tv Discussion on Middle East Policy Under Biden Presidency CSPAN November 16, 2020 5:26pm-6:31pm EST
results of the november election will shape the next congress. watch c-span's "washington journal" live at 7:00 a.m. eastern tuesday morning and be sure to join the discussion with your phone calls, facebook comment, text messages and weets. >> tuesday, twitter's c.e.o. jack dorsey and facebook c.e.o. mark zummerburg testify about allegations that their -- zuck -- mark zuckerbergerburg testify about allegations that their companies -- mark zuckerberg testify about allegations that their mpanies censored information on the election. >> up next, former ambassadors and foreign policy experts discuss the incoming biden administration and its impact on middle east policy. we hear about u.s. relations with turkey and lebanon and
peace deals. here's a look. jerry: good morning and welcome. i'm pleased to welcome you all to today's event, election 2020, president-elect joseph biden. following a contentious u.s. election, joe biden will be the next president of the united states. leaders in the middle east have mixed emotions about that result, especially those who have prospered throughout donald trump's presidency.
the entire region undoubtedly will be following the biden team closely as it articulates its policy leading up to the inauguration in january. while there is a theory that the new administration focused on domestic problems needs to push back against major challenges from china will want to put the middle east on the back burner but it is not clear they can succeed. major questions about the u.s. approach to the ongoing in -- conflicts in syria, tensions with saudi arabia and turkey and what to do about israel and the palestinians will confront vice president -- resident elected biden whether or not he seeks -- president-elect biden whether or not he seeks them out. first, i am pleased to welcome he president of nei. -- the president of m.e.i. and a leading scholar of middle east afarlse. in his academic work, paul has focused on issues of political change, transition and conflict, as well as regional and international relations in the middle east region. next i would like to welcome
the senior fellow of the turkey program and senior fellow with nei's frontier europe initiative. she has written extensively on u.s.-turkey relations, turkish domestic politics and foreign policy and the kurdish issue. finally, i would like to welcome general joseph votel. he is a distinguished fellow at the middle east institute. and the president and c.e.o. of business executives for national security, bens. he retired from the u.s. army in 2019 after an illustrious 40 year career in which he held a variety of leadership positions including commanding general of the special operations command from 2014 to 2016 and of the central command from 2016 to 019. today's webinar is the fourth
in a series of events we have held. to elaborate on our perspectives on the challenges and opportunities for the next administration. for those interested in taking a deeper dive into our analyses, the full series is posted online. you can find a link to the book often the m.e.i. web page and the chat box if you're joining us on zoom. i look forward to taking audience questions throughout zoom's q&a feature, which you can also find on your screens. for those calling in by phone or watching our panel on the live stream, you can ask a estion by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. if you are having technical issues you can also use the email. email@example.com dumbings. -- firstname.lastname@example.org. feel free to ask a question at any time. i will be looking at all your questions and will factor as many as possible into the discussions.
with that, we'll begin. i've asked each of our panelist to give a brief overview of their ideas to prompt this question. -- our discussion. let me begin with you paul. if you could provide a little bit of an overview as you see the region and over the next four years. paul: thank you, jerry. it's good to be with everyone and welcome the audience to this discussion. let me say a few things leading up to the inauguration that should happen on january 20. one is the electoral event itself in the u.s. resonates in the middle east. america has been the leading democracy in the world for two centuries and in the middle east since the late 19th century up until yesterday was still combating or struggleling over the issue of what's the best political system. should it be a form of onarchical authoritarianism,
or military authoritarianism, should it be an islamic system or should it be a democracy? these are real issues particularly among the populations of the middle east. president trump has been somewhat of an opponent of the institutions and values of democracy and a free press so there was a time when that american example was really taking a beating around the world but also in the middle east. i think the election of joe biden is somewhat of a restation of the course of democracy in the united states. t remains fragile but it gives encouragement to those in the middle east who believe that democracy is the future rather than authoritarianism or some sort of islamic government. secondly i think it is important to note that obviously president trump still has nine weeks left in his administration and might do dramatic things in the middle ast.
this could relate to iran, whether it is more sanctions. or some form of escalation. could be sudden troop withdrawals from countries like afghanistan or iraq and syria. or something else that we and hence joe biden might be met with more surprises a few weeks from now. another factor is the senate looks to be under republican hands. it is likely to go in that direction but it is not certain. if the republicans retain control of the senate that means president biden will have to find common ground with senate leadership certainly on some domestic issues. but probably on some foreign policy issues as well. mr. hensarling: that will affect his foreign policy. having said that, one notes also that the u.s., two big picture issues, as you
mentioned, jerry, the u.s. during this election cycle is going through a once in a century pandemic, the biggest economic contraction since the great depression, so much of the administration and the voters will be focused on domestic issues. when it comes to foreign policy issues, the middle east is in the back of the queue. there are some global foreign policy issues like going back into the climate change agreement, rebuilding trade p.a.c.'s, rebuilding traditional allies in europe and asia and restoring america's presence in the u.n. and multilateralism and in a more direct sense a focus on competition with ussia and china. when you look at the democratic party platform, the middle east is the very last paragraph of the very last page. so maybe that's not a coincidence. so it's not necessarily going to be a high priority.
having said that, the u.s. has continuing and enduring interests in the middle east that have not changed much from obama to rump to biden. those continue to be the free flow of energy from the region to global markets as well as general trade routes remaining open. it is continued focus on countering weapons of nilemass destruction, a continued focus on counterterrorism, as -- weapons of mass destruction, a continued focus on counterterrorism, as well as a great power competition with russia and china. those are not going away. the u.s. might reduce its footprint in the middle east ut it is not turning away. in terms of policy there is some change but much ontinuity. the area where we might see the most changes between trump and
iden is on the iran policy but obviously biden would want to go back or forward. into the nuclear deal with iran. would want to renegotiate some aspects of it. he certainly wants to get back into the general perspective of the nuclear agreement and get a negotiating track with iran. we can talk about that later. on israel-palestine, he welcomed the peace agreements between israel and three arab countries and would certainly want to encourage more. he will resume talks with the palestinian and israel there and press them to resume ilateral negotiations. on counterterrorism, there is no magic bullet, no secret sauce. there will not be any dramatic
changes there unless trump implements them. on weapons of mass destruction he has a different approach to iran's nuclear program. iran has now much more nuclear material than it had before trump withdrew from the agreement. in a more general sense, i think the biden administration will foreground diplomacy and looking for solutions not just pressure. -- solutions, not just pressure and threats. the biden administration will lean on allies and multilateralism, bringing more players around the table rather than going it alone. and i think a biden administration will foreground two things. one is sort of social health and economic issues. because certainly the region is going through also a great pandemic and a great economic contraction. and i think a biden administration will be more interesting of that. and will be alert to socioeconomic issues.
to end with this because i started with democracy as an important dynamic, the biden administration will foreground issues of human rights, civil society, political participation, good government and the right of people to express themselves, to choose their leaders, hold them accountable. it will do that in a diplomatic way. that will be back on the table with a biden administration. those are my thoughts. thanks, jerry. jerry: thank you, paul. let's turn next to general votel. for his thoughts about one aspect that you touched on, paul, and that was the security and military environment that would include c.t., that would certainly include our approach to iran. afghanistan is also something that is on the front burner as far as the administration is
concerned. joe, if you could talk about how you see the biden administration developing on the military and security side. joe: i think the question at hand here is the future of u.s. military presence in the egion. let me talk about this. first is the notion of ongoing operations. what i am talking about is afghanistan, iraq and syria as a separate set. afghanistan as everyone knows we are at a point here where there are ongoing reconciliation talks there, not progressing as fast as anybody would want them to do. but they are in process. this has been the object of president trump's a strategy for the last three years, get
to a reconciliation between the overnment and the taliban. what we have seen is some discussion of whether there might be an immediate withdrawal. right now somewhere in the range of 5000 u.s. troops on the ground, further reductions of this dependent upon progress in the talks but some indication from the current administration that by next spring it would again be -- it would be lower in terms of this. also in consideration is the status of our nato-led coalition. this is a consideration that needs to be looked at. and of course the long-term u.s.-c.t. interests in afghanistan. afghanistan does remain a location where there is the presence of a number of terrorist organizations. so this would be something that we will continue to look at. looking across at iraq and
syria, here we see about the president same number of troops on the ground who are continuing to provide assistance to the iraqi security forces and syrian democratic forces. they continue the consolidation of the campaign against isis and continue to provide security in the areas in which we have had the greatest amount f influence. also at stake is regional instability. we have to remember what brought us back to iraq in 2014 was the outflow of instability that came out of this region that impacted our interests in other areas. and imposed greater threats to the country. iraq, of course, and to some extent the influence in syria is a leverage against iran and that's been an important consideration for us. and again, there are u.s.-c.t. interests here. did this aspect of ongoing operations will have to be -- the second bin i would highlight is iran itself.
paul talked a little bit about this. the approaches of the trump administration and the previous obama administration could not be more different. pressure campaign versus focus on jcpoa and a more diplomatic open dialogue approach here. there are very significant differences. there has been a build up to ome extent of additional conventional forces and other forces in the region that are designed to support the pressure campaign. sustainment of this comes at a cost to the readiness of our military forces and our desire to do things in other areas. of course the recent agreements between israel and some of the gulf arab nations offers an opportunity here for more pressure against iran in the egion.
this will be the second group of areas the administration will want to look at. third will be power competition. as all of our viewers i'm sure are aware, great power competition is the main element of our current national defense strategy, maintaining our competitive advantage against china. -- against great power actors such as china. this area has seen persistent encroachment from china, russia, from others trying to exert their own influences on the area. it goes without saying the iddle east will be an area where we will need to compete to one extent or another whether militarily or in one of the other domains of national power. certainly an area we have to look at. that will mean looking at things like security assistance, etc.. -- assistance programs, foreign military sales, etc. in this area we have some of the largest programs within the u.s. government that exist.
now the potential for f-35's to go to some of the countries like the uae, this is an important consideration. for the new administration stepping into this first and oremost they obviously have to open it for a reasonable and inclusive transition. that has not materialized yet. hopefully there will be an pportunity once we settled the politics of the current election. it will be important for the new administration stepping forward to be ready to articulate interests and priorities in the region. i think this will be what many partners will be listening for. first and foremost will be the nuclear proliferation interests here. as paul highlighted iran is in a different place now than they
were a couple years ago. this will have to be addressed. we'll have to look at that. second will be protecting the homeland, our concern of terrorist organizations in the rea. preserving our influence in the region, this will be part of the competition. as we confront other actors preventing instability from flowing out of the region, preserving access to resources for us and for some of our artners. these will be interests the new administration -- long, enduring interests the administration will have to address. as paul indicated and i do agree, there will be a heavy emphasis on the diplomatic side. i expect and strongly encourage they talk to partners in and out of the region and return the dialogue
to something more normal and more expected of u.s. interaction in the region. this will be important in reassuring our partners in and out of the region of our strategic reliability. there is an element of continuity in our approach and their considerations will be brought into this. it is important the new administration not dismiss what has happened. there are elements to build upon from a security standpoint. certainly the fact the taliban and the government of afghanistan are talking to some extent is something that ought to be built on and it's a fact of the region. the death of soleimani came largely as a result of his own malfeasance over a long period of time. this sent a strong message to the region and may offer an
opportunity for the new administration to leverage that as they look to the new -- different or new approach owards iran. the open normalization of relations does provide an opportunity to build on with this. this is, regardless of how you particularly view this, this is -- does have a stabilizing effect on a region that struggles with stability. so it should from a security standpoint, should be something we build on. finally, we have had success in our c.t. campaigns. both against al qaeda and against isis. neither of these groups are completely gone and they can come back but the approaches we have taken and the work that has been done has kept them well suppressed and kept them off of our shores.
and largely off of that of our allies. we need to build on these sex r successes we've had in the past. jerry, i'll stop there. jerry: thank you so much, joe. our next urn to speaker to talk about how turkey fits into this larger picture that paul and joe have lined out. turkey is clearly going to be an important player on many of these issues including energy, the whole issue of the region, -- broader relationships in the region, civil conflict and a number of tates in the region as well as the challenges of the u.s.-turkey relationship itself. please. >> thank you. good to be with you this morning. i'll start with the loss for the turkey-u.s. relations.
there is a lot of anxiety in the outcome of the u.s. elections. resident erdogan was among the first world leads that are congratulated president-elect biden. you look at the trump administration. while trump could not fix all of our problems, erdogan could still pick up the phone and reach to a u.s. president directly to ask for favors. and president trump went the extra mile to shield erdogan from congressional sanctions over turkish purchase of the russian x-400 missile defense system d derailed the indictment of state-owned -- [indiscernible] -- which is being accused of helping iran evade american sanctions by american prosecutors. so those days are gone. i do not think biden will be
above taking punitive measures against erdogan. old core adopting an ottawa approach -- carrot approach. i do think we will see a stronger pushback from a biden white house against turkey when it runs counter to u.s. interests. i think, as this has been highlighted, i think biden's approach to foreign policy in general and turkey in particular will be an -- a mix of principle and pragmatism. let's remember biden was part of the realist wing of the administration on the middle east. although it's true that many of biden's advisors served in government during the obama administration, and they were left with a sour taste for turkey, from erdogan's behavior, from dragging his feet in the fight against isis,
to attacking kurds both in turkey and in syria, but there will certainly be those in the biden team who will think being too harsh on turkey or completely disregarding its interests in the region will push erdogan closer to putin and benefit russia. this is, i think, what i think a biden policy vis-à-vis turkey will look like -- no more blank checks for erdogan. clamping down on the kurds and on opposition and the media. we can expect the biden administration to be a lot more vocal about violations of global law and human rights in turkey. i think biden will take a tougher approach to the x-400 issue as well. as you norks turkey's purchase of the s-400 violates u.s. law. specifically the counting
america's adversaries through caatsa, which mandates penalties on those countries who make purchases of russian arms. trump has refused to implement those sanctions. this involves turkey which recently test fired the system. i think biden will impose those sanctions. but remember he has a range of options, from symbolic to severe financial measures. i don't think biden will want to destroy turk i, economy. he's like ly to pick less very veer -- he's likely to pick less severe options. even those will have significant psychological affect on the markets and on investers in turkey. looking at some of the policies biden might pursue in the region, vis-a-vis russia, i see both challenges and opportunity for turkey-u.s. relations.
biden is expected to work to strengthen nato, to check russian adventurism, and that requires not only preventing turkey from operationalizing the russian s-400 but also addressing the deepening cracks within nato. due to turkey's policies in the eastern mediterranean. turkey's overhead with france and greece over maritime and exploration rights in the region, and even the trump administration has been very critical of what it saw as turkey's aggressive approach in the region. i think we can expect a tougher approach from the biden administration there. but biden's efforts to curb russian influence might also offer opportunities for cooperation. biden will probably ramp up support for countries like ukraine and georgia to push back at russia, to help them
improve their ability to extend -- with stand russian pressure and that's an area where turkey and the u.s.c. cooperate. turkey has been cultivating ties with ukraine and has supported nato enlargement in the region to include georgia. so that's an area where the two countries can cooperate. another important foreign policy item that presents challenges and opportunities for both countries is syria. the u.s. military presence in syria will remain and it could mean a stronger u.s. push to include the syrian kurds in geneva. -- nunn-brokered talks in geneva. -- in u.n.-brokered talks in geneva. that has always been a major problem in turkey-u.s. relations and will continue to poison the tie. that does not mean that turkey and the u.s. cannot cooperate
in syria. turkey's presence in england, for example, and support for the anti-regime forces there have prevented a regime takeover and other major refugee flow. that is an outcome that the u.s. can be pleased to see. the biden administration will want to help and support turkey's operations in -- there. turkey also has a military presence in libya, to support the tripoli government, against eastern forces. the u.s. has largely remained on the sidelines there. i doubt biden will want to pursue a more muscular approach. but also there's a diplomatic rocess on the way.
i think libya could be another sphere where turkey and u.s. interests clash. i know i am running out of time. the the days where they see each other as strategic allies are long gone. a partnership based on shared values is not possible. that is something that the biden administration says it will seek to do. a partnership based on shared values is not possible as long s erdogan is in power. the countries will cooperate, but it will be on a case-by-case basis, and i think this will be the approach of the biden administration vis-a-vis turkey. and i'll end it there. jerry: thank you so much. let me come back to a question -- actually there is one country that touches -- actually, several countries, but one country in particular that touches on all of the
issues that the three of you have talked about, and that is saudi arabia. so one of the big questions -- nd of course, we know that the saudis did not really do much to hide their disappointment over the outcome of the election. saudi leadership was one of the last to congratulate the trump -- the biden team on their victory. there are a number of issues that are coming up on the agenda that are going to touch u.s.-saudi relations. there is the question about human rights and civil liberties inside of saudi arabia, domestic affairs, the murder of jamal khashoggi. there is the conflict in yemen. at the same time, there are also enduring interests. paul, you touched on energy as being still at the heart of u.s.
regional policies, definitely going to be the case for at least the next four to eight years. there is also the question of great power competition, and there is a lot of discussion about, will the biden administration decide to cut off arms sales to saudi arabia, for example, or at least limit them, as the obama administration did in 2016? will they go back? will they stop selling precision-guided munitions, in particular? but will it open the door to greater russian and chinese ngagement? would the saudis, in frustration, turn to russian arms sales or chinese arms sales as an alternative to u.s.? and what does that mean for larger u.s. objectives? so there is a lot that is going on in saudi arabia that is pulling the biden administration or the biden team in different directions. how would you try to balance hose issues?
where is the sweet spot, if you will, in terms of our relationship with saudi arabia going forward? paul: thanks, jerry. i do not know if one could call it a sweet spot, but rather, an unsteady balance between, kind of, interests and differences that ends up in a certain place. what do i mean by that? ertainly, they have been dismayed by the outcome of the election, as some number of us mentioned. you, i think, in your introduction said a number of eaders have been dismayed. we have talked about president erdogan. that certainly applies to the leadership in saudi arabia, the king and crown prince. we do not forget that, surprisingly, president trump,
who ran an electoral campaign bashing islam and muslims, his first foreign trip was to saudi arabia to cement that relationship with the leadership there. certainly, there is dismay. during the meantime, there was the killing of khashoggi and the escalation of the war in yemen. . also prime minister netanyahu in lenged president obama congress, they put all the egg -one basket to get trump elected i think president of egypt, as well, got a pass, a warm reception from president trump. i do not think that warmth will be there.
having said that, united states, as all of us are saying, end of the day, is driven by interests and sort of heavy concerns. in saudi arabia and in the gulf general, saudi arabia remains the swing producer of energy, even if hydrocarbons are not exactly as essential as they were to the u.s. 10 years ago, but for the foreseeable future, hydrocarbons remain a global trategic factor. and the u.s. cannot walk away from that energy relationship, ike it does not want to walk away from control of the sea lane -the persian gulf or the red sea. saudi arabia is a major oil economy and a major economy, essential to the u.s. dollar protecting its status as, still, despite everything, the go-to global currency. that's been under threat. saudi arabia remains an ally in that economic sense.
i think the peace deals that the u.a.e. and bahain and sudan have implemented with israel also are political game changers in that obviously, these peace agreements, particularly bahain, would never have gone a-- bahrain would never have gone ahead without support and encourage from riyadh and saudi arabia. so for an incoming in the administration, to have the heavyweight gulf country effectively normalizing relations with israel is a new reality for them, hence something they value and would want to build on. so i think that the friction is going to be over human rights, over the crown prince himself and his responsibility or not for the jamaal khashoggi killing and that leadership question, certainly we will not have the warmth that we had under trump,
some other leaders will have warmth issues but i do not expect the united states to walk away from egypt or israel or any of the big players. i would think there's more continuity there and even evolution after the peace agreements between israel and some key gulf countries but friction over human rights and over sort of the personal elations that are there. i think a lot will depend on who is the u.s. secretary of state, secretary of defense, because in many administrations, it is not necessarily the president who manages the day-to-day affairs but can put some distance by sending a credible secretary of state who has an ear or credible secretary of defense. so i think those appointments will also tell us a lot about managing a range of very difficult relationships in the middle east, because very few of the countries have a good human
rights record or a good emocracy record. >> thanks, paul. in the same context and if we're going to stay in the gulf region, joe, where, clearly, we have so much of our military and security investments, there are a couple of questions from the udience. one is from dana lennitt, which is, how do you see the regional security evolving with the sale of f-35 and armed drones to uae? the issue with israel has been settled. so what do you expect in terms of congressional attitudes going forward? also, interests from other members of the audience in another aspect of that, and that
is, you know, the assessment of the iran maximum pressure campaign if the biden administration is going to be changing its approach and going to be looking at re-engaging iran, the jcpoa, and other issues -- how do you see that affecting our overall security environment in the region? joe: thanks, jerry. so looking at the f-35, i really see this as a potential opportunity here, and i think this is the way we have to look at it. i mean, it has been our long desire to have a network of partners in the gulf that could protect themselves and could act as a deterrent against iranian
aggression in the region and maintain security across this really important area. so i think there is an opportunity here with that. the challenge, of course, has been bringing all of that together. so perhaps with f-35's to the uae, this may provide us an opportunity to finally do what we have wanted to do, and that is begin to integrate these capabilities into a more cohesive approach across the gulf region. and i think that is the way we have to approach this. frank, i do not know if there is any other approach of this particular time, other than trying to bring this all together. this has been a big challenge for a long period of time, and it is one we need to address to reduce our footprint, have eliability on partners, and we have got to do this, got to have a reliable partnership and capabilities in the gulf with hat.
in terms of the assessment of the maximum pressure campaign, you know, i do not know that there has been a significant change in terms of some of the things that iran has been pursuing, certainly the deaths of solemani was a key point, a key aspect of this, sent a clear message from our administration in terms of what the red lines were with respect to that. i do not know that we have seen a good assessment of how that has played out with all of the other arms, the appendages, that solemani put in place and how that affects the region. i do think there is certainly more assessment that needs to be done here, and i think perhaps one of the things that the incoming administration would do, and i would certainly expect
it from the biden administration, a careful and deliberate look at what the region looks like, the comment -- the common threat assessment, where are we in terms of nuclear capabilities? wrer we in -- where are we in -- in terms of their exporting of terrorism and influence across the region? and where are we in terms of what the maximum pressure campaign has done. so i think there has to be a very wholesome assessment of that as we make decisions. i do not think it is a turn one off, turn the other one on, approach. we have to look at exactly what the situation is. gerald: thanks, joe. one of the key aspects of the current situation in the region is the tension between turkey and the key gulf states, saudi
arabia, uae, particularly, and egypt, disagreements over political islam, muslim brotherhood, and spilling over, you mentioned libya, that is a lear area where there is obviously tension between the gulf and egypt against libya -- against turkey and their libya approach. this is a complication for the u.s. to achieve its bjectives. if as the administration, as the biden team has talked about, if they want to get more deeply involved in diplomacy to end the syria conflict they need a good relationship with the turks yet there's also an interest in drawing saudi arabia and the u.a.e. back into the syria issue as a way of hopefully getting a
diplomatic outcome. if we want to resolve the libya conflict, we need some kind of agreement between the egyptians and the turks, who clearly have ifferent objectives. in your perspective, how deeply involved should the new biden administration be in trying to help smooth over issues between turkey and its adversaries in the arab world? is it even possible, and is it something that we should consider to be a priority? >> i think it is definitely going to be very difficult, because you have to separate these things. urkey's relationship and the -- turkey's view of the u.a.e. and egypt is different than how it views its relationship with the saudis. the saudis are the ones who are the more uncomfortable partners
in the relationship. as you mentioned, they are worried about turkey's support for the muslim brotherhood but then were infuriated when turkey led international efforts to investigate khashoggi's murder. in general, turkey is seen as an imperial power with an increasingly assertive military force that undercuts interests of these countries. saudi and turkey, they are also competing for power, and they are on the opposite side of some of the conflicts in the region, but despite those problems and disagreements, ed wan still wanted to preserve the relationship with the king work the saudi -- erdogan still wanted to preserve the relationship with the king, with the saudis. so i think his motivation during the khashoggi campaign was to try to sideline it. he was hoping to keep his close
relationship with the king, and that has not really happened. so the relationship, it is mostly the saudi's are more uncomfortable there. but if you look at turkey's elationship with the uae and egypt, there's a fundamental exist ten rble problem there from the point of view of erdogan. it is something the partners have been pushing for, and it is difficult for erdogan. has built his legitimacy in 2015 based on the notion of being gonse coups, so he cannot just come out and admit i have a working relationship with the situation there. that's about his domestic survival. and a similar approach to the uae. erdogan and the people around him have looked at the uae being behind him and supporting the 2016 coup.
the difference there are a lot more difficult to recon sail but i see again, if you look at turkey's relationship, saudis are more uncomfortable and they have gone out of their way and joined the impact turkey camp in libya, in syria. they have worked to cultivate closer ties to turkey's enemy, he syrian kurds. in eastern mediterranean, saudis have supported positions there. in libya, they are working. o those problems, from the saudi point of view, are exiss ten rble. and it will be difficult for the biden to really iron out those differences. erald: paul, i would be remiss if i didn't ask you about lebanon.
and, you know, many years ago when i was a relatively young officer, the assistant secretary of state for the near east was often referred to as the lebanon desk officer. lebanon has not occupied quite the same status in subsequent administrations. as i got older, lebanon slipped down the screen a little bit. but lebanon is, obviously, it is a pivot point for many u.s. policies, many u.s. interests in the region. it is in a terrible situation. what should this new administration be doing about lebanon? paul: thanks for raising lebanon. this has been the worst year for lebanon since the end of the civil war in 1990. as most people know, a complete collapse of the economy, logjam in the governance and politics, and uprising trying to change the system.
it has been hit by the pandemic, like everybody else. in august, the largest peacetime blast that devastated tens of thousands of homes, killed thousands of people, and traumatized an entire opulation. that country is in very, very sad shape. the u.s. has interests in lebanon. the u.s. has an interest in lebanon not completely collapsing and falling apart. if it were to completely collapse and fall apart as a state, that would mean a return of some of the terrorist groups that were pushed out of lebanon by cooperation between the lebanese army and the u.s. military, al qaeda and isis enclave. it would men hezbollah getting much stronger in the country than it is now. it would mean a flow of
refugees, both lebanese and syrians into cyprus and into europe. so a whole bunch of problems. the u.s. has an interest in shoring up and trying to stabilize lebanon, which is not easy to do, particularly because the lebanese ruling class is not helping itself. the trump administration, i think this will be continued under a biden administration, has been quite positive and supportive of lebanon. a lot of support for the lebanese army. and this will continue. a lot of support for hosting over 1.5 million syrian refugees, likely to continue. lot of promise of serious economic support both directly and through the i.m.f. world ank.
if lebanon undertakes need red forms that everybody agrees need to happen. i think the policies are there, but lebanon is still falling apart because of a political class that is hopelessly corrupt and hezbollah, which has its own agenda, which is not for the welfare and economy of the people. a new dynamic that has emerged as the maritime talks, which the u.s. is mediating between the lebanese government and the israeli government. what does that mean? in effect, that means that america is mediating talks between hezbollah, which is the real power behind the government in lebanon and israel, which is very interesting dynamic. and that is an indication that hezbollah feels under pressure because of the collapse of the country around it and perhaps because of the maximum pressure campaign and wanting to perhaps buy time until the end of the trump administration. i think an incoming biden administration will certainly pick up on those maritime talks. both lebanon and israel have an interest in them being resolved.
lebanon needs to move forward quickly and offshore gas exploration and extraction. more importantly, i think the u.s. and the international community should keep the pressure on the lebanese oligarchy, as it were, to undertake the reforms that have long been needed so that the orld can help lebanon. lebanon, you know, as you indicated, is a kind of microcosm of the world around it. you have the sunni-shiite split, the turkish presence, the iranian-hezbollah presence, israel, the regime, so it is in a very difficult eighborhood. maybe one comment i will end on, making a link to lebanon, a small example of a semifailed state, when you look at the
middle east in general, the middle east is in a state of civil war in the sense that the middle east is at war with tself. and the main players are all engaged in wars against each other. turkey, iran, uae, saudi arabia, israel, and egypt, to name a few, are all engaged in proxy wars against each other in various parts of the region. and historically europe was in the european civil war between 1914 and 1945, until leaders decided that this was a lose-lose situation, and i tell -- and until the leaders of the region, hopefully with encouragement from the united states, will really undertake, open up serious talks with each other to de-escalate conflict in the region, to work toward normalizing relations with each other, it's quite something that arab countries and israel
normalize something never imaginable perhaps a few years ago, why would it be so hard for sunni and shiite states to normalize or for turkey and egypt and others to normalize? to my mind, this is childishness, not leadership, particularly as we head into the third decade of the 21st century, in a once in a century pandemic, economies contracting by 5% in the region, poverty is skyrocketing, unemployment is skyrocket rocketing, many of the leaders are still engaged in petty lose-lose games that even in the 19th century would have been not a great idea. let me stop there. gerald: that's an interesting place to stop. we only have about five minutes left. so i want to put a question to ll three of you. and that is, if joe biden is watching this conversation, and
he may be -- we do not know -- if he is watching this, if you would take two minutes and just say -- what would you tell him? what would your elevator talk before him? what are the key issues, and what should he do over the next four years in the middle east? let's go in reverse order and tart with gonul. urgent think the most issue here is the sanctions. as i said, there are a broad range of options, least damaging measures which would affect turkey's defense industry but would not collapse it. and you have other middle of the road sanctions which could include small and more symbolic measures, like visa bans or harsher measures for banks. and you have the nuclear option, which includes foreign-exchange
transactions being prohibited or prohibiting bank transactions with u.s. financial institutions. i think that is what he will do, but i would really urge the new administration not to take the nuclear option. and i am sure there will be people who will be making the same case, that that would really further push erdogan closer -- closer to putin. so a middle-of-the-road option would be the best. gerald: thanks, gonul. joe, what should we do on the military security front? joe: this will sound strange coming from a soldier here, but i actually think perhaps the
most important things the new administration should do is put a full sweep of a kind of diplomatic pressure campaign of its own in the region. that is, make sure all of our embassies have ambassadors in them, make sure all the back offices of support are fully manned and have the experts in them. i think it sends a very strong message, and i do not say that as a criticism of the current ambassadors. they are all excellent. but we still have a number of locations where we have people in acting positions, and the most important symbol i think we sent to each of the countries of the region is our commitment of diplomatic relationships. and if we are concerned about long-term continuity, i think this is an extraordinarily important aspect. they will create the backbone upon which our strategies and decisions and of things will be made in the future, and there should be very careful consideration of that early n.
second of all, i think the new administration should try to be as deliberative and inclusive in their discussions about the region as they can be. we don't need a lot of whipsaw kind of decisions here. what we need is some deliberations, we need some continuity, we need some confidence and we need our partners to know their interests are being taken into consideration as well. >> thanks, joe. paul, last word to you. what should we do over the next four years? paul: yeah, i would lean on what show joe was saying and what i was saying a bit before, that we need to recognize that the region is at war with itself. and as long as that is the case, you can put out one fire here and it will erupt somewhere else.
you get rid of a group here, it will pop up somewhere else. the region needs to be in an integrated and normalized relationship with itself so it is no longer the sick man of the world. what that means is certainly a diplomatic surge, sort of what joe was mentioning, but clarity that the u.s. wants to push, first of all, for all major players in the region to be in talks with each other. and if they refuse to talk with each other, there should be consequences. and an insistence from the u.s. hat regional powers should not be involved in proxy wars or have any proxy presence in other third countries over time and to make that clear, as well. now that is a long haul, but it is important to set that agenda because until the middle east is at peace with itself, none of the other problems can be properly addressed.
in a more sort of focused reflection of that, i would say there should be immediate diplomatic efforts to bring the war in yemen to a negotiated end. you have been very involved in that, jerry, yourself. i think it is complicated but doable. and i think the same effort should be put to bring the libyan civil war to an end. both of those are doable with some heavy diplomatic lifting. there should be efforts on syria, but that is much more difficult. i am less hopeful there. but lead with diplomacy, work for de-escalation. let me end with one thing, that as the u.s. becomes more taken or obsessed with, let's say, great power competition with china and russia, i would warn that we should not -- the risk is that great power competition
in the middle east will lead to more competition and conflict among countries in the middle east and more problems for the u.s. and for china in particular. i would say that we should also be aware of the need for great power cooperation. in the middle east. if we can get on any issue, syria or yemen or lib ark some alignment between the u.s., european, russia and chinese, it will make life much easier to get some of the regional players in line and suggest some of these hor -- and to get some of these horrific problems resolved. thank you, jerry. gerald: thanks, paul. that's the last word. i want to thank our three outstanding panelists today, paul, joe, and gonul, for their contributions. hope that you all learned and gained some -- some insight and
understanding of the issues that are before us over the next four years over this hour of discussion. this is the first of our post-election webinars. we will be scheduling others in the near future to drill down on some of these issue -a little expand thepth and to aperture a little bit. i want to thank our panelists today. i want to thank all of you for tuning in with us today and being a part of this conversation going forward. until next time, thank you. >> thank you. >> the nasa spacex crew is due to arrive at the international space station tonight. our live coverage starts at approximately 11:00 p.m. eastern when they dock with the i.s.s. that's followed by an onboard welcoming ceremony and a post-docking news conference. watch live on c-span.
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