Robert Danin, CFR's Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies, and Eugene Rogan, faculty fellow and university lecturer in the modern history of the Middle East at University of Oxford's St. Antony's College, analyze the reactions of the United States and Europe to the Arab uprisings.
This session was part of a CFR symposium, Implications of the Arab Uprisings, which was made possible by the generous support of Rita E. Hauser, and organized in cooperation with University of Oxford's St. Antony's College.
GIDEON ROSE: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the fifth and final session of today's symposium on the implications of the Arab uprisings. My name is Gideon Rose, and I have the distinct pleasure of being here with Eugene Rogan and Robert Danin, and we really are going to have a great panel.
First, please completely turn off, not just put on vibrate or silence, all cellphones, BlackBerrys and so forth. Second, I want to remind everybody that this meeting is on the record. And without further ado, let's plunge right into it.
Eugene and Rob are true experts. Their bios are in the program, and so I don't think I want to waste too much time on their credentials. But be assured that they actually do know what they're talking about, even, you know, as we get into it.
So let me kick it off. Rob, first, this panel is devoted to the policy responses of the United States and Europe. So why don't you just start by saying -- characterizing a little bit what you think -- how you would describe the U.S. response to the Arab Spring, the Arab awakening over the last year and where things might go from here?
ROBERT DANIN: In a word, I would --
DANIN: No, in a word, I would call the American reaction, the administration reaction to the Arab uprisings reactive. The United States has largely reacted to events as they've unfolded. In a sense, things started rather easily for the administration. Tunisia went peacefully, went quickly. Egypt was a challenge for the administration, but I would give it pretty good marks for the way it managed the crisis.
I think the next crisis was Libya, the next challenge was Libya. And there I think the administration made a decision based on an analysis that suggested that Gadhafi was about to go, and by the time they had committed themselves to intervention, Gadhafi had managed to roll back some of the -- some of the advances that the opposition had made, and so that made the intervention more costly, more sustained.
And so what we've seen over time, in essence, is the United States having to invest more in order to advance its policies over time, but all of these policies I would call reacting to events as they've unfolded rather than the manifestation of some grand strategy that the United States is trying to put forward.
ROSE: Eugene, how would you characterize Europe's responses so far in the current (tumult ?)?
EUGENE ROGAN: I don't think that Europe has gotten things any better than the United States has. I would say that they haven't even been reactive, really, because their reactions haven't been particularly good. They haven't really been sure where to put themselves in the light of so many changes in so many corners of what is Europe's near abroad.
If I were to sum it up, I would say it was actually this huge clash between values and interests and that the European states across the board were struggling to know how to protect their interests, which were based on the status quo, and yet square that with the values that they had been upholding for so long and in so many ways. If you look at any of the association agreements that the EU does with its Mediterranean partners, a large part of it there is about universal values that we all subscribe to, itself a problematic notion because, of course, no one ever asks people on the south shore of the Mediterranean or the east shore of the Mediterranean what their values might be in these universal values. But let them stand for a moment.
The fact is, there were a set of values about human rights and about free expression and whatnot that lay at the heart of the movements that were sweeping the region. And Europe found itself, in protecting old partners, going against those values.
And as a result, I think Europe has come through humbled. I talk about Europe as though it's a monolith. Obviously, it's a collection of a lot of states with very different policies. But I've never known a time where the European governments have struck me as being more open to input from more sources, because they recognize they are facing more change than their wildest contingency plannings had ever prepared them for.
ROSE: Let me pick up on something that you just implied, Rob, and I agree with it, which is the succession of policies and expectations and how each country's situation has played into how the United States and Europe have dealt with the next.
So they started out a little bit slow, perhaps, in Tunisia, and -- because no one can quite believe this is actually going to get anywhere, and then Ben Ali falls and suddenly there's a new reaction, and so you take more seriously the idea that this could happen in Egypt, and then Mubarak seems to go.
And by that point, as you say, then it looks like Gadhafi's going, and then you jump in to ride that bandwagon, but then Gadhafi regains the upper hand in the war and it drags on, and so now the question of which side of the bandwagon is going to win. It seems to me almost as if the policymakers have wanted to join the winning side and they were trying to wait to see in each case which side would win, and then as soon as they felt they knew which was going to win, they would jump on that bandwagon. Is that an overly cynical approach or is that how you see things too?
DANIN: You have the administration, by its own admission, saying that it wants to be on the right side of history. I found that term kind of disturbing, in a way, because it suggests that the history is somehow preordained and predestined. And I think what is so inspiring about what is happening, but also so unnerving, is that none of it is predestined or preordained, and therefore the policies and actions that are taken at this time are so important because this is such a plastic moment and such a transformative moment for the region, and will continue to be for some time.
So, you know, is it cynical? You know, it depends how you -- you know, on your values, I suppose.
ROSE: Eugene, is it true that sort of over the course of last spring and as things have played out, people have been a little unsure about just who was going to come out on top and that played into their policy responses?
ROGAN: I'm trying to contrast what reactions the European states pursued towards the first two revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt with what they wound up doing in Libya. And I think in the case of the first two revolutions, there was a real sense of trying to adjust thinking to changing realities. As you'll recall, France's first reaction in Tunisia was to offer their savoir faire in crowd control to help Ben Ali stay in business. This was a national humiliation for the French, because it made -- it made so patently clear their willingness to use, you know, policing force and whatnot to go against the will of the people, which -- from the tradition of the French Revolution, you know, the sovereignty of the people is the very basis on which any legitimate government is based.
So a certain rethink took place in light of the experience of Tunisia. I think France was much more neutral in looking at how things unrolled in Egypt. But it was remarkable to watch President Sarkozy take the lead in pushing for an intervention in Libya, which was a complete game changer for European policy, as it was for the Arab Spring.
ROSE: Let me press you on that. Some commentators over here attributed that to a domestic political agenda and in fact an attempt to change the narrative from what had just happened in Tunisia, especially with the vacationing Cabinet official and so forth.
And so in your opinion, following this more closely than some of us on this side of the pond, was French policy driven at least in part by domestic political issues at this point?
ROGAN: Well, Gideon, you missed out on my earlier panel, when I gave a nice long discussion about the realities in Saudi Arabia, only to find that the person sitting in front of me was the Saudi ambassador to the U.N. (Laughter.)
I do know that the French Embassy or the French mission here is represented, and so I will defer to the greater knowledge of -- (laughter) --
ROGAN: It -- this story is -- I heard it too --
ROGAN: -- that Sarkozy was very aware that there had been a policy failure in Tunisia that he did not wish to repeat. But I don't think that can go anywhere near explaining in its entirety the way in which the European powers so reversed their policy on the rehabilitation of Gadhafi, which had been the project since he'd surrendered his weapons of mass destruction, a project that Britain had taken the lead on, to then designate him as someone who, well, needed to be contained in the first instance and then ultimately overthrown.
ROSE: If the unexpected successes of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt helped create a smoother path towards encouragement of the uprising in Libya, did the unexpectedly tough road in Libya after intervention began make people slower to intervene in Syria?
ROGAN: Libya poses all sorts of questions that aren't being asked. I'll lay them before you and see what you think. The fundamental question I want to know is whether or not the United States and Britain and France ever intend to ask to be repaid what they spent to go to war in Libya.
ROSE: Repaid by whom?
ROGAN: By the successor government. I mean, there is a precedent for this in what happened in the aftermath of the liberation of Kuwait. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia basically paid the bill for the Desert Storm war. And in the aftermath of that, also those countries that participated in the liberation of Kuwait received contracts for, you know, large projects, airlines, whatnot, pretty much in proportion to their contribution. It would be a rational thing for countries like Britain, France and America that have cut their military budgets to seek to be repaid for what they spent.
But it would go a long way to explaining two things: one, why what started out as a no-fly zone became a bid for regime change, and two, it might help us understand why they were more willing to use military force at great expense in Libya, where there is oil wealth, frozen assets to pay the bill, and not in Syria.
ROSE: So you think -- your -- let me get this straight. I've never heard this argument before. You're saying that you think that one of the factors that led to a more forceful posture in Libya than other countries was the possibility that the --
ROGAN: It could be paid back.
ROSE: -- that it could be paid back.
ROSE: That's -- I'm fascinated by that.
ROGAN: Not only that it could be paid back, but in the aftermath of regime change, the grateful new regime would reward the countries that helped liberate it with lucrative contracts in what is a very underdeveloped country with fantastic oil resources.
ROSE: Rob, is your -- what's your take on this, from the U.S. side?
DANIN: I think there's another way to look at it that sort complements that. I mean, it's the fallacious assumption that was made about the Iraq War and also perhaps the -- perhaps less fallacious in Libya, in the sense that the assumption was that the Iraq War would ultimately be self-paying because ultimately the Iraqi oil would be opened up and that then Iraq would become a major economic boon that would then be able to sort of pay back what had been expended.
I think in the Libyan case there was another interest, as I saw it, which -- from across the ocean, which was for certain key European countries it seemed that particularly France and Italy -- there were two elements. One was the energy dependency on Libya and second was the fear of a massive flow of refugees across the Mediterranean that made Libyan -- a protracted Libyan civil war something that could not be countenanced and therefore was of critical importance.
For the United States, it was a secondary concern, but the alliance maintenance within the NATO context was important, so it was done to sort as -- to support our European friends.
So that narrative sort of complements Eugene's analysis, which is, yes, oil was important; yes, immigration was important. I mean, to me, what is troubling about the Libyan intervention was what Eugene pointed to and at least on this side of the pond -- the decision-making, at least in the public sphere, was driven largely by humanitarian -- a humanitarian debate. Benghazi looked like it was about to fall. You had that, you know, famous meeting at the White House in which Hillary Clinton and Samantha Power reportedly prevailed upon the president that -- you know, that you would have another Sarajevo unless that -- we intervened within the next 48 hours, and the decision was taken.
What's puzzling about that and that -- Eugene, you know, alluded to that -- is that within hours of the initiation of the strikes against Benghazi, you also had strikes against Tripoli. Now the argument being invoked at the time was those strikes were meant to take out command and control, but I think that it -- in reality it seems clear to me that the intention from the beginning was regime change. And we can get back to this maybe in a further round of discussion, but I mean, the question is, you know, whether or not this was the right war.
ROSE: I'm sure this has been a theme of discussion throughout the day, but I'd like to turn to the apparent division between U.S. policy in the Gulf and U.S. policy -- or, you know, Western policy in the Gulf, Western policy in North Africa. The -- as you say, so much of the policy debate has been a division between interests and values, but the justifications for all of the interventions, whether diplomatic or military, have been laid out in the most grandiose of rhetorical terms and ideological terms and humanitarian terms, and yet the policy toward the Gulf, whether in not talking about uprisings that did happen or not talking about the dogs that haven't barked at all, be completely absent to any discussion there -- so you have this gap between the rhetoric used in regard to the Mediterranean crises and a striking divergence of policy when it comes to the Gulf.
Is that -- is that sustainable? Is that something that we should just expect, that democracies have to act such a way to please both, or shouldn't -- should there be a try -- an attempt to bring rhetoric and policy together, either by scaling back the rhetoric or by ramping up the policy?
DANIN: Well, two points, I guess, I would make. I mean, first you have to put this in context of how it unfolded. In many ways, you know, you had the -- and it was discussed in the earlier sessions -- the way in which the administration reacted to Hosni Mubarak's and -- encouragement that the administration gave for his departure had quite a strong backlash from the Gulf and precipitated what I think was a real crisis in U.S.-Saudi relations. You had then a string of senior officials going privately and publicly to Riyadh, but it was clear the Saudis -- and not just the Saudis, the Emiratis and the Kuwaitis, I think, were also quite angry, not to mention the Israelis, I mean, because it did raise the question of this -- if this is how you treat your friends, then -- and you throw them under the bus after two weeks of demonstrations, then what kind of friend are you? And I think that really constricted the administration's actions when then the Saudis went into Bahrain.
And interestingly, when the president gave his May 19th speech to articulate the administration's sort of grand vision of the Arab uprisings, Saudi Arabia was not mentioned. And that was noted. And so then Hillary Clinton gave a subsequent speech that fall as sort of the corrective, if you will, the "what he meant to say" speech, in which he did talk about Saudi Arabia.
But I think Saudi Arabia is kind of at the vortex of the policy challenge between interests and values, but I don't think it necessarily has to be in direct contravention, because for the longest time, our view has been that unless these regimes -- unless our friends reform, they are not going to be able to sustain themselves. I mean, if we made, I think, one fundamental failure in Egypt, it was in our long-standing dialogue in the run-up to the revolution, we never made clear to the Egyptians that there was a red line that they could not cross, and that -- and so then -- and that were they to cross that red line, we would have to withdraw our support.
I don't think Mubarak to this day understands why we withdrew our support for him, him and his cronies and others in the region. I think we have to be a little bit clearer about what kind of friend we are and the limits of our friendship.
ROSE: What do you think the red line would be in Saudi Arabia?
DANIN (?): Good question. (Laughter.)
ROGAN: I mean, it's quite straightforward. I mean, Europe and the United States alike are facing one of the most challenging economic environments in recent history. The one thing they cannot afford is to see oil staying at $125 to $140 a barrel. Saudi Arabia is a country which enjoys by and large the consent of its people, so there is no reason to put tremendous pressure, in a moment of huge regional volatility, on a country which has the largest oil reserves in the world and plays a very important role in moderating output to help keep the pressure off the Western economies.
We're talking about values and interests. I think we have to be really quite pragmatic in talking about what drives states. It's nice when they can make their rhetoric and their policies line up well. It looks consistent. But at the end of the day we must assess what the interests are and then try and drive the policies from that.
ROSE: Well, I agree, so the question is -- but (Rob ?), your implication was that there was something we could have and should have said to Mubarak earlier saying here is the point up to which we'll support you but no further, and you implied that was almost a discussion we should have with Saudi Arabia. And -- but the gist of it is we will never have that discussion with Saudi Arabia, because we need them too much.
That would have been my take, as well. So I'm curious what you had in mind when you said the red line that they would have to cross beyond which we would not longer support them.
DANIN: For almost a decade, we have had this dialogue with the Egyptians in which we were pressing the Egyptians to reform and telling the Egyptians, if you don't reform, it's going to hurt you, and, you know, you have different formulations, either articulated by Condoleezza Rice in her 2005 Cairo speech, President Obama when he went to Cairo had a similar formulation, but the message was the same: The status quo is unsustainable and you will pay the price for it.
Now, what we didn't say was -- now, the problem was, that was our message on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, our message was, support us elsewhere in the region, and it's the geostrategy that -- that was important.
And often I would arrive in Egypt for talks in my official capacities, and both American officials would pull me aside, let alone Egyptian officials, and say: What's our policy? I'm confused. You're kind of talking out of both sides of your mouth. On one hand, you tell us what we really need is for you to advance our interests in the region, but on the other hand, you're telling us you need to change but we're not clear what the "or else" is. And so the internalization was, there is no "or else." So then they took it as, OK, you know, the Americans will come, we'll have that democracy dialogue and then we can get down to the real business.
And that's why they didn't really realize that we were serious. But we were.
ROSE: Well, were we, or did we just decide at one point that the regime could no longer survive? Your implication was that so long as the Saudi regime maintains the consent of the people broadly speaking, then we won't do anything. And that would have been true of Mubarak as well.
DANIN: We had a choice. We had a choice in Egypt. We could have said quietly to Mubarak, you know what? You go mow down Tahrir Square, we'll condemn you quietly, we'll condemn you for a couple weeks, but it's OK, that's what you need to do. We could have done it, but we didn't. And that was wise not to do it, because if we had done that, then we would have lots of more Tahrir Squares and a lot more anti-Americanism, and we would have seemed to be complete hypocrites for having advocated the sorts of things that we advocate and then not actually standing by for it.
But it was a tough policy choice. In retrospect, it looks easy. But we had to balance a lot of competing interests, and we did pay for it in other parts of the region. And that's why we've had to work hard to maintain our standing with our other allies, who now question our credibility or question our -- the durability of our friendship.
ROSE: OK, let me press you guys on something. There's a -- there was an old Hollywood quip about the actor who said that he had known Doris Day before she was a virgin. (Laughter.) My -- you know, we talk about the U.S. rhetoric and humanitarian policy and justification. We're talking about the Middle East. And presumably, the people in the Middle East are very -- have a -- you know, a different take on U.S. policy and motivations than many self-regarding Westerners do. And I'm curious, just how cynical are they? And you said that -- just now that we wouldn't -- we would have seemed like complete hypocrites. Do people in the region take for granted that our talk is meaningless and that we are hypocrites, and so therefore do they -- is it -- is it naive of us to think that anybody other than our own populations, and the -- perhaps only some of our own populations believe the humanitarian rhetoric or values-based rhetoric that we say?
ROGAN: My view on this is that America has operated by double standards of the region, that the region holds very much against America and that what it will allow for Israel to do is quite different from what it will accept from Arab countries. And so their basic point of departure, if you were to talk to people in the Arab world about their attitude towards the United States, is that it doesn't really have integrity in its policies towards the region, and it doesn't wish the region well; it just wishes to ensure that it gets its oil and that it protects Israel; that's really all it cares about, and that the Arabs are defensible in that.
What the knock-on effect means that the likelihood people in the region would be looking to the United States to present them with a set of values that might guide them or inspire them is low. And I didn't see much of it. But --
ROSE: In the revolutions that have rocked the region?
DANIN: Can I perhaps expand the -- my perspective on this? I mean, you know, I think we're always going to be hoisted on our own petard in the region in terms of the gap between what we say and what we do. But that's not to say that what we say is unimportant. People still listen, and what we say still matters.
I recall traveling with our distinguished president of the council in the Gulf in 2002, meeting with democracy activists in the Gulf saying to us: Why are you so silent on democracy? You're killing us. By you not talking about democracy, you give us no cover; you stand -- you, the United States, are a special country, by virtue of who you are, through your demonstration effect. And unless you actually put your mouth where your money is, you're not actually being true to yourself, and you're not being true to -- you know, helpful to us.
So yes, we're always going to be criticized. That goes with the territory. That's fine. But I think we can minimize it by narrowing the gap between our rhetoric and our -- and our behavior. But I also think, you know, what we do say does matter, but it also has to be followed up. I mean, President Obama's Cairo speech was welcome at the time, but Arabs have now become incredibly cynical. Why? Not because the speech was a bad speech, but because they believe that the rhetoric was not supported by then real policies.
So rhetoric is important, but rhetoric alone is insufficient and ultimately could be counterproductive if it doesn't lead to real policy change.
ROSE: To the present and future, is there anything that the United States or Europe should be doing that it is not currently doing? Is there anything that it should not be doing that it currently is doing? And what are the current and future challenges for Western policy in this region?
ROGAN: I think that the values game is one still worth playing. And I would encourage European countries to be pursuing their strengths in soft power more effectively.
Michael Willis and I met with representatives of the British Council who are convening a meeting in Tunis -- is it this winter? This autumn. And they're trying to think about what they can be using at the British Council, which is basically the cultural arm of the British government, to try and contribute to the political developments that are going on in the region in a nonintrusive way, in a way that won't immediately get rejected because it's foreign values being imposed on them.
I mean, I take Robert's point to heart, but we have to remember that in talking about promoting democracy before, the United States has also been the messenger who killed the message. And I think the effort to try and impose democracy the way it was done that the neoconservatives of the George W. Bush administration was very counterproductive and created in people's minds a notion that democracy was a package of foreign values that were being shoved down their throats to help reinforce Western domination, basically.
So if you take the word "democracy" out of it, you unpick the things that really matter in a democratic system, and which European countries are all quite good at, by the way: an independent judiciary, a free press, you know, the creation of political parties and civil society, and talk about those issues, which are all issues that are extremely dear to the hearts of people in the region. It's what their revolutions are about, about moving out of an age of political prisons and being circumscribed in what you dare say because you're always looking over your shoulder.
You know, to bring the European experience of this to the region and helping them set up a new political age of freedoms is, I think, a way to engender good will, have people turn to Europe for things that they actually do have valuable experience in.
One very small example, Jordanians have been going to London through a series of meetings organized by a group called the Center for Opposition Studies. And they're talking about what opposition politics are, the notion that when you have elections, there are going to be parties that will win, and they're in government, and there'd be parties that lose, and they're not in government. But being not in government doesn't mean you're not out of -- it doesn't mean you're out of politics. You're opposition; you're meant to be pushing the people in power; you're meant to be making yourself more credible for the next election. Alternance is the oxygen of our political systems, right? But not when you're coming from Jordan. You know, they did it in the 1950s, Sulayman Nabulsi. It was, for them, a very bad experience. They'd never repeated it since.
So using this sort of -- the experience, whatnot, to talk to people who are going through political change and use your soft power effectively -- well, it was our suggestion for the British Council, and I think that they're interested in pursuing it. And I think in these ways, you can bring values and rhetoric together without shoving it down people's throat. And they may be more receptive to it.
DANIN: Two things. I mean, in some way, I'm repackaging what Eugene said. But I think it's important to define it properly. I mean, I think it's true democracy has, in certain quarters, been given a bad name in the region because either it's something -- seen as something that the United States has done to its enemies rather than promoted with its friends, and also because of the overemphasis, I would say, on elections rather than on promoting democratic society.
So I think if we, you know, are a little more modest about our democracy promotion, working with our friends in the region who want democracy -- and it seems that the Arab uprisings have demonstrated that that's what the Arabs want. They want freedom; they want expression; they want civic institutions; they want power diffused within their society. We can't get in front of it, but we can help support it.
So it's -- you know, we're -- we come to the same place, but we come at it from a different place. I don't think democracy is a dirty word or should be a dirty word, and I don't think democracy promotion should be treated as something we should be ashamed of.
ROGAN: No, but democracy, we keep talking about as though it is a monolith out there that we all agree what it is and what it looks like. Just going across Europe, you have so many different forms of government, each of them -- (inaudible) --
DANIN: It has to be indigenous. It has to be indigenous, and it has to come from within. And we can help support those movements within the Arab world that want change, be it through, you know, institutions that were cited earlier in the -- today, you know, Freedom House and the whole range of groups that have been active in the Arab world, quietly but effectively.
But secondly, something I don't think we've put enough attention on in our -- in our discourse is the economic underpinnings of all that's going on. I mean, you know, one of the questions, you know, in terms of the why did this happen now question, I think people haven't sufficiently addressed the economic -- the macroeconomic underpinnings in the region in the year 2010, the high -- the rapid rise of food and commodity items, the underemployment, not to mention unemployment, amongst the youth bulge in the Arab world, all sorts of things that led to a real crisis for people for what one commentator have called the poor middle class in the Arab world.
You know, I think this -- these conditions still obtain. In fact, they've gotten worse since the Arab uprisings. Unemployment in Egypt in the last year has gone up from something like 9 percent to over 12 percent or 13 percent, or rather, the rate of GDP growth. These -- so --
MR. : (Off mic.)
DANIN: So -- yeah, no, unemployment is well over 30 percent.
MR. : (Off mic.)
DANIN: But the point is, you know, last summer in Deauville the European partners -- parties tried to do something, throw some money, make some pledges -- that's -- you know, that's a start, but I think --
MR. : (Inaudible) -- actually.
ROGAN: You're right.
MR. : The U.S was in there too.
DANIN: Yeah, OK.
MR. : (Inaudible.)
DANIN: This isn't us versus them. This is something we need to do in partnership.
ROGAN: But there's no money there. I mean, Deauville, I would hope -- (inaudible) --
DANIN: Let me finish -- because there is money there; there's a lot of money in the Gulf.
ROSE: But that's not -- that's not in the G-8.
MR. : No.
ROGAN: And it was the G-8 that was making pledges in Deauville --
ROGAN: -- and I haven't seen them coming out.
DANIN: Right, but my point is exactly that. Deauville is not the way it has to happen. It has to happen through institutions within the region. We have to start promoting institutions for economic growth within the region, so that the extreme "haves" can help the extreme "have-nots."
ROGAN: So we've got to ask the Saudis to stump up the money that we didn't give them at Deauville.
DANIN: Yes. (Inaudible) --
ROGAN: Well, that's not really a Western policy.
DANIN: Look, look -- no, but it's something we can help support.
DANIN: I mean, Eugene, that's a little too cynical. I mean the fact of the matter is, when it comes to fulfilling aid pledges, the West does a lot better in fulfilling pledges to the Arab world than do -- than do the states in the Gulf.
ROGAN: I'm not being cynical, but I'm being realistic. I mean, the fact is, the British government is taxing its grandmothers, OK? So it's not like they're going to make a lot of money available to rebuild the Arab world after revolution. It's just not -- it's not realistic. That's all I'm saying. It's not cynicism.
DANIN: It doesn't have to be -- it doesn't have to be a --
ROGAN: But where is the fund to come from to --
ROSE: Well, let's let our other members and guests here get in on this discussion -- (laughter) -- which is quite fun.
There are a lot -- we can continue up here by ourselves for a long time, but we unfortunately have a fixed time, and we have a lot of very smart, serious, knowledgeable people here who can and should contribute.
So at this point I want -- I would like our -- invite our members and guests to join the conversation with their questions. Please, wait for the microphone and speak directly into it. Stand, state your name and affiliation, and keep questions relatively short and concise.
And with that, let's open it up. Who would like the first question? Yes.
QUESTIONER: There was a talk in early --
ROSE: Yes, but Joan, you have to identify yourself.
QUESTIONER: Oh. Joan Spero, Columbia University. There was a talk in previous sessions about sectarianism, and the conflict among different sects being provoked, for example, in Syria. As you try to move forward with the democracy, you also have to look to the past, and are there ways that the U.S. and others can help in rebuilding societies in a different way, and are there models, whether it's South Africa or others, about transitional justice?
ROSE: Are there lessons from other places and --
ROGAN: Well, I think there are certain lessons from within the region that one wouldn't want to repeat if you had the chance. And sectarian policies is certainly one. I think one of the things that's really been a problem with the transition in Iraq was to go away from a notion of national identity to one of communal identity as the basis of politics. And this was a debate in Lebanon from the 1920s right on to the present, of whether or not Lebanon would be better served by a notion of common citizenship under a national flag or communal identity under the shadow of -- (inaudible) -- of his people.
So I would think one thing, since you raised it in the context of sectarianism or minority rights or whatnot -- you would try to go in this new age of citizen action to collective identity under a national identity as the best way to prevent minorities in your community from suffering in the new political realities in (there ?).
QUESTIONER: (Off mic) -- can do about that?
QUESTIONER: Is there anything we can do about that?
ROGAN: I don't know. I mean, again, it's -- the limits of what the United States or any European country can do in terms of reinforcing political trends in the region is, I think, quite limited. And that, I think, is due to historic reasons. And I think it's also because of the way in which people in the region are taking ownership of their own movements. It makes them quite resistant to outside intervention.
So I think if you wanted to get there, you'd have to do it softly, softly. But I couldn't be more precise than that.
DANIN: I don't have much to add, other than to say that, you know, when we talk about democracy, we should also talk about the difficulties and the disappointments of democracy, that we're not setting up kind of this straw man that will disappoint. Democracy is inherently unfulfilling, because it means mitigating differences amongst people. That leaves people dissatisfied. And that means, you know, these sectarian -- if these sectarian societies become true nations, people are going to have to compromise. They're going to have to subordinate certain identities to greater identities. It's going to leave people disappointed. But the important thing is that there are institutions to manage those differences. It's not that it leads to this great unifying understanding. It just comes to an understanding that there is a -- there are mechanisms for managing differences.
ROSE: Next question. Richard Murphy.
MR. : (Inaudible.)
QUESTIONER: It's (going to happen ?) to sort of come to a head on Syria, but it's confronted us over the past year in various countries. We have -- in the case of President Assad, our president has called for him to step aside. That was last August. And yet we have resisted the European call for consigning him to the International Criminal Court. I'm not sure I see the great distinction there. But what do you think of these sorts of prescriptions?
ROGAN: I've been puzzled by the step-aside language. And I've heard administration officials correct themselves when they say step down; they say, no, step aside. I'm not entirely sure what is intended by the American request for a leader to step aside.
ROSE: Do you think they have a deep conceptual differentiation between "aside" and "down"? (Laughter.)
ROGAN: I know it sounds really silly, Gideon, but it's just weird to hear somebody correct themselves, as Secretary Clinton. She said, you know, and President Assad must step down -- I mean step aside. And the use of the expression "step aside" is very consistent, and so it must mean something.
ROSE: Well, Rob, you're Mr. Diplomat.
DANIN: No, again, you know, my sense of it is -- and it's a repeat of the mistake that was made in Libya, which was, some of the rhetoric about Syria was enunciated at a time when there was a perception of inevitability. Assad's toast; it's just a matter of time. You know, you'd talk to senior diplomats or officials and they just say, you know, weeks, weeks, maybe months, and it was an inevitability. You don't hear that language now. But it was in that context that the policy was articulated that Assad must step down; again, this desire to be --
ROSE (?): Aside.
MR. : To leave.
DANIN: You know, again, this desire to be on the right side of history, as if history is, you know, this wave that the administration was going to surf rather than also -- but that they don't also have a fin that can help steer it.
ROSE: I think that, you know, one could imagine a conceptual differentiation in the sense that "step down" would be regime change, and "step aside" would be removal from direct things while letting somebody else take the more titular --
ROGAN (?): (Inaudible) -- transition or something, which is what I think may be the idea behind this difference in language.
ROSE: Is it better for people to just not talk? I mean, there seems to be a problem between the needs of politicians to meet the news cycle at home and the realities of diplomacy in which you have to make policy towards very complex and constantly evolving situations. Is it possible for leaders just to not say anything at all?
DANIN: I think it's very dangerous to, whenever we -- the president of the United States stands up and calls for a leader to leave or step aside or whatever nomenclature, without any intention of pursuing a policy to advance that. I think that creates a huge credibility issue. In that context, unless you really intend to see it through, then you shouldn't be saying that.
ROSE: Rita Hauser (sp).
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Rita Hauser (sp). I'd like to comment on that. I don't why you're negating the fact that both America and Europe are trying here in the U.N. You overlook the fact that we have had a resolution which failed, which -- you know, isolated components of China, Russia. We got them to sign on to a letter. The Assads are now banned from travel in Europe. I mean, there is a tightening squeeze that is taking place short of military intervention.
And to me, at least, from everything I have heard and seen, there's no desire to have a military intervention by any of the parties. Even the Saudis are talking about arming the rebels. You know, who the hell are the rebels? It's very, very difficult. The last briefing I had, there were scores of rebels, and most of them were leaderless. There was no identity factor. So what else would one do in this circumstance except try to squeeze on them?
When you say step aside, the only -- I'm only reading this -- this is my interpretation -- I think there's a thought that perhaps if Assad goes, maybe there would be a more amenable successor within the Alawite group. That's the way I read that expression, you know, step aside in favor of somebody else that is in the ruling group that would be prepared then to start some serious negotiation with the dissenters. I don't think it's realistic to assume that anything other than this kind of a policy is in the cards.
ROSE: I think that's an excellent point in the sense that it raises a -- there are a lot of people who want the existing leadership to change in some way but don't like the formal options presented in the opposition. And so is it -- and others say, look, you have to choose the rebels or whoever is in power. But is that a false dichotomy, and is it possible to criticize the existing regimes and even put pressure on them without embracing what passes for the current opposition?
ROGAN: Let's be clear what the problem in Syria is. The problem in Syria is that hundreds of people are dying every week. I mean, that's the real issue. Whether politics are good or bad in Syria is a second-order issue. The first-order issue is, what is it now, 9,000 people that the U.N. is saying have died? And that's a -- that's a conservative estimate. OK, so any policy that isn't addressing that issue is a cynical policy.
QUESTIONER: But -- so you have the Kofi Annan mission, for whatever reason --
ROGAN: It's a cynical policy. It's cynical because it doesn't -- look, for both the demonstrators and the regime, their back is against the wall. Both sides know that if they step back from the brink now, they will be destroyed.
QUESTIONER: See, there's where I'd -- I would disagree with you. A lot --
ROGAN: Well, I'll just finish, and then I'll -- then I'll -- I want to hear it. But to me, the only policy that would make sense in trying to address the real issue is to have the U.N. mission there a UNAMSIL-type mission. You need troops on the ground.
QUESTIONER: No, that's not in the cards.
ROGAN: But I mean, anything short of that will not provide a protective shield for the civilians in Syria and create the space within which the regime is going to actually have to engage in negotiation, because the isolation of the sanctions -- we saw Saddam go through that for 11 years, and nothing happened. And I don't think 11 years of this kind of massacre is anything we should be standing with and say our policies are working.
ROSE: So a slow squeeze is not a -- is not a policy option?
QUESTIONER: But I would argue that -- you know, I say only what I can say -- there are other forces within the Alawites. It's not just him. There are other people within the Alawite group who must be calculating how long Assad is viable, Assad and Assad's -- and his no-good brother. And you know, that must be going on at this point because there are some discussions that are already beginning -- very tentative, but there are discussions going on between the regime and some of the opposition. I mean, it's -- you don't have many options, but it seems to me the policy that is being pursued is a correct one. It's pushing it forward to the degree that you can.
And from what I know of Kofi Annan's mission, he laid out pretty plainly what the isolation would be of this country, total, if they didn't move in that direction. And that's -- you know --
ROSE: Let's get some more questions in, unless you have a very specific, immediate answer.
DANIN: Well, I -- (laughter) -- well, it doesn't have a (word ?) --
ROSE: (Inaudible) -- question about Syria, but OK. OK, quick question about Syria -- quick answer about Syria.
DANIN: Well, I guess -- well, two points. I mean, one is diplomacy can only be as effective as the "or else" behind it. When you've -- you know, diplomacy or force aren't necessarily antonyms. I mean, diplomacy can be more effective when it is backed by the threat of force. But the reality is there is no threat of force, and that limits the effectiveness of Kofi Annan's hand.
Secondly, there's a question of time. You know, we talk about -- Eugene is right. I mean, in the first order, the humanitarian concern, the death of 9,000 Syrians so far with many more to come in most -- you know, in all likelihood, is the first order of business. But it's not just that. I mean, there's the sense of -- on whose side -- you know, well, how is this going to play out over time? If indeed there's a civil war taking place, if indeed you have the increased sectarianism in Syria, then you're talking about what is Syria going to look like after Assad as well. And will this be a viable -- or what kind of country is this going to be? I tend to think that the longer this goes on, the worse Syria is going to look when that day comes.
There's a -- and there's a last consideration, which is the neighborhood. I mean, Syria is right at the heart of -- you know, it's encircled by five key countries, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq and Jordan. And this can spill over. It is spilling over. So the idea that it's just going to -- you know, that you could adopt even the most cynical policy and say, you know what, we don't have an interest there; let Syrians kill Syrians -- it's not going to play out that way. It is going to spill over. It is spilling over. There are refugees in Turkey. There are refugees in Jordan. This is going to -- Lebanon. You know, so this is -- this is quite a strategic as well as humanitarian challenge.
ROSE: Well, we can deal with it at next year's conference. (Laughter.)
Yes, over here.
QUESTIONER: Michael Levin. So far when we've tried to answer the question of the topic of the panelists, it's been mostly in reference to political, democratic kind of reaction from the West. What about, in parallel, talking about economic policy responses? So in a sense, standing back and looking at the Middle East, you see so many areas in which there could be, in theory, cooperation: Egyptian low-cost labor, oil, energy, Israeli venture capital, Palestinian managerial skills. And there are big projects -- textiles, telephone, railroads -- that maybe could be used as an example. Are those type of policy encouragements in parallel to some of these political things worthwhile? Or is just pie-in-the-sky?
MR. : If Shimon Peres -- (inaudible) --
ROSE: Is that possible at all, or even without Israel, is it possible for the --
DANIN: Well, I would break it down. I mean, I think right now the political context is such that you're not going to have the kind of Israeli engine in the Arab world. For the time being, the two will stay away from each other.
But I think you do need more investment, more trade within the region, which is quite minimal. The region tends to trade outward and not with each other. There's been tremendous capital flight from the region as a result of the Arab Spring, and that has to be redirected. Conditions obviously need to be created that attract investment.
But it's those sorts of things, I think, that very much has to be addressed in parallel with the political to make these uprisings succeed. Without the economics, then the politics will not -- will not follow.
ROGAN: I would -- one quick idea is I keep telling people that between Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, there is scope for a fantastic partnership in three post-revolutionary countries where you have the very low demography of Libya, with all of its oil resources and its massive infrastructural and administrative needs, and then all the know power -- know-how on either side of its frontiers. If I look for where the money will come from to make such a reconstruction package work, I think between Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, there is something possible there that's not really open elsewhere that's realistic.
QUESTIONER: Ron Tiersky (sp) is my name. I think we might talk a little bit more specifically about President Obama and how he's done and how he might do in the future. If we could assume that he will be re-elected or there's a reasonable chance that he'll be re-elected, we could say, I think, that a strong foreign policy depends on having a strong economy. And to the extent that that's true, we could say that Obama, when he came to office, was in a really bad situation. He had a huge agenda, and he didn't have the means really to --
ROSE: The question, Ron.
QUESTIONER: OK, the question. The question is, do you think Obama has learned enough? Do you think that the American economy is recovering enough so that a second Obama term would be a lot stronger in terms of American influence?
ROSE: If I knew the answer to that, I'd be able to make a lot of money. (Soft laughter.)
ROGAN: I'd put my bet on it.
ROSE: You think you -- you would?
ROGAN: Well, I think this is a president who's got actually a lot of the right reflexes towards this region. And I think it's been a really difficult first term. I think it's been enough to try and ride through this bad economy -- you know, we're getting good figures on the employment side, and the American economy's looking better than the European ones are. A second term, he doesn't have to worry about re-election.
ROSE: So if there's an open-mic comment about the Middle East, what would it be? What is he going to do differently that he's not telling us but might try in the next term?
ROGAN: I don't know.
QUESTIONER: (It's going to be tough ?).
DANIN: I think one of the things -- I think his open-mic comment would probably be, don't worry; I'll be back on the Israel-Palestinian conflict -- I -- whether you like it or not.
ROSE: With the same strategy or a fundamentally different one?
DANIN: With a strategy, perhaps. (Laughter.)
MR. : Yeah.
ROSE: Yes. OK. Next question?
That's nasty. (Laughter.)
DANIN: You want me to be brief. Good?
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Michael Worth (sp). My question is very simple. Could I invite you to comment on the policy towards Bahrain and was it damaging to -- the lack of action damaging to both Europe and especially America?
DANIN: Bahrain was the first real challenge. I mean, it put us right in that vise between interests and values. You know, I've tried to paint a context coming right after Egypt in which, you know, I think we didn't -- I think we -- the relationship was in such strain with Saudi Arabia that it was decided that Bahrain was a price we'd have to pay. Subsequent comments -- you know, and you saw a gap between, again, what President Obama said in May 19th in his -- sort of his grand strategy speech about the Arab uprising, and then Hillary Clinton later, in November, who did come out quite -- much more strongly on Bahrain.
I don't think we've been strong enough on Bahrain. I think we've bought into -- too much into a Gulf narrative that posits this about Iranians versus Arabs versus -- as opposed to the notion that this is actually a sectarian conflict that has the -- you know, that can be exacerbated by external forces but is not at root externally driven.
ROSE: Do you -- I mean, was -- you said that -- you said that Bahrain may have been part of the price we paid to get better relations with Saudi. Is the fact that the relations seem to be better with Saudi now due in part to the fact that sort of we no longer talk that much about the Gulf and no longer talk about Bahrain or any of the other potential problem spots?
DANIN: There's been a very labor-intensive effort to repair relations with the Saudis, lots of trips by the national security adviser, by the whole national security establishment to Riyadh to assure them of our commitment to them, that -- you know, that we're not seeking to overthrow them, to repair the relationship -- I mean, perhaps too much so, in my opinion. But nonetheless, the dip that we experienced right after Egypt, I think we're done with.
You know, this is not a relationship built on love. And it's one of mutual interests, as has been described earlier. And the Saudis have other concerns today in the Gulf and in -- particularly in the security sphere. And so, you know, I think they've moved on; we've moved on. We basically acceded to the notion that this GCC plus two would be a very robust forum. You know, events superseded it. I mean, there was Libya; there was -- you know, there's now Syria.
But you know, we shouldn't -- just because of that, we shouldn't avoid talking about Bahrain at -- because we fear that it's going to, you know, anger the Saudis. We're going to have to agree to disagree on many key things, just as we have over the years.
ROSE: Last question, back here.
QUESTIONER: Sangeetha Ramaswamy. So if you're in -- so you're in the White House right now, and you know, you're running for re-election, and oil prices are a huge issue for the electorate, just with respect to consumer confidence in the economic outlook. What are the top three sources of instability in the Middle East as you're monitoring very closely right now just to make sure that, you know, things don't get out of hand to the point that they are causing distortions in the oil market?
ROSE: Or if it's easier, what are the top three sources of stability? (Laughter.)
ROGAN: I would go with the man who watched things from the White House. (Chuckles.)
DANIN: I mean, I think that -- well, I'd say the top three are probably, right now, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia.
ROSE: So you think Saudi Arabia, even though it's apparently quiet, is more a source of potential instability than Syria?
DANIN: I think that there's a perception that Syria is -- when it comes to sort of the volatility of the oil markets, you now, some of the instability's already been factored into oil prices, whereas ensuring that Saudi Arabia stays stable is still a very key factor in determining the volatility of future markets.
ROSE: Rob and Eugene, thank you very much.
We have -- one of the council's hallowed traditions is that we end on time, and I wanted to make sure that we have an opportunity to get some remarks from Rita Hauser, who will conclude.
RITA HAUSER: No remarks, but great thanks. I think all of you are the stalwarts here, who have been -- most of you -- all day.
I personally found this a marvelous investment. Sometimes they pay off. Sometimes they don't. This one certainly did, in every way -- intellectually stimulating conversation, wonderful participants. So thank all of you, and particularly our friends who came over from Oxford, and Margaret especially. So thank you very much for being here. (Applause.)
MR. : Thank you.
ROSE: And I think all of us want to thank you, Rita, and thank Richard and the council for putting together this really spectacular discussion. Thank you very much. Thank you to you too.
MR. : Thank you very much.
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