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PANEL 1 - AMERICA: ACTOR OR SPECTATOR?


Speakers:

  • Reuel Marc Gerecht, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies
  • Bret Stephens, foreign-affairs columnist and deputy editorial page editor for The Wall Street Journal, and Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist
  • Michele Flournoy, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
  • Moderator: Jackson Diehl deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Post

PELSON:

My name is Mark Pelson. I've supported the important work of FDD for many years. I'm honored to introduce our first panel, experts who will build on the themes Cliff has been talking about. Michele Flournoy is a former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. She has mentored the next generation of defense policy thinkers, and is a role model for men and women building careers in national security. She's greatly respected for her policy acumen, management confidence, and fundamental decency. There are many people on both sides of the aisle who would be very supportive of someone like Michele as a future Secretary of Defense.

Reuel Marc Gerecht is a Senior Fellow at FDD, and a former Middle Eastern specialist at the CIA's Directorate of Operations. I've had the opportunity to spend time with Reuel over the years, and am continually impressed with his intellect. Reuel is one of the rare breed of experts who really tries to understand the inspiration of our adversaries. He delves into the literary and philosophical works that shape their thinking as a way to know thy enemy. If you haven't already done so, I encourage you to pick up a copy of the study by Reuel and FDD Senior Fellow, Ali Alfoneh, on the personalities and motivations of Iranian leaders; Ali Khamenei, Hassan Rouhani, and Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Bret Stephens is a foreign-affairs columnist at the Wall Street Journal, and winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. He is also the Deputy Editorial Page Editor for the Journal, has been a friend of FDD for many years. Although we have just met, I feel I know Bret, as I always look forward to reading his take on the pressing issues of the day. I know -- pressing issues of the day. He has been a friend of FDD for many years, and his book "America in Retreat" is a must read. It identifies a troubling trend in American foreign policy, and a need for robust American leadership at this perilous moment in world history. We look forward to hearing more about this topic from Bret during today's discussion.

Though our three panelists have disparate backgrounds, they all have something in common. They see the world as it is, and not how they wish it were. The panel will be moderated by Jackson Diehl, Deputy Editorial Page Editor of the Washington Post. Jackson combines those qualities you must -- you most want in a foreign correspondent and an editor of foreign news.

He is curious, attentive to small details as well as the historical context, linguistically talented, skeptical but not cynical, and always right. He's a serious student of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. And last but not least, he's a defender of the goodness of Democracy, even at times when some question its utility in what we once called the Third World. Please join me in welcoming these distinguished leaders.

(APPLAUSE)

DIEHL:

Thank you and good morning, everybody. It's an honor to be here, and to be able to kick off this conference and to kick off our discussion of the theme of the conference, which is America: Actor or Spectator (inaudible). We're going to have a free ranging discussion, which I'm going to moderate some questions. And after I ask a few questions of my own, we're going to open it up to the audience, and I invite you to ask questions on this topic.

Before we start, I just want to briefly deconstruct a little bit our title, because I'm not sure it entirely encompasses the choices that America faces in the world today, or the debate that we are having; America as actor or spectator. When I think of America as actor, that evokes for me the role the United States played in the Middle East, in let's say 1991 to 2011. That is we worked forcefully to impose our agenda. We were preparing to use large military force if necessary. We weren't with allies (inaudible). I suspect we have a couple of advocates for that role still here on this panel and many in Washington.

America as spectator, if that is a -- if that implies an America that completely withdraws from the Middle East, that wants to "let Allah sort it out," as Sarah Palin once said, I'm not sure that's either our role now or that anyone much in Washington is really advocating that. I think at a time when we're carrying out a bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria. It's tough to say that the United States is a spectator of the Middle East, so if someone here wants to make that argument, let's hear it.

But I think there's a third option, and it's the option that's been pursued by the Obama Administration, for better or for worse, which is the United States, let's say, is a balancer in the Middle East; a United States that uses limited military force, that uses diplomacy, that uses partnership with countries in the region to try and tip the scales of these conflicts, to a point where there can be some kind of a solution that if it is not the American solution, it is at least a solution we can live with.

I would say that that's our prime policy of the United States in Iraq. It's at least our notion of policy in Syria, even if we're not pursuing it. And it's the policy that the Obama Administration says it wants for the Yemen and Libya, a policy of trying to strike a balance between the competing sides, equilibrium, to use the term Obama used the other day in an interview, and then to press for some kind of negotiating solutions between the parties of the region that the United States could live with.

So as we have this discussion today, I think we need to weigh whether that kind of an approach is better than our former approach as a more forceful actor in the Middle East and more forceful leader in the Middle East, whether either one of them can address the problems we're now facing in the region, and also whether we really have a choice, whether it isn't true that one of those options the United States, actor or balancer, is going to be forced into in the coming years.

So to start the discussion with our first question, I wanted to bring up the famous quotation of Michele's former boss, Bob Gates, who at the end of his term said, "The next adviser -- presidential adviser who says we ought to send a ground force to the Middle East, or Africa, or Asia, ought to have his head examined." And it strikes me -- that's become a bit of a conventional wisdom in Washington. There's a sense out there that using ground forces in the Middle East is practically wrong, and politically impossible, and is basically off the table.

So I'd like to start our panel, starting with Michele, to address the question: Is ground forces and military -- large military force off the table as an option for the Middle East? And if it is, do we still have the option, really, of being an actor in the way that we were from the Persian Gulf War to the Iraq War?

FLOURNOY:

Well, first of all, let me say thanks to all of you for being here. It's really an honor to be part of this panel this morning. I think -- my former boss had a habit of -- when he was making a point, he would try to make it in a rather provocative way that people would remember.

And I think what Secretary Gates was saying when he made that comment is that, when the president, as commander in chief, makes the toughest decision to actually put American forces in harm's way in large numbers, we better have a very clear understanding of the problem we're trying to solve, the strategy that we have to accomplish our objectives, and the risks that we're undertaking.

I think Secretary Gates was sort of sounding a note of caution to say, you know, in the last decade or more, we've committed large scale ground force -- forces in a couple of different countries, Iraq and Afghanistan. And you know, while we've certainly achieved a degree of success in the military sense, we've had a fair hard time translating that military success into enduring or lasting political change in a transformation of the societies that have been -- that we were trying to transform. And so, I think that was the note of caution.

I think the broader question of whether force is off the table; yes, there's war weariness. Yes, there is, you know, hesitancy to employ American military forces to -- particularly in the Middle East. But I think the American people have shown again and again that when they perceive a threat, when a president leads and makes a compelling case that there is a threat that effects Americans and their vital interests, more often than note, they're willing to give that president the benefit of the doubt and the support he needs to use the military instrument. The real question is whether that's the right course of action today in the Middle East.

I think the approach to -- to Iraq is a less some academic notion of offshore balancing, and more the belief that for Iraq to have a sustainable solution, for Iraq to be able to push back -- to push ISIS out and keep ISIS out, it's got to be an Iraqi-led effort, first on the political front to make sure that the Iraqi government makes the necessary changes to be more inclusive of the Kurds and the Sunnis so that they are -- you know, the Sunni communities, in particular, are now fertile ground for ISIS recruiting.

And second, because the Iraqis are going to have to sustain that new status quo once it's created, and so, you know, I think it's less -- it's less a, you know, a sort theoretical strategy and more, in this particular case, a judgment that the U.S. military role should be enabling the Iraqi's success, as opposed to doing it for them. Because if you do it for them, you still have a sustainability problem at the end of the day.

DIEHL:

Bret, can we get to a successful place in Iraq and Syria without using American combat troops?

FLOURNOY:

We are using American combat troops, by the way. So.

STEPHENS:

Right. We need to use more American combat troops. That is to say, if they're going to apply force, apply it effectively, forcefully, and hopefully very quickly. And I fear that the application of force now is none of those things, which guarantees that we will be applying force for a very long time in a way that -- far from degrading ISIS, may actually embolden it, and strengthen it, because whatever they're losing in terms of our bombing sorties and our taking our targets, they may be gaining by virtue of simply standing up to the Americans.

So it -- it -- it strikes me that if you're -- if -- this is not -- we -- we can't endlessly pretend to be half pregnant in Iraq. We are involved. We are engaged. And what seems to be missing, is any realizable strategy for -- strategy for or definition of what victory looks like there. That's very problematic. I mean, you know, what Michele said is absolutely right. We have 3,000 troops in Iraq. Call them advisers or call them what you -- what -- what you will. Those are -- those are 6,000 boots on -- on the ground. We have a president who almost never speaks about them. It's as if they don't exist.

How many Americans -- I think -- how many Americans do you think are seriously aware of the size of the contingent that we have -- that we have there? How many Americans have a sense of what exactly our strategy is, other than mounting maybe six sorties a day at a cost that -- financial cost we're also not aware of. This is -- this is extraordinarily problematic, that we are essentially conducting a kind of -- a phony mission, a phony war in Iraq at the very far periphery of America's -- of the American public's vision. I think that's a massive failure of leadership by this -- by this administration.

If you didn't intend to win this war in some time table that would be less than 30 years, he shouldn't have committed troops in the first place. He should have simply consigned Iraq to some -- an Iranian sphere of influence, and Sunni sphere of influence, and been done with it. At the rate we're going, the Sagrada Familia Cathedral is going to be built before we have a -- some kind of conclusion in Iraq.

DIEHL:

Reuel?

GERECHT:

Well, I mean, I'd got out first, you know, sort of the 30,000 foot range, and you know, if you -- if you go back and you read Bob Teget's (ph) a little bit compendious paradox of power, it -- it suggests strongly that there's something in the American DNA that compels us to protect and expand the Democratic manifest destiny of -- of -- of the United States.

I tend to be sympathetic to that. However, I -- I would also say that, you know, the American military can only do that which the American welfare -- welfare state allows. So if the American welfare state continues to eat up American resources, I see no reason why the American military will not follow the path of the European militaries. And I think at last count, I'm not 100 percent sure, I think the British Royal Navy now has 19 capital ships. We're still considerably above that, but the truth is, is the Armed Forces of the United States, its ability to project power, staying power in low combat operations is declining. So you can have will, but if you don't have means, your will will vanish.

So I think that ultimately is the great debate, and then the theater of operations is -- is separate. I -- I can't imagine, certainly under President Obama, that we would have any type of military engagement with substantial number of troops. I can see special operations, of course, but no other military engagement, which I would say in Iran is -- is fully understood.

Whether we could have strategic air strikes under this president against a major adversary like Iran, I'm skeptical. Could a new president change it? Yes. I think the capacity for the United States sort of surged to reform itself, reshape itself. It's been proven time and time again, and I still think we have the military wherewithal to do that. But obviously it would be challenging and I think you would have to have some substantial provocation.

I don't think what's happening in Syria and Iraq in and of itself, the slaughter, any other humanitarian reason, any other strategic reason, probably is going to be sufficiently compelling to get the United States back in there in a meaningful way. The only change that I could see would be something on the 9/11 unexpected events. That is, you realize that once again you have allowed an enclave to grow, and that enclave has produced something that seriously hurt you, and you realize that you have to go back in with -- with considerable strength.

But even there, I'm -- I'm skeptical in the short term. I think it is going to take a while for the United States to absorb Iraq and Afghanistan, and I think that's probably a bipartisan reflex.

DIEHL:

I want to turn now to the Iranian Nuclear Agreement. And -- and again, back to this theory of balancing or equilibrium, because when President Obama recently gave his interview to Tom Friedman of the New York Times, he sketched quickly a vision of where of he thought this agreement could lead in the Middle East, how it could shape -- it could shape the wars of the Middle East.

He said he thought if Iran were to moderate its behavior as a result of this agreement, and if the United States for its part worked conscientiously to bolster the assets of its traditional allies, the Sunni states and Israel, he said he thought we could reach an equilibrium at some point in the Middle East between the Sunni states, and Iran and it's Shiite allies, under which they would, instead of continuing to fight each other in this sort of sectarian war across the region, would work out solutions for Iraq, for Syria, for Lebanon, for Yemen, for all of these places where these wars are going on.

So he saw this agreement as basically leading us to a place where we would have a balance in the power -- favorable balance of power in the region, that would allow for solutions. And I think in a way, ultimately allow us to get out of the conflicts ourselves, without endangering our security. So I'd like to ask, starting with Reuel, our Iran expert; how likely is it that this will work, that that vision could happen given where Iran is? And is the -- or is it the case, as Henry Kissinger and George Shultz recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, that an Iran agreement could actually force us to become more of an actor in the region than we are now?

GERECHT:

Well, I think the -- the odds of the president's vision working, that is the -- any nuclear agreements serving as a platform for greater stability in the region, I think it has about a (inaudible) relationship of zero.

(LAUGHTER )

I would agree with the former Secretary of State that regardless of what happens, I think the -- the negotiations, even if they ever lead to a deal, and I'm highly skeptical they are going to lead to a deal. But even if they lead to a deal, it's going to produce more instability in the region we've done so far. It's pretty clear that the Iranian nuclear infrastructure isn't going -- going anywhere, certainly with the Americans, unless something unexpected happens (inaudible).

So I think the -- the region is in sort of the (inaudible) of conflict. But to rise to the level of say, the Iran/Iraq War of 1980 to 1988, I'm skeptical of that, but I think it's fair to say that the Saudis and the Iranians are at it again. I would emphasize when they went at it in 19 -- after 1979, the Islamic Revolution of Iran, it produced the radicalization of the region, which led to the -- the (inaudible) -- unparalleled (inaudible) of Saudis and (inaudible) Islam. But it's never good for the region. It's not very good for the United States. I would have to confess (inaudible).

I think it's going to inflame the region. I think the Americans -- the fact (inaudible) Iran and Shiite militias to march -- try to march through Iraq is inevitably going to lead to Saudi Arabia (inaudible) monarchies supporting ISIS.

And we're going to have a real mess. If anyone has actually seen the YouTube videos, which are out there. They are reliable. The American government is aware of them, of Shiite militias slaughtering Sunni civilians in the Battle of Tikrit. This is just going to be nothing compared to what's going to happen in Mosel. So I think we're in store for a really, really big mess.

DIEHL:

Michele, is it possible for the United States to -- to bolster this (inaudible) allies, our Sunni allies, to the point where they can push back against Iran and contain the aggression that Iran seems to be trying to wage, without us getting involved directly? And if so, what would we do to help them?

FLOURNOY:

So I do think this is an area where we need to strengthen U.S. policy, and I think the -- the prospect of an Iranian agreement has raised a lot of anxiety in the region. You know, my own view is the way we should look at this agreement is really similar to the way we looked at arms control agreements with the Soviet Union. It is really the question, does it put time on the clock in terms of the Iranian breakout, to getting nuclear weapons -- does it make it harder for them to get it? Does it increase our confidence that we would know if they tried?

But this is not, in my view, a -- a -- an agreement that if it is concluded is going to transform Iran, or transform our relationship, or put us on a path to (inaudible), because I don't see Iran ceasing and desisting in terms of its support for terrorism and destabilizing activities throughout the region. So that said, the prospect of an agreement has made (inaudible) friends and -- and both partners very, very nervous. And I think there's a lot the U.S. can and should be doing to reassure them. First and foremost, in (inaudible) policy and diplomacy with them, (inaudible) they would view an attack on them as an attack on our interests, and that we will defend them (inaudible).

Second, we are going to continue to bolster our (inaudible) operation and assistance with them. We have a very strong record, despite all of the political ups and downs with Israel, of having, you know, sort of protected and safeguarded that aspect of our relationship. Continuing to invest in Israeli security, and military capacity, and qualitative militaries is key on both sides. Continuing to provide security assistance there, particularly building out on what we're doing right now in terms of resupplying (inaudible) and so forth. But I think that there's a lot that we can do practically to reassure (inaudible) states but I think part of it is having -- expressing a more clear-eyed view of what we think -- you know, while we're approaching Iran, and reassuring them that this is not a fundamental war of the U.S. in the region. This is not, you know, the U.S. now aligning with Iran.

This is -- you know, it is completing an agreement -- if we do complete an agreement, and trying to take nuclear weapons off the table and out of the hands of a very, very worrisome revolutionary of power that they regard as -- as a potential adversary, as do they. So I -- I think there's a lot that we could be doing to reassure -- reassure our allies and partners better -- much more than we have so far.

(UNKNOWN)

I think this is the most (inaudible) diplomatic agreement in my lifetime. So that would include (inaudible) negotiations and the subsequent negotiations, but most certainly the most disastrous (inaudible) judge. The idea that somehow a nuclear agreement is going to somehow tame Iran when you are realeasing $135 billion right away to which they will use to (inaudible) shore up the Assad regime to (inaudible) help the Houthis and further (inaudible).

(CROSSTALK)

(UNKNOWN)

And so on. It is not a recipe for stabilizing the Middle East, much less (inaudible). I think also, the policy they're trying to provide the (inaudible), the Saudis, Egypt, the Israelis, is better weapons when at the same time you're creating a pathway towards the nuclearization of Iran. It is a -- it's a small consolation for any of these countries. I think most Arab leaders in their heart of hearts would be the first to tell you that their air forces and armies aren't worth a dam.

The only thing that the -- works for Saudi Arabia, despite having the latest armaments from Europe and the United States, the only thing that's really -- guarantees their security is that the basic sense that America will be prepared to do today what they did in 1990 to '91. But it's a bandage, I think sort of efforts to sort of -- great job in saying, "Oh, we have your back."

(Inaudible) our full party -- equally (inaudible) because I don't think the Arabs were -- the Arabs states were (inaudible) American politics, is the notion that we are now going to borrow (inaudible). Are we really going to come to the defense of (inaudible) should there be a crisis there with the Shiite community? And we're going to stand up to the (inaudible) family, the Sunni (inaudible)? I don't think so. Are we going to risk military confrontation with a nuclear Iran for the sake of these little principalities? I'm not sure we should or will, because one of the reasons why this agreement is so extraordinarily worrying.

You know, the idea of America as a balancer in the Middle East is part of the problem. We should not be a balancer. We should identify who our friends are, who our allies are, and what our interests are, and we should put our muscle into service of those things. And we should equally identify who our adversaries and enemies are, and we should do what we can to foil, disrupt, and diminish it. But the idea that we're going to sort of serve as some cosmic balancer between Tehran and Riyadh or some other axis, I guess, is -- is -- is dangerous.

Last -- last point, because you raised the Kissinger subject, we are going to find ourselves, whether we like it or not, whether our welfare state allows it or not -- Kissinger and Shultz are absolutely right that the Middle East is going to produce crises that will involve us willy-nilly. And you know, to paraphrase or to adapt Trotsky; you may not be interested in the Middle East, but the Middle East is interested in you.

So the question is, will we find ourselves facing those crises with diminished -- diminished leverage, diminished credibility, and stronger adversaries or the opposite? I think that's the choice confronting what remains in this administration and certainly the next one.

DIEHL:

I wanted to ask one other question. I want to pick up on something you said, Bret. You -- you mentioned the (inaudible), the sort of dictatorial family there that the United States is currently supporting. And it touches on a dilemma that we have, that President Obama also mentioned in his recent interview with Tom Friedman, which is, how do we back our -- our Sunni allies in pushing back against Iran without countenancing the kind of domestic regimes that they have? And he said, you know, we are going to support them, but we're not going to -- we're also going to have to tell them that their domestic regimes are not -- are not good enough for us. That we're not going to countenance what the Saudi's do domestically to support -- to repress Shiite unrest. We are not going to countenance what the Egyptians do to suppress their opposition.

We're -- and so I -- I want to ask, how do we -- where is the balance there, or how do we confront this dilemma? Are we undermining our own cause in containing Iran by telling General Sisi in Egypt that he has to release political prisoners? Or by not telling him that, are we creating a situation where our allies are going to end up crumbling before us because it's not sustainable, the regimes that they have?

STEPHENS:

Well, I just interviewed Sisi in -- in Cairo a couple of weeks ago. And my impression -- of course, I am aware a western journalist, he's not about to tell me in how he delights in cattle prods and all of the apparatus of the state oppression. My strong sense from him was that he was well aware that Egypt was on the precipice, that 90 million Egyptians needed to be clothed, housed, fed, driven around every single day; that the country's economic situation was basically catastrophic, and that he needed to be both a stabilizer as well as reformer.

Now, whether he lives up to that promise or not, we shall -- you know, we shall find out -- we shall find out soon -- soon enough. But for -- given the opportunities I've had to meet, you know, strong men, presidents, and (inaudible) dictators of various shades over the years, he -- he -- I -- I actually came away more confident about Egypt after meeting him than I had gone in -- than I had been going into the interview.

I mean, I heard John McCain during the -- in 2011 at the Munich Security Conference, McCain had a line -- he said, "We should make a new -- we should strike a new bargain with our non-democratic friends." Which is to say, we will support you, but the basis of our support has to be genuine movement toward reform. And how you strike that balance, I think, has to be tailored to every given country. I mean, if anything else, we should've learned from the Arab spring that simply saying, the revolution doesn't lead you to 1776, it leads you to 1789 and the (inaudible). You know, the -- the revolutionary model is more -- tends to be more Bolshevik than American or French than -- French than American, and that's something that we should be wary of.

But at the same time, we clearly have to be telling the Arabs that Saudi Arabia ought to look a hell of a lot more like -- or Riyadh ought to look more like Dubai than it does (inaudible).

FLOURNOY:

Can I just jump in? I actually think this is a point of potential bipartisan consensus because I think -- I think there is a view in, you know, sort of the Democratic foreign policy world and the Republican foreign policy world that the only path to long term stability in the Middle East is through reform of these regimes. The very nature of these regimes is part of what is spawning the instability the -- you know, some of the more violent extremist groups and so forth.

And so I think that this should be a key element of policy whenever administration comes to power. I think it's also a point of consensus between, say, Senator McCain and the current president. I think -- so I think that's -- this is an area where we -- we should probably look for finding some common ground going forward because I think there is a lot of consensus.

(UNKNOWN)

Can I just say something? I want to actually say that I think Bret was nicer to General, now president for life, Sisi than he's ever been to me.

(LAUGHTER)

And you know, I -- I think we're just fibbing to ourselves here. I think we've gone back to a pre9/11 world. I think the Americans largely in the bipartisan manner have bought in again to the whole notion of (inaudible), in which the Egyptian dictators had used -- the military had used consistently, that you have to accept me or you get the Muslim brotherhood, and Democracy is a really bad idea.

I think we've lost Egypt. I don't see how this works out. I -- I -- I think we've set up a situation in Egypt that it is a pre- revolutionary situation. Now it's -- the -- the -- the military can hang on, I think, in Egypt for a very, very long time because topographically, geographically there's no place on earth that is designed to be more friendly to dictatorship. There is a reason why the pharaohs rose there. But I think we're in a terrible situation. We're once again calling the Saudis our allies. I mean, it's -- that's just silly. I mean, the Saudis have been one of the most inimical, destructive forces in the Middle East, and we all know the only reason that we call them the allies is they have all that oil. But religiously, politically, they are a highly dangerous force in the area. They will continue to be so.

So I think the United States has gotten itself into a real pickle, and I think the only bipartisan consensus that has developed is actually not to support reforming the region anymore, but to more or less throw our weight behind the established military orders. And I don't think it's going to turn out well.

(UNKNOWN)

Can I just interject here? So, have you ever met an Egyptian liberal?

(UNKNOWN)

Yes, I have. They're not very liberal.

(UNKNOWN)

I've met all the Egyptian liberals.

(LAUGHTER)

All seven of them, and they're terrific. But if you actually spend time with -- you know, and walk the -- the so called liberal party or the other new parties, it would be generous to call them (inaudible). They are generally militant -- never mind militantly anti-Israel, militantly anti-Semitic. And the idea that these people are fit to rule is crazy. You know, when -- when Ayman Nour made his run for the presidency in 2005, I was briefly -- in my youth, I thought, what a great idea, Ayman Nour, you know, running for this -- for this office, offering -- offering Egyptians a choice.

Ayman Nour turned out to be more sympathetic with the -- with the brothers than he -- than he did with anyone else. And -- and so we should -- you know, the problem that we have -- just let me put it to you this way. Actually, the problem that we have is in a way written into the name of this organization, Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Because what we really should be defending isn't really democracies per se; we should be defending liberalism. We talk about democracies because we think that liberal Democracy is Democracy. But what we've learned over time, and we've been reminded of again in the last few years, is that there is such a thing as illiberal Democracy. Everyone is an illiberal democrat. You can argue that Hamas are -- is a -- are illiberal democrats. (Inaudible) is certainly an illiberal democrat.

And we shouldn't be siding with them, because this is either a Democracy; one man, one vote, one time, or it's a kind of -- a -- a -- a -- people freely choose it to subject women to greater repression, minorities to greater repression, and -- and so forth. So how are you going to go about cultivating a spirit of liberalism in these societies that haven't really seen it for a very long time? That's -- that's a long term (inaudible), social process that we shouldn't assume is going to happen in the space of the next administration or the next -- or the next couple of decades. But at least you can identify that that's where you need to work, rather than say, well, we need an election in Egypt, we need an election in -- in the Palestinian authority and so on.

DIEHL:

Okay. Well, I want to open it up to questions. I just want to say, before I do, that I don't think that we encourage liberalism by supporting a regime that puts all of the liberals in jail, which is what the Egyptian government has done. But I'm going to open it up to questions. And please -- we have people circulating with microphones, please identify yourself and ask your question. Yes, sir. Here comes a microphone.

QUESTION:

Thank you. (Inaudible) who worked in the Middle East (inaudible). You remind me a little bit of what someone in Malali told me many years ago. "You Americans come here and talk about Democracy, these people have nothing to eat. You people talk about Democracy, these people don't have jobs." The economies are falling apart. If it wasn't for (inaudible), it would be even a bigger disaster. You gentlemen (inaudible) in the other countries. Can you talk a little bit about the economic side of this (inaudible)? Thank you.

DIEHL:

Who wants to talk about the economic aspect of solving these wars in the Middle East?

GERECHT :

Well, I -- again, I -- I don't think you're going to make much progress if -- with any country where you have a military (inaudible) that has been basically deconstructing civil society and corrupting the business community for decades. I think the odds of the Egyptian military saving, economically, Egypt, they certainly beg of my imagination, and Bret's imagination is greater than mine. So I just don't know how that works. I -- I-- I don't -- I think the only way you're going to have economic reform is to have political reform. I don't think there is this fascist silver, you know, bullet out there, where you have, you know, a state commanded economy by a lead that brings sort of (inaudible) capitalism.

View original transcript on CQ.com: http://www.cq.com/doc/newsmakertranscripts-4664608?7&print=true