that they will then up the ante in Iraq and throw everything they can into fully destabilizing the country.
GAUSE: But Toby, isn’t that an argument to some extent for the United States thinking about withdrawing? If that’s a huge lever the Iranians have on us, why do we give them that lever?
DODGE: Well, as I state, you have two scenarios where it descends into civil war. I think the quickest and the most obvious way of driving Iraq over the brink would be to pull U.S. troops out. But I think the one thing that is a countrywide force for stability is American troops. You pull that out, and then the gloves come off, the rules go out the window, and you have this myriad of different groups fighting for domination.
GAUSE: So you don’t buy this notion that at least much of the insurgency on the Sunni side is directed at us, and if—were we to leave, they would make their political deals.
DODGE: No, I think all the groups on the ground, from Muqtada al-Sadr through the Badr Brigade through to the insurgents, are fighting for power. They’re fighting for control over the Iraqi population. They’re fighting each other and the insurgents, and indeed Sadr, on occasion, are fighting the U.S. You remove the most powerful and coherent military forced in that country, and it’s a free-for-all, a war of all—
GAUSE: What’s wrong with the analysis that says if we leave Iraq, if the United States leaves Iraq, there’s going to be a civil war, and if the United States stays in Iraq, there’s going to be a civil war?
DODGE: I think if we look at those three scenarios, what we have at the moment, the status quo, the low-level—a comparatively low level of violence, a comparative low level of disorder—that could stagger on and it—(word inaudible)—the possibility for a rising administrative capacity, a building from this low base to stability. You pull the U.S. troops out without any plan for their replacement, and you guarantee a descent into anarchy.
GAUSE: Do you think that—you say it’s a possibility, but I don’t want to tie you down to a number. But how good a possibility is it that over the next 18 months to two years we could see an appreciable increase in state capacity?
DODGE: It’s been three years, and state capacity, I think, is a little bit but not much better than in 2003. We’d have to look at the reasons for that. The electoral system that’s in place at the moment in Iraq gives—it’s a winner-take-all. Basically, the ministries have divided the electoral victories as spoils, so the ministries become the personal fiefdoms of the ministers and the parties concerned, and we’ve seen the ramifications of that—in some cases gross corruption, ministers—(inaudible)—and offshore. There’s a mini property boom in London’s neighborhood of Chelsea where Iraqi ministers are buying very large houses. On the other side—
GAUSE: Buying them from Saudis?
On the other side, we have a kind of pork-barrel politics where to get a job in the Iraqi government, you need a letter from your party. So you have these two dynamics that directly—
GAUSE: I think that’s here in the American government, too.
DODGE: I’ll defer to your greater knowledge on that. On the—so you have these two dynamics that are undermining the government’s ability. But you also have American and multinational advisers spread through the government fighting against it. So in a way, it’s a struggle between a political and a corrupt logic and the logic of good governance. And to be in that struggle, you need to have administrative advisers, diplomats on the ground.
GAUSE: Shibley, let me turn to you. I’ve already messed up my one job here by forgetting to announce to you that you should turn off your pagers and your BlackBerrys and, it says here, “all wireless devices.”
The other thing I was supposed to remind you—and I’m sure, Toby, you’ve pulled your punches because I didn’t say this—this meeting is on the record. The famous council rules are suspended for this meeting, and everything that anybody says can and will be used against them. So be aware.
Shibley, how do you think that the war has affected American position in the region and politics in the larger region in general? And again, do you see anything that could change the trajectories that you have identified?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Well, before I answer this, let me just follow up a little bit on what was said about Iraq, and I certainly agree that, you know, if the U.S. pulls out that we might have a quick move toward even more civil war. No question in my mind that that’s likely to happen. I think, frankly, at this point whatever we do, we have very little impact on the outcome in Iraq, whether we stay or go. The dynamic is there. You can even make an argument that—
GAUSE: That’s exactly the opposite, I think, of what Toby said.
TELHAMI: That’s what I’m saying, is that I think we have very—we have a lot less impact now than we think. And I think we have to put this in a bit of perspective, okay? I think if you look back at the circumstances, the failure in Iraq is far bigger than we are really coming to grips with. And I’m not talking about the details of what’s happening on the ground. I think if you look at what transpired with the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime, for whatever reason, every major faction in Iraq—that includes the Shi’a and the Sunni and the Kurds—did not want Iraq to disintegrate. For their own reasons, they didn’t want it. They wanted a unified Iraq. To this day, I think most of them really don’t want Iraq to disintegrate. Every major—
GAUSE: Including the Kurds.
TELHAMI: Including the Kurds, up to a point. I think Kurds, always because they think it’s not realistic and they might get Turkey to be angry—I mean, they’d love to have it, but I don’t—I think they’re realistic enough to think that they have to have—they have to navigate that space. They don’t want, you know, all-out civil war and disintegration at this point.
I think every single neighbor of Iraq, including Iran and Turkey, didn’t want Iraq to fall apart for their own reasons, conflicting reasons. But every single one, all the international organizations, wanted Iraq to remain unified. We are the most powerful country in the world. We deployed more in Iraq in terms of resources than any state has ever put into another in the history of the world. And every single year, the level of sectarianism has increased, and every single year, the level of attacks against America have increased. And every single year, more Iraqis say America should be out, and more Iraqis say it is legitimate to attack American forces, including a majority of Shi’a now in the most recent poll in Iraq. So—
GAUSE: Do you think this failure of American policy has completely eroded American credibility throughout the region?
TELHAMI: Well, what it has done for sure is in fact revealed American to be much more vulnerable and weak than in—than was intended. And I think in the short term, it has had a—certainly at the public of—at the level of public opinion. I mean, let’s separate the two. And I think there has been ramifications at all levels, at the distribution—the level of distribution of actual power, whether it’s military or economic, across the region, the calculations of governments and elites, and public opinion. And I think it has affected these not in the same exact way. I think in public opinion, it’s clear that America has lost, and it has lost in terms of America’s credibility, in terms of America’s—the sense that America can be defeated because the insurgency is seen to be defeating America. I mean, in the same way that Hezbollah is seen to be defeating Israel.
And here, actually, it’s fascinating to look at that issue of public opinion because if you look at one outcome, you’re looking at the structural outcomes of policy over the past three years since the Iraq war. We have three countries that were initially celebrated as models of democracy where central authorities considerably weak and almost ineffective, and that is Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. And in all these areas, there are processes that are not under anyone’s control, and certainly not the American control. And forces, including violent forces, that have—that the traditional power that America possesses simply cannot defeat. So we have—from the public empowerment point of view, there’s tremendous hunger in the Arab world for an assertion of Arab power, because what this has demonstrated if you look at the most important distribution, Iraq has been traditionally an important Arab power. Iraq is now gone as an Arab power. No matter what happens. I mean, we can look at optimistic scenarios, negative scenarios. As a military power in the Gulf or in the region, Iraq is gone—certainly for a decade, but probably much more, maybe this whole generation. So Iraq is not a power anymore.
What has that—what has been the actual consequence of this? First, more American troops in the Middle East. That is, again, an erosion of power if you look at it in the kind of—the relational—
GAUSE: An erosion—an erosion of Arab power?
TELHAMI: An erosion of Arab power, and the rise in Iranian power. Forget the nuclear issue. Put the nuclear issue aside. The nuclear issue’s obviously a big one. But separate from the nuclear issue, I mean, Iran is the most powerful state in the Gulf and the only balance that is there is being provided by the American presence in the Gulf, not by any presence of Arab power. So there is a huge erosion of Arab power that has been devastatingly consequential for public opinion, and there’s a hunger for assertion of power. That’s what people are rallying behind non-state actors as the way to exercise power. It has been consequential. They’re tapping into that. It’s being tapped into in Iraq; it’s tapped into Lebanon; it’s tapped in the Palestinian areas. And I suggest it’s going to be tapped into somewhere else.
But at the level of governments, I think there is—there are a number of conflictive trends going on. Let’s face it: In the Gulf states, particularly the small ones, they simply are not going to say no to Americans. They’re not in a position to say no to America on most of the major decisions, even if they don’t like them, even if they actually think it’s going to hurt them—like the Iraq war. I mean, deep down, most of them didn’t think that was a wise decision, and they knew it was going to affect them detrimentally.
GAUSE: Popular in Kuwait, but aside from –
TELHAMI: Yeah. Kuwait has got its own legitimate considerations that are separate from everyone else. They will go along. But if you look at it from their perspective, in terms—on the hand, they’re more dependent on the presence of American forces by virtue of Iran becoming the dominant power and Iraq not being there to balance Iran. So there is this increased odd dependency which has clearly widened the gap between governments and publics in the region. And one of the early casualties of this have been democracy, because, I mean, we talk about the advocacy of democracy, and you wonder why Arabs have consistently, every single year said the Middle East is less democratic than the year before at—certainly over the past three or four years. Because they’re not looking at these exercises, elections where you can have 21 percent participation in the election. They’re looking at what happens in their daily lives.
What happens—what happened in the Middle East is that governments have been forced to support unpopular American policies even that they themselves disagreed with. But they went along with them, and the public was passionately opposed to them, and this scared the hell out of the governments. And so what you had in the process –
GAUSE: But let me stop you right now. Why should we care, I guess is the baldest way to put that.
TELHAMI: Well, two –
GAUSE: These governments can keep these populist feelings under control and do what we ask them to do –
TELHAMI: Let me give you three reasons why they should care. First, obviously, if we care about democracy, it’s not going to happen. I mean, that—let’s just forget that as a possibility. I mean, they’re going to crack down. When they’re insecure—you need the Saudi Arabians and the Egyptians now for Iran, for Lebanon, for the Arab-Israeli conflict, for every issue—for fighting terrorism. And in ways that their policies are going to go against the public opinion, they’re going to crack down on public opinion. I mean, forget it. That’s going to be the bottom line. So you’re willing to pay the price; at least understand it and be up front about it.
Second, it’s in the fighting—of mobilizing people to fight, whether it’s, you know, you’re trying to have your intelligence services to fight al Qaeda or other groups. Can you trust them if their sentiment is going the other way? The Pakistanis are going through this. Can Musharraf trust his security service doing wholeheartedly the job that they don’t want to do?
Third, I think that the recruitment issue—I think there’s no question in my mind that there is the—that has become a recruitment issue, that it’s—that there are more people who are willing to be recruited into groups that are actually more difficult for the United States to confront.
And fourth—let me give you a fourth which has to do with the elite opinion. I think what we are not paying attention to here is that we say “governments”; we’re looking at kings and we’re looking at presidents.
GAUSE: Presidents who would say we’re kings.
TELHAMI: Well, actually, that’s right. I mean, they—we have, you know, republican monarchies in the region. But when you look at that, no one is ruling alone. We learned that in Iraq. I mean, Saddam Hussein wasn’t alone. He had a huge constituency. There are elites around them, and those elites are also shifting in their opinions. And I think—I’ll give you one example that is really fascinating and that we have to watch for, and it’s going to be potentially consequential, and that is the example of Egypt, as an Egyptian elite that certainly rallied initially behind the shift in Egypt foreign policy in the late ‘70s. And Iraq and Lebanon have revealed Egypt to be impotent, militarily or diplomatically, in ways that have frustrated the elites that have aspired for Egypt to play a dominant role. Egypt has already significantly declined in economic power. In the late ‘80s, it was the single largest GNP in the Arab world.
Today the Saudi Arabian economy is more than three times bigger. The UAE is bigger. Kuwait is close to Egypt. So economically, Egypt is not as influential.
When it gave up its military option as a way of leading the Arab world, vis-a-vis Israel, it said, I can get the United States to have favorable positions toward the Arab world, and I can help diplomatically to deliver an equitable Arab-Israeli peace. They failed on these scores, and the elites are frustrated. That doesn’t mean that I can predict what change they’re going to go, what options they have.
Mubarak isn’t going to change. He’s wedded to his course. This is a time of transition in Egypt. We’ve got to be very mindful of these kind of processes that can take countries in different directions.
GAUSE: Steve, we got into this war because it was part of the global war on terror. So how’s that been?
SIMON: Fine, thanks. (Laughter.)
The declassified key judgments of the Bush administration’s National Intelligence Estimate on global terrorism I think put this pretty clearly. The declassified judgments—we don’t have the whole study—asserted that Iraq had been an important factor in sustaining the jihad against the United States.
Now there are some who believe that the jihad was having trouble sustaining itself before the invasion of Iraq. The rapid toppling of the Taliban was a shock to al Qaeda. This was not something that they were expecting. They expended a great deal of intellectual, “cohortative” effort, both to explain the rapid defeat—(inaudible)—in Afghanistan and to rally the troops in the face of what seemed like an implacable foe in the United States and ineluctable defeat at the hands of the United States. Iraq changed all that, apparently.
Now, the NIE judgment conformed very closely to the coordinated judgment of Britain’s intelligence services—both their internal service and their external service—in the form of a joint intelligence committee report that was issued not long ago, whose language was very similar to that of the National Intelligence Estimate.
Now, you know, this shouldn’t be all that surprising. Movements like the jihad thrive on powerful imagery, powerful images—images, in this case, of Muslims as victims and as victors. These are galvanizing images, and Iraq has provided a plethora of these images. On the one side are the images from Abu Ghraib of humiliated Muslims chased by dogs, tortured and so forth; scenes that have been widely distributed of U.S. soldiers shooting civilians in circumstances that inevitably are murky, but nevertheless are easily manipulated for these propaganda purposes—and at the same time, images of Muslims as victors.
And these images are electrifying and they’re very widespread. The New York Times today had a fascinating story—I don’t know if anybody has had a chance to read the newspaper today—but these videos are now appearing on YouTube, which is a kind of video sharing—
GAUSE: It means your children are seeing them.
SIMON: It means your children are seeing them, but it’s probably not as bad some of the other things they’re seeing on YouTube.
In any case, these are bloody and scary images. And if they’re appearing on YouTube, then you know that those who say that these images are downloaded in the millions elsewhere in the world, on Islamic and other websites, probably are telling the truth. And I myself have seen a lot of these websites and I can vouch for the fact that they’re all on there. And you know, these iconic images stir emotions in a way that, you know, that other impulses really can’t do, and Iraq provides them in large number.
The other thing, just stepping away from graphic images, is the overall narrative of resistance. And it’s a narrative that bin Laden has put forward very eloquently, I have to say. There’s a book out—it came out last year by an Islamic studies specialist, and I think—his name is Bruce Lawrence. I recommend the book. There are very skillful and carefully annotated translations, very accessible, of all of bin Laden’s speeches, interviews, letters and so forth. And in these epistles, so to speak, bin Laden frames a very articulate and internally coherent story to explain the predicament of Muslims generally, and Arabs in particular. And of course, the U.S. is an important figure in this narrative.
But in his pre-2003 versions of this story, he essentially predicts—through his analysis of American society, its culture, its politics, the history of its foreign policy and military adventures, he essentially predicts that the United States will enter Iraq to conquer the heartland of the Middle East and victimize its peoples and exploit its resources and so forth. Now, you know, the United States entered Iraq not for any of those reasons, obviously. But nevertheless, the fact that it did was easily read by Muslims, and more specifically Arabs, as fulfilling bin Laden’s Nostradamus-type prophecies of what the United States was going to do. And this was very validating for people like bin Laden and his followers, who are very assiduously trying to mobilize this jihad against the United States.
So even though the quantitative precision about the number of individuals who may have been recruited to radical organizations by virtue of events in Iraq—even though quantitative precision is impossible to get on this, the sense of it seems to me to be clear. Now there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence, I hasten to add. And this evidence is largely in the hands of intelligence and security services, police agencies worldwide, who are told—virtually routinely at this point by the people they take into custody—that, you know, the motivation for violence or the interest in whatever conspiratorial activity led to their arrest was generated by Iraq. And this was an explicit factor in the Madrid bombings. It was an explicit factor in the London bombings. So—
GAUSE: So, it doesn’t necessarily follow, does it, that were we to leave, were the United States to leave Iraq that that would dry up these sources of jihadi recruitment. Right? Because couldn’t bin Laden then continue to spin the tail, “We defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and now we’ve defeated the United States in Iraq.” And to some extent, success is also a great recruiting tool.
SIMON: Sure. This is why the images of both victimization and victory are both important. They complement one another. And, you know, the point that you raise is a deep one, really, because it suggests the complete perfection—the flawlessness of our strategic failure—(laughter)—because we’ve gotten ourselves into a situation where we pay a very severe penalty, regardless of the choice of action that we make. And this is really—this is really unfortunate.
Victory, or perceptions of victory, are galvanizing. Look at the situation in Lebanon and look at how Hezbollah took a really rather paltry military victory, if you will, and transformed into a stirring propaganda victory and narrative of victory.
GAUSE: Is that something that we could use strategically—not that we were hoping for a Hezbollah victory, but the fact that a Shi’a organization like Hezbollah grabs the attention, at least momentarily, of a largely Sunni Arab Muslim population. And we saw al Qaeda react to that by, on the one hand, some al Qaeda elements condemning any kind of cooperation, or any kind of cheering for Shi’a groups, and others like Zawahiri coming on and saying, “Oh, yeah, we like that too, and we’re on the same team.”
Is there some way to exploit those tensions within the community of, if you will, extremist Islamist groups?
SIMON: Well, the United States is famously adroit at manipulating events in the Muslim and Arab world. So—
GAUSE: Give us some advice for how to do that. (Laughter, cross talk.)
SIMON: (Inaudible)—opportunities there. You know, Shibley will have interesting things to say about this, because he tracks opinions so closely. But my sense is, first of all, if you look at al Qaeda, they operate under a kind of a big tent approach to the jihad. I mean, bin Laden and Zawahiri pay much closer attention to the hearts and minds factor in this conflict than we do, arguably. And as a function of this concern for hearts and minds, they are trying to suppress intra-Arab intra-Muslim divisions. And of course, you know, there are serious divisions, but in the interests of victory, they’re trying to suppress those things. That’s number one.
Number two, if you look at the reaction to the Hezbollah-Israel war in Lebanon that has transpired, Hassan Nasrallah has become a hero to Sunnis. He fits right into this narrative of heroic resistance. And in that context, the sectarian divisions are simply less important.
And thirdly, you know, it could be—
GAUSE: But they seem to be really important in Iraq. In other words, when the excitement of the initial victory wears off—as it will in Lebanon, as it does everywhere—these sectarian identities really do seem to drive politics in situations where security is not present, where the state cannot provide you with security, so you have to fall back on your little platoons that can give you some basic security in life.
SIMON: But outside of Iraq, where would this be manipulated?
SIMON: The United States had its chance to do that after 1559, after the U.N. Security Council resolution. And for some reason, we forsook the opportunity. Now, the United States was very busy at the time, so—but I think even in Lebanon it would be extremely difficult for us to manipulate in any kind of skillful way.
DODGE: And extremely dangerous—that if you look at the situation in Iraq that’s spinning out of control, when the state collapses—the Lebanese state, last time I looked, isn’t exactly robust. So potentially growing in strength—growing in strength by doing exactly the opposite—bringing a kind of (inaudible) platoon back into a nationalist discourse.
Now, ironically, if we’re looking at Lebanon, the recent less-than-sterling success of the Israelis in that country may well have gelled the country together behind a common nationalist prophet.
GAUSE: We’ll see.
Shibley, one more thing before we open it up?
TELHAMI: Yeah. I think this thing—I think we’re mixing issues together.
GAUSE: That’s for sure.
TELHAMI: And I think there is a—I mean, we say about al Qaeda, is it going to be more powerful if we pull out of Iraq or less powerful? I think there are two things going on. One thing is, yes, there is al Qaeda phenomena. There are some fanatically fundamentalist people like that who are really driven by their agenda, not just by their anti-Americanism. But if you look at the trend, whether it’s in Iraq, whether it’s in Lebanon, whether it’s in Palestine, whether it’s in the Arab world, both public opinion show that the hunger for empowerment, the rallying behind non-state actors, is just a hunger for the exercise of Arab power or Islamic power of some sort. And they rally behind those who succeed.
Al Qaeda’s agenda has failed. One of the secrets that are not told since 2003 is that—that we don’t come to grips with—is that they’ve failed to capture the imagination of the people. In the polling in the Arab world, only 6 percent say they admire al Qaeda’s advocacy of puritanical Islamic state. In Iraq, the most recent poll shows 94 percent of Iraqis, including 79 percent of Sunnis, reject al Qaeda and its agenda.
GAUSE: It’s that 21 percent of Sunnis that I worry about.
TELHAMI: Well, the 21 percent don’t necessarily support them. They are, they say, neutral, or they don’t answer. So the number, I don’t remember off the top, but it’s not. But yeah, there are some; obviously, there are some, but it’s a very small, tiny minority.
And you know, bin Laden never had the kind of demonstrations that Nasrallah has. Nasrallah certainly isn’t popular because of his religiosity. We know that. I mean, he’s popular in Egypt and Jordan more than he’s popular in Lebanon—Sunni countries; he’s popular in Saudi Arabia. There’s a hunger for empowerment. And I think that for the United States, you cannot have an undifferentiated policy on this issue.
And when you think about—you have to decide who your key enemies are. You can have a strategy of fighting al Qaeda that is separate from the strategy of fighting Hezbollah or separate from the strategy of fighting Hamas. And if you don’t make that kind of differentiation, you’re going to fail, because they’re all going to be lumped together. And in fact, it will be a voice against America in general
GAUSE: Let’s open it up.
I’m an out-of-towner so I don’t know a lot of people. If you could just identify yourself when you’re called on and wait for the mike. And what I’d like to do is collect two or three questions at a time and then allow the panelists to respond to them as they see fit to try to get as much—try to get as many of you involved as possible.
QUESTIONER: Jim Dingman from the INN World Report.
How do you see—we have a full-blown national effort going under way—while I listen to the panel and discuss the political environment in the Middle East, and particularly in Iraq, and how there seems to be little to no political basis for this policy—there’s a full-blown policy of Iraqization under way, that even if the Democrats win in the next few weeks, or assume the White House, will probably be the policy that’s pursued with a new president.
I want to get your evaluation of that. And are we—what kind of a “who lost Iraq” debate are we going to have here, like the “who lost China” debate?
GAUSE: Not all at once now?
QUESTIONER: Jim Lowenstein. I wonder if you could expand a little bit on the gloomy scenario number three, the consequences of Iraq falling apart. If we take as a given that if U.S. troops pull out it will fall apart, what are the consequences?
GAUSE: Anybody else want to get in on this?
Sir—and then we’ll go to the panel. Microphone, please.
QUESTIONER: I’m Kenneth Bialkin. And I’m, of course, confused because not only do I not have answers, I’m not sure I even have questions, because there are so many. And you don’t know which of the questions need to be answered.
I’d like to ask you to put it in an analogous way, at least for purposes of thinking. We all agree that we’re losing, that the objectives we started out to achieve have not been achieved, and we’re experiencing setbacks and we’re losing. And when you’re losing, you have to decide, what do you do? Do you quit? Do you change? Do you go away? Do you fight harder? Those are the questions.
I tend to look at this—and this is what I’m asking—as though we’re in a baseball game and we’re in the fifth inning or the sixth inning and we’re losing 7-5.
GAUSE: How’s our bullpen? (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: Or 8-4. And the question is, do we quit in the fifth inning, or do we go on to the ninth inning? And—
GAUSE: Well, why isn’t it a football game that has a clock?
QUESTIONER: But my problem is, putting it in that type of question, how do you answer those things? I mean, that is, do we pack our kits and leave? If we do, what are the implications? And I haven’t heard this issue addressed yet.
GAUSE: I think that’s a fascinating metaphor, because if it is a baseball game, you’ve got as much time as you need to win, because there’s no clock in baseball.
SIMON: Unless we get rained out.
GAUSE: No, no, seriously. But if it’s a football game, the clock is running. And if the clock is running, that means that at some point, you know, you lose. And I guess that gets to the point of the domestic politics of it. Is there a clock running out on this? Or is it a baseball game, that as long as we keep scoring runs, we can keep going?
Let’s—Toby, do you want to start on this question of the consequences of Iraq falling apart and how that might affect the United States?
DODGE: Well, I must apologize ahead of time. Being a Brit, I know nothing about American football or baseball. So—(laughter)—I’ll try and improvise around that.
GAUSE: That’s all right. We’ve got plenty of people who can deal with that.
GAUSE: Cricket versus rugby.
DODGE: Just to pick up on the Iraqization, because I think it leads into this. Clearly, since at least April 2004, there’s been a massive push for Iraqization for very good reasons and possibly for very cynical. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been interviewing senior Iraqis in the government—both in the country, some who have come back here, some who have come back to Britain—and it’s fascinating that there’s a sense amongst those who have inherited the country that they, as a group, aren’t up to it. They gave power to us too early is a common theme. And I think Iraqization—you know, the U.S. handed sovereignty back to this new hand-picked elite—they had only been in their country for 12 months; most had been exiled for many, many years—in April 2004. And I think from then, because of pressure from the ground, because of international pressure as well as U.S. domestic pressure, you’ve had these two sets of elections, and the elite has gained more and more autonomy. I don’t agree with Shibley that that means that the U.S. has no influence. One hundred forty-five thousand troops and an awful lot of money gives you influence. But clearly, Shibley’s right it is limited influence. And we’re dealing with an elite that has proved extremely inept at doing what the U.S. couldn’t do in those first 12 months either. So—(inaudible)—building the state.
So I think that’s where we are.
And where we go to the third scenario, if Iraq falls apart. Think about the elite in power having—who aren’t very good or are either corrupt or haven’t got the skills to rebuild the state, and then go into society. What Saddam Hussein did in Iraqi society—or the Ba’ath Party and Saddam Hussein from 1968 onward—was use unheard of amounts of violence and money to continually come through society and break any organized resistance to it but also any ability within society to simply organize. So civil society, independent capacity to organize in Iraq only started in April 2003.
That means if the state collapses and if the U.S. pulls out, you’ve got a very flat terrain in which these militias are fighting each other. And I think that will lead not to one militia winning, not to this fantasy of three neat, little states that will flourish under some form of division, but to a war of all against all. And what we’ll have, I think, is this slow solidification of highly local patches of stability . But that will come out of a lot of violence and a lot of civil war.
So that third scenario, Iraq falling apart, is not neat. It’s very violent, and it’s highly fractured. And we’ve already seen with the hotel bombings in Amman and also the rise and the plateauing of al Qaeda insurgents in Saudi Arabia that this then provides a base for regional contagion. And if you travel through the region to the capitals of the neighbors, barring probably two who should be more worried than they are, you get a profound sense of worry about what—(inaudible)—flowing over that border.
So I think—
GAUSE: And is it your sense in those capitals that they think that American withdrawal from Iraq would intensify their worries—
DODGE: Yes, I think so with Jordan and especially with Saudi Arabia, the idea that the U.S. are losing their nerve and have the potential to go home is incredibly destabilizing and is actually the nightmare scenario.
But ironically, in Damascus and the recent U.S.—attack on its embassy in Damascus—is indicative. Keep in mind that the Syrian regime came within a whisker in 1982 of losing—(inaudible)—to an Islamic radical jihad, an uprising. So if you’re looking round the region and trying to put money on another failed state, it probably isn’t Jordan or Saudi Arabia, allies; it may well be Syria. So I think—
GAUSE: There are many people who might say, what’s so bad about that?
DODGE: Regime change, as we’ve seen in Iraq, is an incredibly risky bet. And state collapse is the nightmare scenario—(inaudible)—not only the poor people of Iraq but their neighbors and indeed the United States. So I think it’s going to be messy, just to deal with the idea of five to nine and being rained out.
I think, as I said before—
GAUSE: You can leave that to the Americans if you want.
DODGE:—you do have time, and you do have the potential to pull this out of the fire, but only if you stay the course. The minute the American elite fractures—(inaudible)—God help us, a presidential campaign run around the issue of whether we should stay or go is the minute when the Islamic radicals, both in al Qaeda and on the ground in Iraq, go, “Ah ha!” And you have that upset.
GAUSE: But Shibley, aren’t we already there? I mean, we have a congressional campaign running, and we’ve seen many, many districts around, should we stay or should we go?
TELHAMI: No question. And let me just link both the strategic issue and the political issue here together. I mean, if you look at the Iraq issue strategically, I think, you know—you can make an argument that we’re staying and therefore preventing civil war, but also we’re kind of—the reason why we think that is we’re not going to stay there forever. I mean, we’re going to pull out at some point, especially if the casualties continue increasing. The question is, are we in the meanwhile enhancing, quote, “the structure of the state”? That’s what we—are we—is the empowerment, the building of the security services, is that helping?
Now, if you believe that what we’re really doing is we’re empowering sectarian armies to fight a bloodier civil war when we ultimately pull out, then, you know, that’s another picture. And I think I’m—we’re, you know—I’m not really sure that we’re not there, that is we’re actually building sectarian armies.
GAUSE: What about domestic consequences—
TELHAMI: Yeah, that’s what I want to talk about.
If you look at the domestic consequences—at two levels. If you look at this, if Democrats win the House or the Senate or both, no question, you’re going to have a lot of hearings about, you know, who’s to blame, who lost Iraq. And the Democrats want to focus on the Iraq war. That’s a winning issue now; it’s likely to be at that point. So what would you do if you were in the president’s position, the Republican position? If you’re losing a war, you change the subject.
And so I think that the focus is going to inevitably turn to Iran. And I don’t mean because there is a decision to go to war with Iran. I mean, that’s an arguable point. But I think the political thing to do is to highlight the Iranian threat. Why? Because first, it becomes more imminent than the Iraqi issue, which is ongoing. And number two, there is no real Democratic opposition to that. What happens is it reduces the domestic division. We saw that on Lebanon. There was—I mean, the neoconservatives were empowered by the Lebanon war, because they were making the argument about Hezbollah and Iran. And suddenly, they were on the defensive when Iraq had shifted the tide.
You know, we forget that during the last summer, the casualties in Iraq climaxed. It was the, you know, the largest casualty—we weren’t focused on that, because Lebanon was the issue. And on Lebanon, there were no divisions in America. The president’s position was popular. No Democrat took him on on that position. And I think when you start looking at what might happen in the next couple of years, I think what you’re going to have is the Democrats are going to try to stick to the Iraq issue, and the Republicans are going to try to focus on the Iran issue.
GAUSE: Steve, it’s the top of the sixth because we’re the away team, okay? So we’re at bat; we’re behind. What do we do?
SIMON: Before I get to that—(laughter)—there’s been a lot of research on casualty tolerance, just to get to the previous question. And the best analysis seems to show that casualty tolerance depends on three things: a broad public perception of the stakes; a possibility of victory within some meaningful time frame; and third, elite consensus. Now, what do I mean by elite consensus? When you’ve got the press, the punditocracy and the Congress and the administration all kind of agreeing on a course of action or on an assessment of what the stakes are and the possibilities of victory are, then casualty tolerance is extremely robust. When elite consensus fractures on these matters, as it is doing very vividly, casualty tolerance tends to diminish quite rapidly.
Somalia, 1993—great example. You lose 18 soldiers, you’re out of there. Now, this is not quite Somalia, because Americans do grasp that our country’s stake in Iraq is huge. So on the question of stakes, we’re still up there. But on the issue of the possibility of achieving some kind of resolution favorable to American interests and on the issue of elite consensus, things aren’t going all that well. So you can expect casualty tolerance to diminish over the course of the next couple of years, and that’s going to be a factor. (Off mike)—point that out.
GAUSE: But—okay, so what else do we do, though? I mean—
SIMON: I think we—look, I think we do, more or less, what we are doing, because we’re not going to “cut and run.” That’s too extreme an option. It just sounds implausible.
On the basis of just historical analogies, governments that get into foreign military adventures are not the governments that get their countries out of their foreign military adventures. It doesn’t happen. It didn’t happen with the Russians in Afghanistan; it didn’t happen with the Israelis in Lebanon; it didn’t happen with Kennedy or Johnson in Vietnam, and it’s not going to happen with the United States in Iraq. So that—just on the basis of historical precedent, that’s going to be left to the next administration.
So what happens in the meantime? The first thing you do is continue a process already under way of cantonization. You build your forces back. You put them in protected environments where casualties can be relatively contained. And, you know, you occasional sortie out to do raids.
GAUSE: Everything that counterinsurgency strategy says is absolutely ineffective.
SIMON: Well, it’s only now, apparently, that we have a counterinsurgency doctrine about to be published by the Army for use of troops in the field. There’s a new field manual coming out which does incorporate a lot of the lessons that seem to have been lost within 10 minutes after every insurgency. Nevertheless, there’s going to be a disinclination on the part of the administration to take risks, I think, with American lives, for political reasons and other perhaps. But in any case—so you’re going to see this cantonization. There will be an effort to pursue Iraqization as much as possible, get the Iraqi army stood up—
GAUSE: Stand up, stand down.
SIMON: And try and get a grip on the Interior Ministry forces. And the withdrawal from the field the other day, the brigade from the Interior Ministry that had been seriously implicated in extrajudicial killings in Iraq, is a sign that under intense U.S. pressure, the al-Maliki government will begin to take some of these steps. So you’ll do some of that and hope that you can keep the violence that Toby was talking about at current levels.
QUESTIONER: Yeah, hi.
GAUSE: Oh, I’m sorry—next.
QUESTIONER: Yeah, I like baseball analogies. Part of the problem here is it’s hard to tell what inning we’re in. I’d like to go back to what you just said, because you partially addressed my question.
We talk about staying the course as opposed to leaving. The problem is, if you’re going to be there, what do you do? And you just began to lay out details of a game plan and connecting the dots as to what you do when we’re there. Okay?
So I’m wondering two things. Number one, how much consensus is there around what you just laid out as the wisest course to conduct while we’re there? And second of all, if you were to ask the leaders of the Gulf states, who would, obviously, be the recipients of some contagion, if this thing really “contagioned” out, do you think they would agree with the course that you just outlined in part as to what you do while you’re staying the course to make it likely that you’ll be victorious and that the course will be shorter and successful, as opposed to not successful?
GAUSE: Mr. Brademas.
QUESTIONER: John Brademas. This is this morning’s Washington Post: “Warner Downbeat After Iraq Trip: U.S. at Risk of Losing Bid to Control Baghdad, Senator Says.” As you know, Senator Warner is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee—
GAUSE: For now.
QUESTIONER: For now. (Laughter.) “Echoing the sentiments of several leading Democrats on his committee, Warner said he believes the U.S. may have to re-evaluate its approach in Iraq if the situation does not improve dramatically over the next several months. I assure you, in two or three months, if this thing hasn’t come to fruition and this level of violence is not under control and this government is not able to function, I think it’s the responsibility of our government internally to determine is there a change of course we should take. And I wouldn’t take off the table any option at this time.”
I don’t want to say the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is proposing to cut and run, but I think that’s a significant statement.
I yield back the balance of my time. (Laughter.)
GAUSE: I think he thinks it’s a football game, not a baseball game. The clock is running.
MS. HAUSER: Yeah. John stole my question—(off mike)—this morning from The New York Times.
I think, Shibley, you misunderstand somewhat the politics here domestically. It isn’t necessarily Democrat against Republican. The Republicans are fracturing and in every direction, and this is the first major (signal ?). But he quotes in there as well—I said last night at the dinner that he expects to hold hearings after the elections on the Baker -Hamilton (inaudible). Now, nobody knows what Jim Baker is—(inaudible). But as I indicated, to my knowledge—(inaudible)—I think Baker is—(inaudible). And I think that—(inaudible)—will be dramatic suggestions immediately after the election if the election goes heavily Democratic—(inaudible)—appears to be. And you will see a lot of different things occurring.
It’s inconceivable to me that we will just continue the course for the next two years. Something different will come about; I don’t know exactly what it might be. (Inaudible)—interesting to evaluate the consequences of—(inaudible). But just sort of dribbling along for two more years—(inaudible)—in the lap of the next president is not going to be acceptable to the majority of Republicans, much less Democrats.
TELHAMI: Rita, if I may just on this—
GAUSE: Very quickly.
TELHAMI: I serve on—I’m actually on the expert group of the Baker-Hamilton commission.
GAUSE: He says he’s on a book tour right now. (Laughter.)
TELHAMI: But what I want to say is let’s not forget that Baker and Scowcroft and Powell were not on that side to begin with on the Iraq issue. And the question isn’t really whether it’s fractured or not. The question is what the administration’s going to do when you don’t have—who’s going to speak out publicly—like no one spoke out on Lebanon—on Iran issue when it’s not about “let’s go to war,” but it’s about tightening and highlighting that threat? I don’t know who’s going to speak against that.
GAUSE: Dan Benjamin, and then we’ll go to the panel, and then we’ll have one more round of questions. So if we could keep the responses also as concise as possible.
MR. BENJAMIN: One short and unfair question. Chess players have to be able to play two or three moves ahead—
GAUSE: Sorry, we’re on baseball now.
MR. BENJAMIN:—and know the board. (Laughter.) Well, you know, a good manager could do that, too.
SIMON: I have a pinochle analogy actually.
MR. BENJAMIN: If we get Toby’s worst-case scenario, what are the implications—and I want your thoughts on this too, Greg—what are the implications in terms of sectarian relations in the broader Middle East? What happens if we see Shi’a—(inaudible)—bloodbath against Sunnis in Iraq? What happens in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia? What happens in Bahrain? What happens in Lebanon? Do groups like al Qaeda become what they are somewhat under the skin, agents of big-time sectarian animosity? Pakistan also comes into play.
GAUSE: Steve, you want to tackle Marty Gross’s—expand a little bit on what’s—if we are going to be there—and there’s debate, you know. Can we stay the course even for two more years? But if we do, as you’ve suggested, what more specifically would be done? And how do you think that might play out in the region?
SIMON: As Rita and others have suggested, the midterms are a wild card year. And the notion now that the Baker-Hamilton committee is going to come out with its report as early as just after the elections—because they’ve been talking about, you know, as late as January, or even March was slipping out at one point—is kind of interesting. It shows that a debate is going to begin sooner rather than later. And if the Democrats take the House, which is quite possible, and, you know, if they get lucky in the Senate, well, you know, the debate will be quite fierce.
But in the first instance, there will be a lag between whatever is in the debates or whatever Baker says or doesn’t say and implementation. And, you know, this lag is months, if not a year. Nothing is going to happen instantaneously. And in that interim, we’re going to be doing, more or less, what we’re doing now, which is trying to shift as much of the burden onto the Iraqis as possible; pushing the al-Maliki government to fulfill its pledges and to show a little backbone, to make concessions to the Sunnis both in terms of policy but also in terms of a parliamentary voice. And the Army will begin to re-adjust. The Army and Marine Corps will begin to readjust their tactics, perhaps along the lines of the new counterinsurgency doctrine. But there’s going to be a long interval before there’s any serious change.
Now, what can serious change be? Well, you find two divisions from somewhere. I mean, my sense of where the Army is at is that we’re out of schlitz. But let’s say, you know, they find two more divisions, they put them in there, and they begin to implement what Brookings scholars have called the “ink spot strategy. Okay? You secure greater Baghdad with a lot of troops. You do what Toby was talking about. Once you’ve secured it is you enable the Iraqi government to begin to influence events and intervene in people’s lives in a practical and positive way and become indispensable and thereby win their loyalty and crowd out these sectarian entrepreneurs who are causing so much trouble. And once you’ve secured that area, you go on to another area, leaving Anbar, which is very difficult, as we all know, to last. But you try and get as much of the country under control and get the Iraqi government’s influence embedded in those areas. And with more troops, you might be able to do it.
Now, if you put in two extra divisions, that also gives you the cover to talk about eventual withdrawal, because, you know, you’ve done something decisive, you’ve done something audacious, you’re going to make the last push, you know, you think it will work. And that enables you to talk about withdrawal, and that helps you within Iraq, presumably, because almost everyone, as Shibley will tell you from his polling data, is talking about “so when are the Americans going to leave?”
GAUSE: So how does us putting two more divisions in help us or hurt us in Iraq, Toby?
DODGE: Well, I think certainly that the whole notion of the ink spot is becoming more and more influential and the deployment of 12,000 extra troops into Baghdad in June—both joint American-Iraqi patrols—would seem, to some extent, to be a harbinger of that. That hasn’t lessened the violence. I think that there is a problem that—I mean, there is an upside. Certainly, the army—the Iraqi army in a recent exercise in Diwaniyah started to move against the insurgents, was largely celebrated as a positive institution in Iraq and then was pulled back and redeployed by political pressure from the central government. Again, a similar method was being drafted in Basra—Operation Sinbad. And again, there are increasing rumors that President Maliki was unhappy about that.
What does that signify? It signifies that Maliki is in a very unstable and fragile coalition with Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army. His role in government is dependent on a man with one of the largest and most vicious militias in the country.
So you have immediately at the center of government, the center of politics, a tension between what Maliki says he wants to do and what desperately needs to be done, the rolling out of institutional capacity, and what he feels he has to do day to day, which is to keep sweet some of his coalition partners so the militia captains, those that control militias, are inside government. They’ve captured the state already.
So what two extra divisions might do is positive. But what they’ve had to be accompanied with is a rolling back of autonomy from the very Iraqi politicians that were empowered in 2004.
GAUSE: Shibley, I’d like you to take on two things. One, you live in Washington, and we’ve heard a lot about differing views about how—to continue the sports metaphor—the clock might be ticking toward the end of the game from a Washington perspective. But also, if you could talk a little bit about Dan Benjamin’s issue of how sectarian violence would play out, both in the Gulf states Marty Gross mentioned, but also in the larger region. If there were a real sectarian bloodbath, as opposed to the “non-real sectarian”—(laughter)—no—an even bigger sectarian bloodbath in Iraq than there is now, how do you think that plays regionally? So both a Washington question and a regional question.
TELHAMI: Well, I think Dan’s question is really important, not just about the consequences for sectarianism in Shi’a and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and so forth but—and again, brings us back to an issue that we haven’t talked a lot about, which is whatever you do in Iraq has to be tied to what you want done in the region. And I think it’s not just about, “Do we have civil war? Don’t we have civil war?” And as I’ve argued, I think our ability to control the outcome in Iraq is small. It’s not that we don’t have any ability. I agree that we have influence, but our ability to control the outcome is small.
So therefore, the question is, what is the impact of a particular strategy on the rest of the region or your agenda in the region? I think the United States has to decide what its priority in the region is, because Iraq, frankly, is lost, at least in the way that America has envisioned.
GAUSE: So a public acknowledgment of that and a public acknowledgment that, you know, “we’re leaving; it’s not going to be tomorrow, but we’re out of here”—you think that in the region that will have what affect?
TELHAMI: It will have multiple effects, not just one. I think it would surprise a lot of people, because, frankly, when you ask them why do you think America went to the war, most of them think that it’s oil, Israel, and weakening the Muslim world. Imperialism is a strong factor. And Iraqis never, even those who wanted Saddam Hussein changed, never believed we were doing it for the right reasons. Right? I mean, so it’s—I mean, we haven’t figured out that these two are not related.
GAUSE: They just can’t believe how good we are.
TELHAMI: Right. Exactly. (Laughter.)
So the one—you know, obviously that would help a little bit at the public opinion level. But I think the real question—you have to look at the structure of power and not on public opinion. How is that going to change the structure of power? I don’t think it would weaken the American posture. On the contrary, I think the U.S. is still in the Middle East. I mean, whether it’s in Iraq or not, you’re still in the Gulf. You’re in—you know, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait and Qatar and bases in Saudi Arabia. I mean, it’s not—in fact, on the contrary in some ways; America’s power will be enhanced, because America will seem to be freer to do more things. I don’t think that necessarily America would be weakened.
I think the real question is, what other events in Iraq would have far-reaching ramifications? For example, if then—the American presence for now is restraining the intervention from the outside. We say there’s still intervention from the outside. There is, and that’s going to grow no matter what. But it’s restraining the intervention from the outside. So if you don’t want Iran to play a role, maybe even send, you know, some troops across the border somewhere or the Kurds be more aggressive than they have been—I mean the Turks be more aggressive than they have been. That’s all possible with the withdrawal of American forces, unless you have a strategy which says, “I’m going to, you know, stop it.” And I think if there is a civil war that is called a civil war—I mean, there is a civil war now that is not called a civil war—more kind of—I think it would have ramifications.
I think the interesting thing about the Hezbollah case—I think Steve, you know, highlighted the fact that, you know, Nasrallah captures the imagination even though he’s a Shi’a, particularly in Egypt and in Jordan and the Palestinian areas. He is the most popular leader in the Arab world despite—we’re talking about the Shi’a “crescent” and the sectarianism. But what you find actually is attitudes—where there is Shi’a-Sunni divide within the country, they’re less sympathetic with Hezbollah than where there is no Shi’a divide within the country. That’s interesting. Because even in Iraq—we know in Iraq what happened with the Hezbollah success—more anti-Americanism among the Shi’a. We see that in the polls and—you know, legitimacy of attacks against. But the Sunnis have not improved their view of Hezbollah in Iraq whereas they have in Saudi Arabia and Egypt—I’m sorry—in Egypt and Jordan and the Palestinian areas. So I think for the countries where there is a Sunni-Shi’a divide, it’s consequential, and it’s potentially troubling.
GAUSE: Let me get three more and then we’ll come for final comments.
QUESTIONER: Steven, you referenced the Brookings paper, “A Switch in Time,” that Ken Pollack wrote. Ken Pollack wrote that about six months ago and talked about going back to the canonical ratio of 20 security personnel to 1,000 person—you know, residents. And he really thought the time was short about our ability to be able to execute on that. And if we hadn’t done it in about six months that it would be a lost—that would be a lost strategy. So I’d like you to comment a little bit more about going back to Ken Pollack’s paper and his desire to increase security personnel in Iraq.
And since time is short, I’ll ask the second question, as I don’t think we’ve heard anything realistically about Turkey and the implications for our relationship with Turkey in light of what’s taken place.
GAUSE: In the back.
QUESTIONER: (Inaudible.) In fact, there is a very interesting debate going on in the Middle East, which is between the axis of extremists and the axis of moderates, and it’s really quite a fight. But what I have not heard here at all is a mention of the word Israel, and that’s what it’s all about there. It is not about Iraq. The Arab public is really not fighting. Hezbollah’s appearance—appeal, rather, is about challenging Israel. And what do we do? Even if we want to do something about Iraq, we’ve got to do something about the Palestinian-Israeli issue. We have got to do that. Take it off the table in order to get the minds and hearts issue sorted out. They are very confused. There’s a big confusion right now, and it’s a huge fight going on. Anyone who has not—(word inaudible)—axis of Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Syria is called a traitor. So in fact, in order to win back the ground, I think we really need to think how to understand what’s really going on there. Thank you.
GAUSE: And a last question in the back, sir, and then we’ll have comments from—(inaudible).
QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Imran Riffat and I’m with the Synergos Institute.
I somehow feel that this room is full of pessimists, because nobody has taken into account the $20 million that have been set aside for our victory party—(laughter)—in Washington, D.C., you know, to celebrate the victory in Afghanistan and Iraq. I think this session has siloed itself into Iraq, whereas we are supposed to be talking about U.S. and the Middle East.
My question is that Iraq was before the war one of the most secular countries in the Middle East. And what we have done, and we have done it very successfully, you know, turned it into a jihadist country. And as we try and deal with the issues of bridging the divide between the West and the Islamic societies, our actions in Iraq have really been quite the opposite of what we wanted to achieve.
So I would like to ask the distinguished members of the panel what do they think about fixing what we have broken. Thank you.
GAUSE: We have 90 seconds, and just realize that every word you three say cuts into the coffee break. Toby, we’ll start with you.
DODGE: I read Pollack’s “A Switch in Time” and I thought it was a very fine, thoughtful, sensible document. I then went to Washington and said that and was laughed off the platform, because they said where are the extra troops going to come from? You know, where is this one last heave? Where is the energy for one last heave? But I think it’s a very good policy, and my friends in Washington advise me it’s totally impossible.
On Iraqi secularism, there’s a danger. I traveled a lot to Iraq in 2003 to study how sanctions were transforming society, and what sanctions were doing was building up anger, stripping capacity out of society and fueling radical Islam before the invasion. So just a historical point.
Just to sum up, I think Iraq is going very, very badly. And I think that’s undoubted—(inaudible)—20 million (dollars) for the party. I think people are right to be pessimistic. But to say, “All right, it’s lost,” and then look at the region from that perspective is chilling. It’s not only the Turkish general staff who won’t tolerate that, who will play much more into the country—Iran—you’ll have the neighbors playing into the country and the anarchy and violence in the country playing out. And unlike Afghanistan that created this horror from an obscure edge of the Middle East, this country is in the center of the Middle East. If it continues to spin into anarchy and chaos will come back to haunt all of us. I think instead of just throwing it over our shoulders and walking away, we have to rework a policy. And I think the policy would have to involve the welcoming of a new president into the White House, the multilateralization of the problem. Iraq is clearly too big a problem for the United States to do on its own. And if it fails, it’s going to be a problem that is much closer to the borders of Europe than it is to the borders of the United States.
TELHAMI: Well, on the Arab-Israeli issue, while I think it, obviously, isn’t the center of problems in the Middle East, it is the prism—I’ve argued always that it is the prism through which Arabs view America. It is the core prism through which Arabs view America. It’s an identity issue. It’s not about liking Arafat or liking the Palestinians. It’s a—it’s really the focal point through which an evaluation is made psychologically about what America does and doesn’t do; that hasn’t changed much. Iraq has added to that. And I think, when you talk about Israel and the U.S., there’s now an identification of one and the other together, and that’s what happened in the Iraq war, that’s what happened in the Lebanon war.
And so public opinion is making that assessment, I think, and clearly, it is hard to see how you can change the tide unless something different happens on the Arab-Israeli front. And I’m not sure that in fact there is real opportunity right now, whether this administration is likely to make Arab-Israeli peace—(inaudible)—suddenly they will decide that Arab-Israeli peacemaking is a top priority for the United States of America. That’s not an intellectual position they take, and it’s not a functional position they can take. So as long as Iraq and Iran play higher on their priorities, it’s hard to see how you can walk and chew gum at the same time on these issues. I don’t think it can be done. So I’m pessimistic about the Arab-Israel issue being a priority in the next two years with this administration.
Just a quick point on Turkey, which I think is really important. I think, you know, Turkey is part of the Middle East again. I mean, that began a little bit, of course, at the end of the Cold War.
GAUSE: The Ataturk dream has failed.
TELHAMI: Has changed. I don’t want to say failed. I think it has changed. I think Turkey’s part of the Middle East again. And in some ways their decision not to allow American forces to launch operations against Iraq helped them and changed in a way the mind of the public about them in the Arab world, even though there’s still resistance to a role for Turkey in the Arab world. But they improved Syria-Turkey relationship. They reached out—even in tourism and everything else. They’ve placed ads recruiting people from the Arab world. And with Iran being the power and Iraq gone, they obviously have a role, even in terms of balance of power in the Gulf region, inevitably, by virtue of who they are—not to mention the Kurdish issue, but that obviously is a issue in terms of what they would do in relation to Iraq. So Turkey is a player, a player who, up to this point, hasn’t figured out what exactly the role that will emerge after the U.S., after the U.S pulls out of Iraq, if it does. And I think that’s—there are a lot of questions about that—(off mike).
GAUSE: Steve, you stand between us and our break.
SIMON: It’s a tragic position. On the 20-1 ratio, on that question: The Brookings researchers got that from a RAND report which looked at—and God knows where they got it from—(laughter). But anyway, the RAND report looked at—
GAUSE: You don’t work for RAND anymore. You don’t have to defend them.
SIMON: (Laughs.) I’m about to vilify them.
The RAND report at U.S. interventions, nation-building, kinds of interventions in the past that it construed as having been relatively successful—so Germany, Japan, Kosovo and a couple of others. And one of the—the simple facts that jumped out of the analysis was that in these instances of success, there was a 20-1 ratio between occupying troops and the population. The implication there is that you’d need an occupying army in Iraq of 500,000 soldiers, and that is, you know, almost all the shooters, you know, in the U.S. ground forces. So that’s—you know, that’s not going to happen.
On the Arab-Israeli issue—actually, a very good way to understand the discussion, because having been perceived as defeated in Iraq or at least seriously set back, thwarted, unable to achieve its objectives, the United States will have to climb back out of the pit. It will have to show that it can still act effectively and constructively in the region. And this will be all the more important as the U.S. moves towards a confrontation with Iran—that won’t necessarily be military; it won’t have to come down to shooting, but it’s a strategic confrontation against a country Washington perceives as asserting hegemonic pretentions in the region. So it’s important for the U.S. now to show that even though it has been seriously set back in Iraq, and arguably defeated or at least perceived to be defeated, that it can still do something.
And the Arab-Israeli arena is a place to start. It’s at the outer edge of Iran’s perimeter. Iran is seeking to push its will there, and it’s an area where the U.S. historically has a great deal of leverage, strong interest, and strong public support for action. You know, the timing, as usual, is terrible. The Olmert government is in bad shape. It’s likely to be challenged because of its performance in Lebanon and because it no longer has a platform—unilateral separation from the Palestinians hasn’t worked out. And on the Palestinian side, as we know, things are very much in disarray. So timing is bad. But nevertheless, I think the takeaway here, the lesson is that the U.S. needs now more than ever to act elsewhere in the region constructively, creatively and forcefully.
GAUSE: Stacy, are we going to reconvene at 10:30? 10:35? 10:30. Please join me in thanking the members of the panel. (Applause.)
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