November 16, 2016 - The second panel of the Middle East Institute’s 70th Annual Conference, "Rebuilding Alliances, Containing Adversaries," featured HRH Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud (Former Head of the Saudi Internal Security Service), Eliot A. Cohen (Johns Hopkins SAIS), Nabil Fahmy (Fmr Egyptian Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the U.S.), Mohsen Milani (Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies, USF), and moderator Deborah Amos (NPR).
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Deborah Amos: ... ours is rebuilding alliances containing adversaries – I will quickly give introductions to our panel so that we can get started. To my left is his royal highness – don't know the difference between – my right, so it takes me a minute to figure that out. His Royal Highness Turki bin Faisal Al-Saud – former ambassador to the United States, and a former head of Saudi security – I have known him for years, interviewed many times; I'm delighted to see him in Washington.
Elliot Cohen, who has become a Twitter star in the last 48 hours – I think much to his surprise. Former State Department counselor, now professor of Strategic Studies at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Nabil Fahmy – also an old friend – former Egyptian Prime Minister and ambassador to the United States, nice see you in Washington.
And, Mohsen Milani, who worked the hardest to get here this morning. He had to drive, take an overnight, change about five minutes ago, and now he is joining us. He is the executive director Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at the University of South Florida. We are talking this morning about rebuilding alliances and containing adversaries, and we don't really know what kind of foreign policy we will have in the Trump administration. We know what he said on the campaign trail, so I want to begin with some of those statements.
There’s no more urgent time in the Middle East, there are raging conflicts in the region – I'd like to start though with his statements about ripping up the Iran nuclear agreement – because I think that has been a constant as he – to address how they feel about it. some of them have already publicly said one way or the other, so Prince Turki, I'd like to start with you because you wrote a surprising column this week to advise the new president to actually not rip up the agreement.
Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud: The – if there is any surprise perhaps it's because people haven't listened to Saudi Arabia for some time. The nuclear deal has been considered by the world community as the method to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons during the terms – the term of the deal itself. So, to rip it up now would allow Iran to pursue whatever endeavors they may have – ambitions on – and I would rather see that this nuclear Ian becomes a first step in ridding Middle East – all the Middle East weapons of mass destruction. Not just Iran, we have another nuclear power in our midst – Israel.
We have a potential competition or rivalry with Iran, should there not be a firm, and permanent topic of development of nuclear weapons in our part of world. So, if Iran adheres to the terms of the nuclear deal, at least we have a respite in the next 15 years when we can work diplomatically, and through various means of communication – to establish his own tree of weapons of mass destruction – which is already a subject that has been agreed to by the united nations review conference on the three tier to prevent nuclear proliferation.
That is, to me, a much better way of going about preventing the development of nuclear weapons.
Deborah Amos: Eliot, can the next president tear up that agreement? Is that possible?
Eliot Cohen: Well, before I get to that, let me just say how pleased I am to be here and how much I enjoyed in the last panel – listening to people say what my views were. And, occasionally they're even passing resemblances to my views that were laid out there – maybe we can discuss that. Yeah look, one of the – I was not in favor of the Iran deal. One of the problems that you have when you simply have an agreement, and it's not a treaty, is there isn't that sense that you've got the full weight of the United States government behind it.
There is a reason why we have treaties that are ratified by the Senate. So, if the president wanted to, yes the president can do that. Now, a normal president would not do that – I mean just because of all the expectations of our allies, disruption when you substitute for blah blah. The question is whether we're dealing with an entirely normal kind of presidency. And, we won't know that. I mean, if I had to guess, my guess is that they will not simply rip it up, but they will do two things – both of which actually in some ways I’d approve of.
One is simply trying to stick to the provisions in a pretty demanding way, and trying to fix some things that you can fix, but I suspect that they will also view the nuclear deal not the way the current administration views it, which is as something apart from the overall around. That is to say, I think it's a little bit more likely that they will view this as part of a broader problem of dealing with an Iran that is, you know, in Syria, and in Yemen, and in other parts of the Middle East doing things that we and our allies don't like.
So, that would be what I guess, but you know everything that anybody says about this administration – the informant administration has to be much more heavily caveated than for any other administration that I’m aware of.
Deborah Amos: Nabil Fahmy, does Egypt share that view that Iran is a bad actor in the region?
Nabil Fahmy: ..., if I may also start with something else. I want to congratulate MEI seventieth anniversary of this conference. I've used – taken advantage of their expertise for many years, and I only expression of the gratitude. The second point is actually to you. You were introduced that somebody who could speak about the Middle East in your sleep. I remember being foreign minister for a year, and I used to speak about the Middle East in my sleep. It was such a difficult situation, and it still is frankly, so I'm not surprised that you speak about our region in your sleep.
On the third point, I agree with also the first two speakers. When the deal came out, and my background is in arms control, so I accept incrementalists. I know we can't do everything at the same time. But, that being said, I found the deal a step forward but not enough – because it only placed a cap on the – on the nuclear program of Iran and didn't go on to deal with the fundamental issue of proliferation in the middle east. In other words, what do you do after that? How do you create a zone for your weapons of mass destruction – including Israel of course, and so on.
And, that's, by the way, originally an Egyptian proposal that we had made years passed. And secondly, my other problem was – well Iran has been pursuing a very aggressive regional policy. There’ve been – what we see now in the middle east is an imbalance between the traditional players in the Middle East, an imbalance in favor of non-Arab vs. Arab parties in particular, and one expression has of that has been Iran playing an aggressive policy. Iran is an important country, and we need to deal with it seriously. At the same time it can't be at the expense of the interests of others.
So, I am concerned about how do we link this deal without it being part of the contractual agreement of how do we a link Iranian policies and practices with how we move forward. I frankly support both of the first two comments.
Deborah Amos: Mohsen, has the Iran nuclear deal made Iran more aggressive?
Mohsen Milani: First of all, thank you – thanks to the Middle East institute for inviting me. I honestly feel honored to be in this panel with three distinguished speakers and a very distinguished moderator. I don't think so. I think if you look at Iranian vision or policy today, and compare it to its policy prior to signing the historical nuclear deal – you do not see any more Iran being more aggressive if that's the word you want to use than it was before.
And, the expectation that Iran should become less of whatever you want to call it – aggressive, expansionist, imperialistic – and they called all kinds of names for what Iran is doing – which in my mind is nothing short of expanding its sphere of influence – which is what every other major player in the Middle East is trying to do – some of them with success, some of them without much success.
The nuclear agreement was an arms control deal. It was a great deal for America, a great deal for the region, a great deal for Iran. It was a win-win. It had nothing to do with Iran's regional policies – zero, zilch, nothing. And, to expect that these two are connected is a fraud understanding of the Middle East. The reality is that Iran has become a major regional power – partly because of the mistakes the United States has made, and partly because the Iranian leadership has been opportunistic, and has taken advantage of the vacuum that has been created there.
From Lebanon to Syria to Yemen to Iraq and to Afghanistan, Iran has become a major player but it is a spoiler player. It is a player that cannot change the landscape of the Middle East, but it is a player that can make it very difficult for the United States, and extremely difficult for Saudi Arabia and others to implement their ambitions in that Region.
Deborah Amos: And so Prince Turki, how do you see that dilemma in the new administration. We’ve had mixed signals. The second thing that president-elect Trump says is we will police that agreement like they've never had it policed before. Is that what Saudi Arabia wants to see, or are you discomforted by the election?
Prince Turki: President Trump has – President elect Trump has said many things, and so I think for us to prejudge his actions would be premature. We have to see what he does, and then we can check where we can go from there. On policing the agreement – definitely it must be policed, and I read in the papers as others read in the papers that there are some questions about Iranian adherence to the full letter of the – of the agreement. I’m not an expert on that, but others will be better judges on it. But, yes policing the agreement is the means to guarantee that Iran's commitments are based on reality, rather than wishful thinking.
Deborah Amos: Can I push you on one issue with the president-elect and that is he had a call yesterday with the Russian leader, he has spoken disparagingly about Syrian rebels, is this a president that in the sound of you, sees the region the same way that you do?
Prince Turki: I don't know, nor would I presume to put myself in his place, but what I would change – and I said this publicly before – I wish as president elect, before he takes the oath of office that he will pack a bag, and visit the Friends of America in the Middle East, and listen directly from these friends on their concerns, their ideas, and their prognostications of how to deal with issues.
That, I think is it is the best way for him to be able to make up his mind before he's deluged, as I described it, with opinions and ideas of experts in quotation marks – who have in the past had agendas in the Middle East – and we've seen that those experts from 1948 until now have not gotten the United States the better end of a peaceful, and prosperous middle east.
Deborah Amos: Eliot, what would you advise? Not that you're going to be asked, but what would you advise?
Eliot Cohen: Yeah I somehow that kinda doubt I’m gonna be asked to give advice. You know I – I'm gonna dodge that question because I’ve served in our government, and one thing I've learned is there is no Platonic ideal of a policy there. It's a policy that can be executed by the bunch of people who actually have to execute it. And, so for people like me and in places like this to say this is exactly what we ought to do. It’s ridiculous, first nobody's going to listen to you, but it's like trying to recommend what's the best possible piece of music you can play? Well, it really depends what kind of violinist you are.
And, it will be one thing if you have – you know I think be one kind of thing if you had a team that was composed of people who had considerable experience in foreign affairs, and knew the region. It’d be something very different if it's a much odder assortment of people. One thing I will say, to not completely avoid your question, is there are many reasons why I, quite early on, back in February, in fact, decided that I could not support – even though I'm still Republican – could not support a Donald Trump.
There are many reasons, one of them was his contemptuous attitude toward allies, and if the United States has position in the world that it has today, that still has – its because one of the reasons – one of the biggest reasons for it is our alliance system. And, you don't take alliances for granted. George Schultz once said that it's like gardening – you know, you just continually have to tend to your alliances. And, I understand they can be frustrating and all that. And, I hope that the kinds of people who come into the administration will understand that.
And, whether or not the president elect visits the Middle East – certainly early on there's a flow of people going out there to establish the relationships that you need in order to conduct foreign policy.
Deborah Amos: Nabil, is Prince Turki in his telling the experts have been getting it wrong – we now have an inexperienced team of people. As a long-term American watcher, and as someone who actually worked to shape Egyptian foreign policy, what are you going to be looking for in this new administration? What signals will you look for to tell you that, in your view, they are taking the region seriously, they understand what the – what the crises are, and have thought through how to deal with them?
Nabil Fahmy: That's an excellent question, and one that is very difficult to answer for several reasons. I think there's so much in flux internationally and regionally in the Middle East. Internationally, just one example, where will China be, what it all be, and what will America's role be? These will be China – over and above, of course, Russia. And, regionally, everything that's happening in the in the in the Middle East – so it's difficult for me to give you one issue.
But, I would argue that I think what we're going to see here is, if I may say, and I say it respectively – a Trump like foreign policy – it will be a Trump foreign policy. And, those including our region will think that all of that is simply electioneering, and won't reflect on foreign policy are wrong. But, I think in reality it sort of brings the candidate to deal with the facts.
Deborah Amos: And, how would you define that?
Nabil Fahmy: It would have been the same, frankly, had Clinton been elected, but from a different perspective. Not the same policy, but she would have had to also deal with Malek. I think the president-elect will pursue realpolitik more than an ideological foreign policy. And I’m an internationalist in my own thinking, so for me realpolitik means dealing with reality, not trying to recreate history. Dealing with reality, and trying to manage change as accepting it – managing change as we move forward.
So, I would look at someone who looks at the Middle East – looks at what's going to happen in the Middle East, and trying to be a partner there. for me, what I'd like to see is an American foreign policy that's strategic, not practical – that looks at the Middle East has a partner, not an adversary, and there again, there are different members there. But, I would argue also, I’d love to see the American administration that tries to build capacity in the Middle East, but for Middle Easterners, so that they become more able to deal with their own problems.
That being said, so this is not misunderstood, the Middle East is in such a dire situation that it can't do it alone. In other words, American isolationism is not the recipe for policy in the Middle East. But, I do believe that trying to help your allies in the Middle East become better whoever they are, and consequently better partners, and therefore creating an – a different balance between who carries the water on security issues, on economic issues, on education issues, and who does not – that's the best approach forward.
Frankly, I don't know enough about the president-elect, and his advisers, except from the election campaign. and therefore I simply can't tell you where we're going to this, but I want to see a strategic policy, and I want to see one that actually tries to make Middle Easterners better Middle Easterners, and therefore better partners.
Deborah Amos: I'm just going to push you a minute on that. You know, Middle Easterners said that President Bush intervened too much, and Obama intervened too little. In some ways, Trump knows the Middle East better than other incoming presidents. He certainly knows marketing. I mean, he's been selling goods in the Middle East for a while, and has golf courses in the Middle East. Do you – do you as someone who comes from the Middle East, want the bush model, or the Obama model, and do you see any signs that you can tell which way he will lean?
Nabil Fahmy: Well, let me answer to set – the last part first. The signs, no I don't know. I don’t see any signs except that he's talking more and more about being a politic – dealing with the situation in the adversaries as they are on the ground. That is realistic, but it's not enough. In terms of choosing between Bush and Obama, I don't think the Middle East is between the bush policy, and Obama policy. It’s because they – one of them wanted to make us an American model, and the other one didn't feel that he had enough stake into the process, and therefore would only intervene in certain issues.
I actually, and they're both tactical policies. This is why I started by saying we need a strategic policy. The Middle East is going through tremendous turmoil. It’s not going to be resolved in a year or two, or three and three years before the next election cycle. But, if you really believe that – let me put it this way – since the president-elect has a corporate mentality, I’d want him to be the chairman, not the CEO. I don't want him to be the manager of the relationship, although it has to be. I want him to be the one who looks at the strategic interests of his corporation – in this case, America.
And, that's a longer-term respect. The Middle East will not be managed by foreign powers in the future, and it cannot survive alone.
Deborah Amos: Mohsin, this has been an interesting time in Iran. For the first time, Iranians actually saw the debates. At the same time, they also saw House of Cards. How do they understand what they saw, and how do you think that they react to a Trump presidency?
Mohsin Milani: Well, Iran is a country of about 80 million people, and I do not believe I can speak on behalf of most of them I can only tell you that the reaction that I have read in Iranian newspaper – was a combination of shock and entertainment – and a lower – once it became clear that we have a new president elect, ambassador Trump, the reaction in Iran has been, I believe, very reasonable. They have come to accept that Mr. Trump believes in deliberate uncertainty, and they're trying to adjust their policy to address this.
On the one hand, they have said repeatedly by highest official including a former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. And, the president is speaking of the Iranian parliament – that we should not be quick about making any judgment about Mr. Trump. they said that you don't know enough this about this man, we know he's a businessman, and I think the fact that they think he's a businessman, and the fact that they think – they think – they're not very sure, that he wrote the book called the art of the deal.
They don't understand the concept the ghost writer. I think the top leadership in Iran is convinced that because Iran plays such an important role in the region, and then every major challenge this country has in that region, from the solution of the Syrian crisis to stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction to Afghanistan, to terrorism, to the resolution of the Yemenis crisis.
Iran can play a hand. Now, they believe they can’t have a deal with president elect Trump. they think that he might start with a lot of harsh our returns, but eventually he's gonna come to his senses and accept that there is not much they can do about Iran. The fact that he has said repeatedly, and I believe he is correct, that Isis is the single greatest threat to the stability of the region. And that he's willing to work with the Russians which means that he might be thinking about working with the Iranians – because after all, the Russians and Iranians are in an alliance in Syria.
To them, this is the key element of why they believe they can strike a deal with Mr. Trump either immediately, or after a while. But, at the same time, they have said repeatedly that if he doesn't want to make a deal, if he is going to abrogate the nuclear agreement, that would be fine and they're going to go back to the old days of hostility toward the US, and they made one very interesting point. And, that is it is much easier – and that comes from the security side of the Islamic Republic. They have said it is much easier to deal with somebody like Trump who comes out openly, publicly expresses his hostility toward Iran, then somebody like Obama.
They say it is much easier to deal with those who talk about regime change than those who do not talk about regime change, but pursue at regime change policy.
Deborah Amos: Do you think that there is a segment of in power who would actually like to have that agreement aggregated?
Mohsen Milani: I have heard about this a lot, that there are some people who want to abrogate the treaty. But, I'm not very sure if you are in the position of power. If it is abrogated, it's going to create all kinds of problem for Iran, but at the same time it's going to create new opportunities for the hard liners. And, they honestly – I don't think they think at that Trump can single-handedly abrogate this – because their view, and I believe they are right, is that this agreement first of all is not with the US alone.
It is with four other permanent members of the UN Security Council, with Germany, and the European unions.
More importantly, it does have the force of international law – because UN security council resolution 2311 unanimously approved this nuclear deal, and they believe if Mr. Trump single-handedly abrogates this treaty, he is not going to be able to convince the Europeans to go along with new sanctions, he definitely is going to have a tough time with the Chinese and the Russian, and most importantly – what is he gonna do about billions of deals that the Iranians have already made with boeing company, with Airbus company, with total of France, and with the number of other major European countries.
Deborah Amos: That’s a very good question. and so Prince Turki, let me ask you to sort of think about that same scenario that Mohsen sketched, which is a Trump who speaks to Putin, who has spoken about ISIS is the main threat – he – we don't know what his policy prescriptions are yet about Syria, but the fact that he called Putin tells us that maybe the Iranians are right. Maybe there is some way that he can come to terms with Iran in Syria. How is that seen in Saudi Arabia? And, at some moment, do the Saudis decide that they pursue their own interests in Syria and not work as closely with the United States?
Pince Turki: If Mr. Trump reaches some kind of agreement with the Russians and perhaps through that with the Iranians in Syria, I think that would be the most disastrous thing that could happen to the Syrian people. Nobody’s talking about the Syrian people – talking about Russia, about Saudi Arabia, Iran, and so on, but it's the Syrian people are being killed. And, who are they being killed by? They are being killed by Bashar Lacid, they're being killed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, they're being killed by Hezbollah, they're being killed by the militias from Iraq – that Iran has pushed into Syria.
They're being killed by any volunteers that Iran has brought from Afghanistan. And, they're being killed by Russian aircraft. That is what has to stop, and Mr. Trump can achieve that. That would be the best thing for the Syrian people. But, how can he achieve that if he's going to cooperate with the same people who are murdering Syrian citizens – dropping murder bombs, using chemical weapons on the Syrians, bombing hospitals, etc. this would be for me, the most disastrous step that Mr. Trump can do for America – not just in Syria, but throughout the world community – because there is – if there is any terrorism in Syria, it's not confined to Isis.
It’s not confined together as in Nusra. The biggest terrorist in Syria is Bashar Assad. He’s the one if you give a ... between the victims of Isis and Nusra, and what Bashar Assad has done, definitely Bashar takes the major prize and his terrorist activities, and how he's terrorizing the Syrian people. So, I hope that before he undertakes any of these steps, as I mentioned, you should get together with America's friends in the Middle East and he knows who America's friends in the Middle East are. And he can eat with these situations when he gets their views.
And, hopefully make up his mind – but to go willy-nilly and see Russia or Iran or Saudi Arabia whatever – I think would be not a very positive factor, and I just want to refer to Professor Milani’s issue about Iranian adventurism, I call it, post nuclear deal. Two years ago I attended a conference here in Washington and Professor Milani was there, and when I mentioned that there were Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops killing civilians in in Syria, he challenged me on that.
He said where is the proof of that? But, I don't think I have to present him any more proof now because definitely post-deal and the deal has been what, nearly a year now? You’ve seen an influx of Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Syria in the thousands. This is not my conclusion, but it is the admission of Iranian leadership. They proudly proclaim that they have 200,000 soldiers spread all over the Middle East. They’re not there to keep the peace. They’re there inflicting harm and inflicting death on the people of Syria and in other places.
Deborah Amos: Mohsen, would you like to speak to that?
Mohsen Milani: Yes, I think I should. Two major points – if I did say that, I don't remember the context. I remember –
Prince Turki: It was the three tier party –
Mohsen Milani: Yes, I remember the conference. I don't remember what I said, but if I did say that Iranians are not involved in killing, I was wrong. Now, they're dead, we know that. Two years ago – I don't know how many of them are dead but they are there now. But, the problem I have is that we describe Syria as a simple case of good guys versus bad guys – that it is all the Iranians and the Russians. May I ask who is providing financial support, weapons, to the other side that is also killing people?
Now, maybe one side is killing more than the other side, maybe there is some element of truth to it, but to start blaming only one part, and not the other part, is the recipe for continual disaster in the Middle East. It’s not gonna take us anywhere. The reality is that there must be a political solution to the Syrian civil war. And, I submit to you, and that's the key point I want to make about Syria, about Iran, and about Saudi Arabia.
And, I have thought about this quite a bit. As long as Iran and Saudi Arabia are engaged in this cold war, nothing is going to be done in the Middle East. And, I have thought quite a bit about that Civil War – that cold war. And, it reminds me of eight years of bloody, useless war between Iran and Iraq. This time, it is not a military war, it is political economic cultural, and I submit to you that Saudi Arabia does not have the power to undermine Iran significantly, and Iran doesn't have the power to undermine Saudi Arabia.
And, I hope and I pray that they get together because as long as they don't get together, both sides will continue to support people who are killing the innocent people of Syria.
Deborah Amos: Nabil Fahmy, I know you don’t want me to call on you, but I'm going to. You are, in some ways – first of all, you’re a foreign minister, you have heard this before. Egypt, at the moment, seems to be repositioning just a little bit closer to Russia, maybe Iran, than it was with Saudi Arabia. Do you see this cold war in the Middle East between Iran and Saudi Arabia as something that an American president can do something about?
Nabil Fahmy: Well first, if I may – let me correct you. I was actually the proponent post 2013 of Egypt pursuing a more multi-state, multi-partner foreign policy. But, I also made the point repeated that this was not replacing one friend by the other. It was by increasing friendships with many more people – because that's the only way – the only way to ensure freedom of decision-making. And, this was important for a country that went through two revolutions in three years.
So, I'm all for that, but there's no comparison whatsoever between our relations with Saudi Arabia, and that of Iran. This is what we are – completely different paradigms – complete different platforms. Whether we are at the peak of agreement with Saudi Arabia, or a little bit less than that, it's way above what it would be what it is with Iran. So, I wouldn't know that conclusion, but to give you a precise answer, are we pursuing stronger relations with Russia? Yes. I would be like that to happen at the same time as we pursue strong relations with the US. Yes, we need both.
I have been a proponent also of encouraging – but before I say that, I need to respond to my colleague here. [Gestures to Prof. Milani.]
Mohsen Milani: I'm a lonely guy.
Nabil Fahmy: To argue that, Iran has not been more aggressive. I can simply refer to you to an Iranian official less than a year ago – said that Iran decides on who is president in for our countries. That’s kind of a statement which you would never think of – think about and you never actually say even if you went that far. So, they have been more aggressive – it's not a function only of the agreement, but they have been. But, nevertheless, I've been a proponent in government, and outside of government of engaging in Iranian and Saudi dialog.
And, for that matter, a Turkish Egyptian dialog – two different parallel issues between to – sorry four very important countries. But, neither of these dialogues can start off from simply bringing them to a room. The Saudi concerns about Iran, frankly, one can argue are they exaggerated or not? But, they are legitimate and they are serious. And, I would argue that a step towards a dialogue would be for Iran to take some positive steps in implementation of the Iranian Saudi security protocol – which they're in violation.
And, I would argue also on the Syrian – excuse me on the Turkish Egyptian side that we need to have some assurances that there will be non-interference in the internal affairs of states. So, I'm all for the dialogue. Saudi Arabia, even though I relations are head and shoulders higher than that with Iran, is an important country as is Iran. And, the continuous clash between them is detrimental to all. But, one has to be realistic about how do we move this forward?
Deborah Amos: Eliot, I wanted to ask you – as you listen to this dialogue, you also know that you know the American military and the security apparatus of this country is involved in a campaign, and muscle, and moving to Raka. There are moving parts in the Middle East that really don't wait for a foreign policy team to be assembled. We are very close to January 21st – how do you think about that when you watch the transition unfold. I mean – and I mean this more seriously than the tweet that you want to see or – or how will you judge how they are bringing expertise in Washington to bear on some pretty serious problems?
Eliot Cohen: Well, you know I think that – it seems to be the fundamental fact of this administration in particular will be it in a way it will have the outlook of the Obama administration except even more so of – we really would rather have nothing to do with the Middle East. Yeah I mean, go kill a bunch people, Isis adherence, and then get the hell out of there. Of course, as the Obama administration discovered, you may not be interested in the Middle East, but the Middle East is interested in you. And, moreover the Middle East is not like Las Vegas – what happens in the Middle East does not stay in the Middle East.
And, so you know willy-nilly you find yourself engaging, and I have to think that that kind of logic would apply here as well. The second thing I think it's really important to bear in mind is like most administrations until some external disaster really hits, it will be internally focused. And, because this is – the new president is going to have Republican majorities in both the house and the Senate; there is a huge backlog of stuff to be done.
So much, I think the president – new president like this team think it’s very important repealing, replacing Obamacare, and sequester offense build up, infrastructure projects which this president is going to be keenly interested in, and which will be focused on because he was the chairman, not of IBM, but of his own tightly held company.
And he took a keen interest in a lot of the detail work there, and I think it'll be like that here too. And, of course, all this at a time when what's going on to the middle east, which is always so complicated that makes it interesting for academics – is getting even more. So, I think there's going to be a kind of disjunction there between the level of sophistication and attention you need – even if you're not planning on doing big things, but just to keep track of the shifting coalitions.
I’ll say what's most important to me about this conversation – other than the obligatory concerns about Israeli nuclear weapons which were kind of tossed out there, then people immediately went to the heart of the issue, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and so on. You’ve got these very interesting coalitions now. Israel and Egypt probably working closer together than ever before, dare I say it, and I’m sure they'll be contradicted – the Israelis and the Saudis and certainly the Emiratis working together passively or openly in ways we never before – the re-emergence of Russia as a power factor in the Middle East.
The nature of those coalitions – this is just enormously complicated, and so I just thing that I'm thinking as I listened to the conversation, as I think by the promise, there's just going to be this is real discrepancy between what it will take to make a sophisticated policy about the Middle East, and where the administration is likely to be.
Deborah Amos: Before I open it up to the audience, and I promise I will do so, I want to ask one question that was asked in the opening panel, which I thought was important – and that is there are two months to go on an Obama administration, and I think it is correct to say that if Hillary Clinton had won the election, he would have quietly run out the clock. There are there are things he can do in the next two months, and I’ll start with you Prince Turki. Is there anything that you would like to see Obama do in terms of foreign policy in the next two months – that he can do – that could change trajectories in the Middle East?
Prince Turki: Recognize the state of Palestine. That is the whole paradigm, but unfortunately I don't think –
Deborah Amos: I think you're right. Eliot go.
Eliot Cohen: So, I’ve not been a great admirer of the Obama administration. It seems to be my fate not to admire most of the administrations in my country. The way you could most profitably, I never thought I would say this, the way he could most profitably spend his time would be coaching the incoming administration. And, I think he understands that. And, actually one of the stupidest things he could do, forgive me, would be to do that – because you know what the result reaction will be? President elect Trump, precisely to make the distinction between himself and the Obama administration, would say well that is null and void in January 21st.
And, you just set yourself up for more conflict, more tension, and you don't accomplish anything. And, there's nothing concrete. He might feel good about it, other people might feel good about it, most people in this room might feel good about it in terms of actually doing something productive – which is how I believe we should measure foreign policy – I don't think it would accomplish anything at all.
Deborah Amos: So, you think he should just quietly try to –
Eliot Cohen: I think he should try to tutor a present elect Trump on what it means to be President of the United States.
Deborah Amos: That's a very scary notion. Nabil Fahmy, could he do anything in the last two months?
Nabil Fahmy: First time in academia now, and I always tell students don't leave the last minute and try to memorize everything before you go in. So, I’m a bit worried about tutoring. But that being said – look in all my years of following American foreign policy, and recollections – every time you have an election, the outgoing administration tells the incoming administration don't deal with the Palestinian-Israeli issue. It’s not going to work. I've seen this over and over again, and I want to, again, to reaffirm. I think this reflects the region agreement between each of us and Saudi Arabia.
I was going to say exactly what Prince Turki just said – Obama can't really make a major change on Syria in a month or two alone. It needs an international agreement to do that, and I don't think it's going to be in the cards, but on the Palestinian issue, if we can't go as far as unilaterally, recognizing the Palestinian state, I would submit to the Security Council, and/or the United Nations. A resolution clearly stating that there is recognition of a Palestinian state and the legality of settlements. And, if the US is there, it will not be beaten. And, it will have a majority whether the US is there not in general assembly.
I think this is important to set the record straight and set the parameters for the next administration whatever it may decide on terms of tactics policy.
Deborah Amos: Before I get to –
Eliot Cohen: If you really want to weaken the UN Security Council even more than it already is that would be the thing to do – because as I said president elect Trump the next day gets up and says that will not be the policy of the next administration. And, we're going to ignore that, and I don't care for the UN anyway – it's counterproductive. I mean, gesture politics is almost always counterproductive. And, that's what would be – it’d be a gesture.
Prince Turki: So is planned policy by the United States – that's been very counterproductive.
Nabil Fahmy: Yes I believe there is something that he can do, and I believe he should do, and that is the single greatest foreign policy legacy of Mr. Obama is the Iranian nuclear deal – nothing else comes even close – not his policies toward Iraq, or Afghanistan, toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
This is his legacy, and he should know that that legacy is now in danger. what he can do is accelerate Iranian green integration to world economy to make sure that the banking sanctions are lifted, to make sure that Western companies are willing to go back to Iran to invest because I submit to you – not only this makes perfect economic sense for Mr. Obama, but it also makes perfect economic sense for our billionaire President who wants to create jobs.
Iran today has the largest, and best, most attractive market of all the Middle Eastern countries according to British sources. And, reintegrating Iran not only would result in moderation of Iranian foreign policy, and the example of China confirms this – not only will moderate the Iranian foreign policy, but it will ensure that the nuclear deal will survive, and most importantly, I believe it's the best way to moderate the Iranian foreign policy. I hope he does that.
Deborah Amos: Thank you, I’m going to open questions to the audience. Please stand up and state your, name make sure the end of your sentence goes down, and keep your – keep your statements – make them into questions.
Douglas Brooks: Hi, Doug Brooks, international stability operations Association. You briefly touched on Mosel in the issue dash, and it’s been a great discussion, but I'd be putting in the perspectives of everyone on the panel, on how they would tweak, or significantly modify the current US military operation against dash.
Deborah Amos: The other question is how would a Trump administration or your recommendation on the approach towards ISIS – Daesh.
Prince Turki: The approach to liberate Muslim is the approach to deal with dash, and if that can be carried over into Syria as well, all the better, and the kingdom, as you know more than a year ago has been declaring that is willing to participate in a ground campaign to get rid of what I would prefer to call fahash in Syria. So, America can find allies in Syria, as well, to do that if it is seen to be serious about it.
Eliot Cohen: I would be insane to try to second-guess a campaign put together by competent military planners which is what we've got. But, I would say there are two issues that I would think that they should be thinking about – one is obviously the reconstruction of Mosel who's gonna run that place, you know what kind of rocky militias are going to be running around – because the big mistake is – will be to think okay once we finally crush Islamic state, that's gonna stay crushed. And, that the kind of forces that are there don't metastasize, and develop in some other way. Of course they will.
The second thing is that, you know, it is quite clear I think that the configuration of politics in that part of the world – it's not gonna be resolved just – by take Mosel back – as important as that is – or you're taking Raka. It’s going to have to do with Saudi Arabs, Kurds, with Turks, and the seeds of lots of future conflicts there. So, I hope that what they're doing is thinking about – okay what are the stages that are going to happen afterwards when there's plenty of opportunity for lots of – almost equally ugly conflicts to continue in that general area in Iraq and Syria.
Nabil Fahmy: I think from the experiences of the last few years, one has to draw the conclusion that you can win a lot of battles without actually winning the more strategic war. I think after Mosel ends militarily, it's important to look at how you deal with extremism and terrorism throughout the Middle East. Syria and Iraq were given us an example – they would argue that there is a very serious sense of insecurity also in Libya, but you will see dash going back to traditional terrorism which isn't linked to controlling territory.
But, more and in expanding and using fear as a tool in the political sphere – so I think it's important to look at the issue of extremism and terrorism – not only the battle and Mosel which of course is a very important first step. And, my other point I'd like to make very carefully. As we look at other issues – as you just mentioned earlier, it's important also that we take a strategic decision that we're going to preserve the nation-state system in the Middle East.
If one tries to respond to all of the different ethnic concerns, you are going to end up with a domino effect of very difficult problems. But, you can't ignore the other concerns. All I'm arguing is we need to view the ethnic concerns within the parameters of preserving a nation-state system – because otherwise we will have complete chaos in the region.
Mohsen Milani: I think the military operation against ISIL in Mosel will succeed – that's I believe the easy part. The difficult part is what happens after the liberation of that city. And, I sincerely believe that if the Iraqi government, as well as the Iranian backed militia and the Shiites, do not extend a sincere hand of cooperation, and of serious sharing of power with most – in running that city – running the province – we're going to have a lot of trouble ahead.
However, if the city can be liberated, and if there can be a power sharing mechanism there, that experience could be franchised, and be extended to other parts of Iraq as well as Syria – it could be a very good beginning – and I hope it is.
Deborah Amos: Thank you.
Audience Member: Hello, I’m Horatio Uretta [?], Department State – one part of the big jigsaw puzzle in the Middle East not mentioned is Yemen. So, I'd like to address the question to both Prince Turki and also foreign minister Fahmy – as a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen – I have two tours in Riyadh, so I definitely recognize security concerns of the kingdom with Yemen. What do you see as the way ahead, you know, from the Arab perspective, and likewise I’m addressing it to foreign minister Fahmy as – as in the 1960s, Egypt had troops in Yemen, also.
So, what is the Arab way ahead where the U.S. could be obviously a positive partner in this, and moving forward in Yemen – just not even sure how even what moving forward is in Yemen in this situation.
Prince Turki: I read today in the papers that secretary Kerry has announced there is going to be a ceasefire. At the same time I read in the same paper that the Yemeni foreign minister has denied any knowledge of that agreement. It’s a bit confusing. From Saudi Arabia’s point-of-view, resolution 2216 is the basis for achieving a stable and workable peace event in Yemen. And, with that international sanction for the terms of 2216 – whatever ceasefire may be held in the Yemen is going to be lacking one important element that has never appeared so far – either Yemen or in Syria for that matter, and that is a policing mechanism to implement the ceasefire to decide who did what to whom, and prevent them from doing it again.
And, unless – and until that mechanism is implanted in any formula that is devised to have a ceasefire and then talks and then eventually reconciliation and so on according to resolution 2216, which demands that how things withdraw from the cities that they occupied – that they release the weapons that they have stolen from the Armories – release the prisoners, etc. without a ceasefire that's not going to happen.
So, to be able to get that ceasefire without a policing mechanism for the cease fire, is also not going to allow the ceasefire to happen. Have that mechanism, and then you can have a ceasefire.
Nabil Fahmy: Well, I keep caution against trying to recreate history, but on one thing in which all of Egypt is an agreement – nobody wants to put troops in Yemen, so we're not going to do that – in terms of being part of a combat. But, I take your point seriously. I actually believe that while the essence of the solution, for at least the parameters are there – I do believe that Arabs generally have to be more proactive in dealing with political problems in the region. And, I will share with you a specific point.
When the coalition forces started in Yemen, my country and my myself were supportive of that, but I think frankly it would have been useful even while that was going on, for Arabs to come up with a political proposal – let's go okay how do we move this forward? So, we manage the process with international support. That hasn't happened. I think the Arab countries can ultimately provide peacekeeping forces, but not necessarily alone. But, I think they should participate in these kinds of forces – whether that's in Yemen or even throughout something else – on the Libyan border by the way was elimination.
And, I would again throughout the idea that we have suggested in Egypt that Arabs need to be more proactive in dealing with their security concerns and therefore it's important to put together an Arab force for emergency situations. Now, that's a little bit further down, but I do believe that if the politics progress – I think an Arab presence within an international force to ensure the peacekeeping process is useful.
Rahim Rashidi: Rahim Rashidi from Kurdistan TV – what is the way to stop Iran influence in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Barantu. And, Mr. Faso, if in 20 years Iranian Kurds Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan pd kai are still fighting against Iran – Iranian government claims Saudi Arabia is behind this neuron of fights. Can you confirm that or not? Thank you.
Deborah Amos: I think that was directed to you.
Prince Turki: To me?
Deborah Amos: Yes. And, it was a question that asked I think – can you confirm or deny the charges that the Iranian government is making that Saudi is backing the Iranian PKK – is that correct? Do I have that right?
Prince Turki: [Inadible.] I don't know if Saudi Arabia's backing any group in Iran. My personal view is that we should continue engaging with Iran. There are two things that are unchanging in our relationship with Iran. One is geography – we can’t get away from them. The other of course is religion – we both believe in Islam, we both believe in the Prophet Muhammad, and the Quran, etc. and, one of the ironic things of course is that since the advent of the Khomeini, the revolution, and the subsequent succession of Mr. Khamenei – is that both of them were black turbans. Which – and Shi'a practice and believe indicate that they are descended from the Prophet Muhammad. So imagine an Iran ruled by an Arab is now being in the state that it is in – in conflict with Arabs. And that I think is – is what should not happen. So, from that context whether there are Kurdish groups operating against Iran, or in-house Arab groups or in Baluchistan – Balushi groups or in Azerbaijan, as it by Azerbaijani groups – whatever you may consider.
We want in Saudi Arabia to have peace. We want to be able to make sure that Iran itself is not afflicted with the centrifugal forces that have operated in Iraq where sect and ethnicity become a divisive factor in Iranian society. That is something that would not be acceptable to the neighbors to the west of Iran – particularly Saudi Arabia. So, as I said, I have absolutely no idea if there is any support going to any groups operating within Iran. But, the overall factor is that Iran can be a constructive player if it wants to, and that is something I think that the Iranian people themselves have to demand from their leadership.
Deborah Amos: Mohsen?
Mohsen Milani: Yes I think one of the old ways of trying to create instability in Iran, not without success, is to support various ethnic groups from the Kurds, from the Arabs, to Baluchis. And, this has been historical. The British did it, and the Russians have done it. And, unfortunately I see a revival of this in the past few years. I don't know who is providing support to some elements of the Kurds – Iranian Kurds. But, they have increased their activities against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. I don't know who's supporting the Beluchis or the Arabs in different parts of Iran, but they also are increasing their activities.
And, finally – perhaps most disturbingly – some countries in the region are now supporting the Mojahedin [el-Khalq, ed.]. Now, you know the Mojahedin have been engaged in a war with Iran with Islamic government for the past 37 years. And, they haven't succeeded in the role, but when you, as a country, begin to support an organization that Iran considers an existential threat – then you have to remember you're sitting – you're staying in a glass house, and you better not throw stone because other countries also have their own vulnerability.
I hope that Iran comes to his senses, and does not try to destabilize any country or region. I'm a peaceful man, I believe in diplomacy, and I condemn any intervention by any country in Iran, as well as Iran intervention in other countries. But, unfortunately, this has become a game of if you do it, I'm gonna do it. And it's not gonna go anywhere. So I hope whoever is supporting these elements, stop their support, and I hope if Iran is supporting some elements in Saudi Arabia, in [inaudible] other parts – they too stop this.
Audience Member: Thank you. Iza Prassa[?] – leadership and negotiations trainer – and one of the things that we focus on in training on leadership negotiations is that you better serve your own interest once you – in your diagnosis, you think of your piece of the mess, what are things that you are contributing towards the mass as opposed to stopping at blaming others or thinking that the problems is on the other side – because that robs you of your own initiative.
So, my question is all three, in fact Egypt, Iran, and the other, what are the assumptions that you discover – what are the discoveries that you found in your policies that you realize were wrong and changed them? And, with and the second question is with the background of what this American administration is going likely to be – what are things that you think you could be doing to ameliorate your capacity to achieve your interests?
Deborah Amos: That's a very good question, but if you would like to give it a try –
Prince Turki: Yes, I would start with the [inaudibel] I mean Iran is – proposition that Arabs should work together. I don't think we've done enough of that. On the contrary, we see differences and other conflictions in our relationships. One thing we can do for example is remove trade barriers in the Arab world. It’s inconceivable that Arab community of more than 350 million people cannot find the means to trade with each other. Saudi Arabia does more trade with China, and with the United States, and Korea, and with other countries then with its neighbors in the Arab world – and vice versa. Countries like Egypt also have their own trading partners outside the Arab community. That is just one step I think where we as Arabs have not been successful – you know I would like to see more of that. in the GCC, for the life for me, and I can't understand why we haven't yet unified in the GCC after all that we've been through – from the time of the Iran-Iraq war all the way to the time now.
We’re facing these big programs. And, hypothetically, and I would say rather – perhaps, how can I put it, in terms of wishful thinking – if we could cut off the Arabian peninsula from the Asian mainland and sail into the oceans and then anchor somewhere near Sweden or Norway – I think that would be something to look forward to.
Eliot Cohen: I think the big challenge for the United States is to – and for U.S. government – I don't know that this will happen, but is to really sit back and say what is realistically possible in the Middle East as it is today? And, Middle East in general is place where great dreams go to die.
Prince Turki: Or start –
Eliot Cohen: Sometimes start yes, but that was awhile back. But, you know –but I need to be serious –to take your thought about the nation-state which I think is really important, that the collapse of nation states in the Middle East is a disaster – I think through the peoples of the Middle East, it's not good for the rest of us either. But, I do think what an American administration does have to ask itself in a pretty cold-blooded way as well what is possible?
I mean how can things be put back together again, and we in the United States in particular had a bad history of wishful thinking about all kinds of things – about many different aspects of politics in the Middle East. And, the reason I think this is so important is because the alternative, which I fear more, is that temptation to say, "Oh, who needs the Middle East? We’re effectively energy independent, we basically don't like any of the peoples there. We’re just going to detach ourselves from the Middle East."
And, that never worked because the Middle East, as I said before, isn't is interested in us. So I think that’s a huge challenge, and it is, in many ways, a kind of intellectual and policy challenge together.
Deborah Amos: But, Eliot, do you think that the spillover is recognized now as a strategic interest?
Eliot Cohen: If we were talking about an incoming Clinton administration I’d say sure. I’d say you know if you were to ask me about the Exile – the Republican foreign and national security policy establishment – or get someone –I would say of course. This team, I don't know.
Nabil Fahmy: For years, whenever I tried to sort of think out of the box, and see how to solve problems, I always ended up with that – the beginning of solving them is back home. And, then you become a better player regionally and a better player internationally, and therefore the foreign policy component ends up being better. I think the Arab world has suffered from two deficits for generations and we need to address them. As a first step, managing change deficit – change is normal and it's going to happen, and if we don't manage it properly, we end up, or always try to deny, we end up facing the events rather than trying to lead into them.
So, that's one point – there's not enough time, but I can give us a lot of anecdotal examples of how this happened. The other one has been a national security deficit. We have been, including my own country, and I'm talking about last 60, 70 years – we have been overly dependent on foreigners for our national security. And, consequently the there's been an imbalance between non-Arab and Arab countries in terms of national security capacity in the region.
And, any of our problems have become complicated with regional and international priorities. I'm not an isolationist – I said repeatedly I believe in dealing with the world, so we will always have an international component in national security, but I think we need to be more self-dependent, and more regionally dependent, and then more internationally. And, I think if we do that we will end up with being better partners and better interlocutors with the international community, including the U.S.
One of the points is this, as you correctly you mentioned, Eliot, is how do we preserve our nation state system? Well it's a dealing with our own problems, coming up with suitable examples of what we want our world, and our own countries to look like in the 21st century. They don't have to a model based on something else, but they have to be a model that’s receptive and responsive to our own constituencies back home.
And, that's not there yet, so we need to do some more work in that particular. And, thirdly I would argue that – you know if you look at the Middle Eastern problems – Libya, the lack of Arab-Israeli progress, Syria, Yemen – every single one of them is being shepherded by a non-Arab. It’s astonishing that every single one of these problems – there's not one Arab leading the way like [inaudible] – or, making proposals on how to solve these issues.
So, I argue back home more than I do here that if we want our voice to be heard, we need to come up with specific proposals on how to move forward and engage others. And, to do that – and it goes back again to a point that I know Prince Turki and I share – frankly to do that, the Arab world is not the Arab world when the Arab League was established when we had six states. It’s actually 22. So, we have to take into account many more opinions than we had in the past.
But, that's a good problem rather than a bad problem because reflects there are more Arab countries, and or independent countries. But, the onus at least in the short term will ultimately fall on Saudi Arabia. And, we need to carry this – the responsibility there in this particular point in time with a lot more engagement strategically between our two countries – a lot more dialogue. And this is not criticism of anybody, by the way, but the reality is if I change the leadership in Egypt and in Saudi Arabia, it’s natural that every now and then there are issues that we need to catch up on.
And, I strongly support both Egypt and Saudi Arabia in engaging much more intensive context.
Mohsen Milani: I just briefly – I think you talked about the deficit we have in the Middle East, and I agree, but I also see that we have too much militarization in the Middle East. Too many countries are spending too much, and that will have huge political and social ramifications. All you have to do is look at Iran in the 1970s. Iran, at that time, was the major force behind militarization, and we all know what happened to those who pursued that. We also have too much despotism in the region – not enough respect for human rights. And, by the way, that includes Iran, not excluding Iran from this.
And, I think as long as the people of the Middle East do not come to understand that they – that we have our own problem – we are the main cause of the problems we had, and that we must stop blaming others for the problems we have – you ‘re never going to be able to solve those problems.
Deborah Amos: Thank you. This side.
Audience Mamber: I’m Hanil Adeep [?]; I'm an Egyptian-American consultant, and educator. This question is mainly for Professor Milani, but perhaps Mr. Cohen, as well. As you may know, there were many Egyptians actually that were favoring – sorry Mr. Trump for presidential election – and again it’s Hillary Clinton – mainly because of the perception that Hillary Clinton and President Obama, even with supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and against President Sisi – and so these people are kind of excited now, I know, that President Trump would be leading the United States. And they say that you know, he admires President Sisi, and the great times will be back again, and all that.
What do you think the relationship between Egypt and the United States would be in the era of President Trump? Thank you.
Nabil Fahmy: Well, I mean I'm glad at the beginning of this talk I said I didn't know because there were so many open questions. That being said, to give you a serious answer to the question, I think Egyptians, like many Americans, preferred President elect Trump for the reasons you mentioned – but also because of the fact that they didn't like American policies over generations. And, Secretary Clinton reflected or represented a continuation of the political system, per se. So, it's more than simply the position – either the extremism.
In terms of how we move forward, I wrote an article a month or two ago and I basically said that that Middle Easterners who met the two candidates probably feel a bit more comfortable, but unsatisfied – because of the lack of clarity as you go forward. I actually think that on issues of dealing with terrorism and extremism, there will be more of a coming together – coming together of opinions.
That being said, I may be wrong here, but if I look at that as an element of a larger Trump mindset, it appeared to be significantly about extremism and terrorism against America. I’m not sure how far that would be internationally, and I would add also – add my voice to those who previously had said that even after you win the battle, you then have to lead the reconstruction and all of the other elements to this.
And, I'm not sure frankly if America will be supportive of that kind of huge contribution –whether it deals with terrorism or if we solve the Syria issue, or Libya and so on and so forth. So, I think frankly – I caution Egyptians against getting overly enthusiastic about one candidate or the other. And, I also cautioned them equally strongly about assuming that, which is often repeated by the way – that doesn't really make a difference to your elect institutions – will bring them and control them – that's not true either.
So, it's going to be a learning curve I think. Within six months people will be – six months in the administration, they will be less satisfied then they thought they'd be, but you will have – depending on what actions are taken – more support on the issue of extremism. But, probably concerned about American involvement in the region – and support of its allies – but let's wait and see on that.
Eliot Cohen: Yeah, you know I basically agree with that but, I do think you have to take the candidate president elect’s word seriously. He used the phrase America first which has some very uncomfortable historical echoes, as I'm sure most people here know. I think he means it, and I think you know the – although I quite agree with you that the institutions, just force of reality will turn it from Trump into "Trump Lite" – still that will be the orientation for which he proceeds.
It will be well the United States not just first – any president’s gonna put the United States first. You would be wrong not to, but the disposition would not be to be internationalist in a way that I – actually we're kind of used to. So, I suppose my instinct is to think that there might be a bit more of a departure from previous norms than we would like to think. there is right now one of things that is just kinda interesting about watching the media bubble that is Washington – despite all the to and fro, there is a – people very much want to normalize this, and to say well do the elements of continuity will be dominant. Maybe, but I’m not sure I’d bet on it.
Nabil Fahmy: Can I just comment? I completely agree with you. I was basically trying to say that Egyptians say that, but I don't agree with – I caution them against assuming everything will be the same. my argument is it's not going to be the same – how far it goes left to right I’m not sure, but our best medicine is building ourselves, and engaging whoever is president now or in the future – rather than and a over-dependence on a foreign power here or there.
Deborah Amos: But, let me ask you all this question as well – I heard this yesterday in a talk in New York. America may be unpredictable for the next four years. And, America's allies – they simply make the calculation that it is better to go along their own ways in more ways than they have. Every once in a while, we'll jump in. but, for the most part, what you see is what you get in a Trump administration.
Eliot Cohen: I agree with that. I mean, in the United States has always been somewhat unpredictable. I think our allies would be the first to tell us that, but I – but I think the element of uncertainty about us will grow, and it's one of the reasons why, sentimental policies aside – just think about Asia and so on – you know it is not inconceivable to me that we will have a number of countries including some countries of the Middle East – which will decide for issues of fundamental security – we really should re look the nuclear option.
And, that would be of course transformative for the Middle East, be transformative for other parts of the world, but I would not rule that out. Again, as a candidate, I know this isn't necessarily where policy goes, but candidate Trump said things about other countries acquiring nuclear weapons – which are really far off from where American policy has been since the 1950s. And, you know maybe he will turn out not to mean it. Maybe turn out that he does.
Deborah Amos: Yes, please that's the American answer – can we please hear from the original specialists
Prince Turki: I refer back to what Nabi Fahmy said – basically is we have, in the area,... we have to put our houses in order. And, if we can do that, no matter how unpredictable American policy can be, we can still be able to withstand that unpredictablility. And, by doing that of course, necessarily, we will take independent positions from whatever unpredictable direction the US takes.
And, it's not just the U.S. that is unpredictable. Hey, Mr. Putin is very unpredictable – I think Europe is equally unpredictable, especially in the coming phase of [inaudible] populism, and the various governments that are going to be formed in the next couple of years or so. We have elections coming next year in Europe, one after another, so if we can have – if we can fix our disease – and our disease is the failing states, the breakdown of the – of the nation-state practice, and norms that we lived with the last 50 or 60 years. If we can fix those, we can pretty much, I think, withstand whatever unpredictability or difference we may have with whoever it may be.
Deborah Amos: But, you did put "if" in that sentence.
Prince Turki: Pardon?
Deborah Amos: You did put "if" in that sentence.
Prince Turki: Well, of course, and we're not there. We still have to do it.
Mohsen Milani: Thank you – two points – you just voted in change. So, if you – if we weren't expecting surprises then we haven't followed what happened over the last few years. But I actually, even though I didn't really take the Trump candidature seriously, even at the Republican primary stage early on, I started taking it seriously when I saw what Bernie Sanders was doing on the Democratic side – because that reflected that Americans are much more angry, and want much more change, than I had assumed.
But, anyway, change is going to happen in America – if not in substance, in style – and that brings also unpredictability. But, let me add another point – it's more than that actually. With the end of the Cold War, especially given the way Americans explain their foreign policy to our constituents, you couldn't find any big enemy.
And, therefore, how do you sell to somebody? And, I say this [with] all due respect – in the foreign [aid] bill – that it's important to spend money in Mali because of disease – and that's going to raise taxes in America. If there's no immediate threat to you there, or what is the return on that? You always explain your foreign policy, not by way of opportunity, but by way of threats – except for Putin, Frankly. You were looking for another threat so you could explain your foreign policy.
It's a different world, and you have to deal with it differently. We have to take much more of our own responsibility because you're going to deal with it differently – even if you look at the Russian foreign policy frankly. Russian foreign policy isn't what it was with Communism, which was illogical. It is – it is directly about what do they gain now from particular actions – in terms of their own national security? They give – they sell and buy stuff, but they don't give aid – that's just one example of what I'm talking about.
But, anyway – my point is, yes they would be unpredictable. We have to do, we have to manage our situation better, and as we go along, if we are better back home, and regionally, we were better partners with America, or with Russia, with whoever.
Prince Turki: I certainly don't have a clue about what Trump's Middle East policy is going to be, and I have followed them quite a bit. I do not know. But what I do know is why some elements in Iran are supported – and are optimistic about Mr. Trump. Their argument is that we have seen the best of America, Mr. Obama, when he wants to negotiate – we have seen America when it wants to overthrow Islamic Republic. We have prepared ourselves to deal with possible American invasion of Iran during those few years of American occupation of Iran.
And, therefore – their thinking is that unpredictability is fine with us... that unpredictability they argue – is bad for American allies, and they think therefore that would be good for you.
Deborah Amos: A great place to stop. Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen, and thank you to the panel. You very, very very good.
[End of Audio]
Duration: 88 minutes