In the latest episode of our miniseries focusing in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we speak to Dr. Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian American historian who currently is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, on the history of the Palestinian people and Palestinian nationalism. Dr. Khalidi, the author of The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine (2020) and Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (1997), discusses the origins of Palestinian Nationalism and provides a primer on the development of the Palestinian identity, dispelling the myths and talking the realities of Palestinian Nationalism in both the Mandate and Pre-Mandate period (the ‘Mandate’ referring to British governance of the Palestinian region in the years preceding 1948). Dr. Khalidi discusses why early attempts at creating a Palestinian state failed, and what agency the Palestinians actually had in their own fate amidst the involvement of regional and foreign powers. Dr. Khalidi goes on to talk about the Palestinians as a political entity, with the rise of the PLO, and gives his take on why the Oslo Peace Process failed — drawing on his own personal experience as an advisor to the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid and Washington peace negotiations between 1991 and 1993.
In this week’s episode, A’ndre and Ryan talk with Ash Jain and Ambassador (ret.) Daniel Fried about the importance of democratic multilateralism. Ash and Amb. Fried advocate for expanding the G-7 into a D-10, which would be a broader forum for the world’s leading democratic countries. They also discuss whether the world is currently defined by the divide between democracy versus autocracy, and how the United States can spearhead the advancement of liberal values on the world stage. The conversation concludes by emphasizing the importance of democracy both in the United States and around the world.
On the purpose of a G7:
“The G7 represents a group of seven leading national powers, it essentially was formed in the 1970s as a forum for economic coordination among highly industrialized economies.” (Ash Jain)
“The G7 is back to being a group of democratic countries that are concerned about a set of challenges in the world. And its intent is really to focus on trying on how to work more closely together to deal with some of these big global challenges that we face. It still retains its makeup that it did since it began now in the 70s, which is the US, and then France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Italy, as well as Japan and the EU, and of course, Canada.” (Ash Jain)
On the intergovernmental processes of the G7:
“The G7 started out as economic and financial. And it served pretty well under several turns of the world to help bring together the most advanced economies on financial and economic issues. But it also is a fabulous forum to discuss larger security questions.” (Amb. Fried)
“What other place is there for the great democracies to sit down and discuss both global economic challenges, global challenges (like climate change), the challenge of Russia and the challenge of China, bringing everybody together in one form?” (Amb. Fried)
“There is a need to bring together like-minded democracies. Don’t take my word for it, read Joe Biden’s op-ed in the Washington Post [June 6]. He said, ‘The democracies need to come together to help set the rules for the 21st century, and better contend with the great authoritarians, China and Russia.’ That’s a pretty remarkable statement.” (Amb. Fried)
“The goal here is to formulate areas of common action, to use the baseline of a shared outlook on the challenges facing the world, including those from Russia and China, to identify strategically how to build and strengthen cooperation to address those challenges, and to use our collective resources and our collective influence.” (Ash Jain)
On the current divide between world powers:
“We’ve been complaining for decades about how Europeans and others don’t hold their weight. And yet, we tend to push forward our initiatives and ask them to follow up. Well, if you’re going to ask them to pull their weight, you’ve got to accept code decision, and then insist that they step up. And that means we’ve got to step back. Which means therefore, that the group that you’re asking better be like-minded.” (Amb. Fried)
“It looked like for a time that was where the world was headed, that even China and others would eventually embrace political liberalization as part of their economic modernization. Well, it’s become quite evident that was really not realistic.” (Ash Jain)
“We’re in an era today where there is this growing divide between the values that democratic nations hold, and the kind of interest-based politics and policymaking that drives a lot of the actions of Russia and China.”
On a D10:
“Now we’re seeing the challenges we face are much more global. Asia in particular figures much more prominently, both with regard to global challenges, and with regard to powerful and influential countries that that we would want to be, we would want to ensure are with us, and working together to deal with some of the challenges. So that’s why having Australia, having South Korea, potentially having India on board in these kinds of discussions is going to be increasingly determinative.”
On the U.S. leading a summit of democracies:
“We need to fix ourselves at home at first, immediately. And we need to show that democracies can deliver for their citizens. And on that basis, then go out and fix them help fix things internationally.” (Amb. Fried)
“It’s important to come up with answers so that you can start putting flesh on the on the sketch—the kind of skeletal sketch of democracies coming together to fix things and then deal with the authoritarians. That’s why it’s really hard being in government, but you have to actually figure out what you’re going to do with all those ideas and policy papers you wrote during that during the campaign.” (Amb. Fried)
“We’re at a moment now where those questions about America’s own commitment to democratic values and norms at home, is at a new stage of concern—a heightened concern—especially because of the polarization that we’re facing, and the notion that there are so many political forces that are pushing against expansion of democracy, even here at home, and so therefore, doesn’t make sense for the US to be out there leading a summit that’s focused on kind of expanding and promoting democracy abroad.” (Ash Jain)
“There are always going to be problems at home that need to be confronted, even at the same time as we’re dealing with concerns that stem from overseas challenges. And so it isn’t really a question of dealing with one versus the other. There’s a need for American leadership in the world simply because America is still the most powerful country, economically, militarily, politically, it has influenced” (Ash Jain)
“It is very important for us to show humility for our leaders to recognize those challenges just to express what those are and to not claim to have the moral authority that it once had when confronting these challenges, or when giving advice or suggesting ways forward. Rather, this is a collaborative exercise, or should be if it’s organized successfully, that a summit brings together other leaders to both share concerns about the world.” (Ash Jain)
On the importance of democracies:
“The fact is, we need to make democracies work better for their own citizens, for us, for people. Foreign policy for the middle class means that lead democracies work for big chunks of their society, not merely the rich, and then develop the confidence that we can go out and talk about what works in ways that we could during the Cold War, which ultimately ended up being affected. Prosperity is not solely within our own borders.” (Amb. Fried)
“This new kind of global charter that we’re suggesting could help join countries, democracies in common cause a shape—a North Star—for shared values and interests. And then the key is to go from a statement, an outline and a vision, into common forms and ways of putting that vision into action.” (Ash Jain)
In this special episode of The Burn Bag Podcast, we speak to former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (2011-2013) about a range of national security ‘flashpoints’ that stand to affect the United States and the Biden Administration in the coming years. Secretary Panetta, who oversaw the Bin Laden Raid as CIA Director, reacts to President Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, while also discussing a potentially new Iran Nuclear Deal. The Secretary also discusses his view on the threats facing NATO and why President Biden needs to draw ‘clear lines’ when dealing with Putin’s Russia.
We revisit Secretary Panetta’s service in the Obama Administration in contextualizing the current state of Chinese assertion in the Indo-Pacific, and Secretary Panetta recounts his meeting with Xi Jinping almost a decade ago. Secretary Panetta uses that story to outline how the United States needs to engage multilaterally while also bolstering its military capabilities to meet the challenge of China. Secretary Panetta also discusses the emergent, if not current, threat posed by cyber-warfare, and how the U.S. military needs to adapt to meet the dangers posed by the newest domain of warfare. We close out the conversation with a brief discussion on the defense budget — a topic Secretary Panetta is intimately familiar with, not only because of his time as Secretary of Defense, but also due to his former position as Director of the OMB and as Chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Secretary Panetta co-founded the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, and is the author of Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace, his New York Times best-selling auto-biography.
On the Biden Administration’s Decision to Withdraw From Afghanistan
[8:37] “The whole purpose was to make sure that Afghanistan would not become a base for terrorism again. I understand the frustration that led to the President’s decision, but it’s a very risky decision, because removing our troops still does not absolve us of the responsibility to make sure that Afghanistan is not taken over by the Taliban, and does not become again a haven for terrorism. So, the President has acknowledged that, I think the Secretary of State has devoted a great deal of foreign aid money to Afghanistan to try and assist them. The President has talked about, even though we’re withdrawing our forces, having the ability to continue to train Afghan forces, having the ability to go after terrorists, in what is called ‘over the horizon’ operations, meaning that they would have bases near Afghanistan giving them that capability.
I think you can take some important steps to try and make sure that the Taliban doesn’t just overwhelm Afghanistan. I’m worried about it if you’ve read headlines in the last few weeks, the Taliban has moved very quickly, particularly in the South and Eastern part of Afghanistan. I think some 26 bases have already fallen to the Taliban. It is a very real threat, I think the United States has a responsibility to deal with that threat, and to certainly assist Afghanistan. While our forces maybe removed, it does not absolve us of the responsibility to make sure that it does not become another base for terrorism, and for a potential attack on our own country.”
On U.S. Negotiations with Iran for a Prospective Nuclear Deal
[12:48] “What has to be done here is that we have got to be able to get Iran back to the table, and back within the limits established by the nuclear agreement. Iran has said they won’t do that unless sanctions are lifted. There are now two working groups, one working on the sanction issue, one working on the nuclear issue as well, trying to see if there can’t be an agreement here that will bring Iran back to the table. I’m glad they’re doing it, I’m glad they’re working at it, it is an important objective, but I also think we shouldn’t kid ourselves, that it’d be easy to get Iran to comply.”
[14:10] “Secondly, if this is really going to be supported politically in this country, Iran does have to agree to putting other areas on the table. Its ability to develop missiles should be on the table. Its continuing support for terrorism should be on the table. Those are areas that unfortunately were not included on the first agreement, and I think President Biden has said that those are areas that ultimately need to be addressed. So there are a lot of challenges here, and I don’t think we can assume that we should not be ready for potential conflict in that part of the world, because it is a very volatile situation… I think this is one situation, where as long as we’re prepared for potential conflict, I think we ought to give our diplomats some room to see whether or not they can’t arrive at an agreement that can’t reduce the level of conflict, in terms of the relationship.
On What Biden Needs to do on Russia
[20:50] “Putin, as a result of the last number of years in the United States, has read weakness on the part of the United States in dealing with Russia, and Putin has taken advantage of that… this bold cyber attack that was conducted against our election systems, beginning in 2016, 2018, 2020, and intelligence tells us they’re going to continue to undermine our elections systems. We’ve seen the SolarWinds attack, a very broad cyber-attack, we’re seeing what these criminals are doing, that are hiding out in Russia, that went after the Colonial Pipeline, that went after JBS. Ransomware attacks are continuing to go after our vital infrastructure. That is a national security issue.
I think it’s going to be very important for Joe Biden, in this meeting with Putin, to make very clear to Putin, where the lines are. We haven’t done that before, very frankly. I think he’s got to make very clear where the lines are, that Russia cannot cross. And one of those lines, very frankly, is in trying to go after any former Soviet republics, as he did in the Ukraine. I think we have to make very clear, that if he tries to do that, NATO will engage. I think we have to make very clear to Putin, that he cannot continue the cyber-attacks against the United States, and make no mistake about it, the criminal operations hiding out in Russia, there is no question in my mind that Russia knows who they are, where they’re located, and what the hell they’re doing.”
[27:40] “If you’re going to deal with China, you have to deal with them from strength. I think what’s happened in the last few years, particularly in the Trump administration again is China read weakness on the part of the United States. Trump pulled out of the trade agreement with the Southeast Asian countries which was a real mistake, very frankly. If we had held that agreement together, it would have been a very important trade bulwark that could confront China, but instead we walked away from that agreement and China said if the United States is basically abdicating its leadership role, we’re going to take advantage of that — and they have.”
[28:41] “I think for that reason it’s important for the United States now to say wait a minute, wait a minute. There are areas we’re concerned about — the South China Sea should not be militarized and interfere with international law and freedom of the seas. You’ve assered yourself in Hong Kong, but we are not going to allow you to assert yourself in Taiwan. So again lines have to be drawn. And if lines are drawn in that relationship, I think we can have a dialogue on trade, we can have a dialogue on technology, we can have a dialogue with regards to cyber and what’s happening with cyber. That’s, that’s the kind of relationship you ultimately want with China, but it has to be from a position of strength. And if we can if we can make that clear, if President Biden can make that clear, then I actually think that China itself, is going to be more willing to engage in dialogue, rather than ignoring international rules.”
[31:30] “We should’ve been tough a long time ago, in terms of requiring China to abide by their membership in the World Trade Organization, which they have yet to do. I think that it’s very clear that China is a little bit like a bully, if China thinks they can take advantage of you, they will. If you stand up to bullies and make clear that that’s not the case, then I think you can engage in some productive dialogue, but you have to do it from a position of strength. I think the U.S. has to recognize that we have to recognize that we are going to have to increase our presence, our military presence in the Pacific. I regret that the problem I see right now is that we’re moving our carriers, one of our carriers, from the Pacific, to deal with situation off Afghanistan, and I’m afraid that sends the wrong signal. You want to make sure that we have carriers. I would frankly increase with two carriers. We have a strong presence in Japan, we have a military presence in South Korea, we have a military presence in other areas of the Pacific. I would A increase our presence there, number 2 I would build that alliance with the ASEAN countries. The ASEAN meetings were basically kind of touchy-feely meetings, in which everyone got together, but not a hell of a lot happened. I think the ASEAN meetings have to be about security. These countries have developing economies, they’re doing well, there’s no reason they can’t develop their own security. And we can help them do that… if we developed a strong ASEAN alliance, that would be one of the most effective ways to contain China. China right now has a free hand, and they feel that they can do whatever they want.”
On India as a Prospective Ally of the United States
[37:15] “India is a country that wants to protect its independence, and I understand that. At the same time, I think India is smart enough to recognize that if it is to ever really break out in terms of its economic strength, that it is going to have to be a country that really develops not just its economy but its security as well. If we can work with India in a real partnership in which we are working together, and giving them the assistance they need in exchange for their willingness to work with us in dealing with China and other threats in the region. I think there’s a tremendous potential there, for the future.
[38:50] “India is suffering from the same problem China is, in that it is not distributing its economic prosperity across the board. Somehow they’ve got to break through, and make everybody participate in economic opportunity.”
[39:25] “I’m a believer that India is worth the effort to make them an ally in the Quad, and an alliance between India and the United States. But we’re going to have to pay attention. Too often we take India for granted, and we’ve paid the price for that.”
[41:38] “We are today seeing the consequences of what is happening with these cyber-attacks and ransomware attacks that are going after our vital infrastructure… this is a national security threat. This isn’t just a bunch of criminal organizations making money, this is a national security threat for the United States and we’ve got to treat it that way. Unfortunately, even though we’ve talked about the importance of cyber, we’ve built the Cyber Command, we’ve taken other steps to move cyber together, it’s very much a hit-and-miss operation. Everyone’s operating in their own silos. Government agencies are operating in their own silos. Departments are operating in their own silos. The private sector is operating in their own silo. “
[43:10] “What is needed now, there are several key things: #1 we need a national cyber strategy, that brings together our defense capabilities and our offense capabilities in the use of cyber. I really think we’ve got to really have a national strategy. It’s a little bit like dealing with COVID-19… everyone’s doing their own thing, and they’re paying off ransoms by the way. #2 We need to have a partnership between the public and private sector that are working together. You heard that the Administration said that businesses better develop their own defenses here. Well, excuse me, this is a national security issue, it is government and businesses working together to confront this threat that we’re dealing with. That partnership needs to come together. Lastly, we have got to stay on the cutting edge of this technology. This technology is developing rapidly… We need to be ahead of that technology. And we need to have the brightest and the best people possible dealing with this whole cyber area. We’ve got to recruit people to be part of a very strong team that can really bring together that strategy I talked about, in order to make sure that this country is working together to protect our national security. This is a fundamental national security issue. And unfortunately, right now, that is not the way it’s being addressed.”
[48:54] “My God, the capability of artificial intelligence, to be able to gather all this data, to be able to determine what happens on the battlefield, the use of drones, the use of space, all of this is the kind of development that the United States has to be ahead of[…] You might have to face a country that’s coming after us using cyber weapons. If you’re using cyber and these sophisticated viruses, you don’t need to deploy bombers, you don’t need to deploy fighter planes. You don’t need to put the boots on the ground. You sit at a computer and you can deploy a sophisticated virus that can virtually cripple a country. That’s the reality. That’s the world we live in. So we damn well have to be prepared to deal with those threats, all of those threats. Yes, we’re going to have to maintain some weapon systems, but at the same time we better damn well be able to deal with the new technologies coming into the warfare regime, and those technologies are being developed in Russia, and China, and elsewhere. It does mean that we’re going to have to take a serious look at our defense strategies for the future.”
On the Defense Budget
[53:45] “How can we try to develop a path here that gets us back to a better relationship between debt and spending at the federal level? What I’m calling for is basically is a serious budget that sets that direction, and if we set that direction, very frankly we’re going to have be disciplined not just on defense spending, but also disciplined on discretionary spending as well, and we’re going to have to be disciplined on entitlement spending, and very frankly, we’re going to have to raise revenues, all of that needs to be apart of that package. Look, as Secretary of Defense, there are areas where savings can be achieved in defense. We can achieve savings in procurement, we can get savings in duplication in the Defense department. We can eliminate some of the number of bases we have around the whole world as well as in this country, there are bases we can reduce. So yeah, there are savings that can be achieved in defense. But we’re living at a time now where we’re doing everything and basically borrowing the money to get it done. If we really want to get this in control, we have got to develop a comprehensive budget that looks at every area that find savings in every area. And that sets a path of discipline for the future, that is going to ensure that when you’re out there, with whatever careers you decide on, you’re going to have a country that is in a much better fiscal position in order to handle economic growth. That’s what really needs to be done.”
In this special episode, A’ndre and Ryan speak with Nabil Fahmy, Founding Dean of the American University in Cairo’s School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and former Egyptian Foreign Minister. Dean Fahmy shares his perspective on the recent Gaza War and Egypt’s historical role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dean Fahmy digs into Egypt’s relationship with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas, while giving his prognosis on the path ahead in the more than seventy year conflict. He also discusses Egypt’s unique geopolitical position as an African and Asian power, and how this informs its foreign policy and relationship with regional and international actors, such as the United States. The conversation concludes with a discussion on Egypt’s future and how the younger generation can bring positive change.
Link to the episode on other podcast platforms: https://burnbag.buzzsprout.com/1225250/8634255-brokering-peace-egypt-s-role-in-the-israeli-palestinian-conflict-with-former-egyptian-foreign-minister-nabil-fahmy
In this week’s episode, A’ndre and Ryan speak with leading North Korea expert Dr. Sue Mi Terry about the “Hermit Kingdom”. Dr. Terry, who served as a CIA analyst, Deputy National Intelligence Officer, and NSC Director, provides her assessment of the Trump-Kim Summits and how the Biden Administration will approach the Kim regime. She also breaks-down the vertical of power in North Korea and outlines why Kim Jong Un and his family have maintained power since the country’s inception. Dr. Terry also recounts her conversations with defectors to illustrate the extent of North Korea’s repressive system and how this prevents the North Korean people from altering their political situation. The conversation concludes with an analysis of the North Korean nuclear threat and the potential for meaningful denuclearization.
In this special release, A’ndre and Ryan speak with Dr. Jess Ghannam, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Global Health Sciences at the UCSF School of Medicine, about post-conflict trauma and the importance of incorporating this trauma into larger conversations about national security. Dr. Ghannam, who is Palestinian-American and hails from Detroit, speaks on how “the juxtaposition of pain and curiosity” motivated him to learn about and work on the impact of trauma, in order to address health inequalities at home and abroad. Dr. Ghannam recounts his on-the-ground experience in working in creating medical clinics in Gaza and the public health crises he observed there as a starting point to contextualize the broader conversation from a global standpoint. We have a conversation on the different types of trauma that children and adolescents experience, how mental health gives way to physical and other symptoms, and why Western ways of thinking about PTSD may not be adequate in describing the heavy trauma that civilians in conflict zones face. We discuss how a focus on chronic illnesses (non-communicable) and mental illnesses, such as depression, do present a security risk for the United States and the global community, and the interventions that the public health sector is engaging in to address these huge health issues.
This week, A’ndre and Ryan speak with Ambassador Nathan A. Sales, former State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism (2017-2021) and former Special Presidential Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Ambassador Sales also served as Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights acting). Ambassador Sales opens the episode by providing a general overview of the state of U.S. Counterterrorism efforts, which is especially insightful given he left office just this past January. Ambassador Sales then spends the majority of the episode discussing the fight against ISIS, outlining how the U.S. and Coalition forces have been successful in recent years against the terror group. Digging deep into how ISIS managed to become so formidable, filling a power vacuum in Iraq and Syria in the early 2010s, Ambassador Sales details the power structure and leadership of ISIS, and how they operated on the ground, before going into how U.S. military strategies were adapted and why they worked to significantly reduce the ground held by ISIS in recent years.
On U.S. counterterrorism:
“US counterterrorism policy is focused on three major threats, three historic threats, and then one emerging threat. And the sort of long-term threats that the establishment has been focused on for two decades now since 9/11, are Al Qaeda, ISIS, and then Iran backed terrorists.”
On the changing nature of counterterrorism:
“The terrorist groups that we face are evolving and adapting.”
“Instead of being foot soldiers that are part of an organization and susceptible to administrative control, what we’re seeing are instead, an increasing number of terrorists who are self-directed. They are radicalized to violence because they have consumed propaganda, whether it’s ISIS propaganda, or Al Qaeda propaganda. “
“I think we’re quite right for policymakers to focus on what the next wave of terrorism look like looks like. And I think it’s increasingly going to look less like the Al Qaeda boss in caves in Tora Bora issuing instructions to followers around the world to do this, and more like what we see in places like Christ Church, where an individual is radicalized, in this case by white supremacist ideology, and goes on to commit a horrific series of attacks of his own initiative.”
On a response to ISIS radicalization:
“We don’t really know whether there’s a sort of universal explanation for why people were motivated by ISIS ideology. There’s a whole bunch of different reasons instead. And so that points up a really important policy response of trying to negate the effects of ISIS ideology to try to inoculate vulnerable populations, so that they are able to better resist the siren song of radicalizing ideology.”
On the background of ISIS:
“The key mistake that the United States made that allowed ISIS to emerge from Syria and Iraq, was the US decision to withdraw all troops from Iraq, shortly before 2015, when Iraqi state institutions were not strong enough to keep the peace.”
“The lessons that we have to draw from the rise of ISIS is that there is no substitute for American engagement. That’s diplomatic engagement, but also discreet military engagement…the American public is not going to tolerate large scale boots on the ground military commitments of the sort that we saw in Iraq in 2003.”
“The lesson that we need to take is that if America withdraws, there is no other country that has the capabilities, that has the reach that America does, to keep the peace and to keep terrorist groups under control. And so an American withdrawal is not going to produce stability, it’s more likely to produce instability, which tends to snowball, resulting in the need for an even greater international engagement at some point in the future, which is what happened with the defeat ISIS coalition.”
On sustainable commitments:
“Whether it’s in Iraq or Afghanistan, or someplace else, where policymakers are contemplating deploying or maintaining US forces, we owe it to our troops to clearly define what their mission is. In so doing, we also specify what their mission is not. And it seems to me that in [Afghanistan], your American policy has sort of vacillated over the past two decades from having really maximalist ambitions of what we hope to accomplish in Afghanistan, to rather less maximalist visions, simply keeping the peace, maintaining stability, ensuring that women and girls have opportunities to get an education and so on.”
“We policymakers owe it to the troops. We also owe it to their bosses, which is to say voters to clearly identify what their objectives are and put together a plan for how the deployments that they are proposing are going to advance those goals.”
On countering ISIS:
“The Defeat ISIS Coalition is the most successful international counterterrorism platform ever devised.”
“The coalition was extremely effective, because we were able to devolve more authority to commanders in the field. Another thing that made it extremely effective, was that we worked with and through local partners.”
“What we accomplished with the Coalition is a new kind of warfare. It allows the United States to achieve enormous effects by working by with and through local partners. And it doesn’t require us to incur the substantial costs of what we saw in Afghanistan and then Iraq that are associated with an enormous U.S.-boots-on-the-ground presence. The fight against ISIS was really a proof of concept of what future US military engagements can look like wedding unique U.S. capabilities with the grit and determination of local forces to achieve good outcomes.”
On why ISIS was successful:
“What made them so effective? I think part of it was that the forces they were fighting against, were not as effective as they should have been. And what I mean by that is to harken back to something I said a little while ago. Iraq’s security forces were not at the point that you needed to be to defend Iraq’s major population centers, to protect its borders and really put down this terrorist threat.”
“Part of the reason why ISIS was so effective at acquiring territory in Iraq was because at that point, it wasn’t really a fair fight. The Iraqi security forces were not then in a state that they want it to be or that they wanted them to be. And in Syria, very similar.”
“In both Syria and Iraq, part of the story of ISIS’s is the rise to territorial control was a failure of governments in the region to deploy the force needed to keep this threat under control and to keep it from metastasizing and growing.”
On the effectiveness of killing Al Qaeda and Al Baghdadi:
“You can sort of look at how ISIS reacts to the death of its leader or look at how Al Qaeda reacts to the death of Bin Ladin to know that you’ve really touched a nerve. If you remove the leader, you do a number of things. The first thing you do is you demoralize the rest of the organization. If you know that Baghdadi is gone, what does that mean for the organization if they can get to him?”
On an ISIS resurgence:
“When I think about terrorist threats in Iraq, what I’m most concerned about today is not so much ISIS, but Iran.”
“[Regarding militia groups] So that’s the concern that I really worry about in Iraq these days, that these groups will continue to wield influence and inflict violence on innocent Iraqi civilians will destabilize the government, and will make Iraq less sovereign and more dependent on its neighbor.”
“Syria is…[not]…experiencing a major ISIS resurgence. But I’m more concerned that the conditions in Syria would allow for such to happen over the near term than in Iraq. The Assad regime has brutalized its way into regaining control over much of the country, but there’s still large swathes of territory that are essentially up for grabs.”
“The conditions in the Badia Desert, give me some concern that ISIS could resurge there, if given the opportunity.”
In the final installment of The Burn Bag Podcast’s miniseries with the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center, A’ndre and Ryan have Barry Pavel and Matthew Kroenig, the Center’s Director and Deputy Director, on to reflect on the Biden Administration’s performance in the actual first 100 days with respect to security policy. We discuss how the first 100 days might indicate future trends in policymaking, such as with alliance building and the swift toughness the Biden Administration has shown on China and Russia. Both Barry and Matt provide their praise and criticism of some decisions, praising the quickness with which President Biden has addressed some issues such as cyber, while expressing concern over a lack of policy on North Korea and an underestimation in terms of the “need for speed” with regards to China’s developments. We spend the rest of the interview going over some overarching themes and trends within the first 100 Days, and the challenges that lie ahead for President Biden.
This week, A’ndre and Ryan speak with former Ronald Neumann, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Algeria, and Bahrain about the recently announced U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, scheduled to take place by September 11th, 2021. Ambassador Neumann provides a contextual background on Afghanistan pre-2001, focusing on the repercussions of the Soviet Invasion in the 1980s, the U.S. aid to the Mujahideen, and the linkages between the Mujahideen and Al Qaeda. We then dig into the Taliban — providing a brief overview of their governing style, their power in the country, their actual beliefs, and their relationship to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda during, before, and after the 9/11 attacks. The second half of the interview sees Ambassador Neumann criticizing the Biden Administration’s decision for a non-conditional withdrawal, citing the relinquishment of a range of secondary goals, the likely subjugation of women, children, and other U.S.-favored Afghans, and a spate of violence that has already struck parts of the country. Ambassador Neumann expresses pessimism about the future of Afghanistan post-withdrawal, and voices concern for Afghans who had strongly believed in U.S.-based values.
Ambassador Neumann currently serves as the President of the American Academy of Diplomacy, and you can find out more about his work there, here.
On Afghanistan prior to the Soviet invasion:
“It was a peaceful country, very very underdeveloped with just a beginning getting into development.”
On the Soviet invasion:
“The Soviet invasion followed an Afghan coup, actually two coups, the second of which brought a communist, Afghan domestic communist, government to power.”
“The Soviet invasion, as is now pretty clear from things that have been declassified after the collapse of the Soviet Union, invaded much more on the basis of ‘You can’t let a communist government be overthrown’ than because they had any enormous desire to occupy Afghanistan. But they plunged in, killed the then president who was a communist and put a different communist in place.”
“But by our light footprint approach, we did nothing to stabilize the country. And so we allowed a lot of score settling to go on as new people took power, they settle scores that push people back into war. But you know, 2020 hindsight is easy.”
On the U.S. arming of the Mujahideen, and Al Qaeda:
“The U.S. policy was fairly simple: kill communists. It was not a very sophisticated policy.”
“Al Qaeda itself was a formation in opposition to foreign troops coming into Saudi Arabia to oppose Saddam Hussein’s taking of Kuwait.”
“Al Qaeda itself is a leader development.”
On the Taliban’s changing government style:
“The Taliban had a pretty simple kind of back-to-basic Islam, very few educated technocrats or leaders. But they had this kind of simple faith. And this concept of stabilizing the country that was very popular to people who’d already been at war for 20 odd years.”
“As this Civil War went on, the strengthening of the tie with Al Qaeda also was very useful militarily to the Taliban.”
On the beliefs of the Taliban:
“But I think you could say the Taliban were basically a primitive view of Islam, they wanted to go back to what they saw as the purity of the seventh century. And so no music, no dancing, beards had to appear. You couldn’t have short hair, you could be lashed in the street or wearing the wrong clothes. It was a total domination of society attempt to impose these strictures at the same time, they had very few technocrats.”
“Government functioning basically broke down, not because they were opposed to institutions, but because they had no way of running them.”
On the U.S and Afghan relationship prior to 9/11:
“There was some interchange, we did not recognize the Taliban. We did not reopen our embassy, which had been closed earlier.”
On what was happening in Afghanistan during 9/11:
“The way people tell it now, you think we went into create democracy, actually, quite the contrary. We went in to try to get out as quickly as we could, having brought justice to Al Qaeda. And for that matter, we put very few troops into Afghanistan.”
“We had very few troops. We prevented NATO from sending additional troops to stabilize because we thought they would get in the way of our hunting terrorists. We did not begin real economic development aid for almost two years, the early aid that went to Afghanistan was entirely so-called humanitarian assistance for refugee relief and seeding people.”
On the Taliban resurgence:
“The insurgency was getting worse. There was not nearly out of control. And the last sort of official, in that analytical telegram report that I sent from Afghanistan before my departure, best I remember, this would have been early 2007. I said, ‘We are not losing now. We have no margin for surprise, in a country that is full, has been full of surprises historically. And we could be losing in a year. That’s where that was how I saw the situation, then.’”
On the Taliban’s current power:
“At this point, the Taliban control somewhere between 50% and 80% of the country, very rough figures, mostly rural or entirely rural. They don’t control any of the province capitals. Their presence on the roads has increased.”
“The Taliban appear to be grouping around a number of cities, which they may attempt to take. They have made several attempts in the past, beginning in 2014. To take provincial capitals, every one of those attacks was defeated. So it’s not like there was a steady, frontline advancing from the telephone and the government being defeated. It’s much more complicated, a lot of ground the Taliban controls is now rural areas where we stopped flying, fighting, and bombing and the Afghans are out of those areas as well. But the situation is certainly serious.”
On Taliban strength:
“Their equipment has steadily increased. It doesn’t really cost a whole lot to run. They’re kind of a war since it’s not exactly a high-tech battle organization. Some of their funding comes probably from Pakistan, a lot of it comes from individual donors, some of the Gulf. Some of it comes out of drugs, I don’t think that is nearly as major an element as we sometimes claim. Some of it comes from local taxes. The vast majority of Taliban fighters are Afghan. Some of them are people, Afghans who were refugees went to madrasahs in Pakistan. But the figures I’ve seen when people have really looked at, you know, who are by killing and who might take in prisoner battlefield, the majority of Taliban are fighting within 10 or 20 miles of their home villages in Afghanistan.”
On the peace process:
“There is no peace. There is process. There is no peace negotiation. Substantive negotiations have never begun. The process of meeting has begun. But no substantive issues have ever been put on the table.”
“The Afghan government side, which is a composite of government, actually, and other political forces, called the Republic Team, has put substantive proposals for. Telephonic never agreed to discuss any of those. They’ve just produced more conditions, more prisoners to be released other things concessions. There is, in my judgment, absolutely no reason to believe you will get to a peace anytime soon.”
“So they may well look for a way to manage, if they are winning as the way they say they’re winning or think they’re winning, then they may try to manage something looks like a negotiated surrender. But that’s not a peace agreement in anything like the terms that we have talked about peace.
On future U.S. policy if the U.S. were not to withdraw:
“The crux of the decision, and the crux of the argument is how much risk the United States takes by leaving Afghanistan to its fate.”
“In the process of making this decision, we are essentially abandoning a lot of secondary objectives. We’ve spent a lot of money and a lot of time over the last 20 years, talking about the importance of democracy, the importance of freedom of the press, and freedom of some room for freedom of religion, freedom of speech, women’s rights. We spent a lot of taxpayer money to get help build those things. A lot of Afghans have come to believe in them. The Afghans who believe in them are regularly being killed by the telephone, or as a regular process of assassination going on in the streets of Kabul.”
“One of the amusing things in a way of President Biden’s returned to normal practice is we went out really had a serious consultation with the NATO allies to see what they thought about Afghanistan. And then we ignored all their advice and made our decision. So I think the decision is moving too quickly.”
“The Afghans are doing all the fighting, and they’ve been doing all the dying at the rate of several 1000 a month in combat. So what we’re ending is our support for an Afghan war much more than an American war. I personally feel a sense of betrayal, but you know, it is has been 20 years and the President’s the person who got elected, it’s his decision to make.”
“You do not have a military stalemate. You do not have a belief on the Taliban side, that they can’t win. We’re getting out on 9/11. 9/11 for Al Qaeda now becomes Al Qaeda Victory Day — 9/11 of 2021 is the date that Al Qaeda triumphs over the United States in alliance with the Taliban”
On helping others escape Kabul:
“I would say that we will have a moral debt to the people who believed in the values we taught for 20 years, and who accepted democracy and became journalists and became critics of the government as well as the Taliban. And people who were honest judges, which there are a few but not many people who went through our training and became senior military, people who became leaders of civil society organizations and election organizations. They didn’t work for us. They worked for their own country. But they also worked for the beliefs that we taught and stood for. And I think we’re going to have a moral responsibility to them if the country does fall apart. And we have not addressed that yet.”
Will We Return to Afghanistan?
“I have no idea really. It is not impossible. It is very, very difficult to see any way that we would go back into Afghanistan at this point. It is very difficult to see how we would do that.”
In this week’s episode, A’ndre and Ryan dissect the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with University of Michigan Professor Victor Lieberman. This episode provides a broad overview of the conflict itself, going back more than a 100 years and framing the conflict as not one between Muslims and Jews, but one between two rival nationalisms — Zionism and Palestinian Nationalism. Professor Lieberman provides a timeline that goes back to the days of the Ottoman Empire and then into the British administered Mandatory Palestine, the demographic shifts that occurred in the region due to European anti-Semitism, and the political and armed conflicts leading up to creation of the State of Israel. Professor Lieberman digs into the wars between Israel and its Arab state neighbors, the nature of Palestinian political leadership, and the relationship between the goals of the Arab states and the goal of a Palestinian state. Land, borders, and failures in diplomacy form a large bulk of the discussion, and Professor Lieberman rounds out the conversation with why he is cautiously pessimistic about any potential resolution to the conflict. The conversation aims to effectively and objectively cover the hundred year conflict in one hour, providing a primer that will help our audience formulate opinions on their own, given the issue’s sensitive nature.
Professor Victor Lieberman teaches a popular course on the Arab-Israeli conflict at the University of Michigan, where he serves as the Raoul Wallenberg Distinguished University Professor of History and Professor of Asian and Comparative History. His effective and objective teaching style was rewarded with the Golden Apple Award in 2014 — given to a professor for outstanding teaching, by the students.
On the length of the Arab Israeli conflict:
“I see it as essentially 100, maybe 140 years old at most. The conflict is not rooted in an endemic historic opposition between Muslims and Jews or between Arabs and Jews. The conflict is essentially between two rival nationalisms—nationalism being a 19th century, late 18th century, European phenomena which then spread throughout the rest of the world.”
On life in Mandatory Palestine between 1920 and 1948:
“In this formation, that concept of nations had no place. There were no nations, there were simply ethnic groups, religious communities.”
“The Zionist movement represented the influx of European Jews whose culture and attitudes and outlook were substantially different from that of long-standing indigenous communities. And whereas the two communities had traditionally gotten along reasonably well, the Jews in an inferior position, openly acknowledged a position of subordination and inferiority. The income influx of European Jews disturbed that equilibrium because European Jews had an entirely different culture and an entirely different vision of the world, and a different vision of the future. And so this rendered the old accommodation no longer tenable.”
“Zionism, as I suggested, was a response to a crescendo of anti-Semitism in Europe.
On the demographic shifts in the State of Israel:
“The Jewish population rises, particularly in the 1930s as refugees flee in large numbers from Hitler and from Polish anti-Semitism.”
On the creation of the State of Israel:
“If you’d been in a family where your parents beat to death nine out of ten siblings, and you were the only surviving sibling, would you want to go back to live with those parents? It was not a realistic option. So the determination to have an independent state became unstoppable. And world sympathy shifted to that. You either shifted but fastened upon the Jews after the Holocaust so that the vote in the UN was two thirds in favor of the creation of Israel.”
On the Civil War:
“The UN resolution did not call for the creation of a Palestinian state across the creation of an Arab state—which was not yet a Palestinian identity. Most Arabs living in the area call themselves South Syrians, or just Arabs or Muslims. So one fundamental reason that the war did not result in the creation of a Palestinian state is because Palestinian nationalism was very freshly born, very weak, very shallow in its roots. And it wasn’t a cohesive movement. Whatever strength there had been, was basically decimated by the 1936-39 revolt.”
“The reason there wasn’t a Palestinian state is because Palestinian nationalism was extremely weak. Leadership fell to outside powers, and the outside powers had their own national agendas, which are completely incompatible with Palestinian aspirations.”
On Arab states and eliminating Israel:
“The Arab states thought they would be able to destroy Israel and there were sincere expectations if that would be possible.”
On the changing borders:
“After each attack, Israel sought to protect itself against future attacks by annexing land from which the attacks had proceeded.”
On the historic normalization of relations:
“I don’t think there’s ever been very much popular support of normalization. It’s always been a lead project based upon people who are considering national interest in strategic considerations.”
“Palestinians are the only surviving refugee population to maintain their identity, because first they had the support of the Arab world than they had the support of the Soviet Union. Now they have the support of Iran.”
On Israel and the West Bank territory:
“There was no notion of a single state in which Palestinians and Jews would live together, passengers in the West Bank and Jews would live together. So this was the vision which was pursued by Likud, which came to power in 77 was pursued for another ten years. What finally eliminated that option was the first Intifada, which showed depths of Palestinian unhappiness that hadn’t been recognized before.”
On Jordan’s relationship with the Palestinians in the West Bank territory:
“When Jordan controlled the West Bank from 1948 or 1949 until 1967, the goal was to integrate the local population into a Jordanian national identity, to suppress any expression of Palestinian nationalism. It became quite impossible. All kinds of restrictions on Palestinian political activity were meant to make sure they weren’t really called Palestinians to make the Arabs who lived in that area and into Jordanian citizens.”
“The government has to accede to the, the sympathies the wishes of the people. But in fact, the government’s strategic interest has always dictated accommodation with the West. So on the one hand, has a lot of rhetorical sympathy for the Palestinians. And that continues today and there was also under Hussein. But on the other hand, there was a willingness to accommodate Western expectations and to make a de facto peace arrangement with Israel.”
On the successfulness of the Palestinian Liberation Organization:
“The Palestine Liberation Organization was formed in 1964, under Egyptian domination and only became a genuinely independent dynamic organization…They came up with a new ideology, which said that we can’t depend upon the Arab states to save us, we have to liberate ourselves. And the only way to liberate ourselves, is to arm struggle. And we’re committed to the creation of an independent state, which is going to control the entire territory of the mandate, we’re going to expel all the Jews who arrived after 1917 or in some cases like 1881. And we aren’t we shouldn’t be seen by the world not as a charity as a charity case, not as recipients of international benevolence, but as a nation whose rights have been denied who are entitled to return to their homeland. So this message resonated with the Arab world.”
On the dynamic change from the invasion of Lebanon by Israel:
“So these are the two transformations which wreck the plan of the right and which lead to a return to labor government, which are indicated draws tremendous strength from the transformation of the world situation: the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the rise of the United States to a position of unchallenged to Germany, in the world and in the Mideast in particular.”
On the failure of the Oslo summit meetings:
“At the end of the day, the Oslo proposals were simply unacceptable to the Palestinians because they required a declaration that the conflict was over an acknowledgment that they would never be able to destroy Israel, that violence was not required recognition and was to be rejected. And none of these ideas was acceptable.”
On the U.S. stance regarding the Israeli situation and the Palestinians:
“I think, with the development of Islamic radicalism, the 9/11, and the rise of al Qaeda and a general image of kind of clash of civilizations, in the American, European, and Israeli mind, Hamas and the Second Intifada are fused with a general Islamic radicalism. And it leads to a rightward turn in American politics or rightward turn in Israeli politics, and a temporary marginalization of the Palestinians. It’s temporary, growing marginalization of the Palestinians.”
On the issue of Hezbollah:
“Despite the fact that Hezbollah is viscerally opposed to Israel’s existence, and the population is quite hostile to Israel. They’ve entered into negotiations to come up with an economic division of authority in the Mediterranean Sea, which would kind of cement a peace agreement between Israel and Hezbollah, because then both sides would hold hostage the others infrastructure, and then war couldn’t resolve.”
On a possible solution to the Israeli Palestinian situation:
“So a three state solution would say that with or without a formal understanding, in effect, you have three states: Gaza, the West Bank and Israel. And that may be the most realistic solution.”