November 16, 2016 - The first panel of the Middle East Institute’s 70th Annual Conference, "After the Elections: Reassessing U.S. Policy in the Middle East" featured James Zogby (Arab-American Institute), Ambassador (ret.) Thomas R. Pickering (Hills & Co.), Mary Beth Long (M B Long & Associates, PLLC), Elizabeth Schrayer (U.S. Global Leadership Coalition), and Moderator Indira Lakshmanan.
Indira Lakshmanan: And, these folks need no introduction, but I’m going to introduce them anyway. And, their further details of their very impressive bios are in your programs. Mary Beth Long sitting next to me is a lawyer and longtime government official who served as a CIA operations officer before working at the DoD – eventually as Assistant Secretary of Defense for international affairs. She since then founded her own company, specialized in international compliance law, government contracting, international consulting, and in 2012 she was a national security adviser to Mitt Romney's campaign.
Tom Pickering, I think everyone in this room knows Tom. He was former Undersecretary of State for political affairs the number three job at the State Department, he was US ambassador to almost every country you can think of including Russia, India, Israel, and the United Nations. He is now a senior vice president at Boeing and serves on many foreign policy boards ...
Thomas Pickering: I’m no longer with Boeing.
Indira Lakshmanan: Oh, no longer, okay.
Thomas Pickering: I consult for Boeing.
Indira Lakshmanan: Okay, thank you.
Thomas Pickering: That’s been a subject of some notoriety.
Indira Lakshmanan: Well, okay that's true – with regard to their own deal –
Thomas Pickering: I work for Carla Hill, so –
Indira Lakshmanan: Okay, with, okay the Hills Group – so we will – but Tom was very – an important figure in the Track II dialogue on Iran and talking about what the Iran deal might look like. Sitting next to Tom is Liz Schrayer, she's president and CEO of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, which is a broad-based coalition of over 500 businesses and NGOs that advocates strong U.S. global leadership through development and diplomacy. She runs her own political consulting firm and previously was national political director for AIPAC – American Israel Public Affairs Committee – and also an advisor to USAID.
And, next to Liz is James Zogby who I know again all of you know – founder and president of the Arab American Institute – does policy research and extensive of polling about and across the Middle East. He's a member of the executive committee of the Democratic National Committee, and he was appointed by President Obama to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
All right, so as Wendy indicated there are people who want to reassess U.S. policies in the Middle East. And, people want reassurance about Middle East policy coming out of the White House. So, the purpose of this panel is to sort of set the table for the rest of this conference and give everyone an overview of how this new administration should and might approach the Middle East policy in view of the many crises that are facing the region. Obviously, there's going to be completely new leadership in the White House, and throughout the executive branch.
We don't know yet who all of those will be. Maybe our panelists will be able to give us some hints on who they're betting on for Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and the rest. And, there'll be some new folks in place on committees at Capitol Hill. And, now with an all Republican leadership in the White House, and across Capitol Hill, I think we also have a lot of questions asked about what will that mean. Will there now be a unified Middle East policy?
Also, I think that maybe we can start off with Jim because if we – if we want to know – I would like to know what your polling shows about foreign policy preferences among voters – particularly the younger voters who were paying so much attention to – as you know we all remember – think everyone in this room is old enough to remember in 1992 when James Carville famously said – it's the economy, stupid.
No election is a foreign policy election. Whenever I hear people say this was not a foreign policy election, I think there's never a foreign policy election. But, in some elections, people talk about foreign policy more than others. I think probably all of us wish foreign policy had been talked about more than it had been, but Jim want to start us off and tell us what the polling shows, what do the American people want?
James Zogby: I think they just told us what they want, and it's a deeply divided country. There are – there's actually no clarity as to what the American people want, but what I can say is that when we speak about millennials, or the first "globals" as my brother refers to them – is this is a generation that grew up post-911 – two failed wars, lack of trust in governance, and in some ideals, and a sense about the world that connects them in ways like the Internet, and globalization – in ways that my generation – our older generations just don't get.
And, I think in many ways Bernie Sanders captured that. I remember the excitement in my community when he spoke about Palestine. To be clear, the issue wasn't just Palestine, it was a litmus test for authenticity. He was making a point. this is an issue that Bernie never talked about before and didn't actually have the familiarity to know all the nuance – made some mistakes in some interviews – but when he said that they deserved rights, and we can't continue to support Israel and everything it does – there was a sense that my God he's telling – he tells the truth about everything.
He's not typical of politicians, and I think that that's where more millennials are, and that millennials are actually driving the Democratic Party agenda more than the other way around. When I was growing up we looked to the older generation to drive the agenda. It’s younger people, as we saw with Obama, as we saw with Bernie, and Secretary Clinton's problems were that she lacked that same authenticity. And so, she held the same coalition that Obama did, but in a greatly reduced percentage of voters from each of those demographics. And, that wasn't enough to win.
I think that Donald Trump also captured a sense of where the particular demographic that he represents – wants to take the country. They are also wary of foreign involvements – and you can call it isolationism if you wish, but after two failed wars and daily suicide rates among veterans that are shocking to anyone who knows the number. The sense of trauma of we just don't get it right, why are we doing this has taken hold.
And, in his campaign in any case Donald Trump both wanted to make America, great, strong and project our power in the world, but at the same time wary of foreign involvement. That reflects where that side of the aisle is at. There are still the John McCains and Lindsey Grahams – who want American engagement. There are similarly those on the Democratic side who want that kind of foreign military and foreign diplomatic engagement. But, that's not where the core constituency that elected Trump – or the core constituency that was represented by Bernie Sanders are at.
So, it's actually a divided country weary of war, weary of new war – looking for authenticity and honesty in how we approach foreign affairs. But, without any other guiding principles – so I don't think that there's a specific ideological perspective that comes through. This is not a neocon or a realist agenda. This is more of a gut reaction to it hasn't worked, we need something new.
Indira Lakshmanan: Tom, I see you nodding your head. Jim says it's not a neocon agenda, and it's not a realist agenda either. Of course, we as journalists have been grappling with trying to figure out what the Donald Trump administration will mean for foreign policy, and both of those words have gotten thrown out. You’re shaking your head no – tell us what it really is.
Thomas Pickering: Well, Indira, I come here this morning wondering why anyone would put on an exercise in futility which we are about to attempt. And, I’ll get to your question in just a second but there are three bases that any analyst could use to judge the future foreign policy of the next administration. And, I’ll repeat them but aside from the fact that they're almost all unreliable – highly unreliable or partially unreliable, we are in a situation where a question mark remains perhaps the greatest expression of reality in the current moment.
The three bases are certainly what the man has done, what he has said, and the people that he chooses to accompany him.
You talked about the latter a moment ago, and I think that at the moment, there's nothing there yet except two individuals to occupy the White House – one has been outrageously rejected by a large share of the public – and the other the public has remained silent on this stage – the choices for Secretary of State I think are between those who – between a person who really knows nothing about the subject, and one who has such particularly ingrained ideas that he's unlikely to, put it this way, to be as welcome as Secretary of State, as he was this Undersecretary of State in the broader general outside public in the world.
My deep concern is that there is no ideology and I think I was nodding my head with Jim both in the youth that you asked about – and I think maybe across-the-board there is no ranking of Foreign Affairs high enough in the list of trenches – subjects to believe that it will be a dominating concerned. I agree that the economy and its ramifications is perhaps going to play a major role, like it or not, and where we go – and I think the question of the future of the Middle East is sort of in between Scylla and Charybdis on this one.
In the one hand I admire Mr. Trump for his disinterest in fighting new foreign wars. On the other hand, I cannot admire the policy pronouncements which all tend to lead in that direction. And, so one is only I think – that's the slightest in faintest expression of what has to be a total confusion about the man from what he has said about what he wants to do. And I think that's a highly unreliable point.
I agree with those who say that someone who receives a majority of the electoral vote, not a majority of the popular vote. in to some extent in the legitimacy – is the legitimacy of a framework that doesn't reflect what I would call the popular vote result – nevertheless it's a legitimacy that we have built for ourselves in our own form of democracy. And so one has to respect that individual's abilities, and capacities, to put together something that can deal not only with the electorate that supported him, but I have to say the majority that didn't in some ways.
And, we need to keep that in mind. In the Middle East there is no I think more difficult and challenging time for us. Mr. Trump's affinities for Israel are there, they're out on the table – what he thinks about other countries and states – he's made comments and remarks about Syria – he's created for himself a position, put it this way, of absolute serene confidence – with respect to ISIS which I find hard to really believe and trust. And he has, I think, a sense that, as I said a moment ago, I respect about committing ourselves rapidly, and put it this way, maybe expensively.
And, in some cases – somewhat uselessly or somewhat malevolently to new fighting as the sovereign way to deal with issues. I disagree with him on tearing up the agreement on Iran. I think that there are things that he could do to perfect the Iran agreement. And, one would hope that rather than tearing up as the first propensity – moving the Iran agreement ahead. I for one believe that there are principles in the Iran agreement that could be used as a global standard for dealing with enrichment and for the separation of plutonium.
And, I don't mean to get into the details, and I won't but I think that there is something there that could be adopted and used both by the five permanent members of the Security Council with themselves – have said they aren't making any more fissile material for nuclear weapons. And, that might be something that could be put together and solidified, and I hope to do an Op Ed on the subject later on. So, I won't bore you with the details now.
But, there's an opportunity there to take something, but the approach to it is destroy first and create, rather than build on what's been established, and I hope the ladder would be something could be useful.
Indira Lakshmanan: Alright Tom, well we can get back to specifics like Iran later in the conversation, and I don't – I’m skipping over Liz for the moment only because I saw Mary Beth write down on her pad "legitimacy" and circle it as Tom was talking, so I know that she wants to respond to the question of the legitimacy of the new president.
But, Mary Beth you know you're the one person sitting up here at this table who's actually worked for the CIA and actually worked for the DoD. When Donald Trump says, "I know more about ISIS than many generals," should we feel some confidence about that? Does he on some level know more that we don't know? Because clearly the United States has not fixed the problem. Although, I will say, one thing that seems to have gotten lost in the campaign is that fifty percent of ISIS territory in Iraq is now gone because of the U.S.-led coalition campaign. Twenty-five percent of its territory in Syria is gone because of the U.S.-led coalition campaign. So, tell us where did you know – I think it was Tom who said that foreign policy isn't breaking through in the agenda.
But, the polling I looked at, specifically Pew polling, which I think is quite reliable, showed that while the economy is the number-one concern of voters, terrorism is number two, and a very close number two – with more than eighty percent of the people in America concerned about terrorism during this election. So, let's address that first Middle East question head-on.
Mary Beth Long: Absolutely, and I appreciate that I probably have a slightly different perspective than the rest of the panelists. And, I may be presented – perhaps many people in the room. I did flinch at the discussion of legitimacy – I think that's counterproductive – I think it's self-serving to the extent that we are still trying to figure out whether the country's legitimate exercise of our democratic process – which distinguishes the electoral college from the popular vote – was or wasn't legitimate. It was legitimate. We have a president. many of us may in this room disagree with what he has said or represents, but I think continued undermining of questioning as to whether or not this president represents the will of the people is not something this country needs right now.
And, I think the people have spoken to the extent that they have said very clearly I want an administration, a President, and a foreign policy of strength – period. And, like I have said, these people do that.
Indira Lakshmanan: What does strength mean?
Mary Beth Long: I think part of what they're looking for is a reflection and a projection of American interests first at home. This gets to the issue of the economy. Many people, and I won't spend time on that, I think voted, and I think it's very clear in the polling and in people's reflection, that they didn't feel that what was going on as far as the economy was concerned was helping them.
But, secondly, and I agree with your sentiment – that there's a lot of frustration of our Middle East policy and our global policy – and that a lot of the problems either have been the result, or in part a result, of failed foreign policy or failed endeavors and undertakings in the past – and an unclear reflection of what our policy is now other than elevating Iranian impression policies to the detriment of the rest of the region.
And, exacerbating Shia and Sunni issues by doing so – and that we have not stepped up and done what we said we would do in important conflicts including those in Syria and in other places where migration has severely undermined the viability of emerging nations such as Iraq, Jordan has a very difficult circumstance, Syria to the extent it does exist, at the displaced persons problems, and the power purpose within the country.
We've got Yemen, where there is a conflict that I don't think anybody can foresee the result of, and certainly nothing that even comes close to reflecting the Yemen we have in our mind of just a couple years ago. So, we've got a mess and I think it's not helpful to talk about the next four years in the administration that is – is going to be undertaking. Probably, and I agree with the ambassador, probably the most interesting – certainly the most difficult time in certainly my memory, in the Middle East, by questioning legitimacy from the very get-go.
We have a president, we have an administration, I think it is our moral and civic duty to get behind them, and make them as successful as possibly – as possible. I also worry a bit that we've collapsed, particularly in the Democratic campaign, into this idea that engagement – foreign engagement equals war. That, in many respects, has led us to many of the problems that we have, and the problems the region is suffering.
There are all kinds of engagement, and I applaud the administration for probably one of the most active engagements, and arguably one of the most successful or unsuccessful depending on your point of view – which is the undertaking with Iran nuclear agreement. That was an engagement. It was an engagement that will serve as the legacy for this administration, and this president, for good or for ill. But, it was one in which we projected strength and we got the agreement that we bargained for.
I have issues with that agreement. I think it is – I think the president is right to question some of the fundamental principles. But, even to the extent that he doesn't, I think there is engagement that is certainly designed to see whether or not the Iranians are living up to it – number one and number two – whether the agreement was fatally flawed by not including the missile programs, and ignoring what Iran is doing as far as its meddling which have gone far beyond anything that we all recognize 10 years ago in Iraq – through Hezbollah, through Shea militia, through undermining of the political systems that do exist in the rest of the Gulf.
And, I'll stop there, but I do have a slightly different take. And, for me the tone of this really important meeting, and I thank the folks for the invitation, that should be a little bit of we are where we are. Now, how are we going to go forward? There are challenges, but there are opportunities. And, I think one of the things we can best do is help our government, and particularly this president-elect, in taking advantage of those opportunities, and capitalizing on those positives that the region does represent.
Indira Lakshmanan: Alright, well Liz, if we start with that concept of we are where we are, and where do we go from here – in last two years you were leading a bipartisan effort to try to basically ensure that both candidates for the White House and Congress would support American global leadership, and particularly where it comes to the question of development and humanitarian crises.
So, what do you know about Donald Trump's vision for American leadership? He’s used this term "America first," let's not sit here and debate all day. America first, in the origin of that term from the 1930s, but let's talk about what he means what he means for 2016, and particularly with regard to the humanitarian crisis emanating from Syria and Iraq.
Elizabeth Schrayer: You know, when you look back, and I think I want to play off on what Mary Beth and a couple people said – is you look back at George Bush, and a lot of people said he went too far on hard power – and some people were critical of Obama going too far on soft power – and you may all have your different views. A lot of people said, you know, next guy or gal in has to kind of come more in the middle. And, what's interesting when you look at both of the platforms – they both kind of talked somewhere in the middle, but in very different ways.
And, so what we did – one of the things that I did is I went out with a – I've been doing this for three presidential elections – we have a very bipartisan effort – our co-chairs are Madeleine Albright, Tom Ridge, and Bill Frist, and Tom Daschle – and we go out and we make sure that we engage all – I met with 22 presidential campaigns – most of the presidential candidates themselves – a hundred and sixty congressional candidates – to try to say, believe in American engagement.
We started this campaign when Rand Paul was on Time magazine as the most interesting politician, and he is – you know – presents himself as an isolationist, so that was kind of how we started this campaign – saying we have to push back against this. So, you know, anything that's about American engagement – the world – for me is music to my ears. And, I have a little different view – it's similar but a little bit more context of what Jim was saying, which is you – I agree with Mary Beth – there is this – every – and dear, what you said, all the polling showed that after the economy stupid, you know – that's clearly the number one issue.
But, you have this push – four out of five Americans said that foreign policy was extremely or very important to their vote. And, that is really a driving issue – because Americans, as Mary Beth said, they want to be safe. That’s what Americans want – that was very clear. I watched 20 Senate debates between the candidates. And, that's what they talk about when they get to foreign policy. They get to ISIS, they talk about Syria, and I think that's what, you know Donald Trump was kinda was trying to get at when he talks about it.
Like every issue that Donald Trump talked about, he's consistently inconsistent and inconclusive on a range of issues. And, so when you get to the humanitarian issues he talks about – you know you there's a there's a great interview with him that he did that was very good to watchwatch by Greta Van Susteren where he asked specifically about humanitarianism – and he says, we’re a humanitarian nation. He gets asked about foreign assistance to Pakistan – which is one of those issues on the campaign trail that most candidates – you know – throw under the bus.
Let me tell you on that – whatever you think about, and it's a very easy one to say oh we're going to stop giving there. And, he said you know if we don't fill it somebody else could. And, it was a very interesting insight from him. He says, I'm going to be the most militaristic person out there, and he says we're going – war is going to be one of my last instincts to do.
So, he really is kind of the work shorts, you know, test of he says different things, and different – and I think that's part of how he presents himself on a lot of issues – is that he – you know with Hillary Clinton, you could go on our website and see absolutely everything that she was going to do on a whole range of things. And, I think what Donald Trump – and he said this that he wants to be unpredictable on things, and we'll get into analyzing them on a whole range of things.
But, just one last point that I want to make about the voters. I think that the reason we get kind of inconsistent polling about where Americans are on this issue foreign policy – and I think it's really important when we get to where this president is going to be and where this Congress is going to be. Congress is a pro-engagement Congress. I can tell you I've met with these candidates. This is not 2010 where they're coming in, and it would have happened with whoever won – Democrat or Republican.
These are people who are – they’re veterans, business leaders, these are people who traveled overseas. I’m not gonna say every single one of them, I don't know everyone, but I know a lot of them. And, this is a pro engagement Congress that is coming in. the voters, were their anxiety was, and it's very important we get a handle on that for people who care about the Middle East and engagement – is the voters anxiety came up on the left and the right on a couple issues. On economic engagement, we have you know they engaged America, we have the little bit of isolation and most of them are okay we should engaged in the world, but we feel left down a bit when it comes to economic engagement.
We saw this around the trade issue, and we're getting a little nervous on the security issue, and we saw it around in the immigration. And we should get that those issues matter when we care about Middle East. And, so we have a voter anxiety out there about engagement in the world, and particularly it comes back around middle east, and I think it will matter when it comes to Donald Trump, and how he starts to think about these issues, and – and I think that's why we're seeing different positions come out with them.
And, the last thing I would say is when Donald Trump goes into that White House, goes into the Oval Office, on the first 100 days one issue that I don't think they can ignore is obviously the humanitarian issues when it comes the Syrian refugee crisis and the displacement. And, we can talk about that during the discussion about how we might handle it, and some of the people that that he's already talking – and I'm – I met a lot of people, we all probably know a lot of people, and some of the changes that he's made just the last few days.
And, we should talk about that, and how that may shape an administration coming in, and to what degree, you know, the image of Trump Tower, and how much people will have real influence over it – and over his policy will matter, and we should talk about that.
Indira Lakshmanan: Well, that'll be really interesting because of course, you know his son tweeted out that statement about refugees being like a bowl of skittles – and the three of them are poisoned, would you stick your hand in the bowl? So, it'll be really interesting to see if they're willing to pivot on the Syrian refugee question. Tom, I know you wanted to jump in, and Jim also wanted to jump in, so please, go ahead.
Thomas Pickering: Thanks, Indira, very much – as I think that your last remark points to the problem we all face. I think that we can refight the campaign. I think it's important to draw from the campaign what it is we believe the public wants. But, I think it's also important to notice that there is – there are several sea changes going on. One is clearly the undervaluing, the under attention, and indeed the significant difficulties of what is essentially the white male not – non-college educated group that has played such a large role in providing Donald Trump's – the vote that he got, and not expected.
But, I think there is also something else in the way of a sea change. And, this bothers me a great deal. This is the disdain – the remarkable disdain for the combination of truth and logic. And, we're facing that as a difficult proposition to deal with, and how we do with the Middle East. And we can, and some of us have, and I have joined you in some of the things that have been said that lead us to be hopeful about the Middle East.
And, I served a lot in the Middle East. I always said, there are two kinds of American diplomats, optimists and lunatics, and I was not ready to certify myself. I’m getting to the edge of that, but I’m not there yet. But I think the notion that we have not done a huge destructive job on the idea that truth is so relative, that anybody's current statement of the truth has to be accepted as an equal valuation of reality.
And I think this undermines and destroys something that I hold dear, the scientific method. And, the way in which we have been in all kinds of advancements in life – and it is harder to apply that to the social science of diplomacy, but it is not irrelevant. And so I think there is a fundamental challenge out here now for us. I don't think Mr. Putin has abandoned it. He plays with the truth and it's part of his way of proceeding. But in the end he makes decisions, I think, on the basis of some of the harder realities that are there.
And, my own sense is that doing this in an election campaign and creating a notion that what I say is true whether it is opposite to what I said 15 minutes ago or not – is a characteristic that remained, in my view, unchallenged except by the fact checkers – and seemed to have no relevance at all to the decision makers – at least in the way in which the voting came out. And, to me this is disturbing because if there is any place that we need understand the realities, complicated as they are, and the fact, it's the Middle East.
And, making super judgments – I know more about ISIS and so on, or I have just a single view on this problem or that problem, with all of the intricacies that have to be faced – is in my view, I think misleading and dangerous. And, I think possibly more destructive than what we have seen already. And, I really worry about that.
Indira Lashmanan: Well, you know, you make a really interesting point about are we in a post-fact – do facts even matter? And I think you can throw into that the disdain for elites that everyone in this room would fall into that bucket of elites that was so disdained in this campaign particularly –
James Zogby: In the media particularly –
Indira Lakshmanan: In the media, but I was going to say I don't think it's just fact checkers who were trying to hold candidates to standards of fact. I think the whole media – or most of the media was trying really hard.
James Zogby: I won't turn this into a discussion of media because that’s good for another couple panels.
Indira Lakshmanan: But, one thing I was going to say – one observation that I saw from someone who followed the Trump campaign very closely was she said that Donald Trump supporters take him seriously, but not literally. And, the Washington elites take him literally but not seriously. And that seems, you know, a simple but rather profound insight, and I think – you know, that brings us to the next question of: "What does he really mean?" I mean, I've written numerous columns saying he says this about ISIS, but that – in this but that about Russia, and that everything is contradictory. You can find statements that contrcdict everything [he] says, but I really want to know what does he actually mean? I know Jim had wanted to jump in earlier and Mary Beth too.
James Zogby: Just on the engagement/leadership nexus we talked about – I talked about the polling here in the states. What is fascinating is the polling in the Middle East – where Arab leaders decry the lack of U.S. leadership. But, Arab people have had enough of American engagement in the region, and actually what's fascinating is that in the last three years, as our footprint gets less pronounced in the region, our favorable ratings go up. From an all-time low during the Bush administration, there was a peak. We reached the initial Obama election, and then I - and then we went we went down again, but as the president has apparently, or seemed to, withdraw, favorable numbers went up. What happens is that the idea of America then becomes more defining of – of our favorable – of attitudes towards us than the actual practice of America.
To me, it's always the irony of the war in Iraq – designed by the Project for a New American Century to project American power in a decisive way, and therefore ensure a century of hegemony. It actually did exactly the opposite. It weakened us militarily, weakened our standing in the region, it emboldened Iran. What was supposed to create an American monopoly and power ended up unleashing the whole range of regional sub-powers – Iran being principal among them, and then Turkey, and then Saudi Arabia competing with Iran.
And, Russia unleashed as well, and America literally – at its lowest standing in the region in all the years that we've seen polling done on that. And, now what do I say when we say, what do you want from America – the president got it best, not in the Cairo speech, but he got it best in the second anniversary of the Cairo speech when he said we didn't start this – referring to the Arab Spring – we can't direct it, and we can't determine its outcome.
What we can do is help create the conditions for a vibrant middle class that will raise up people, and therefore create the building blocks of democracy, and he talked about creating jobs. He talked about investment in education; he talked about investment in healthcare. He talked about building these societies up which is exactly when we do our polling and we'd say to people – what do you want from America. They would never say we want political involvement, would never say we want you to liberate our women, they’d never say any of the things that we did. They would say the things that we were not doing enough of, which, which is education, healthcare, and job creation. That’s what they want. The president reflected that in his speech. I turn to somebody next to me and I said – unlike Cairo, this wasn't a speech to the Arab world; this was a speech to Congress, and Congress living up to its nine percent favorable rating, of course – shot him down. And, there was no new money.
Of all that – and frankly and I have to say this, pardon me – of all the nutty things that Donald Trump has said, and nuttier things that some of his advisors have said – one of his advisors, Tom Barrack, had a speech where he talked about a Donald Trump Marshall plan for the region. That would make sense in the content, but now where's the money going to come from? Is Congress going to appropriate it? Is he going to be able to twist the arm of a Republican-led Congress to do that? Absolutely not, but when you look at engagement of America in the region, the engagement has to be what people want from us – not what they don't want from us.
Now, leaders might want one kind of engagement, but people do not. And, we've already found what happens when our engagement is not what people want. We end up in shooting wars in Iraq, we end up in a mess in several parts of the Middle East – which is where we're actually we are today.
Indira Lakshmanan: Mary Beth, I know you wanted to add some thoughts, but I also want to ask you something – which is, you know, you have advised – worked for and advised Republicans. One of the things –
Mary Beth Long: And Democrats –
Indira Lakshmanan: And Democrats – but most recently, Mitt Romney, in the last campaign. One thing that was really striking about this campaign was that the group from which Donald Trump received the most criticism among the so-called elites in Washington was far and away the national security/foreign policy establishment. And, there was bipartisan criticism of him with all these "never Trump" letters, one letter with 50 signatures, one with 40, one with a hundred – all these Republicans and Democrats, and former generals, and former CIA people criticizing him.
And, I wonder where we go from there – to a place where there's a Trump administration filled by people who aren't just his loyalists, but who are people who have foreign policy experience. And one thing that really struck me yesterday – someone in this room who's on the next panel – Eliot Cohen, who was of course a senior counselor to Condi Rice, and he'll be on the next panel, so let him speak about it then, but he tweeted out yesterday morning after an exchange with the Trump transition team – I have changed my recommendation, stay away. They're angry, arrogant – screaming you lost – it will be ugly. So, that was really striking from someone who was one of the voices who said "let's give him a chance," and it's your responsibility if you're a Republican, it's your responsibility to get in there in the administration, and do something good, and direct the ship in the right way. And, then that came out yesterday. What do you make of that?
Mary Beth Long: Eliott Cohen is actually one of my very best friends, and I signed not one, but several those letters in which I’ve raised with my colleagues severe doubts not only about the preparedness of candidate Trump, but also about what he said and reflections of his temperament as far as what I believed a presidential candidate should have – in order to conduct the foreign policy that I think this country needs.
And I will admit to all of you, and I don't know if you knew this when you set up this question – about three weeks before the election, I publicly changed my mind. And I’ll tell you why that is. The evolution of the campaigns became equally disturbing with the character flaws, and others, of both candidates in my mind. And, in my mind, and this is something I would implore that we all think about – it was clear to me that the majority of the country, not just the white male uneducated, which I think was a tremendous disservice to even be talking about that. I believe that it's very clear that with blacks, minorities, and educated women – president-elect Trump actually did better than most expected, and as I think we'll all admit, he did better across-the-board than most people expected – including his own campaign. So, to categorize that campaign is being a certain sector of – appealing to a certain sector of our population that some people in this room may find subpar – I think is unfair.
The man won the election. People voted for him. And, I changed my mind because I felt that he was evolving. It’s very clear that candidate Trump said a lot of things that I'm sure he would take back. He said a lot of things, frankly, which were stupid – they were. He said a lot of things that I hope people hope he didn't mean. This is a person who didn't have a lot of time to go into sophisticated nuance on his campaign speaking, and I think it's fair to judge that he didn't – he probably spoke about things that he didn't know enough about, and is now under the very very difficult task of learning about them.
Indira Lakshmanan: So, since you changed your mind publicly before the campaign, would you now, if asked to serve, would you serve in his administration? And, or, you know, do you feel the way that Eliot seems to feel?
Mary Beth Long: No, this is where Eliot and I part ways, I understand Eliot, respect him, and consider him a mentor in many ways. I was raised in a small town in which my parents told me: you – when you go to work in the morning, if your boss is a jerk, you don't get to stand up and say I disagree with you, boss. I'm not going to put the money in my pocket for that day. You work it out. That’s your job. I don't know many people who would leave the office that day.
This is our country. This is the most dangerous time, at least I think, in a generation from a foreign policy standpoint. You don't get to opt out of the president, and the administration that was elected in my world. That’s the way I was raised. And, if you have a criticism, you have a moral and civic duty to get in there, and educate, and influence, and shape, and persuade. And, if you're not listened to – to contribute – particularly if you think you're right.
Indira Lakshmanan: So, you would contribute to this administration?
Mary Beth Long: I'd be happy to contribute to this administration . Whether I will be called upon – I doubt it. But, I just opened a new business, and I have partners and responsibilities too. But, people, the world is not going to get a do-over on this. And, particularly in the Middle East, this president would benefit from everybody at this table contributing, and helping him and everybody in this room – put our big-boy pants on, and let's try to make as much as we can on the positive, and teach the man something he needs to be taught.
Indira Lakshmanan: Alright, so let's put our big-boy pants on, Liz. Given that there's a lot of uncertainty – what signals have you taken so far from the Trump administration? Where are you encouraged, and where are you concerned?
Elizabeth Schrayer: You know, we all like to try to create labels of kind of what is – you know what is their philosophy – and as we've been talking about – this is probably the toughest candidate moving into the west wing of the White House [that] to put a label on. And I've seen, you know, is this the isolationist, that it’s nativist, is it trying to define what "America First" is, to Richard Haass calling it "minimalist." And I think the reality is there isn't a label to put on.
There are few consistencies that I think are very clear. He has been very clear: destroy ISIS. As Ambassador Pickering said, you know, what does that mean and how do we define it? He has been as tough on Iran as any candidate can communicate over and over again. He has talked clearly about strengthening the relationship between Israel and Egypt, and those he's been clear about. He’s been clear about talking about making sure our traditional allies pay their fair share and, you know defining what that means. We can talk and pull it apart and talk about what that means.
And you know outside of that, there have been a lot of inconsistencies, and again that's true on some things on the domestic front as well. And obviously there's the question we can talk about which you've already raised about Russia. And, I think one of the things to look at is, it's going to be seen through a national security lens. So, we talk about the Syria issue just earlier, and it's interesting one of the people who is most likely to become as national security advisor, Lieutenant General Mike Flynn – who has been in his right hand side all along this campaign, and spoken for him. He has said about the refugee crisis – said, you know, we look at those refugee the Syrian refugee camps, and that's a breeding ground for terrorists. Now, whether you agree with that or not, that means that if they're going to invest, if he were to choose to invest, I would think, in those refugee camps, it’s going to be seen through national security lens.
So, you take a look at who the people are. I think the most important thing right now is, exactly what Mary Beth just said, is who is going to go in to that. Right now, it appears that people who were not particularly part of that loyal team of supporters are not being in the inner circle. That was what it looks like from the press reports right now. And so, if you signed on to Never Trump or were part of that, you're not in the inner circle right now. People are being let go. And, you've seen that in the press – people like Mike Rogers – obviously the Chris Christie, though I think that has multiple reasons why. The people that are being brought in are some of the – who have very long history of very clear positions on where they are both on foreign policy and on the Middle East – people like Frank Gaffney who was one of his advisors – people in the Middle East, you know Walid Phares, who has been advising him – people like Richard Grenell is advising him, has been part of the transition team. Former Congressman Pete Hoekstra has been advising him. And Devin Nunes is advising him, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and I can go on with others. And, they have long – you know – you know where they are on a lot of these issues. But, I think it's going to be seen through a national security lens.
Aand my hope, and I agree with Mary Beth, and I don't know Ellot's particular personal feeling about it, everybody has to make their own personal decision – it's that people who feel comfortable that they would want to go in, and they're probably not on another Trump list because I think right now those people probably are not yet going to be welcomed in. But, if they are willing to and care about issues – you know should serve – because they got 4,000 positions to fill – a thousand that need to be confirmed, and I don't think that there are people that naturally know a lot about these issues, and they – somebody's gotta fill them. And, there are going to be a lot of military, former military people, because that's who he’s drawn to. And, I think there's – it's important that there be people who have a range of experiences – diplomatic, development – range of experiences that have brought to the table. I think a question out there is whether or not people at Foggy Bottom, people at the Pentagon – what relationship those agencies and those departments will have to the White House. And, that's something that we don't know, and will it all be handled it the White House, or will those entities kind of go off and do what you want? Will it all be done at the White House, or will they actually have a relationship emerge? And that's something that – my guess is they don't know.
Indira Lakshmanan: Alright, Tom I want to briefly pivot to the Iran deal – because it is – it is as Mary Beth said, for – whether you agree with it or not, it's the sort of the primary foreign policy accomplishment of the Obama Administration. Donald Trump said he would renegotiate it or tear it up and scrap it. Can he do it? Meaning – can he just throw it out? Or can it be preserved? And, what is going on right now to influence Donald Trump one way or another on this?
Thomas Pickering: Well, just before we go there – all I would say is everything I've heard about how to address Middle Eastern policy under the Trump administration – is still – put it this way – exemplified by my initial question mark, and I haven’t changed my view that we have a large number of questions. And, from that stems how can we be helpful in influencing the administration for the future. And the Eliot Cohen response is desultory and destructive. And, I'm not in any way quibbling with Eliot, he speaks well for himself, and I have great respect for it. I think the bad news is that [he] represents an attitude that I think is not unique to the few people he saw. The better news is that we all know that transition teams die as soon as the confirmed candidate’s choices take off. They may stay around –
Indira Lakshmanan: So, meaning if even if the transition team was rude and mean and said "you lost, we won," that they should be ignored?
Thomas Pickering: No, they won't be ignored. They will, in the last analysis, have a very short half-life – that the real business begins when the nominees – when the president-elect's nominees – when the president's, after inauguration, nominees and come into the office and sit down and maybe listen to transition team, but they usually have their own teams, and they have their own ideas and their own direction which to go. And, they have direction from the president from the top down, not necessarily from the transition team up.
Elizabeth Schrayer: They only have another 60 days –
Thomas Pickering: Another 60 days.
Indira Lakshmanan: Except for the vice president who’s running the transition team. He’s got another four years.
Thomas Pickering: That takes me to the second question – the notion that there is a kind of unified field theory within the Loyalists is a mistake. The notion that Republican Party stalwarts with deep experience are marching down Pennsylvania Avenue with "we want to be hired" signs is not out there yet. Hopefully, it might be, because I respect many of them, I worked with many of them, and think they're very able people. And, I think in the end the differences between the parties on foreign affairs tend to be less trenchant and less spread than they are in other questions. Now ask me your question. What about the Iran deal?
Indira Lakshmanan: It was about the Iran deal.
Thomas Pickering: My sense, I said at the beginning, is tearing up the Iran deal is something a president can do literally if he wishes to do so. I think the really interesting question is the Iran deal is multilateral – so the President cannot destroy by tearing it up unless the other side wishes to take that as a violation. And Rouhani has intimated that that’s not the attitude he brings to the problem at the present time. The second question is obviously that the Congress can take action –
Indira Lakshmanan: Even if Trump says I no longer adhere to this, Rouhani can say well that's fine, the other five members of the P5+1 do.
Thomas Pickering: There – the Congress can do two things. The Congress could take action which tears up the deal, and some of that action could be to reinstitute the sanctions – which I’m quite sure would have that effect with respect to the Iranians, at least as far as the United States could be concerned. And, then we could get into a battle of sanctions. Do we use our capacity to employ secondary sanctions as a way to proceed? And those who operate from hubris on the subject say "yes," and it would be a stark choice between country X doing business in Iran and country X doing business the United States, and that has a reality.
What I am concerned about is that that creates in the world – and we saw it earlier as the Iran agreement moved - for other countries to pick up the cudgel. And, I'm worried about the U.S. currency as the universal currency – when in fact we make it the universal instrument of demanding and trying to compel actions favorable to American views in countries that don't necessarily agree with us and don't want to go along with us. And, that could create a multiplicity of currencies and maybe the emergence of one other. The euro in my view doesn't look like a candidate, but the Renminbi Yuan might be out there. And, we ought to be careful about what we do as we march down this road and play chess, not checkers with the arrangement. Now I've suggested the Iran agreement –
Indira Lakshmanan: It’s interesting that you mean currency, not just only in terms of our currency as a global leader, but you mean are literal financial currency.
Thomas Pickering: As well, and our ability to do business – and that could be could be deeply punishing. And, we're now in a multilateral world, a multipolar world where we have to pay attention to it. The president has said so. I can't believe Mr. Trump is going to ignore that as a reality. I think he sees it out there. He may see it in more stark black-and-white terms, but that will be for him to define. We don't yet see it.
But, if I could say this – building off the Iran agreement, and correcting the areas I particularly am concerned by the reasonably short time limits. The 15 years essentially for maintaining 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium. And my view is the principles in that agreement fill a hole that exists in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The international community has no agreed limit on how people can enrich and no agreed limits on separation of plutonium from spent fuel. And, that would be, in my view, an important forward step if he could pick up on this, and say okay the way to correct the Iran the agreement is both to perfect it – that is make it into the international gold standard, bring Iran into that standard, take them out of isolation, and put down an agreement that has no time limits.
Indira Lakshmanan: Are you and others sort of working together to try to propose these are the things that would make the deal better?
Thomas Pickering: Yes.
Indira Lakshmanan: Are you working across lines with groups like Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and others that have been critical of the deal to say –
Thomas Pickering: We’re not there. I've talked internationally about this, and I hope to be able to do some more work on it. And, the fact that you're giving me a brief opportunity to mention, I won’t bore anybody with it further – is in my view also something that I hope will stimulate thought. This is not – you know, no initial idea’s a perfect alternative. It needs help, it needs people to look at it, it needs an opportunity to look into the corners where some of the difficulties might be. But, I think it has – it is an opportunity to move that segues away from the necessity to destroy things that have some very useful and significant advantages for us and move in another direction to see if you can perfect it on top of it – rather than to try to rebuild it entirely.
Indira Lakshmanan: Alright, Jim, before we turn to audience questions, I want to ask you to sort of take us in a different direction with a thought experiment. And that is, we're all talking about Trump, and looking forward to January 20th, or whatever the date is, but what could Obama do in the next two months? Had Hillary Clinton won, he probably would be very restrained in his foreign policy and allow her to take the lead. But, now that Trump has won, couldn't he just do anything in the next two months, and be very bold? What do you expect from him? What could he or should he do?
James Zogby: He can't do anything, but he sure can do some things that would, I think, be very helpful in the region. And, I'm glad you asked it. It’s important – we still have 60 days of Barack Obama. There are those, for example, on the Israel-Palestine issue who are calling on the President to issue new parameters. I, frankly, think that’s a waste of time. There are no conditions in the region right now for those new parameters to resonate. The Israeli government’s in no mood. The Knesset's actually considering legislation right now to legalize the illegal sett... illegal outposts, that will blow up everything. There are obviously statements that Donald Trump has made about Jerusalem and about issues of settlements, and his advisors have echoed them, that are emboldening the right wing. And, Palestinians are in this total disarray – it’s a dysfunctional polity, and it's basically they're not going anywhere at all. Issuing parameters; for what? It’s going to infuriate both sides and never – it’ll go nowhere.
What he can do is he can dust off the State Department ruling from the Carter administration on the illegality of settlements; it never got buried, they’re there. We’ve simply found political ways to talk about it that become more palatable – and just make it clear – settlements are illegal. And, then go to the United Nations.
Indira Lakshmanan: We tried that at the beginning of his administration and it didn’t work.
James Zogby: He actually never did. He found language that, like everybody else, parsed – it was that the illegitimacy of new settlement construction which, sort of meant, I guess, if you build them, they become realities that we have to accept. But, the ones you're building are illegitimate, so don't do any new ones. But they've grown now to encompass 600,000 people in the West Bank and East Jerusalem occupied areas of the West Bank – that are East Jerusalem – called East Jerusalem anyway. And, so no one is listening.
But a UN resolution, whether introduced by the U.S. or simply supported by the U.S., that had teeth on the illegality and on sanctions that could be applied when it should, would make a huge difference. It would put the burden on a Trump administration to attempt to undo it – which he could not do because the nations of the world would not support undoing it. And right now the only thing that has stood in the way of anything like that happening is the U.S. veto, or U.S. pressure on other countries to support a veto themselves. I think that that could be a game changer in terms of creating a price for settlement construction. And, it would also empower people in Israel who have been opposing settlements. It would at the same time create a new dynamic among Palestinians in terms of their internal political discourse. And, it could provide some restraint both on those who seek violent solutions on the one side, and those who seek to continue building new settlements on the other side.
There are actions that I would have advised or recommended that he take with regard to Iraq and Syria, but I kind of think that that's off the table right now because we have no idea what a Trump administration is going to do.
The other area, just let me say, that concerns me, is not what Donald Trump will do, but what Donald Trump has already done. And, even just the mention of Frank Gaffney in an advisory team, one of the most notorious Islamophobes that this city has seen, is very worrisome, and has not just a domestic impact but has an impact in the region – and is one of the reasons why people in the region are very worried about this election.
I had a call one time during the 2004 election from a very close advisor to then Crown Prince Abdullah – who called me late election night to say "Do we know who won? Do we know who one?" And, I said well we don't know, but it looks like Bush. He said, "Oh no." I said, you wanted John Kerry? He has said horrible things about Saudi Arabia, and ending dependence on Saudi oil. And he said listen to me, he said, it is better for us to have an American president that hates us than an American president our people hate and who encourages hatred of America.
That’s kind of where we are right now: the Muslim ban, and the rhetoric about Muslim rhetoric, about Islam, has had a horrific consequence in the region, and is something that we all need to be concerned about because it reverberates, and has a life of its own – having advisors who echoed that sentiment does not bode well for this administration. And, actions they make – I hear talk about a ban on the Muslim brotherhood – look I'm a Maronite Christian from Lebanon, no fan of the Muslim Brotherhood – do I want to stoke those flames here domestically, and make martyrs of groups here who are alleged to have affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood? Do we want to create that dynamic domestically? Do you want to have another special registration program – the failed program that started after 9/11? Do we want to have another program of surveillance of Muslims in New York like we did with Rudy Giuliani as mayor? Do we want to create a sentiment in America that reverberates across the Middle East, and sends the message that it's not just America, what it does abroad, but it's what it's doing to Arabs and Muslims at home that you have to worry about? That will define us and define our values if you will more – even than the policies we pursue abroad. [Applause.]
Indira Lakshmanan: Alright very important –
Elizabeth Schrayer: One comment – not on the last comments which were terrific, but on the first comment on Obama. He has shown no body language to get in Trump's way yet – and if he were to –
Thomas Pickering: You should’ve seen his statement in Athens –
Elizabeth Schrayer: And if he would – well he did on that, but if he were to do anything, I am quite skeptical that this is the one that he would pick. So, I'm highly skeptical that he would do anything on that, and that this is the one that he would want as legacy –
Indira Lakshmanan: You’re talking about settlements, on Israeli settlements.
Elizabeth Schrayer: Yes.
Thomas Pickering: I want to agree with almost everything that Jim has said except the really difficult question of whether the parameters is the best idea to take to the UN or the settlements. And, in my view, our capacity to influence the outcome on settlements is going to be determined much more by things like the tax code, and withholding guarantees, and other things, and that there is a real opportunity now to take something to the UN that would represent the parameters of a fair deal. After all, there is no U.S. real proposal beyond the roadmap, which was highly processed, that could provide a basis for a long-term settlement. The people in the area need to know what it is that they're going to get for what it is they're going to have to give. And the U.S., and maybe working with the Quartet, is in a perfect position to put that down.
If Hillary Clinton had won the election, I would suspect that President Obama would be even more reserved, because she would have to carry the ball. But, my view is it's an unreserved gift at the moment to do that, and it's extremely important for the long-term. Nobody sees the parties seriously getting to the table in the short run. If we don't use now to establish the longer-term parameters of a settlement, we have really lost. There is no way we can dictate a settlement. If we do parameters, we should also be willing to accept anything the parties will agree to. But, the other thing, Jim, is the parameters will equal or balance a totally unlevel negotiating playing field. If one just compares the relative power of Israel and the relative power of the Palestinians. Without being able to put down a fair settlement, in my view, this is an Israeli interest. If the Israelis were able to push through a settlement that wouldn't last among the Palestinians, it would be a disaster in the long term for Israel as well.
Everybody says the two-state solution is finished, but nobody has the alternative. And, the one-state solution for everybody is worse – except obviously for those who know that they will never get it. Those in Israel who want a one-state solution with two classes of people, and those among the Palestinians who want a one-state solution with total democracy. And, those are the frank and difficult issues.
If we are not prepared now to put before both the people in the area, and the longer-term public, an opportunity to do something like this -- I would not make it a mandatory resolution of the Security Council. I would make it something that represents, on the one hand, Security Council action to give it the legitimacy. But, I would take it as well to the General Assembly if you thought you could get at least a two-thirds vote. Because, that gives it political – put it this way – the political foundation – it gives a political heft. And, my own feeling is this is now a unique opportunity. President Obama is not around to spend his life pleasing president-elect Trump. He’s around to give him a hard dose of the reality of being president, and to help wherever he can in understanding the challenges ahead from the point of view of someone who spent eight years in the Oval Office.
Indira Lakshmanan: So, set up some parameters via the UN –
Thomas Pickering: That would be that kind of effort on my part if you could get it done, and I can quite sure that if we produce something that was fair and balanced, the P5 would not be a problem. We could get a unanimous vote in the Security Council with some careful preparation of the groundwork –
Indira Lakshmanan: If the Obama administration itself could agree on those parameters. Okay Mary Beth – one quick one second –
Mary Beth Long: I applaud Mr. Zogby’s comments. He’s exactly right – as are Ms. Schrayer. I also agree with a lot of what Ambassador Pickering said. We can't sit back though and complain about the nature of [the] administration if we're going to re-litigate the campaign and basically say: everybody else, that's their responsibility. It's up to everybody in this room then to step up and say that an anti-Muslim and an anti-Jewish and anti-anything sentiment in the White House is wrong – doesn't belong there, and we object to it, and we will hold this president accountable for something that we believe to be not reflective of America's open, and welcoming, attitude number one.
Number two, I agree with Ms. Schrayer that the Palestinian issue is not likely to be the one, and I would object slightly to the idea that an outgoing president gets to quickly have his one shot at the one thing that everyone thinks is difficult and impossible – that his own administration can’t even agree on. That's not what an outgoing president, I believe, is responsible for. It’s everything this president can do to get his own house in order and a tee up the next president for success. That's his job – not to run through controversial things to get one final shot.
Number two, in this particular circumstance, you've got a president who is challenged in ways that many presidents have not been. He’s got a new team; we've all talked about his lack of experience. I would hope that this administration, like everybody else in this room, spends the next 60 days teeing this guy and his team up for success – and not making political successes in order to discuss legacy knowing that the next guy is going to do whatever he can to minimize the impact on what he believes was the mandate of the people when he was elected.
Indira Lakshmanan: Alright, I want to open it up to questions because I know that there are going to be a lot of really smart ones out here. I think that we have a microphone right there, and [it] looks like there's one there, as well. So, if you'd like to ask a question, please come up to the microphone, and I’m going to take a couple of questions at a time in the interest of trying to answer more of them. Go ahead, and if you could identify yourself please.
Izra Hassaf [?]: Sure, thank you. Izra Hassaf, I'm a leadership and negotiations trainer, but also a former personal negotiator. my question is more specifically on strategy, and my concern is the speakers seem, all of them unfortunately, seem to reiterate the same diagnostic problematic that we had that landed this election – which is the hoping for something better – hoping – I understand that we need to give the president and his team a chance, but I think we should not start from the assumption that we hope that he will, right? And we do have a signal, so I do want to applaud Ms. Long’s point that we need to think strategically, how do we connect the dots in order to influence this presidency? And, not what we hoped this presidency is about? And, taking into account the fact that one – this President Trump elect did not go about it – as a candidate – did not run because he wanted to do what's good for America. He wanted to prove a point that he can do it.
So, let's first accept an apology – start from the point that he's not interested in what's best for Americans or interested in having made the point that you want. he probably wouldn't want to go for a second round, he's already achieved his goal, and starting from that, when he has a chief of staff who is a person who would never have dreamt of even coming close to Washington – that kind of tells us what is the probability of having us as experts being able to have influence over it. So, starting from that point, from that reality check, I think we'll have a better chance at drawing that that trajectory of how we influence this administration with Gaphne, with Ferris, with all of those – given that is not what we hope we get achieve, but with realistic –
Indira Lakshmanan: Okay, so if I'm hearing your question correctly, it sounds like you're asking how can we connect the dots to influence a man who you think was about – all about himself. And, by the way just a quick correction, when you said chief of staff, we never thought he'd get near the White House. I think you mean the chief counselor Steve Bannon – since the chief of staff has spent a lot of time in Washington rounds previously. Okay let's take that question over here.
Jay Jupiter: I'm Jay Jupiter; I’m a former JAG and CIA officer, and an enthusiastic member of Ms. Schrayers’s coalition organization. The question for Ms. Schrayer but hopefully the panel also – in your – you talked about it as a collateral issue. How is the scorecard of the people who are in Congress now – for the types of activities that we want the administration to pursue. And, the things talked about by all of you, in terms of, humanitarian aid, and things like that – going to develop?
Indira Lakshmanan: So, your question is about how humanitarian aid is going to be addressed under the Trump administration, is that right?
Jay Jupiter: No, how is the Congress that Trump is inheriting, because the changes in the majority both in the Senate and House, now going to reflect the better part of Trump’s policy – because as you said, Trump’s policies are all over a lot. And, if you get the support of Congress one way or the other, that may determine –
Indira Lakshmanan: Okay, let's take a third question here.
Nicole Manson: Good morning, good morning. Thank you panel for taking the time for a very interesting discussion this morning. My question is for Ms. Long. Ms. Long, if you were a senior adviser the NSC – I’m sorry, my name is Nicole Manson, I’m in the government foreign policy realm. Ms. Long, if you were a senior advisor to president-elect Trump, I would like to know what your top recommendations from Middle East policy to the new president would be –
Indira Lakshmanan: Okay great, so we've got the first question which I think anyone on the panel can answer on how to connect the dots, how can people in this room and people watching on the stream, and on the video – how can they actually influence a man who is, you know, very personality-based. So, let's deal with that one first, Tom.
Thomas Pickering: Not easy, because Mr. Trump has also made a point that keeping people around the world, put it this way, uncertain about what he wants to do is a major – put it this way – strategic advantage. I think connecting the dots on strategy to me means do you have a unified strategy across the board. And, I'm not sure that that's easy to accomplish even with administration's that are perhaps less different than this one has been in the period leading up to things. But – three ways that one traditionally thinks of in Washington and they're probably still reasonably good – I think one is to create ideas and thoughts that are likely to fit in with the construct – that fighting the construct is a much harder question. Secondly, using think tanks, publicity, the media, and other ways to put those ideas out.
The second question is talking to people who are close to the president-elect and to the new president in ways that can help them understand what the advantages of various approaches might be, and better ideas. And, then finally, the one that always exist at the top – people of influence who can speak directly to the president, or the president-elect, about those ideas. These are all the traditional paths that we use.
And, there are others – I mean getting the Congress to look at it – getting the Congress to claim what it wants to do. This is a particularly tough time because the Congress is, and Republican Party are not yet fully aligned with President Trump – that may come, it will probably take time, but that's another very useful way walking to the party but to make things happen.
On the humanitarian aid, so far what we see is the makeup of a Congress which is not in my view, particularly prone to be friendly to foreign assistance. But, it is also true that foreign assistance has national security characteristics to it which are very significant. And, President Trump wants to move in that way, he has a real opportunity, I think, to shape Congressional views in that direction and to talk about things – even things is seemingly distant as climate change – have national security implications that have to be kept in mind.
Indira Lakshmanan: Alright, Liz – Jim, you wanted to jump in very quickly – I think the second question was meant for Liz – go ahead.
James Zogby: Just on the first one. Just as is it was noted that transition lasts 60 days, and then you have an administration. We have no idea – he has no idea what he's just walked into and I think we all know that. And I think certainly those who occupied that position before know that better than anybody. So, as I look back at – earlier administrations, I always say that you never judge a president by what he says he's going to do, but by how he reacts to the world that sets the table for him, and what he does with that.
The president’s not so much the captain as he is a captive – both obviously of people he hires, but also of events that unfold. I mean 9/11, I mean economic collapse. When Barack Obama started running for president, he had no idea he was going to face the worst crisis – or Arab Spring. So, I think that in terms of what this president's going to do, I mean this is different than anything he's done before. You don't get bankruptcy laws to bail you out, you know? You don't get a do-over, so how he reacts, and who he brings on board as these events, unpredictable events, in the world unfold, and we can be sure of one thing, and that is that unpredictable events will unfold. We will see – well testing the mettle of the man, but also the opportunities to engage as he deals with these wholly new crises that no president has ever dealt with before – because every president gets an entirely new world in front of them to deal with. And, so I think that, you know – we're just like surfers on the beach – you know you kind of – you fool around with the little waves just gearing up for the big one, and be able to get the ride and do something with it.
And, the question is, when does the ride come? Are we ready to engage, and are we ready to make a difference? And, is he gonna be open? Is he gonna say I don't know what I'm doing right now. I don't know – these guys aren't giving me the right advice. He’ll fire people just as he's fired people on his show, and just as he’s fired people in his businesses. The question is, are we going to be in a position to be able to engage it at that point. I think that's – I’m looking at this as a multi-stage operation – not just a one-shot deal.
Indira Lakshmanan: Thank you. Liz, the second question was directed to you.
Elizabeth Schrayer: The influence question connects to the second question, which is, there is a reason our forefathers created Congress. And, Congress is going to have a role in this town. And, just look at John McCain's for statement about Russia – you know was right back at you – Rand Paul has already said you put, you know, a John Bolton, or Rudy Giuliani – I’m going to put a hold. Now, whether he is able to hold that or not we will wait and see. So, as for – I don't totally agree with you about – I think actually there's enormous support for foreign aid in Congress. The problem is the budget is going to be squeezed like we have never seen before – sequestration is back, my friends, starting in January, February – we have a lame duck that is going to come – that is already back. We have FY17 that still has to pass; there is enormous stuff in there.
As it relates to the Middle East, if you missed it, there is a budget amendment that the administration just put into respond to Mosul; it has 12 billion Dollars, half for defense, half for international affairs budget, that goes right at the heart of the Middle East. I can give you the details, but we don't have time for it, but it's exactly on the humanitarian issue. And, come next year, there's going to be enormous pressure on discretionary funding, and we have a president-elect who has made very clear that one of his greatest priorities is going to be taking those caps off defense. And he has put so much stuff in his promises that you couldn't – you’d have put hundreds of billions dollars more in on the defense side. So, in terms of humanitarian, I don't know where that money is going to come from, and so we have a lot of friends in Congress who care a lot about making sure that Israel and Egypt and Jordan and the whole array of countries have support, but at the same time they're going to have domestic pressures, and there's gonna be infrastructure issues that the president-elect wants to do.
And, so my concern is that just if you look at the map of the budget, I'm concerned about where the funding comes for making sure that our refugee humanitarian crisis, and just economic support comes for allies in the region – when you have Jordan that has absorbed enormous refugees, Lebanon that has absorbed enormous refugees, Turkey, and we can go on and on and on, so if we focus on anything, watch that first budget that comes out, and watch what Congress does it. And, if I think about anything – that I'm concerned about we can talk about all the policies in the world – budget matters.
Indira Lakshmanan: You mean, watch the first Trump budget that comes up? Trump budget, yes. And the last question was for Mary Beth about your top recommendations for President Trump.
Mary Beth Long: Sure, thanks for the question. I think the very first thing that the president should be doing even now, or the president-elect, is he needs to establish a quiet dialogue to reassure Middle Eastern leaders that he does not intend to act impulsively and that he will consult, and meaningfully consult, on what it is they believe are the problems of the region and, what role, what constructive role, the U.S. can play in addressing those.
The second thing he needs to do is part of that is – part of a restoring credibility in this vacuum, is he needs to reach out and be very clear to the Muslim people – the people of the region and those practitioners of Islam specifically, worldwide, and to clarify his statements and make sure that they understand that this is not an administration that is anti-Islamic or anti-anything – that his intent was – that intersection, I think Liz said that best – of our security and terrorism intersect – very inarticulate, but he needs to clarify that absolutely as part of restoring credibility.
The second thing he's got to do, and I love you for saying that – he's gotta look very pragmatically at the budget and other restrictions. And, even though there may be a gut reaction to things like the Iran agreement – he's gonna be pragmatic into what he can actually promise, and endeavour to accomplish – and it's got to align with the goals of the region. So, we need to take – I don't like the idea of a listening tour, but he’s gotta look real hard at things like humanitarian and in the impact of immigration.
He needs to look very hard to the credibility of this administration, the U.S. in general, vis-a-vis what is going on in Russia. I don't know if you paid attention today about the nine hospitals or – I mean that's just ridiculous, and we need to step up. And, there's a place where there's a natural alignment with us and our regional allies to really take on what is a righteous effort by anybody's undertaking. He needs to make sure that we don't inadvertently exacerbate impressions that we are empowering Iran with its expanding both militarily, economically, and other beyond its border.
And, that to the extent, there is an impression in any sector of that at – the corner of that world that this is not an Iran, this is not a Persia against Arabs, this is not Sunni vs. Shi'a. And, that we have traditional allies, we respect them, we have troops there, we have businesses there, and we will stand firm. That’s going to mean a lot of consultation, a lot of credibility issues. The first thing is the humanitarian and immigration issue I think – more than anything.
And, let's not take our eye off Libya. We’ve got all kinds of issues of course with the region proper, but there is immigration issues that's pushing on our NATO, and other European allies in that direction. And, also safe havens with ISIS– a resurgence of al-Qaeda – you didn't hear it first – I read other people's stuff. This is going to be coming. But, we need to solidify our relationships and seriously build personal relationships with the leadership of the country – of those countries.
Indira Lakshmanan: Alright, I'm going to apologize to the people who are still standing in line, but I've been given that sign that our time is out, so save those, what, I'm sure excellent questions for the next panel, and the panel after. And, please join me in thanking our excellent speakers for their insights.
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Duration: 84 minutes