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  • Yemen
    An Inside Look at Yemen
    Our panelists discuss the humanitarian and political situation in Yemen, and the state of U.S. involvement in the conflict. AMIRFAR: Good afternoon and welcome, everybody. It’s a real pleasure to be here this afternoon with you here at CFR for “An Inside Look at Yemen.” So, again, good afternoon. My name is Catherine Amirfar. I’m a partner and co-chair of the Public International Law Group at Debevoise & Plimpton here in New York City. And just I’ll be presiding over today’s discussion. And we’re extraordinarily lucky to have this group of four esteemed experts. And with their prior permission, I’m going to grossly truncate their amazing profile and qualifications because you do have it in your materials and I want to spend as much time as possible engaged in a discussion with them. So we have Radhya Almutawakel, who is here with us and co-founder and chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights; Gregory Johnsen, a fellow at Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies; Priyanka Motaparthy, human rights lawyer and advocate; and Peter Salisbury, senior Gulf analyst at the International Crisis Group. So, again, welcome. And just a reminder to everyone that this is an on-the-record conversation. So let me start, Gregory, with you, for the unenviable task of getting us started by really setting the stage. You’ve written extensively on the situation in Yemen and how we got here. So tell us a bit your perspective of how we got here, and including an overview of the current contours of the conflict and the various factions involved. JOHNSEN: Right. Yeah, thanks to—(laughter)—for that enviable task. To set the stage, I think the most helpful way to look at Yemen is to think about it—what we talk about as one war in Yemen, I think it’s much more helpful to think about as three separate wars. So you have the U.S.-led war on al-Qaida and ISIS. The al-Qaida portion’s been going on, obviously, since September 11, maybe even going back to the USS Cole. That’s one war. That’s sort of this broad war on terrorism. You have the war that we always think about, this regional war, which is a Saudi-led war against what they consider an Iranian proxy. So this is Saudi Arabia and the UAE against what they consider an Iranian proxy in the Houthis. And then underlying that you have a longer-lasting and I think a much messier civil war. And this brings in a variety of different actors, from the Houthis up in the north, President Hadi’s government in the south, the Southern Transition(al) Council, al-Qaida and ISIS are both a part of this, as well as a variety of different militia groups and tribal groups spread throughout the country. And I think there’s a couple important things to remember. One is that this civil war has been going on longer than the regional war, the Saudi-led coalition war which started in 2015, and this civil war will likely go on long after the Saudis and the Emiratis eventually go home. I think if I could just add, when we look at the trend lines going forward, Yemen has what I would call a Humpty Dumpty problem; that is, it’s broken and there’s simply too many groups with too many guns for any one of them to ever impose their will upon the entire country. But at the same time, all of those groups have enough power and enough guys and enough guns that they can act as a spoiler to any sort of reconciliation process. So this means that the longer this regional war—this Saudi and Emirati war against the Houthis—goes on, that the more bloody, the more violent, the more fragmented Yemen will become in the civil war which will take place after that. And so I think right now we’re looking at a situation—if you sort of project forward in looking at how this conflict is going to unfold, we have a situation in which the idea of a unified Yemen is really a fiction. And I think that the country has broken not into two pieces, but into multiple little statelets. And that’s going to raise, I think, very serious policy questions for the United States, regional actors, and for Europe moving forward. AMIRFAR: Thanks, Gregory. And I want to come back to where we are going into the future. You mentioned a bit about the reconciliation efforts and the prior reconciliation efforts. Could you give us a little bit more on what’s happened previously and in your estimation why it hasn’t worked out? JOHNSEN: Right. So when we talk—most of the reconciliation efforts have been U.N.-led. This is where crises that have no real solution end up sort of in the forum of last resort, the U.N. Security Council, and the U.N. has a special envoy. They’re now on their third special envoy. The were on their third special envoy in four years. It’s now the third in fifth year—in five years, excuse me. None of them have been very successful. I don’t think this is because the various special envoys aren’t talented diplomats; I think it’s because they’re dealing with a very uneven field. That is, the Houthis up in the north feel as though they have the territory. They feel as though they are negotiating from a position of strength. The Saudi-led coalition has had four-plus years of airstrikes and air campaign, which have done very little to push the Houthis out. In fact, I would argue that it’s given the Houthis, who are very bad at governance, very repressive—it’s given the Houthis in the north a bit of a free pass because you’re not going to have people rising up on the ground when you’re being bombed from the air. And so the Saudis are left in I think a very unenviable position, which is they can continue to do what it is that they’ve been doing for the past four years and continue to get the same results; they can withdraw completely, which would give the Houthis victory; or they can go forward and—with some sort of a ground offensive to try to push the Houthis out. And they are not going to do that, for obviously reasons. Such an offensive would be bloody, long, with no guarantee of success. So with those sort of military options on the table, the Saudis still continue, and the Houthis as well continue, to sort of dance around the edges but not make a whole lot of—whole lot of progress on reconciliation. AMIRFAR: So, Radhya, let me—let me turn to you. At really great personal cost and an amazing amount of bravery you’ve been on the frontlines of trying to shine a light on the human rights situation for Yemenis that have been caught in this conflict. And I think, certainly as you know, the United Nations has warned that this is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, with 80 percent of the civilian population in need of some kind of assistance. And since you addressed the U.N. Security Council two years ago in order to give them a picture of the crisis on the ground, there has been a lot of humanitarian relief in the form of billions of dollars and commitments from 190 organizations to commit that money to getting relief into Yemen. Can you give us a sense, two years after you’ve addressed the United Nations, a sense of what the picture is on the ground from a human rights perspective? And is that humanitarian assistance being effective? Is it getting to where it needs to go? ALMUTAWAKEL: Well, the war in Yemen is very preventable, and it’s much cheaper to stop the war than to keep paying this humanitarian assistance. So Yemen started to be known as the worst humanitarian disaster since two years, and now the situation is even worse. So twenty-two millions of Yemenis, they need a certain humanitarian assistance, and this is almost all of us. I stopped counting the numbers since last year. But what we have—keep saying that it’s not—we should remember all the time it’s not a natural disaster; it’s a manmade disaster. So all the violations that is committed by all parties to the conflict led to this disaster. So the humanitarian aid is a lifeline for millions of people now. But even humanitarian NGOs started to say they lost their battle in the face of famine and there should be a solution in Yemen to solve the humanitarian issue. Otherwise, they will just fill—keep filling the gaps and it will never be ended, like, the humanitarian need. And even if the war is still going on in Yemen, Yemen doesn’t have to be the worst humanitarian disaster only if parties to the conflict, they respect the international humanitarian law and they protect civilians and civilian objects. But there is a huge lack of accountability in Yemen. It affects everything regarding the humanitarian aid. So besides all the human rights violations—the very direct ones like the airstrikes, landmines, child soldiers—there is one violation that is even worse than all of these violations, which is starvation. And we keep saying that Yemenis are not starving; they are being starved. And one of the things that caused starvation, it’s not even blocking the humanitarian access; it’s salaries. Thousands of Yemenis are not receiving their salaries since years until now, those who are under the control of Houthi areas. And after the Stockholm peace process some of them started to receive their salaries, like the retired people, the health sector, but suddenly in Aden the proxy forces of the United Arab Emirates decided to control Aden by force. Now, again, no one is receiving their salaries. Really, the salary is one of the things that broke the back of Yemenis more than anything else. AMIRFAR: Radhya, let me pause a moment on accountability. You talked about accountability. When you addressed the Security Council two years ago, you mentioned the necessity of setting up a commission of inquiry in order to document abuses and violations. And more recently, just a month ago the U.N. Group of Eminent Experts released a report and they actually endorsed the establishment of a commission of inquiry. What did you think of that report in terms of its documentation, its utility going forward? And specifically, what does accountability look like in Yemen at this stage? ALMUTAWAKEL: Well, as I said, accountability’s still absent in Yemen, 100 percent. Most of the violations we document are very preventable violations. So, for example, in 2018 we documented only in 2018 about eighty airstrikes where hundreds of civilians were killed and injured. In many of these airstrikes there was no even a military target. We documented about more than one thousand child soldiers, most of them by Houthis, and much more than this. And it’s very preventable, but they don’t care. They trust impunity more than anything else in Yemen. So that’s why the Group of Eminent Experts that established out of the Human Rights Council was very important. It was the only mechanism that concentrate on the human rights in Yemen. And it’s taken seriously by states, by parties to the conflict, and also by people in Yemen. It’s very important. The report is very good. I invite everyone to read their last report. Although they didn’t have access to Yemen, they didn’t have access even to the countries that are part of the Saudi-led coalition, but in spite of this the report was very good. It gives a very good picture of what’s going—what’s happening in Yemen. And they also mentioned the starvation as a method of war. And I think that they need to be supported because they are the only path now toward accountability. We don’t have another path. Security Council cannot be peace process until now. We want to stop the war. So the mechanisms that come out from the Human Rights Council, it’s the only one until now beside the civil society and human rights NGOs, and need to be supported. It was very difficult to have this mechanism. It’s not like other countries. Other countries, they have a commission of inquiry, tribal (IM ?), tribal (IM ?), because, yeah, there are some states who are not allies with the criminals. But Yemen, it’s different because many allies to Saudis and Emiratis didn’t want this to happen. But it happened in spite of this and it should continue. AMIRFAR: Is there something—do you think the report went far enough? Is there something you wish you had seen in the report? ALMUTAWAKEL: I wish that the work will continue. So they covered many types of violations, but still what’s happening in Yemen is much more than all the work that happened in human rights, whether from the GEE or from the human rights NGOs. So I hope that will continue. And I hope that it will be linked to accountability in different ways, so it’s not going to be only documenting violations but going in a process that give a very clear message to parties to the conflict that this is a step toward accountability. AMIRFAR: Thank you. Priyanka, let me turn to you. So war crimes and accountability. Obviously, your prior group, Human Rights Watch, had spent a lot of time extensively documenting what was happening on the ground. Tell us a little bit about your view of the war crimes, particularly in a context where some have noted rightly that there has really been an outsized role, if you will, of third countries in the conflict, whether it’s the United States, the U.K., Iran. What is—what do you think is the approach and the—in terms of documentation of war crimes? And tell me what you think that these participation of the third states, how that impacts the analysis and whether there is complicity there. MOTAPARTHY: Great. So when we’re talking about war crimes in Yemen, the most prominent example of war crimes in Yemen, the one that most people are familiar with, tend to be the airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition. These airstrikes have had indiscriminate impact on civilians. The Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights has documented more than seven thousand civilian deaths and we know that number is very likely to be much higher than that. But when we talk about war crimes in Yemen, we cannot only focus on the airstrikes. There is, in fact, a very, very long list. I could spend the rest of our time together here today merely listing and categorizing and describing the war crimes that—the apparent war crimes that are happening in Yemen, which have in fact been carried out by all parties to the conflict. When you listen to Greg give his overview of, you know, who are the actors on the ground, how we got here today, each one of those actors is identified with a kind of signature apparent war crime they have carried out. So with the coalition you have the airstrikes. We’ve discussed the humanitarian situation. You have impeding humanitarian aid upon which the civilian population is dependent and needs for their survival. You have starvation as a weapon of war, which includes of course not just food items but medicine, supplies necessary to provide water. All of this is an intricate and linked together structure in Yemen. And when you look at the actions the coalition has carried out to block critical supplies, when you look at actions the Houthis have taken to block humanitarian aid or, indeed, turn back humanitarian aid, these are also examples of potential war crimes. Let us not also forget the potential war crimes associated with detention practices. Both Houthis as well as the Emiratis, who are a party that we often forget to talk about in the context of this conflict, have run extremely abusive detention centers, have carried out widespread arbitrary detentions, have subjected detainees in their control to torture, to sexual and gender-based violence, and to arbitrary killings on a scale that it is difficult for us to fathom given how difficult it is to document these types of violations and given how the scale of these violations so far outstrips what groups even like Radhya’s—like Mwatana, which has more than eighty staff members in Yemen—is able to cover with their resources. So the list of apparent war crimes is wrong. And this ties closely to the issue of accountability because, of course, I say apparent war crimes. It is not my role as a human rights investigator or human rights advocate to make that ultimate decision. That needs to be done through a process that meets legal standards, that is able to collect evidence up to certain standards, and that is able to make what can be quite a complex legal determination with questions of intent and knowledge and all of that. You raised an important question around complicity. Since the beginning of the war the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and of course Iran as well have all taken a lot of criticism for their support for various sides in this conflict. The sort of specter of complicity has been raised. It has been increasingly used by advocates like myself and international lawyers to put these countries on notice that they may be doing something wrong in providing this support. Now we are more than four years into this conflict. The standards around aiding and abetting international crimes are—you know, again, I’m not going to sort of give you the whole legal test, but more or less knowingly contributing to internationally wrongful conduct. Do these countries know that they are contributing to conduct that is very, very likely to be wrongful under international law? I think there is quite a strong argument that they do. And you see this recognition both reflected in the work of the United Nations commission—I’m sorry, the Group of Eminent Experts. If you look at their report on last—from last year, they raise a very strong question: Are these countries complicit? If you look at their language from this year, they go further. You can see that they are hinting that these groups, that they may well—these countries may well be complicit depending on the level of support, the level of influence they have exercised. You also saw that the U.S. scaled back its level of support by stopping the refueling of planes. But complicity is a very, very important question. And at this point, all these countries are both on notice about the severity of abuses in Yemen and about the likelihood that their conduct contributes, and they may be—they may be guilty of aiding and abetting. And you can also see this reflected by the numerous legal cases that have been raised in different jurisdictions. Mwatana is a part of many of these cases. Human Rights Watch participated in a case in the United Kingdom. There’s litigation in France. There’s litigation in Italy, as well. And so you really see this as an increasingly significant issue. AMIRFAR: And can you just speak really brief to the commission of inquiry and what you think— MOTAPARTHY: Yes. AMIRFAR: What role would that play in this type of determination of complicity, of accountability that you’ve just gone through? MOTAPARTHY: I mean, I think that, you know, you see—there’s very clearly a need for accountability in this conflict, you know. Radhya has spoken about the damaging effects of impunity. Neither the coalition nor the Houthis seem to have any real fear that they will held to be—be held to account for their actions. And why should they? In more than four years of war, not a single individual has faced a completed prosecution for actions they have carried out. At the same time, the Group of Eminent Experts, when they had their mandate renewed this fall in Geneva, you saw a slight expansion of that mandate and important expansion, which speaks to the question of accountability. They now have a mandate to—I think it is to collect and preserve evidence that could lead to future accountability. But I think when we talk about accountability we could be talking about a wide range of options. So is there accountability domestically in Yemen? And that has been a very impoverished scene. We haven’t seen that. Is there accountability at the coalition level? Some of you may be familiar with the Joint Investigations (sic; Incidents) Assessment Team, whose work Human Rights Watch and others have examined very carefully and have assessed as not credible, and not even appearing to properly understand and apply principles of international law. Then, at the international level, as Radhya said, the main avenue thus far has been these U.N. panels. And the—you know, the Security Council one calling for sanctions and the one in Geneva fulfilling its investigative mandate. But much more needs to be done. And it’s really about looking for those opportunities and creating those pathways, including pathways to redress for individual victims, so. AMIRFAR: All right. Peter, let me—let me turn to you. You are going to have another unenviable task, which is to peer into the crystal ball. Now, you’ve said and written previously to the point that Riyadh needs a win, I think as you put it, in order to bring an end to this conflict. Now, with also taking account of the scaling down of Emirati forces, is that likely at this stage? Where are we headed with this conflict? SALISBURY: Sure. So we were talking just before we came in about wanting to reframe the question. I’m going to do that slightly, but I will come back—come back to this point. So Greg did a really lovely job earlier of explaining the complexity of the conflict. There’s this internal layer, which is based on local grievances, local rivalries; and then there’s this regional and international layer. And what’s happened over the past year or so, really, is that we’ve seen within Yemen a process of consolidation by certain groups. So we have really three core centers of power in terms of the military and economic capabilities of the groups on the ground. So we’ve got the Houthis in the northwest of the country, who have backing from Iran. In the center of the country we have this collection of groups in Marib, which is a sort of desert area in the center of the country, who are linked to local tribes; to Islah, Yemen’s main Sunni Islamist party; and remnants of the Yemeni military who didn’t join the Houthis at the outset of the war. And then in August we saw a group called the STC, the Southern Transitional Council, take over Aden in the south. The STC are backed by the UAE and the guys up in Marib are backed by the Saudis. So we’ve got sort of this interesting regional overlay, and we’ve got all these different agendas that the local groups have and the regional groups have. And a lot of the time when we talk about countries like Yemen, we tend to slip into this very linear idea of what a proxy is, what a proxy force is, and we work on the basis that Saudi Arabia has command and control over group X, Iran has command and control over the Houthis, et cetera, et cetera. But in fact, in every single group’s case what we’ve seen is a demonstration of the local group’s willingness to do things that their paymasters, if you like, don’t want them to do on the basis that it better serves their agenda. So the Houthis at the beginning of the war were told by the Iranians fairly clearly don’t try and take Sanaa in its entirety and then don’t expand across the country. And more recently, some people from Iran told the Houthis not to sign up to this agreement that prevented the battle for Hodeidah last year, the Stockholm agreement. In 2016 the Yemeni government vetoed what could have been something like a peace deal which some in Riyadh wanted to see. And then in August we saw the STC moving ahead with a plan that was already in place to take over Aden without a UAE go ahead, largely on the basis that the Emiratis would join them along the way, and that’s what happened. I think that’s a really important thing to bear in mind, that everyone’s got their own agenda. What do the Saudis want in Yemen? At the beginning of the war they said that they wanted to push back Iranian influence in Yemen, prevent the creation of a Hezbollah on their southern border, and restore the legitimate government of the president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, to Sanaa. That’s really shifted over time, in part because there is a general consensus that any peace deal for Yemen will usher Hadi out and bring in some new administration. So what the Saudis really want and need at this moment in time is some sort of deal that brings the Houthis into their sphere of influence and removes them from the Iranian sphere of influence, and gives them some sort of veto power over Yemeni politics. What does the UAE want? It wants a group that can act as a bulwark against political Islamism, both in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood, which they see as heavily influencing the groups in the center of the country, and Iran with the Houthis. And what does Iran want? Well, Iran has got an incredibly low-cost opportunity to annoy and pester and distract the Saudis and also the U.S. And it’s also, it has to be said, had an opportunity to test Saudi Arabia’s aerial defense systems. I think that we saw quite recently how that’s played out. They got really good knowledge of how the Saudis defend against things like drones and missiles, and all of a sudden they launch an incredibly sophisticated attack, allegedly, on Saudi Arabia. So when we talk about a move towards a peace process, each of these groups has a different influence internally but also internationally. So at the beginning of the conflict, one of the early diplomatic successes the Saudis had was pushing through at the United Nations a resolution, 2216, which essentially frames the conflict as one between the legitimate internationally recognized government and the Houthis. And there are conversations to be had about the interpretation of that resolution, but that’s really become sort of the way that it’s read internationally, it’s read diplomatically, and it’s become a straitjacket for the special envoy in Yemen. He has to get a deal between these two groups. And really the Saudis, because of their outside influence over the Hadi government, have veto power over any deal. So when we hear about diplomatic initiatives on Yemen, people spend as much time speaking to the Saudis in Riyadh as they do the Yemeni president in Riyadh because they know they need Saudi buy-in. So we’ve got the Saudis as a kind of super spoiler because they can spoil things on the ground, they can spoil things at the diplomatic level, and they can spoil things at the international level. The Emiratis and Iranians don’t have the same level of influence, but they do have a ground game, if you like. They have the ability to push these groups in various different directions. And then the groups on the ground themselves also have agendas and interests. So they want to get things out of this conflict. They’ve shed blood. Their grievances, if they weren’t sort of fully sort of realized in the beginning of the conflict, are very, very real now. So we need an internal reconciliation process, as well as all these sort of international/regional/local layers. And now just to make things easier, we’ve got really strong rumors of the Omanis becoming more involved in the political scene, the Qataris, and the Turkish. So Yemen’s sort of increasingly looking like the way we sometimes imagine Syria, just this sort of really sort of complex, three-dimensional game of chess that’s really hard to resolve. But one of the keys that we have here is that over the past year, arguably, our analysis has been that we have moved towards this place where we’re seeing consolidation and bargaining on the ground. The Houthis are in a very strong, dominant position in the areas they control, but they have an understanding that at this moment in time they can’t expand geographically. They can defend, but they can’t sort of move across the rest of the country. The STC in the south has demonstrated sort of its sort of de facto sovereignty over certain parts of the south, not the south in its entirety. And then the guys in the north also have a strong game there. And all these groups are now talking to one another, and they’re all trying to position for any eventual political settlement that we might see. So what’s needed? The key to unlocking—turning that informal backchannel conversation into something real and diplomatic is really the Saudis because they’re the blocker at every single level that we go down. The positive is that there are voices in Riyadh—there are those who think, do you know what, let’s do it, let’s engage with this recent Houthi offer of a cross-border ceasefire leading to a wider de-escalation process that could lead to political talks. But there are strong voices inside the Kingdom, those who promoted the conflict throughout and have benefited from it, who don’t want that to happen. So we have the dove/hawk problem everywhere across all of these groups. But until the Saudi system really aligns in such a way as they say, OK, we’re ready to do a deal with the Houthis that saves some face but maybe doesn’t allow us to say that we, quote/unquote, “won the war and defeated Iran,” it’s very, very difficult to get to the end there. Sorry, that was a little more than five minutes. AMIRFAR: No, no, no, that was exactly what we needed. Let me—let me just follow up really quickly on one of the—one of the things you mentioned that is strikes me is a structural constraint; which is as you’ve said it’s been conceived since the outset as an international armed conflict, whereas if you look at the facts on the ground you could see some parallel non-international armed conflicts going on at the same time, and that the envoy has been hamstrung as a result of that. Is that perhaps a key, as well, to get all of these various factions to the table in the sense of actually hashing this out, and perhaps in a way that addresses the hawks in Saudi Arabia? SALISBURY: Absolutely, and that’s kind of where our advocacy has been in terms of a peace process. On one side it’s relatively simple. You’ve got the Houthis and some remnants of the GPC, the former ruling party of Yemen. On the other side you’ve got this mishmash of different anti-Houthi groups, we can call them broadly. And up till now the Hadi government, which is based in Riyadh, which has lost its second capital in five years recently, which is not seen as particularly legitimate by many people on the ground, is the representative of Yemen. And what that means is even if we get a deal between the Houthis and Hadi, we end up with a deal that no one’s bought into. And a good example of that is the Stockholm Agreement last year, where the Hadi government had to come in as the representative of the forces fighting the Houthis on the ground even though the vast majority of those on the ground were UAE-backed forces who do not have a lot of time for the government. So if the Hadi government goes in and does a peace deal for Yemen and these groups aren’t at the table or they don’t have a say on what that peace deal looks like and they don’t buy into it and feel bought into it, then really we’re looking at Yemen War 2.0, maybe without some of the international dimensions. AMIRFAR: OK. Well, thank you for that. Let’s open it up. We now have thirty minutes. Want to open it up to the members. Just a reminder, this is on the record. Please wait for the microphone, state your name, and if you could please be concise so that we can get as many members as possible. Please, over there. Q: Hi. Thank you very much. My name is Gary Sick, Columbia University. I have read about most of you, writings, and I appreciate very much the chance to see all of you here today. We’ve never had this much expertise on Yemen in one room, I don’t believe. I would like to ask what I think is a rather simple-minded question. But to sort of simplify where things are, could one say that at this point the Houthis are really winning, that the Saudis are really losing—that they’re taking a beating—and that the UAE has sort of withdrawn from the field but has its proxies in place in the south, and is still trying to influence the way things are going? And even if that is accurate, which it probably is not, the—I’m particularly interested whether the Saudis recognize this. And you talked about the fact that the Saudis—that the Houthis have territory, but have shown an inability to expand to the rest of the country, which is obviously true. What about expanding north? I mean, I’m curious about how much territory the Saudis have actually lost thus far up along the northern border of Yemen, and whether this has really sunk in, and whether there’s even a—does anybody remember the fact that those territories in Saudi Arabia just north of the border were Yemeni within living memory? I just wonder whether anybody is taking that into account. And are the—are the Saudis losing as badly as I suggest? AMIRFAR: Who wants to start us off on this one? Gregory, Peter? JOHNSEN: Yeah, so I’ll—so I think the Houthis are certainly winning on the ground. I think the Saudis see themselves winning in the court of international diplomatic opinion. Despite all the fallout from the Jamal Khashoggi and everything else, there has been very little, I think, international diplomatic pressure where it counts, that being either from the U.S. or the U.K., on Saudi Arabia. And so you have a situation where both sides look and see themselves as being stronger in a particular area—the Houthis holding the territory on the ground, the Saudis internationally. I think a lot of people in Yemen remember that Asir and Najran were Yemeni provinces back in the 1930s. And there are some Zaidis—I think the Saudis have—in a number of border towns have pulled a lot of the residents back. The Houthis have made some incursions, but there’s also pushback from some local Yemeni forces that are being backed and now trained by the Saudis up in—up in Saada. Anyone else? AMIRFAR: Anything to add? SALISBURY: Sure. The one slight corrective, I would say—I would give would be there’s been a lot of talk of the UAE “withdrawing,” quote/unquote, from Yemen. And certainly our research points to a slightly more nuanced read of what’s happened there, which is the UAE had a large number of forces in the country performing a number of different functions; they reached a place where they no longer needed to carry on with offensive operations along the Red Sea coast, and they removed many of the people who ran sort of various high-tech weapons systems from the Red Sea coast and people who were an extra layer. But they left in place those who were coordinating with the local Yemeni forces, who had been doing all of the frontline fighting alongside them or on their behalf since at least 2015. So the UAE position in Yemen actually remained very little changed despite the removal of large numbers of troops. And I think there was a degree of convenience in terms of their messaging and their narrative—that they were ready for peace, that they no longer saw this as a war, and that they did not intend to carry on with the offensive on Hodeidah, which is positive to diplomatic efforts—but didn’t actually take away sort of their strength and their place in the conflict overall. And I think it’s just important to have that little bit of nuance. They definitely still have skin in the game right now. A couple of years ago I was pretty close to the border. I was in Saada itself with the Houthis. And one of the things a fairly member said to me is in 2009 in our border war, when the Saudis started bombing the Houthis, we entered Saudi territory, and that’s what ended the conflict. And a lot of—you could remember that Saada, which is where the Houthis come from, which is their heartland, is directly on the border with Saudi. So the geographical political mentality of many members if the way to defeat our enemy—and they see the Saudis as the, quote/unquote, “aggressor” in this conflict—is to go across the border and attack them. So I think it’s very important and it’s a great point that you make, and they really want to signal they have the ability to do so. And certainly, they’ve shown the Saudi armed forces up a number of times and have really dented the Saudis’ not-great-previously reputation as a military force among sort of the international actors who work with them. AMIRFAR: Here. Q: (Off mic)—Charney of Charney Research. You know, I remember our last roundtable on Yemen. It was about five years ago. And not only were there far fewer experts at the front, but there were also far fewer participants in the room. But I do also remember that at that point, before the new stage of the war had begun, there was a lot of discussion of the National Dialogue and the fact that all sides had become achingly close to a solution with this odd system called democracy, midwifed by USAID. Now, my understanding is that it was the Houthi military actions that actually blew up that process or at least subsequent to a deadlock in the process. Be that as it may, though, I’m wondering, are there any possibilities for moving in this direction again and finding a solution along those lines? ALMUTAWAKEL: So first I want to—want to clarify that it’s not—the situation was not that everything was fine and then the genie just came suddenly out of the lamp and just destroy everything. It was a very complicated—accumulated mistakes from everyone, including the National Dialogue. They wanted to show the National Dialogue as if everything was OK, but while parties to the conflict were discussing in the hotel they were flighting by blood in the ground at the same time. And as I tell a lot, but I don’t know if we should go back to the National Dialogue because the way that was—things was decided just led to the war. But anyway, peace is very possible in Yemen, and I keep saying this all of the time, because there is a balance of weakness between all parties to the conflict. I’m sure that Saudi Arabia is losing, but I’m not sure that Houthis are winning. No one is winning in Yemen. They all, they don’t have a peace plan. They don’t have a war plan. They have a very heavy file of violations. They strength each other by their badness. So Houthis are strong because their enemies are very bad. And also other side, they are getting stronger because Houthis also are very bad, I mean, in the ways they control the areas they are controlling. So there is a balance of weakness between all of them. I don’t know why they are going on the war. It’s very weird because they are all losing, having a very huge file of violations. They couldn’t meet the demands of people in the ground. And so they can be pushed easily to go to the table, and this happened after the Khashoggi murder when the—when the pressure became just suddenly very higher from the U.S. and the U.K., and only in two months they succeed to send Houthis and the government to the table, to Stockholm, and to start a kind of peace process. Only because of the pressure. So they are always ready to be pushed—even Saudis, Emiratis, Houthis, STC, all of these groups. They are—they can—so but if there is no will from the international community, especially the U.S. and the U.K., then the war is going on. Why there is no strong pressure to stop the war? I don’t know. We can discuss this more. Maybe arms trade is part of it. But I will stop here. AMIRFAR: That’s an excellent question. Please? (Laughter.) JOHNSEN: I would also just add I think Yemen has a fundamental problem in that there’s a small pie and there are more players than there are pieces. And right now you have a situation where it you don’t like the results, you can take up arms and you can spoil the whole process. That was the situation—part of the situation then. If the Emiratis complete their drawdown, if the Saudis withdraw, if that—if this war, the war that has taken up most of our interest, if this war ends tomorrow, then the local groups on the ground are in all likelihood going to keep fighting and they are going to try to get as much as the pie as they—as they possibly can. And the Saudis and the Emiratis, by sort of holding I think what Peter called this rickety anti-Houthi alliance, that will fragment and fracture, and they’ll be at each other’s throats. AMIRFAR: So let’s go back to the question, though, that Radhya put out—U.S., U.K., that one of the key pressure points is their ability to bring that to bear with respect to the Saudis and the Emiratis. Why hasn’t that happened? Why did it happen only for, as you put it, for a couple months right after the Khashoggi murder? SALISBURY: So I think last year was an object lesson in shifting narratives, where the U.K. and the U.S. for years had said, look, we’re pressuring the Saudis as much as we possibly can to move in a certain direction but we’ve really used all our leverage. Post-Khashoggi, partly because the Saudis understood that the court of international opinion, as Greg decided it—described it, was turning against them, and that they couldn’t control U.S. Congress, really felt sort of less emboldened. And British and American, specifically American, diplomats and others felt emboldened. But it’s also important to remember that it came down to really an individual last year. So it was Mattis making a phone call to Mohammed bin Salman on pretty much the last day of the talks in Stockholm and saying you have to do this, otherwise you’re toast, basically, here in D.C. and there’s nothing we can do about it that really changed— AMIRFAR: You’re paraphrasing, but yeah. (Laughter.) SALISBURY: Yes. I wasn’t in the room. (Laughter.) That changed the game. I think the thing that we have to be—to be honest about right now is that sort of absent that kind of context, politicians in these two countries are focused on many other things. Yemen has a very low order of priority. The U.S. in particular is very focused on its campaign of maximum pressure against Iran, the U.K. is going through some stuff that we definitely don’t need to discuss right now, and it’s difficult to imagine them returning to this posture. I think it’s almost more helpful to try and think about how do we move toward some kind of process of peace. How do we hand the U.N. leverage in this process rather than waiting for the return of a Mattis-like figure and a Khashoggi-like event? MOTAPARTHY: I think another important current to keep in mind on the role of the U.S. and the U.K., and even countries like France, is how much the citizens of those countries have become aware of the Yemen War, have become aware of the immense humanitarian toll that it is taking, have become—there’s become increasing public awareness of the roles of these governments selling the amounts of arms they do, the kind of contours of these deals, how little some of these governments know about how these arms are being used. There have been various disclaimers used at certain points, so you have, for example, the French government saying, our arms are only being used defensively. And then of course, you know, in the last several months investigative journalists in France came out with this incredible scoop, you know, including secret government documents showing that in fact the government had clearly misrepresented its role in the war, how its arms were being used, the level of knowledge that French politicians had around this. And you see similar dynamics playing out in the U.K. and the U.S. Not to oversimplify, of course, but in the U.S., you know, as an American myself, I’ve found it both fascinating and disturbing to see how the Yemen war has really tested the limits of the government, the different branches of government and actions they have taken to try and hold each other in check or pursue certain lines of policy. And so I think just noting this growing discontent and intolerance of the situation in Yemen amongst the populations of these influential countries is really key. JOHNSEN: Yeah, I would just add as well—sorry, to be really brief, the U.S. is in a really difficult situation in the Yemen War, in that when the war was announced by Saudi Arabia, they did a very strange thing, which was they had their ambassador in Washington, D.C., announce the beginning of the war in D.C., even though the war was taking place from Saudi Arabia and Yemen. And right after that announcement, the Obama administration made an announcement the same night, that they were setting up a joint planning cell to coordinate logistics and intelligence support with the Saudis. This put the U.S. in a situation where they were now tied to this war with no say over how it was going to be conducted on the ground. And the U.S. has been struggling with that ever since. I completely agree with Radhya that unless there is any U.S.—absent U.S. pressure on Saudi Arabia, this war is going to continue because no one else has the leverage to sort of end the war. The U.N., the Security Council, is not going to be able to do it on its own. And as Peter laid out, I think very convincingly, Saudi Arabia is the key to this. So absent that pressure, this war is going to continue and in four or five years, we’ll be back here; we’ll be talking about the same thing except it’ll be much, much worse. AMIRFAR: I think—up here. Q: Thank you. Jeff Laurenti. I wonder if you could tell us whether there are urban centers in Yemen that are sufficiently, quote, “secure” that there is a little bit or greater room for, quote, “civil society” to exist, to flourish, to perhaps create some sort of countervailing social pressures or affecting Yemeni opinion in a way that the warring parties’ leaderships have to pay some attention. And to the point that Gregory Johnsen had raised, in terms of the internal revenue pie being presumably small, what are the sources internally of financing the recruitment of soldiers on one side or another? How long could that continue if external sources were to be phased down in some kind of international agreement to pull back? AMIRFAR: The Yemeni civil society and internal sources. Who wants to take a crack? SALISBURY: I think Radhya’s good—(laughter). AMIRFAR: Radhya, everyone’s looking at you. ALMUTAWAKEL: It’s shrinking very much. So all those who used to be political parties in Yemen, they are parties to the conflict now. And Houthis, al-Manshia, but also the 80 percent that were controlled by the government and the coalition. They empowered armed groups. So it’s—they replaced a militia by another militia in the middle of this. And the civil society is very divided politically, and now it’s even shrinking more. Armed groups, and our neighbor is Saudi Arabia; we are in the middle of a war. So still Yemenis, they are trying to resist through working in civil society. I still, with my NGO on the ground, we are about a team of 80 people working all over Yemen, but we are still considered unique because in general, the civil society is shrinking. And this is very dangerous, because it’s the only civic space for many people who do want to engage in the work to act, to use it as a platform, and it’s shrinking. And this is one of the things that there should be pressure on parties to the conflict to have more space for media, for civil society. So Yemen was never good before, but we used to have diversity and political parties and media and civil society. We used to have a ship of state, and now we don’t have any ship of state and it’s a very difficult situation. It’s not that there is no civil society, but it is shrinking every day. It’s to the maximum, that you have to take permission from Houthis to do, like, this gathering in Sana’a, for example, and you just can’t imagine. So I don’t know to what extent we can depend on it, but we are doing our best. AMIRFAR: Over there. Q: Thank you. Joanna Weschler, Security Council Report. Some of you mentioned accountability, or rather the lack thereof, and the total impunity that is virtually guaranteed for all the atrocities occurring in Yemen. Should the international community get serious about accountability in a meaningful way? Would this make a difference with all the actors that you have been talking about a moment ago, the very numerous actors, Will they—would it penetrate? Would this be something preventing them from committing major abuses? AMIRFAR: Priyanka, want to take that one? MOTAPARTHY: Yeah, sure. I think that the lack of attention to accountability has been really marked, and that if the international community were to take that more seriously it would make a huge difference. We have seen small improvements, as I mentioned, the expansion and the mandate. The renewal first of the mandate, which every time it comes up is a fight, and then the expansion of the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts is a tiny victory, but a very important one. I think that one, you know, in terms of accountability, for the Houthis, of course, in a certain way the international mechanisms work quite well. You have the Panel of Experts. They’ve named a number of Houthi leaders and military officials and recommended them for sanctions; their documentation on that side is quite large. At the same time, you see Houthis behaving in a way where it’s very clear they have no fear of actually facing that accountability. If they did, they would not, for example, carry out attacks on civilian airports, claim those attacks, state publicly in their media that their intention was to hit the civilian target. And so you have on one hand, you know, a source of accountability, but on the other hand, clearly a lot more work needs to be done to figure out how to make that message hit home for the Houthi leadership, how to make it actually seem like a credible threat and start to factor into their decision making. We haven’t reached that point yet. On the coalition side, at Human Rights Watch we spent years, you know, explaining why the coalition accountability or sort of investigative mechanism, the Joint Investigative Assessment Team, was not an effective body, how they did not properly represent facts, they did not appear to understand or correctly apply principles of proportionality and distinction, bedrock principles of international humanitarian law. And yet even with these major Western governments like the United States and the United Kingdom, they continue in advocacy settings to say, well, they’ve made improvements, this is getting better, they are trying, this is a serious effort. They—there has been a real unwillingness to acknowledge this body for what it is, which is a way to sort of nod to this need to investigate without actually carrying out serious investigations using a transparent and credible methodology and producing investigations that hold up to scrutiny. I’ll stop there. JOHNSEN: I just—yeah, so just on accountability, as someone who served on the U.N. Panel of Experts for Yemen for a couple of years, the sanctions right now are very lopsided. So the last set of sanctions was in 2015. I think the mood in the Security Council is, I don’t think Russia or China would be excited about any more sanctions in Yemen. The sanctions that have been levied have all been on the Houthis or on Ali Abdullah Saleh, when he was still alive. And in fact, the sanctions as they were—as they were put into place in 2014 and 2015 actually shifted the conflict, because they had very little impact on the Houthi leadership. The sanctions were basically an asset freeze and a travel embargo, so you couldn’t travel internationally. That didn’t really hurt Abdul Malik al-Houthi, the leader of the Houthis, or these guys who are up in the mountains. But it hurt very much Ali Abdullah Saleh, and it really weakened his network. And when the two came into conflict a few years later in 2017, Saleh didn’t have much financial resources upon which to draw. And then his network, he wasn’t able to pay them from 2015, 2016, 2017. He had much more difficulty doing that, and that’s one of the reasons that when they came into conflict, Saleh was so weak and was then eventually killed. I think a strong message, as Priyanka said, would be for any sort of—the threat of sanctions or sanctions against someone in the coalition, then people would pay attention, I think, in a way that they haven’t previously. AMIRFAR: Over there? Q: (Off mic)—Baruch College. I have a couple questions. Which party is more accountable for the war crimes in Yemen, the coalition or the Houthis? And would you say that initiative for peace is coming from primarily the Houthis but not from the Saudis in the latest Stockholm talks? And why aren’t the Saudis not working towards peace? Sorry. And what would be the face-saving measure for the Saudis before they are ready to pull out of the war in Yemen? And lastly, what—(laughter)—any comments on the use of child—children as soldiers? Thank you. AMIRFAR: So you can pick or choose, I think, among the four. Where do you want to start? ALMUTAWAKEL: I’ll take the first question. AMIRFAR: Please. ALMUTAWAKEL: Whenever you see the map of parties in the conflict in Yemen, never try to find the good guy. Never. There is no good guys. And I never—as a human rights defender, I can’t say this one is doing violations more than this, because for the families, if one family was killed because of Houthis, then this is enough for them. It’s the world for them. So all of them are doing horrible violations. Maybe the Saudis and Emiratis, they have more weapons, but it doesn’t mean the Houthis are better than them. And it’s not only the coalition and Houthis. We have also other forces, like the SDC, like proxy forces, like an—and groups loyal to the Hadi government. So they are all complicit in violations against civilians and they are all same. AMIRFAR: And does someone want to briefly just speak to the child soldier’s question, which we haven’t touched on? ALMUTAWAKEL: So the child soldiers story? AMIRFAR: Yeah. ALMUTAWAKEL: We documented—we document the child soldiers by interviews and observation. Because it’s very difficult to take interviews, so we documented thousands of cases. Most of them, it’s by Houthis. Seventy percent of them by Houthis. SALISBURY: So maybe I’ll speak to the face-saving measure and who does the peace initiative come from. Since 2015-2016, the Houthis have said that they’re willing to sit down and work on a peace deal, but on the basis of what they see as the reality on the ground. And again, we’ve had 2216, which in effect demands a total Houthi surrender and handover of everything that they have. So those are the terms that, unsurprisingly, the Hadi government and the Saudis have asked for any peace deal to be based on. The return of sovereignty, the legitimate sovereign government and for the Saudis to sort of in effect be able to declare a win. And clearly that’s not going to happen and the goal posts have shifted. The Saudis need to be able to say at this point in time that they have definitively ended Iranian influence in Yemen. And they need—one of the things they keep returning to is the need for the Houthis to cut all ties with Iran, which is obviously a very clear Catch-22 because, I mean, I can stand here and say that I denounce Iran and I cut all ties. How do you—how do you prove it? And clearly I have no ties with Iran. (Laughter.) At one and the same time, the Houthis need guarantees on their side, so you need some sort of mechanism that sort of point-by-point ratchets things down. We’re moving in that general direction and, hopefully, it won’t just be one thing. It’ll be little bits that sort of build up to something where the Saudis feel confident that they can be part of any process that the Houthis are in and that they can interact with them. But they will need something like some sort of declaration, some kind of statements from the Houthis, which they’ve made many times already, that they are sort of not under the control of any external actor. And they may need some sort of symbolic gesture, like sort of people visibly leaving the country. But a question that I’ve asked repeatedly of the Saudis, the Americans and others is, do you have a list of names of people inside Yemen who you want to go? Or from the IRGC, from Hezbollah? And the problem is that they don’t. So there’s this very strong language around Iran’s influence and their presence, but there’s always been—the Iranians are very good at plausible deniability, and a lot of what’s happened in Yemen has been about skills transfer rather than a command-and-control and staffing relationship. And I don’t think the people have really reached the point where they’re able to deal with that nuance. AMIRFAR: So we just have a couple of minutes. Any final comments from anyone? Yeah, please. ALMUTAWAKEL: So peace in Yemen is not a ceasefire. I’ve heard many from—Saudi officials saying we can protect our borders, and then we leave you for militias to fight forever. And this is true. This can be happen. Houthis can have an agreement about the borders and then they leave us for militias. And the war in Yemen is not the airstrikes. Peace in Yemen, it means a comprehensive political agreement between all parties to the conflict. When we ask for peace, we don’t ask for ceasefire; we ask for a political agreement which we think is very possible. And till now we still have groups who we already know who they are and they can all be in the table and agree on something. Until now, the scenario for the future in Yemen, if we don’t have peace, that fanatic groups will be empowered more and more, expanded more and more. Those people will never go to the table, will never care about accountability and will never—we can be in a civil war forever. So when we ask for peace, we ask for a political agreement between all parties to the conflict in Yemen. SALISBURY: Just to jump on that really quickly, I think that’s such an important point. And as we start talking about the possibility of a U.N. peace process, there’s a real danger—and we saw this, I think, in the past in Yemen—that if you frame the peace process incorrectly, in a way that doesn’t reflect these realities on the ground and doesn’t make it a truly Yemeni-Yemeni process, you’re actually just sort of stopping the internationalized aspect, or removing it from public view, and then moving towards a renewed conflict, Yemen War 2.0 or 3.0. So this is a really fragile moment where we really need to start bringing in some real Yemeni voices into sort of thinking about how to do this, not over the next one year, but ten, twenty, thirty years. JOHNSEN: I would just make two points to end. On the point on—that Peter brought up just a moment ago on the Houthis and Iran, what we’ve seen is Saudi went into the Yemen saying, we want to prevent Iran from coming in. This has become—this war has really become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The longer it’s gone on, the closer the relationship between the Houthis and Iran have become. In fact, just in August the Houthis announced an ambassador to Iran and Iran recognized the Houthis as a legitimate governing authority. This is what the Houthis want. The longer this war goes on, the tougher and the more difficult it will be to peel those two apart. The second thing I would say—and this is sort of more broadly speaking with regards to Yemen, the sooner this war ends, obviously, the better it will be for Yemen. But Yemen is never going to be put back together again into a single country. It won’t even be put back together again into two countries, into an old north and an old south, like it was in the 1990s. I think Yemen will revert to a historic mean in which you have a variety of warlords or militia groups who are in power in different parts of the country. And this raises, I think, some pretty serious policy and security issues for the United States with regards to shipping lanes, with regards to counterterrorism, with regards to Saudi border security, as well as what’s happening in the region. And I don’t think that given, as Peter said, how low Yemen is on the list of priorities for the U.S, that there’s been a lot of attention paid to Yemen the day after. ALMUTAWAKEL: And Yemen can surprise you. (Laughter.) AMIRFAR: Priyanka, anything final? MOTAPARTHY: Yeah. I mean, I think that just, you know, to give a very small example amongst a very big war, even if you follow the conflict only peripherally, I think all of you will remember the airstrike on the funeral hall in Sanaa that led the Obama administration to reconsider its sales of precision-guided weapons. It was in the news for weeks afterwards. I visited the site a few weeks after it happened and just saw the level of devastation that happened there. And, you know—this is falling off, but—but following that case, you know, I—when I returned to Yemen in February of this year, I asked people who was held accountable for that strike, a strike in which more than a hundred civilians or a hundred individuals were killed, including children? One of the things that shocked, you know, shocked the world in terms of the human toll that it took, two mid-level Yemeni military officers referred to prosecution, and that—they were referred to investigation. That did not even reach the stage of becoming a trial. That’s where we are on accountability today. That’s how far we’ve gotten in terms of Yemen and accountability today. I think it’s a very illustrative example. AMIRFAR: And on that note, please join me in thanking this amazing group of experts. (Applause.) (END)
  • Saudi Arabia
    Progressive Foreign Policy: A Conversation With Senator Chris Murphy
    Senator Murphy discusses his progressive foreign policy vision and national security interests in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.  TALEV: Thank you. I’m going to be really concise, conciser than normal, this morning because the Senator actually has somewhere to be a little bit early, so we’re going to do half an hour of the you Q&A in twenty-five minutes. So we’re going to make this happen. Good morning. Welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting with Senator Chris Murphy. I’m Margaret Talev, the politics and White House editor for Axios, and I will be presiding over today’s discussion. Senator Murphy, as you all know, is the junior senator from Connecticut. He is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and the top Democrat on the Subcommittee for the Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism, which will explain all of his planned adventures this summer, most of which got cancelled and redirected. He is also a leading advocate, as all of you know, in the bipartisan push right now for a gun control package that the president or Republicans can get behind. And his congressional district before joining the Senate included Newtown, Connecticut, home to Sandy Hook Elementary. So with that introduction, Senator Murphy, please come on up, make a few comments, and then we will move to this portion of the conversation. Thanks, again, all of you for being with us. (Applause.) MURPHY: Well, thank you very much, Margaret. I’m excited to spend some time with you here on stage. Thank you to all of my friends at the Council for having me back once again, and for all the great work that you do to keep the foreign policy community connected to Congress here in Washington. I want to talk to you a little bit this morning, for about ten minutes or so, about the future of what I will call progressive foreign policy, with an eye towards the next administration. In the two Democratic debates that we’ve had so far, if you count generously, candidates about spent about thirty minutes talking about foreign policy out of nine hours of debate. That’s less than 6 percent of the time on stage. And only two of the candidates have released anything that could be fairly characterized as a foreign policy plan. And we’ve seen a lot of plans from candidates. I get that primary elections generally aren’t decided on international issues, and this one probably isn’t going to be different. But if tonight’s debate plays out like the first two, I’m going to actually stat getting worried for my party for two reasons. First, I just think Democrats who are running for president have a civic responsibility to flesh out their vision for the world before they sit in the Oval Office. If Congress remains divided, then it’s going to be foreign policy where the next president has the most discretion. And I want a president who has given some real, deep thoughts to these big, hairy questions of how America intersects with the world before they get there. But second, I think in the last few months, and indeed just in the last few weeks, we have seen a major opening for Democrats to seize on the issue of national security. Trump won the election in part by selling himself as a deal maker who could get big things done with Iran and North Korea on nukes, with China and Europe on trade, with Mexico on the wall. But Americans are now coming to grips with this realization that none of those deals are getting done. It’s the most potent indictment of those dealmaker claims. And Trump’s casual flirtation with war with Iran, and his waffling on troop levels in the Middle East have made Americans really worried that Trump can keep us safe. Now, Democrats maybe can’t completely close the national security gap with Republicans that traditionally exists. But Trump gives us reason to try, because if we did we could make more progress on this gap, this election, than in the past. And that might make the difference in 2020. So here are a few thoughts to chew on, a little unsolicited advice for the small cadre of foreign policy thinkers who are advising our 2020 candidates. First, let make a simple argument, and it’s this: There is almost no important domestic progressive value that can be advanced without a foreign policy complement. You care about repairing America’s broken democracy? Well, the better China gets at exporting the tools of tyrants, the less check Russia feels on its efforts to manipulate foreign elections, then the less healthy our own democracy becomes. You want to focus on immigration? Well, the less involved America is in fixing broken counties in Central America the more refugees show up at our borders. And guess what? The xenophobic national movement is, indeed, global. When antiimmigrant parties score victories in Europe it strengthens the hand of similar movements here. Now, your priority is the climate? Well, you can’t save the Earth without global engagement. And rejoining Paris is just the easy part. After that, we need a massive global diplomatic effort to convince countries to comply. My point is this: Even for the Democratic candidates who say it’s time to focus on American problems, our issues don’t exist in a vacuum. If you care about democracy, or human rights, or the environment here, then you have to care about these fights everywhere. And you need to be engaged on them everywhere. But of course, there’s another reason for America to reenter these values fights. The world is a safer place the more people have access to self-determination, and freedom of speech, and protection from persecution or discrimination. The ideas that undergirded the post-World War II order have not suddenly come undone. Democracies still tend not to attack each other. Countries where women have equal rights to men, they breed fewer terrorists. Participatory democracies and open economies are still the best protection against instability. And of course, progressives should never cede ground about which party or political movement cares more about protecting America. We put our nation’s security first. And that’s why we think that we should put democracy promotion, and human rights, and climate change, back at the center of American foreign policy. Now, really, in some ways, that’s the easy stuff, elevating our game on these critical topics. Here’s the tougher sled, and it’s what I want to spend just a little bit more time talking to you about this morning. The foundational crisis that the next president will face is that his or her foreign policy toolkit, the levers that the president can press to try to protect and advance our interests abroad, is basically a 1988 Ford Taurus on a road that is crowded with shiny new Teslas and Land Rovers. Our obsession with defense buildups in a world where the most significant threats to the United States are not conventional military threats, and our refusal to create capacities to meet our enemies where they exist—this destines to slide us into global irrelevance, unless we figure out a new way to meet modern threats with modern capabilities. Now, before I go through a few of these new tools that the next president is going to need in order to be successful, let me give you just two examples of how our current toolbox is totally failing American national security interests. First, let’s look to Ukraine, where a new reformist president, who I met in Kyiv for the first time last week, is trying to deescalate tensions with Moscow. The American response to Russian aggression in Ukraine has been mostly a military one, because that’s what we do. Four billion dollars a year in new troop and equipment deployments to Eastern Europe, radar systems, javelin missiles, troop training packages for Ukraine. But Putin doesn’t change his behavior. Why? Well, because Putin actually doesn’t want to march his army on Kyiv. He wants to politically and economically destroy the country so that they eventually tire out and decide to cut a deal and return to Russia’s orbit. Brigades and missile systems aren’t a bad idea, it just can’t be our only idea. Putin delights when we spend $4 billion on military hardware and virtually nothing to try to break his energy grip on Europe, or attempts—or his attempts to hack into and disrupt the Ukrainian economy, or to use bribery to undermine an already corrupt military system. We’re not meeting Putin where he sits in Ukraine and the region. Second, let’s look at how the American government today is dealing with the global information war. China, Russia, North Korea, terrorist groups, they’re all putting billions of dollars into manipulating information flows around the world, especially in sensitive political environments. Now, it’s taken us way too long to catch up, but finally a few years ago Senator Rob Portman and I passed legislation establishing a new center at the Department of State, the Global Engagement Center, to combat global propaganda. Now, that’s the good news. The bad news, the money’s not in the State Department. The money is in the Department of Defense. And so the Department of Defense is quietly ramping up its antipropaganda messaging operation because, well, they’re the only ones who have the money to do it. Now, it would be more effective to empower voices in countries on the front lines of Russia or China’s information wars rather than American military bureaucrats. With small budgets, you can only afford to entertain small ideas, so we’re not thinking about funding high-quality content to help independent media outlets or funding a Russian language version of Al Jazeera that could be a real alternative to Russian satellite channels. There are hundreds of other examples of how badly we bungled our smart power tools, but the bottom line is this: the obsolescence of American foreign policy—of the American foreign policy toolkit is the real crisis. And building a new toolkit serves progressive values in two ways. First, it allows us to more effectively fight for democracy and human rights in climate, which are both domestic and global priorities for progressives. But creating more effective national security capabilities and relying less on the bluntness of raw military power and arms exports, it will get us into less dumb wars and military conflict. That’s a progressive value as well. Now, listen, we shouldn’t let our guard down. We’re never immune to a conventional military attack, and neither are our treaty allies. And I do believe that peace comes through military strength. I’m not arguing for a massive downsizing of our military budget. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, especially when military spending comes at the expense of creating capabilities that actually meets the threats that we face. So what do we need in this new foreign policy—this progressive foreign policy toolkit? I’ll end with just a few ideas. Number one, we desperately need more economic leverage around the world. In the Cold War, there were two superpowers. We, frankly, didn’t need to be that nimble to win economic friends because your only other choice was the communist Soviets. Not so today. The Chinese, the Indians, the newly semi-capitalist Russians, the Gulf states. Everyone is looking to win friends over to their value system based on economic relationships, and we’re losing out. Consolidating our international development agencies, it was a nice start, but we need to supercharge the investments that America—still the world’s biggest economy—can offer other nations. For instance, the Chinese are developing a model where they midwife a technology in their closed government-subsidized and controlled economy, and then they release it onto the world at a dirt-cheap price. Now, we need to have an answer to what China has done with 5G, and what they’re going to do with advanced batteries and AI in the next decade. And it can’t just be a robust campaign of shaming other nations who partner with Chinese companies. We need to put real public dollars, ideally in coordination with the Europeans, behind partnerships with Western companies who want to develop true competitor products to Chinese tech exports. Number two, progressives shouldn’t be afraid of new multilateral trade deals. Free trade can be a progressive idea. Now, we should rework the Trans-Pacific Partnership so that it’s less friendly to corporations and more friendly to workers and the environment, but it’s a mistake for progressives to not see trade policy and critical statecraft. We can use trade agreements as a way to export our values and our interests. We shouldn’t forsake this tool just because we signed some bad trade deals in the past. Number three, let’s get really serious about supporting existing democracies and fighting corruption in all countries, whether or not they’re democratic. If you total up all the money that the U.S. Department of State spends annually on protecting democracy and fighting corruption abroad, it’s about $2 ½ billion. Now, that sounds like a lot of money, but that’s as much money as the Department of Defense spends in two days. And it, frankly, pales in comparison to the amount of money that China, and Russia, and others are leveraging to undermine fragile democracies. So how do we do this? Well, here’s just one idea: Let’s create a new category of foreign service officers dedicated to fighting corruption abroad so that every single embassy in the world has one or more dedicated American staffers that put on—that are working on putting and protecting the rule of law first and from attack. Number four, and lastly, we need to harden the State Department and USAID. I always think back to this trip I took in 2011 when I was visiting Western Afghanistan. We met with a capable group of Army commandos who were protecting Afghan farmers from attacks by the Taliban. And that was great. What was not so great, the farmers that were protecting were growing poppy and selling it to the Taliban who now, with this American protection, at least paid for the crop, instead of having the Taliban steal it. What those farmers really needed were agricultural advisors to help them grow another crop and Afghan-speaking political advisors to help them negotiate a détente with the Taliban once the poppy supplied disappeared. But because all we can do in dangerous conflict zones is deploy twenty-year-old commandos, we are stuck guarding the poppy fields for the enemy. Or in Syria, where during most of the conflict over the last decade you know how many State Department advisors we’ve had side-by-side with our thousands of soldiers there? One. General after general tells us Syria is a political, not military, problem. So why don’t we have diplomats there? Well, because we haven’t developed any real hybrid class of diplomat warrior, despite the general failure of soldiers to do effective diplomacy. That can change. And progressives should lead that effort. And these are just four ideas. They’re the tip of the iceberg when it comes to new capabilities to meet Russia and China extremist groups where they lie. But the lack of creativity in American foreign policy today is maddening to me. But as I said, so is the lack of attention to serious national security thinking amongst leading Democrats. And if we don’t start thinking outside of the box about how to bring progressive values to the world stage, then no matter how the next president reorients American priorities, he or she won’t actually be able to effectuate new goals with the same military-heavy toolkit that exists today. Recognizing the new realities of the threats that we face and shifting our capabilities to meet these threats, that should be the goal of progressive foreign policy. This shift will benefit progressive values at home and keep us from falling into more ill thought out wars of choice abroad. Thank you very much for your time this morning, and I really look forward to a good discussion. Appreciate it. Thank you. (Applause.) TALEV: (Off mic.) MURPHY: (Laughs.) I am going to watch the debate. I didn’t watch all of the first two, because it was just hard to follow that many candidates. This one will be a little bit easier. TALEV: The seven-hour climate change debate? MURPHY: What’s that? TALEV: The seven-hour climate change—it wasn’t a debate; it was a town hall. MURPHY: And I guess—listen, I made the point that my friends who are running for president should be thinking more about foreign policy and that those that are questioning them should ask them more about it because it’s important. But I would also argue, it probably would expose some interesting differences between the candidates. If all you’re interested is fireworks on the debate stage, I imagine if you asked some pretty complicated questions about the negotiations with the Taliban or the future of U.S. relations with Israel, you might get some distinctions in the way that the candidates on that stage present their arguments and their beliefs. And so, yeah, I think there’s a lot of good reason for it to be a bigger part of the debate tonight and going forward than it has been. TALEV: I’m going to ask you about John Bolton, because we’re all thinking about it. But I want to ask you, just in terms of the Democratic field right now, as far as you can tell who do you think actually has the most substantive sort of built out foreign policy plan? I know you haven’t decided to, you know, publicly support anybody yet, but does everyone have a robust foreign policy team? Are you familiar with who everyone’s advisors are? MURPHY: No, I think it’s remarkable that there has been so little serious discussion of foreign policy proposals and priorities thus far in this campaign, especially because, as I mentioned, there’s been no shortage of serious thinking about policy. So there’s dozens of domestic policy plans that have been released by these candidates. But as far as I can tell, none of them have put down on the table an idea—their idea for what American presence in the Middle East will look like during their four or eight years in office, or what they would do alternatively in Syria or in Afghanistan. I get it. There’s maybe not a lot of demand for that amongst voters in Iowa or New Hampshire. But if you haven’t thought about those questions before you show up at the Oval Office, it’s hard to make it up on the fly. Bernie and Elizabeth have given speeches or written pieces outlining some of their basic priorities. Pete Buttigieg has given some interviews on this topic. Obviously those who come from the Senate, you know, have a just built-in set of experiences and expertise. Cory is on the foreign relations committee. But I think it’s really fascinating how little this discussion has been present. And I think that needs to change. TALEV: Do you think the phrase, “progressive foreign policy,” is there an agreement on what that means? Because I see different people use it in different ways. There’s a piece in The Atlantic this morning that, I’m paraphrasing, but the headline is something like: The problem with progressive foreign policy, or why it can’t work. And I’m just—I think I understand the rhetorical appeal of the phrase, but does it mean the same thing to everybody? MURPHY: No, it probably—it probably doesn’t. And, you know, the case that I’m making here today is that we should perhaps sort of simplify the discussion that we’re having about progressive foreign policy. I think we should connect our domestic progressive priorities to the fights that we have abroad. We need to understand that if you’re fighting for democracy here, if you’re fighting for human rights here, you have to be engaged globally on these issues. And, second, I do think that what does unite progressives is the idea that we should learn from our mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan, while not withdrawing from the world. A progressive foreign policy is one in which we give the presidents the tools to succeed globally, other than the deployment of American troops or the export of American arms. I think that’s at the center of progressive foreign policy, right? We want We want a role in the world, but we want that role to look different than what has been available to prior presidents who really, when they saw a crisis, could only respond to it militarily. And that’s why I’m talking about capabilities. That’s why I’m talking about the nuts and bolts of what a president has at his disposal in order to respond in Ukraine, or in Syria, or in Central or South America. I think a progressive foreign policy is about capabilities. It’s a much more concrete discussion. And I think it ultimately gets us to the place where we want to be, which is forward-deployed with less chance that we get into dumb military conflicts, or we export weapons that end up facilitating or fueling dumb military conflicts. TALEV: Is it an anti-war platform? MURPHY: It’s not an anti-war platform in the sense that we always reserve the right to use military force in order to protect our interests abroad. But it is a recognition that, you know, over the last thirty years the threats that we faced are, by and large, not conventional military threats. But we don’t have the capabilities to meet Russia or China where they exist. And often, we try to—we try to create an adversary that is focused on fundamentally unconventional military attack. That’s why I make this point about Putin’s aims in Ukraine. Yes, he has figured out a way to sort of create hybrid military conflict, in which he’s invading without really invading. But ultimately he doesn’t want to march that army all the way to Kyiv. And we don’t have the capabilities to meet all of his asymmetric tools. TALEV: John Bolton’s departure this week as the national security advisor, it sort of had all the drama we’ve all come to expect out of daily operations at the Trump White House. But I’m wondering, like, what do you think it actually means for foreign policy? I’ve heard a lot of people this week say it doesn’t matter who the next national security advisor is because Trump’s going to do what Trump wants to do. Do you think that’s true? And, like, what are you looking for in the next month, kind of as he—you know, the president has said he’s going to name a new national security advisor probably next week. UNGA is coming up. You know, the spectrum of a potential Rouhani meeting—although the White House keeps downplaying that. Like, what are kind of the litmus test that you’re looking for in the next month, and do you think it matters that John Bolton’s gone? What impact do you think it will have? MURPHY: Well, the choice of national security advisor can’t not matter. Proximity to the chief executive always matters. And I think it matters in particular with this president. And the fact of the matter is, no matter how empowered Mike Pompeo is by the departure of John Bolton, he still isn’t in the White House every day. The national security advisor is. And so this choice does matter. Now, Trump, you know, is obviously very personality driven. And so if it’s somebody that he trusts and grows to trust, that person will naturally matter more. And so we’ll all watch this choice very carefully. But I don’t think you can say that it doesn’t matter. One of the points that I’ve tried to make in the last few days, which has been lost a little bit by my progressive friends, is that as bad as John Bolton is, we do have to also remember that there’s, you know, about 20 or 30 percent of foreign policy that is truly controversial, right, where there’s big differences between Republicans and Democrats. Seventy percent of it, you know, is basic blocking and tackling of American interests abroad, in which we don’t have disagreements. I was in the Balkans last week. And, you know, there’s not big disagreement between Republicans and Democrats about the role we should play to bring Serbia and Kosovo together in mutual recognition. And John Bolton was working on that, just like he was working on other things. And so I have always worried about John Bolton’s fascination with war, but I also worry about how fast we’re cycling through personnel in this administration because on the stuff that we don’t disagree on, this instability of personnel at the top of the White House is making the advancement of our interests impossible. When, you know, the president of Serbia and the prime minister of Kosovo don’t know who to talk to on a regular basis, even on the stuff that Republicans and Democrats can agree on, we can’t get anything done. TALEV: You must have agreed with John Bolton on some things, like perhaps his stance on Russia. I mean, do you—like, do you think that every instinct John Bolton had took the president in the wrong direction or do you think there are some firewalls that he put up that did help to slow down or hold back policy that you might not have been comfortable with? MURPHY: Well, I mean, listen, there’s not going to be anybody, you know, that occupies that position that I will disagree with on everything. And, you know, John Bolton, you know, did seem to have brought us to the brink of war with Iran. And so we were dangerously close, perhaps minutes away, from entering a conflagration with Iran that would have essentially dragged down the entire region. So you know, as dangerous as we thought John Bolton was, he might have been just that dangerous. But, yes, there were issues upon which he was giving good counsel to the president. But it doesn’t seem as if he had much impact. If he was trying to tell the president to put conditions on our reintegration of Russia with the G-7, the president wasn’t listening to that advice. The president seems to have made up his mind on some pretty big topics around the world. And no matter who you put in these big jobs, it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of success in convincing him not to talk to dictators without preconditions, not to try to find ways to bring Russia back into the global hierarchical infrastructure. TALEV: Do you expect the president to meet with Rouhani? MURPHY: I don’t know. I mean, I guess I stopped trying to predict or expect anything from this White House. You know, I was—listen, obviously, you know, I’m torn, admittedly, on, you know, how this White House should conduct diplomacy. I generally am not a believer in refusing to talk to adversaries, or even enemies. But it is just absolutely startling how little diplomatic blocking and tackling this administration is willing to do ahead of a meeting between the president and a leader of a nation that is adversarial to us. And while I supported Trump’s initial talks with Kim Jong-un, in the end, you know, those series of talks didn’t move the needle significantly on any of the issues that are of concern to American and our allies. And it did legitimize his regime. And so if you’re going to just meet with Rouhani for a photo op, and you’re going to actually do nothing to bring them back into the JCPOA or try to address concerns about their ballistic missile program, then I do think we have to ask questions about whether we’re better off with or without that meeting. TALEV: And sanctions—if dialing back sanctions are a precondition for a meeting, do you support that at this time? Do you think the sanctions on Iran are appropriate right now? MURPHY: Well, no, I don’t believe that the sanctions are appropriate, in that they were applied to—as part of the president’s withdrawal from the JCPOA. And of course, this report from last night is just sort of too hard to believe, the idea that the president is going to release $15 billion in coordination with the Europeans to get Iran back into the compliance with the agreement, so that he can get his photo op, right? The idea that we are now paying additional money—or thinking about paying additional money to the Iranians—to get them to comply with a deal that they were already complying with, so that Trump can get a photo op, is kind of the personification of this administration’s foreign policy in many ways. And a sign of, you know, in fact, how hard it was always going to be to get any kind of deal with Iran that was better than the JCPOA. TALEV: I hate this clock. This clock is killing me. Let’s do a couple real quick, and then I know you guys have amazing questions so I will—I’ll forgo some of my other amazing questions. MURPHY: I’ll give short, amazing answers. TALEV: (Laughs.) Next month marks the anniversary of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Do you think that the Saudis are being held accountable by the rest of the world, and by the U.S.? And can you bring us up to speed on the latest with your plans, along with Senator Young, on forcing the vote on U.S. security assistance? MURPHY: The Saudis are not being held accountable. Mohammad Bin Salman has gotten away with murder. And it frightens me. The message that’s being sent to dictators and would-be dictators around the world about what they can get away with, especially when it comes to people under American protection. And I’m just absolutely heartbroken that the United States has somehow overnight become the inferior partner to the Saudis in our bilateral relationship. They call the shots, not the United States of America. And especially today, when we are less reliant on their oil than any before it confuses me as to why that would be the case. Senator Young and I have discovered a unique means by which we may be able to change our bilateral relationship for the better. Inside the Foreign Assistance Act is an ability to take a vote to compel a human rights report on a security partner. And then after that report is filed, Congress can pass legislation with fifty votes rather than sixty to change the nature of the security relationship in any way, put conditions upon it, for instance. I think that that’s an important new vehicle to try to perhaps put some conditions related to the investigation of the Khashoggi murder on our security assistance. But I think the president’s made it pretty clear by now that he’s going to veto anything we do to change our relationship with Saudi Arabia, as he did with our resolutions to pull United States troops out of the military coalition vis-à-vis Yemen. And so I think we need to keep the pressure up. I think we need to keep forcing these debates in the Senate to make the world understand that this silence on the Khashoggi murder from the administration is not shared by Republicans and Democrats in Congress. But I don’t know that that eventually results in legislation being signed into law. TALEV: We haven’t talked about Russia yet, and getting denied entry. Perhaps someone will ask. I want to close the part of our conversation actually with a domestic policy question, but I think it has broad interest to the rest of the world given the U.S.’s sort of unique status when it comes to guns and the general public. You, and Joe Manchin, and Pat Toomey, and Lindsey Graham, a bit, have all been trying to figure out what kind of a bipartisan gun control effort is ultimately amenable to President Trump and passable in Congress. And I’m just hoping you can briefly bring us up to speed. We know that you were in discussions with the president as recently as yesterday. Will you talk to him today? And how imminent is a decision or announcement on what could happen? MURPHY: So we had a—you know, about a forty-minute conversation with the president yesterday. We got into some of the details about expanded background checks. Others talked to the president at length later in the day. I don’t know whether I’ll talk to the president today, but I expect that our teams will be meeting throughout the day. I think the president needs to make a decision about whether he wants to get behind the 90 percent of Americans who support expanded background checks. And I think what we don’t know yet is whether he’s willing to do that, because it would involve taking on the NRA. The gun lobby is never going to support any expansion of background checks in this country. And the president has, I think, the right instincts, which is why he’s still personally involved in these talks, that the gun lobby is weaker than ever before, and this has become a voting issue for swing voters, and a turnout issue for young people in this country. But I don’t think he’s made the decision to break with the gun lobby and really sit down and do detailed negotiations with those of us who work on this issue. I will agree with you this is an international issue. I always remember a story that Matthew Barzun, our Obama-era ambassador to Britain told me. He said when he would go around to schools, he’d hand out two cards. And on one card he’d ask kids to ask a word that reflected something they liked about the United States, and on the other card a word that reflected something they didn’t like or confused them about the United States. And he called me to tell me about this exercise because he said, Chris, if you believe it, that on 70 percent of the cards in the second category the same one word is on the card? And this is sort of 2013-14. And so I was wracking my brain. I said— TALEV: Right after—right after Sandy Hook. MURPHY: Well, it was right after Sandy Hook. But it was also right after the disclosures about tapping Merkel’s phones, it was still in the—you know, in the aftermath of the Iraq War. So I said, well, is it spying? Is it Iraq? He said, no, it’s guns. It’s guns. Seventy percent of kids in England say the one thing they don’t understand or don’t like about the United States is guns. And so our inability to deal with this issue is one of the things that pushes us away from our allies. And from the very start, our foreign policy has been predicated on creating a model—an economic and a governance model here in the United States—that is so attractive to the rest of the world that they want to sign up with us. It’s not just about how strong our military is overseas. It’s about what the American experience represents to people. And this failure to deal with the epidemic of gun violence in this country, it is part of the story as to what drives allies and potential allies away from the United States. TALEV: Thank you. OK. At this time—oh, good, I see a couple hands—I would like to invite members to join in our conversation. And I want to remind everyone, this meeting is on the record. There are cameras in the back, as you can see. When I call on you, please wait for the microphone, and then if you would share your name and affiliation with us also that would be awesome. Keep them tight. We’ll get as many as we can. OK, let’s start right here. Q: I’m Paula Stern. And I’m going to ask a question based on my service for 10 years at the U.S. International Trade Commission, which I chaired. The use of economic nonmilitary instruments, you talked about trade and you talked about the idea of a progressive policy that would have a new multilateral trade negotiations. I’m wondering if you would address the existing theories of bilaterals we have put in place, the Trump administration has, and specifically the steel Section 232 restrictions on many of our allies, and many of the countries, for example you mentioned Ukraine three or four times. Whereas, there have been deals made separately with some other countries to not have the restrictions, as spelled out in the original proposals, country by country, that the president placed. So I’m wondering how you use our trade relations with these individual countries, recognizing that you said that military is something that we real on way too much, and that your new progressive policy should look at non-military means. MURPHY: Sure. Well, listen, there are all sorts of other elements, I would argue, to a progressive foreign policy vision of the world that I did not mention. One of them is the reinvestment in international associations and bilateral—multilateral arrangements. So I think progressives do believe that the world is safer if we all have forms through which we are interconnected. And that is something that this administration fundamentally does not believe. They are interested in the delegitimization of bilateral associations, organizations, and efforts. Which is why, on trade, they have chosen to conduct themselves on a bilateral basis. That is connected to their overall agenda of trying to delegitimize bilateralism. I share in the concerns of some of my Republican colleagues, Pat Toomey chief amongst them, who we just mentioned, the way in which the president has gone around Congress to try to use tariff policy as a national security tool, when it is actually Congress that is vested with the authority to institute tariffs for economic reasons. And so I think Congress has to capture back tariff authority. And the president has, you know, tried to convince us that it’s all about national security when really he is using it for classic economic justifications. And in general, I just think you got to be really careful about using trade policy and sanction policy as a tool to try to push American interests around the world. At some point the dollar may not be the world’s default currency. At some point, people may tire of the United States using our economy as a means to try to bully nations into complying with our national security priorities. Now, I’ve supported sanctions efforts. I’m not saying that I haven’t voted for those efforts. And I do actually think sometimes it makes sense to call countries to task with tariffs. But we have become generally over-reliant on using tariffs and sanctions as a way to bully countries into working with us on host of issues. And that has some real danger for the nation moving forward. Q: I’m William Hauser, Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society. And my question is, do you support or oppose the expansion of petroleum supply across Central and Northern Europe by Russia? MURPHY: So part of my trip last week that we’ve referenced a few times was to Germany, to make—are you talking about Nord Stream 2? I assume you’re talking— Q: About petroleum pipelines going through Europe. MURPHY: Right. So part of my trip last week was to—was to Germany to make the case to them that the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is about bringing gas into Russia—into Germany and Europe from Russia is a terrible idea, and that we are essentially countermanding the effectiveness of our sanctions policy against Russia, which we have jointly agreed to, by then allowing Russia to build pipeline capacity into Europe that obviates their need to continue gas flows through the Ukraine. Senator Johnson and I, he’s a conservative Republican from the Midwest. He and I have a piece of legislation that would stand up a billion-dollar American development capacity to support efforts inside Europe and other places to make them truly energy independent. Right now, again, we give advice of how you can wean yourself off of oil and gas produced in other places. We, again, try to sometimes use sanction policy to stop our friends in Europe from becoming more dependent on outside-produced fossil fuels. But we don’t really offer any help to them to do that. And so my view is that we should use the largess of the American government and of our finance institutions to actually help finance some of these wind projects, these solar projects, these geothermal projects in and around Europe. So I have grave misgivings about the construction of new pipeline capacity. But I think we can’t just complain about it, as the United States. We actually have to help the Europeans, especially some of the—some of the less-developed of the Europeans, come up with new plans. TALEV: So we found something you and President Trump have in common, on Nord Stream 2. MURPHY: Right. TALEV: OK. In the back. Yes, in the white dress. Q: Hi, Senator. Thank you so much. Can you also speak a bit more about a progressive foreign policy vis-à-vis some other transnational challenges? And specifically I’m thinking about climate change, about nuclear nonproliferation, and about refugees. TALEV: Don’t forget to identify yourself. Q: Yes. Who am I? Alex Toma with the Peace and Security Funders Group, and a very proud term member here at CFR. MURPHY: You know, so I did—I did reference these issues, as I was talking about, you know, progressives domestically care about the issue of immigration, and the treatment of minority groups, and of course if you care about those issues domestically you have to care about them internationally. You have to invest in economic development and security assistance in the Northern Triangle in order to allow people to stay home, which is what they want to do. They don’t want to have to flee to the United States. And of course, if you care about protecting our interests in the Middle East, then you have to understand the danger that refugee flows out of places like Syria presents to our national security and the national security of partners there. You know, we could care about refugees in dangerous places around the world because we are compassionate progressives, but we can also care about refugees in dangerous places because of cold-blooded national security interests. And so you know, from a progressive foreign policy viewpoint we can—we can pick, right, either genesis of our—of our concern. And I mention on climate change, one of the reasons why, you know, you need a massive investment in diplomacy generally around the world, and why you need to sort of fix our relationships with our allies and with our—and with our competitors, is that, you know, joining Paris is going to be the easy part, right? I mean, we have come to sort of mistake Paris for the end of the negotiation rather than the beginning of the negotiation. And so you are going to—you are going to have to have a surge of diplomacy as part of a progressive foreign policy agenda, because in order to negotiate to the climate—the climate goals in Paris, you’re going to have to have American leadership in a way that it doesn’t exist, obviously, today. Q: I’m Ari Baki (ph) with the Council on Foreign Relations and Lehigh University. Senator, you put democracy promotion at the heart of a progressive foreign policy. And what I would like to so is ask you to be a little bit more specific in terms of how you would apply this when the Democrats come to power, and say you were influential in this. And I’ll give you essentially three sets of countries to see how you would deal with them. Let’s start with alliances like Hungary and Turkey, where you have authoritarian leaders that have usurped the democratic processes. You have adversaries like China and Russia. And then you have important countries like India, where a populist leader is increasingly doing things that are quite undemocratic. So how would you approach these three types of problems, if you want, in terms of democracy promotion and give some meat to your arguments? MURPHY: Sure. So, you know, we often—we often create this dichotomy in American foreign policy in which we have interests here and values over here. And then we sort of ask how you would choose between values and interests. I think that’s a mistake, because, as I’ve argued, promoting democracy abroad is an interest. It’s not just a fuzzy value that Americans have. It’s an interest. We believe that the more people that have access to democracy, the more safe the world and the less threats that we face, and that ultimately the more stable our own democracy is. And so I think you have to sort of sit democracy promotion in a list of interests that you have in every one of the bilateral conversations that you referenced. And my argument is that you should be elevating democracy promotion in the conversations that you have with a sort of sometimes ally, like Turkey or the countries in Europe, that you mentioned. And that you need to be raising these issues and concerns earlier in your bilateral meetings and negotiations in a way that we aren’t today. Second, I think we need to be working together with the European Union in raising and presenting these concerns. I think if you’re not doing it jointly, then you aren’t making real efforts. Third, I think you’ve got to recognize the threats that are presented to democracy in these places. Part of the reason why I think we have to have these new beefy anti-propaganda efforts is because Russia is sort of taking advantage of the fact that we’ve downgraded democracy promotion in our conversations in a country like Turkey, right? They use information warfare to spin up anti-democratic narratives in those countries and provide excuses for Orbán to consolidate power. Well, I would argue that we have to be playing defense and offense when it comes to the information warfare against democracies. Defense in the sense that we need to identifying and rooting out these Russian trolls, and bots, and working with our allies in places like Hungary, for instance, to do it. Offense, in that we need to be funding counternarratives. We need to be actually putting money into truly objective journalism that’s going to identify the trolls, but also tell less objective narratives in these countries. That’s actually what the Global Engagement Center was setup to do. And then I do think occasionally you have to draw some hard lines and send some messages about allies that have just gone too far in attacking freedom of speech. And that’s why, to me, Saudi Arabia is a really important case study here. I think that when we don’t convey real consequences for murdering a journalist, a dissenter, someone that sought protection in the United States, then we are sending a message to all of those countries that you mentioned about what they can get away with. And so I wouldn’t argue that you break off relationships with every country just because they are backsliding on democracy. I think you attack some of the insidious forces that help those attacks. I think you elevate the conversation in the bilateral relationship. But then you do find ways to send hard messages that there is a moment that you’ve gone too far, right? There is a moment at which you can’t be part of Europe any longer if you’re not going to be a democracy. There is a point at which American security assistance does shut down, if you start going after—physically going after journalists or political dissenters. And we’re not doing any of those things. We’re not elevating the conversations. We’re not attacking propaganda. And we’re not showing where our bottom line is. TALEV: The pink jacket. Q: (Off mic)—from Al Jazeera. I just wanted to pick up on the issue of Saudi Arabia. You sent a letter this week, along with Senator Young, to the Saudi crown prince, regarding aid to Yemen. Do you think—is this a new approach to, you know, address him directly? And do you think that you will get any response from the Saudis? And what would happen if that aid is not released? And just one quick question, regarding the resolution that you have introduced along with Senator Young, is there a timeline for forcing that vote in the Senate? MURPHY: So I am—I’m infuriated that this withdrawal of funding for the U.N. has not gotten more attention here in the United States and globally. The beginning of this year, the UAE and the Saudis committed $750 million each to the U.N., which was commensurate to their commitment last year, in order to stave off what is going to be the inevitable starvation and disease this fall and this winter in Yemen. Cholera numbers are already spiking in and around the country. The Emiratis and the Saudis welched on their commitment. They literally pulled it back and decided that they weren’t going to make it, too late in the funding cycle, really, for other nations to make up the difference. And so as we speak feeding programs, health care programs, immunization programs that the U.N. runs in Yemen are shutting down. And tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Yemenis, many of them children, are going to die this month, and next month, and the month after because the Saudis and the Emiratis have decided that they are not funding the promises that they made. That is a moral abomination. And we should be raising this every single day with the Saudis and the Emiratis. And I’m going to be honest with you, this administration is not doing it. They are raising it, but they have all sorts of other issues that are on the table with them that often come first—many of them related to Iran. Iran dominates our negotiations and discussions with our Gulf partners. And as long as they are doing what we ask on Iran, then we let them go on Yemen and on their commitments to the U.N. And that is not acceptable. Senator Young and I sent a letter to the Saudis, who have frankly been more intransient than the Emiratis on this question. I don’t know if it will work, because so long as they don’t feel like they’re getting real pressure from the highest levels of the administration—and I’m not saying that assistant secretaries and deputy assistant secretaries aren’t asking the Saudis and the Emiratis to put up the money. I’m saying they’re not hearing that from the president, and they’re not hearing that enough from the secretary of state. And this is now a matter of life and death in Yemen. And it’s a stain on our country’s conscience to be still involved in a military coalition with the Saudis and the Emiratis when they are refusing to put up money to stop the humanitarian disaster. TALEV: And your timing on forcing the vote, this next couple weeks or what? MURPHY: You know, I think it’ll be—it’ll be this—my hope is it’ll be this fall. So the next couple weeks, September/October. TALEV: Gentleman in the back. Q: Nadeem Yaqub, a journalist with Voice of America. Quick question. By trying to host Taliban and Afghan government at Camp David, do you think President Trump killed the opportunity to have a deal on Afghanistan? And related to that, second question, if the negotiations or the dialogue, you know, continues after the presidential elections in Afghanistan, do you think the Afghan government will have a more important and robust role in the negotiations? MURPHY: So, I mean, I have not opposed the idea of having negotiations and talks with the Taliban. Obviously I would prefer the Afghan government to be a part of those talks. I would prefer for them not to have to occur sequentially, in which a deal with the Taliban—between us and them was a prerequisite to the Taliban’s talks with the Afghan government. But I think we have to admit that the emperor has no clothes. I mean, the policy of the last eighteen years has simply not worked. And the idea that we should just do more of the same of the next eighteen years—be engaged in a military conflict with the Taliban, the perhaps permanent occupation of Afghanistan—I don’t think is acceptable to the people that I represent in Connecticut. But the way in which Trump decided to orchestrate the denouement of these talks was cataclysmic. I mean, why on Earth did this agreement have to signed at Camp David? What was the benefit of bringing the Taliban and the Afghan government to the United States? How would the agreement be more legitimate being signed on American soil than on Afghan soil? I mean, this made no sense, these Camp David talks, except for the fact that Trump’s foreign policy is essentially first, second, and third about photo ops. And this at least would have been a photo opportunity for the president. Now, I don’t think he thought it through very well, because he might have gotten the initial photo op and then two, or three, or four days later the talks would have embarrassingly fallen apart, perhaps leading to even more violence then we’re going to get now. But the instinct to have this conversation was not wrong. And I guess in my mind, I’m upset that the photo op and the bad idea to bring the parties to Camp David, has caused the talks, which may have actually happened in something positive for U.S. national security interests, to collapse. TALEV: I’m being told I have time for one more question, unless you change your mind and you want to run late for Senate for us. Right here in the front. Q: John Duke Anthony, a long-time consultant for DOJ and State. If you can just elaborate a bit more on this pushing allies away. And it’s obviously that you’re conflicted, many of us are conflicted about how far, how fast you push and press an ally, who snaps back and says: Look, if you think you can get a better friend than us, then you must be smoking something. If we held elections here, it’s practically guaranteed that we will be displaced or deluded. The Islamists will come to power. You’ll have a far more entrenched, vociferous adversary than you can imagine. So over the years it seems as though pushing, presenting democratic values, processes, dynamism is very much for us psychologically intelligible. But at the end of the day, politically expendable, because other interests seem to trump it at the final hour. This leaves us in a very sticky, illogical, embarrassing situation. I’d like to see you elaborate a bit more, if you would. MURPHY: Sure. Listen, I don’t—I don’t think it needs to be embarrassing to the United States that we continue to deal with countries that have not made a transformation into a democracy. Again, that’s why, you know, I approach democracy promotion as a value—or, excuse me—as an interest that stands aside with other interests. There may be nations in which there are other interests that we have that may cause us to put democracy promotion in the middle of the pack. Others where we may make it a higher priority. And so my argument here is not that we should not be dealing with nations that haven’t made a commitment to democracy. My argument is that it should be higher on our list. And second, that we should take a whole bunch of steps to try to make it easier for democracies to expand or flourish in these places, which is why I make the argument that pushing back against propaganda or pushing back against the development and export of tools out of China that make autocracy and dictatorship easier, is really important to the broader fight for democratic values. And then lastly, I think we have for a long time been addicted to our form of democracy, right? So you don’t have a democracy unless you have an American-style democracy, or whether you have a British-style democracy, right? If you don’t have a parliament, and you don’t have a prime minister, then you’re not engaged in self-determination. I think we need to be flexible about the mechanisms by which people have greater ability to have a say in the way that their lives are run. You know, take a look at some of the transitions that have been happening in Jordan, for instance, in which they do not have a democracy, by Western standards, but they have a parliamentary system that, you know, over time has had a little bit more to say about the way in which things are run. Local democracy is still democracy. There may be ways in which, you know, autocrats still have control at the federal level but that there are decisions being made with democratic inputs at the local level. And so I think we got to be flexible about sort of the demands we make to empower individuals to have greater say over their lives. We’ve got to have mechanisms to push back on the influences against democracy, not just beat our friends over the head to be better about it. And then we have to look at it as an interest that stands side-by-side with other interests. And sometimes exists here, and sometimes exists there. And then do it all in coordination with the Europeans. You know, if we’re not doing democracy promotion with the Europeans, we’re not doing it—we’re not doing it well. And, again, you know, Europe and the EU stands as a great attraction to countries that are trying to correct their—correct for democratic deficiencies. And as the European Union disintegrates, with help from the United States, it makes it a whole lot harder to, you know, go to the Turks and say, hey, listen, you know, you don’t have a future with Europe if you’re not going to fix the flaws in your democracy. Well, today they look at Europe and they say, well, it doesn’t look like the members that are inside the EU have much of a future with the EU, the way things are going. So why should we get our act straight to be part of that club? And so if we don’t invest in these multilateral institutions that are part of our leverage on developing democracies, then we’re also—we’re also not doing all that we can. So that’s a big answer, but there are all sorts of approaches that you can take to try to—to try to elevate these conversations. And of course, we’re going backwards on all of those counts in the Trump administration. If we just start to make some progress forward in the next administration, and we start to have some candidates that are thinking a little bit more about this before they get there, we’ll be better off. TALEV: You don’t have time for one more do you? MURPHY: We’ll do one more. All right. All right. You didn’t need to pressure me that much, but one more. TALEV: Oh, good! Else is going to be so happy. (Claps.) All right. Q: Thank you, Senator. Nice to see you again. Elise Labott from Georgetown University. I was wondering, in the context of some of the things you were saying on Iran and Saudi Arabia, you’ve been, you know, very tough about Saudi Arabia’s role. But at the same time, you see these kind of constellations happening in the—in the Gulf, and with Israel, Saudi Arabia working closer with Israel against Iran. President Obama, one of the reasons he reached out Iran and wanted, you know, to have more of a rapprochement is because he said that the thought that the Saudis and the Iranians needed to share the region. And I was wondering in the context of the last year or so, with Mohammad Bin Salman and the concerns about Saudi Arabia, how you view a kind of—you know, this landscape going forward. What is Iran’s role now? Qatar has been playing an increasing role. What is, in your mind, the ideal kind of situation of great powers in the region, including how to incorporate Israel? Thank you. MURPHY: You know, I think that Obama’s instinct here was twofold. One, he thought that by taking this question of Iran’s nuclear weapons program off the table we could more effectively organize the international community to address Iran’s other malevolent behavior in the region. We never got a chance to really test that proposition. Second, he believed that we were better off having a dialogue with Iran than not, and that you can’t solve the various quandaries of the region without America being able to talk to both the Gulf states and the Iranians. And Yemen is a perfect example, right? We could have absolutely—John Kerry came very close to a peace deal in Yemen right before he left office. And he did that only because he could talk to both the Iranians, and the Saudis, and the Emiratis. And had we kept up our ability to talk to the Iranians, we might have been able to get a settlement of accounts in Yemen long ago. And so our decision to not talk to the Iranians makes everything harder in the region—Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, et cetera, et cetera. So, you know, I—listen, I think the Iranians are horrible actors in the region. But I also think we’ve closed our eyes to all of the dangerous things that the Saudis and the Emiratis have done over the years to undermine our national security interests. I mean, the idea that we just sort of, you know, put blinders on when the Saudis for twenty years have been funding the export of Wahabism, which serves as the building block to the international extremist movement, is nuts to me. And Hezbollah’s terrible, but so are the Sunni extremist groups that might not exist but for the decision of the Saudis to move an intolerant version of Islam all around the world. We talk to the Saudis. Let’s talk to the Iranians. And if we went back to the Obama-era premise, isolate their non-nuclear bad behaviors, and still have the ability to talk to them, side by side with the Gulf states, we’d be much better off. TALEV: I want to thank all of you, and Senator Murphy, for spending extra time with us. Thank you. Appreciate it. MURPHY: Thank you, guys. Thank you, everybody. Thank you, Margaret. (Applause.) (END)
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