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tv   IISS - The Rise of ISIS  CSPAN  October 6, 2017 6:50pm-8:00pm EDT

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>> we'll tour the south dakota state capitol. >> if you look up, there are also four corner areas with flags. obviously the south dakota flag. there is a flag from dakota territory. there's a flag for the united states, of course. there are also flags for spain and france, because they controlled this territory at different times. and then each corner has -- one corner has a white flag, one a red flag, one black and one yellow. and those are the native american colors that symbolize the four directions of the compass. >> and hear about lewis and clark's encounter with members of the lakota sioux, and why that meeting was so important to the area. watch the city tour of pierre, south dakota, saturday at noon eastern on c-span 2's book tv and sunday at 2:00 p.m. on american history tv on c-span3. the c-span cities tour, working with our cable affiliates and visiting cities across the
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country. next, two authors talk about their work on the conditions that cause the rise of isis. they look at whether different american policy choices could have thwarted the rise of the so-called islamic state. good. welcome to the america's office for strategic studies. my name is dana allen. i'm a senior fellow at our london office and also editor of the iiss journal, survival, which is the reason that we're here tonight. because i have next to me the coauthors of the lead article in our june/july issue. professor peter fever and professor hal brands. peter fever is professor of political science and public policy at duke university and he also directs the american grand
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strategy program. from june 2005 to june 2007, peter was on leave as a special adviser for strategic planning and institutional reform on the national security staff staff of the george w. bush white house. he's the author or coauthor of five books including "pain, the human costs of war." published by princeton in 2009. and to my far left, dr. hal brands is the henry kissinger distinguished professor of global affairs at johns hopkins university school of advanced international studies. he's also a senior fellow at the center for strategic and budgetary assessments. his most recent book is making the unipolar moment, u.s. foreign policy and the rise of the post cold war order from cornell.
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the title of their article is, was the rise isis inevitable and it's a counterfactual question that touches on some -- actually the most contentious issue of u.s. foreign policy in this century. these include whether it was a good idea for the bush administration to decide to invade iraq and whether it was a good idea for the obama administration to withdraw almost all u.s. troops in 2011. and i think the impressive achievement of this essay is that, you know, the authors don't see simple answers to any of these questions or any of the other counterfactuals but they don't let themselves off the hook. they still provide answers. and it's a really fascinating and from our point of view a very important article. we'll hear first from the two authors and we'll have a discussion starting with
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professor fever. >> thank you. it's good to be here and it's also fun to talk about work that i've done with hal. it's been a wonderful ride working with hal closely over the last seven or eight years or so. and this article in particular came out of teaching that we were doing together. we co-taught a court on american grand strategy which is mostly an opportunity for him to see how many times he could trick me into telling the same war story over and over again. he and the students were in cahoots on this. but we also were trying to teach our students how to do policy analysis, how to evaluate policy choices and along the way became clear that the students were uncomfortable with the idea counterfactual analysis even though counterfactual analysis is at the very heart of policy. if you're making a policy recommendation you're saying do x so as to cause y to happen and
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if you don't do x, you won't get y to huh happen. and, of course, that policy recommendation is making a counterfactual claim about what won't happen if you don't take a certain action. and when you're looking back in time evaluating policy choices, you're necessarily doing counterfactual analysis and students struggled to do -- to do it well. the discipline of history treats it as a parlor game. eleanor roosevelt could fly how would world war ii turn out, these kinds of crazy fake history. and that's not what policy versions of counter factual analysis are about. and so we wanted to set about doing it right. the importance of getting it right is making your counterfactuals explicit. everybody is doing counterfactual analysis but most people are doing it implicitly. they're not explicitly laying it out so that's what we wanted to do an exercise in doing that. now, they're hard to do because
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once you change one thing then of course you have to think seriously about the implications of that and you can quickly unravel the analytical sweater. and so to make it tractable, we tried to pick events that were relatively approximate to the question, the rise of isis. you could go back to the split between sunni and shia a thousand years ago. that kind of counter factual analysis is not very useful, because so much would have changed. but decisions that were more proximate to our current situation, that was a more useful form. you try to minimize the number of changes you make. you try to pick alternatives that are plausible but that were plausible, and maybe even seriously debated inside the administration at the time so you could credible say that the president could've made this other choice and then you look at the good and the bad consequences of it. it's easy to get counterfactual analysis wrong. it's easy to mischaracterize it and we're trying to be very
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clear that we are not blaming president bush or president obama for the atrocities committed by isis. isis deserves the blame for everything they have done but we are asking the question could different policy choices have positioned the u.s. to confront isis in a more effective manner than we were able to. we look at four pivot points. we look at the decision to invade iraq, 2002, 2003. we look at the obama's decision 2010 to 2011 that led up to the withdrawal of the u.s. forces from iraq. we look at the decision to intervening with a larger arming of syrian rebels in 2011 but not with the invasion, but with more forward-leaning arming of the rebels. and then the last one is the decision not to strike isis when
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it was on the highway approaching mosul. and so look at these and i'll briefly summarize the iraq 2002 decision analysis and hal will do the more interesting ones. he gets to do the more interesting ones. i say more interesting, because where we come down on iraq is pretty close to where the conventional wisdom, i think, does. which is that if the united states had not invaded iraq, and if the occupation had -- and post phase four conflict -- sorry. stability ops phase of the war had gone better. either you didn't invade or you're able to rebuild order faster. if you changed those, then it's unlikely that we would've seen isis in the form that we did by 2014, 2015. isis -- al qaeda was there, al qaeda preexisted the decision to invade iraq, of course, but the form that isis took in 2014
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where they were controlling large swaths of territory is hard to get there without the collapse of iraq and the problems that emerged. we don't follow the conventional wisdom perfectly because i think when you dig into it it's a little more nuanced. the conventional story makes it seem pretty easy but there were a number of things that we would've had to deal with if we hadn't invaded iraq. we'd have to deal with the fact that saddam hussein has large stock piles of weapons of mass destruction. we only learned after we had invaded that he had gotten rid of them. and the invasion itself had a pernicious effect on al qaeda. it became a rallying cry. but then it also became a death trap. and so al qaeda flooded troops, their troops into iraq theater and through the course of the war and particularly the surge they are -- they are
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killed and dealt a very, very serious blow. and so our analysis of iraq is a little more nuanced, maybe, be than the conventional wisdom. but we come down basically saying that if you had not invaded iraq, and dealt with it, had the problems that followed that, it's hard to see isis arriving at the stage it did. however, and this is an important pivot to hand it off to hal, that does not mean that the rise of isis was inevitable circa 2008, 2009 because there were at least three other pivot points that hal will tell you about. >> i'll just note that peter and i are deliberately playing -- peter served in the bush administration and got to tell you the things that the bush administration did wrong. i served briefly in the obama administration and get to catalog the incidents that occurred under obama.
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so i'll just briefly focus on the three that peter mentioned. so the iraq draw down decisions in 2010, 2011, really in 2011 and stretching into 2012 and the decision essentially not to preempt isis before it took mosul in late 2013, early 2014 and i'm not going to go into chronological order in discussing these. i'm actually going to do something different. i'll go in order of the likelihood of achieving a different and better outcome had we followed different but plausible policies in these situations. and the case that we actually consider least promising in the sense that we have -- our assessment leads us to the least confidence that this would have changed events for the better is the syria 2011/2012. i think there's a strand of thinking that argues that the united states easily could have prevented the emergence of isis had it moved in a bigger way to bring about the fall of the
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assad regime or to intervene in a more significant way in this period. we having looked at this and dug into the evidence and thought about the counterfactual think that this is a relatively weak counterfactual. there were various options considered by the administration in 2011, 2012 period. everything from no fly zones to safe zones to alleviate civilian suffering, providing more support sooner to the moderate syrian rebels, cratering the runways so assad's air force couldn't operate. even doing leadership targeting of regime elements. all of these things were rejected or downgraded and so the question is if the obama administration had pursued a more robust program of intervention in syria, could it have been altered the dynamics of the conflict in a way that would have precluded the rise of isis, perhaps even brought the conflict to an end there by
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joking off the ideological fuel supply that assad's repression was causing. the argument that this comes up with that this is probably not that likely. these forms of intervention might have alleviated civilian suffering, they would have been given the united states a better in so they might have yielded some down stream benefits in terms of greater context, greater credibility when the united states ultimately did intervene in 2014. but we think it's unlikely that these events would have produced say a settlement of the civil war or forced assad to deescalate. and the major reason for this is basically two-fold. the first is that it seems likely in light of later events that assad's external patrons would have matched any u.s. escalation in syria and perhaps exceeded it which was, in fact, what happened in 2015.
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and second is that it seems that most of the options that were considered at the time fundamentally underestimated assad's tenacity. the fact that he was really willing to fight to the death in syria. this was a consistent challenge fight for him. and so intervention might have put us in a better position it might have yielded some humanitarian benefits, but we don't think the effect would have been decisive. a slightly different case when you look at the 2013/2014 decisions involving iraq. this was the last opportunity to block isis before it emerged in its fullest and most dangerous form before it gobbled up about a third of iraq. and this was a time when the iraqis were, in fact, asking for greater assistance. they were asking first for military aid in late 2013, and then for a direct american military intervention, including air strikes to block isis.
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now the administration held back from doing this for a variety of reasons, the most important of which was that it worried that nouri al maliki, iraq's prime minister was part of the problem rather than the solution and the united states would become complicit if it got involved at this point. so the question was could a more robust program have had a mitigating effect on isil's rise. militarily, the answer is yes. this is a time when isil, they would have been sitting ducks for a program of american air strikes, and there were sufficient american military assets in the region to carry these out. the problem here essentially is two-fold, though. first intervening in iraq in 2014, early 2014 for instance, wouldn't have done anything about the syrian problem. syria was really isis' home base and that would have been most likely remained a safe haven. the second and arguably bigger
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problem is political. which is that it was only when isil reached an hour's drive from baghdad that we finally got maliki to get out of the way and make way for an iraqi government that was committed, at least in principle, to a meaningful reform program. it seems unlikely we would have been able to do that in 2014 and before the wolf was fully at the door. so we might have been ended up with precisely the obama administration worried about where the united states was the shia air force conducting strikes. on behalf of a sectarian regime. we would have had military gains. it wouldn't have been nothing to prevent isis from taking mosul, which you can see just by looking at how hard it was to retake mosul in 2016 and 2017. but there would have been a high price to pay. and that just leaves the last counterfactual which are the 2010 and 2011 decisions. this is actually a double counterfactual. so first, could the united states have better influenced the iraqi government formation process in 2010 after the elections were deadlocked?
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could it have prevented maliki from taking another term? if the united states had left a stay behind force in iraq after 2011 as was initially the plan, as maliki was initially willing to accept, would that meaningfully have impeded isis' rise? we actually think this is the most plausible counter factual. i won't go into all the details here. we can discuss these in the q&a but we think there was sufficient u.s. leverage to bring about a different iraqi government formation scenario in 2010 whether that would have involved maliki stepping aside or simply doing a real power sharing agreement with his rivals. we also think there was sufficient u.s. leverage and goodwill on the iraqi side to bring about a status force agreement that would have been kept u.s. forces in iraq after 2011. it would have required some flexibility in the negotiation certainly. but we think there was basically a possible agreement there and we identified about six or seven different ways in which such a
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force if it were between ten and 15,000 troops actually would have meaningfully affected the trajectory of events. providing better situational we wearness through better intelligence and a number of other things, as well. we don't claim that this is a silver bullet because one of the things we have to acknowledge is that a u.s. presence in iraq would have brought risks of its own. it would have been made united states vulnerable. by shiite militias, for instance. we argue this was actually the most crucial juncture in the sense that this was the opportunity to forstall or mitigate the rise of isis at a reasonable cost. so in conclusion i'll make three points here, which build a little bit on what peter said and what dana said. so the first is that we do argue that the rise of isis was a tragedy. we think that had u.s. policy makers taken different policy
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choices isis probably would not have emerged as the full blown threat that it ultimately became and we can debate amongst ourselves which of these was most promising one. we think 2003 and 2011 were the critical ones. there were opportunities to shift the trajectory of events. the second point is that we have to acknowledge that all the counterfactuals here are messier than they first appear and in some cases that's because changing the u.s. decision changes the subsequent course of history, so profoundly that it's hard to know how better off you actually are. this is certainly the case had the united states not invaded iraq, for instance. and in some cases because the counterfactuals that we -- posit bring costs and risks of their own. leaving a stabilize force in 2011 for instance. either way the point is that it's a mistake to think that there was a silver bullet. there were better and worse policy decisions but there wasn't something that was so blindingly obvious that any fool should have done it. and the third and final point is that in light of all this, the
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debate over isis and the rise of isis needs to shift. it's really not that useful to focus on assigning blame because i think as our article argues, administrations of both parties made fairly significant errors. i think the key rather is to use counterfactual analysis seriously to get a more rigorous understanding of the options and alternatives and there by help us to better think about decision making in the future. we're going to confront dilemmas similar to the ones that american policy makers confronted in this period, right now. there are discussions ongoing about what type of presence the united states will have in iraq after isis is defeated. to the extent we understand the past and we think seriously about the counterfactuals that we present and the counterfactuals we argue that american policy will be better off for it. >> thank you very much. as i say it's a really excellent article and i commend to everyone in the room and everyone whose watching. before i open it up to the floor, let me just ask two
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questions, one to each of you. the first one to peter is probably the biggest and most difficult question but i was very struck by -- you had -- when you were going through the analysis of how counterfactual history makes sense, you had some rather sensible rules of thumb. and one of those rules is, you have to talk about -- if you're looking at counterfactuals, you have to talk about realistic alternatives. things that were actually debated and politically possible and part of the political discussion. so, for example, more robust aid to anti-assad rebels was debated and was debated within the obama administration. sending american troops to damascus was not. i'm just curious, this is a rather vague question, but it seems to me that that kind of
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question applies to in spades to what were the realistic alternatives to not invading iraq in 2003? that's in a way -- in all of our lives is the big counterfactual and i tend to personally subscribe to the conventional wisdom that you've come to but it might not have been -- it was a difficult task that any administration was going to follow. so i wonder if you would like to say something about whether you've thought about that. go ahead and i'll ask hal a question. >> sure. one alternative that the administration could have -- alternative strategic judgment they could have reached. this is in the late 2001, early 2002 time period when it's clear to them that taliban has fallen and al qaeda is on the run. and so they feel like they have a way forward inside afghanistan. and the question is, what's next
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theater of operations in the war on terror. and there was a strategic debate going on as to the nature of the threat. was the threat the possibility that terrorists would get weapons of mass destruction and that's the most urgent thing that had to be addressed. or was the threat that al qaeda could reconstitute itself by going to another ungoverned area and recreating the infrastructure of weaponizing resentment, which is what they had been able to build inside afghanistan. and it's very understandable why they reached the conclusion that the getting weapons of mass destruction was the most urgent threat. they needed to address it. it's understandable in hindsight that they reached it. it's not implausible that they could have said the
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reconstituting of al qaeda is the more time sensitive one and we need to pursue as al qaeda squirts out to other ungoverned areas whether somali, yemen, the philippines, that maintaining the pressure on al qaeda there is the best way to keep them on their heels. and that we have a little bit of time on the weapons of mass destruction front. it was -- and that's a plausible -- we don't spend a lot of time on that argument in the paper. but i was behi but that was behind some of our thinking. reasonable people could've argued for one or the other of those descriptions of the threat and which one you buy into leads you into a different set of military options. i think it's implausible that the u.s. would have toppled taliban, gone home and be done with the war on terror. that 2002 would have been the
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end of it. but there were other avenues of pressure on al qaeda that they could have pursued. and they might have. and, of course, the other counterfactual there that you can't get away with is what if we had known, had a better accurate picture of what the true state of iraqi wmd was. and if we had known, if we, the u.s. government, had known the true state of iraq's wmd stockpile and programs, circa 2002, then i think it's clear that the administration would not have been in a position to invade iraq. the premise for the invasion would not have been there. the ongoing containment, ongoing sanctions pressure, yes but not invasion. if you don't have the intelligence failure you don't get to the iraqi war. >> thank you. hal, i appreciate both of you working against your -- or arguing against your respective
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administrations, but i want to ask you something about where you land in your critique of the obama administration, which is something we actually discussed in the editorial process on this piece. if i understand you correctly, your strongest critique is that period in terms of politics and the decision in the absence of a status forces agreement to more or less give up. one thing you didn't say in the -- it's interesting that you put them together. i understand how they go together thematically, but they are two distinct failures, if that's what they are. but the other question i would ask is -- i mean, maybe to press you a little bit on the political realism of trying to keep troops in iraq against the
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clear, at least -- the clear public position of the iraqi parliament, this is not to say -- i understand there are arguments that there were different ways of dealing with this problem and understandings and things that might not have required status of forces agreement that would be approved by the iraqi parliament but that's in a sense a political difficulty for the administration that was, as you pointed out, kind of committed to getting out any way. >> just to pile on, there's the further political difficulties that obama very much believed he was elected to get the united states out of wars in the middle east rather than to perpetuate them. i think we would answer this in two ways. first, with respect to the point that i raised about the political difficulty in the united states, the option of leaving 10 to 15,000 troops in iraq was still very much a live one within the administration at least at first.
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certainly we think it doesn't violate the rewrite rule of counterfactual analysis. there were people within the administration that pushed very hard for this. obama himself initially indicated he was open to a 10,000 troop presence before subsequently whittling that down. on the iraqi piece of it, it's complicated. by late 2011, you're right, that most of the major iraqi political figures would not publicly support a residual u.s. presence. but earlier in the process, in late 2010, early 2011, when the soundings were being done by people in baghdad, the basic consensus was that all of iraq's major parties save one would ultimately get behind this and the one was the sawedris block, and that ultimately proved to be
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particularly consequential because of the way that the iraqi government formation process went in 2010 essentially gave the soddress a veto of iraqi public policy because sod res was the king-maker in the coalition. this is a case where a different policy in one counterfactual arguably opens up greater options in another or had we taken a different approach in 2010 we would not have been so politically constraint. even according to what people who worked in the state department and dod have written, maliki was open to a presence of 20,000 american troops. one of the key factuals here is how damaging was it to the u.s. negotiating position that we kept whittling down the numbers so that by the time the position was actually presented to maliki very late in the game in mid-2011 it was 3,000 to 5,000 troops. and at that point, maliki had
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the calculation, was the security benefit from these troops sufficient to offset the offense to iraqi nationalism of having american troops left? and part of the argument that we make, had you made a more robust offer it would've protected his political calculus. >> can i add just one thing? the final deal that the u.s. government rejected at the end of 2011, which was a small stay behind force, 3,000 to 5,000 covered not by a agreement through the parliament but instead with immunity protection guarantee by the exchange of diplomatic notes between maliki's government and the united states. that's exactly the deal that president obama accepted in the summer of 2014 when he went back in. and so it was ruled unacceptable in 2011. and it's understandable. there's a unanimous opposition from u.s. government lawyers.
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in 2011. but when the situation was inex tremis in 2014, we sent u.s. troops back in without any greater diplomatic immunity than what was offered in 2011. so in terms of counterfactuals, it's rare that you debt something -- a slam dunk case like that. but it's clearly obvious that it was an acceptable deal. president obama accepted it in the summer of 2014. >> it was an acceptable deal if they had appreciated and for seen the consequences. >> right -- >> they realized how important it was in 2014 to be sure. it would've taken more courage to do it in 2011 but it was doable. >> thank you. okay. can i ask anyone who takes the floor to please identify themselves? yes. >> chief crane. super defense analysis. >> i'm sorry. we have paraphernalia right there.
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>> keith crane. you're doing an excellent job of of recreating history. one of the problems we have both in the united kingdom and the states, we think we have more ability to affect what happens on the ground, iraq of course is a complicated society. do you really think that the united states -- you know, in essence iran had to have a big role in terms of pushing maliki out. we saw maliki become more and more iraqi in terms of purging people. he purged the officer corps. do you think if the u.s. had stayed he could have pushed out maliki? because by the time 2014 came around, he was definitely full-blown, you know, trying to purge people, sunnis especially,
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from his government? >> i'll offer -- [ inaudible ] when we run through the expected benefits of a stay behind presence after 2011, most of them are essentially military in nature, more aggressive ct targeting, better logistics and sustainment for the iraqi security forces. more insight into how much isf had deteriorated. the one where we say this is plausible but we're not sure it's a slam dunk is the argument that a u.s. presence probably would not have succeeded in getting rid of maliki. the opportunity for that was 2010, not 2011. but that it might have affected the psychology of iraqi politics in a beneficial way. in the sense that what the united states did with some degree of success between about 2007, 2008, 2010, was act as the provider of security that
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allowed iraqis to take a less zero sum approach to politics. you saw deals being cut. and a more inclusive approach to governance at the end of the bush period, the beginning of the obama period. than you had in other cases. so one of the counterfactuals is perhaps you would've had some residue of that had the united states essentially stayed as a buffer between the various iraqi factions. it's hard to say that this one is a slam dunk knowing what we subsequently know about maliki but given the consequences of not trying, i think the you would argue that there was a benefit in giving this one a shot. >> i'd add two more points. one is that we do have some quasi natural experiment. we have maliki under three different conditions. maliki 2007 to 2009, 2009 to 2011, 2012 on. 2012 on, that maliki's the worse of all.
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maliki 2009 to 2011, not nearly as good from our point of view as seven to nine. same iraqi leader but very different performance. when he can count on u.s. commitment, we get a different performance from him. also we have 150,000 troops, it's a lot of leverage that we have, but nevertheless there's a different maliki 2007 to 2009 than we saw even in the '09 to '11 time period. i think it's reasonable to believe that a u.s. stay behind force would've adjusted his calculation somewhat and maybe the calculation of some of the other iraqi leaders. but as to how -- pointed out, our argument doesn't hinge on that being the long pole in the tent. the other point i'll make the scope condition for our article was changes in u.s. policy.
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obviously if we could change maliki's policy we could tell a totally different story, change assad's policy, a totally different story. we're writing narrowly from the parochial perspective of american foreign policy. what good american foreign policymakers did. and these are the levers they have at their disposal. would moving these levers affect it. and maybe not as much as the local actors, but enough to matter. >> just one other thing briefly. one of the issues we try to address in the paper but we acknowledge quite frankly there's a limit to which we could do it, every time you change u.s. policy presumably other actors change their responses too. and so it is possible that in response to a u.s. stay behind presence, iran tells the shia paramilitary forces, popular militarization forces to start taking pot shots at american soldiers and then the united states is confronted with the decision, do you amp up your force protection elements or do you hunker down or what?
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we think that we dispose of this particular one in a satisfying way but we're alert to the fact that every time you change one thing a lot of things change. there's just a limit to how much one can capture that. in any counter factual analysis. >> that was exactly the question i was about to ask. because it's not just iraqi actors, but iranian actors. you, sir, in the middle here. >> roy gutman. i'm a freelance journalist. i was in baghdad the day that the decision came down not to make the deal with maliki and i was working so i thought from everything i could see that the deal was there to be made and it could have been along the lines of what you're saying but i have no proof and i have to say personally, i welcome every bit of evidence you produce today that there could have been a deal. i think it's truly a important contribution to the discussion.
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i have -- i've been focusing on syria myself for the last several years. and i was wondering whether in your research if you have come upon the pattern that the free syrian army leadership -- at one point they had a general staff. they had something of a structure. actually had proposals for dealing with isis. it would have been in the year 2014 i think, early part of the year, maybe even late 2013, that they wanted to produce -- they wanted to present but they couldn't get a hearing in the obama administration. and i talked to several commanders who told me -- and the then chief of staff who said they had a plan, and the obama administration wasn't interested. second question concerns assad. from your research, what do you think is his role in the rise of isis? after all, he had an intimate
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connection with the aqi during its heyday and after. when i was there in 2011, i remember getting military briefings that all the money, all the direction, all the leadership, in fact, for the games running mosul was coming from syria. and then, obviously, after -- after the uprising began, assad benefited greatly from the rise of isis. and if you look at the fall of cities like raqqa and other places you have to ask, did assad have a hidden hand? i'm just curious, you know, whether -- you make an assertion that ramping up the free syrian army would not have helped, but might it have actually stopped the rise of isis? >> i'll say a few words. i think that it would've perhaps placed some of the more modern elements in syria in a better
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position to respond to the rise of isis so that the power imbalance between those groups would not have been pronounced as it was particularly in 2013, 2014 which is when isis really began to metastasize in syria. and to gobble up territory. that said, i think that one of the tragedies is here is one of timing in the sense that the best opportunity to really strengthen the syrian moderates such as they were was earlier. in 2011 and 2012. and to be clear, i'm not arguing that this would have been decisive, but probably would have been more the other direction. by 2014 the balance of military power and the balance of ideological sway within the anti-assad forces in syria had shifted to the extremist and to al-nusra front and to isis.
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and so empowering the syrian opposition to really go after isis at that point would have been a much tougher hurdle. we discovered later in 2014 when we tried it. with respect to assad's role, i think you flagged a very important piece of it which is often forgotten which is the syrian role in fostering aqi back during the days of the iraqi war. there's two other elements as well. assad more than anyone else provided the conditions in which a movement built on radicalized sunnis could foster in syria in two respects. the first respect was that the repression that the assad regime brought down on the sunni population was a godsend from the perspective not just of isis but of other extremist groups but also that the civil war led to failures of governance throughout much of syria and created the conditions in which groups like isis could seize territory, in which they could establish training camps they
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could do all the things that extremist organizations need to do in order to flourish. >> the only point i'd add is that it was very much in assad's interest in 2011 for the choice to be assad or isis or the extremist and that they both sides had an incentive to kill the moderates who would have been the likely ones that the u.s. could have plausible worked with. and to that extent, he was, if not directly coordinated with isis, he was operating in a fashion that was in tandem with what they were doing. which minimized obama's options in the middle. >> here in the second row. >> i'm dave. i'm retired at this point. you mentioned about the tenacity of assad. and so i wanted to ask the
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question, where did you think that statement came from, from the legacy of his father or from watching the failure in libya and egypt, the other leaders? that's basically the heart of that question. >> i don't have any special insight into assad's mind set but i would think that there are two factors that were insufficiently appreciated that made him cling to power more successfully and tenaciously than we expected. the first was simply the nature of the regime. this was -- a minority regime in a sunni dominated country so i think there was fear on the part of assad and particularly those around him that if he wins it would open the flood gates to revenge killings and basically sectarian cleansing against the community and that may have been reasonable fear. the second part is i think that i would imagine that assad observed very closely what happened to gaddafi in 2011.
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that he observed that it was very hard to think of what the safe exit plan was for a dictator like him. ca and particularly after it became clear that he was international pariah there was very few places he could go externally. it became a life or death struggle for him. [ inaudible ] >> it's hard for dictators to go sit on the french rivera any more. >> yes, in the second to last row right there. >> heather hillbert from new america. let me congratulate you both. this is a really stimulating and interesting conversation. i have two questions. first i'd like to hear about the counterfactuals that you chose not to pursue. the two that jump out at me are [ inaudible ] and are there ways that the sunni awakening surge were handled.
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and second, how this may -- a couple of times, in discussing the cases that you had, you said, well, this wouldn't have produced improvements for civilian but ultimately it wouldn't have been worth it. in ten years they'll be sitting back here whether the rise of the post isis terror group from that corner of the world was inevitable and whether it goes to either a decade against syria or mosul. so i just wanted you to unpack your assumptions a little bit more about the relationship of scope of civilian harm to u.n. security. >> so the -- we do look at the decision not to pay the iraqi security forces for that crucial month, six weeks, before they decided no, we're going to keep paying them and reconstitute. but in that crucial window.
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and that's under a whole basket of if we had managed that phase four more effectively particularly in the first six months or so could we have gotten a different outcome. and we list a number of things that could have gone another way, but didn't. so we look at that as under the umbrella of either don't invade or if you do invade, have it go better. and this is an area where we had a little bit of a disagreement. a riff of ten things that could've tripped the other way, ten decisions that could have been made slightly different way and i think if you make all of those ten the other way then you might be in a different place in iraq 2003, summer of 2003 and how reminded me that that violated our criteria that we have put up front that says we'll only do minimum changes not maximum changes. that's still to be written in some other piece at some point when i get out from underneath his thumb.
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it's funny you mention the surge. i -- we did propose that we would do surge as the fifth one. we weren't sure how much survival would let us keep writing longer things. i wanted to include it to show that we did make some choices that if we hadn't made it could have gotten even worse. there's a negative bias in our analysis. we looked at four things -- decisions that may have turned produced negative consequences. what about a decision that we took that produced positive consequences for the story, but might not have been taken and if we hadn't, what would've happened? if we carried out that analysis we would have looked at the point you raise which is sunni awakening had within it some negative elements of it, but those were minor compared to what would've happened if we had been defeated in iraq 2006,
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2007. so we got the collapse of the iraqi state and the iraqi security forces that we saw in 2014 but on the heels of the u.s. defeat and with the option of the u.s. coming back in in the summer of 2014 to rectify the situation, with that option off the table because we had just been defeated. had we not done the surge i think it's likely our analysis would show as my guess would show that isis -- the rise of isis might have been even worse and might come even sooner because of the chaos that would have reined inside iraq. >> i think the point you raise is very important and i certainly don't mean in my language to imply that civilian protection is an unimportant objective but the point i was making was simply that given that the scope of our analysis was would this have prevented the rise of isis we looked at
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that as essentially ancillary benefit. there's a separate question and i think this is related but distinct to the one we asked, which is that should the united states have intervened in syria in a more significant way for whatever reason, whether to block the rise of isis, to prevent harm to civilians, to prevent the emergence of a failed state. we haven't done the same depth of analysis we have done on these other things so i'm shooting from the hip a little bit here. but my basic answer is that i think it's a very close call, simply because the difficulties of doing so would have been enormous. we looked at all these options many times and decided that the difficulties were too severe but the flip side of that is the consequences of nonintervention or insufficient intervention in syria have been an order of magnitude worse than anyone imagined back in 2011, 2012 not just in terms of civilian harm but in terms of destabilization of the region, the europe
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politically, reentry of russian military power into the middle east in a significant way and so i'm not quite ready to buy into but i'm at least somewhat sympathetic to the argument that if you add up all of those horrible costs of nonintervention there's a case to be made on separate grounds for doing more in syria. >> right here in the second row. >> paul smith, council on foreign relations. most people understand that the rise of insurgent organizations have a lot to do with the charisma of individuals, and the organizing skills of their leaders and i was struck reading that there was very little discussion of how baghdadi and i'm not even surely his name is mentioned anywhere, which is surprising.
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so the question is was there ever a time when he became a quote, person of interest and we might have taken him out which then presumably would have had a larger effect on the rise of isis. and was that a larger intelligence failure on our part. that we might have affected the dynamics of the rise of isis by taking out its principle leader. at a critical moment. >> he's been killed so many times by things, how do we know he wouldn't have risen from the dead yet again? so there is, as you know, a lively debate about how much strategic effect you get from decapitation. and we have argued about this, but not in this piece. my view is that it's clearly not a silver bullet. obviously, it's not, but any concert with other activities, it's -- it can have a strategic effect.
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but by itself, it doesn't have a strategic effect. and if you overrely on that and ignore the other lines of action, then you don't have an effective overall strategy. so this piece was more of looking at all the rest of the stuff, setting aside the decapitation. you know, that's the kind of -- unfair to your question, but some earlier ones is what gave the counterfactual history a bad name. what if hitler had been strangled in the cradle? then what would have happened? we're trying to avoid those kinds of echoes or comparisons. >> the only thing i would add is that i don't think it's a stretch to suggest that u.s. intervention against isis in 2014 could have had significant earlier in 2014, late 2013, early 2014, could have had significant military effects. but given how hard we have been trying to find this guy and kill
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him since mid-2014 with a lack of apparent success, it may be that even if we had appreciated precisely how important he was, we would have struggled to locate and finish him. >> in the front row. >> yeah. independent tv producer. in light of the fact that the isis leadership was a one-time confined in one of our prisons, that our good friends in the persian gulf were instrumental in financing isis that our ally nato, turkey, allows free passage of islamic fighters to the battleground and on at least one occasion, we dropped weapons meant for the iraqi army, and at least on two occasions bombed the syrian army while they were engaged in battle with isis, doesn't the circumstantial evidence suggest that the united states' role in the rise of isis might have been more direct than simply setting the scene?
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it wouldn't be the first time we used islamic extremists in pursuit of our very secular aims. >> no, i don't find that plausible at all. i don't think that the u.s. was directly trying to create isis as an arm to be used for some other strategy. and i think the incubation of isis in the prisons which you flagged was more an unintended consequence of bad detainee policy, a bad incarceration policy, than it was a deliberate intended result. so that's why our story is more of a tragedy than it is, you know, a crime story. because what happened was not what the presidents wanted to happen and it was not the intended result of the policy choices that were made.
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but we argue that at least in some cases, alternative policy choices which could have been taken would have produced a less tragic result. >> anything you want to add? >> one thing. i think the point i heard we made very clearly in the paper is these were all decisions that were taken by people of good will and good intentions who were trying to deal with extremely difficult problems. and it's entirely proper to go back and criticize, to say that we think this might have done better, this might have been a better course, but it's also important in doing this to be empathetic to the dilemmas these folks found themselves in where they could not see the future. they had to guess about what outcomes their policies would bring. that's a methodological about doing counterfactual history in the first place. it's an important endeavor and i think one that sheds light on this and other policy issues. but the fact that that piece of empathy has to be kept in line.
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>> right here. same row. in the corner. >> hi. my question is, how do the kurds find this -- >> they play multiple roles. they're more for the sections that hal described. they weren't the key factor that was shaping u.s. decisionmaking in 2002-2003. the success of the ypg against isis makes complicated one of the pieces that hal's described. because one of the problems with the 2011 scenario was who could we have armed that would have been effective against isis? and it was the president
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himself, i think, memorably said look, these are bakers and doctors and dentists. they're not fighters, so who could we have armed? in turns out we found a very, very effective paramilitary force in the ypg, the syrian-based kurds. and that combined with the u.s. enablers and special forces units, that became the lethal arm that broke isis' back in eastern syria. and had there been something like that available in 2011, had they been able to see there was something like that available, maybe our analysis would have been different. but that's an article. that's a harder call. >> it is. and particularly because when we really leapt in behind the ypg in 2014-2015, it was in the context of a counter-isis
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campaign. whereas when we were thinking about aiding rebel factions in 2011-2012, particularly 2012, it was not in the context of we want you to go kill extremists. it was in the context of, are these people fighting against assad? and there was not the hostility between the ypg and assad regime that would have made that partnership viable in that context in 2012. the other thing i think it's important to keep in mind is that the u.s. decision to support the ypg was incredibly controversial diplomatically. and it was incredibly controversial internally because this is basically turkey's al qaeda. right? and turkey's perspective, these guys are the terrorist groups that they are most worried about. so i think it really took the shock of isis overrunning most of eastern syria as well as the
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big swath of iraq to push the obama administration or any american administration to take that step which came at a pretty significant cost in u.s. relations with turkey. the only other thing i would say about the kurds is that the kurds play a big role in their vulnerability at least in precipitating u.s. intervention against isis in -- starting in august 2014. in partner, , it was the threat baghdad, but the immediate strikes in august 2014 were at least taken in part because we were very worried about the vulnerability of the krg area in iraq and particularly erbil. so it was less of a stretch to intervene on behalf of the kurds who had generally behaved well from our perspective than it was to intervene on behalf of the maliki government. and indeed, this is when we were insisting that maliki step aside before we entered the fray on behalf of his government. >> yes.
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>> i would like to ask about the elephant in the room, which is on tv but they are still al qaeda. they're no less dangerous than isis. once isis is gone, most likely the left overs are going to join whatever you call it. and then the question is kurds are going to fight them. the only people who fight them so far are russians and syrian army. what about them? how do you think it's going to
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be repetition of remedy? or it's going to be harder not to crack? thank you. >> quick response. this payback's on heather's question and goes well beyond the scope of this article. but it gets to the other article we wrote around the same time, which is what's next on the war on terror? and we weigh the different choices that the trump administration is facing and really reverse engineering some of the decisions that were made late in the obama administration saying now they're up for grabs in the trump administration. and we conclude, along with you i think, that it's unreasonable to expect that the problem will go away once isis is defeated. that isis is a manifestation of a deeper problem that will still have to be addressed even after isis is defeated and whether it
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will be java or some other son of isis, there will still be a network that has to be confronted and that's why we identified the pros and cons of different choices that administration could take and decide the least worse one is something that's a continuation of what we saw late in the obama administration. kind of a light to medium footprint of kinetic forward engagement in the region. >> i think that's widely right and mostly took what i was going to say. but the other point is it depends a little bit on what they do. so if they continue with esengs that he will modern day version of the popular front strategy, which is integrating themselves deeper to the syrian opposition and basically focusing on establishing political military
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power within syria, that's still one type of problem. if they really focus on developing external operations in the ways we've seen some indications so far, then that's a much more serious problem and the decision they make will in turn effect the decisions we make. >> well, it has to do with a lot of things involving what is the political end-game in syria. we don't have answers for. the degree to which it's any type of extremists organization that has control over a significant amount of territory and population is properly deemed a threat by the united states, especially when that organization has shown indications of being able to willing to carry out external operations. the extent to which they prioritize the operations will naturally have a significant
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impact on how great the threat is perceived to be by american policy makers. >> anyone else? one more question. last question. wait for the microphone. >> in longview, what is america's vested interest in keeping alnursau at bay? without trusting somewhat not so trustworthy arab allies and keeping them down? >> so i think the vested interest is preventing the sort of situation you had in afghanistan prior to 9/11. where you have a capable and globally inclined terrorist group able to operate relatively freely because of the absence of
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effective governing authority. now, there's a good question to be asked as to what level of resources we ought to devote to preventing that occurrence. if we're going to take the 160,000 troops indefinitely in every situation, then i'm not sure that the calculation would be worth it. but if you believe, as we argue in this other paper that you can actually mitigate the worst aspects of safe havens and external plauding with a light to medium footfootprint, which basically robust air campaigns coupled with forces and troops on the ground where the number of deploys is in the 10s of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands. then there's a stronger case to be made that that's justified
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for that type of expenditure. >> i started with this session by saying with some pride this is a truly excellent article and there's more of this thoughtfulness and seriousness and sobriety, i should say, in the article. so i recommend it to all of you. it's the free article online in the june/july issue of survival. meanwhile, please thank me in thanking our speakers. >> thank you.
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>> i think our leadership does a tremendous job but i think we have this depth in our caucus and i think it's time to pass the torch to a new generation of leaders. i want to see that happen. i think that we have too many really great members here that don't always get the tupts that they should and i would like to see that change. >> would nancy pelosi win a caucus leadership fight right now if she were challenged? >> i don't know. there are lot of members in our
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caucus and again everybody has their opinion. i don't know what the answer is. >> but by saying it's time for a generational change, what your suggest esesting is win or lose next year it's time for her to go? >> i don't want to single her out. >> jim cliburn, all three of them perhaps. >> i think it's time to pass the torch to a new generation. they're all of the same generation and their contributions to the congress and caucus are substantial but i think there come as time when you need pass that torch and i think it's time.
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