Skip to main content

tv   Nabeel Khoury Bunker Diplomacy  CSPAN  April 6, 2020 4:19pm-5:29pm EDT

4:19 pm
>> tonight a special evening addition of washington journal of the federal response to the coronavirus crisis. join us at 8 pm eastern with john barry, author of the great influenza. the epic story of the deadliest pandemic in history and flutter congresswoman debbie wasserman schultz on the response to the virus in her district. join the conversation on the coronavirus crisis on washington journal primetime tonight at 8 pm eastern on c-span. >> thanks all of you for making time in your day to join us. our gathering includes ambassadors and representatives from across embassies including iraq, jordan, morocco, tunisia, turkey, yemen, the netherlands, norway, australia, zimbabwe, will be in ecuador so from the four corners we come to hear you. we also welcome the board
4:20 pm
members , robbie and selfless funder of middle east programs here at the atlantic council john diblasio. and finally we welcome us governmentofficials , private companies and nonprofits. i did a rich substantive question and answer session following the discussion on the state. open to everyone read this richness of the discussion will be enhanced by the absolutely superlative interviewer who will draw the kernels of wisdom out of no real today. tom friedman needs no introduction but simply for fun i will remind you you can read tom's analysis of foreign affairs in the new york times and analysis for which he has rice won the pulitzer prize. tom is the author of several books , several focus on the middle east and one of which from beirut to jerusalem was a textbook in my middle east coursework as an undergraduate area calms full bio is available and is printed out here. now let us turn to our man of
4:21 pm
the hour doctor nabeel khoury, a senior fellow at the center for the middle east in addition to reading his book on our website you can read it on his own blog, middle east corner. he retired from 25 years in the us foreign service in 2013 with the rank of minister counselor read no small feat. he taught at the national defense university at northwestern university in his last overseas posting, he served as deputy chief of mission at the us embassy in yemen. and in 2003 during the iraq war, he served as department spokesperson us central command in baghdad. he earned his bachelor legally in political science on the american university beirut and his masters and phd in political science from the university of new york at albany. he has published articles on issues of leadership and development in the arab world , middle east journal, journal of south asia and middle eastern studies in
4:22 pm
international journal of middle east studies, i'll try to keep them all straight. when he was posted to yemen in 2004 i recall a conversation i had the time with a mutual friend , former ambassador to the united states dual area i held on the one that the us was lucky to be able to send him off as dcm because of his fluent arabic and his understanding of the culture with smooth the way for his work in country he corrected me. oh no he said. the opposite is true. arab american diplomats in the region have a much harder time because everyone in the country expects the diplomats to do favors for them and make exceptions for them and they don't get the same respect as another diplomat because they say we don't have to listen to him,he doesn't know any more than we do, is one of us . and in addition he said when your government does something the locals don't like a hold that era american diplomat responsible for not preventing. so we are your eager to hear
4:23 pm
your thoughts on being an era american diplomat in the middle east during an era of volatile and vacillating us middle east relationships. as a reminder the ground rules for our discussion are as follows, we are on the record. if you would like to join the twitter conversation about what we hear use thehashtag ac mideast . tom and nabeel khoury come to the stage and tom, the floor is yours. >> nabeel, this is a great audience and it's a treat for me to be here with you, thank you for that great introduction and the atlantic council, okay. buy this book. the first thing an author has to say for another author and nabeel will autograph it. wehave known each other for a long time, resources together in class of lockout . in baghdad and in yemen . over the years and i don't
4:24 pm
know much. i'm not a connoisseur on many things but i am a connoisseur on people who know the difference between that garage and the oasis. whoknow the real middle east . and i was always drawn to nabeel because of that. he really knows the region and it's reflected here in this book and it is really for me a fascinating perspective of an american, era americans perspective on american diplomacy and his work as aus diplomat in the region and particularly in iraq . during what was a incredibly heated time so just for starters, forbecause everyone here doesn't know you as well as i do ,tell us your story , how did you get from lebanon to senior positions in the us state department? >> it wasall a mistake . first of all, thank you all
4:25 pm
for stopping in for lunch. and for some after lunch conversation and it's really a very special thanks to tom for agreeing to engage me in conversation today. something we've done several times over the years . including stealing horses as he expressed in baghdad. he stopped by at least a couple of places where i was assigned and in baghdad, i usually take them around to meet some people, guys usually. in baghdad, i took him to meet a friend of mine, a very secular cleric shia by the name of jamal being. secular as they come and he invited us to dinner at his place but what we didn't know was that he had the grandson of imam khomeini at dinner as
4:26 pm
well. so the four of us that their conversing for a good couple of hours. and tom came back and wrote inner with the mullahs. and expressed how optimistic he felt that there was such secular people. really thought leaders and provokers in a country like iraq which back in 2003, was caught and is still hot. the book though, the occasion for this discussion today begins with a poetic verse from gibran called you have your lebanon and i have mine and he expresses in it the contrast between his vision of the beauty of lebanon and lebanon as a symbol of diversity, coexistence, harmony.
4:27 pm
and the reality back then hundred years ago or more of the audience of secularism, of sectarianism and feudalism and corruption.he might as well have written this yesterday. the session in situation in lebanon hasnot changed and in fact it has gotten worse . because the correct political elites have not only ruined the economy, running to the ground but they've run the country to the ground physically. the environment is in terrible shape and anyway, i think if you were alive today he would say all this time and nothing improved. the book also ends with a very short: five palestinian poet, it's called the post man and he talks about himself as a palestinian poet
4:28 pm
and he says he's like a post man who still has letters and messages to deliver but he no longer knows who they should go to and where. and something as a retired diplomat i identify with very much. i am still engaged. i still want to have an impact sometimes we wonder whether you can still save the world and with this is a long way of saying my coming from lebanon, i was born and raised in lebanon, give me a great feeling, not just for lebanon but for the entire region. and so whenever i work in any of these countries i deeply felt the issues and i deeply tried to bridge the differences no matter how the gap, how wide the gap and in baghdad, in 2003 it was certainly wide. >> so you were a bunker
4:29 pm
diplomacy, reflects this. you saw a transition. i lived through as well, and america whose presence in the middle east was deeply embedded, open and integrated with society. america that hid behind walls, basically as diplomats and embassies and i was actually there for the moment when it started. it was april 1983 and i was in my apartment, it was actually april 13 i believe that 1:06 pm and a glass and so powerful it's not the transistor radio off my desk . the transistor radio kids was a radio about this day. and i also had to call it a typewriter, it was a role, you the keys that it created pressure. and i ran out of my apartment
4:30 pm
in marana and i saw smoke curling in the distance and i ran towards it and as i got closer i said it couldn't be. and i turned the corner around and there was the american embassy blown apart in half and i remember, i don't know if it was ryan crocker who was a senior diplomat in the embassy or somebody else . what happened he said a man drove a truck up the front stairs of the embassy and blew it up in the lobby. two things i always remember about the incidents, one is that my shock, i said you mean he killed himself -mark it just seemed incredible to me that someone would commit suicide now that, but at that time how incredible it was and the other was there was
4:31 pm
no perimeter around the embassy. you could literally walk up to the front door. ring the doorbell and there would be a marine inside the would let you in. i forward a few years later and that's why i so love the title of your book. i was in istanbul and i don't know any of you have seen the us embassy inistanbul today, us consulate . think fort knox. only more secure. so i was, i had gone out there interview and an old consul is to be in the heart of istanbul in the old building, open part of the marketplace and whatnot and i was interviewing a us diplomat and he said, i said look at this embassy, this is like a fortress and he said that when there was a terrorist who blew up the british consulate in istanbul, they captured some of them afterwards and interviewed them and they said we wanted to blow up the us consulate but it's so secure they don't let birds
4:32 pm
fly here. and i wrote a column called where birds don't fly. because where birds don't like people to me, commerce doesn't happen to you live transition. from the open, integrated , a bridge from america and the societies to working out of embassies that are brokers indistinguishable from military bunkers , what was that like mark what are the implications of it ? it's so much of this book. >> my first assignment was in alexandria egypt. it was an open cultural facility, open doors. we no longer have those. we used to have them over the place and it was a nice beautiful villa. it's still there and we had just one sleepy egyptian policeman sitting in a kiosk by the door but nobody ever
4:33 pm
asked anybody, people walked in the head of the muslim brotherhood for alexandria that branch was supposed to be the tough branch came to my roundtable discussions at the center and he engaged a former congressman by the name of paul findley and after that, i visited him in his home and he would come by from time to time . the discussions were always intellectual, friendly . it was never any sense of hostility and the only thing was ambassador was near at the time was in a trip to alexandria and he said nabeel, i was with president mubarak and he said why is your culture in alexandria receiving these bad people . i said well, we are of course engaging in conversation and
4:34 pm
he said he want me to stop? he said keep doing what you're doing so this kind of openness this kind of atmosphere quickly changed. and it partly changes in the region, the-isms shifting to radicalism instead of bothersome, arab nationalism, etc. and the turmoil that created and partly reactions, very popular reactions of still us policy which over the years never seemed to adjust or learn as person was saying. i remember because i was a spokesperson mainly with the media and that's the reason we opened an office of media outreach in london. i became a well-known figure and i remember coming back from baghdad to london. in baghdad sometimes i
4:35 pm
literally had to carry guns because we would drive out of the green zone and people didn't have time to send a protective task force so my friend, colleague at the time working there work for dod and he was, he would put a gun in between us in the car and he'd say this is for you dustin case. and in fact we had an iraq veteran here with us remembers al, he's an egyptian american heron so he took me to the shooting range with him to practice. and you feel the what happens is of course the policy has shifted. you feel the danger area i was at the almaty hotel when it was bombed, 27 office hit that building as i was hiding under my bed.
4:36 pm
you become a soldier and you say people don't understand the diplomats particularly american diplomats. today it's the same dangers that soldiers in the battlefield space . but they don't have the training. they're not soldiers that you don't have the protection usually. >> what are we missing out because of that. because only diplomats, needed literally permission from security to go outdoors and have the media. can't be spontaneous written you for coffee, comeon over . >> can't come into the embassy to see you without an appointment and without turning them into security first and you can go out in most places without having an armed guard. yemen i used to have not only a bodyguard and driver and a hard car but also a yemeni security car with people with guns going behind us. i had my own personal car so
4:37 pm
i had to take my own security at times. and tell them i just want to go out. i want to meet people and don'tworry, i'll let you know where i am and we used to go out to the villages . i tell some stories about that and i used too, i had a british friend, a diplomat and i would go in her car because their cars were not stopped when you exited whether the american war cars were the story here is that there is something special if you want about american diplomats. because the french and the brits and the chinese, they certainly don't take the kinds of precautions that we do and they're not tax and surrounded and birds but our embassies are. so one has to add, partly it is the region but partly it's something we do, partly it's the image weproject . and it's usually an image of
4:38 pm
superiority and arrogance that rubs people the wrong way that they feel let's go after the americanswhile the russians, why not the chinese, why not the french . >> so in reading the iraq section , i noticed this certain melancholy is the word, attention between so many things that went wrong. something that went right but you ended on a note of saying the french revolution oscillated between these period and more democratic ones and do you think that's what we're seeing? we are seeing an arab world in different ways andin different places, saudi arabia , tony has got a version of it, struggling to find its way towards perhaps pluralism. >> i used that line when i was a spokesperson in baghdad because i would face their angry journalists and personally, i didn't think
4:39 pm
the in invasion of iraq was a good idea but i did my job really but as a spokesperson, and i was lucky, i never went with official talking points. and i hear somebody wants to put that. i engaged them as a person, as a human being. i listened and i responded, the academic and me allowed me to go into broader areas. not just say this is our policy for, and so to me as an era, the era in me detests the fact that most of the arab world is ruled by dictators. and they are having me identifies with the youth today that we see in the streets in beirut and in baghdad . what to get rid of this oppressive structure. but so i want to get rid of that.identify with that at the same time i understand that american soldiers in
4:40 pm
baghdad rubbed arabs the wrong way all over the region from baghdad to morocco. there's something about foreign groups marching into an arab capital. that's is, you react viscerally toit . so to look on the positive side, as a spokesperson what could i say? we are villains? number what i would say is think of it in the long term . the arab world needs to rebel against dictators like that. many people friends in morocco would tell me that they didn't want to demonstrate against the us because part of them said good riddance saddam was gone . as i said let's think of revolutions, think of the french revolution goes to a very ugly period. and the french case it was
4:41 pm
the french. it wasn't the us coming on horseback. so whether it's a force from outside work from inside getting rid of a bad dictator, ruler like that. it has to be a good thing in the long term. the short term you're going to go through hell probably. >> what's the difference between the arab spring of 2010 and 2011? and the kind of manifestations we are seeing in beirut and in baghdad right now because they're quite similar and they seem to be more i would say, i felt like arab spring was more about get rid of the tyrants whoever that was or storm and area with this as real content, this is about what kind of pluralistic secular society we want to have. isthat a life especially or is that me reading too much into it ? >> i think tunisia was a cakewalk compared to syria,
4:42 pm
lebanon, iraq . because of many regions. and partly they didn't have the same kind of diversity. but what you have in places like lebanon, we can't talk about syria because of the devastation that has been reached upon the syrian people. but in places like lebanon and iraq, you have for the first time a genuine people's revolt. this is not about nasser, this is not aboutisrael, not about the us . this is about eagle linking hands across religious sects. so you find them, sunni, shiite, christian. in fact the christians are more divided else right now in lebanon. with a genuine feeling that this corrupt elite, political elite, they want the whole
4:43 pm
thing changed. so the positive side of this is that this is genuinely felt across the spectrum. the negative side of it is lebanon doesn't have a single dictator like saddam did you just topple them and start fresh. we had 12 mafias their well armed militias area and you can't, at 1180 meeting all of them, get rid of all of them, how do you dothat ? you put them on the love boat and ship them off to cyprus or somebody. and the problem is the various interests, political interests get in the middle. and settle what should be, could be a very serious, very thorough reform plan. that if somebody is wise enough and in the leadership in lebanon today, they could adopt a serious standard
4:44 pm
instead of wrangling the eye care and this ministry and that ministry, that'swhat they're arguing about . i told friends of mine and government i said forget about the person, you could put a jackass in the position of prime minister. that's not important rid of the important thing is for people with a serious land. this is how you changethe system . from carrying corrupt and dualistic. do a proper democratic republic. that our plan. we heard you, that's our plan and were going to start implementing it tomorrow. unfortunately there's there too wrapped up in frankly each side benefits. materially from the system as is and they don't want to get rid of their advantages that i have read in baghdad i think the problem is the militias had solved the problem of a state and an
4:45 pm
arrangement at least area if you're not going to destroy the militias that carry weapons you need to at least have a good political understanding with them and it's a very tough thing to do, especially with iran interbeing, the usintervening . the whole region intervenes in baghdad so there is a positive side to it and i looked optimistically in the long term. i think that have you has risen and they are going to stumble and they're going to the counterrevolution but i think they will finally get. and finally understand they are being abused by a corrupt political elite that eventually has to go. >> do you have any hope or what should i hope for regarding syria ? >> i have such a sad story.
4:46 pm
syria like some of the other places like yemen which is a real disaster started out as a hopeful vote against the assad regime. it could have been helped not with an erect style invasion but it could have been assisted at the right time. i would say the first months to a year. it's one of the fault of the obama administration and i like obama very much as a person, as a president. there was too much thinking, too much hesitating before acting on something like this and after everybody in the region jumped in, it was too late and then of course the russians seeing that the americans were to bear jumped in in 2015. after that, the us had no cards to play. you come to the table you have to have something,
4:47 pm
otherwise you're not invited to the poker game and we haven't been at the poker game since 2015. i would say there have been a lot of thoughts and discussions but they are playing us frankly. i don't know. assad is very much in, assisted by russia and iran lebanese hezbollah. without them you wouldn'thave lasted a few weeks . without all that support. so he is asserted himself, could somehow be humanitarian aspect is going to take time to fix itself, for people to be able to make a living and be able to eat and feed their kids, keep them warm . but then you need to go back to an established regime, corrupts, abusive and try to take event down somehow. if you do it politically, i would love to see one dictator, say you know, i've had enough and i see, i read
4:48 pm
the tea leaves so come in opposition.come in young people and let's see how we can do this. but it's not happening. >> i develop nabeel, some rules of middle east reporting and there are so politically incorrect i'll publishing posthumously but rule number one, i will share with you and rule number one is an american general assigned to the middle east have to take a test. a very short test, only one question. the shortest distance between two points is astraight line. if you answer yes you can go to oconomowoc, korea, germany . who are the diplomats and military officers who you felt really understood the region and why. what was it they had that others didn't because we both met some who were just completely lost there.
4:49 pm
and others who really, the region flowed through them. >> when i was, over the years particularly in baghdad and then again in yemen, i had considerable contact with the military and various levels. also teaching at niu and at the college, i interacted with a lot of you would kernels and kernels. and there's usually a positive, a fresh look at some of our military officers have that are people in government, elected officials don't have. >> middle east studies on the trees of falluja, a lot of them are not at princeton and . >> i'll give you one anecdote with general as the. lebanese american, i'm plugging that. but he was ahead upset, when i was at the us embassy and so somehow he came over for a visit.
4:50 pm
i took him over, it was 2004 and the war had started between the uzis in the north and the government so we were waiting outside to go in and he said what's going on in the north? what's this with the who these, is that something we should be involved in and i said the short answer is no, not militarily . this is an internal matter . they finally try to convince us in 2004 that iran was there that we looked up and down and sideways, iran was notthere . it's an internal matter to, a rebellion of sorts that they should be able to settle. through diplomacy, through, i said we can help so it's not international terrorism, this is not 05. we can help diplomatically, by trying to either mediate directly or in invite friends to mediate. or certainly economically. i said this system has to
4:51 pm
work for everybody. otherwise if the governments fights and fails to convince the who these, then the southerners will want to see and then the whole country will break apart it will be worse than afghanistan and you may have to come in and intervene area and he took that to heart and when he came back to washington he lobbied on the force to get more aid money for yemen. he was someone who truly understood that force should be the very last resort. and that there are conditions to why young people become radical in the middle east. and that we should help governments in a friendly way succeed and become more democratic and observed their peoples human rights. the problem has been consistent throughout. we never got out of the cold war mentality. which is get in bed with a
4:52 pm
dictator with a military regime because of the security collaboration that's easy with them and then we can fight soviet influence or later on other bad guys in the region. up to the minute that sulla abdicated and signed off the gcc agreement. we, some laws and government and i don't name names and there were different points of view within the state department certainly in the white house, were still trying to convince people who are trying to change the system, change the regime to keep the security, make all but the security establishment most of them run by the nephews and his son because we work with them against terrorism. we were never able to let go. sometimes i think of when
4:53 pm
president or certainly this administration forget it, when it comes to understanding anything. there very narrow vision but obama, very intellectual man. he certainly i think understood the region and understood the transition in 2011. even before when he gave that famous ohio speech, the need for democracy, what the young people in the region one and he wanted to be of assistance . and yet when they rose, he hesitated. he was afraid to jump in and use that famous phrase leading from behind so we're going behind them but afraid of repeating the 2003 baghdad mistake. and more importantly, 80 ã with all the viable security apparatuses in the region. i will never forget him for what he did to you.
4:54 pm
which is he handed they yemen five two saudi arabia and he facilitated the disease, the complete see their land and sea on yemen which is starting yemeni children. and spreading disease and going along with that instead of realizing that this is not what the young people of yemen want. this is not the direction yemen should be taking. though now we can blame trump all we want or all of what he's doing but the problem yemen started with obama and sometimes i think of him as a trapeze artist who swings from one swing to others. you have to let go of one to catch the other.and you have to have the trust, the faith that you can reach and reach and grab onto the other bar. and shifting is like that for
4:55 pm
us policy. you have to drop the bar you've been holding onto which is all the bad guys claim they are helping you against terrorism, meanwhile they are out creating terrorism. and jump on to a new way of dealing region. which is trusting the young people, working with civil society. one of the real positive stories, and you saw that when you came to me in morocco in the book, the civil society that i saw in morocco and this was in the mid-90s, really inspired me and when i went to yemen i have reflections of that civil society. that's what we should be encouraging and working with and look at the budgets and you'll see. >> when people the administration, why didn'tyou invest more in tunisia , it was saying that the answer was there's no terrorism
4:56 pm
there. we haven't, yeah. >> do you put. this is a two questions about yemen that will always, one reminds me of the line from the wizard of oz, are you sure about which area are the who these militia or in the militia. on the one hand i do. that's their story and all that but what gives you the right to kind of take over the central government to. i never, i don't understand that story well enough or it's not different area. >> i was accused by our arab friends because i hear in the media align and i very harshly criticized radio and i don't criticize the movies enough. so they tell me you're a who the supporter. just like in egypt one time i was accused of being a
4:57 pm
scientist. i went to me, this is not in my book because it happened recently on my way to lebanon , i met with the huthi leaders who lived there and can't go back and forth for obvious reasons and as we were talking about things, i told him first of all i was there to get to know them better. second, to see if i could advise them. point out some positive things they can do to change the situation there they'd already made the first mistake of taking some out militarily. and then it was after that the euphoria and the thinking that they can move on and take the wholecountry. which was to be . and this of course revoked the salaries into launching their war so christmas, that's for the cookies.
4:58 pm
they have had control of much of sunup for the past five years they have not ruled well. they have been abusing the rightsof the media , there is no transparent system either economically or judicially. and i told them that we were meeting in their spokesman's home in afghan and i said sometimes people accuse me of siding with you too much because i expressed sympathy but at the end of the day you are yemeni, you are not iranian and there is this obsession with saudi arabia and with the trump administration that we are fighting iran in yemen . we're not, we are fighting yemenis but you have a lot of mistakes and your biggest mistake is that you are arab and they all laugh and i said unfortunately your ruling the area you control like any arab party dictator militia. so there certainly full of
4:59 pm
foes. at the end of the day they are not al qaeda. it's not to go out and kill americans, it's not to work outside their borders. they wanted to control their country, yes that's bad because they should understand the tribal structure in yemen doesn't allow that . and they are now being forced into a corner. when they started out there was zero iranian interest in yemen and in the huthi. a lot of the members of parliament didn't know who that huthi's were but as saudi arabia intervened and as the war went on, the huthi's had to go more and more to iran so their assistance is there and the longer it continues the stronger iran's influence will be.
5:00 pm
mainly through hezbollah's experts technicians that hezbollah sends. iranians don't send many of their own people but they send money area and to the extent they can smuggle in some equipment they smuggle in some equipment but it's not really anywhere near what we give the salaries who are after all invading yemen. >> .. >> ..
5:01 pm
>> iran is highly institutionalized. and within seconds of his death, he was replaced. and they have a good amount of people who can run these organizations, again for good or bad, not talking value judgment here. we're talking strategy and tactics. and what is the goal? if the goal is to change iran's behavior for the better, you've done the opposite, by killing him. i think partly they didn't understand -- and your point is
5:02 pm
well made in your piece on he is an overrated general. but the fact is for all his mistakes and for all the bad things that he's done, he is very very important politically, militarily, culturally to the people that we consider enemies now, but that we want to somehow fix the relationship with. i don't think -- certainly i don't think the president understands that, and i doubt the people around him -- i mean the people who gave him this option then later said we didn't think he'd pick it, well why put it as an option in the first place? i think there is a certain psychological element. you know, i talked about the presence of american troops in baghdad, on people. killing somebody like who was
5:03 pm
whether we like it or not very important, almost had a halo around him, for people in lebanon, in iraq, certainly, certainly in iran. that you should understand is going to generate hatred and is going to generate acts of revenge, and i don't think we have seen the end of that, just that bombing of the base there, i think that was just talk and here we go, fire off some rockets. i think we're going to see more acts of revenge. >> before we go to questions, in our conversation, we haven't mentioned the israeli palestinian conflict once. where does it stand would you say in the minds of the region right now? the minds of u.s. diplomacy? in the minds of u.s. diplomats? how we address that problem now?
5:04 pm
>> as a conflict in palestinian and israelis, it is at a dead end. i felt it was at a dead end ten years ago or more. i don't see any ray of hope over there any time in the near or midterm. as far as the diplomacy, and u.s. diplomacy, you know, i always used to -- i try to be as honest as possible as a spokesperson, and when people would say what about the u.s. and israel? we all say, you know, mea culpa. i mean the u.s. has failed despite many many attempts to establish peace between israelis and palestinians, but if the u.s. has failed, the whole world has failed and the people of the region have failed. so don't just -- the u.s., and i fully understand, the u.s. i don't want to say blind support but unconditional support for israel over these years and now.
5:05 pm
it does not work, and even if arabs aren't talking about israel and palestine all the time, that doesn't mean they have forgotten about it. >> friends don't let friends drive drunk. >> given the if you can call it a peace plan of this administration, it is not a peace plan. it is a joke and everybody sees it for what it is. there are some personal economic commercial interests involved there, and that's how it is seen in the region, and quite frankly that's how i see it. so i don't take it seriously at all. >> before we go to questions, one last one for me, i have my lamp and the genie you rubbed it, i give you three wishes for american policy in the middle east. what would they be? >> okay, for american policy in the middle east -- >> you get to be king for a day. you get to design our -- redesign our policy, three, two, whatever --
5:06 pm
>> i will do that. >> what would you -- because that's embedded in this book. give us the ultimate take away. you get to redirect our policy. what should we be doing? >> you know, one of the reasons i started with poetry and ended with poetry in the book is the need to understand -- you understand the arab world and the middle east much better through its poetry and through its literature than through the speeches given by politicians, regardless of the color of these politicians. one of the things i did as a diplomat in the middle east is send cables about silly topics that were considered silly by some. i sent a poem when a poem was written about palestinian children. and he talks about these heroes,
5:07 pm
7-year-old, 10 years old, standing up to israeli soldiers and tanks. and i summarized it and i sent it in a cable to washington called poetry and politics in the arab world. and i said forget the two-hour speech, read this, because these people, the intellectuals of the arab world, the poets, who i became friends with, they have their fingers on the pulse. they understand how people feel. >> listen -- >> get into the culture. we've had some very good diplomats over the years who really understood the culture and knew the language, read some of the literature. i don't know these days, i mean, first of all, if they are there, they are not being listened to. >> two more wishes, quickly. >> the other wish is to finally
5:08 pm
abandon the autocrats and the dictators and understand that the arabs much like any other people in the world desire freedom, desire democracy. don't listen to racist things like that, like the arabs, you know, don't understand democracy. they can't deal with it. that's what young people want. they want to live in dignity, and for the large part, they are not being treated in a dignified manner by their own governments and by the security which we work with, and so when they see us propping up these regimes, their anger is diverted towards us. i think -- i wish we could finally make the break and say you know what? we're in with the wrong crowd, and we need to cultivate different kind of constituency and help the people who
5:09 pm
genuinely want to improve the record of human rights and the democratic practices and do away with the corruption frankly. that's my second, i guess, wish. >> we have to end on that because it aligns with my second rule in middle east reporting which is that we always overestimate ideology and underestimate governance. how people are governed on a daily basis, whether they have to pay bribes, whether they are abused, humiliated matters so much more than all the ideology. i will tell you what's been driven home to me. i actually covered the last day of voting in the egyptian election. it was over like a ten-day period. and the last day i went with our egyptian reporter in cairo, to a poor neighborhood in cairo. we went to an elementary school. an all women voting station. we stood outside and we interviewed women as they came
5:10 pm
out. every one of them was covered. every one of them said they voted for the muslim brotherhood except one. and i asked each one why did you vote for the muslim brotherhood? better sidewalks, better street lights, more jobs, more security, more healthcare. there wasn't one who said if i see another woman on the beach in alexandria -- [inaudible] -- you know what i mean? it was telling of a lesson of what your point is. in afghanistan we were aligned with a criminal syndicate. that's how the people saw the government. is there any wonder, you know, that we consistently time and again underestimate the relations between government and governing is so much more important than any ideology. that that's actually what comes out in the poetry. >> that's exactly right. >> i will give you number three later. >> you have to give me that.
5:11 pm
>> i will. just introduce yourself. >> [inaudible]. >> start over, please. >> i'm an intern at the german embassy. i'm particularly interested in the situation of lebanon, and i'd be interested in first of all why you think that protests that are so genuine and ongoing and peaceful are so not present both here and in europe. second of all, how you think the western u.s. could get involved, and third, what your prediction for the situation there is. >> the problem with -- and i was explaining a bit earlier is that what starts out as a genuine revolt across sectarian lines, against a corrupt abusive system, that really ought to be
5:12 pm
changed, immediately it gets pulled in different directions. different parties send their people into the streets. they claim they are with the protest, and then when they get something they want or the protesters is about to give them something they don't want, then they pull their people out, or worse, they send their people into create chaos with the demonstrators. i think that there still is a strong genuine desire for change. it's very tricky, though. i mean, a friend in iraq was telling me, the americans have a moral obligation, they should intervene. i said that's the last thing you want. you know, especially in a country like iraq where thank you very much we were in charge of the country for ten years, and look at the mess we left behind. look at afghanistan. so in lebanon, i think we have to be very careful.
5:13 pm
sometimes well-meaning americans in lebanon start holding seminars and give speeches and here also, you know, don't touch the people in the streets. you have to be very careful. i mean, when you approach a hornet's nest, you should be very careful where you poke it. you better not poke it. i think advice certainly behind the scenes conversations. this is not a place where we should step in strongly, light touch i think is better. in the end, i think, you know, in lebanon definitely you don't want to provoke violence, and i have some friends in government, and sometimes we exchange views, and i said the last thing you want to do is use force against the demonstrators because it
5:14 pm
will blow up into something far worse than what you have right now. i think as complicated as the lebanese situation is, some people in government ought to have their own think tank or invite some of the young people who are demonstrating and really put their heads together and come up with a serious reform plan that may take away some of their ill begotten gains and everybody in lebanon has gotten ill begotten gains, but that's the only way out. i appeal to people sometimes, you know, if the country really matters to you, you're running into the ground. you really need to consider how do you uproot a system like that, a sectarian system? how do you stop worrying about do you have enough shia in the government, or do you have
5:15 pm
enough? it's a difficult thing, but it is doable. i mean, the lebanese in me tries to help. i send ideas to people, and sometimes they listen to me, but --. >> yes, i'm doing a phd on international relations. i wanted if i may push back on the issue of democracy in arab countries. if i may, i wanted to point out this is actually true for persians too because when you look at the persian history, you always have someone at the top who tells everybody you go do this and you go do that, and i think, you know, in 2020, it is still the same thing. so i mean, do you really think that, you know, they are capable of having a western style democracy as we have in the states or france in the u.k., or should it have its own style of democracy? >> you will -- all i can say is
5:16 pm
go back to european history, the middle ages, and see how western culture used to be. it used to be far worse. so we look now and we say oh, you know, the persians and the arabs, they don't understand democracy. that's not true. human beings just -- i mean the need for freedom is a very human thing, and everybody wants it, and everybody can get there, but the arab world and iran are going through what europe went through in the middle ages right now, and hopefully it won't be as bloody as the european experience, but i don't despair and i don't say no, the arabs need to be told what to do. i think they need to be given a chance to tolerate one another, live with one another, and agree on a contract, and you need new
5:17 pm
social contracts in almost every arab country. >> i'm going to go around the room here. you're over here, thank you. >> you gave an excellent presentation. one thing you haven't talked, economics, job creation, the rule of law, because when i travel to the region, i've been going to the region for the last 40 years, young people tell me i want dignity but i want first economic dignity. i don't want to keep begging. >> sure. no, absolutely and lebanon is perhaps as a microcosm is a good example, and you know, supposedly the lebanese ran out of money and couldn't pay their u.n. dues, but after they were denied the vote because of two years in a row of not paying their dues, somehow -- wait a
5:18 pm
minute, i have some money here. they just paid. now the vote has been reinstated. there's a lot of money in lebanon, but it's in the wrong hands. the middle class has been impoverished. the poor people have been driven to almost hunger. it's very bad. but rich people are doing very well, and many of them happen to be in powerful positions. what is needed is precisely -- it is not -- i mean, i think the prime minister, caretaker of the government, was banking on 11 billion dollars from the conference going on in europe to help save lebanon. you don't need an injection of cash, particularly in a corrupt country like lebanon. i used to say that in yemen, i said please don't give them any money. do projects. encourage, you know, new
5:19 pm
industries, new businesses, and exactly what you need in lebanon is a more productive economy. what you have is a ponzi scheme at large that where banks and people who exchange money have been shuffling the money around and not producing new jobs. the very basic services, i mean, if you do that, if you can provide the electricity and the water that people need, you know, it's been years since the war ended in lebanon. and they haven't been able to fix that. why? because they don't want to fix it. they can't even pick up the trash and deal with the trash. if you do these basic services and do them well, you would be creating jobs and nowadays, technical jobs, things that acquire some thinking and some expertise. but absolutely, i mean, you need to move the economy from just moving cash around to producing
5:20 pm
things agriculture industry, business, and put the young people who are unemployed back to work. >> thank you. american task force for syria. i agree with most of what you said, but i'm surprised about your analyst about the killing of soleimani. you don't think it is a mistake by the current administration even though we all know that the iraqi government actually admitted that he was the mastermind behind the attack of the u.s. embassy in iraq, few days when the demonstration came. his killing actually gave a boost to the iranian reformists, the reformists in the iranian government, give a boost for the syrian people who lost thousands of freedom fighters on the hands of the militia of qassem
5:21 pm
soleimani. we know his last trip was meeting in lebanon before he moved to damascus. probably getting rid of the man, it is the symbolism. a lot of people as you say in the middle east who somehow it is very ironic that those dictators that you're talking about, the arab dictators are benefitting actually from the arab spring that started from tunisia to egypt, to libya, to syria, to lebanon are orchestrated and planned by the so called foreign powers and cia puppets and usa and all of that, and you know very well it is a genuous uprising. >> sure. >> my question to you, how do you think the popular uprising, syrian and lebanese at the same time, how would it affect the syrian issues? we have seen how economically the syrian pound is down. do you think the lebanese demonstration will somehow reflect positively or negatively on the syrian -- >> yeah, i mean, look, you can
5:22 pm
say as much as you want about qassem soleimani or anybody. i'm not arguing if he's a good man or a bad man. that depends on where you stand. so your symbol of evil is somebody else's symbol of the way to get to heaven. part of the problem in the middle east is we all think that god is on our side, and we kill each other trying to prove it. so, you know, good luck. i mean, killing qassem soleimani, maybe he deserved to die, apparently he welcomed it. he wanted to be a martyr. so we gave him the opportunity to become a martyr. but i hope it doesn't turn into a bloodbath for everybody else. so just because you think somebody is bad does not mean you need to kill him. in a war, somebody facing with you weapons is something, and when you pick on a person, and you say this is an important leader for these people, i'm
5:23 pm
going to get rid of him. let's see. does that change iran's policy towards syria? i doubt that very much. you have to know whether you're fighting a war, then by all means put all your resources and go fight the war. or are you engaging in diplomacy to try to solve a problem? and therefore don't go picking on people because they can do the same thing to you. and if he comes -- his successors come after an american general of some sort, that they consider equivalent, what would happen then, do you think? that's a bad way to go. >> right over here, yeah. right here. this is going to be the last question. i want to have plenty of time to sign books. >> so a follow-up on that question of qassem soleimani. now that he's killed, what's the feeling in the arab world about his killing? what's the positive and negative
5:24 pm
scenarios in terms of iran's retaliation, the implication of iran's retaliation? >> i mean, as usual, like i was saying, if you are on his side, the so-called resistance, which includes a lot of parties, militias, individuals, certainly if not beyond, for those people, it's a tragedy, his killing, and they want revenge. for the people on the other side, who hate him and hate what he represents, it was a great feat. but that's normal. i mean, that's the environment you're in, you know, i mean -- the u.s. unfortunately is very polarized right now, but thankfully it is not with weapons and explosives, but politically. and if you really hate trump or you really love trump, and you somehow get rid of -- in a
5:25 pm
friendly way, somebody from that side, does that change anything? i mean, can you get rid of everybody you disagree with? no. i mean, you have to find some accommodation, some way out of it, and in the middle east, we would never end if we keep saying you killed my grand father and i killed your uncle. it will never end. >> one of my lessons in middle east reporting is that as a reporter, trying to do your job, everybody wants to own you. if they can't own you, they want to destroy you. no one puts their arm around you and say i really appreciate your free, frank and honest analysis. i want to say i really appreciate your free, frank and honest analysis. it is in this book. everybody giving him a big round of applause. [applause] >> and he will be signing books afterwards, and if you don't buy one, i know who you are. [laughter] >> thank you very much. >> thank you so much. [laughter] [inaudible conversation]
5:26 pm
>> we're featuring book tv programs showcasing what's available every weekend on c-span 2. tonight socialism, kentucky republican senator rand paul discusses his book "the case against socialism, on the history and rise of socialist ideology in america". then it's current affairs editor-in-chief nathan robinson, author of "why you should be a socialist". after that, economists robert lawson and benjamin powell and socialism sucks about their travels to socialist countries. book tv this week and every weekend on c-span 2. tonight on the communicators, from the annual state of the net conference, internet archive creator talks about documenting the internet. >> we collect about 800 million pages every day. the total collection is about 800 billion urls.
5:27 pm
it is actually kind of huge, and it turns out that only is part of what we do. we also archive television, abc, nbc, cbs, fox, but also international television, and if you go to, you can search to find clips of what other people said and be able to put those in blog posts and the like. the idea is to make it so that people can quote, compare and contrast, think critically about what's happened on television. >> watch the communicators tonight at 8:00 eastern on c-span 2. c-span has round the clock coverage of the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. and it's all available on demand at watch white house briefings, updates from governors and state officials. track the spread throughout the u.s. and the world with interactive maps.
5:28 pm
watch on demand any time, unfiltered, at tonight a special evening edition of "washington journal" on the federal response to the coronavirus crisis. join us at 8:00 p.m. eastern with john barry, author of "the great influenza", the epic story of the deadliest pandemic in history. and florida congresswoman wasser man schultz on the response to the virus in her district. join the conversation on the coronavirus crisis on "washington journal" prime-time tonight on 8:00 eastern on c-span. [applause] >> good evening, everyone. and welcome to the george washington university. i'm pleased to welcome you to tonight's event, presented in


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on