Interest rates, job prospects and the White House budget proposal and then how conspiracy theories are changing and changing us.
NATO heads of state are meeting on Sunday and Monday in Chicago against a somber backdrop: American-led efforts to cajole Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to step down have failed. The prospect of a nuclear Iran looms large, and concerns are rising over the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan amid the ongoing insurgency there. When Barack Obama was elected president, he promised not only to transform America’s domestic policies, but also its foreign policy. Yet the Middle East, in particular, remains as troubled as ever. Middle East expert Fawaz Gerges joins Diane to explain why he believes President Obama has lost a historic opportunity to redefine America’s role in the region.
- Fawaz Gerges chair of the Middle Eastern Center at the London School of Economics.
Read An Excerpt
From Obama and the Middle East by Fawaz A. Gergez. Copyright © 2012 by the author and reprinted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The Middle East has provided a fiercely argued policy dilemma for the U.S. for over half a century. Many hoped that would change with the election of Barack Obama, but according to Middle East expert, Fawaz Gerges, hopes of a transformational approach to the region have not been realized. He's author of "Obama and the Middle East." He argues it's time to reshape America's foreign policy in the region.
MS. DIANE REHMFawaz Gerges is professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science where he is director of the Middle East Center. I hope you'll join us with your questions, comments, 800-433-8850. Send your email to email@example.com, join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you, sir.
MR. FAWAZ GERGESGood morning, Diane.
REHMSo good to see you again. The subtitle of your book is "The End of America's Moment" with a question mark. Tell me about your question.
GERGESWell, my argument is that the United States might find itself now in the same position as Britain at the end of World War II, the late 1940s and early 1950s, the beginning of the end of America's dominance in the region, because since the beginning of the Cold War in 1947, in particular after the Suez Crisis in 1956, the United States has been the most dominant power in the region. And I think what we might be witnesses in particular after the 9-11 wars is the beginning of the end of America's dominance.
GERGESThat does not mean that the United States is not influential. And this is a good thing, Diane. This is a good thing, because for many years, people in that part of the world blame the United States for everything, for all the ills that basically have befallen that part of the world. U.S. hand was behind everything in terms of the CIA, in terms of the intelligence services, in terms of conspiracies, in terms of supporting the bloody dictators that really brought ruin to their societies.
GERGESThe United States was held accountable, responsible, for the miseries of that part of the world. What I say in this particular book is that the end of America's dominance might be a good thing because -- and the Obama presidency in particular, President Obama is normalizing relations with that part of the world. So instead of being a negative thing, I argue it's a positive thing because people in that part of the world are taking charge of their own destiny, that is really they have moved on.
GERGESThey no longer, as you know, the Arab uprising, in the last 15 months, people now are basically focusing on domestic as opposed to foreign policy. The shifted debate is a positive thing.
REHMBut you also argue that President Obama has turned away from the promises he made during his election campaign.
GERGESYou know, Diane, both the left and the right have misunderstood Barack Obama. This is the reality, because the left thought that Barack Obama was a transformational president in terms of foreign policy, that basically he will do away with the institutional and bureaucratic and the cynical realism that has dominated America foreign policy since the beginning of the Cold War. And the right believes that Barack Obama is giving away, in terms of decline, in terms of being an apologist for America's enemies and what have you.
GERGESThe fact is, Barack Obama has always been -- one of the fundamental points I make in my book "Obama and the Middle East" is that Barack Obama is deeply entrenched within the dominant narrative on American foreign policy. He's a realist. Since 2006, he has made it very clear that he subscribes to realism, and what that means, that mutual interests, collective security, the fact is relation -- he does not believe in democracy promotion like his predecessor, and that's what -- what I mean by that is that many of us, basically we're blinded by his rousing rhetoric.
GERGESRhetoric about America being an exceptional nation, about the fact America will transform the world, that America basically will, I mean, do this and do that. The reality is Barack Obama is realist president. He always mentioned President Bush Sr. and JFK as his models as opposed to President Wilson. He is not a liberal president, he's a realist president.
REHMFawaz Gerges, his new book it titled "Obama and the Middle East." Do join us, 800-433-8850. Take us back to the beginnings of U.S. engagement in the Middle East, the beginnings of the mistrust, the disagreements, the hostility that began to arise between this country and those in the Middle East.
GERGESI mean, I'm glad you asked this question, Diane, because the book is not just about the Obama presidency and the Middle East. The book is about America and the Middle East, in particular since the beginning of the Cold War. That is, Barack Obama inherited what I call a bitter legacy, a bitter legacy that goes back -- its roots go back to the Cold War years, the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, and of course, culminating in the 9/11 wars.
GERGESAnd this particular legacy at the end of World War II, and the beginning of the Cold War, the United States made a conscious decision to set forth the existing dictators in that part of the world that his interests basically, in particular, oil, economic interest, the strategic nature of the region, and America's relations with Israel in particular, dominated the lands through which the United States looked at that part of the world.
GERGESThe United States has never taken risks on people's aspirations, and the United States, in the eyes of people in that part of the world, supported their tormentors, the dictators, the tormentors that basically have been in place since the end of World War II, and this is why I focus a great deal about the bitter legacy, and I say it's unfair to judge Barack Obama, except by looking at this bitter inheritance that has almost brought ruin to America's relations with that part of the world.
GERGESDiane, just one footnote about when President W. Bush left office, basically America's relations with the greater Middle East, not just the Arab world, had reached its lowest points. You're talking about multiple wars on multiple theaters. Hundreds of thousands of American troops were battling in Muslim lands. The United States was engaged in a social engineering project, in particular the invasion of Iraq, which had little to do with its national security.
GERGESThe reality is people in that part of the world did not view the United States as an inspiration, they viewed the United States basically as a neo-colonial power that was occupying Muslim lands, and not to mention the entire legacy of the, I mean, the 9/11 wars which deepened the mistrust between the United States of America and the people -- and the people of the great Middle East, not just the government, and this was what's different about the U.S.-Soviet struggle.
GERGESMany Russians still believe that the United States was an example -- a model. In the case of the Middle East, in fact the United States was supporting the bloody dictators against the aspirations and the fears and the hopes of the people. At least that's how the United States was seen in that part of the world.
REHMBut of course then after 9/11, after Iraq, after going into Afghanistan, you have more recently the emergence of the Arab Spring. That has to have an impact on President Obama's thinking, his outlook, his belief system.
GERGESAbsolutely. You asked me about what do I mean by the end of America's moment. What I meant, it's not just about America's relative decline worldwide vis a vis the rising (word?) strategic and economic powers, and all the cost that the United States basically have spent on the wars on terror. As you know, we have spent between 3 and $5 trillion. The al-Qaida project is a $5 trillion project. That's not to mention the opportunity costs.
GERGESNot to mention what also has transpired since, I mean, that horrible day on 9-11, in terms of, I mean, the whole idea of the moral standing of the United States, the whole idea of torture here at home and abroad, and how the United States basically was seen worldwide, not just in the Middle East. In fact, what the Arab uprisings, Diane, have shown basically is, this what I call the rise of public opinion in that part of the world.
GERGESYou have a new great awakening taking place in that part of the world, and what's the beauty, what's really wonderful about what's taken place is that the debate has shifted from foreign policy to domestic questions. Questions of governance, question of institutions, question of empowerment, question of dignity and effective citizenship. And this, by itself, a testament to how Barack Obama has been able to normalize relations with that part of the world. See what have you even though it took Barack Obama a few weeks to appreciate the significance of the Arab awakenings, but on the whole, he rhetorically has embrace the aspirations of the people, and in particular his speech on May 11 at the State Department 2011.
GERGESIt presents a major shift at least rhetorically in American foreign policy towards that part of the world. Barack Obama has made it very clear that the United States will take risks on people's aspirations. The United States will embrace the democratic aspiration of the Arab people, yet at the same time, and this is a criticism of Barack Obama, even though rhetorically he has embraced the uprising, he has not really offered any major initiatives. He has not offered any economic plans. He has not really offered global leadership to help transitioning societies because there are tremendous, tremendous challenges facing transitioning Arab societies, in particular in Tunisia and Egypt and Yemen and other places.
REHMFawaz Gerges, his latest book is titled "Obama and the Middle East." He is a U.S. citizen born to a Christian family in Beirut. We'll take a short break here and when we come back, I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMWelcome back. Fawaz Gerges is with me. He is a course professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, where he directs the Middle East Center. His latest book is titled, "Obama and the Middle East." And his subtitle, "The End of America's Moment?" I'm sure many of you have questions as well. We'll get to those on the phone in just a moment.
REHMHere is a posting on Facebook from Jim: "Did the Arab Spring occur anywhere other than in Westerners' minds? Nothing other than Libya has changed. It was NATO that defeated Gadhafi. And while Mubarak exited, the Egyptian junta is still in charge as it has been for decades."
GERGESThat has been a sea change in the Arab world in the last 15 months or so. What has happened in the Arab World, it present a significant historical revolutionary moment. It's the beginning of the fall of the authoritarian world that has been constructed over 60 years, a psychological rupture has taken place in the Arab world. Some of us who visit the Arab world frequently appreciate the extent of psychological change, the mood, the psychology, people feel empowered, men and women, old and young.
GERGESThat is, of course, nothing has changed in terms of institutional building. In terms of material changes, the reality is I think this is the first step that has been taken by the Arab people in order to determine their own affairs. This is a moment of self-determination. And remember, Diane, here for some of your listeners who think that somehow there's a magical wand to change 60 years of authoritarianism and autocracy, it will take at least one or two decades to transform the Arab world from authoritarianism to pluralism.
GERGESWe need to be patient. We need to respect what the people have achieved in the last 15 months.
REHMAnd even more than that in Syria.
GERGESIn Syria, also what has happened in Syria, I mean, none of us, few of us had ever believed that the Syrian people will rise up against this bloody dictatorship. I mean, anyone who knows the Assad family, the Assad rule, knows that they have ruled by blood and iron for the last 40 years. The fact is, despite the blood, despite the sufferings, thousands have been killed, thousands are incarcerated, yet the Syrian people still rising up on almost daily basis, on daily basis.
GERGESAnd this tells you, the point is about the psychological rupture that has taken place. There is no going back. Of course, Syria is an entirely different situation than Libya and Egypt and Tunisia. Because, Diane, in Syria, the regime itself has almost devoured the state. There is no daylight between the security apparatus and the Assad regime. And that's why both the Assad regime and the security apparatus tooth and nail as one, as one particular apparatus.
GERGESBut the reality, what has transpired, the Syrian people are not going back. The Syrian people basically realized that this is a fight to the bitter end. My fear is that in the case of Syria, Syria has already descended into civil war. My fear it might descend into all-out civil war. This is really the worst-case scenario for Syria.
REHMAnd another listener writes on our website, the real question is this. Why is there so much emphasis on American presidents doing so much in the Middle East as a region has been broken and fractured for a very long time, fraught with violence, oppression and corruption at the highest order. The issues are cultural, political and personal to the various peoples at the region. How can anyone but those Middle Eastern countries and their respective citizenries do anything to resolve the issues they have?
GERGESI think the people of the region will ultimately own their future, will ultimately determine their future.
REHMI hope you are right.
GERGESWhat has happened in the last 15 months is a testament to the spirit of resistance. Despite the president's authoritarianism, despite the existence of bloody dictators that promised heaven and delivered dust, the people really have spoken. And that's why I said that there is no return, there is no going back even though it's going to take many years to overcome the severe challenges that exist there.
REHMDid President Obama get caught off guard?
GERGESOh, absolutely. It's not just President Barack Obama, the entire world was caught really napping. And in fact, President Barack Obama send a very, I mean, critical note to the American Intelligence Services saying, why you did not warn me about this particular great event. And what has happened, Diane, what we need to understand is that many of us, not only did we not underestimate the structural crisis that exist in terms of authoritarianism, in terms of dictatorship.
GERGESMiddle Eastern societies are broken societies because you have authoritarianism that have basically really brought ruin in that part of the world. What we underestimated was the human will. What we underestimated was the role of agency. What we underestimated that despite everything else, millions of people would rise up and try to really own their future and determine their own affairs.
REHMHow better could the United States had taken advantage of those uprisings?
GERGESDiane, I'm delighted that President Barack Obama is here when the Arab uprisings have taken place in that part of the world. I mean. He has done some wonderful things. First of all, even though he came, he embraced the Arab uprising belatedly, then he swiftly made that particular great speech and he said the United States of America hear you. Basically, we embrace your aspirations and your hopes for a new future.
GERGESAnd he also made another critical point. He said the United States will maintain a healthy distance from what's happening in that part of the world. You take ownership of your own revolt. This is a very important point, because he understands this is really about the future of the region. This is about the people. It's not about the United States. All -- what we want the United States to do -- nobody is saying that the United States has money.
GERGESThe United States has spent most of its money since 9/11. We talked about 3 and $5 trillion on the 9/11 wars. What we, as a country, the United States, is to take leadership, leadership in order to really help transitioning societies. There is tons of cash in that part of the world, Diane. The greatest flow of cash today is not in China, is not in Brazil, is not in Europe. The greatest flow of cash in the world is in the Gulf.
GERGESThere is tons of money there, hundreds and billions of dollars. And we're talking about really peanuts. We're talking about $50 billion. This is where the United States can really come in in terms of global leadership, trying to get money from that part of the world and invest the money in transitioning societies like those of Egypt and Tunisia and other places.
REHMBut you are critical of President Obama's handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
GERGESPresident Barack Obama's greatest political failure has been the Palestine-Israel peace process. From day one, President Barack Obama made it very clear that brokering, helping to broke a Palestine-Israel peace settlement is part of the strategic national interest of the United States of America. He basically did create a connection, a causal link between America's security interest and helping to broker a peace settlement.
GERGESBecause this is the most fundamental fault line in the region yet. After nine months of trying to broker a peace settlement, President Barack Obama has caved in. President Barack Obama basically did not fight for the power of his convictions.
REHMAnd it's so interesting because on his first day in the White House, he called Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and pledged that day to help bring about a Palestinian state. What is it? Is it that he has run into a steel wall as far as Benjamin Netanyahu is concerned now with his having created a coalition government that will guarantee he stays in office longer and perhaps prolongs this struggle?
GERGESDiane, I said you cannot discuss the Obama presidency in the Middle East without discussing the bitter inheritance that has been with us for the last 60 years. You cannot discuss the role of the president without discussing the institutional continuity in American foreign policy. What do I mean? If there is one particular point I really stress in the book, "Obama and the Middle East," is that there is a structural institutional continuity.
GERGESAnd this structural institutional continuity, domestic politics, special interest groups, the role of the Congress, a particular consensus that exists on the Middle East defeated Barack Obama. That basically, Barack Obama the politician basically triumphed over Barack Obama the visionary. The American political system, the pressure that basically Barack Obama came under in the last three years basically convinced Barack Obama that if he were to proceed there would have been major political capital he had to invest in the question of the Arab/Israeli conflict.
GERGESHe was unwilling to invest real political capital in order to basically bring about a Palestinian/Israeli settlement. Barack Obama, at the end of the day, is timid. Barack Obama governs by consensus and when he faces obstacles, unfortunately, he often retreats. And he retreated on the Palestinian/Israeli peace process.
REHMAnd of course, Vice President Biden was insulted when he went there and in turn, President Obama insulted Benjamin Netanyahu when he came here to the White House.
GERGESI did not want President Barack Obama to insult Netanyahu. I would have liked President Barack Obama to stand up for Netanyahu, to save Israel against itself since the peace process serves not only the interests of the Palestinians, served the interest of the Palestinians, the Israelis and the Americans. Barack Obama, Diane, confronted Benjamin Netanyahu three times and guess what? He caved in during the three times.
GERGESAnd this tells you a great deal about the role of domestic politics, about the role of special interest groups, about the role of the Congress. Here you have Benjamin Netanyahu insulting the president in the White House and going to the Congress and receiving more than two dozen standing ovations by members of the Congress.
REHMFawaz Gerges, his new book is titled "Obama and the Middle East." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." The Obama administration has also engaged with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. How much of a break is that?
GERGESA huge break because as you know, Diane, the United States basically looked at most Islamists, Islamists are religious-based activists, who would like to bring about a state based on (word?) principles or the Sharia, Islamic law. Again, to come back to the subtitle of my book, "The End of America's Moment," Barack Obama had no choice but to acknowledge the reality in Tunisia, in Morocco, in Egypt that is the Islamists, what we call mainstream Islamists, these Islamists, Diane, are not what we're talking about militant or radical of al-Qaida variety.
GERGESThey are Islamic centrists, Islamic mainstream who subscribe to the rules of the political game. They accept the political process. Barack Obama had no choice but to accept a reality that is the Islamists won a majority in parliament in Egypt, parliamentary seats. The Islamists won a majority parliamentary seats in Tunisia. The Islamists won a majority parliamentary seats in Morocco and probably in Libya and probably in Jordan and Syria.
GERGESAnd this tells you that in the Arab world in the last 50 or 60 years, the reason, what I call the inheritance of authoritarianism, you have the bloody dictators and you have the dominant political and social forces, the Islamists. What the Arab uprisings have shown, there is a third way. There is a third middle. Unfortunately, the third middle is not institutionalized, is not organized. It's going to take the human rights activists and the centrists and the nationalists and the leftists probably 10 years or so to organize themselves and become a major counterweight to the Islamists.
REHMBut if you have Israeli policy almost at the center of everything that happens in the Middle East and you have a president who, by your own words, has caved three times to Benjamin Netanyahu and the Congress and politics, then perhaps you see President Barack Obama as a failure.
GERGESOn the Palestine/Israel peace process, it has been dismal failure. No doubt in my mind. And his outreach to the Muslim world has suffered a great deal as a result of his being unable or unwilling to deliver on the Palestine/Israel conflict because both the American military and the president have made it very clear brokering a peace settlement is in the strategic national security interest of the United State of America.
GERGESHe has not been able to deliver because the American political system, what I call the dysfunctional America political system, a system that basically it's a combination of special interest groups and, of course, the role of the Congress that fuels Middle East and bluntly put it through the Israeli lands. In fact, one of the arguments I make in the book is that Israel's needs to be saved from its own self. That is, Netanyahu is a major liability.
GERGESNot just to the peace process. A major liability to the question of coexistence in that part of the world.
REHMHow do you mean that?
GERGESBenjamin Netanyahu and the right wing elements in Israel are creating facts on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territories, that is the settlements are being expanded, expanding on probably a monthly basis. The reality is what Benjamin Netanyahu and the right wing are doing in Israel might bring about the opposite results from the intended consequences. That is, in fact, the two-state solution, on secure Jewish state and one independent viable Palestinian state is disappearing before our own eyes.
GERGESAnd what's left if the two-state solution, the vision that's really been accepted by the international community, disappears, what are we going to have, Diane? A one-state solution as opposed to two-state solutions.
REHMFawaz Gerges, his new book is titled "Obama and the Middle East." When we come back, we'll open the phones, read your email. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd now your questions for Middle East expert, Fawaz Gerges. His new book is titled "Obama and the Middle East." Let's go first to Annapolis, Md. Good morning, Michael.
MICHAELGood morning. Can you hear me all right?
REHMSure can. Go right ahead.
MICHAELI agree 100 percent with everything the author has said. We've all struggled with this here. But I've come down to that the Congress uniformly -- by the way, the Congress which can't agree on anything, not even on a pay raise, uniformly shuts down any reasonable debate about a balanced U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. And for the life of me, I can't figure it out. And I wonder if the author has any thoughts on that.
GERGESWell, I mean, you're absolutely correct that basically not only the Republican party, but even the Democratic party itself did not side with the president when it came to standing up to Netanyahu. This tells you a great deal about the overwhelming consensus that exists in the congress when it comes to Israel. That is the Middle East is seen through the lands of Israel. Barack Obama was not undermining the security of Israel. In fact, Barack Obama has made it very clear that any peace settlement must take into account the security of Israel, the security of Israel was paramount.
GERGESYet the reality is, I mean, you're thinking about when I say special interest groups, you're talking about the role of APAC. You're talking about the role of the lobby. You're talking about the role of great segment of the media. And President Barack Obama and his advisors have convinced themselves that they cannot really stand up. They cannot really defy the odds. And that's why basically Barack Obama gave up -- has given up on a -- at least during the first presidency on a peace -- Israeli...
GERGES...policy peace settlement.
REHMTo Max in Lafayette, Ind. Good morning.
MAXGood morning, Diane. Thank you very much for taking my call.
MAXCan you hear me well?
MAXOkay. Mr. Gerges, I'm looking forward to reading your book. And I'm gonna switch gears a little bit. I'm gonna ask you about what's going on in Syria. I heard during the weekend that Assef Shawkat, who is the brother-in-law of Bashar al-Assad, was killed. And that would be a big blow to the intelligence apparatus in Syria. Do you know anything about that? Do you know if the American is helping the revolutionists in Syria or any information, insider information, that you may have about that?
GERGESWell, the information was false. No major Syrian official was killed. The report about four or five Syrian officials basically was false. And we have evidence now that basically most of the officials are still alive. What's happening in Syria now is what I call a standoff. You have a standoff between the security apparatus of the Assad regime and the opposition. And I don't think this particular standoff is gonna be over in a few weeks or a few months.
GERGESI would argue that this is a prolonged conflict. And Syria might descent into all out civil war because both sides seem to be hunkering down for the really bitter end. It's all out struggle. And unfortunately the international community including the United States of America does not think that military intervention will help the situation in Syria. President Barack Obama I think is absolutely correct on this particular score. Any military intervention in Syria will plunge Syria into an all out civil war.
GERGESAnd this particular civil war in Syria will likely have major reverberations in countries like Lebanon and Jordan. And as you know, there has been some major fighting in the Lebanon in the last week or so, both in the North Lebanon in Tripoli and in the last two days in Beirut. This tells you about how the Syrian conflict is affecting the region's neighboring countries.
REHMThanks for your call, Max. To Tyler, Texas. Good morning, Sean.
SEANThank you very much for taking my call. I do wanna express two points, but I start by saying I am born Middle Eastern citizen of the United States and I'm saying it's a very proud notion. United States of America is the greatest country on this planet. American people are among the greatest people that you can find. Having said that, I have totally disagreed with your guest's premises and basis of his argument. We do not live in a cold war era anymore.
SEANWe live in information technology arena, which the people of the world, especially the Middle Eastern people, have access to it and they see the empowerment of their own way of doing things by knowing the information and news, correct information and news and transparency in their own society, they will start going through the Arab Springs or Green Movement in Iran and they get that through United States promising for support of human rights and better life and democracies. So there is no other country on this planet in terms of political, in terms of military and economic power can come second to United States.
GERGESWell, the United States is a great country, no doubts about it. The American people are great people, no doubts about it. I am myself an American and a proud one as well. We're talking about really foreign policy, American foreign policy from the late 1940s to the present. We're talking about a bitter inheritance where the United States basically supported some of bloodiest dictators in the region from Saddam Hussein to even Gaddafi in his last few years. We're talking about policies that did not take into account the human rights and also did not really present the wills of the American people.
GERGESIn fact, one of the major arguments we have made over the last few years is that it seems to be that American foreign policy is disconnected from the Ethos of the American people. Because American foreign policy is based on multiple things in terms of security interests, in terms of oil, in terms of gas, in terms of deals with shady governments in that part of the world. And one of the reasons why we're critical of American foreign policy, not because we don't think the United States is not a great nation, because we believe that the United States can be a greater nation. And we would like to believe that American foreign policy becomes harmonious with the aspirations and the Ethos of the American people.
REHMAll right. To Rochester, Mass. Hi there, Nicholas.
NICHOLASI look forward to reading your book, sir.
NICHOLASI think, on the one hand, you are a little bit too generous with Mr. Obama with respect to Middle East. I'm thinking of a situation in Bahrain. And on the other hand, you may be a little bit overcritical on the Israeli Palestine situation. I don't think that the president gave in to Mr. Netanyahu. He gave into APAC. There's not an American president, past or present, that's willing to tango with APAC.
GERGESLet me be very clear. Thank you for your call by the way. Really my book -- and I'm glad you asked this question, is not a polemical text. It's not for Barack Obama and is not against Barack Obama. I truly am a historian by profession and I have gone to great length to be fair in an analytical assessment of Barack Obama. And we talked about failures and we talked about successes when it comes to this particular presidency. What the book is all about really taking stock of the Obama presidency and contextualization the Obama presidency within the overall American foreign policy.
GERGESYou're absolutely correct about the Arab Spring uprisings. While Barack Obama has fully embraced the aspirations of the Egyptians and the Tunisians and the Yemenis and the Libyan people, he basically has not fully embraced the aspirations of the Bahraini people. You might say why not. Well, because Saudi Arabia decided otherwise. Because Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent 2,000 troops to Bahrain in order to brutally suppress the aspirations of the Bahraini people.
GERGESAnd why did Barack Obama did not embrace the aspirations of the Bahraini people, that's what we've been talking about. The question of oil, the question of gas, the question of investments and how the interests of the super power override the human rights agenda of the United States, point one.
GERGESPoint two, on APAC, you're absolutely correct. In fact, and this is the point I wanna make very clear, it is very misleading to say just the Israeli lobby because the idea of an Israeli lobby, some people think that the Israeli lobby speaks for or represents the Jewish people. Nonsense, nonsense. APAC does not speak for the Jewish communities. APAC and the Israeli lobby do not represent the Jewish people. A majority of the Jewish people in America are for a peace settlement based on a two state solution.
GERGESMore than 60 percent of the Jewish community in the United States are on record saying they are for a peace settlement that takes into account a secure Jewish state and a Palestinian state. In fact, I would argue we need more Jewish voices in the political process in order to counter balance the influence of APAC that pretends to speak for the Jewish People. And unfortunately that's why I believe that Barack Obama and his advisors convinced themselves that somehow by standing to APAC they would pay costly -- I mean, political costs, which is not true at all.
REHMThe other issue very much on people's minds in regard to Israel is Iran and to what extent momentum is building within Israel for an attack on Iran which would inevitably draw the United States in.
GERGESDiane, make no doubts about it. If Israel carries out military strikes against Iran, the United States is automatically implicated. The Iranian leadership has made it very clear. And Barack Obama and his advisors and the defense department, the American military, are extremely anxious about Benjamin Netanyahu's desire or even attempt to basically force the U.S. hands when it comes to Iran.
REHMBut even the generals in Israel have said this is not a good idea.
GERGESMany Israeli security, not just one, in particular in the intelligence services and the military have questioned Benjamin Netanyahu's decision or even desire to really strike against...
REHMSo why is he moving forward?
GERGESWell, for a variety of reasons, that Iran is developing a nuclear program. Even though Iran has made it very clear it's not really trying to build nuclear bombs, even though Iran has not made a decision to build nuclear bombs. The consensus within the American intelligence services that Israel has still a long time. We're talking about a few years. And Iran has not made a decision to build a nuclear bomb. But remember, during the first meeting, Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, the first meeting Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to talk about Iran, he did not want to talk about the peace process.
GERGESBarack Obama said, well, look, if you want to deal with Iran, if you want to basically undermine the Islamic Republic of Iran, let's create a two state solution here and automatically you preempt Iran because Iran is using the Palestine question in order to appeal to Arabs and Muslims. In the last meetings a few months ago, Diane, the question of Palestine was not mentioned. It was all about Iran. This tells you a great deal that Benjamin Netanyahu has won the debate, not just on Iran, but even on the peace process.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And to Seattle, Wash. Good morning, Richard.
RICHARDGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
RICHARDAnd I just want to congratulate you on such a -- I really enjoy listening to your guest, very knowledgeable. But I do wanna challenge him on one point, and that is when he's talking about the influence of APAC. I mean, you talk about how you feel that the American Israeli are firmly behind a two state peace solution, but I would argue that the Israelis themselves, the population there, is not. And what I think of when I come to that conclusion is the great than -- it was something like greater than 60 percent of the Israelis are for continuing settlements in the West Bank, which I think it strongly undermines any kind of peace process.
RICHARDAnd the fact that -- it seems like we give the Israelis hundreds of millions dollars a year in aid and I believe that they take that money, feed it back into APAC to lobby congress. And that is one -- I think one potent reason why the Republicans and Democrats are so basically shackled with a strong position when it comes to Israel because of political influence that they have.
RICHARDAnd I'd love to hear your comments on that.
GERGESWell, you have really several questions. And one question, first of all, no, I don't think American money comes back to APAC. That I think would be illegal and it's not true. That APAC raises its own money in the United States here, has plenty of money. And APAC, basically what it does is very legal because the American political system basically guarantees influence. Anyone of us can establish a particular organization and a lobby. This is a -- APAC is a very potent organization that has been able to create some major networks within both political parties. It's extremely influential.
GERGESBut the reality is, the bigger point you have, is that there has been a shift in Israel to the right. And this is really quite very unfortunate. I mean, when we talk to Israelis, many Israelis of the peace camp, the peace camp in Israel has been decimated over the last 15 or 20 years. And that's why Netanyahu feels that he is so powerful and so influential and he can really basically do whatever he wants because he has a sizeable number of Israelis behind his policies, not just on the peace process, but also on settlements, and that's why the settlements keep expanding. And that's why Palestinian lands are being devoured by settlements probably on a daily basis.
REHMDo you see any progress being made should President Obama gain a second term? Would you see some movement in that direction?
GERGESI hope so. I mean, the last chapter, the conclusion I title it, Diane, in for a penny, in for a pound, an English saying, a time for courage, time to stand up, time to be free from the institutional bureaucratic constraints that have basically frustrated Barack Obama's willingness and vision on the peace process in particular.
REHMFawaz Gerges, his new book is titled "Obama and the Middle East." Thank you for being here. It's so good to see you.
GERGESThank you for having me, Diane, I mean it.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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