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US Strategy in the Middle East till 2020: Will it Work?

Walid Phares: US Strategy in the Middle East till 2020: Will it Work?

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About the speaker

Dr. Walid Phares, who served as a foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump and Mitt Romney and is Fox News national security expert, will assess US policy towards the Greater Middle East from Afghanistan to Libya, with insights into major crises in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Gulf and Turkey. 

Dr. Phares is an engaging and highly sought after Middle East expert and pacesetter, often predicting trends and situations on the ground years before they occur. He is a Fox News Expert, advisor to the US Congress and the European Parliament and served as a senior advisor on national security foreign policy to presidential candidate Mitt Romney 2012.

Dr Phares is the only expert/author who predicted the Arab Spring a year before it occurred in his pacesetting book, The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East (Threshold, a division of Simon and Shuster 2010). Dr Phares holds an extensive CV and noteworthy achievements in the fields of academia, government strategies, media and publishing critical advice on combatting terrorism and countering jihadi radicalization both stateside and abroad.

Dr Phares holds a Ph.D in international relations and strategic studies from the University of Miami, and a Political Science Degree from St Joseph University and a Law degree from the Lebanese University in Beirut and a Master in International Law from Universite’ Jean Moulin in Lyons, France. 

Dr Phares taught political science and Middle East studies at Florida Atlantic University between 1993 and 2004. Since 2006, he has taught Global Jihadi strategies at the National Defense University in Washington DC. Dr Phares lectures on campuses nationwide and internationally, including at the US Intelligence University. He lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, American University, Columbia, University of Chicago, Pepperdine, Boston College, Brandeis, UC Berkley, University of Colorado at Boulder, Loyola New Orleans, UC Santa Barbara, and many others including Ecole Militaire of France in Paris. Dr Phares lectures also to various academic associations including the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa in Washington DC and Middle East American ethnic organizations.

After having authored six books on Middle East politics and history (in Arabic) in the 1980s, Dr Phares authored another five in English stateside since the mid 1990s. His most important volumes were published after 9/11 starting with Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against America, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) and a critically acclaimed book that was ranked in the top ten books of the 2006 Foreign Affairs List. Future Jihad was read and cited by many members of Congress and the European Parliament. Dr Phares predicted the rise of jihadi urban networks and set forth strategies to counter them in the West and overseas.

Dr Phares published two more books on global strategies: The War of Ideas (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) explaining the ideological indoctrination and The Confrontation, a policy strategy book designed to isolate radicals. Media and colleagues alike rave about Phares’s hallmark book, which predicted the Arab Spring a year before it occurred: The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East (Simon and Shuster, 2010). The book was endorsed by US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and praised by many leading figures in Congress, political circles and media on both sides of the Atlantic.

Dr Walid Phares is a native of Beirut, Lebanon, and immigrated to the United States in 1990. He speaks fluent Arabic and French as well as English. Prior to moving stateside, Dr Phares was a student union leader, a lawyer, a publisher, a university professor, and founded a social-democratic party, which he represented in several political coalitions.

Phares previously spoke at Westminster on the subjects of A New U.S. Response to Upheaval in the Middle East and Geopolitics of the Jihadi Threat: Assessment of ISIS and Iran’s Strategies.


Robert R. Reilly:

Now, the last time that Dr. Walid Phares spoke here, it was an exceedingly dangerous event some three-and-a-half years ago because it was one of the worst winter blizzards that Washington had ever seen. And that he was able to make it here alive, soldier on through this terrible storm, and there were some brave Westminsters in the audience, and that everyone got home alive though it took hours was very laudable. So we’ve given him a break before asking him back and guaranteed better weather, which I’m delighted we have tonight.

Now, as you all know I think Dr. Walid Phares was a foreign policy advisor to two presidential candidates, one of whom you may have heard of, Donald Trump, the other one, Mitt Romney. He’s also renowned as a Fox News expert on the Middle East and appears often there I needn’t tell you. He’s also clairvoyant as he was the only person to predict a year before it happened, the Arab Spring, which he did in his book, The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East.

Dr. Phares has a PhD in international relations and strategic studies from the University of Miami, political science degree from St. Joseph in Beirut, I presume, and a law degree from the Lebanese University of Beirut, and a Masters in international law from the Universite’ Jean Moulin in Lyons.

Now, he’s taught political science and Middle Eastern studies in Florida for many years at the Atlantic University, and he’s also taught here global jihadi strategies at the National Defense University where I was occasionally privileged to sit in on and learn from his superb classes.

Dr. Phares wrote six books as a resident of the Middle East in Arabic and another five when he came stateside in the United States where he immigrated in 1990. Among those book titles I told you one, the other, War of Ideas: The Coming Revolution. You won’t be surprised to hear as Dr. Phares is a native of Beirut that he speaks fluent Arabic and French. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Phares on the subject of “U.S. Strategy in the Middle East Till 2020: Will It Work?” Thank you.

Walid Phares

Thank you, Bob. Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here tonight. I appreciate the fact that I’m going to be meeting with some of my good friends in the audience, including current and former faculty at National Defense University, people who work in the agencies, all the agencies in defense, but also good citizens who have done great achievements.

I’ve been here as Bob mentioned a few years ago through very difficult conditions, a blizzard, but I made it and there were some heroes here, so we survived it. But here again I’m coming back and I’d like to thank first of all formally Dr. Reilly for not just inviting me but inviting you and being really the center of this wonderful project, which is the Westminster Institute. I knew the previous leadership and this leadership is doing great and will do greater. I’m very happy to be with you tonight, especially after many years where we didn’t engage and many things have happened.

I want to go ahead and start without a longer introduction because there is so much to cover. So the only matter you should be aware of is that you’ve got to stop me in 45 minutes, and my good assistant Brooke has this mission of stopping me, I know there’s this clock in the back, because of the volume of matters that have been happening and are happening.

So the good Dr. Reilly asked me if I can comment about United States policy in general and strategies in particular between now and 2020. Actually, when he asked me to lecture, we were still in 2018. So now we are in 2019 and many things have happened since last December and now.

And we are living in strange, very fast times. You agree with me? The events are like an Express Acela train, very fast. By the time you want to think about this one event that happened in your life or in the life of a nation, then you are already in the second event, in the third event. And I am known, modestly, that my work, my specialty is to project future events, so you can imagine how difficult that is. While you are like an Acela train, going very fast and then you are going to think faster than the events. That’s a challenge.

But this is something I love, this is something I’ve been doing modestly and focusing on. I don’t opine like many talking heads on TV on everything. I give my opinion on the things I’m specializing about or in, regarding subjects that I’ve been following for the last – I don’t want to scare you, but – thirty years, when I was two or four.

You know I am legally, since my good professor, colleague mentioned, I am a twenty-nine year old American. If I emigrated in 1990, that would be my age. Forget about the past. I will show you all the papers I have. So ladies and gentlemen, let’s go for it.

The question is between now and 2020, are the strategies of the U.S. dealing with the greater Middle East, going to be successful or not? It’s already difficult to address this issue because of the speed. I mean any strategy we think about today by the time we’re going to apply it, it’ll be September. You know the debates, Congress, we are a divided city, we are a divided everything. It’s so different from the past.

We can barely have a national security policy that we have an agreement about, let alone apply it. And the region is changing. There were times in history when the region was, I don’t want to say stable, but static. We would talk about the Arab-Israeli conflict forever; 1947, ’48, and about 1992 with the Madrid Conference. Nothing really changed, a couple wars. They changed a little bit of the real estate but it was the same.

It was, I don’t want to say funny, but it was, you know, ironic at the time – and I was living in the region until 1990 – that when I came to the states in 1990, I was prepared for something. I prepared myself for something and then I found something else.

When CNN would flash ‘Middle East crisis’, I was living in Miami at the time, which was my first stage before emigrating to the United States. It’s just a joke. Take it as a joke even if it’s videotaped. I enjoyed Miami before I really came to Washington. ‘Middle East crisis’ to me we okay, we’re going to talk about the Kurds, the Iranian threat, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Egypt’s Copts, you know, there are many things happening.

It was only, in the view of CNN, ‘the Israelis and the Palestinians’. That was the only thing in the Middle East that was happening until the Arab Spring, until 9/11. Then the American public, then the international community said wait a minute, there are other conflicts happening in the Middle East. And the Arab-Israeli, Palestinian-Israeli conflict is one of them, one of maybe eight, nine. But that was the view of academia and media in the United States.

So, as I am going to be traveling with you through the region and back and forth to the White House, to Foggy Bottom, to DOD, and look at various approaches to these conflicts, the difficulty is that the American public was not given the opportunity certainly, before the Arab Spring, absolutely before 9/11, god knows during the Cold War, to understand the players in the Middle East.

So when I came here in 1990, I was doing my PhD at the same time teaching in Florida. And let me illustrate with two examples very quickly. Let’s say one example to make it faster. I was assigned a class in Middle Eastern studies undergrad at Florida International University. It was my first class. I was excited. I entered the classroom and I asked a question, which I assumed would be very simple. We’ll build on it. And I asked, “Can anybody tell me where is the Middle East?” A young man with a hat like this said, “I know sir. It’s the other side of the Middle West.” Oh boy. I knew I had a job for a long period of time.

Alright, I’ll tell the second story, which is linked to it. Then a girl, a female student, stood up and said, “No, no, sir.” She was laughing at the guy. She was a girl, so slightly more intelligent and she was Jewish American, so she knew at least part of the Middle East. She said, “No, it is Israel with some Arab neighborhoods around it.” That was better. We were making progress.

I lived it but of course, it’s now known. Many people who are in the Middle East feel that during the ’90s all the way till 9/11 we had a bigger problem, which is our public. We had little information about the Middle East. I’m not talking about people like yourselves. You already know. That’s why you’re here but I’m saying the general public has little knowledge and it’s not the responsibility of the public. It’s the responsibility of the classroom, of academia.

And I argued in many of my writings, including in a couple of my books, one of which was mentioned, the War of Ideas, that if you have a problem in the classroom in any field, but specifically in Middle Eastern studies, guess what’s going to happen? If you misinform or disinform the classroom, this classroom is going to produce graduates. Those graduates are going to go somewhere, get jobs. So from the classroom those graduates are going to end up in the newsroom. So whatever you are misinformed about by your professors and teachers and whatever academic achievements, books and others, it’s going to follow them to the desks, to the news desks. And they are going to ask questions as incredible as this young man I met when I was teaching in Florida for the first time but he was a beginner.

Oh, by the way, ten years later exactly I met this young man in the halls of Congress. I said what are you doing here? He said I’m in a committee. I can’t tell you which one. But he had been transformed. He got the right education, obviously, he got to that committee.

So, the reason I’m offering this introduction is because it is not easy to engage in the war of ideas not even to engage even in analysis if you have different levels of understanding of what we’re talking about. And that’s the matter that I have been encountering and experiencing for the last couple decades, specifically since 9/11.

You know when you go on TV, for example, it’s a big responsibility because you’re looking at a camera and you know that there are millions of people on the other side and whatever you’re going to say with the minimum amount of time you are given because I’m not the talking point, I don’t have an hour. You have three, four minutes.

You’re going to serve, you know, you go on TV and you know that, so what is it that you could put in those three or four minutes one the one hand to tell the truth and to be factual, especially about the Middle East, and also to educate the public on the other side. It’s really a challenge. I may write a chapter in the next book about my engagement with the media, dealing with the Middle East.

So the second point leading us to the strategies is the fact that these strategies have changed. We’re not talking about a strategy as during the time of the Soviet Union. It would be twenty years long, twenty-five, twenty-six years long. Our strategies regarding the Middle East in America change with, of course, this is our system with the presidency, so every four years, every eight years, and even the eight years, every mid-term election and every other midterm election. You know it.

So we change, our policies change, we have change of majority in congress. I’m not lecturing on things you know already, but take it into consideration. Just think of Bush the First in the War in Iraq. Then think of the eight years of Clinton in terms of foreign policy. I am not a domestic policy guy, so I’m looking at foreign policy. Then you have 9/11. And then you’re going to have the Bush Second tenure of eight years ,and then Obama for eight years, and then the mini two years of the Trump Administration.

So those leaps if you add them to the changes in the Middle East, then you see how challenging it is to opine on what would be our U.S. strategies in the Middle East by 2020, and I was given the task. By 2020, we will be in the middle of a presidential campaign slash election. The Middle East also has changed.

Now, I know you have had wonderful speakers here. I have seen list topics, watch three of these videos, so let me try to summarize very quickly the longest period of time possible, so we can get to what I call the post-9/11 or post-Arab Spring period.

Now, the Middle East was not the Middle East some hundred years ago, right? We are in 2019. A hundred years ago in 1919 they were constructing the new Middle East. So a few years before you had France and Britain agreeing to the Sykes-Picot Agreement. It created the Middle East. Before that there was the Ottoman Empire for the previous 420 years. So we are still the quarter. A hundred years is a quarter of the life of one empire.

So the legacy of these aging empires, the Ottoman Empire, the Mamaluk, the Abbasid Empire, I could go on for another 1,300 years, that still has a weight on the culture, the perception, the ideologies of the populations and of their elites. It’s easier to talk about the history of the United States, of Australia, of Canada, and of the entire Southern Hemisphere because it’s shorter.

When you talk about the Middle East, you go back in time for long, you know, centuries and of course, to some even thousands of years. I will take the centuries. It’s still long. What I’m trying to say is that even if we engage in Iraq, or in Syria now, or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or the internal situation in these countries, it is not only about our foreign policy.

So we cannot go to the White House or Congress and say what have you done? You did not bring peace to the Middle East. We barely count in this. There are long histories, long conflicts, long tensions, and at the same time a very quick evolution. It’s all happening at the same time.

So what has impacted the region was the previous empire before the formation of the new Middle East. That’s the Ottoman Empire. It was a Caliphate and I’m sure all of you here in this room know what’s a Caliphate. So when the Ottoman’s collapsed, you had two forces in the region. One force that wanted to go back to the status quo ante, meaning to the Ottoman Empire to the Caliphate, Ottoman or Arab doesn’t matter, they are known as the Islamic fundamentalists. That’s the easier way. I would call them the Islamists.

Technically speaking, you had two streams of these Islamists after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, those who are from a Sunni background and those who are from Shia background. Those who were from a Sunni background rose and they wanted one thing since the 1920s, one, uno, the return to the Caliphate. Mr. Osama bin Laden told us this after 9/11. He said we had headaches.

Generations of Islamists really since the collapse of the Sultan, wanted to bring it back. So it’s as simple as that. Everything the Islamists, Salafists, Jihadists, all the crowd that you have been lectured about, informed about, want one thing: go back to the Caliphate. That explains a history of eighty years of diverse Salafists and Jihadists. At the core of which, may I say, and I know there are many experts here, the Muslim Brotherhood were the nucleus, the core, out of Egypt, Hasan al Banna and the rest as you know it.

So the Muslim Brotherhood was the essential core of the Islamist, mostly Sunni, network which evolved offshoots of offshoots. I am going to go very quickly here, leading to many jihadi organizations and at one point Al Qaeda rose out of that. At a second point, ISIS rose out of that. And in a few years from now, maybe already soon to be, a post-Al Qaeda, post-ISIS. It is the ideology that has been moving the political forces that identify themselves as Islamists. Alright, so now we have one stream.

The second stream is the other side, the Shia side. And these were known as the Khomeinists, the followers of Ayatollah Khomeini out of Iran, 1979. Alright? Out of which came the Ayatollah regime, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Nujaba in Iraq, so on and so forth. So let’s close the historical background by saying out of the old Middle East we have two streams; one is jihadi-Salafi-Brotherhoodi, whatever you want to call it, the other one is Iran regime-Khomeinists-Hezbollah, etc.

What the second stream wanted and continued to want is to establish something similar to the Caliphate. They call it Imamate from imam, an imamate, so it’s a Shia Caliphate at the end of the day.

Now, on the other hand you have everybody else, dictatorships, authoritarian regimes, Arab nationalists, Baathists. These are the ruling, dominant forces from the 1920s till recently. And then next to them civil society, leftwing, liberal, etc. And on the very side, weaker elements, weaker communities in the Middle East who are the minorities, starting from the larger minorities, the Kurds, Southern Sudan, the Nubians, Christians of the Middle East, Assyrians, Maronites, Copts, so on and so forth. So that basically the big picture of who are the players.

Now, crossing the Mediterranean, the Atlantic back to the West, we had to deal from the time we didn’t have a U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East to the time we started to have one. I’m talking about the United States. We started to have one as of 1945, practically. Of course, we had ambassadors and consuls, etc., but from 1945 we found ourselves. It’s nice for an immigrant to say we found ourselves – as Americans, obviously – that’s your evidence.

In North Africa and the British were already in the Levant and the French in the Levant and they left and then we expanded as the United States. And obviously as the end of World War II, we had the Cold War. Wherever the Soviets were, we were, stopping them. That’s how we found ourselves with the Shah of Iran against Nasir. You see how fast I’m trying to go to get to the point? Because I can’t leave anybody behind. We’re going to explain it to get to the point here. We had a pretty stable policy as the U.S. during the Cold War.

If the Islamists and the jihadists were struggling to get the Caliphate back, what were we doing to bring the Soviet Union down? That was pretty clear. All our agencies, our think tanks, our governments, our congresses were focusing on the Cold War, making sure that we contain on the one hand and then, if we can, win that war by bringing the Soviet Union down. The Soviet Union collapsed by itself. That’s a debate that I’m not going to go into because of economics and others.

So from the moment the Soviet Union collapsed, the Middle East(s) started to go in different directions. As long as there was a Cold War, Soviets, the United States, our clients, their clients, and we clashed, sometimes hot wars, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict or the Yemen conflict or others, and most of the time Cold War.

One interesting point I will make, during the Cold War, which was a feature of U.S. policy and Western policies, was because the Soviets were the priority to us, because their missiles were aimed at us, our missiles were aimed at them. So that’s the priority. We had to engage in alliances that were very counterproductive but we had to do it. So I’m not a historian tonight. I’m just reporting that we, the United States and NATO allies, we were in many instances the allies of whom, the Islamic fundamentalists against the Soviets. Our National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was encouraging the Afghan jihadists, called mujahedin at the time, to fight the Soviets with everything they’ve got. And he told them, fight them with jihad. He used the term jihad. That was our National Security Advisor. It’s in my book.

So we got out of the Cold War and now we started to be surprised by events. First of all, the jihadist movement, which was – I don’t want to say with us, but the Islamists in general were with us against the Soviets – now they were on their own and were targeting us because each one of these big players has a logic of its own.

So the Soviets were down, now the jihadists and the Islamists and the Iranian regime, all of them, looked at the United States as the major problem they confront because they wanted to establish a Caliphate, they wanted to establish an imamate and who is blocking them, either us or our allies. Hence, the rise of Al Qaeda throughout the ’90s, starting to strike at the homeland, including New York in 1993, the declaration of war in 1996, the second declaration of war in 1998, strikes against our embassies in East Africa in August of 1998, attempt over the Pacific against airliners, it was foiled, attack in Yemen, and then they visited us on 9/11. That prompted the United States to move into the Middle East and engage in Afghanistan and in Iraq, which we can debate till tomorrow. We don’t have that time.

So we finally found ourselves in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the region. That decade from 2001 till 2011, a full decade. This is the first question I would like to address, quickly preparing ourselves for our current strategies. What were our strategies? As the U.S. what were our strategies?

We fought the Taliban in Afghanistan. And we have to be very frank and honest in any discussion because now we are 19 years after that. So we defeated the Taliban, we removed the regime no doubt about it. It took us what, 45 days? That’s the power of the United States. It can administer a massive change in somewhere between 30 to 45 days. We brought down Saddam Hussein in about a month and a few days, with a million soldiers’ army. We brought the Taliban who were terrifying everybody, so army to army there is no one on planet earth that can defeat us. But it is what happened afterwards that counts.

So we defeat the Taliban in 45 days and we are fighting them for the following 19 years. Problem. The French would say, ‘Il ya un problème,’ there is a problem, ‘se temp problème,’ exactement.

Same thing in Iraq. In Iraq we defeated Saddam, then we had to fight Al Qaeda-Iraq, then we defeated Al Qaeda-Iraq, then we did something, which is to withdraw from Iraq in 2011, end of 2011, and the minute we withdrew from Iraq without preparing, who is going to be after us in charge of Iraq? That’s the crux. That’s it.

Then what’s going to happen is all of the forces which we were fighting are going to come back. Hence, we had ISIS, then we had the Iranian militias, moving into Iraq. It’s not that they defeated us. We withdrew. So if we withdraw, it won’t leave behind us a force that is our ally, that is capable, that is accepted by the population. This is what we’re going to get and this is the parameter I’m advancing for any future decision we’re going to make in the Middle East.

I was on Fox Business Channel with Lou Dobbs the other day and Lou was furious about what we’re doing in Afghanistan. As if the world – he’s a good friend – as if the world is divided in two: one, we stay forever, doing the same thing, we fight the Taliban, they fight us, nothing actually happens, or we are furious, we pack and leave the Taliban. Do you have any shred of imagination that tells you if we withdraw tomorrow from Afghanistan, what is going to happen? The Taliban are going to seize probably about 80%, and the ex-Northern Alliance are going to go back to where they are, and then an international jihadi group are going to emerge from Afghanistan.

If we withdraw from eastern Syria and just serve the dinner in one shot, if we withdraw from eastern Syria without preparing our allies to takeover, what is going to happen? In Syria, it’s even more complex. You’re going to have the Iranian militia rushing in, you’re going to have the Assad regime rushing in, although it’s limping, but they will rush in. You’re going to have the Turkish-backed Muslim Brotherhood militias rushing from the north and everybody’s going to assault the Kurds. It’s going to be a terrible war, another terrible war, and it’s going to be a Syria divided like Poland for many, many decades.

So I’m concluding on the method of our strategies. Defeating the enemy is not the problem. It’s the replacement of that enemy that has been the problem. So it’s a question, as the 9/11 Commission said many years ago, of not just imagination but of education, and of engagement with the forces on the ground.

So the list is simple: we have Syria, we have Iraq, we have Yemen, we have Libya. These are four active wars. So what’s the situation of those four wars in those four battlefields?

In Libya – let’s begin with the simplest one in my view – in Libya, after Qaddafhi, you had the west and the east. The west is governed by a government, which is on the one hand recognized by the United Nations, on the other hand, sitting in a building on the seventh floor and all of the other floors are occupied by the Islamist militias. So the UN recognizes the seventh. Of course, I’m putting it in a comical way. I don’t know if it’s the seventh floor but when we speak with their officials, ‘Everything is great, we are recognized by the United Nations, and we are the legitimate rulers of Libya.’

But then you go down, literally speaking this time, to the streets in front of that building, the Prime Minister’s building. It’s ruled by Muslim Brotherhood, jihadi, all kinds of Islamist cocktails that exist and they rule that part of Libya backed by Qatar, backed by Turkey. It’s not even a secret. You don’t need me to come and mention it. It’s online.

On the other side of Libya, now about 75-76% of Libya is ruled by an organization of former militaries and new militaries known as the Libya National Army, which is under the command of Field Marshal Haftar. I know the titles are always impressive. Reality is he’s fighting the jihadists. He has pushed them all the way to Tripoli. Problem is he’s not recognized by the United Nations. Egypt supports him, UAE supports him, maybe Saudi Arabia supports him, France, Le France, supports him. Russia is trying to move in. But Russia asked him if he wants the full support like Assad. He said no, but America is not looking towards me, I mean, we have no relation. That’s what he says.

So now this is Libya. And in the next few weeks and months, we will have as Americans to make a decision to have a decision regarding who are we with, on which side. We are divided. I can assure you that through the Congress and through the halls of the administration, we are divided either between ‘let’s choose the UN,’ ‘let’s choose Haftar,’ or let them fight it among themselves. That’s Libya. I’ll be happy to take questions a few minutes later.

Yemen, getting more complicated. The north of Yemen is controlled by the Houthis not the Hutis, the Houthi militia, confused with other militias in Africa. The Houthis are basically mostly Shia and they’re backed by Iran, controlled by a Hezbollah-like organization, Jundallah. So the Houthis control from the Saudi border all the way to the capital that they have seized. They have pushed all the way. It’s like North and South Korea almost. They pushed all the way to Aden in the south and then they were pushed back all the way somewhere south of the capitol, so you have the north, which is pro-Iran.

The south is two souths. You have the central south, which is ruled by the President of Yemen, Hadi, who’s backed by Saudi and who’s backed by, let’s say, the United States, international community. But they have a little problem. I’m going to say it on video. Within the government of Mr. Hadi, you have a significant component of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is something that the public doesn’t know much about in America. That’s why I’m having a hard time on Twitter to explain what it is. Islah.

The Islah Party, called the Reform Party, is Muslim Brotherhood backed by Qatar. So the central south has good guys but with them you have the Brotherhood. The very south, the south, south, is actually all southern Yemen, which in the past was backed by the Soviet Union, which now, of course, they have abandoned Marxism but, you know, they want to go back to the old days. They want to go form their republic again. They want to secede.

Now, these guys are anti-Islamists, are anti-Khomeini Shia Houthis, but they are only backed by the UAE and, you know, I am making your lives complicated tonight but I want to do it. So this is.a piano in Yemen. So the question now, and I don’t want to give advice here to the government or the administration, but the question is what are we going to do about it? Are we going to be with the Houthis in the north? Of course not. We are putting the toughest sanctions on Iran. Then we are going to go to the Houthis and tell them, you know, you’re our friends? It’s impossible.

So we are recognizing the center, the center-center. That would be President Hadi and his allies. President Hadi is okay, but he has a problem with him, those Brotherhood, and those Brotherhood are a problem because they are going to be establishing an Islamist state. They are going to repeat the experience of Libya and of Egypt.

Then you have the various south. The various south, South Yemen, capital Aden, has no relations with the United States. It’s almost like Libya, so we have to make those difficult choices and we don’t have strategies at this point in time unless I am not informed and believe me, I am informed.

Moving quickly to Iraq and Syria. Iraq is more or less, as you know already, under the control of the pro-Iranian forces minus independent politicians, minus the fact that the government is telling us, ‘Look we are with you. We like your contractors.’ So if they like our contractors, it does not mean really they are, you know, pro-American. They love the contractors. So you have elements in the governments that are okay but you have more than half the government and large segments of the parliament that are pro-Iranians and they control the country in coordination with Iran.

The Kurds in the north tried their best for an independent Kurdistan you remember a couple years ago. It did not work well because the pro-Iranian militia’s surrounded them and stopped them. So the most reliable ally that we have in Iraq, Kurdish forces in the north, are somewhat surrounded. They are pro-American, pro-Western. They’ll be with us.

Syria. Syria, I have already described what the challenge is. East of Syria is controlled by the Kurds. We are there. We used them or we worked with them to defeat ISIS. ISIS is technically defeated, I agree. Geographically, ISIS doesn’t have a sovereign entity anymore. But ISIS is being transformed into cells underground. So the feature of an underground is when the upper ground opens up, they’re going to come back. Easy. You don’t need a political science for this. You know gangsters would make the same analysis. So when you push them underground and you don’t resolve the ideological problem, they’re going to be three generations to go up.

And then of course you have the Assad regime, which is more or less in control of western Syria. But it is in control of western Syria, Damascus, and other cities precisely because the Iranians are in Syria. Now, who would that affect if the Iranians are in Syria? Hezbollah.

Hezbollah out of Lebanon is living the golden age, happiest moments because they leave Lebanon, go to Syria, and connect with the Iranians. And the Iranians now, the regime, have this highway from Tehran to Baghdad to Syria, Assad to Beirut, Lebanon. They are at the maximum expansion. What would they bring with this maximum expansion? Missiles. So they are basically establishing the missiles base in Syria. Who would that unnerve? Israel. So you don’t need me, right? You know the whole thing.

So the Israelis now are strategically nervous about the number of missiles established in Syria. That is problematic because if we withdraw from eastern Syria, not only the Kurds will suffer but there will be this what I call automatic movement by the Iranians to fill the void strategically speaking and the Israelis will be, you know, face to face with them. That is not good news because that would be war. Lebanon, it will be the easiest thing since 2008. It’s practically under the influence or domination of Hezbollah. That would be the shortest of all matters.

Now, the Trump Administration’s major moves, which I have supported but I think we need to build more and faster, have been the following: in May of 2017 President Trump went to Riyadh and he addressed 50 Arab and Muslim leaders. This is something now I can reveal. I have been pushing for – I don’t want to adopt – from the time of the campaign: we need to have an Arab coalition. We cannot operate by ourselves all the time everywhere. That’s why in Europe we have NATO, although we are going to debate NATO, we have debated NATO. But still, it’s better than no NATO. It’s better than 27 countries doing whatever they want.

In the region, it is crucial in my view to have a regional organization that would help us in multiple things: conducting the war on the jihadi organization. We can’t do it ourselves all the time. Number two, more important, giving us the legitimacy, the Islamic legitimacy to delegitimize the jihadi ideology. Many people do not believe in it. I think it’s still a must. We need to have that force. And thirdly, on the ground we need to have a contingency. We need to have forces who will fill the void because every region we intend to leave is not ready. There is no readiness.

So he met them, they issued excellent statements. One is to form the coalition – on paper – the other one was to establish a counterterrorism and extremism center, which is operational but we don’t hear about too much. And so it launched something and then it stopped. Now, I want to be honest with ourselves. It stopped because we were busy in Washington for the last two years. You know with what? With all these debates, all this congressional stuff under Republican, under Democrat now.

It paralyzed in my view, in my humble view, it paralyzed the speed with which we should have gone over the past year and a half at least. It is only now that we are kind of standing up and trying move forward but we have little time. That’s what your assignment 2020, we only have six, seven months in 2019 and then you know what’s going to happen in 2020, election year. You’re going to have four years but we don’t know what the opposition’s going to do. Basically, that was one move. The second move was, in my humble view, the withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal.

Now, I am very close to our European friends. I had or co-chaired one of the organizations of MEPs between Europe and Congress and I know that across the Atlantic we are divided. The Europeans believe, most of the Europeans believe, that the Iranian nuclear deal was a good deal, that it froze the buildup of a nuclear weapon, it allowed the companies to go to Iran and then have business. All of that I agree with. It’s wonderful. But there’s a blackhole that has not been addressed.

The nuclear material was frozen but something else was not frozen, which is the acquisition of long range missiles. You don’t purchase, deploy, acquire, improve ballistic missiles if you don’t have the intention of using non-conventional weapons. Do we throw roses with these missiles? It’s not for roses and Valentine’s Day. It’s missiles that are prepared like a forest of missiles for the opportunity to be able years from now to acquire the nuclear device and then the missiles will be ready.

The Iranians bought the most impressive anti-aircraft missile system. Why would you do that? Because you are expecting a strike against you. And why are you expecting a strike? Because you know that at one point you are going to be aiming those missiles, you are going to be weaponizing those missiles, and the air forces in the region and beyond are going to come to you. I know the Iranian strategic mind. It’s very patient.

So our friends, the Europeans, have a different view except that on missiles they are with us. They are with the U.S. on the issue of missiles. But on the issue of the withdrawal from the agreement, they’re not, so we have that divide. Withdrawing from the agreement, from the nuclear agreement by the Trump Administration, did not mean that we don’t want any agreement. We actually want an agreement on nuclear anything. Remember that South Africa and Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they rushed to the United Nations. I remember that vividly. And they said please come and help us. We are going to get rid of those nuclear weapons that we inherited from the previous regimes.

In the case of Iran, basically, the projection I have is that this government in Iran may not be there forever. So the idea of having all the agreements with the Iranians, yes, but calm down. Let’s see who is in charge, what the social transformations in Iran are going to be. I believe that the average age today in Iran between the, let’s say 24 and below, maximum I would say 26 and below, are not with that regime. You see the demonstrations, the protests, the minorities, Kurds, Arabs, so I would have recommended an engagement with the civil society in Iran. That’s the age that’s going to change matters.

Look at Eastern Europe. It was not long ago. While we were building those missiles with the Russians- to face the Soviets, it was Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, the dissidents in Russia they provoked, basically, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and of course, economic mismanagement by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Alright, so now we have those to important decisions that were made by the administration: engaging with an Arab coalition and withdrawing from the Iran deal, plus putting sanctions. The question is what is the strategy beyond that. We withdrew from the agreement, okay? So what is it that we’re going to do next? And here, I’m going to be a little bit critical because putting sanctions is the right thing to do but to obtain a specific goal. Don’t put sanctions in general and that’s it. You need to make sure that you’re engaging with civil society, so that civil society under these sanctions are going to put pressure on the government of Iran to change course. Change course or change address, you know, one or the other. That’s how change has been the case in many countries, including in Eastern Europe.

With regard to the Arab coalition, I think the Arab coalition got into trouble when it divided between Qatar and Saudi and the UAE and others. I think the Arab coalition engaged in Yemen where at the time we were not ready, we in America were not ready for that. I am not sure now how to get a solution for Yemen and how to get a solution for the divided Gulf but I am pretty sure that if in America we have a unity, a solid unity, a political unity on foreign policy, which we don’t have right now, I think we could prompt a change in Iran. It’s possible. I think we could help a solution in Yemen by basically disarming the militias. That’s how a solution is. You know you can’t have a solution with militias roaming the cities. Same is the case in Libya.

We have the possibility of putting strength, putting pressure, moving forward if we are united in Washington in the next, let’s say, year and a half. So the challenge is are we going to be successful between now and 2020? We are in April. We still have really a few months before December, so the bulk of what we can do is going to be in the next six to seven months. It does not mean that after the elections we won’t have the ability to move forward, and I agree you know, whoever is going to be in charge – I hope my candidate is going to be in charge – have four years.

But if the question is between now and 2020, I would say there are matters we could improve. There are policies we could apply very quickly. But I would look at those six to seven months as very challenging in terms of being able to achieve all the goals that the administration and a majority of Americans really would like to see happening. I want to stop here. If you have any questions, I will be more than happy to answer. Thank you so much.

See his Q&A here…


Audience member:

My name is Wagdy Elisha. I am a Coptic Christian, so my question is about Egypt and what’s going on now in Egypt with Mr. Sisi, who is promoting changing the Constitution to give himself more authority. What do you think? I just want to know your opinion about what’s going on in Egypt, especially with, from my perspective, the failure of the revolution in Egypt can be very dangerous for the future of Egypt and the Middle East.

Walid Phares:

Thank you for that. Egypt is very dear to me. I’ve been there several times. I’ve traveled before the changes, during the changes, and after the changes. You mentioned you are from the Coptic community. I advised Coptic associations for the last 25 years as you know. I’ve engaged with many members of the Egyptian Parliament, this one, the one before. I met briefly with President Sisi, many members of their government here and there, so when I addressed Egypt, there is of course the emotional attachment but I put it on the side and I’ll look objectively.

So what would have been the worst for Egypt in my view? You could disagree. It would have been an Ikhwan Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Egypt, period. You know from Abdul Nasser, who was our foe, to Sadat who opened the gates of peacemaking with Israel to everybody, including Mubarak who stayed there for 6,000 years, I mean for 32 years, you know, to the current Sisi government, if you give me all of that, I will say the only period that I was concerned about really was an Ikhwan Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Egypt because it would transform Egypt and it did in a few months. Egypt was becoming an Afghanistan, into a god knows what. So thank – I don’t want to say god, he doesn’t meddle in politics as you know – but thank the people of Egypt.

I couldn’t believe me eyes when I saw this demonstration of June the 30th. Guys, 32 million people – that’s BBC, that’s not Fox News. BBC, yeah, because they attack Fox News. Anything it says they attack, we are attacked. BBC, mainstream. It’s 32 million people demonstrated in the streets of Cairo and other cities. People who are normal people, workers, fellahin, you know, farmers, students, artists, everybody. 32 million people, that’s the largest group of humans who walk together on the face of the earth since Adam and Eve.

So it was impressive to see that when civil society has the ability to rise against this kind of threat, no matter what happened immediately after because immediately after you’re not yet in Sweden, you’re not yet in any of these democratic places, it’s going to take time. I also praise those courageous journalists in Egypt who accompanied the demonstration because the demonstrators without a voice from, you know, from TV or radio would not have had this ability to demonstrate.

And I will say very clearly, I will praise the position of the army of Egypt, which protected them. The Obama Administration and the, you know, the entire supporters of the administration said this is a coup. A coup doesn’t happen like that. A coup would go with tanks, without people, grab the president or the leader, and establish a military government. That’s a coup. What happened was a revolution, which was protected by the army. But let’s be very honest. It’s going to take time for Egypt to produce a one, two, three, four elections, a lot of efforts for a fully liberal, democratic, multiparty sophisticated system. And look what we have done. We formed that thing and we are still not very at ease with it. So I agree with you that there are many things in Egypt that we are very attentive to to make Egypt perfect or quasi-perfect. But where the Egyptian are coming from really was literally at the edge of a cliff, going into a caliphate like place. So that would be my humble opinion with regard to Egypt.

Audience member:

My question is are you currently advising President Trump and if you aren’t, who are his current foreign advisers?

Walid Phares:

I am current formerly, not advising the administration because I am outside the administration but I’m sure he reads my tweets.

Audience member:

But who are his current foreign advisers?

Walid Phares:

Obviously, he has the National Security Advisor, our good friend John Bolton.

See the rest of the Q&A…

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