I'm grateful to all of you who are contributing to creating
a Edward Said chair in Beirut to allow us in our part of the world to
understand America - to learn all the good things there are to know about
America, and to learn also, all the things that need to be opposed about
America. And I hope that Americans will also come and study America with
us in the program at the American University of Beirut. Dick asked us
to speak about very simple subjects that one could cover in about five
minutes - Afghanistan and Iraq. I will say in five minutes the following.
When I was in Afghanistan, I used to say there is absolutely no room for
comparison between Afghanistan and Iraq. What happened in Afghanistan,
we all understood, and I think people the world over either supported
or at least understood why the Americans intervened in Afghanistan. I'm
afraid in the case of Iraq, nobody in the world understands why the Americans
attacked and invaded Iraq. And I, for one, continue to ask this question.
Why did the Americans attack and invade Iraq? And I, for one, do not have
an answer to this question. The answers that were given before and after
are not satisfactory. There is only one thing that the Americans could
claim credit for in Iraq and that is that they have ended the enmity between
Iraq and Iran. But they have overdone it. They have given Iraq to Iran,
which the Iranians did not expect, and the Iraqis do not want.
Where are we going in Iraq and in Afghanistan? I think that now the two
problems do look alike and I think the American are facing very serious
difficulties in both places, and the international community is facing
a lot of difficulties in both places. In Afghanistan there is still a
chance to turn it around and make it a success. In Iraq, again, the Americans
have broken Iraq. The Americans cannot fix Iraq. The people of the region
have got to accept the responsibility of helping Iraq through their crisis,
but they cannot do it without the Americans. So I hope that the Americans
and all the people of the region including Syria, including Iran and everybody
else will work together to correct whatever it is possible to correct
and save Iraq from the tragedy its people are living through.
Thank you very much. (applause)
Richard A. Debs:
Thank you, Lakhdar. We will have questions, but we're going to save questions
and answers until all of the speakers have finished. Vartan, if you please
Several weeks ago, when John Waterbury, great president of AUB, came to
see me, he asked me what I thought about Iran. I told him that (being)
Iranian born, I am writing a letter on behalf of President Bush to the
president of Iran. And I would just like to outline that letter because
it expresses the history of Iran and everything we're doing.
I would have proposed for the president's signature this letter...
Since I have received your two letters, I have revisited the glorious
history of Iran, this great civilization. We all know that Cyrus the Great
ended the Babylonian captivity of the Jews. We know about Darius who brought
the first monuments to religious, ethnic and cultural tolerance. We know
that when that Arabs conquered Iran - a sore point for Iranians in the
7th Century, that Arabs tribes could defeat the Persian Empire. Nevertheless,
wave after wave of occupiers has come to occupy Iran, but Iranian civilization
and culture have conquered them every time. We know also that you have
a Shia brand of Islam and you've made that part of the national identity
As far as American relations are concerned with Iran, Mr. President, let
me remind you of the following. You were the first nation, if not the
second nation, American granted a most favorable trade agreement in 1835.
Our missionaries came to Iran in the 19th Century. No, they did not convert
Muslims to Christianity, maybe only some Assyrians or Armenians from one
form of Christianity to another, but they built your first hospitals,
they built your first colleges, they educated an entire generation. Mr.
President, America was a guardian of Iranian territorial integrity during
World War I when Iran was occupied by Russians, Turkish, and British troops.
We're the ones who in Versailles defended your rights. Mr. President,
before World War I, we defended the constitutional movement of Iran from
1906 - 1912. Indeed one of two American volunteers, a special graduate
from Princeton came and fought for you, died and is buried in Tabriz.
Mr. President, we Americans not only recognize your independence, your
constitutional movement, but one of ours, (a) Dr. Shuster, wrote "The
Strangling of Persia"- one of the best anti-colonial books. It helped
show how Britain conquered Iran, not politically, but in terms of finances.
Arthur Millspaugh came to give you a new customs system, and both of them
were eased out by the British and the Russians who did not want them to
be there. Mr. President during World War II we kept a monarchy as a symbol
of Iranian unity. We forced the British and the Soviets to leave Iran.
We helped recognize the nationalization of oil at least during Truman's
presidency. Not only that, we put Mosaddegh on the cover of Time Magazine
as Man of the Year. We also made a mistake, in 1953. Both Soviets and
the US were so enamored and so frightened, so paranoid about the cold
war and communism and anti-communists that we conspired with certain forces
including some of the Moslem clergy of Iran and the bazaar and the Royalists
and others to depose (of) Mosaddegh, the duly elected Prime Minister of
Iran .We regret it, it was a mistake, and we've acknowledged that. Otherwise
it was a secular, modern, nationalist Iran in the Middle East.
Mr. President, having done that, let me remind you that the Iranian Army
was trained and received from NATO the best military equipment that America
could give at the time. It's because of that training and the military
armaments that we were given at that time that Iran could withstand the
Mr. President, we are not against nuclear energy. Indeed, in 1973 the
Ford Administration, with Kissinger, Cheney and Rumsfeld present, they
made a case for atomic energy in Iran and they sold you 16 nuclear reactors.
Not only that, we negotiated with MIT to train nuclear scientists for
Iran. So how could we be against the use of nuclear energy? We are against
nuclear weapons, not nuclear energy.
Mr. President, let me also remind you that we did not wreck diplomatic
relations with Iran over the revolution. We did so over a hostage crisis.
No great power would have allowed its diplomats to be held hostage. But
that we did not intervene militarily is not a sign of weakness. Only the
powerful can have the force of restraint, which we used because of our
friendship with the Iranian nation.
Mr. President, you've been told that we are against you and we are not.
During the Shah's period, America made Iran the central power in the Middle
East. And now our administration by eliminating the Taliban and Sadam
Hussein without negotiating preconditions with Iran, we have made you
again, a regional force. So how can we be against you.
Mr. President, we have lots of common interests in the Middle East - the
stability of the Middle East, and I'm delighted to hear that Islam is
against atomic weapons. It's the invention of the devil. If that's the
case, we're very confused because Pakistanis being Muslim have possession
of nuclear weapons, but they are Sunnis. Thank God Shias have better adherence
to principles of Islam. You don't want to have atomic weapons. So let's
collaborate with you not to allow the devil to triumph.
And last but not least, when we complain that you say "Death to America"
and hundreds of thousands shout, "The great Satan!" you say
you don't mean it. It's just a matter of communicating.
One other point- Iranians have always occupied a great place in American
public life. We have educated thousands and thousands of your citizens,
and many of them are in Los Angeles, with their own televisions stations
and their own publications, and they are proud to be Iranians. And therefore
we have lots in common.
One other point about the holocaust. Mr. President, you know that every
year Shias celebrate the martyrdom of Hassan and Hussein -- a religion
which is so sensitive to sufferings. How can you deny the sufferings of
an entire nation and make mockery of it? You know first hand that in 1942,
142,000, Poles and Polish Jews and others took refuge in Iran-many of
them died in Iran. So you know first hand. You were one of the first to
recognize Israel... (inaudible) On top of all this, you bring David Duke,
the head of the Klu Klux Klan to Iran -and make a mockery of African Americans
and offend them unnecessarily. Enough is enough. Diplomacy is what we
need, not saber rattling. Thank you very much.
I had one condition in agreeing to come this afternoon, that I would not
follow Vartan Gregorian. I've been betrayed! You've had this wonderful
eloquence and great sweep of history and wisdom from my two predecessors.
I won't attempt to match that. I'm here for a much more mundane responsibility.
I am supposed to report on communications with another president. My communications
with presidents are limited. And my communication in this particular case
is in signing a letter to Mr. Bush from a number of people. And I wonder
if Mr. Bush ever received it. But it has received a certain amount of
attention in the United States and more attention in the Middle East.
And it is basically a plea for an urgent effort to settle the Israeli
Palestinian conflict in a reasonably short time period, beginning with
the opportunity presented by the invitation for the various interested
parties to assemble in Annapolis in a week or two.
Let me recite a bit, what this suggests, and I don't think it will a surprise
to anybody, other than suggesting that time is passing and the urgency
is great given the conditions in the Middle East. A simple five point
program: two states based upon lines of June 4, 1967 with minor reciprocal
and agreed upon modifications. Jerusalem is the home with two capitals.
Special arrangements for the old city providing each side control of their
holy places. A solution to the refugee problem - a very difficult problem
- consistent with the two state solution. Security mechanisms that address
Israeli concerns while respecting Palestinian sovereignty. None of that
is very fresh, but I think it's a fair summary of what most people see
the ultimate solution must be. I was struck by the fact that understandably
this letter is signed by - I might say just to give you some idea if you
haven't seen it of the scope- it's big -- Brzezenski, Lee Hamilton, Carla
Hills, Nancy Kasselbaum, Tom Pickering, Brent Scowcroft, Ted Sorenson.
With the exception of me, all experienced people in this area.
What they didn't discuss was economic opportunities and problems in the
area. More than ten years ago, I was asked to head a little commission
in the great buoyant period of Casablanca- to get some people together
from the region and from Europe and from the United States to discuss
the economic opportunities that were opened by the prospects for peace.
And we had a collaborative group including Israelis and Arabs, of course,
and I thought we made some very constructive suggestions. But I was reminded
of the problem that we've had - that was about twelve years ago -we were
asked to make a supplementary report the year after Casablanca. Here is
the language of that report: "Contrary to hopes a year ago, economic
conditions in Gaza and the Left Bank have deteriorated. Those difficult
conditions constitute a clear and present danger to the success of the
entire peace process and economic development." Those words were
written in 1996-eleven years ago. They could have been written every year,
or every week, since then.
What are the prospects for any progress here? I am no great expert, but
I must say, after signing this letter-I was the last name of the list
-I don't think that reflected reluctance, it reflected the alphabet. But
I wondered about the sense of desperation or optimism that motivated the
letter, and insisting upon crucial timing and necessity for this effort
given what's going on. I do not have the sense that the United States
government has given this the full force of its influence, however hard
the Secretary of State has been trying. I think equally, there are doubts
about solidarity of force of the Arab side of the equation in looking
toward this opportunity to get a new peace process started. And I suppose
there are doubts on the Israeli side as well.
So, I share the feeling that all of us here I suspect - certainly all
of us who signed this letter - feel about the urgency of the problem,
the need for getting together, indeed, the economic opportunities that
would exist, which would spread, I think, the easing, cooling influence
in the Middle East of a settlement between Israel and Palestine. But all
of those prospects are still very much in the future as they have been
in the past and there is a danger obviously of this particular opportunity
failing once again.
The man on my left would know much more about that than I, so I will cease,
and let him give you the answer as to how all of this will turn out successfully
Richard A. Debs:
Thank you. Now Jim, you are the anchor man, and you have all of the answers,
It's always a pleasure to follow Paul Volcker. In my many years working
with him, he would always take my speech and give it before I gave it,
and pretend that it was original work. And he's done it again tonight,
so I'm not quite sure how I can respond. I've got my notes to recapitulate
what he told you, but I can do with some currency because last week I
was invited to Ramallah and had the opportunity of meeting with Abu Mazen
and Abu Allah and the whole negotiating team. On two successive nights
I met with the Israeli prime minister, the foreign minister, Condi Rice
and Tony Blair. So I think I covered the people that were involved and
I can give you the following report.
It's just two years ago this month that I was engaged in this exercise
after having convinced the G7 that they should underwrite the amount of
$9 billion to deal with the financial aspects of the solution which was
then about to be put forward -- $3 billion a year. A billion at least
which was to come from the G7 and two billion from ways in which they
thought they could get it. Everything looked pretty good. Following that
meeting as you may remember, Ariel Sharon made a significant switch and
without the loss of a single life - there was a withdrawal from Gaza.
There was optimism in relation to the forthcoming economic activity in
Gaza and life looked pretty good. There were many signs of a positive
future. There was a so-called six plus three plan. The six agreements
that had been reached was to link Gaza and the West Bank, was to deal
with uniting families, was to have an airport and a seaport, was to have
access to Egypt and this was all part of the agreement that Secretary
Rice announced. And there were three further things that were to happen
in the future. What happened then tragically was that Ariel Sharon had
a heart attack. That could not have come at a worse time because his advocacy
of this issue and his desire as I knew it to be to then do a settlement
in the West Bank or at least to seek to have one was dissipated because
there was no Israeli leadership and the Palestinian leadership was not
as strong as it might have been.
Although Abu Mazen was leading the show as you know and have seen, the
situation in Gaza deteriorated and different elections were held as you
also know, and the weight, the support on both sides of the fence, the
Israeli side of the fence and the Palestinian (collapsed) (interruption
from audience). But what was disturbing was that what looked to be this
very logical sequence was disrupted and you had two leaders that did not
enjoy the full confidence either in themselves (inaudible) or by the country
which they represented. We saw following that announcement by Secretary
Rice a collapse of every single element of the 6 point agreement with
the exception of the half-hearted access between Gaza and Egypt. But all
of the other things went by the way. That was a tragic resolution and
you now have a split Palestine with 4 ½ million people of whom
1.2 million or 1.3 live in Gaza and the rest live on the West Bank, and
as you know there is rhetoric between the two sides which is not constructive.
And so you have a disunited Palestinian group and the hope by Abu Mazen
that by coming to a deal with Israel, if you can come to that deal, that
the residents of Gaza will follow-through and the agreement can be put
back together. The current situation is that you have Ehud Olmert and
Tzipi Livni essentially very anxious to do a deal. The framework of the
deal is the one that Paul just described. It has not changed. It's exactly
the same in terms of content as is the letter from the wise men. It is
to come to a deal on Jerusalem, it is to go back to the '67 borders, it
is to bring about economic activity, it is to deal with the question of
refugees by allowing free return to the Palestinian territories but not
return to Israel, and the swap of territories to make Palestine whole
in terms of acreage. And all that is there and you have Ehud Barak on
the side who is now defense minister who was prepared to do this deal
before and is now opposing the deal for military or for defense purposes
in my judgment, although I like him very much because he would like to
do the deal. And when the deal is done, it will be the same deal, and
the same is true with Benjamin Netanyahu-when the deal is done, it will
be the same deal. You have Tony Blair there now. Tony has spent nine days
in total there - he's going back for another ten days. He is not deeply
steeped in knowledge of the region. He knows a lot about Ireland is learning
a lot about the Middle East. And you have Secretary Rice who in my presence
at a dinner made a speech in which she said she was very happy to have
Tony Blair in the job which was essentially looking after logistics and
housing and things like that and making it abundantly clear that he had
no part in the peace process because his mandate does not include making
of peace any more than my mandate which I exceeded involved making peace.
Condi wants to do the deal, so the timing now is perilous because it will
either take place at the end of November, or some are suggesting, in the
first week of December. The two sides have not yet reached agreement.
They are meeting two or three times a week. There are no working parties
doing drafting, or doing any of the detailed work. And the view which
is being taken by many people at this moment is that the possibility is
slipping away. And if it does slip away, and I think that this is partly
the view that prompted the letter from Paul and his colleagues, you then
have an American presidential election year, which means that you're not
going to get a hell of a lot done, you then have six months more until
you get the new administration in unless President Bush magically stays
under a state of emergency or something - but I doubt that that will happen.
But it means that you that you have a twelve or eighteen month hiatus
and very little pressure on the sides to come to an agreement. I think
we have to hope and pray that what many do no expect to happen, happens
- that in these negotiations more than a framework is established so that
at least some general lines of agreement are made out. Anything less than
that is unlikely to keep people calm.
The worry that I have, having now spoken to everybody in the last few
days is that it's very hard to get an enthusiastic set of comments by
either side. But is my hope, that I just don't know. It's my hope that
Condi Rice is doing a lot behind the scenes, and that there is magically,
and for the first time, secret negotiations going on that will lead to
something. If that is happening, it will be the first time that it's happened
in the Middle East, because normally the Jerusalem Post and the Arab newspapers
have the information the following day. If that is true, then we have
a chance. It is certainly the moment. My worry is that that moment may
not come back and you'll have a watered down agreement which will be hard
to keep the enthusiasm for the period ahead.
So that's my, not very positive, report. I hope and pray that I'm wrong,
but that's what I think.
Richard A. Debs:
Thank you, Jim, if not necessarily for the glowing optimism in your report,
than for all the work you've done-work towards an optimistic end.
Well now we have our eminent panelist before us and we have an audience
that is well informed on many of the aspects of this issue. The floor
is open to those who would like to ask questions or comment. If commenting,
then briefly, please.
Questions/Comments from the Audience
I'm a member of the Advisory Board of the Middle East Institute at Columbia
Even if Condi Rice and the US could mediate a treaty or an agreement of
this sort, I'm not sure it's going to bring peace in the long run for
the following reasons. One, as you all know, with time, American influence
globally is clearly decreasing. Without American support, Israel in the
long run, has very little chance of survival, I think, certainly as a
Jewish state. Second is the demographics, both in the West Bank and Gaza
combined, plus the Israeli Arabs. In the long run - 30-50 years-the majority
will be Arabs. If you simply apply one person per one vote for the entire
land of Palestine between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, it seems
to me, in the declining American influence environment, over the next
decades - or maybe even a century - that in the long run -the survival
of a Jewish state separate from any other Middle East component, it seems
to me is a metastable. I'm not advocating a military solution, whatsoever
- it is really not a viable, stable solution. Just being practical and
realistic about it, I'd like to know what you think.
Well, I don't know what will happen in 50 or 100 years. The span that
I think most people are looking at at the moment is to try and bring about
an agreement which at least nominally, in the beginning, will have the
support of 50 Arab states - or 50 states, not all Arab states - in the
region. I think the reason this is being pressed by many people and by
public opinion in both Israel and in Palestine - and I haven't got time
to go into a lot of what's happening behind the scenes, in the businesses
and in the public, is because of exhaustion. It is not because of American
dominance in my judgment. I think each side is worn out. So I think it
is the moment to do it if it can be done. There are many in Israel who
think it won't last. But the truth of the matter is that you have 11 million
combined between the Israelis and the Palestinians in a sea of 350 million
people of Muslim persuasion - that will double in the next 15 years. At
the moment you have half Israeli and half Palestinian. It's more or less
half Jewish and half Arab - though even today it's probably a slight majority
of Arabs and the demographics are such so that the Arab majority will
increase which is why Ariel Sharon wanted to do a deal to separate the
two states so that you could have a Jewish state and you could have a
Palestinian state. I worry if they do not keep the thing going now because
I agree with you, this will be a loss of interest and in terms even of
expenditure. The amount of money that has been spent in the last four
years on the Israeli Palestinian question, I estimate to be certainly
not more than $20 billion. We're spending $600 billion on Iraq, and we're
spending hundreds of billions on Afghanistan, and the Iranian issue looms
large, and it's just a tiny thing, but it's of great symbolic importance.
But in terms of economics and in terms of numbers of people it's a small
thing. So, there's a real risk which the support which even now is hard
to raise for the Palestinians - the Palestinians need support for viability.
The Arab states are not coming forth with substantial amounts of money.
To my surprise, the Palestinians are not terribly popular in the Arab
world. There are Palestinians here who will forgive me for saying that,
but I think they don't have a lot leverage in terms of getting money out
of the other countries. So, there are many reasons that this thing could
just collapse. The sight of Gaza at the moment is really very troubling.
That could easily spread to the West Bank and then you have all hell breaking
loose. I think that the Israelis recognize that and you will not have
a military solution of this problem. You're not going to have Israeli
kids for the next ten years trying to occupy a growing Palestine. It's
just not going to happen.
Richard A. Debs:
Thank you, Jim.
Ambassador Frank Wisner:
Frank Wisner, American International Group. Dr. Gregorian, I listened
to your brilliant letter. I'd like to know how you would advise Ahmadinejad
to answer that letter. Let me make the point in a slightly different way.
If, as that letter implies, there's space for diplomacy--what is a road
map; what's a way forward in an engagement with Iran that would have a
chance of working particularly now when you see the Iranian side itself
beginning to harden with Ahmadinejad' s conservatives surging forward
in the government and a much tougher line coming out of Iran. How would
you have the letter answered.
I don't think the letter will be answered, and I'll tell you why. Ahmadinejad
has sent two letters. Remember, the Prophet Mohammad sent a letter to
the ruler of Ethiopia and to the ruler of Iran, asking each to convert.
One responded, the other did not. The Shah of Iran, the King of Kings,
did not respond. My main aim in this letter was not Ahmadinejad, it was
the people of Iran. The President of the United States' letter should
be 32 pages, not just seven or eight minutes for the lecture, because
of then all the Iranian newspapers will print it. That would have been
the best propaganda outreach that American could make with Iran. If they
banned it, it would have sold like a pancake.
The basic thing is to show that we have a century or more of close relations
with Iran. This phase of Iranian revolution need not have gone the way
it did. And I would also have reminded him, Frank, that we regret that
in 2002 or 2003 when you gave us some possible areas where we could cooperate-
as they did with Afghanistan- as they gave information on Al Qaida - Iranians
did. During the earthquake (inaudible) there was a possibility of doing
it. So I would not ring doorbells, but I would just stress one thing.
Let us begin discussions, not on camera in public, but off. And I would
have sent Lakhdar Brahimi to go talk to them. I am very serious. The other
day I suggested that Kissinger would be a good negotiator, too, because
he could claim to be father of Iranian nuclear energy. As you know, he
vetoed any opposition to that because the issue, Kissinger said, was trust.
We have to build trust.
No, the West is saving face. (The) Arabic language, Hebrew language and
Persian language and Turkish language are all rhetorical languages. You
have to get rid of the rhetoric and go to the central question. The central
question is that we are willing to make a deal with you, but we don't
make deals in public, which is the way it has always been. There are all
kinds of avenues. Last, Iranians are already divided over this issue.
Raf Sanjani is the head of the Council of Guardians. He'll be choosing
the next spiritual leader - his committee. And that's what the struggle
is about - whether secular revolutionaries will be conducting Iran or
the religious establishment. Ahmadinejad is the secular portion of this.
So, then, even if he does not respond we have a good standing. We made
the attempt. We offered. Because the audience is the Iranian people, not
Almadinejad. The audience is the spiritual leader.
My other solution would have been and it was done if I'm not mistaken
in the case of the four Iranians who were held hostage or in prison and
let go, I would have the Arch Bishop of Canterbury, head of the Episcopal
Church here, the Secretary of the State of the Vatican and all kinds of
religious leaders including some Sunni and others to write a letter or
meet with the spiritual leader of Iran and say we have a lot in common,
let's prevent atomic weapons spreading in the region. Egypt will develop,
Saudi Arabia will develop, Jordan will develop and others. You don't want
that. It's in Iran's interest to do that.
And the last point I would like to mention, when they showed the uranium,
I thought the Iranians were so smart. They were asking the West-- or us--
to congratulate them. I would have sent the president a congratulatory
note that you are now joining 14 nations who have the ability to develop
nuclear weapons, but because of your religion, because of your tradition,
because you also guard 2,500 years of Iranian heritage and so forth -
you have decided not to develop them and therefore you are joining Brazil,
Switzerland, South Africa and all the others - good company. We congratulate
the Iranian scientists, most of them trained by us and Russians and others,
that they have the ability to develop, but they've decided not to develop.
My aim is not (to receive a) response. My aim is to reach 70 million Iranians
to say America has always been with you with one exception and that was
in 1953, and also even in the case of the Shah, if we had meddled to keep
the Shah, we'd be blamed. We did recognize the Iranian revolution and
people forget that. We want to establish relations with them. I am an
historian, not a diplomat.
Hutham Olayan, Olayan America, and a Trustee of AUB.
Thinking about where we sit here in the United States. Today, we
have for all practical purposes a lame-duck presidency. Within a year,
we will have a new administration that will inherit all these problems.
Can you share us your thoughts, as to who is best equipped in terms of
handling what we have ahead of us.
Richard A. Debs:
I don't know if we should thank you for that one. We may have four opinions
on that, or maybe five. Who would like to throw in - maybe the towel?
Perhaps Norman Thomas
Richard A. Debs:
Or Eugene V. Debs? There has to be an answer, or is no one qualified.
The question is, who among the possible potential presidents of the United
States in the next round, who is the most qualified to deal with the Middle
You won that one.
Look, I don't know anymore than you do who you would bet on. The problem
is so complicated. It does seem to me that someone from a different party
might be better than one from another party. (laughter) I don't know which
party is which. But, I think we have to elect a president and then go
to work on that president. I would hate to try and make a distinction
in my own judgment of who is the best candidate because it's a damned
near impossible question. When you talk about degrees of capacity to deal
with it, you back to the personal judgment of the people. But I couldn't
guarantee that anyone of them has the capacity to come up with a ready
solution to the problem. It's so complicated. So I would be trying to
find the candidate myself who I thought was just very smart, flexible,
and capable of leading the country.
Richard A. Debs:
Don't forget we have a congress as well. Particularly when it comes to
the Middle East, the legislative branch is as powerful and the executive
I am a native of Lebanon and a citizen of this great nation. We grew up
in Lebanon believing that the United States is an educational monument,
and the American University of Beirut is one of them. Then came George
Bush. I have a two-part question. Part one is for Ambassador Brahimi.
When we went to Iraq under the pretense of a nuclear weapon being in Iraq,
and instead of investing in democracy, we were investing in the destruction
of Iraq. My question is, before the president leaves the White House,
do you think, under the pretense of a nuclear weapon, he's going to attack
My second part - It so happens I was born in 1948 and since I could comprehend
the sense of the word, peace has been talked about. (inaudible) Everybody
in this room wants peace, but the only thing that we have realized in
the past 60 years is that Israel has expended more in every negotiation
from Oslo down to now. There are more kubutz and there are more walls
and there is no peace. People talk of the road map. Can someone tell us,
where is the road to the map? Thank you.
I think that Iraq is a terrible tragedy. This is not just a figure of
speech. I really do not know why the United States invaded Iraq. I have
asked this question to a number of friends because I was writing a piece
on Iraq. So I sent an e-mail to a number of friends, British, American
and non-Americans. No two answers were the same, which shows that people
don't know why Iraq was invaded and occupied. The weapons of mass destruction
-- I have a test by which I know whether the Americans know something
or not. If I know something, I am sure the American administration must
know it. I knew that there were no weapons. How come the United States
didn't know? I think they did. And the explanations that they gave after
that, democracy, helping the people of Iraq get rid of a horrible man
also do not make sense because nothing like that happened. Recently, I
saw Kanan Makiya on television. As you know, he was an enthusiastic supporter
of the war, but I think he has enough decency to say today that yes, we
were there to get rid of Saddam because Saddam has killed one million
Iraqis. Saddam was there for thirty-five years. In only five years, we
have killed 600,000 Iraqis, so we are approaching the performance of Saddam.
It's a terrible tragedy. This is not to be disrespectful to the Americans.
On the contrary, I have full respect for the people of America and I think
Americans now agree that the war is a terrible tragedy. Now we want to
get out of it by recognizing that it is a tragedy. If you don't recognize
that there is a problem, you cannot solve it. This is what we were taught
in every school. The best thing is to understand and accept that there
is a problem, then perhaps you have a chance of dealing with it. There
are a lot of people who are still saying that there is no problem in Iraq.
There is a mega problem in Iraq.
The second thing is that in our part of the world there was a tendency
to say, the Americans have broken it, let them fix it. That's wrong. They
have broken it. We have inherited it. This is in our midst. You know the
fire that is in Iraq is going to eat all of us up if we don't stop that
fire now. So I think the neighbors, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey in
particular, are duty bound to get together and work together and go to
the Americans and tell them please work with us to clear the mess that
is in Iraq. I don't see any other way out.
Richard A. Debs:
The panel has evidently been struggling with difficult problems. Let's
try an easy one. What should the United States now do about Pakistan?
I think in the case of Pakistan - right after 9/ 11 - I wrote about it
as being the most dangerous area of the Middle East. Some of my colleagues
did not agree, but they agree now. When you have atomic weapons and instability,
how can you transition to democracy? I think that many people who have
not read about the French Revolution would not understand that this was
predictable. You come, the next wave is more radical, the next wave comes,
and then somebody emerges as a strong person.
Pakistan has been under our aegis in many ways. It has thrown out many
democratic governments and we have strengthened the military for the cold
war and other reasons. We armed Mujahaddine through Pakistan to fight
against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. But we never made provisions.
What would all the Mujahaddine do after Afghanistan - especially those
who were outsiders. To give Mujahaddine Stingers and later try to buy
$15 million each, there are no sellers. We have created an enormous military
machine for good reasons, but now you cannot demobilize it. Like in World
War I, Lord Grey said that it's easy to mobilize, it's very hard to demobilize.
Politicians who mobilize clerical forces, religion, live to regret it
as we saw in Iran. Mossadeq used Kashani to mobilize anti-British feeling.
But the same method was tried by the left wing Iranians and others to
mobilize the clerics to use them to send Khomeini to the mosque. Khomeini
did not go to the mosque. He sent others.
In many ways, more leftists were killed in Iran through their party and
in other ways. All of them were eliminated under the current regime than
under the Shah in many ways because Iran became dominated by clerics.
It's just mobilization and demobilization. Bhutto tried it. Yahyah tried
it - all the Pakistani rulers have used religion. But this time may be
different. Religion will say, we're not going to give power to you. And
then this Bhutto deal was poorly manufactured. As a result, people feel
cynical towards both Bhutto and cynical towards Musharraf and what other
deals they may have made we don't know. Bhutto says that they haven't
spoken for a week and so forth. It appears that now Musharraf will say
that the only one you can trust is me. So we have created again a vacuum.
I think whoever advised Bhutto to go. Bhutto should have gone now, but
not gone earlier and been house arrested. She's lost her credibility also.
House arrest in many ways is to redeem her credibility. So she owes that
much to Musharraf. Even if Musharraf goes, I don't think the army is going
to let go. And then I think the issue will be if Pakistan is chaos what's
going to happen to the atomic weapons that they have. That's the most
important question in the Middle East. Afghanistan is a tragedy, Iraq
is a tragedy, Iran may have a weapon and maybe a tragedy. By the way Frank
(Wisner) another answer about Iran would have been to say Kissinger, Perry,
Schultz and Sam Nunn have published a major article on nuclear disarmament
as a front burning issue and thank you Mr. President of Iran for reminding
us that the nuclear non-proliferation is not sufficient -- that nuclear
disarmament has been recognized by every president except this one as
an ultimate aim. We could also say that we are brought together to focus
on that and it will save face for him also.
Pakistan is a very dangerous situation. China has interests, Russia has
interests, India has interests, certainly we have interests. I'm not optimistic,
but let's hope that Musharraf will be able to cast off his military uniform
at least that will satisfy some of them. What surprises me is that religious
parties are not demonstrating. In many ways cleverly, as in a previous
era, they will have secular parties discredit each other and then there
will emerge as a force to say, who shall save us from Hitler but Hindenberg.
Richard A. Debs:
We have time for one more question only.
Raghida Dergham of Al-Hayat:
A smaller country but with a huge impact on the whole Middle East is what's
happening now in Lebanon. Gentlemen, what if there is an organized military
coup d'état in Lebanon? What's next? What is your scenario for
what might be coming that way for the country of Lebanon and for the regional
players in Lebanon. Thank you.
Richard A. Debs:
Lakhdar you were very much involved years ago in Lebanon in the Taif Accord
- you were the grandfather or the father of that.
That's almost 20 years ago.
Richard A. Debs:
Well, you know. History repeats itself.
I'm certainly out of touch because I know that there are a lot of scenarios
going around in Lebanon. I hadn't heard that there was going to be a coup
d'état. I think that every body wishes the Lebanese to use their
recognized ability for compromise to elect a president by the 21st of
November. I think the political class will have a terrible responsibility
if they don't. I very much hope that they will all put their efforts together
to elect a president before the 21st of November.
I also believe the Iranian question - we did not discuss the Iranian influence
on Hezbollah - that would have been part also of negotiations. I recently
read an article saying that because of Israeli pressure, Hezbollah did
not send its long range rockets against Tel Aviv and other places because
Iran would have been held responsible if they did. (inaudible) Iran restrained
Hezbollah from acting rash in this matter. (inaudible) So I come back
to Lakhdar's point. A regional conference which is what the Iraq group,
by Hamiton and other recommended - Baker - outlined. The entire region
has a stake in it. So they should be together in order to have regional
stability. Otherwise, the Middle East will turn into another Balkans where
every time there will be a force used by outsiders or insiders to create
not only dissention, but disorder. So that's an important point that Frank
Richard A. Debs:
Thank you. I know there are more questions, and we could go on all night
long, but we have other things waiting for us, like celebration outside.
We can continue this discussion in the Lobby and at the tables later with
our friends here. Before we leave though we have a short video. It's a
very lively, optimistic kind of video as you would expect on AUB.
But before we do that, let us thank our panelists -- a wonderful group.