tv Middle East Policy Council Discussion on U.S.- Saudi Arabia Relations CSPAN July 26, 2019 1:59pm-4:01pm EDT
no. but they are resilient to it. can someone penetrate their network? sure. there's no perimeter anymore. but can they do real damage to those companies? the answer is, no. >> watch book tv every weekend on c-span2. up next, former diplomats discuss the state of relations between the u.s. and saudi arabia and saudi arabia's relationship with other countries in the middle east. this event is hosted by the middle east policy council. >> i am the vice chairwoman of the board. i'm pleased to welcome you to this our 97th quarterly capitol hill conference. our topic today is the united states/saudi arabia relationship. over the last 40 years, many of
us have observe and supported this relationship from deepening our count eerterrorismcounterte. the challenge has been to reconcile close, effective cooperation on national security issues while remaining faithful to two very different value systems. the nature of our military cooperation, human rights violations, addressing regional bad actors and more demand attention and likely change. these issues are ripe for informed, dispassionate review. we are fortunate to have an experienced group of panelists today to delve into the factors at play affecting the u.s. approach to saudi arabia, our relationship and its future. however, before i turn to today's program, i would like to say a few words about the middle east policy council.
the council was established in 1981 for the purpose of promoting dialogue and education concerning the united states and the countries of the middle east. we have three flagship programs. our quarterly capitol hill conference such as today's event. our quarterly journal, middle east policy which enjoys a strong reputation among those with an interest in middle eastern affairs and can be found in 15,000 libraries worldwide. and i think very importantly, our education outreach program. teach mideast. it provides educational resources for the middle east targeted mainly towards secondary schools to students and teachers. visit us on our website and our teach mideast program. learn more about our organization and our activities.
now to today's event. this program is being live streamed on our website and so i'm pleased to welcome all of who you have joined us online. the conference proceedings will be posted in video and transcript form as will a recap of the discussion. an edited transcript of the program will be published in the next issue of our journal. let me briefly introduce our panelists. we will begin the program with mr. tom lipman, an ad junct professor. my long-term colleague and friend, ambassador gerald firesteen.
he is a former principal deputy assistant secretary and former ambassador to yemen. i would like to thank you for joining us today. the program will begin with each panelist delivering brief opening remarks. this will be followed by a discussion session which will be moderated by my colleague dr. tom attire, the exerticutive director of the middle east executive council. we placed index cards on the seats. use these to write down any questions you have as the speakers are speaking. then hold up the card. our staff will collect them during the presentations and give them to the doctor so he can consolidate the questions for the discussion period. with that, i would like to turn the podium over to tom. thank you. >> thank you very much. thanks to the middle east policy
council for organized this event and inviting me to participate in it. it's now 43 years since i first went to saudi arabia. in the days when the best hotel didn't have telephones in the rooms, before it was really a fully developed country in a material sense. even then, it was very difficult to understand the nature of this peculiar relationship between the united states and saudi arabia, which had come together in the days when they were really at opposite poles of civilization. so what i thought i would do is talk a bit about the relationship, as i'm sure you know if you are interested enough to be here, can be traced back to the time of the 1940s, really 1930s when american oil company got the first oil concession and then in 1940s, the two countries forged their first strategic and security relationship when the king gave
permission for the united states to build a strategic air base because the united states was fighting a two front war. that elevated the relationship to another level. under truman, we sent in a team of specialists to create the saudi arabia monetary authority. by that time, we had the peninsula blanketed, so to speak. all through the time since, this relationship has been beset by furious disagreements and anger and policy differences that you might think would have left some kind of permanent damage. and they began, i'm going to ooh ni enumerate them. they began when truman recognized israel the moment it was created. others write to the king and urged him to cancel the american concession which he declined to do. in 1953, the saudis were furious
because the united states refused to back them in their dispute with britain. it was a piece of land where saudi arabia, oman and uae came together. the saudis couldn't understand. 1954 was a little known episode in which the new king gave a contract to a gentleman named aristotle onassis that would have ended the oil monopoly. izeeisenhower gave the order to make sure that never went into affect. it's the subject of my most recent book which is excerpted in this issue. great book. you should buy multiple copies. then came the oil embargo of '73. when you read kissinger's cable
traffic, you will see he referred to the arabs as savages, which will give you the idea of which -- after all, it was even -- kissinger when he went to saudi arabia received a gift from the king which was a bound copy of the rules of the elders of zion which is not what i would give a jew. in 1979, the saudis made carter very unhappy by not only refusing -- not only not endorsing but refusing to accept the egypt/israel peace treaty. the last time i was in baghdad, was the time in the spring of '79 when all the arab foreign ministers threw egypt out of the arab league. as much effort as carter put in on courting the saudis, it wasn't enough. in 1988, came the peculiar episode in which the united states discovered by accident that the saudis had acquired
nuclear capable chinese missiles, which they would not let us inspect. the first thing that happened was richard armitage told the saudis they managed to put themselves at the top of israel's target list where they had not been. that episode took some doing to unravel. then, of course, there was 9/11. 15 of the 19 -- don't ask me about the 15 of the 19. i have answered that question every day for 15 years. in 2003, when the united states invaded iraq over saudi objections, you had the famous remarks in which the king referred to it as an illegal occupation. then came the nuclear agreement with iran, which made the saudis very unhappy. not so much because of the contents of the agreement itself
but because it spooked them. they thought we were trying to forge some kind of equitable relationship with the iranians, which they could not understand. then, of course, came the murder of jamal khashoggi. in the whole history of this relationship, there has never been a time when the strategic planning or the relationship in any sense was put in jeopardy or threatened by human rights issues of any kind or the fate of any individual. every year the state department never makes any difference in terms of policy. even jimmy carter, who made human rights the foundation of his foreign policy, went to saudi arabia and was deferential to the point of obsequious
because he wanted something from them. they didn't deliver, endorsement. but that's the way it has been. one side want somethis somethin the other. so now the question is, what happens if donald trump is not re-elected? i can imagine, let's say, joe biden or amy klobuchar who are pragmatists holding their noses and continuing to do security business with saudi arabia. but it's hard to imagine elisebeth warren or cory booker doing business as usual, endorsing the armed sales, invii inviting the saudi prince to the white house.
otherwise, it's possible and maybe even likely that there will be a change, especially in the visuals and atmospherics. one reason is, as you have seen in the votes a couple years ago and yemen, there's never been a popular constituency for saudi arabia in the united states. very few people's grandparents came from saudi arabia. there's a reason why there's no congressional saudi caucus. that's because there's no political risk for anybody in congress in coming out and taking a vote that's hostile to or opposed to saudi arabia. there's nothing to lose. now you have a situation where we don't need the oil, we don't have military bases there. unless you have major defense contractors in your district, you have nothing to lose by
coming out against the saudis. so i think now for the first time really since 1945, it's possible to envision an evolution of the relationship in which at long last saudi arabia will be treated like any other country. thank you. [ applause ] >> good morning, everybody. i'm going to build off some of those comments and talk about the u.s./saudi relationship in the context of the congressional debate and take it more broadly and ask fundamental policy questions for those of you engaged in either framing the foreign policy debates for your bosses on the hill, outside the hill, talking about these issues. you all should know that i just wrapped up last year several
years on the senate foreign relations committee as the middle east staffer. had a front row seat to a lot of the debates about saudi arabia and the relationship as a lot of the votes were taking place here on the hill. i would characterize the current state and debate of the u.s./saudi relationship as the most serious crisis in the relationship since 9/11. what is unique about the debate right now and the focus on saudi arabia is that it includes members on both sides of the aisle. it's bipartisan. in both chambers. and it is -- it's not unique to the current administration. there were very fierce debates about policy in the previous administration as well, specifically when then minister the defense -- current minister of defense decided to engage in
military operations in yems, ma'am yemen with. if had yyou had to give one sen to describe the crux of the debate on the hill and in washington, i think it is, is the relationship and is saudi arabia more destabilizing in the region and for u.s. interests or can it be a force for stability? instability is used to describe this relationship. u.s. partners and allies, we create networks of alliances and we use tools like security cooperation, military assistance, economic engagement, trade, scholarships, cultural engagement because we believe our relationships can contribute to stability, particularly in the middle east. in congress, members of congress for this congress and the past
congress have probably taken more foreign policy votes that somehow touch the u.s./saudi relationship compared to any other issue. more votes on saudi arabia than israel, iran. that's different from several congresses ago. now it's about saudi arabia. that's whether it's the vote for the justice against sponsorship terrorism. and that was actually vetoed by president obama and overridden in the senate. it's a very strong expression about that. here it was viewed as a domestic issue. certainly, it was a station about the relationship and the senate overrode that which takes a strong bipartisan majority, obviously 67. there have been multiple resolutions of disapproval on arm sales offensive and defensive weapons. that's also not new to this
year. it's been going on for years. in the house and senate, there's been multiple votes on war powers resolutions. multiple votes on this issue. there have been votes on amendments to the ndaa, the national defense authorization act in the house and senate that specifically are about the u.s./saudi relationship, specifically about weapon sales and about u.s. support to saudi-led military operations in yemen. i'm not going to talk too much about that. jerry will do that. the latest series of showdowns are about congress' attempts to demand accountability and assessment from the current administration about what happened related to the murder of jamal khashoggi when the senate foreign committee asked for a determination that didn't happen. by the trump administration. then finally, the most recent
showdown was when the -- an emergency exception under the arms export control act was invoked in order for the administration to move forward on weapon sales so saudi arabia and other gulf partners without the statutory review period required here on the hill. some of this is about saudi arabia and a stark difference in opinion between members of congress and the strategic utility of the u.s./saudi relationship. some is about congressional executive purview. where should congress be determining foreign policy and what's in the executive branch? all of this has been taking place over years. members of congress are not just taking votes on the u.s./saudi relationship. they are learning about weapon sales. how do they work? what do members of congress review? what are offensive systems, defense system ss? they are learning the legislati
legislation, they are learning the process. they are learning about security cooperation. they electric learning abo inar of money and tools that form the foundation of this relationship and have for a long time. now they can talk about professional military education. they can talk about students studying in the united states. they can talk about the kinds of entrepreneurs. members of congress are deeply familiar now, not just with broadly the u.s./saudi relationship. but they are well versed in the tools. which means when people talk to members of congress about the u.s./saudi relationship, the general talking points don't cut it anymore. they are deeply educate ed in t details of what's going on in yemen, the parties in this conflict. they are deeply educated about how military systems go through a process of approval before they are sold to any partner. now we're in a situation where it's not just about saudi arabia but there's a debate about how military sales will go forward
to the rest of the middle east, the largest purchaser of u.s. defense equipment. against all of the votes and all of this education as a result of what was going on in the region, consider what members saw taking place in the region that they ascribe as coming out of riyadh. there was the military intervention in yemen after years of diplomacy, trying to avoid that. there was the blockade of qatar which was seen as saudi led. there was was the detention and for a while resignation of the lebanese prime minister. there was the roundup of -- there was arrests and alleged torture at the ritz carlton -- somebody didn't like me saying that. probably the ritz. of a broad cross-section of business executives and elites. right after the granting of women's right to drive in saudi arabia, there was the detention
and alleged torture of several women's rights activists. there was the spat with the government of canada over a tweet about human rights. all of these things were taking place in the region and seeing driven by saudi arabia at the saum time congre saudi arabia at the same time congress was taking votes on legislation related to the relationship. then there was the murder of jamal khashoggi. then there were weeks of different messages about what was taking place. then there was the refusal of the trump administration to respond to congressional invocations of law. all of this together has reached this crisis point. where are we now? i think there's no doubt or question that saudi government officials and people in riyadh and across saudi arabia are very much aware of the dynamics here in washington. they are aware of the debate about the strategic utility of the u.s./saudi relationship
moving forward. there's certainly an eagerness in riyadh to find a way to move forward. i think the question for policymak policymakers, in the communities of interest around people taking votes and creating policy is, what are we going to do with that desire to move forward? is the debate about divorcing the saudis and going in another strategic direction, or is there an opportunity here to move forward in some way? i'm going to bro ing ting to br the broader geopolitical context. we should be asking ourselves, do we accept the premise of the national defense strategy that the current strategic threat environment in which the united states operates are near peer revisionist powers like russia and china that challenge us on a multi-spectrum of threats, or do you ascribe to the premise that still the major threats facing the united states are terrorism and fragile states and instability? in that case, the game is still in the middle east.
whether it's russia and china, there's asia pacific. we saw the obama administration try to do their pivot. there's a lot of talk currently in this administration and also on the hill about disengagement or burden sharing in the middle east, which means us forces should get out and we should shift the burden and have other people put in resources. the bottom line is whether you ascribe to either world view or both, do you need partners and allies to address those threats? in that context, would we prefer saudi arabia to be in the umbrella with us or not? iran policy. regardless of your views on the jcpoa, there's a potential for u.s./iran confrontation in the middle east right now. if the blood of u.s. forces or u.s. personnel is spilled and we are in a situation where we have to confront militarily, do we want to be working with saudi arabia? do we need them for airspace
access, for basing of forces, for maritime threats? israel. there's a debate right now on the hill, i think, more on the democratic caucus than republican, about the future of the relationship. there's no question that relationships between israel and gulf countries, including saudi arabia, are expanding. is it in our interest for these countries to be working together? assistance to syria. the trump administration cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in stabilization assistance to northeast syria. the saudi stepped in. if it's about burden sharing and about the u.s. government not always being the first entity to be paying assistance dollars, do we want to be talking to riyadh about where they can share the burden? iraq. one of the key premises of u.s. policy to iraq is if we don't give the iraqis options, other than iran, then the iraq/iran relationship will deepen.
despite everything i laid out, there's been an opening from the government of saudi arabia to iraq in some efforts to integrate iraq into the arab fold. that might be in the u.s. to continue to develop. finally, my bias, just to be clear, sustainable, meaningful change i view as incremental and not necessarily on the headlines and certainly not the stuff of senior leader meetings or senior leader statements. my eyebrows were raised at an article that came out about a new television series in saudi arabia. i encourage you to look it up. a saudi series hints change is afoot. consider the demography of saudi
arabia. mobile phone usage 100%. internet satsaturation, some ofe highest in the middle east. vision 2030, which was articulated as transformational, even if some of the goals are too lofty and it's not talking about democracy, is a vision and some policies undergirding that vision for economic and social change and economic diversifying away from oil potentially more stabilizing over the medium to long-term? consider the muslim world league, the secretary-general wrote an article recently, why muslims from around the world should remember the holocaust. he is working on reforming the saudi educational system. while we are having debate about the future of the relationship,
there are chain changes taking in saudi arabia. i think there's a question for us in framing this as how much are we just going to punish the saudis for what happened, and can we use some of the pressure and awareness that this relationship may need go in a different direction to open up new opportunities? i think there are many saudi officials that are eager to have that conversation. there's a new saudi ambassador in washington, d.c. who is eager to have that conversation. i think there's a fundamental question here about whether or not we want to work on this relationship, whether it needs to be updated, transitioned for 21st century challenges. that's a question we can explore. do we want to explore it in cooperation or not? [ applause ] >> can i remind you that if you have got questions, write them
down? raise your hand so our staff can come and collect them. thank you. >> i want to first thank gina and rich for inviting us to come here today and participate in this conversation. to demonstrate that for those of us who are recovering foreign service officers, there is life after the state department, which is good. also to thank tom and dana for their remarks. i think that we just saw in dana's presentation why she was when she was at sfrc the best staffer ever. for those of us who found our way up to the hill from time to
time. i want to start -- this is a conversation about the u.s./saudi relationship. i wanted to begin by stressing that this is not about the u.s. relationship with mohammed bin salmon. one of the things that struck me over the last couple of years is that we have lost sight of the fact that there is a relationship with a country out there that as tom has says stretches back for nearly 90 years. and has been based on shared interests, shared perspectives, shared policies over a number of years. not here to defend mohammed bin salmon, not here to explain what was going through his mind about
jamal khashoggi who many of us in this room knew and considered a friend. so we need to think about the broader relationship. one of the narratives here in washington that i found really striking over this last almost year now since khashoggi's murder is the extent to which we have conflated a number of different aspects of saudi policy, of u.s. perspectives on saudi arabia, of u.s. relations with saudi arabia in ways that i think are unhelpful for the interests of both countries. primarily to make the point that i think this conflation is particularly egregious when it c comes to how this city and this
congress perceives the saudi intervention in yemen. i think as tom said, the relationship that we have had with saudi arabia has had its u.p. ups and downs over the years. you could make the same point about just about every country in the world. we have over the years found reason to work very closely with the saudis. a number of us were involved in the intervention in afghanistan in the 1980s where saudi arabia was a critical partner in helping to implement the u.s. policy objective of driving the former soviet union out of afghanistan. they were funders, financiers of a great deal of the activities. they helped facilitate through their intelligence agencies, through the prince and his
organization working very closely with u.s. intelligence to achieve what was perceived at the time to be a critical u.s. national security objective. today we work together on iran. we have worked together on iran since 1979. again, largely share the same objectives in terms of iranian behavior in the region, iranian threats to regional security and stability. as tom said correctly, it hasn't always been a positive relationship. we have had our differences over israeli/palestinian issues, over camp david, over a number of other areas where we have not seen eye to eye. where we have had to manage those differences and provide stability to a relationship that
was troubled. yemen fits into that pattern of up and down relationships with the saudis over the years. i think that the yemenese have observed, not always positively, that the united states has tended to see yemen policy, to see our interests in yemen largely through saudi percept n perceptions, through saudi eyes. that's not a wrong position that they have taken. our support for saudi policy in yemen goes back to the 1960s when the kennedy administration worked with the saudis in support of the monarchy in yemen, primarily because the saudis perceived pan-arabism as
a greater threat to the stability of their rule as well as the other gulf monarchies to be greater than support for the shia that had ruled yemen for many, many years. in the 1980s, the united states and saudi arabia worked together to support the north yemen government, the yemen arab republic at that time and established a trilateral military assistance program. u.s. providing military support to the north yemen military that was paid for by the saudi government. that was primarily because of the concerns about the threat to the saudi stability opposed by
the people's democratic republic of yemen, south yemen at that time. that continued for a number of years. we provided f-5s, other kinds of military support until the saudis and yemenese broke in 1990, '91 over husain's invasion of kuwait. the two governments, saudi arabia and the united states, broke. we supported the saudi decision to expel yemen workers to cut off assistance. when south yemen had tried to break off again and form another government in 1994, having merged north and south yemen in 1990, the u.s. and saudi arabia found themselves on different sides of the issue. the united states support ed th
government in the north. ed saudis provided assistance to the south. supported the breakoff of the country and the resumption of separate north and south yemen governments. after a period of years, we came back again together. in 2011 and 2012, where the united states and saudi arabia worked very closely as part of a larger international coalition that included all of the five countries of the u.n. security council as well as the gcc and a number of the european governments to work on a political transition document that eventually was completed and became the gcc transition agreement. we worked together very closely
after that on the implementation of that document from the time it was signed in 2011 until the houthis disrupted it in 2014. let me just make the point that, in fact, had it not been for the intersection of king abdullah personally in late 2011, it's unlikely that the agreement would have been signed. we probably would have ended up in this civil conflict we're experiencing now in yemen several years before it actually broke out. after the agreement was signed, after the president was elected or selected as the transition president in 2012, saudi interest in yemen declined. they became less involved in the political transition perhaps in part because it was
uncomfortable for them to promote democratic transition in yemen. it was not something that they were familiar with. so the u.s. and our western partners took the lead. the saudis continued to play an important part in providing economic assistance and providing development assistance, working closely with the world bank and imf and with the west on ways of ensuring that development assistance in yemen continued to flow and continued to meet the requirements of development in that country. this was the status up until 2014. we remained in close touch with the saudis. we continued to work with them to share views and objectives, to engage with them on the concerns that we both felt as we saw that some of the issues
within yemen, the dysfunctionalty of the transition government, the efforts to undermine the transition, some of the unrest that the houthis were manifesting in the north, as those issues continued to emerge, the u.s. and saudi arabia maintained a very close dialogue, and very positive dialogue. dana's remark that we had very little notice of the saudi decision to intervene is correct. but i would make the point that the saudis did inform us -- this is a reflection of a larger change in the nature of the u.s./saudi relationship and the nature of the u.s. relationship more broadly with our gulf
allies and partners. that is that as the perception developed that the u.s. interest in the region is fading, partially because of the negotiations on the iran nuclear deal, partially because of the statement bs by president obamas well as the policies at this current time of president trump, that they saw a decline in u.s. interest and came to the conclusion, not incorrectly, that they needed to take more responsibility themselves for protecting their own interests, pursuing their own objectives. prior to this decision to intervene, the saudis did come to washington. they did talk to the white house and to the state department and others to inform, rather than to request permission, to intervene
in yemen. to make the point that at the time they made the decision, they didn't anticipate and we didn't anticipate that the situation would drag on for four years. secondly, their intent at the time was to stabilize the situation that they believed at the time that they were going to secure the stability of the government, perhaps relocate it because of the houthi occupation. it was not their intent to go beyond what was already agreed to in the transition agreement that their intention was to stabilize the situation, allow the political transition to reach its conclusion. it obviously hasn't worked out that way. here is another point where i
have some concerns or disagreement with the way the narrative plays out in washington. two issues. one is that there is an incombinatiincompl inclination in washington to look at the conflict as a conflict between saudi arabia and yemen. to see the houthis as the element defending against saudi aggression. >> this is incorrect. the reality is that what's happening is a civil conflict. it's a conflict that goes back. it's a conflict that erupted in violence periodically throughout that 50 or 60-year period. this is only the latest manifestation of a conflict that has never been resolved among the yemenese. the saudi intervention is aside from that.
the other point is that one needs to distinguish between the issues that drove saudi -- the saudi decision to intervene versus their implementation of their decision. here again i would say that while i believe that the saudi decision to intervene was based on real and legitimate concerns that they had, this is not to suggest that their implementation is not a fit subject for criticism. it is. some of the saudi efforts have been tragic and completely incombe tent i incompetent. it's not to say that because we understand why the saudis intervened, therefore, we must understand how they intervened. that's not the case.
in my view the saudis have three legitimate concerns about the nature of the conflict. one is, of course, as we have seen increasingly over these past months the security of their southern border. i would say the saudis in particular see an existential threat from a houthi. that is something that's completely unacceptable to saudi arabia. the second is the presence of the irgc and hezbollah. that's in yemen supporting the hout houthis. to clarify a point, because sometimes you will see argumented that, in fact, the
iranian intervention, the irgc presence are a response to the saudi intervention. i can say even when i was still involved in 212, several years before the situation deteriorated, the iranians were involved in providing weapons and sending irgc personnel to the houthis to provide training. to receive elements not only for military training but also shia religion. the second element of saudi concern is this presence of irgc and hezbollah, trainers and assistants inside yemen.
the third element of saudi concern, of course, is the nature of the government. that is that the saudis want to see a government that they can work with. this does not mean they are opposed to a houthi presence in the government. i have been with senior saudi officials when they have said explicitly that they are not opposed to houthi participation in the government. but houthi participation is a political entity and not as a hezbollah-like entity. this war has dragged on for several years. we, of course, have supported, as the saudis and other coalition partners have supported, the idea of a u.n. negotiated resolution. it's not clear that we have come any closer to that resolution at this point. primarily in my view because
neither side have we seen a decision that they can achieve more at the negotiating table than the battlefield. neither side feels as they they have been defeated. neither side feels as though momentum has shifted to the other. therefore, neither side feels compelled at this point to find a political solution. to wrap up, i would make just a couple of final points. one, of course, what we're all seeing now is the decision on the part of the emirates to withdraw their military forces from the -- the aspect of their presence in yemen that is related to the houthi campaign, keeping in mind that the emirates has two strictly separate objectives in the region.
one is to support the saudis and their coalition activities. the other is a ct mission. the emiratis have been clear to say they intend to continue their efforts on the ct side. it's only in relation to the houthis that they are withdrawing. they make several points in explanation of their decision. one is that they believe that they have trained a sufficient number of yemen personnel so the yemen can take them on. there are several thousand sudanese troops in yemen who are participating in that military campaign. second point that they make is that given the rise in tension with iran that they believe that they needed their forces back in
uae, particularly their patriot air defense systems in order to guard against a potential conflict with iran. that's their explanation. this has serious implications for the saudis, of course. because the emiratis have been the ones who have been leading the ground campaign over these past several years. the saudis have been primarily involved in the air campaign. whether the saudi will be able to fill the vacuum that would be left by an emirati withdrawal remains to be seen. but i would say in conclusion on that point that because of what i see as a saudi perception of existential threat from yemen, i do believe that they will carry on their campaign regardless of what the emiratis do and frankly
speaking, regardless what the u.s. government does. there are many people who think the saudis cannot carry on their military campaign without u.s. support. i think that's absolutely false. the saudis, if you believe that you are facing an existential threat, you will continue your efforts regardless of what the larger international circumstance is. the final question -- i think dana left a number of questions on the table as she finished her remarks. let me leave another question on the table. the united states and saudi arabia have worked together, particularly since the 1950s, for the last 70 years or so as two countries that shared basic -- a basic perspective on
the region, basic policy goals and objectives, basic national security views. both countries over countries oe years have been primarily status quo forces. we have believed in protecting the security and stability of the region and to maintain the status quo. what we've seen over these last couple of years with the rise of mohammed bin salmon is that saudi arabia perhaps is no longer a status quo force in the region, that mohammed bin salmon for whatever reason has adopted a disruptive position vis-a-vis key elements of regional policy. but the other aspect of that is that the united states also
under the trump administration has also become disruptive. it's hard to argue that trump policy is in support of regional security and stability. so the question now is if both the united states and saudi arabia have become disruptive forces in the region, are we being disruptive in a way that allows us to work together, or are we on a path that is going to take us on divergent paths over these coming years. is the future of the united states' and saudi partnership sustainable? i'll stop there. [ applause ]
>> first, thank you to the panel. i'll start with one or two questions of mine, come to all the questions from the audience. we heard about disagreements that we've had with the saudis over the decades, and we've heard about a basic kind of security cooperation, an economic cooperation over the over the decades as well. so i think the question that dana left us with at the end
really was about going forward. does the saudi military cooperation with us, economic cooperation with us, generally speaking trying to make sure there is oil at a reasonable price available to everybody in the market, their counter terrorism cooperation with us, their intelligence cooperation with us, does it outweigh the current disagreements we have with them and should we be going forward with them to deal with current strategic challenges that we have from russia, china, iran and others. tom, you know, i could actually read something that you wrote some years ago and ask you if you still feel that way and if everybody would basically agree.
but i'd have to find it first. no, here it is. the overriding consideration for strategic and economic reasons, neither country wants to break with the other. you can have arguments and criticism but the overriding need of the two countries for each other will require that those differences be managed even if they continue to exist. is that where we are? how do the three of you feel about that general proposition that we need to find a way to go forward with them to tackle the challenges that we face in the region? >> if i may, i'll respond to that. every year in late february or early march, the commander of centcom who's responsible for all u.s. military activities throughout the middle east and
asia submits a report to congress on the strategic issues and arrangements and alliances throughout the region. and if you read that report, he does a general statement and a country by country assessment. and it becomes clear that saudi arabia is not the most important country for the security interests and policies that the united states is pursuing in that region. that is to say, saudis are much more dependant on us. their military capabilities remain questionable and we don't have big military commitments or presence in saudi arabia. the united states has troops everywhere, but really not in saudi arabia. the naval headquarters in bahrain, we have a big air base in qatar, we have troops in
kuwait, we have troops in ja bu di. if we combine the fact that we could conduct our strategic policies in the region, other than terrorism, seems to me, without saudi arabia. and, in fact, that the energy picture has changed completely over the past ten years. i think you could make a case that you could now deal with saudi arabia on an issue by issue basis without having to pursue some overall hand holding framework of the kind that we've had in the past. keep your eye on the issue of nuclear proliferation. >> dana, you raised the question at the end. where do you stand on it? >> so i'm going to react to two things i just heard. one is could we move away from the overall framework of holding the saudis' hands in pursuit of
our security interests. i would just say that other than israel that is sort of how our relationships with countries in the middle east work. if you go to these governments and you ask them to articulate exactly how you get to a political set ltment for syria, exactly how should we address the threat from iran, it's hard to get them to articulate a very specific policy, a strategy and then the tools to get there. in general, a lot of governments in the region are looking to others to articulate what that end, means, ways is and they can listen to us or they can listen to others, moscow, for example. my view is it would be better for us to be leading and articulating that vision and working with countries when our
interests align to achieve whatever that vision or strategy is. we don't have relationships because they're good for others. we have relationships because they're good for us, because it's in line with our interests. if our the interests are that we view russian presence and activities in the region as inherently destabilizing, then we should probably be working on shoring up partners and allies that can work to limit that presence and those activities in the region. that doesn't mean you have to agree on every issue. you can raise the issues that are in our interest to raise and at the same time work with our areas of cooperation. the original question was or one of the comments you made is, neither country seems to want to break, a divorce. i would say the united states doesn't have one policy. there's a policy that is articulated by the trump administration, which at least here in a bipartisan way on the
hill and in washington seems to be the perception that there's no questioning, there's no airing of grievances, there's no expression of concerns about specific policies. we're all in and we don't question and we don't challenge. there's an active debate and it's taking place in public. so everyone understands what the debate is here. without the saudi relationship, a lot of other partners and allies are looking at this debate and questioning whether or not the united states is going to be there over the medium to long-term in a fully strategically relevant way. i think we can do both with the saudis. i think we can elevate human rights concerns, reform concerns. we can continue to engage in the issues that are of concern to us. we can demand accountability for
kashoggi. if you read the trips of secretary pompeo's interviews this week on the margins of the international religious freedom forum, over and over and over he talks about freedoms, religious freedoms. and not once do countries in the middle east like saudi arabia get mentioned, but iran got mentioned a lot. these are opportunities where american officials can say, hey, we're going to be raising these issues, but we can still work with you to address concerns in your legitimate security interests and also in ours. i don't think that the united states benefit from having a s yemeni hezbollah on the border. even if we're a net exporter of oil, that doesn't mean that we don't have some dependancy of what the global oil rate is. then tankers can't go through the straits, that is a problem
for us. to me, loud and clear there's enough pressure and enough leverage here that an opportunity has presented itself and we can either walk away from that opportunity or engage to try to shift or make clear that certain behaviors will no longer be accepted. >> gerry? >> i'm going to give a very precise "it depends" answer. i think it depends on a number of factors that i think that both tom and dana touched on. one is, there is, again, a theory here in washington in the united states that we no longer need energy supplies from the region, that somehow or over the united states is energy independent and what happens in the gulf or venezuela or
whatever has no impact on u.s. energy supplies. this is wrong on a number of aspects. one, of course, is that the united states, even though it may be a net exporter of energy, in fact still imports about 5 million barrels of oil every day. therefore, we are still in the energy markets. and even though gasoline that comes out of the pump and into your car all looks the same, the fact of the matter is that oil is not all the same. oil is not fungible and therefore the kind of oil that comes out of the wells in saudi arabia is, in fact, critical for the u.s. and for the world's energy requirements. and to go back today th dana's correct point, regardless of
what u.s. interests are, as long as we have some interest in and some obligation to maintaining global economic stability, the fact of the matter is that what happens in saudi arabia is going to be critically important for the united states for many years to come. so the basic underpinnings of why we have this relationship with a country which is in many ways as dwernt from u.s. perspectives and history as humanly possible. nevertheless that is a relationship that has been critical to us for many years and will continue to be critical. but having said all that, the other aspect of this is that, you know, tom talked about the fact that there is no constituency in the u.s. for
saudi arabia. this has always been true. it was true when i was working on these issues back in the '90s. there has never been a well string spring of support for saudi arabia here or in american society. we have worked together because we've seen it in our interests and not because we felt any emotional commitment. what we've seen over the last couple of years is, in fact, the political aspect of relations between the united states and saudi have become more intense than ever, in part because of the very open alignment of the saudi leadership where the trump administration in ways that democrats have found to be very problematic probt. so the saudi/u.s. relationship has become a debating point here on capitol hill and more broadly
in society in a way that even in the bad days, even after 9/11, even after some of the other areas where we've diverged, is more intense, more difficult, more emotional. and therefore, where you can see that in response, in reaction to what people have perceived as a current relationship and the trump administration's unwillingness to challenge saudi arabia, unwillingness to raise some of these issues, this has become something that potentially down the road, particularly if there's a change in the administration in 2020 could be extremely probt for the relationship and how you go forward. i think tom also made the point that a number of the candidates on the democratic side in this election will take a very contrary position on the u.s./saudi relationship as
compared to the trump administration. then the last point that i would make is an awful lot of it depends on mohammed bin salman and how we go forward. even though we have this broad-based relationship with saudi arabia which is founded in shared economic security, political interests and has been for many years, the tendency right now is to look at it through the optic of mohammed bin salman and do we agree with mohammed bin salman, do we think that mohammed bin salman is a monster who's murdered jamal kashoggi and locked up innocent people or maybe only semi guilty people without trial, who imprisons civil society activists and civil libertarians and others, or is he someone who's a modernizer who we can work with. this is the other side of the
argument. he's made some missteps, but he someone that we can deal with. or do you look at it more broadly that this is a relationship that goes beyond simply the leadership? do we just simply say, yes, mohammed bin salman is a problem, but the nature of the relationship is more important than just the nature of the leader and we can work around that in some way. those are questions, i think that are going to be answered. my guess is they're going to be part of the presidential campaign over the next year. and i think that the answer is going to come out at the end of that campaign. >> i think tom had something. >> i want to add something as briefly as i can. both of my colleagues here on the panel have made the point that saudi arabia remains a critical part of the global energy supply even if we don't import much oil from saudi arabia anymore. the biggest single domestic
management problem within saudi arabia, in fact, is a shortage of energy. the saudis are consuming an ever escalating amount of their oil they produce domestically to satisfy the insatiable demand for electricity in a country that desal nates all water for human consumption and household use. i have seen projections from economists and consultants that show that the trajectory between saudi export capability and saudi demand will cross as soon as 2035. n and that's like, you know, the day after tomorrow in strategic terms. then what happens to this picture? this is what is propelling the saudis in their quest for nuclear energy. and we will have tough decisions to make about whether to meet that demand because it can
change the whole rest of this picture. >> i mean, right now the saudis consume about 3 million barrels a day of their own oil and export about 7 million barrels a day. they prefer to export because it's revenue. >> of course. >> they'd like to have a different alternative for their own domestic need so i'm sure they're going to bring some technology to resolve that issue. nuclear will be one of them. i've got one more question, then i'm going to go to the audience. we have talked about the way we see the relationship, the way we might need their cooperation and the way we have objections to certain behaviors of theirs. but to flip it over just for a minute, and tom, you went through a list of some disagreements. i'd like to start with the egypt/israel disagreement because they had hoped that carter was going to succeed in
getting something more comprehensive that would resolve the palestinian issue, in fact, it led to a lot more settlement in the west bank. let's skip over some things and come to 2003 when king abdullah asked us not to invade iraq, that it was going to destabilize the region. we invaded iraq anyway and it led iran into iraq, which changed the u.s. strategic landscape for saudi arabia. it brought an adversary right into its northern border. they wanted us to intervene more strenuously in syria because, as in the case of yemen, iran was already in syria early in the civil war before saudi arabia ever intervened. and they wanted our assistance and the obama administration was too reticent to get involved.
again, you have much more iranian influence in syria than you did before. you already know how much they have in lebanon. and gerry spoipointed out that was supporting the houthis. are they a status quo power or are they a disrup ttdisrupter? i've heard there that they can't rely on us anymore to make good judgments about our policies in the region and to help them contain and even roll back iran. so how do we factor that into our decision making about going forward with them? i mean, is it possible that a debacle in yemen is in part
because we have called them free riders? we have told them to take matters into their own hands. we have said we're going to pivot to asia. and they decided they needed to take matters into their own hands. if, let's say, we were to reduce our engagement and our support for them in yemen, who would benefit from that? how would that affect the outcome of what's going on in yemen? let's get there, because then that leads into a lot of questions about how do we work with them going forward. and those are from the audience. what have we done that has led to the situation? anybody can go first. >> if ti go first, thanks tommy you've led us down the rabbit hole. those are all good questions.
i would say there are two aspects. there's no dowd that in both riyadh and abu dhabi you have leadership today that has made a decision that they are going to be more assertive, that they are going to do more to pursue what their goals and objectives are, that they will coordinate and cooperate with the united states as possible, but that the united states will not have a veto over their decisions. and i think that that is an attribute of several factors, not just one. i think on one level it's a fact that you have younger leadership in both of those capitals who believe that their fathers, their predecessors were too
beholden to the united states, who were too willing to accept u.s. leadership without necessarily achieving some of their own objectives. i think it's not only about the united states. i think it also is an aspect of the way they operate within the arab world, in the eearab leagu for example, where they're less likely to accept egyptian leadership in setting foreign policy for the arab world and more inclined to assert their own leadership? you can't question the fact that they can read the same magazine articles that we can read. when the president of the united states is giving an interview in "the atlantic" when he's talking about these countries as free riders, when he's saying quite
explicitly that they need to learn how to share the region with iran, when he's saying other things that are quite contrary to what their own analysis of their interest is, they're going to, they're going to make decisions based on that understanding. and so all of these things have added up. you know, talk about the desire to pivot to asia, all of these aspects from contributed to a decision on their end that they are going to pursue their agendas themselves. and again, i mean, if you look at the position of the trump administration, as i think several of us have made the point, the trump administration has not changed its position that, in fact, these countries need to take on more of the responsibility themselves.
for us, it means that we won't always like what the decisions are that they make. we may disagree with them. but if you tell people, you know, to grow up and, you know, be adults, well, you know, adults make decisions that are based on their own perspective. therefore, we can't have it both ways. we can't expect that these governments are going to follow our leadership without question and at the same time tell them that they need to take the responsibility themselves. and that's a situation that we're in and i don't see it changing. >> since all three panelists are to my left, please, rich, ambassador shmerer, stanley, let me know when you have a
statement because i'm looking this way. dana? >> i want to make a few comments in reaction to what was head out. first of all, in terms of how riyadh might be looking at the united states and our own reliability, think about how they might view us and the serious swings in the pendulum of foreign policy across the last several administrations, from the invasion of iraq to debates about foreign policy and the u.s. role in the middle east under the obama administration, and not just comments in "the atlantic" but the nuclear agreement, how washington reacted to arab spring developments in multiple countries, in this administration foreign policy by tweet. in terms of how we may be viewed in the region, if i were staffing any of the governments
in the region, i would say, don't rely on the americans because they're not consistent and they change their policy with every administration. so it is in our interest to cooperate with them when we can, but we also need to hedge our bets and we see that hedging behavior right now. we see all sorts of both military, security, trade, economic agreements with a lot of other governments. secondly, how to understand saudi actions, particularly in yemen. so we need to see how they have executed their operations in yemen, contextualize it in decades of education, military training exercises that we've been conducting with them both in huge regional contexts, gulf cooperation council training. we have tried for decades across
administrations, consistently republican and democratic administrations. in the clinton administration, they were called the strategic cooperation forum, gulf cooperation council, ballistic missile defense, et cetera, et cetera. in the obama administration, in the bush administration, we had the gulf security dialogues. in the obama administration, it was the camp david summits, right? and now we have the middle east security alliance. all versions of the same notion that we can work with these militaries and then beyond the military realm to coordinate to address shared interests. so this is part of burden sharing. while everyone references the obama interview in "the atlantic," think about the much more crude way this is discussed in the current administration. these guys are made of money, they'll just pay for everything, why should we be paying for everything.
when we're feeling nice, we call it burden sharing. then much more crude ways of we've paid enough, americans are done, somebody else should pay. the region is very aware of the debate that we're having here in the united states about what the u.s. role in the world should be. and in that debate, the far right and the far left actually sound pretty similar, right? authorization of the use of force, why should u.s. forces be doing this, why should the american taxpayer be paying for these things, i don't understand what our engagement in the world gets us. it's a public debate. they can read it in our tweets, in our magazines, in what will be published of this decision. so they're listening and watching us. in terms of syria and cooperation, i think we need to understand how the obama administration was thinking about the various conflicts that
arose in the middle east during their administration as very much in the experience of the iraq war. did we pick the right partners, can we really shape a political outcome based on serious military investment. and the conclusion of the obama administration was no, so we have to be very humble in our approach to these conflicts and what we can realistically achieve. now the saudis are having a similar thing in yemen. it's hard to get these disparate groups to the table to potentially discuss anything that could be stabilizing over the long-term. if we want to talk about burden sharing and if we want to continue shaping and training these militaries in a way that is more consistent with our values and norms about how military operations should be prosecuted, burden sharing doesn't mean we train you, go ahead and go. it means continue engagement. that is the choice that the united states has to make.
we may not disagree on everything, militaries make mistakes. there's a serious challenge in the prosecution of the saudi military campaign in yemen. are our interests better served in walking away or engaging shape going forward? >> when he arrived in saudi arabia as a u.s. ambassador in 1989, he found that the relationship had sort of stagnated or atrophied to a great extent because we americans took it for granted. saudi arabia had been the most stable country in the middle east for 80 years, was always there in spite of all the differences we had. we could count on certain aspects of saudi arabia as an entity to respond in certain ways to things that would happen. i'm not confident that we know that about saudi arabia today.
by all accounts, i mean, here's where i differ a little bit from you gerry in saying this is not about the relationship with mohammed bin salman. he's all there is. it used to be that there were multiple centers of power in saudi arabia where you could get to the king through this prince or that prince. it was always prince bandar. now by all accounts, mohammed bin salman has neutralized every other center of power in saudi arabia. so in addition to wanting to know who's going to be the next president of the united states, i want to know what happens next year or the year after that or the day after tomorrow when king salman dies and mohammed bin salman becoming the sing of
saudi arabia, which will happen. tell me who's his crown prince. tell me what he does tos assua the grievances of every other branch of the family and see what kind of country we're working with now and how it's different than the country we've worked with for all these decades. >> if i could just add to that very quickly, i think that you just put your finger on a critical issue, which is, you know, yes, when people are looking at trying to analyze the direction that the saudis are headed in right now, you see this effort on the part of mohammed to eliminate any discordant voices, to basically put all of the strings of policy and power into his hands. his brother is a deputy defense
minister. he's eliminated many of the potential adversaries in the senior ranks of the family. but the question is, and i think this is going to be perhaps dete deter determinative is is this going to be sustainable over time or is the family going to assert some greater control and some greater leverage. my guess is you're not going to know the answer to that question until the day comes where he is trying to become the king. and i think that's when this is going to sort out. >> well, some of the questions from the audience are maybe i
could combine one or two. a few of them have to do with how important is the military to military relationship with the saudis in terms of deterring, containing or rolling back iran in the region. how should we be encouraging a saudi/israeli relationship as part of an effort to deal with ir iran. i would add to that how can we use our military and economic and political relationship with them and our leverage with them to help resolve the conflict in yemen. what is the way out there that we can help them with.
and finally, to come to a different question from the audience, it is how do we use our relationship with them to encourage -- inside the kingdom. how important is the military relationship? can we use it to resolve some of the problems that we have and washington is concerned about, such as yemen? and can we use our relationship to bring about change that we would like to see in the kingdom? yeah. i mean, is that important? is that something we should encourage, the saudi/israeli relationship. >> i'd like to address that one particularly, if i may. imagine yourself locked in a wor wor worldwide struggle with a rival power for supremacy in islam,
which is how the saudis see themselves with those shia infidels that are running iran. i don't believe you win that struggle and ingratiate yourself with the muslim masses by getting into bed with israel. and it may well be that there are aspects of semi clandestine cooperation between saudi arabia and israel based on mutual perceptions of certain threats. but the idea that we would encourage the saudis to enter into any kind of overt partnership with israel i think is out of the question. >> i think the king is with you on that. >> i don't think anybody is encouraging an overt saudi/israel relationship, but
there's no question that under the table there's all sorts of contacts across multiple sectors. some of this started out as a shared threat perception that iran is the main driver of instability in the region, and the israelis and the saudis agree on that. look at the bahrain economic conference for an economic vision for the west bank and maybe gaza. regardless of views on how effective that conference was, it took place in bahrain. i can't imagine that it would have taken place there without saudi consent or a nod, right? there's all sorts of public reporting about various tools for monitoring social media contacts between saudi officials and israeli officials, which may not actually be in the u.s. interest and we should probably be looking at that, staffers
here for members of congress. it is already happening. if you actually talk to certain israelis, they say the most exciting developments taking place in the middle east are in the gulf, that the young people in the gulf are dynamic and entrepreneurial and interesting, and we need to be paying attention to it. so it's happening. how to encourage change in the kingdom. well, i think the lesson of the united states is, if we point fingers at a government in the middle east and say, you should take this kind of change and this kind of plan because it's in your interest, it doesn't work, right? first of all, acknowledging the changes that are already underway and taking place and find out how we can encourage that. do you know the size of the scholarship program?
we bring 10,000. >> king abdullah. >> 50,000 students a year are coming to u.s. universities. they're getting exposed to american style education. i mean, they go back home. that's a way of encouraging change. so it doesn't have to be articulating a specific program for reform and saying, this is what you should do. but my point also when i mentioned that soap opera that was shown in saudi arabia during ramadan, there's change already underway, right? and we need to -- it's not necessarily making the headlines, and that's okay. and secondly, if there are firm views about specific things taking place that are ant thet cal to our interests or destabilizing, we should raise it. a good example is the detained civil rights activists. we should raise it and be very
direct, we think these people should be immediately let out of prison. the relationship. how important is it for what we want to accomplish? for example, the global coalition to defeat isis. we created the architecture and militaries like the saudis plugged into it. then we can say we have a reasonable coalition who's united with us in zraesi iaddre shaired shared threat. there's maritime coalitions in international waterways where working with partner navys, this is our interest to be regionalized, nationalized, globalized. in that, i think the military relationship is important. if we care about israel's military edge, russia doesn't care and china doesn't care when
they sell weapons to the saudis. should we continue making sure that the saudi military is buying u.s. and not others not just for the defense industry. there's a whole host of examples why. i'm going to leave the yemen resolution to gerry. >> yeah. i think that we've checked the box on the saudi/israel thing. there's no reason to talk about it. on the mill mill thing, nobody's mentioned but one of the interesting developments of the last few days is the announcement by the administration that they've sent 500 u.s. military personnel to saudi arabia. and if i am not mistaken, that's the first time we've had ground forces in saudi arabia since the first gulf war, since shortly thereafter when we withdrew everybody. so i think that's quite
significant. the reality is, again, if the united states remains committed to providing security and defense in the gulf region, if we continue to see iran as a principal adversary, potential adversary in the region, then you cannot achieve your military objectives without support from saudi arabia, you know, either in terms of access to their facilities. you made several points earlier on about air space, about some of these other things. the reality is that without saudi arabia, the other gcc states will be extremely reluctant to go forward. they look at saudi arabia as the anchor for security in the region and they will take their cues from the position that the saudis take. so the israel relationship is
important. it's going to continue to be important. in terms of the question about the way forward on yemen, it's hard. i think dana and i agree on this point. that is that there's no utility in our using our military support for saudi arabia as a stick to beat the saudis and to somehow think this is going to compel them to make decisions about the conflict in yemen that they're not willing to make. it won't. what it will do is undermine our mill mill relationship with them. it will introduce a new component of conflict, of friction between our societies without accomplishing anything in particular. i would point out that when you talk about -- i mean, dana again made the good point that the saudis and the other gulf states
are hedging their bets in the region right now, looking at the lack of certainty in terms of what u.s. policy is. if you want to talk about the s-400 system that the turks have just acquired, saudi arabia has also negotiated with russia about the possible purchase of s-400 even though they already have the patriot system. you know, if we continue to signal unreliability in terms of our military relationship with them, then the saudis certainly have the resources to look elsewhere and there are plenty of other governments that are willing to provide that support. now, does that translate into some ability on our part to help influence the direction of a resolution in yemen. but i go back to the point that i made earlier on.
that is that the principal reason that we don't have a political resolution of the conflict in yemen, which i believe that the saudis and emiratis and other cultures would welcome is not because the saudis are unwilling to pursue that or empower the u.n. to pursue it. it's because neither party, domestic party inside of yemen has yet come to the decision that they're better off making a deal than they are continuing this conflict. there are a lot of reasons for that. both in terms of their vision of, you know, the potential for a military victory. you've got a war economy where you have an awful lot of people who are making an awful lot of money by allowing this conflict to continue. the conflict is really not binary. it's multipolar. you've got a number of different elements in trying to get
everybody on the same page in order to resolve this thing is tough. and so, again, my own sense is that the solution to the problem is not between saudi arabia and yemen. it's within yemen and it's going to be on martin griffiths to try to figure out how to get all the yem yemeni yemen yemenis together. my expectation is the saudis will welcome it and cooperate. >> i'm going to be a little contrary on gerry on yemen. in fact, i think it's really important, the statement that members of congress, not only democratic, have been making about our participation, our support of the prosecution of the conflict in yemen is important and can have an impact
on getting people to the table. i think it certainly was taken into account with the uae decision to change the nature of their engagement. i think that the point you made earlier about that balance getting people to the table, the lack of support from the united states, military support, changes that balance. certainly there are many who've argued that we gave them support in that conflict to balance their distress with us having an agreement with iran. so when we pulled out of the agreement with iran, there was an opportunity to reduce or eliminate that support as well, but we are still there. they are adults, as you said. they make their own decisions about what their existential challenges are, where their priorities are. but that does not mean that they are existential priorities for us.
so we have to think about it in that way. is the cost of the humanitarian disaster in yemen, the possible war crimes in yemen that we have a connection to at this point, the incompetent or poor prosecution of the conflict from the saudi side worth it to us as the united states. i think our voices need to continue a very lively debate on this issue. i think us coming out in a different place sooner rather than later is a reasonable thing for the united states to do and i do not think, as you say, if it's an existential challenge for the saudis, their border, that is not going to materially change the nature of our relationship. dana, you mentioned change within saudi arabia coming. i will say having been there
from the early 2000s, that there were really interesting, challenging ramadan serials. they talked about 9/11 and the nature of saudi arabia and a wonderful episode had a 7-year-old boy driving his mother to the hospital. so a discussion about women driving is happening in 2002 and 2003 and 2004, and we are in 2019 finally. but my profound belief and understanding from my time in saudi arabia with regard to change and reaching fundamental rights is not an issue of driving or having access to public events where men and women can be together. absolutely important, of course. i would argue further that it is a matter of access to the justice system for women in
saudi arabia. the issue of having to use an agent for carrying out your business, carrying out your public life, that these issues are still yet to be sufficiently addressed and that those are the things that are going to make a difference in women's lives and in saudi lives. and i'll leave it at that. >> well, yeah. these dovetail with questions from the audience. but again, one of the things that is causing so much c consternation in the united states is the way that war is being prosecuted unsuccessfully and with collateral damage. so is there something we can do to help them improve this performance and avoid that and get a satisfactory outcome there? i mean, i will provide an
anecdote from a trip that i took there in 2016, early 2016, with our late president who was a former ambassador there. we had a meeting with about eight saudi generals and they said, we need more precision guided weapons to avoid killing civilians. they didn't say, we want to kill civilians. they said we need more prosiecin guided weapons to avoid killing civilians. so that leads back to can we use our relationship with them to improve their performance and get a better outcome in yemen? >> let me just say, again, i think, you know, part of the problem and i think that you and gina have touched on, i mean,
part of the problem that i have with the way this debate is carried out here in washington is that there is this tendency to look at this as a saudi aggression against yemen. it is not a saudi aggression against yemen. saudi arabia did not begin this war, saudi arabia's not responsible for this war. it is a civil war. saudi arabia has been engaged because of what they consider to be, and i agree with them, what they consider to be a direct threat to their national security. you cannot talk about how to stop this conflict as long as you're only willing to talk about the actions of one side. again it is not the side that started this conflict.
so unless you're going to talk about the houthis, unless you're going to talk about iran that are equally responsible for the tragedy that many yemeyemenis h witnessed, you're not talking about real solutions to the conflict. and to single out the saudis and say, well if they stop selling them weapons, that will force them to the table, that's a presumption on your part is the reason that there is a solution is because the saudis are preventing it. that's something i take issue with. i don't think the saudis are preventing a solution. i think the issues are domestic issues inside of yemen, and the reason there's not been a solution is because neither side feels compelled to achieve a solution. that applies to the houthis as
well as the government. i would also point out that unscr 2216, which the united states supported and the united states was one of the original sponsors of says very clearly that the position of the international community, that includes us, is sport for the legitimate government of yeppen. a whether we agree with it or we disagree with it now, that is what the united nations security council said, which we voted for, and that is still the official position of the united states. i believe correctly we should continue to support a resolution negotiated by the united nations that would allow for the resumption of the gcc transition document that was signed in 2011 and that would bring everybody back to a political process inside of yemen. but beating on the saudis isn't
going to get you there. i think that, you know, in order to achieve, in order to sort of represent a correct way forward, we need at least to look at the reality of the situation and not simply to pursue shadows in plato's cave. >> we don't have too much more time and there are other topics, so can you make that fast? >> in the 2 1/2 years after the saudis began to actively intervene in yemen, i heard five different senior saudi officials including the military advisor to mohammed bin salman, articulate five different strategic objectives to the campaign in yemen, force the u.n. resolution, restore the legitimate government, prevent the existence of an anarchic
state. if you cannot articulate the strategic reason for waging the war, you can't define victory. that's part of their problem. they don't know what they're fighting for. >> i would take issue with that, tom, because none of those points that you just made is contradictory. yes, all of those elements are there. u.n. security council resolution 2216 has all of those elements in it. they might articulate them differently but they're all the same piece. >> second batch of questions from the audience comes back to the whole question, how do we use our relationship to bring about positive change in saudi arabia. i already brought that up once, but we should come back to it. there are a few questions here about whether bin salman and mbs can use their relationship with
bandar wing of the house to improve our relations and encourage positive change inside the kingdom on questions like male guardianship and women who are detained and how to get accountability over the jamal kashoggi matter. we've talked a little too much about yemen, but how do we now use our relationship to get the change we'd like to see inside the kingdom. and has anyone seen evidence that inside the kingdom there's a willingness to talk about this and a willingness to listen and work with us on these issues. rich would lake to say something. hold on a second. >> during the truman administration, the state department circulated to all
diplomatic posts in arab countries a long statement about our policy in saudi arabia. and it said that we are not there to tell them how to count. we are there for economic and strategic reasons that are important to us. we're not there to tell them that they should behead people or women should be allowed to go uncovered or anything. it's none of our business. i believe that that policy recognized the fact that the saudis are not amenable from constitute lidge frtutelage fro organize their country, run their society. they don't have school shootings and fentanyl overdoses and don't wont to hear about that stuff from us. and our policy is, has served us well. it's not our business the way the saudis organize or run their country. it only gets their backs up.
as president bush and condi rice found out with their democracy initiati initiative. >> rich wanted to comment. >> yeah, i think one point that we haven't really delved into which i think is important for the topic at hand today is we do have a new saudi ambassador in washington. our topic today is the u.s./s d u.s./saudi arabian relationship and comes in the context of having a recent disruptive event affect that relationship which was the murder of jamal khashoggi which has reverberated very strongly here in washington. as an optimist, someone who spent eight years living in saudi arabia and six years as a diplomat there, i'm optimistic that this -- the new ambassador who the middle east policy council had the opportunity to host at an event last year, who's very articulate, she was speaking about youth developments in saudi arabia, i
think she will come -- has come -- with good advice on how to turn the kind of the rhetoric that we saw in the immediate post period following the period of khashoggi. so i would like to think that what we'll see from her is an understanding that the u.s. does expect of its partners, like saudi arabia, thatt they will abide by certain kinds of behaviors which i think was not understood previously. that i think we'll see a toning down of the rhett wioric we hav seen from the post-khashoggi period and the opportunity for diplomats, gina, as i, have served as diplomats in saudi arabia. saudi arabia has very good diplomats of a certain tier. i think it's important to keep in mind that the relationship does need to be repaired to a
certain extent. and i think we're fortunate to have a new ambassador who i think has come well prepared and has the right temperament to help repair that relationship. i wanted to make sure that that point was made in addition to all the policy discussion that we've had. i think the diplomatic and the government, the government relationship, needs to be improved and i'm optimistic that with the arrival a new ambassador, we're going to see improvement in that relationship. >> i'm going to take the countervailing view to tom here which is it's not -- it's not about the united states dictating to other countries what they do inside their countries, but if events or decisions made inside a country affects the united states, then we do need to raise it. so i don't think it's in our interest for saudi arabia to be
in a group of countries that assassinate dissidents abroad. the other governments that do that are russia and north korea. it's not in our interest. if you extend that out, say it's not the business of the united states what takes place in other countries then what kind of jungle rule are we talking about? we're having a debate in our own country about whether or not the system of alliances and normative deha hafbehavio behav interest to reinforce. if you extend that loojgic out, should we not attempt to stop bashar al assad from gassing his own people or dropping barrel bombs on his own people? work with other countries to raise concerns when there's mass imprisonment of political dissents which inherently makes the countries more unstable, opens the door to more malign
actors, makes our ability to be partners with the country to lay grou -- so i think in terms of the ability of the united states to make saudi arabia change, no, that's what we're talking about. where there's change already happening that i think is areas for cooperation, we can find ways to partner and foster that. i dwo want to go back to the question of is there the way an make the saudis better in yemen? the core in congress has been intentionally versus capability. are the saudis intentionally destroying infrastructure and exacerbating the worst crisis or a matter of not knowing how to use precision-guided munitions effectively? determines wlr s whether or not think there's still an opportunity to work. the question is is the saudi -- our military is a learning organization.
we have civilian blood on our hands in many of the battles and military conflicts we're engaged in in collucluding in iraq and afghanistan. we have congressional oversight. our military is a -- by no means is the american military perfect, either. the question is there leadership within saudi arabia that wants to improve the conduct of their military operations? and are the americans going to shape that? and so right now, i think there's still an open question mere in congress as to whether they are learning organization, and whether or not it's a question of intentionality versus capability and then finally, we've been working for years with them to improve our operations. and i think the frustration you're hearing and the crisis in the relationship here in congress is after all of these years of seeking to improve the operations of the saudi mail tea military, it doesn't appear here that there's been improvement. >> we have about one minute.
is there anyone who has a final comment? well, you'll find the video of this event on our website by the end of the day. you want to watch it. you'll find the transcript in the next issue of the "journal." at the end of september. and i think it will be on the c-span archives as well. so you can revisit this discussion. and i'm sure we will, too. thank you very much to the panel and thank you to everyone for coming.
here's a look at our primetime schedule on the c-span networks, starting at 8:00 p.m. eastern, parents who lost children in tparkland, florida, discuss gun sastly. c-span it, immigration of customs enforcement testifies on oversight at his agency. on c-span3, a hearing examines high prescription drug prices and impact on patients. this weekend on american history tv, saturday at 5:00 p.m. eastern, a discussion about the 1980 refugee act. >> i think president carter's decision to push for that act and to implement it was a hugely important humanitarian decision and he deserves every bit of the credit that we've heard here today. that said, we have to be
realistic and say that that doesn't solve all the problems and, in fact, it creates some. then at 6:00 on "the civil war" renowned civil war scholar gary gallagher. >> whatever i did in academia should also have some dimension that reached out to people who were just interested in the era the way i had been when i was growing up and seemed there should be more bridges between academia and the public than there are and one of the key places that could happen i know also from experience is at battlefields where you could make a connection to the past in a way that you can't. >> sunday at 4:00 p.m. eastern on "reel america" the 1967 film "testimony of truth" details civilian industries and deaths caused by u.s. bombing in north vietnam. >> i used to come home from school very happy with all my folks. father, pomother, grandfather, d grandmother.
but all 15 of them including an unborn baby have been killed. only i have left. even little babies are innocent victims of these american air raids. and at 6:ha p.m., historians discuss health care policy since world war i. >> truman's was universal and would have covered everyone. polls show that initially, a majority of the public up to 75% supported the idea of health insurance for all via the social security system. >> explore our nation's past on american history tv all weekend, every weekend, only on c-span3. up next, a congressional panel looks at online platforms and their impact on entrepren r entrepreneurship in the u.s. we'll hear from google, apple, facebook and amazon officials who talk act e-commerce. this house judiciary subcommittee hearing is about 2 1/2 hours.