America's Place in the World

The Middle East, Part 1

May 14, 2020 General Tony Zinni & Adam P. Kennedy Season 1 Episode 15
America's Place in the World
The Middle East, Part 1
Show Notes Transcript

"There's no way you can avoid this part of the world... when turmoil and instability are created there, it doesn't stay there." Talking the Middle East from a historical perspective... this is 'Part I - Iran.' Join US on Facebook -

spk_0:   0:00
I'm your host, Adam P. Kennedy. Welcome to America's Place in the World, featuring retired four star United States Re in Court General, former U. S. Special envoy to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We're looking at the world and America's place in in this episode we're discussing around and the Middle East. It's coming up right now and asked if we could talk about, you know, sort of the Middle East in its history. And and I know obviously, because of your involvement, sent common your familiarity with so many of these places. So since we're talking about Iran, um, why don't we start there? What is the modern history? Take on Iran and you know its importance to where we are today.

spk_1:   0:55
First of all, I think you look at the Middle East and you're gonna look at it from a historical perspective to draw from history and understanding of why it is the way it ISS. First of all, there's a book called Destiny Disrupted. The author is a guy named Hamid Ansari and S A R Y, and it's about the history of the Middle East. He calls it the middle history we have Ah, very well documented Western history, very well documented Eastern history. And he felt that no one really understood their history from their perspective and how that affects the way they acted. Think today. So it's very valuable toe read something like that. The second thing I would say is, too many people go too far back and trying to you say things like, Well, they still think about the Crusades And, you know, they look at us and Westerners and they don't. And when the Crusades were fought, a lot of the Arabs nation a lot of the Arab tribes that things were on the side of the Crusaders. So the Crusades have no relevance. But you really gotta look. A world war and the aftermath of world were one because that's when really, the modern Middle East was shaped sites. PICO agreement between the French and the British decided they were going to split up the Middle East. The trouble with that is they had asked the adverts just to fight with him. There was Lawrence of Arabia and promise that they would get their own homeland. Well, they betrayed. So the British and the French carved up major parts of the Middle East, and so they always felt betrayed. They fought in World War against the Turks, the Ottoman Empire to their enemy to and they were denied their lands. As a matter of fact, King Faisal at the time, you know the Alec Guinness played him with in the movie he actually went to the head of the Zionist movement, told them that we Jews and Arabs, they work together. They're gonna screw us. We need to carve our own homeland together. They never were able to work it out. It was too late, British and French and already agree. So they get the place broken down or under that control, King Abdulaziz decides to ride through the Arabian Peninsula. He takes down about 44 tribal flags and creates the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And so that becomes a major entity there. But the true Shal states the Gulf states now the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman. These become British protectorates. So do is he's not allowed to touch him, the British one, Um, because it's their access to their major empire, which is India and the Middle East. So they get control of that. The French have Lebanon. The British were really in constant Egypt at the time. The French have Syria. So that was the Sykes PICO agreement. And so they they end up creating these these different states and Emirates that lasted until the seventies. The large extent fifties seventies national came, comes in. He chases the British out. He works with Syrians. They create the United Arab Republic, which is Syria and Egypt. And this is gonna be the real powerhouse in the region. But it doesn't go anywhere. It fails, and eventually, you know not sirs is succeeded by Sadat. Meantime, the Iranians, they actually get a democratic government. They do. We elect Moussa. Deck is their leader. He starts to make noises like he's not going to cooperate with the Brits. There's a big fear. He may lean over toward the Russians and the Communist, so the CIA and the British intelligence decide to take him out. They in effect sponsor the revolution is running out and they put the shop back in power. Marquis and the Szasz has a very weak government, very corrupt doesn't work, and eventually he gets overthrown in 79 British sleeve. In the early seventies, we decided to take over security for the Gulf. The big fear is the Russians see this is a really weak conglomeration and they're going to come in to the region. They came into Afghanistan, which really scared the hell out of Carter President Carter. So he issues the doctrine that we will fight to prevent Russian dominance of the oil resource is there. He creates Centcom first rd JTF rapid deployment joint task force that becomes sent common to Reagan. It's solely designed to protect the area. We start out with this point pillars policy, which is the Shaws, Iran and Saudi Arabia's. The two power houses were building up in army course. Then the revolution comes. We lose Iran, you know. And now we put more more forces out there rather than build up their capability to defend it. With us reinforcement, we start to put forces out there. Fifth Fleet, everything. Centcom begins to grow bigger. Where part? We are working with Iraq. Iran, Iraq war takes place. We side with Iraq, but then said Arm turns out to be a bad guy. So now we've got a problem with Iran and Iraq in the region. We go to this dual containment policy to contain both of them while we support Saudi Arabia and what is now created by the small Gulf states. What's called the Gulf Cooperation Council. So along with Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait form this GCC. We see that as a promise. You know, that they will work together. The trouble is they don't like each other. You know, there's there's old tribal rivalries. There's history between some of their leadership, so that never really jells. The Russians were thrown out by the Egyptians. We worked well with the Egyptians, and their army and military became very Western eyes. The Egyptians started a rising power, Mubarak. But the Mubarak government was not the most clean government in the world and the people felt left out. Tremendous problem. Poverty, economic situation not good. And the whole of the Middle East. You had the young people that, except for the very rich gulf states were really unhappy. So then you had the Arab spring revolution started in Tunisia and spread around. Strangely enough, the monarchy's survived it well. So the seven monarchies who you know, people were happy with Monica is basically a lot of them were rich states that had a lot of well so they could pay off their people. They were content, but the countries that ended up with the problem in countries like Egypt and Tunisia and Syria and those countries that had secular governments. And so they all came apart, you know? So we got more deeply involved in and it gave rise to political Islam. So you had the brother Muslim Brotherhood. You had Al Qaeda. Our decision to go in Iraq created Al Qaeda in Iraq which became Isis. Obviously Al Qaeda, the original Al Qaeda under Osama bin Laden was in Afghanistan and had been started trouble in that region, the world stacking us. So you know, 9 11 happens and George Bush makes us stupid decision that his father didn't make and we go boom and into Iraq as well as Afghanistan. We don't get out kinda. They beat feet to Pakistan and we stay there. We broke a rock which allow the Iranians to come in. And so that kind of brings us. That's kind of a short history brings up now, But the point I want to make is this constant turmoil, this lack of identity because the question you always get from people that don't understand the Middle East, what's more important to them being Arab and Persian or being Shia and Sunni? And the answer is it depends if there's it's not a clear answer. So when the Iran Iraq war took place Iraqis, Arabs for Persians, Iranians. But when we came in and popped the lid and said, OK, we now have majority rules democracy. We gave the power to the Shia, the CIA, where the majority but to Sunni were ruling them. But now you allow the Shia in and really that the chief state of Shi ism is Iran. So Iran could walk it. All the exiles that we're fighting a revolution against Saddam that were Shia were exile. They were in a run. We thought democracy this year going to get to be the majority. They're gonna love us. Well, that allowed the Shia Iranian Shia to come in and they bonded and it created bigger problems for its attacked our embassy. You know, the Sunnis who were in charge now with minority now got brutalized by the majority is the way things go out there and then some of them turned on us. So we went to the Al Qaeda in Iraq and Isis, you know, So we what we don't understand is the complexity. There's domestic division, you know there's Kurds, there's a Syrians, there's Calvi ends or Yazidis, and then there's major ethnic identity in Arab and Persian. Then there's religious differences there. Sunni and Shia, different sects. Of that, there's different levels of conservativism from the radicals like the Al Qaeda and all Teoh. The conservatives like the what hobbies that you know to maybe those that are more secular but snow Muslim on those who were totally secular, you know, and I haven't even talked about Israel in the role, the juice coming in, setting up a state. And then in the eyes of the Muslim Arab world, they social justice for the Palestinians were robbed of their in their version, robbed of their lands and push the side which had another walk the fire. So the picture I'm trying to paint is if you look at this history that really counted from World War one on, it's this complete confusion. There's lack of when the Ottoman Empire fell. There's lack of clear borders and places, and there were grabs. There's this Persian sense of rifle dominance of the region. There's this Arab sense of identity. There's the religious Sunni, Shia. There's all these minority populations to get mixed in. There's the super powers that have always used this, that they're playing around the British and the Russians, going back centuries than the United States comes in and the other European powers in a French plate after World War. This is the confusion in the suit. So when you take a very simplistic approach like George Bush thinks we go in, we take out, sit down. It's gonna be Kumbaya. They're all going to cheer us. Well, we took down says, Sit on without enough troops to control everything. Everything went to help. You know, the Iranians came in big time. The Sunnis created Al Qaeda and a rocket, and eventually Isis, the Kurds felt, you know they were under threat, created basically their own state and split Iraq. Then some of the other minorities to you got caught in between cabbie and Christians and Syria, Christians and others, and all we did is sort of like the match on top of that gasoline spill. So this is the Middle East. So when you look at that, you listen. I'm giving you the short version. But again, what I wanna really get it crosses all the cross currents all the 2nd 3rd or order things you need to understand whether it's religion, whether it's societal difference, tribal rivalries about everything else. When you go in to do a simple thing that you think is good, like take out a dictator and an authoritarian evil regime, and it's all gonna be good, you don't know what you're going to bring to the surface, which is what we did in Iraq and elsewhere on then. That just makes the situation even mawr confused. So right now we have this very confused situation out there. Add to that that we get very frustrated or Americans do, and then we begin to question our involvement, which allows them to think we're not committed to them, so they want to hedge their bets. I should like your friend, the Iranians, to befriend the Russians because I don't know if America is going to say you're about to Chinese, which were not coming in big time. No. The other thing I would say is we never do a good job explaining to the American people why this part of the world's important, you know, way we got a president that wants it. No, just clean his hands of this whole business. And then everybody said It's all about the oil. What's not? It's partly about the energy resource is oil and natural gas that fuels a major part of the global economy. People look it, our boy production and say, Well, we're self sufficient. We could be some We can produce enough take care of ourselves. Yeah, but if that well isn't floral into the rest of the world, Europe and the Far East and everything else, their economies collapse. And if their economies collapsed, ours is going to go down with him because it's so globalization so inextricably connected our economies. The second thing is, if you look at the trade routes, it's ever since the old Silk Road, the major seat lane trade trade routes of the world go through their east of west west the east. And there's all these choke points from the Straits of Malacca to the Strait of more moves to the bottom and debt to the Suez Canal and anybody that controls this or if this area is you, goes to complete hell. You know, like the Somali pirates and everything else that those trade routes get interrupted. That's going a tremendous economic effect. The third thing people have to understand is when turmoil and instability or created there. It doesn't stay there. You know, we saw that with the terrorism. It's it's on the streets of Paris is on the streets in New York. They export that crap and find reason to blame everybody else for their problems and attack the world before things that creates a the aspirin. Everybody wants to get out of that so they all flee X. Europe has his tremendous problem now Australian. Everybody else With this influx of people from the Middle East, they can't say I'm so there's no way you can avoid this part of the world creating global concerns and global issues that you can ignore it in some way. It can't be made to collapse, so we have not done a good job of building alliances out there. One of things that they asked me to do is try to create this Middle East strategic alliance. They're not sure they want to do that. They're not sure they can trust this. They don't know what Reluctant to make commitments. You know, they're worried about popping their head above the parapet. Who's going to shoot at? Whether we'll be there to protect it. So this is the mess that is the Middle East right now. And we got We got to get away from people that are leadership who suddenly want to make a stupid decision because they look at at one inch deep and not look at those 2nd 3rd order effects in the depth and complexity of what could happen. Someone once described to me, It's like a the inner workings of a big clock. We have all these years of different sizes, and you just go up in full with a little beer. You send the whole thing out of kilter, and that's what we intend to do. Go well intentioned. We think we're doing the right thing. We end up in a mess and then everything we touch, we insist it's gotta be Jeffersonian democracy. Free market economy like Afghanistan and isn't what happened or a rock where the corruption, everything else is so bad. Iranian influence. We opened the door to a lot of that on the ethnic fighting in the development of terrorists groups That all came about because we we went in there and we went in there in the wrong way. So that's the Middle East. I mean, in a nutshell. What you're facing. So what do you do about going forward? I mean, you you're gonna have to manage it. It's like all wicked problems. There's no simple solution, no straightforward solution. It's gonna take constant management of the problem. You're gonna have to be selective as to who we can trust out there who are allies are you got to convince him that were there to support him. You got to continuously work to try to get them. Their form alliances is some sort. It's a lot of hard work, not convinced they want that you got you got to stand up against our potential adversaries out there not only within the region countries like Iran and Syria, but also from outside China and Russia. And, you know, we have alliances with, like countries like Egypt to the phone apart that need maintenance.

spk_0:   18:16
So I'm curious. Who has the power is that the Ayatollah isn't the Iranian military who's who's running the show?

spk_1:   18:23
Well, there's not one person running the show they told was sort of have religious power, but that could force and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard have the physical power. Then they have the nominal president and government, which is not not a strong is those two. There's no one place that the all the power resides.

spk_0:   18:47
So would you say that in the Ayatollah and the military are sort of equal in terms of their influence?

spk_1:   18:55
I think they're very careful of each other. I think you would find that Don't confuse the military, the regular military with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. Okay, Yeah, they're bad asses that will go into the streets and question a revolution or a demonstration. And you wanted with the could force that will put their nose into Syria and Iraq on cause trouble. They support the Hizbollah, Hamas and those kinds of groups very anti Israel. And, uh, you know, I think they sort of have their lanes and they're very careful with each other, and nobody has complete control with one over the other. Then you have the regular government with their president, their foreign minister and all that which really have to be careful because those other two can very easily remove them from power. So they have very Liberty packers. So it's not a simple governance system.

spk_0:   19:50
Okay, so where do you see Iran going? What's the future of Ron?

spk_1:   20:00
If we keep the pressure up with the sanctions the way they are now, eventually they'll break or be on the verge of breaking. You'll see increase demonstrations in the streets. You'll see increase harsh treatment of the demonstrators if it begins to get to the point where it really looks like it's about to explode Internally, I think you would see their strike out, cause now they feel they have nothing loose. They're gonna be taken down from inside. They're going to say the great Satan is closing this trouble, and they're gonna do something major against us because nothing unites people like a common enemy. And I think that danger is they just They lash out at us in some major way. They use something equivalent toe 9 11 or something, you know, and they'll try to disavow ownership of because they'll do it through surrogates or little attack Israel, you know, directly or indirectly, through Hezbollah and Hamas, more intense. There provided more missiles and weapons systems that is follow up and create greater problems for us and challenges, which is going to cause us that to make a major decision. So I mean, I think that's going to be the result. The other alternative, which I I just don't think we have the the skills are you know it can be done is for us to re engage. I mean, I was hopeful that the nuclear agreement would lead to other agreements and the common sense would prevail and they'd be more cooperative. But it never did. I mean it. The criticism of Obama's steel wasn't nothing else happened. I mean, we made a deal which sort of drug out there, their development of their fissile material. But they still screwed with us, you know, attacked this through surrogates raise hell in the Syria and in Iraq and elsewhere and against Israel. So it was a one off deal allow. The opponents of the deal will say, Look, this isn't really I mean, if they're just buying time by way, you gave him all their money back. And now the game or money to do with their support what they're doing? Yeah, if they realize. I mean, this is the hopeful one, which I don't have a lot of confidence in. They realize that got internal problems. They realize the sanctions that are killing them. They realize becoming more aggressive toward us and violent is a losing game. We're gonna we're gonna go punch for punch, tit for tat and they suddenly decides time to talk on, then who engages how, what we put on the table. What are expectations from them? So we don't have sort of a peace plan or a mediation plan or negotiations plan, And will they get there? I mean, you can they get their can they get to the point where they say, But we hear from our own people. We understand where we are, what our fate is here. So we're willing now to preserve the regime to engage, You know that that's a that's a hopeful alternative.

spk_0:   23:10
Is there a moderate group in Iran that you think would be amenable to such a thing.

spk_1:   23:16
Well, you always have to look at the population. It's a well educated population. It's basically always been a secular population. It's not a it's not like Saudi Arabia that it za population by the vast majority of very intensively nationalistic, inwardly focused and conservative Iranians have tended to be, you know, those that looked out at the world that were more secular, certainly before the revolution. So I think you could easily find within the Iranian population people that can rise the dedication. And so what would happen is the Ayatollahs in the Revolutionary Guard saying, Well, we gotta we gotta go to that third element the government and we gotta put people in there that they trust and could get us the resolutions we want. You can't put hardliners in there, but we'll have to monitor what they do. And it would be hard because they're not gonna want to lose power. They could give up some in order to get there. They've done that in the past, you know, minor stuff. When they had people like hot to me and and others in their a two presidential level, it's gonna be hard to find a radiance and be willing to step up, modernize their society and governmental system and everything and increase relationships with the West. They're not suicidal. They're not crazy nut. You know, we're all going to die for Allah. That's not who they are. So I mean, I do think that and and they they are very sophisticated, educated population. So I think that it wouldn't be hard to find the kind

spk_0:   24:55
of people would move that way. So the leadership of Iran, what did they want and where do they see their future?

spk_1:   25:02
They want two things. If you look at the Ayatollahs one, they want the dominance of Shias over Sunnis, the rightful interpretation of while in their minds. Secondly, as Persians, they see they're the rightful, dominant power in the region. Listen to what they said to us. Get out of the region. We don't want you here. My criticism of our allies there's why didn't they stand up? Say you don't speak for us. Don't speak for the region. You're not the regional power, but they speak for the region. Just like I speak for the region against Israel like that. This is our natural right? We're Persians. You know. And so the Ottoman Empire was destroyed. They haven't. They feel like the Arab empires to dysfunctional. And they are rightful Persians going back millenia. That this is Persia. Is that diamond power. So they want to be the dominant power in the region. They want their version of Islam. She is, um, to be the dominant set in the region. That's basically their their goals.

spk_0:   26:09
How would they go about becoming dominant power in the region?

spk_1:   26:12
When we first went into Iraq, they were very frightened because we went into Afghanistan right after I 11 put a lot of troops in there before put troops in there. We had fits fleet created. So we control the Indian Ocean, the Soviet Union collapse. So we were now in Central Asia. So to their north Azerbaijan and these other countries are now warming tow us. You no longer cast me. And they saw a school in the Iraq. They were surrounded. So if you would have taken that moment in time, they saw themselves now surrounded by the US and were panic stricken. Well, then, lo and behold, we go into a rock and we come in with immediately Go to the polls and vote. And so now all these guys that are in exile, Maliki and Bader and all these guys that are Iraqi Shia that were in Iran. Now go rushing back in the country, creative, beautiful parties and she and now dominate. And of course, we don't protect the Sooners when we got him effectively thrown out of power. And now Iran comes in people like Sisu, money and others in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, and they start creating these Shia militias that really are answering to them as opposed to their own government. So Iraq has like an army. But it's also got these these local militias that all pretend to be part of the government security system. But they're answerable to Iran. So we built this stepping stone. The next step was Syria. So they go in on the side of Assad along with the Russians. So now they have every influence in Syria, the propping up beside. They have Russian support with, um they're creating their own militias and things in Syria. They're working with Syrian government, and then there next stepping. So is to their traditional surrogate, Hizb Allah in Lebanon. And they see a great opportunity had taken over Lebanon, you know, by supporting this bullet, that's one of the things. So mining was prioritizing was going back and forth 11 on and from Lebanon in this favela. They're over supporting Hamas, and they're also supporting some of the forces that are fighting an insurgency against Egypt. So from being surrounded, they now got a northern art, and they also get a southern arc. They cross over into Yemen and they saddle up with the Hootie's and they cause hell, they they challenge the government of Yemen that, you know, it was from the Civil War had been pretty shaky. They have inroads in the Yemen, the Saudis and the M, Moratti's and others come down there to fight him. So they're fighting the Saudis and that Moratti's through providing the arms and equipment. And of course, the Egyptians come down initially t engage to and so basically, when you look about at it, they've effectively going from being encircled, two circling Egypt, this sort of the one in the middle. But they also got problems with Libya and others in their to their back door. So they've almost completed the encirclement of the region as a result of our moves and also the moves of the Saudis and others in the region. So there you want to talk about their strategy? Is this in circle mint? Have the client states these malicious and all in a way that engulf, uh, the other side of the Gulf War will wait. Egypt threaten Israel, create a Persian dominated region region. And we've opened that door just by going into Iraq stupidly,

spk_0:   30:08
that's fascinating. Do you think they have territorial ambitions to expand?

spk_1:   30:17
No, I don't. You know, I don't think they I think in some ways they could create where there's majority Shia like the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, they have major Shia populations, actually greater than the Sunni population. They seized the islands back in the Shah's Day from the U A. Abu Moussa and the less greater and lesser tombs they just grabbed so they could think about controlling the Persian Gulf. You know, making sure it's not called the Arabian Gulf anymore. By some sort of aerial claims. On the other side, along the coastal regions where they have major Shia population, there will be more oil to that. But I don't think they see conquering. You know, these other countries just intimidating them, putting in place within them organizations that they could control that could affect, you know, threaten the governments in control. Um, getting people in power in these governments that are more inclined to subordinate themselves or so be supportive of their calls, You know, in terms of Israel and the United States, and get and the domination of the region. So I don't think they necessarily are looking to create empires, something that that's kind of that present too much attention, too much control. It's too hard to do. But it's just to control these countries through internal disruption, internal and planning a surrogate forces of political and

spk_0:   31:49
paramilitary that are under their control. Thank you for joining us. Find us on Facebook at General Zinni, AP Duck and Online a P, k, c g dot com ward slash ap W I'm Adam Pekin This is America's place in the world