tv Middle East Institute Annual Conference - Panel on Middle East Policy CSPAN November 14, 2018 1:34am-2:54am EST
from the middle east institute a discussion about the war and u.s. foreign policy in the region, at the heritage foundation a discussion about the role of the federal judiciary and the supreme court, and former general david talks about u.s. relations with the arab world. at the middle east institute's annual policy conference in washington, a panel of former
government officials, diplomats command foreign policy analysts talk about the conflict in yemen and how it affects u.s. relations with saudi arabia and iran. this is an hour and 15 minutes. >> -- >> i'm going to be interesting -- i am going to be introducing the moderator. i am delighted to welcome courtney. courtney is the national [ inaudible ] on russia, north korea, and other national security matters, previously worked as a producer for mdc news. -- for nbc news. [ inaudible ] corning, --
courtney, thanks for doing this moderation. if you would please introduce our panels. >> thank you so much, paul. i really appreciate this. i am honored to be up here. i am honored to be at the conference and then with such a distinguished panel right now, and i had a whole set of questions, i am a chronic nerdy over prepare, and i have changed a lot of them. we are so lucky we have literally the most up-to-date view from the administration, from david hale just now. so i would like to start by introducing the panel, you know them all of course, so i will give a very quick intro. can at the end. a resident scholar. he works on middle eastern political military affairs, focusing on iran, iraq, and the gulf countries. he has held several positions at the sabin center for middle
east policy, something that several other panelists actually have in common. and he served twice as the national security council, first as director for near east and south asian affairs. and then as director for persian gulf affairs, and he also did some time in the persian gulf analyst at the cia which we will get into. derek, is executive vice president, and senior advisor for security and defense policy at the german marshall fund of the and it states. he was the assistant secretary of defense, advising secretaries of defense. and he served as senior director for strategic planning on national security staff under president obama, and as principal deputy of secretary of state, hillary clinton's policy planning staff, that is a long title. i have never had a title as long as some of these! as member of the obama biden presidential transition team.
at the far end, we have retired ambassador, jeffrey feldman. he joined the institution in june of this year, as a visiting fellow in foreign policy. he did over 26 years in the foreign service focusing largely on middle east and north africa. including a tour as assistant for affairs. before joining brookings, he served as the under secretary general for political affairs at the united nations where he chaired the un's counterterrorism implementation task force. robin wright, who i am please do not call her recovering journalist yet. served for years as the diplomatic correspondent for the washington post, where she reported from over 140 countries. in the middle east, europe, africa, asia, and latin america. she is now a senior fellow at the woodrow wilson center at u.s. ip. and she has been a fellow at brookings institution, carnegie
, yale, and duke. and she has currently been a contributing writer for the new yorker. welcome all. so i would like to start with what we just heard. this panel is supposed to focus on a couple of things. the u.s. position on these many proxy wars that are going on in the region right now. in the middle east. how the u.s. is maintaining relations with some key allies in the wake of many of these proxy wars is conflicts. the limitations of jc poa and the real implementation of these new sanctions just several days ago and then how this is all having an impact on diplomatic relations with the u.s. i would like to start with what we just heard from david hale where he was talking about the u.s. goals in syria. one of the ones that we have been hearing more and more from the administration is this goal of pushing iran and its proxies out of syria. if we could start there, i would like to go on a broad sense, what do you each see as the iran school in syria, and
then the u.s. ability to counter that goal? i guess we will start, you will be in the hot seat first, can. >> sure, thanks very much courtney. i want to thank all of you. it is great to be on this panel with some very old friends. briefly, because obviously i want to talk about this and a lot of different issues. i think iran's goals in syria are to maintain the offset resume and power or the control of syria, and make its own position in syria. i think that is a new goal, going into this i think they were much more concerned about the regime, i think that because of the positions they have taken they now see that as in and of it self an asset to iran, i don't think they are going to easily relinquish it. is it possible that the united states could accomplish the different goals undersecretary hale laid out? sure, they are the goals we
have done in other places. but of course this is the middle east, they are nothing but big butts. it is going to be very difficult and in particular, what i see out there, as the potential clash, between what would -- between what we consistently hear from this president which he is not interested in syria. he wants it to be pollutants problem. with this desire to do things like drive iran out of syria, you want to drive iran out of syria, that is a big deal. that is going to require a much bigger commitment from the united states and we have seen so far. and i don't yet see the trump administration being willing to make that kind of commitment. obviously there is a tremendous amount more that i could say about this but i will give the time to the college. >> a bigger u.s. commitment, militarily, financially, everything to >> yes. >> derek. >> i agree, thanks for having me, it is great to be with them, i agree with what ken has said
about iran's goals, i think those are pretty clear, and they are fairly transparent about that. and i also agree with the fundamental diffidence we see coming out of the current administration about how to approach addressing what iran's goals are, because on the one hand, we hear policies coming out, rhetoric coming out of the administration that sounds a lot like bernie sanders. we have to get out of the middle east, this is a huge mistake. but also a lot of rhetoric that sounds like the cheney. and how one can reconcile these two perspectives, i think it is a big challenge. because courtney you were just in syria in the last few weeks, so you saw this up close. but from where i sit, i see a u.s. military in a pentagon
that is willing to stay in syria or wants to stay in syria, it is fighting rearguard actions within the bureaucracy for a president whose instinct is probably to get out of syria. but they are also not really willing or very enthusiastic about taking on the challenges of the pentagon of really pushing back against her on. they want to stay. they want to maintain a presence. but they are very concerned about escalation, they are very concerned about managing risk. so the kinds of policies that i think many in the region, many of our partners, the israelis, they were thinking they were going to be seen coming out of the united states a year ago, a more aggressive effort to push back against iran militarily on the ground. we are just not seeing that. >> i, looking at what iran wants and syria, i think one of the big questions is does iran want to love and i syria?
in other words, open a second front and have enough missiles that can be fired under iranian control, or that is a second front, or does it want to use syria as a backstop to lebanon, to deploy equipment there that can then be taken into lebanon, and make lebanon just the one front. and even the israelis debate among themselves what the goals are. i actually think that when the iranians are already preparing for the kind of next phase, they are gaining what is happening in syria, we are all focused on the core it -- the current war, ending it. i think the iranians are deploying their personnel, for example, they have done the deal with the russians that they will pull out of 88 kilometers from the israeli and border. whether it is putting on syrian uniforms, or as i was told by
an intelligence source, even israel uniforms, that they figured how to cover, they are much more advanced in terms of thinking what plays out next. i think the iranians will stay long-term, they are there, you kneel with the idea we will ever get them out is an allusion. the russians, i think will pair them down to the bases they have at tartu's, and yes. they will want their conventional forces, they want to keep up what they had before. but they don't want to stay long-term. this is becoming costly for them. i think that is one front. on the other, the issue of u.s. goals, i have covered iran since 1973. and i've covered the iran-iraq war. what i used to do all the time
was to go into the supermarkets to figure out how desperate iranians were during the war, when meat was rationed, fuels ration. families can get their kids to school because public transportation was lousy. and the shelves were bare, you would see a few bags of rice or tea, but there was just, the basic commodities were scarce. when i go back to iran now, they can't keep portions in stock. there will be waves and shortages but you can get pampers diapers and oreo cookies, the smuggling network is very efficient. the idea we are going to squeeze iran economically anytime soon, is an allusion. we will get there oil sales down from 2.3 barrel, 2.3 million barrels down to probably 1 million barrels a day, but there are all kinds of schemes, whether there is talk of the russians buying discounted iranian oil. there will be a lot of discount offers, that will be very lucrative. and then the russians will be selling their oil and they will use the discounted iranian oil from their -- for their
domestic uses and profits -- pocket the profits. it will allow countries to continue to buy iranian oil that will have to go down every six months but probably never down to the .0. the iranians are gaming trump, whether it is two years or six years and they have been around for 5000 years and they know how to do this stuff. and so you know the idea that we can make our policy work, the danger is that ronnie is a lame-duck, there is the potential that he becomes another president to presidents go, who talked a great game, bringing down the wall and so forth but in the end being emasculated politically and the danger is that his original campaign on both engaging with the outside world and even
nuclear crisis and opening up the country economically, ending it status, will find it difficult. now iran has no incentive to cheat on the jcp away right now. it needs the europeans, the russians, and the chinese. they don't want all of them to join in u.s. sanctions. and so this is a serious situation, i am not trying to understate it at all. but there are, there are a lot of alternatives, they still have five of the six world major powers behind them, and so you know, i think there is a real disconnect, we saw one last point, we saw a demonstration in january and february, u.s. talks as if they want regime change. when the question is do they really want a regime change? and there is a difference. one is changing behavior, potentially you know, the leaders.
the other one is actually changing the whole system. the idea they will ever change the whole system is just hogwash. they have to either normalize, they have to adapt, they can't create utopias. so anyway, they may evoke some regime change, the danger is that it's the hardliners who emerge stronger out of this. >> it seems to me that the administration is serious about wanting to push back against the iranian region. they need to look at the background of how iran was able to exert its power through the region. it seems to be that iran does a very good job of playing in chaos. you look at the lebanese civil war, you look what happened in iraq after 2000 -- 2003, you look at syria, iran has been able to exploit those
opportunities to work in chaos in a way that countries like the united states or european powers don't tend to be able to do because of all of the methods they have. if you want to try to start dialing back iranian influence, stop giving them those opportunities. right now i would say yemen is one of those opportunities. the coalition hypes the iranian presidents, like behavior of the disease, when the coalition military campaign started. it was not entirely fictional but it was largely high, now the iranians is greater in yemen than it was when it started. you look at the fight among the gcc countries. it gives iran the ability to embrace it in a different sort of way. the first thing is simply stop giving them the opportunity to
expand their influence, by preventing these kind of foreign-policy gifts, that open the door for them. this is ancient history at this point but i am always struck by the impression i had when i accompanied the secretary of the united nations to tehran a few years ago where we had a meeting. with the supreme leader. i was his +1. there was a great picture, some of you may have seen with this meeting, that had me, and the iranian aid, and there was a caption contest at the state department. the winning caption was seated, left to right. see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil, and evil. >> [ laughter ] >> what struck me about this meeting, was the monologue was entirely about the united states.
here is the, he was hosting the movement, there were lots of international issues which iran was involved with syria the war was already well underway. but he chose to use the three- hour monologue to talk only about the united states. so it struck first of all by the depth of the obsession with the united states. but that is how he would use his meeting. but second, i was struck by how wrong he was about the united states. there are a lot a very sadistic and -- very sophisticated iranians. people who have studied here. people who study us now, who would be able if they had the access, the credibility to try to correct his impression. but it was completely fictional, his analysis of the united states, what was going to happen to the united states, at the time i thought i have been
in lots of meetings in washington where we talked about iran, and i am sure there were gaps in the knowledge about iran. gaps in our perceptions about iran. but i was assured at the time, that at least whatever our gaps were, our leader, our presidents, is not as ignorant. about iran. as the supreme leader of iran was about the united states. i hope that that is still the case. >> un-syria, the tools the united states have for pushing back against the iranians influence there, would include reconstruction. because i don't think either the russians or the iranians want to be handed the full bill for the type of reconstruction that syria needs. and there will be a move toward reconstruction. whether we like what's
happening or not. this will happen, there will be pressure in refugees going back, there will be european countries saying this is the best way to get the migrants back into their homeland, but to use reconstruction effectively as a lever, you have to have unity of donor countries. and it worries me, because i am not sure the united states will be able to promote the type of unified construction, given the jcp hill, given the direct -- given the declaration that they are in enemy. thank you. >> i would like to say on iran for just one round of questions and ask you each to go in on your areas of expertise, so ken, jeff was talking about gaps in intelligence, that the u.s. might have with iran. can you speak to that? where do you think the u.s., i
realize you have been out of government for some time, but where do you think the u.s. intelligence position is right now, with respect to iran? does the u.s. have a good picture, is they -- is the u.s. in a good position to be in the position with iran. if you could talk about the military piece of it. derek, how can the u.s. military and i guess allies, pressure iranians militarily if at all? robin, we definitely see your position, that they can pressure iran economically, so how do you see the uss position, how can the u.s. pressure iran? if at all? and then jeff if you could talk more, it is one of the few maybe only american officials who have met with them, since he became the supreme leader, what do you see as the best way for the u.s. to pressure iran,
what is the best u.s. policy that would be effective and potentially successful against iran? >> sticking with the intel piece, there is no question that u.s. intelligence with regard to iran has improved over the years, but it hasn't improved greatly in the area where we need it, because it's always the most difficult area of all, which is what is the leadership thinking? at any given moment? we have much greater ability to track iranian military forces, we have a greater ability to have a general sense of what is going on, in terms of the large- scale economic activity, all of that has improved over the years. the problem is, jeff was alluding to this before with his story, what is he going to do? robin made a very powerful argument, that the sanctions, the new sanctions are unlikely to change iranian behavior. that would be a critical
intelligence question. are the iranians moving, are they feeling the pressure from the sanctions in such a way that is likely to cause them to change their behavior? that is question number one and that will be huge and that will be very difficult because that speaks to a whole variety of sub- questions. what information are they getting about the state of their people? how unhappy are the people actually? do they care? if they are being told that the people actually are impoverished and unhappy and by care i mean at some levels, of course they care. the issue is do they care enough to change their policy or is there feeling that while the people may be unhappy but we don't want to change our policy for any number of reasons, these are absolutely critical intelligence questions and they are exceptionally difficult to answer. there is also a set of questions that flow from what if the iranians really are hurting? because it may be that the
administration is right and certain ways. we may do a lot of damage to the iranians through the sanctions, we may hurt their economy, their economy is in tough shape because of their own mismanagement over the years. added to that, some of our own activities but the sanctions may hurt them badly. if that is case, then the community is going to have to be in a position to they'll -- to tell the administration that the iranians are hurting, they are contemplating a change in the behavior, but then the question comes what is that change? we know president trump is hoping that the changes going to be i will be glad to sit down with you, i will agree to a new nuclear deal, that will be better than the obama administration thought, which i think is about all that really matters. as far as he is concerned. that may not be right. it may be that we really are hurting, we don't like this pressure, we are not just going to sit here and try to take it,
we are going to find a way to do something. that do something may not be negotiating. it may be pushback. especially given the state of iranian internal politics, how they read what happened with the jcp away, i actually suspect it is far more likely, that if the iranians do decide to change their behavior as a result of the sanctions, their first move is not going to be to sit down with donald trump, it is going to be to find ways to put pressure on us. the way that we have seen them try to put pressure on us in the past are ways that we don't like. terrorist actions, support for various proxies and insurgent groups across the middle east. attacking our allies, cyber attacks, i know the intelligence community is going to have to be in a position to answer all of those questions, so prepare the administration, what you never know, from the intel site, because when i was at the nfc, i always listen to the intel site.
whether they are going to listen. if they come in and say mister president we think the policy is working in the sense that it is forcing the iranians to think about change, but we don't think they are going to sit at the table with you. we think they are going to turn up the heat. you have got to get them to recognize that and to start moving to take action with enough time to actually do something about it. that may be the hardest thing of all, the intelligence community to convince this administration of. >> so on the military perspective, one of the probably underappreciated components of the previous administration's policy is that led to the jcp away, was a military pressure track. so it wasn't just economic pressure. it wasn't a willingness, it was also building up military pressure. that came in for components. posture, procurement, partners. and planning. and when i see what the u.s.
military is currently doing in the region, despite all the talk of disruption and of u.s. return to the region after withdrawal during the obama years, there is actually a remarkable directory -- remarkable degree of continuity. each one has gotten a little harder. think about the u.s. military posture, it has not changed fundamentally in the last four or five years in the region. it is still around 50,000 troops. you know, we still have our bases. if anything, that has gotten the posture has gone down a bit, because we have a rotating -- we have been rotating to debility out of the region, we have not had a group in the gulf since march of earlier this year and that is the longest it has been in 20 years that we haven't had the carrier presence in the gulf, during my time in government, we spent a lot of time working with the joint staff to ensure we always
had a carrier presence in the gulf as we were trying to also meet other needs around the world. and also the pentagon is working hard on implementing the guide for the national defense strategy which is all focused on the return of great power competition, which is playing out in the middle east as david mentioned. so you have got presence, which on the one hand has been fairly, no major shifts, but it is trending downward, despite a perception and now the u.s. is there and really ready to go. on procurement, again despite all of the talk, of big weapon sales, particularly to gulf countries, we haven't seen much of that in this administration. most of it is taking credit for things that happened before, and the prospect of large weapon sales in the future i think is really hard to see. particularly, even harder after the event of the election here, where i think congress comes
back, there is going to be a lot of discussion about what to do about the pending arms sales, and i don't see a big political appetite here in washington to push very hard on that and that was a big component of the obama administration strategy to build military pressure we have some of the biggest arm cells in american history to saudi arabia and arms deals with israel, that was a lot about building pressure and building their capacity to deal with an iranian threat. partners. so i give the administration credit for trying to continue the effort to build a greater cohesion, and muscle tissue. between the united states and our gcc partners in particular. there is a logical progression and it is a positive one, from the security cooperation forum which was in 2013 or 2014, to the u.s. defense ministerial, to the camp david process, to this misa idea. which was proposed in september
i think, prior to the murder and estimable, and so i think they were originally planning to have a meeting in january, i am not sure that is going to happen but i do give them credit for trying to move in that direction. i just think it is really hard given the state of the u.s. saudi relationship, and given the ongoing dispute with cutter. and then finally, planning. i am not sure, because we are not privy to classified planning but there is an amount of effort that needs to go into planning, military planning to ensure all options are on the table. should they be necessary to deal with the iranian nuclear program. we call that set the theater. to ensure we had capability in place to execute on any option. that is not something that happens naturally. that comes with a lot of hard decisions of resource decisions inside the pentagon. we have not heard a lot about that.
and my guess would be just given the overall trend of how we are moving some of our military forces in globally, is that we are not as prepared today, to execute on military options as we would have been three or four years ago. you could argue we have had the jcp away so there is less of a need but if we are in a post- world, and i agree with robin and ken and their assessment of the iranians, if we are assuming we are not going to be engaged in a diplomatic negotiation with the iranians anytime soon, if ever, under this administration, then the question of plans has to be back on the table and that is something we are talking about. >> don't get me wrong, iran is suffering, the value of the currency is a third of what it was a year ago. so, and it was sanctions at the end of the day that god the iranians to the table in 2013. so that is -- the day that got
the iranians to the table in 2013. everything, you have to gain something. if you had ronnie at the beginning of his administration, having come pain on something, obama interested in kind of changing in the aftermath of the arab spring and the chaos that spread across the region, one of the questions i think can mentioned, was the issue of the supreme leader's mind. and i had breakfast with him once. when he was president. and he was the first iranian revolutionary figure to come to new york, for the un, eight years after the revolution. it was 1987. and he was sent, the presidency then was not an executive presidency, the prime minister was the most powerful figure but he was dispatched.
basically, in the context of the iran contra, escalating toward the end, the very deadly end of the war, to try to repair relations with the outside world, iran was beginning its period every engagement with the world. after eight years of saying neither east nor west. he came with a mission to say we want to end the war, we want to engage with everybody. and there were about of a dozen -- there were about a dozen of us invited to a breakfast with him in new york. it was very striking jerk we had been told that this was the big deal announcement, this was the reason he would come, the first time since the ouster of the monarchy. about that time, the u.s. sunk the iran which was a ship in the gulf that was offloading mines during the war. and we think the ship and
killed the soldiers and had to rescue the rest of them. the supreme leader looked at this and felt like this was deliberate to ameliorate him. at two -- to humiliate him. of course it wasn't. he believes this was the u.s. showing what it really intended. he has never recovered from that. you cannot trust the united states. it has influenced his thinking, and his perspective on all negotiations, ever since. and i think that is really important to understand. things that we don't even remember, or back then, much less today. and so, this is, and this was a man who assumed the supreme
leadership as having been a weak president and he was put there at a time that the revolution was again trying to evolve from the islamic republic of iran, first and foremost islamic was trying to become a republic, but he didn't have his own power base, so very dangerous lesson in the future for when you try to put a weak man and power, where do they go to? they go to the military forces and that is what he did. for a guy who is a mediocre mind, to put it mildly, very limited experience with the outside world, not western educated, that he is not disproportionally powerful, he has been in that office now, for almost 30 years. three times, it is really important to understand how this process plays out. i was very struck, after the announcement of sanctions. one of the things the president
said, was we don't rule out sanctions. and that is what he said to me in september when i saw him at the united nations. he said in september, it is easier for us to go back six months than it is to go back six years. this week, a little covered, was his statement that we don't rule out negotiations but you have to go back to the terms you have already committed to, that the united nations has endorsed unanimously and then we will talk. so, this has not been ruled out and the iranians and some ways have taken the higher ground on this. and saying that they are willing to engage, but under certain conditions. one last point, and that is that when it comes to what else can we do to pressure, i think again, one of the on -- one of the unreported stories was the fact that iranians have announced there was another massive cyber attack, far more effective, this will be the
third that we know of. a cyber attack. and it penetrated their information systems. and information in iran is the synonym for intelligence. and so i think that the covert campaign in many ways, may be far more interesting dynamic, and imaginative, than the kind of sanctions that we all spend a lot of time talking about. >> i am curious what your impressions on him or. >> certainly, i think robin gave the background to the obsession that i witnessed in the meeting that i had, the meeting i attended when he met with him. but it wasn't as i said, it wasn't the obsession, it was just how wrong his analysis was
about the united states. it was based on ideology. it was based on paranoia. you know, it was, faxed in it penetrate. what he thought. i was in europe a few months ago, and met with, on the margin of a conference with a high-level iranian official. this was after the singapore summit, and after, and this official asked me whether i thought they could pull off a kim jong-il in. whether they could pull off a singapore like breakthrough with president trump. it was interesting that he asked that. my response i think was probably wrong, what i said was it would be far more difficult because in the cases of north korea, you had soul cheerleading. you had soul preparing it,
whereas in the case with iran, you have the emirate saudi arabia, israel, others pushing against it. you wouldn't have the reinforcement that you had in the case of north korea. but, soon after that, president trump indicated he would be willing. so, it showed the limits to my own analysis. but, robin, you and i were both in the same meeting that you thankfully asked the president if we could talk more on the record. there was, in addition to the meeting that robin had privately , there was a meeting in new york on the margin -- marginal general assembly, with 2000 americans with various backgrounds. it was supposed to be off the record and robin said can we put this on the record. he agreed to robin's rather persistent push. for being on the record. but, he at the beginning,
talked about how there was no roadblock that couldn't be, that couldn't be superseded. when things get really bad, is when the experts start talking. and that i found intriguing because it was different from what he said about how he could talk to trump but he couldn't talk to trump until they went back to where the u.s. has diverged from the path which they were walking. but he left the door open for expert level discussion which i thought was interesting. >> before we open it up for questions, i want to bring up one more topic on the idea of proxy wars. i am going to ask a very broad question, let's talk to you just. -- just -- jessica. >> a very broad question. do you believe the u.s. has the ability to pressure saudi arabia into ending the conflict in
yemen, and what is next? what happens next after the shooting stopped? >> i think it does have the pressure. i think that a colleague, bruce, talks about how quickly the saudi air force would be grounded if u.s. technical support spare parts, refueling within. it could happen very quickly. it's much different than longer- term arms sales, which wouldn't have the immediate impact of spare parts technical assistance and so forth. the yemen war is incredibly frustrating. as jerry, who was the u.s. ambassador knows very well, with great reluctance, they participated in the national dialogue process of 2013, early 2014, they signed on to the agreement, that was a give and take compromise that was very
complicated, 400 and some participants, all the major political regional groups of yemen participated. and then they used a fuel subsidy, demonstration a few months later to overthrow the results and take over the country. it is kind of frustrating to look and say well, i understand politically why it is difficult for so many people who say the war should just stop, because of the reasons behind the work, it hasn't been addressed. they did violate an agreement that was in the securities council resolution and took over the country. but the problem is, that all of the stated goals of the military conflict, or save the demands, that were in the security council resolution 2269 was adopted in the chapter 7 authority, haven't been met and are harder to meet now than they were. at some point, if you are in a hole, stop digging. and as i said, iranians force
is greater now. their military sophistication, is higher, they have better weaponry. everything is worse, then it was, and that is not even talking about the absolute humanitarian calamity. the catastrophe. the shameful, this war just needs to stop and the u.s. has the power and i would say that as awful as it is to contemplate doing some kind of transactional deal over the jamaal murder, it is unacceptable what happened to someone that many people in this room new, still, it provides the leverage for the u.s. to say we need to preserve the overall saudi relationship, which the u.s. does. we need to somehow get past this. we can't pick who the saudi crown prince is or isn't. but that yemen war has got to stop. >> robin. >> i agree, that jamaal's death certainly created a dynamic, that allows for a kind of
unspoken arrangements, but pressures the saudis, by putting, whether it is weapon sales or visibility of the issue, and of their human rights abuses on the table. my sense is, in this twitter verse, twitter universe, that there needed to be much more momentum to make that happen. that we are already seeing the rehabilitation campaign for mohammed, the king yesterday went with his son across the country, to effectively endorse him, say he is my boy, and not going to be any changes. and the idea that he will pay a price, now he may be we can some portfolio taken away from him or whatever, but the thing that is so striking, is that over the past week since secretary mattis first rolled
out the idea of having talks by the end of november, with a sense of urgency, that the saudis have doubled their airstrikes. and this isn't -- this is an in- your-face reaction. i don't think it is gaming for leverage or territory, i think it is a statement. we make the decisions, and it is playing so even if they under for some reason do it under the negotiating table, that we are not likely to see a process that leads someplace, that is the sad part. i think there is a way to gauge negotiations going. i am not sure there is the will to do it. and i think there are, one of the things, this is a by the way largely a pentagon initiative to push, this was, it was mattis who rolled it out , then again gave the timeframe of the speech, and the
statement that pompeo issued i am told was drafted at dod. so this is something he is pushing and i don't think it reflects the will to new energy. within the administration, to end the yemen were. i do think there is a recognition in the pentagon that look, we are the ones vulnerable because we are refueling 20% of the saudi plains, we are the ones who are providing the bombs. that are killing civilians. and providing the intelligence that tells them where they are going and the saudis are ignoring it. the pentagon is not really happy about the way the saudis have implemented or have used or abused the equipment and information that we have given them. i also think the pentagon is very aware that the president of yemen is ill. he spent much of the last two months at the cleveland clinic. he has serious heart problems. and even though he has been an exile since 2015, for a number
of years, that i think he has gone back and made these brief trips, but the government doesn't control its own capital. the problem is if he dies, his vice president is from the islam party. the president is the saudi man, the vice president isn't. and so what you do, is you have a complicated scenario where there is military chaos already, and then there is the rivalry over which government is saudi arabia actually trying to put back in control. and fat, you see a political process that unravels and it makes it even harder. i think that is something that there is an awareness, a confluence of factors and then you throw in jamaal's death, and that has given more focus. again, i am not convinced that it is going to lead anyplace, it needs, the u.s. is talking about the un, margins taking
the lead on this, and the fact is we are deferring to him. unless the united states takes a lead and pounds the table and says we are using our leverage. to defer to the un and met -- and yet another employee who deals with syria, it is not going to go anyplace. and it will drag on for years, and so again, it is a great idea, wonderful that we are seeing attention, but will it lead anyplace? i am yet to be convinced. >> jeff, do you agree that the saudi's strike ... do you see that as more of a strategic than technical move by the saudi's right now? do you agree with that? >> do i see this more strategic? >> yes, than technical? >> no. look, i agree with everything robin has said, that we got leverage. there is clearly debate playing out as robin has said within this administration about how
to use this leverage and whatever is motivating the pentagon, they are clearly the ones leading this increasing volume of criticism, now there is a question again about how widely shared is that within the administration, there is absolutely a rehabilitation of nbs campaign underway, that is getting some traction, however as i said earlier with congress coming back, and the new configure of congress, that is going to be harder. in a lot of ways, he was lucky that our congress was out of session so there wasn't hearings on capitol hill. there wasn't this kind of drumbeat of analysis and criticism. but i think it seems to be we are going to use, u.s. will use leverage regarding yemen, either the administration or will -- the menstruation will get out of head of it. now what does that -- the administration will get out ahead of it. now what does that mean? i am humbled by the limits of
our leverage often. we played a lot around the military assistance to egypt trying to influence the calculations and cairo, and that had limited access -- limited success. there is the kind of on one end of the second investment the spectrum, there is the right l plan, we just shut it down. >> and they say, and how they can reconcile the increased leverage regarding yemen and how much they want to make the war be a privilege over the other goals that they have, it
will be a very difficult set of choices they will have in the coming months. finally, going back to robin, there's does feel like there is a lack of a diplomatic push year. it is unclear to me other than supporting the un envoy and we should support it, but making that your big-play diplomatically to bring this to an end. it is not clear who the administration would even play this role. pompeo, i don't see him doing this and maybe david is going to step up and do it. we don't even have an assistant secretary of the nea right now. if there even is a decision to use a leverage, how they executed is an open question. >> i will be the skunk at the garden party. can we force the saudis to end their conventional intervention in yemen?
we could. that is about it. let's be very clear. that will not end the yemen civil war. the war was burning before the saudis intervened and before the iranians intervened. the saudis greatly exaggerated the iranian threat, but has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. they are there, and that war will keep going because of its own internal dynamics. we have seen any number of civil wars before, and we know how they end. withdrawing external intervention sometimes is a necessary precondition, but it is never sufficient to end a civil war. often times, it is counterproductive. you actually need for an intervention often times to end a civil war.
if we force the saudis to end or remove their conventional intervention, it will not remove the iranians from yemen or remove the military threat to riyadh. this is something you can blame the saudis and said it never would have happened if you would not have intervened, and that is probably a fair statement, but that is irrelevant and you cannot change the past. and now the saudis do have a very real threat to saudi arabia and lobbing missiles at riyadh is no small thing. we would not be terribly happy if someone was lobbing missiles at washington, dc. even if they was missing, it would be a very big problem. let's also understand that none of this is likely to affect the community -- humanitarian situation. my wife used to work for one of the big aid organizations, mercy corps, and she and i
would fight all the time over syria where she kept saying how do we feed more serious. my response was the same. in the syrian civil war. until you do that, you are not going to deal with the humanitarian problem in there. the humanitarian problems and the civil war in yemen is much bigger than simply the saudis conventional military intervention. most of the civil wars we have in the world and certainly the ones we have in the middle east today are about state failure and security vacuums. until you fill the security back from -- vacuum, and forge a power arrangement that is workable and allows the different parties to start building a state, you will not end the civil war. we have seen this over and over and over again. it is all well and good for us to blame the saudis for the
tragedy in yemen and all well and good to say that maybe we should try to push the saudis to pull back. that is not the solution to the yemen civil war. it is not even clear if that is the start of a solution to the yemen civil war. there is a good argument to be made out there and that is the vast majority of civil wars that have ended and ended quickly, ended with a military victory of one side. if you want limited civilian casualties in the civil war, the best way to do it is half one side win and one side win fast. right now, the saudi back coalition has the upper hand. if you really want to end the civilian casualties, the smart thing might be to back them to the hilt, and that may be the fastest way to do this. that also may also be intolerable, but we need to recognize that civil wars have dynamics of their own, and just
causing one group that we have been to be unhappy with at the moment to pull back isn't going to end the civil war. when the full cost and humanitarian death count is taken of the yemen civil war, my guess is we are going to look at it and say this is because of how long the war burned not because of who is involved. that is typically what civil wars are about and typically how that death count is measured -- the death count is measured. >> you agree that the way to end the conflict in yemen is to double down on it militarily? do you think the world, a larger, >> i have a slightly different position than i was articulating there. i actually do believe that civil wars can be brought to a negotiating conclusion, but they require for an intervention.
it has to be the right strategy with the right force level. i would like to see them to back the saudis to take, and then force them to sit down and make a deal. >> what we know about how you bring a negotiated settlement to is civil war is that you first need a stalemate in which neither side or no side believes they can win a military victory, but every side believe they can lay down their arms without repercussion. you need a power-sharing arrangement among all the parties in which each party has political weight and economic benefits with the demographics. finally, you need some kind of an institution that will make sure that the first two conditions hold firm for 10-20 years. template that it's an external peacekeeping force and if you have a nelson mandela handy, he
can do that job. i don't see that in yemen, but as a result, you will probably be looking at that external peacekeeping force. that is how the scholars measure it and 40% of all civil wars since 1991 have been ended in exactly that fashion. but you have to be willing to do that. that probably would mean convincing the uzis -- the people they cannot win. it will require us to pull back and say you are not going to win the military victory. you are going to sit down and make a reasonable concession. >> i wanted to take a view minutes and opened it up to questions in the audience. >> how do you think the election results on tuesday will affect the united states and middle east policy?
>> anyone want to take it? >> the election was not about foreign policy, and even those former colleagues of many of hours in the room who ran for office and was foreign policy experts do not get even asked about foreign policy. there is no mandate one way or another, but given the configuration of the new congress when it comes into session, particularly in the house with the democrats who are going to seek much greater scrutiny of the administration policy across the board, and in the middle east, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. there will be an effort among democrats to keep the embers of the investigation live in some ways, and it will be an interesting dynamic and what can see when the european colleagues come to washington and do the customary meetings with folks in the administration, but go to
capitol hill, and now they are going to be sitting down with the democratic speaker of the house and they are going to be talking about things like iran and there is going to be a lot more agreement then there would have been six months ago, and how the administration handles that, you can write the tweet popout when you see the picture of nancy pelosi with the german foreign minister. as we were talking earlier on yemen, there is a much higher scrutiny on u.s. arms sales, therefore i don't see congress having much appetite to passing through any of those. in general, there is a lot more questions being raised, and i think that suggests an administration that is going to be more seeds -- besieged on its policy and how these policies are going to work. i think for the middle east and partners looking in from the outside, it is probably going to seem confusing that it has
already been to this point. >> so david hill speech was really noteworthy and left out one subject that was a constant among decades, and the middle east process which president donald trump came to office and set it is not as difficult to solve as everybody says. the plan of jared kushner is going to be unveiled for a long, long time. now they say right up until the death of the journalist in saudi arabia, and the reality is that it is further from reality rather it is unveiled or not because of what the president did over the last year in jerusalem, cutting off aid to the palestinians and shutting down the nomadic mission here. somebody has asked the palestinian contact as the flags waving, their mission,
has not ended their washington post subscription and the post is piling up on the front steps of the embassy. so this is where i think that is the one initiative that they want it for. when you think of the goal, that was the one they was going to do down and dirty and say done. i think that is not going to happen during this first term or the term of the trump administration. >> my question is first i have to qualify saying i am no fan of are on and iran has a dismal human rights record. but why do we give the saudis such a pass? if we are talking about united states security, the saudis are not keeping the region secure.
if we are talking about the funding, and giving resources to al qaeda and isis, they are behind that and it is interesting mister pollick that you -- kenneth m. pollack that you referred to iran as terrorist, but the saudis that was possibly chopped up and burned in acid, and was a permanent resident of the united states, so constantly, we give saudi arabia this past that we don't give to our on. many people say that the iran is more natural allies to the united states if we worked it in saudi arabia would be. i don't understand why in terms of u.s. interest that saudi arabia is deemed a good friend and not iran. >> that was something that i wrote down from his speech when he talked about the human rights record up iran but didn't talk about other places in the region. even turkey. anyone? >> to be clear, what i said is
that iran engages in acts of terrorism. it is not to say that other countries don't. it is to say the iranians do. now we come to your question. first about the iranians and someone who has championed every single american effort, the problem that we have goes back to the point that both jeff and robin made before. the problem that we have had and we have made sincere efforts to rebuild relations with iran is that the iranians don't want it. i actually do believe that some people absolutely would like a relationship with the united states. i actually was very much in favor of the obama administration effort to use the jc poa, and it was only supposed to be part of a wider effort to have a better
relationship with the ron, and i thought that was exactly right. president clinton -- iran, and i thought that was exactly right. i did everything i could with president clinton and what we found every time that even though in every occasion there was iranians who wanted the exact same thing, the leadership didn't. the leadership defining us as their enemy and acting as if we was there enemy deliberately trying to harm our interest. so we can say yes and theory that iran would be a great ally to the united states. it was under the shock, -- shawl -- shaw, and we have to be careful there. when we go back to regime change at some point in time we have a new leadership in iran,
but they will want a better relationship with us. i think that they would be more beneficial to us. finally, in regard to the saudis, the difference there is that the saudis do define us as the great ally and great protector and always have done so. while there is no pressure! question it has been a problematic relationship for many years, they have also acted to advance our interest just as we have acted to advance there's. i can remember in the 1990s when we would come to the saudis with all kinds of stuff that had nothing to do with the middle east. we would say to the saudis we need your help and they was there. the saudis funded the quito deal, the white water reactors for north korea. it was simply that we asked them to do so even though they was not interested. they had some interest and there was no question about that. but that is the first part and
why we have a relationship with them because we do have a shared interest and they do lots of things for us. but the truth in your question is that administration after administration after administration has consistently look the other way at the misdeeds of the saudis, but any number of our allies in the middle east and frankly beyond. what i hoped that we had learned in 2011 was that doesn't pay off in the long run. in the long run, these governments, especially many of our allies in the middle east, it desperately needs to change. if they don't, they are going to be swept away by revolutions, and when they are, we are going to pay the price for having looked the other way at all of the misdeeds toward their own people. >> among those countries that we are giving a total pass is egypt.
what it is doing and being held to account by nobody as far as human rights, and on the point of hoping for regime change in iran, the supreme leader is only a year older than nancy pelosi. [ laughter ] >> i like kenneth m. pollack's assessment . as we see in syria, one side won. but coming back to syria and the u.s. looking for leverage, good to be some card that we can play, and it is that we are a minority in iran. thank you. >> look, the striking thing about iran and i made the point much earlier, is that we are looking for whether or not it is regime change or regime name,
in a country where there is no visible opposition. the opposition is able to pay a lot of prominent american european and canadian officials to come to the annual conference in paris, but in terms of having an impact inside of the country, it is almost 0. there are a real protest in the arab part of our on. -- are on. -- iran. if you go down to parliament, whether or not there is 350 people that had not been paid in three months, or there is a price hike in electricity or they are not getting electricity, that this is a very engaged population. even when there is a crackdown, people continue to get out. iran is 51 -- 51% persian, but
there is a lot of minorities in the southeast that has been most act in challenging the regime within a certain kind of geographic in iran. in terms of a viable opposition to challenge the regime itself, it is not there yet. over economic issues and part of the country and gender issues, and things have changed, and there is a certain and i hate to say the word flexible, but there is a volcanic dimension to this revolution. women drive their cars now and there is an area that the government put in, and girls at night go there with their long hair flowing. it is a very different kind of environment, so there is a few outlets, but
in terms of capitalizing on the a rab -- arab or different component, there is not something inside of the country. but iranians are good at griping and they grab whoever is in power over economic conditions. so the big challenge for the u.s. intelligence community is to actually decipher if this is something that is going to produce changes or force that regime to change, or is this something that is part of the person society. >> i think it is a great question and i will take it up. is it possible that we had the carrots alone work? it is possible. i am a little bit skeptical and the issue that we have in syria right now is that we are between two models of how a civil war ends. the model that seems to be working is the victory. the iranians and russians very
much had the upper hand and they are looking to culminate their victory and we are trying very hard to stay that off and force that into some kind of a power-sharing arrangement the holding onto a certain amount of territory and holding up a prospect of reconstruction. could that work? maybe. maybe if we had jeff in there to handle but diplomacy, but that will be really tricky because it means shifting from one model and the victory of one side to that more negotiated solution. historically, you don't get to that negotiated solution unless you have much more military pressure, which is what i was referring to when courtney asked me the original question. unless we are going to threaten the outside regime and threatened its control over the vast majority of the syrian population, they don't have much of an incentive. i do think it is possible, but what i fear is that we get our
self into a lebanon situation, where we and many other countries are providing lots of assistance and trying as hard as we can to condition it. but because one side has more or less won it and in control, money and only pay lip service to the conditions we impose. that would be the real risk of going down that path. >> we have one more minute so if each of you want to ask a question, that we can try and take them both at the same time. >> my question will be on turkey. so many questions about iran and saudi arabia, and turkey was one of the countries and was able to get a wavier from the recent iranian sanctions, but the president bows to defy those sanctions in the future. there is also this case that the turkish bank and that u.s. treasury might be imposing a
fine, so also bearing in mind of the recent fallout with the murder of the journalist, how do you think this will play out for turkey? >> fortune, i also want to talk about turkey. -- fortunately, also want to talk about turkey. there is a serious potential of conflict between the united states and turkey on the kurds and syria. we have been trying to cooperate with them on the one hand, but there is all signs of conflict east of the euphrates that we are headed to conflict if we are going to defend our a rab and kurdish powers there. what is your assessment any of you aware we are going in our policy toward turkey in dealing with what is going to happen east and that your freddy's? >> -- your freddy's -- river?
>> the turkeys have struck, and halted their fight against isis. i would also be curious if any of you have phoenix about that it seems there might be some momentum for the deputy general manager who is in jail right now for 32-36 months, and there seems there might be some sort of a deal to send him back to turkey despite him being convicted of sanction innovations with our on. -- iran. anyone? [ laughter ]>> i think the question of where we are going with turkey, i think it will be modeled and the leader has had a good few weeks the way he has been using the reporters affair
and been in the driver seat on a lot of the us. actually, if we believe what is in the news the last few days, he has some other cards yet to play that he has been holding, and so we will have to see how that plays out. it is hard for me to imagine given the confluence of issues that the u.s. and turkey have fundamental disagreements. whether or not it is related to iran or europe or what is happening inside of turkey or syria, there -- that the prospect for anything is not much better than muddle through. i think the tension between the turks and the kurds is something we have been dealing with for years. we have seen flareups now and again and i think of the last year or so, it got very dire in terms of the tension, and we just kind of make our way through it. i don't have great optimism
that it will get much better anytime soon, and because i don't think the prospects of the situation inside of turkey under the current president is going to improve much, given the other interest that we have in play, we will try to keep it from getting much worse, but be prepared for the fact that it will. >> the u.s. and turkey is engaged in this back-and-forth the negotiations and has been fascinating, and this whole thing. i think we are about out of time and so sorry that we cannot get to all of the questions. i want to thank the panel and know that you guys are probably accustomed to hearing from experts and geniuses all of the time at this kind of events, but i am really honored to be part of something with there is literally decades of experience and expertise on the middle east and on the region that we was able to get so much insight from them today. thank you to all of our panelists.[ applause ]thank you.
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