Mark Tapson: Did you have a thought, Michael?
Michael Totten: Yeah, I’ll add something also.
I spent a lot of time in Beirut. And Beirut is a magnet for journalists, for a couple of reasons. One, it’s a really nice place. Everyone I know who’s been there loves it. Even the Israelis I know who’ve been to Beirut love the place. And there’s always something to write about. So there are many of us there.
And I know a number of journalists on the far left — I’m not talking about the mainstream Left here; talking about the far Left — who, to one extent or another, either make excuses for Hezbollah and the Syrians or actually support them, and even romanticize them.
And those who make excuses for Hezbollah — they will agree with me that Hezbollah’s a problem. But they do believe that Israel and the United States are a bigger problem. And they take issue with pro-American and pro-Western Lebanese, especially the Christians. There’s something wrong with the Christians of Lebanon. Because they’re pro-American, and sometimes they’re even pro-Israel, and they’re not authentic Arabs. They’re like sellouts, and they like the poor and those who resist, so to speak.
Now, this is not the mainstream Left. This is not the Hillary Clinton and the Joe Biden Left. This is the radical Left. But this view exists, and it’s unfortunately common, in my experience in Beirut. I don’t know how many people in, say, the UK government actually view things this way. But maybe some of them do. I don’t know if this really feeds into what Douglas was talking about or not. But I have seen this sort of weird, bizarre and kind of creepy sympathy for Islamists. And of course, this is exclusively on the radical left, not the mainstream left and, of course, not the right. Certainly not the center.
Mark Tapson: [Hinder], and then next, let’s have — we have some more questions? Okay, how about this lady right here?
Okay, this gentleman. And please remember to try to direct your question toward one speaker, so that we can get to other questions, if possible.
Unidentified Audience Member: Okay. Okay. Hi.
This dovetails Doug Murray’s comments. And of course, it’s — be directed to Doug first. And I hope I’ve got this point correct. But if, as you say, that it made no strategic sense for us backing the Libyan uprising, and it makes all the sense for the US to back the uprising in Syria, then what is the rationale or the strategic policy that the US uses to justify the two?
Mark Tapson: And who is that for?
Unidentified Audience Member: Doug.
Mark Tapson: Oh, sorry. Doug.
Douglas Murray: Well, I don’t know.
I’ve just got no idea. I don’t know what they’re thinking. As I say, it seems to me to be a simple demonstration — they can’t think straight on this, in the same way that, you know, when everyone was going do to their first tour or Tahrir Square a few months back — William Hague, our Foreign Secretary, went to Tahrir Square, had a great walk around, said how wonderful it was that Mubarak had gone, and how important it was that he’d gone because he’d been ghastly to his people, and so on. And then he went straight off to see the Saudi defense minister, who’d just been pimping his troops out to shoot down the people in Bahrain. It makes no sense.
And I have to say there will be, I think, a terrible reckoning for this, when people across the region continue to realize that on this one, the complete lack of consistency, as well as a lack of strategic thinking, is evident to absolutely anybody who looks at it.
Mark Tapson: This lovely lady here is next, if we could get the mic to her. And then, this gentleman. And then you. Okay.
Unidentified Audience Member: Is there anything the United States can do at the present time to prevent Egypt being taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood and becoming another theocracy like Iran? Daniel Pipes?
Daniel Pipes: What can the US do to prevent the Islamists from taking over in Egypt? Actually, I don’t think we have to do a whole lot. As I understand Egypt, there was a revolution in 1952 which overthrew a constitutional monarchy.
And the soldiers came in. First, Mohamed Naghi till 1954, then Abdul Nasser till 1970, then Sadat till 1981, then Mubarak till 2011. And now, ladies and gentlemen, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi is the new ruler of Egypt. He may not call himself president — he’s merely the field marshal, the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and the secretary — minister of defense. But he is the ruler of Egypt.
And more broadly, the Egyptian military, which has ruled now for nearly 60 years, are the rulers of Egypt. They have, as I indicated before, the good life. To be a colonel in the Egyptian military is to be a very happy person. You live the good life. The Egyptian military controls a substantial part of the Egyptian economy, making everything from tissue paper to, you know, armaments. And the military intends to stay in power.
And I think as you — even today, there was a New York Times piece about how the military intends to stay, and is maneuvering to stay in power. The president, whoever it will be, will be not an insignificant figure, but not a determining figure. He will help figure out the budgets for the schools, and which roads need to be fixed, and other such not-unimportant tasks. But he will not be the ruler of Egypt.
Now, the only challenge to the military are the Islamists in the army and the military. Will they succeed? Is the military proof against the Muslim Brotherhood or not? It is not like the Turkish military used to be — firmly, clearly, against Islamists in the officer core. One anecdote from Turkey — they serve liquor. And if you don’t drink your wine, you’re out of the officer core. At least, used to be the case. That’s not so in Egypt. There are Islamists. Indeed, Anwar Sadat was murdered by Islamists in the military.
So I can’t guarantee for you that they’re going to be kept out. But that is the key. I don’t think US policy has too much to do with it. It’s an internal, military, civil relationship. It is internal to the military. And all we can do is watch and see how well the military’s keeping the Islamists from seeping into the officer core and become the significant force within it.
Mark Tapson: Deborah’s next. But how about — there’s a gentleman right there with his hand up. He’ll be next.
Unidentified Audience Member: Thank you, gentlemen, so much for what you’ve been sharing, appreciate it. And you haven’t been completely pessimistic, so we do appreciate that as well.
The question I had kind of leads on two points both that Douglas and Daniel have spoken, which is — obviously there’s a lack of strategic leadership. We’re doing what we can to change that in America in the next election. Whether or not that happens, we’ve been hearing about the failures of the past — what we’ve done, supporting the wrong people; what we could’ve done. Daniel mentioned three things that may not even be applicable anymore. We don’t have any despots to reform, and we have a whole new landscape, as you were painting.
Going forward in the wake of the Arab Spring — if we have that strategic leadership, what would you say we need to do in the future? I know that may be somewhat a crystal ball, because we don’t know what we’re going to be looking at. But we may not have those despots. We cannot count on the moderates necessarily coming into power. What can we strategically do now, looking forward, that we obviously have failed up to this point?
Daniel Pipes: May I suggest that each of us propose one specific policy?
Mark Tapson: That works for me. Do you want to start?
Andrew McCarthy: Sure. Again, I think humility. We have to recognize that we are not the cause of everything that happens in this region, nor is it in our capacity to affect outcomes in the region. I think that we need to be much more modest in what we can accomplish and get a grip on what America’s actual interests are.
And I hate to be a broken record about this. But if I could do one thing, and one thing alone in that region, I would make it clear as a matter of policy that the United States regards Iran as an enemy and won’t be satisfied till there’s regime change. And I would order every bit of American foreign policy around that goal.
Mark Tapson: Dr. Pipes?
Daniel Pipes: In that same vein, I would say help the Iranian opposition to overthrow the mullahs.
Mark Tapson: Would you other gentlemen like to chime in?
Douglas Murray: I would just — absolutely — following off on Daniel’s point — let everyone in the region know that if they are on the side of real democracy — if they are on the side of a genuine reformism — that America is their friend and will remain their friend. Because there is a tug-of-war for the hearts of people across the region. And as we saw in 2009, when Obama failed to speak of the Iranian students who stood up — a lot of people will have seen that. And they will have been looking around over the last two years, for other friends. And the other friends may well be better friends, in one sense. But they’ll be far worse friends in the end.
Mark Tapson: Michael?
Michael Totten: Yeah. I would just — to put it as simply as possible — oppose the Islamists always and everywhere, and support the liberals always and everywhere. I mean, the way this is going to work is going to differ in each place. Because in Egypt, the liberals are small in number, and the Islamists are enormous. So the policy that would flow from this may not be something that we would really like. But in Iran, where the Islamists appear to be in the minority — and the liberals, broadly defined, in the majority — it should be obvious that we should not be on the sidelines in something like that.
So my starting point would just always be consistently anti-Islamist and pro-liberal/democratic, everywhere. As much as is realistic.
Mark Tapson: Great.
That gentleman there, and then let’s line up somebody on this side to answer. Her next, then.
Unidentified Audience Member: My question is for Daniel Pipes and Michael Totten.
Given that when Hassan al-Banna established the Muslim Brotherhood, an important goal was the reestablishment of the caliphate — if Muslim Brotherhood-linked parties were to come into power from Tunisia [into] Syria, do you see in the future a reestablishment of some form of caliphate? Or is the tribalism and particularism in the Arab countries so strong that the current national boundaries are likely to persist?
Michael Totten: I would be stunned indeed if anything like another caliphate exists. These countries aren’t even — well, Tunisia and Egypt are somewhat cohesive internally, because the tribal identity is very small, and they’re — accept for the 10 percent Coptic minority in Egypt, they’re relatively homogenous — they’re not like Iraq, or Lebanon or Syria — but most of these Arab countries lack utterly any kind of internal cohesion, and tried to expand it even further. Like when Egypt and Syria briefly merged together in the United Arab Republic — that didn’t last very long, because it’s completely implausible.
So I don’t see any reason why it would be more plausible now, all of a sudden. So I don’t think it’ll ever happen. I think this is just a pipe dream that some extremists have. And I don’t think they’ve really thought through how this would work.
Daniel Pipes: Ditto.
Mark Tapson: Okay. Your turn.
Unidentified Audience Member: I just wanted to address something that Daniel had mentioned about supporting the Democrat Party, which — excuse me, not supporting the Democrats; understanding the problems with Democrats. The thing that we’ve seen that’s been increasingly distressing is how someone like Grover Norquist has insinuated himself deeply into the Republican Party, and what’s been happening.
For example, in New York, when we go to something called the Monday Meeting, and we see Norquist there — and those people that we’ve recently got into office that were Tea Party type people, the new blood — and you see him with the nod and the wink, and the slap on the back to these people — or you see Eric Cantor supporting a candidate — I believe his name is Hassan, that is a Republican — this is becoming even more distressing right now. So how do we —
Daniel Pipes: What about —
Unidentified Audience Member: — (inaudible) more education that we —
Daniel Pipes: What about Grover Norquist?
Well, Grover Norquist used to come to this meeting. Grover Norquist no longer comes to this meeting. Because Frank Gaffney wrote an exposé of him in FrontPage Magazine.
Daniel Pipes: More broadly, I think that’s symbolic that Grover Norquist’s views — support for Islamists — is not popular in conservative circles. He is an important figure. But I think it is — he has had very little traction. There are only a handful of conservatives who are in agreement with Grover Norquist. And it’s an anomaly, and it’s not something that is taking over the Republican Party.
For example, look at the Republican candidates for President. None of them, in any sense, reflect his views. So I think — I wish he’d change, I wish he would pay a price in his career for it. Certainly not coming here is paying a price for it. Btu I don’t think it’s a great danger.
Mark Tapson: Andrew, you look like you wanted to comment. And then we’ll have time for one more question.
Andrew McCarthy: I just think we need to do a better job of explaining that there’s a difference between — well, a broader problem than jihadist ideology. I mean, the narrative that we’re fighting against is that there’s this narrow al-Qaeda ideology which includes killing Muslims in order to further their own construction of Islam, and that everybody else is a moderate. And that’s really — what I said before about four out of five, I think, addresses this. Yes, there is this al-Qaeda ideology, and it may be fringe in the greater scheme of things. But the fact that you don’t subscribe to that, but you want to supplant the United States Constitution with Sharia, does not make you a moderate, even if you’re not willing to blow up a bridge this minute to get it done.
Mark Tapson: Last question, before the aroma of lunch begins to drift in here.
Unidentified Audience Member: Are there any countries that we ought to be cutting off as far as foreign aid in the Middle East?
Unidentified Speaker: All of them.
Unidentified Participant: I’d start with Washington.
Unidentified Participant: Do we have time for one more?
Mark Tapson: Yes, one more from Frank Gaffney and —
Frank Gaffney: Well, was I was just — alluded to, in connection with Grover, let me just say — we’ll be talking about this, I think at some length, on Sunday morning, in a panel that I’ll be participating in.
The problem is not that Republicans agree with Grover Norquist’s position on supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States. The problem is that they don’t understand that that’s what he’s promoting as they endorse him, or work with him, or submit to him on other agenda items. And my profound concern — and Andy knows, and Daniel and others, I think — is we have witnessed his influence operation at work in Republican circles for 12 years. And it is time for us to come to grips with it and stop it. Because I believe what we’re seeing the Obama Administration doing today — which we’ve had described in such important detail here today — is bordering on what he accomplished in the Bush years. And it is a toxic cancer in our system, and I believe must be rooted out. Thank you.
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