Arab Spring: 18 Months Later
Where are we 18 months in? Could an observer of the Arab World two years ago have envisioned a presidential election in Egypt with a Muslim Brotherhood candidate winning in the presidency, a state of civil war in Syria, an overthrown dictatorship in Tunisia, Muammar
Gaddafi killed? No one predicted what is going on. But more importantly, is the Arab World on a path to democracy? Is it going toward a better future? Or is it hitting stumbling blocks that are going to delay this process for many, many years to come?
Arab Spring: 18 Months Later
Aspen Ideas Festival transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for the Aspen Institute, and the accuracy may vary. This text may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Aspen Institute programming is the video or audio.
THE ASPEN INSTITUTE
ASPEN IDEAS FESTIVAL 2012
ARAB SPRING: 18 MONTHS LATER
Thursday, June 28, 2012
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS
Anchor and Correspondent, CNN International
Professor, Harvard Kennedy School
Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs
Former Ambassador to NATO and Greece
Chair of the Aspen Institute's Middle East Program
CEO and Editor at Large, Foreign Policy Magazine
* * * * *
MS. GORANI: For all of you, I imagine if you
are here it's because you are interested in the Arab World
and the Arab Spring, and what a year and a half it has
been. I cannot imagine that an observer of the Arab World
two years ago could have envisioned a presidential
election in Egypt with a Muslim Brotherhood candidate,
Hosni Mubarak in jail -- well, he was previously of course
in prison -- winning in the presidency. The military
still pulling strings and grabbing on to power in a
country like Egypt. A state of civil war in Syria. An
overthrown dictatorship in Tunisia. Libya, Muammar
Gaddafi killed, gone. No one predicted what is going on.
So the question today is going to be, where are
we 18 months in? But more importantly, is the Arab World
on a path to democracy? Is it going toward a better
future? Or, is it hitting stumbling blocks that are going
to delay this process for many, many years to come?
I am joined now, and I am honored to be here as
moderator of this panel here at the Aspen Ideas Festival,
by Nicholas Burns, who is a professor at the Harvard
Kennedy School, a former undersecretary of State, a career
diplomat who was ambassador to NATO and to Greece as well.
And Toni Verstandig, a chair of the Aspen Institute's
Middle East program. It's really great being able to talk
to you also about what's going on in the Arab World and in
this Arab Spring that we are all witnessing. And, David
Rothkopf, the CEO and editor at large of Foreign Policy
So we are going to split this up into three
parts. First, 18 months in, are we on the right path?
Secondly, the strategic alliance between the United States
and countries in the Arab World and in that region, not
just the Arab World. I am talking about Israel. I am
talking about Turkey and Iran. And thirdly, where are we
going beyond this 18 month period. Where is the region
going? What can western countries do and what can
regional players do as well in order to create a situation
for this region that will improve the lives, most
importantly, of ordinary citizens in the Middle East that
have suffered so much in some cases over the last 18
Before I get to all of that, Nicholas Burns told
me "ask me how this health care decision by the Supreme
Court today" -- because we have to mention that it's the
topic de jour. How is that going to affect U.S. foreign
MR. BURNS: Well, Hala, thank you very much for
that leading question. I appreciate it.
MR. BURNS: And it is a pleasure to see
everybody here. Putting aside the fact that I am
personally delighted with the decision -- that's not
important. The strength of the United States overseas is
very much embodied in our president, because the
Constitution gives the president extraordinary powers in
foreign policy. And I could have certainly foreseen a
situation had the court decision gone another way, that
the President would certainly have been weakened overseas
in our foreign policy. I will give you one example --
MS. GORANI: Yeah.
MR. BURNS: Iran. We will talk about this later
in the panel. We are locked in negotiations with Iran
right now and its nuclear weapons program. And if Iran
perceived that the President was wounded and that it was
perhaps a strong possibility that he might not be
reelected, I could foresee a situation where Iran
decided "Why deal with this guy and why deal with the
United States. I am going to wait and see if Mitt Romney
And so, I do think in that sense the President
has avoided that, but in a more positive sense, when
foreign leaders see that any president, Republican or
Democrat, has authority and credibility at home and that
his policies, at least some of them, have been affirmed, I
think it does translate into effectiveness and a stronger
presence of the United States overseas. So I would say
that there is an impact by this decision.
MS. GORANI: All right. So not weakened at home
and strengthened, possibly, abroad. David, what's your
answer to that?
MR. ROTHKOPF: Two points. One, there is
definitely a decision this morning or definitely a
headline this morning that is going to impact the election
and the likelihood that Obama is President. It was not
the health care decision. It was the housing numbers.
Housing numbers go up, makes it much more likely that the
President stays president. If I am watching from
overseas, that's a better indicator to me than this health
However, as we are about to discuss, this Arab
Spring phenomenon and the movement towards reform and
democracy in the Arab World is not an 18 month phenomenon,
it's a generational phenomenon. And as you look at it as
a generational phenomenon, health care is relevant.
Because the health care bill -- and I am glad that it was
upheld also this morning. The health care bill doesn't
address the underlying issues associated with health care
in the United States.
There is $50 or $60 trillion deficit that is
associated with retirement health care cost in United
States. We are going to have to pay it. If we pay that,
we are not going to be able to be as active
internationally as we have been. We are not going to be
able to have the same kind of defense stance that we have
been. We are not going to be as involved in the region as
we have been. So it is what the health care reform
doesn't do that's going to play a bigger role going
forward in this part of the world.
MS. GORANI: All right. So that's in relation
to today's news. Let's talk now about the wider region.
What's happened over the last 18 months, what started with
that sort of what seemed like a singular event of the
suicide of a fruit and vegetable merchant in Tunisia and
spread, in some cases, like wildfire in the Arab World.
Toni, I am going to ask you this, 18 months in
is the region as a whole -- and then we will talk
specifically about countries -- headed in the right
MS. VERSTANDIG: I think that the region is
transforming itself. This is about the region. I would
like to remind everybody that we are looking at the 10-
year anniversary of the U.N. Humans Rights report, the
development report that laid out the architecture of --
that was written by the Arab World, for the Arab World
that addressed the four deficits; the deficit of
knowledge, the deficit of freedom, the deficit of women
and the deficit of peace.
Ten years later, you are seeing this
architecture actually being addressed and laid out. Are
we going in the right direction? It is not the question
of -- what -- are we witnessing the region going in the
right direction. I think that it is itself, they are
beginning this transformation. I want to urge everybody
to be patient. As you started this conversation -- this
will take time. We have got to stop looking at the region
and these issues as a sporting event. We need to be
patient. We need to be humble, and we need to gather all
the stakeholders to the table and to engage, to listen to
what their dreams and aspirations are and to gather
together and partnership.
These are not easy. And we can't react to every
single issue and tactical -- you know, the tactics. It
has to be a long-term strategy.
MS. GORANI: But we have Twitter now. We have
Twitter now. Every 10 seconds we have to react to
MS. VERSTANDIG: We have Twitter and I think we
need to look at the whole, not each individual event.
MS. GORANI: But things are different. But let
me -- so that's an interesting point. You have to be
patient. This is generational. In fact, even when I was
in Egypt a few ago you don't know how many times people
told me, "Look at the French Revolution, it took them
decades." You know, they are telling, "Just calm down,
it's going to take a while."
But here's the other question I have for you and
something I hear a lot from the region is, you know, these
western observers have to stop wanting the Arab World to
create a system that is a mirror image of their own and
call something else a failure. Do you agree with that?
MR. BURNS: Well, I think that -- Hala, I think
that, you know, I would contrast the hope of January 2011
versus the reality of today. I mean, all of us watched
the events, those transcended events in Tahrir Square with
a great deal of hope and admiration, and many of those
dreams haven't yet been realized. And I think Toni is
right, we can't just grade them on an 18 month timeline.
But there is some hope; Tunisia, Morocco, to a certain
extent Jordan, possibly Egypt -- possibly Egypt or
countries that maybe evolving in the right direction.
Obviously, Syria and Yemen, not. Syria is in a
full scale civil war. Yemen is in a very serious internal
crisis. And then you've got the countries where it
doesn't appear change has hit them yet.
MS. GORANI: But it has.
MR. BURNS: The countries that have surfed
through the tsunami of change; the Saudis, the Emiratis,
the Omanis, the Kuwaitis. But change is coming, and I --
because I think this is not just a series of events, it's
a profound social, political and psychological revolution.
People, especially young people, now believe that
democratic change is possible. And it took us from July
4th, 1776 to 1789 to produce our first government under
George Washington. It may take the Arab World decades,
but I do think something positive has been unleashed and
we've seen it in these Egyptian elections.
I am not a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.
But you saw the first free and transparent elections in
all of Egyptian -- Egypt's thousands of years, that's got
to be positive.
MS. GORANI: But the difference, David, between
the United States when its political system was developing
and the Middle East and the Arab World and that part of
the world is that the United States was a young country.
The Middle East has thousands of years of political
tradition, of tribalism, of religion being a part, in many
cases, of how Arabs themselves view the way politics
should be implemented. So how is that going to change?
MR. ROTHKOPF: Well, I think -- you are
absolutely right. And I think it makes some of the
challenges for democracy and reform in this region that
much greater. There is strong headwinds against social
change, against change with regard to gender roles,
against economic change, against interaction between
tribal groups, between regional groups. And in fact, you
know, I don't want to -- you know, we talk about Arab
Spring; even the word spring is full of hope. You know,
you don't want to minimize that. You don't want to
minimize the fact that any movement forward is a positive
But right now, saying "this is going to take a
generation or longer than a generation" we have to look at
what could happen in that period of time that's also a
MS. GORANI: Yeah.
MR. ROTHKOPF: And we've got big shifts going on
in this region. The United States, which has been
actively involved and a force for promoting reform in the
region for a longtime has Iraq fatigue, it has Afghanistan
fatigue. It has got a change in its own energy paradigm,
which has it pulling back from the region. It has got the
financial pressures that have it pulling back from the
region. Part of the leadership is being picked up by
other countries from outside the region; Russia and China.
They haven't been terribly helpful in this.
We also haven't seen the Arab Spring story
unfold in a lot of places that are going to be pivotal.
Jordan, now even more precarious than ever with a big
influx of refugees from Syria. Saudi, where there are big
changes that are likely to be afoot whether it is at this
cycle of the succession or later in the succession.
Bahrain, where there is an uprising, but it hasn't been
addressed. We don't know how Egypt is going to turn out.
It seems like there are worlds within worlds with that one
and there is some democracy and there is some oldfashioned
autocracy run by the military. And the Israel-
Palestine issue is likely to be affected in a profound way.
All you have to do to understand the complexity
that's associated with is, is imagine how you personally
would feel if there were hundred thousand or two hundred
thousand Palestinians marching in peaceful civil
disobedience, demanding that they had the same rights that
the Egyptians were demanding in Tahrir Square. And what
that would mean for --
MS. GORANI: But why -- I am interested in why
that hasn't happened yet. You've got 18 months of an
example that's been set by Arabs who had a lot more to
lose in terms of, in the case of Syria, their own lives by
demonstrating. Why haven't the Palestinians gone out and
in the hundreds of thousands as you described now?
MS. VERSTANDIG: I think in part -- you have the
Palestinian prime minister with Salam Fayyad, who has been
working two years ago. He laid out here at the Aspen
Institute his plan for state building, and he has been
working and has built the institutional structure of a
Palestinian state. And all politics are local. I mean,
we began our conversation with the impact on health care
and David referenced housing.
He has begun and has tried within very difficult
circumstances to deliver education, security, health care
to the Palestinian people. And even within those confines
by all accounts, at least in the West Bank, has done well.
What you are now beginning to see, the impact and the
strains, is, do you move to a unity government. How do
you deal with Gaza? You are seeing the Egyptian -- the
new elected Egyptian president speak to the issue, "I'm
going to open the Gaza border." Turkey's prime minister,
Erdogan, this is a very emotional issue for him, the
Palestinians. And now you have to take into account not
just one leader of a country, but their street, and how do
you deal and build a consensus on these, as David and Nick
both have commented. These complex interrelated issues
that in this region impact one another. It's a chess game
and there are various pieces.
MR. ROTHKOPF: As a parenthetical comment to
that, I learn everything I know from Twitter also and I
saw this on Twitter yesterday. But I can't attribute it
but it was a good line, which is "that we are at a
revolutionary moment without revolutionary leaders." And
if you look at the --
MS. VERSTANDIG: Yeah, it's true. I saw that.
MR. ROTHKOPF: See, everybody is reading Twitter
here. It's very impressive.
MS. GORANI: But everybody is agreeing with you
because in Egypt you had revolutionaries who -- some of
whom died and were injured terribly in Egypt in order to
overthrow Hosni Mubarak. They did not have a presidential
candidate. They were not organized enough. Perhaps, not
surprisingly, the Muslim Brotherhood is probably the most
successful grassroots organization in the Arab World.
Unsurprisingly, they ended up successful politically even
though they had promised not to field candidates, which is
another question altogether. But what do you do then?
What do the revolutionaries do now that they have been
essentially sidelined in many cases?
MR. BURNS: Well, the revolutionaries haven't
been sidelined in Egypt; they haven't been sidelined in
Tunisia. In a way, we are seeing leadership by the King
of Morocco. He is the one who is now devolved power to a
constitutional government. There is a prime minister now
and a cabinet that has real power. That wasn't the case
18 months ago. So I am not trying to put an unduly
positive spin on all of this, because I certainly see all
the downside scenarios. But we are seeing leadership
beginning to emerge in Egypt. There is no question about
MS. GORANI: From the revolutionaries, you think?
MR. BURNS: From the Muslim Brotherhood. They
were part of the revolutionary group in Tahrir Square.
MS. GORANI: Well, they didn't start it though.
I mean, they joined late in the --
MR. BURNS: They were very much part of it.
MS. GORANI: But the revolutionaries, those
secular hipster, youngsters, the internet savvy, they are
completely sidelined now. And when I was in Egypt a few
weeks ago --
MR. BURNS: In Egypt?
MS. GORANI: In Egypt, yes. In Tunisia, less
so. But, you know, they were so depressed and chain
smoking and in cafes, and, "We don't know what to do
MR. BURNS: And they weren't going door to door,
MS. GORANI: They were not going door to door,
and that was something very interesting.
MS. VERSTANDIG: So I think we need to marry the
tools -- let's remember, we are all stuck in the past a
little bit. We are used to the democratic boots on the
ground, the organizing the districts. And that's what the
Muslim Brotherhood did. We have to marry the new social
media with that traditional boots on the ground to give
the new political organizing tools to this next
generation, and we have to start thinking outside the box
and help them assemble the new toolbox of engagement.
They don't know how to govern.
But one thing I think it's important, Hala, for
this audience to remember; Egypt has a rich history of a
middleclass, and Walter Isaacson has spoken so eloquently
and yesterday he referenced it again with Benjamin
Franklin and his Leather Apron Society.
The middleclass in Egypt is what our Leather
Apron Society was. It is why we need to invest in
entrepreneurship, in these startup economies that are
happening in the Middle East. It is some of the backbone
that can help sustain --
MR. ROTHKOPF: But we are not going to invest.
MS. GORANI: Yeah.
MR. ROTHKOPF: We are not going to write the
MS. GORANI: But by "we" you mean the U.S?
MS. VERSTANDIG: Not the government. That's old
thinking. But the private sector can.
MR. ROTHKOPF: Okay. The private sector doesn't
MS. VERSTANDIG: I am not sure I agree with you.
MR. ROTHKOPF: The private sector acts in the
self interest of the private -- I used to work in the
commerce department. We all worked in the same
administration, but I am sure we have a wide range of
views here. But -- and, you know, people could call from
the White House and they would say "mobilize the business
community". And I would say there is no business
MR. ROTHKOPF: Business follows its self
interest. Some businesses may help. But the United
States is going to write small checks. The European Union
is otherwise engaged and is going to write small checks.
The people who've got to make this happen are the people
of the region and they don't have -- they have the
cultural headwinds that you've talked about.
MS. GORANI: Yeah.
MR. ROTHKOPF: And there is also going to be a
desire. And I don't think it's healthy and I think we
have to acknowledge it and grapple with it of the United
States and of the Europeans and of the Chinese to lean
back a little bit, and say, "You know, what we like in
this part of the world, stability. We will take
stability. If democracy is a little bit longer coming,
that's fine." We can't afford the --
MS. GORANI: But that's always been the --
MR. ROTHKOPF: No --
MS. GORANI: But that's always been the case.
MR. ROTHKOPF: Exactly.
MS. GORANI: With the United States, among other
countries, happily aligning itself with dictatorships.
MR. ROTHKOPF: Exactly.
MS. GORANI: So --
MR. ROTHKOPF: And I think that's going to --
there is a very good likelihood that that has a big
comeback, a big comeback in the Untied States.
MS. GORANI: And including Saudi Arabia now.
You mentioned Saudi Arabia, a very important close and
strategic ally to the Untied States. Let's talk now --
let's get to the second part of our discussion and
specific countries. Let's start with Saudi Arabia; an
ageing monarch, we have a crown prince but he is in his
70s. What about that country?
MR. BURNS: I think Saudi Arabia presents the
challenge to President Obama over the last 18 months.
It's a very difficult one. How do we balance our hope for
Jefferson's Empire of Liberty that the Arab World might
have some freedom, some route towards democracy and
balance that interest against our more pragmatic interest.
What do the Saudi give us? Obviously, the energy
lifeline. It's not so much to us. We are not dependent
on Saudi oil. It's the Europeans, the South Koreans and
the Japanese and the Indians.
MS. GORANI: Uh-huh.
MR. BURNS: Secondly, the Saudis and the other
Gulf states and Mubarak were very important in helping us
contain and block Iran --
MS. GORANI: Yeah.
MR. BURNS: -- and Iran's ambitions in the Gulf.
And third, these conservative Gulf states and the other
moderate Arab countries, the authoritarian countries like
Egypt under Mubarak helped us to thwart Al-Qaeda. Those
are very important interests. It would be a mistake I
think if we said that's the choice throughout the Arab
World. There are 22 Arab states. Each of them traveling
in a different speed on different tracks towards some
future, hopefully, of reform.
And what the President has essentially done, and
you can see this (inaudible), he threw our support to
Jefferson's Empire of Liberty or to the Martin Luther King
tradition in Egypt, in Libya, in Tunisia. He did not do
that in Saudi Arabia, in Yemen, and to a certain--
MS. GORANI: Or Bahrain.
MR. BURNS: And Bahrain. Why didn't he do it in
Bahrain? Because the Saudis made a point of saying "This
is our backyard, we need to have stability in Bahrain."
The Saudis and the other Gulf states saw an Iranian threat
through the Shia population in Bahrain however right or
wrong they were about that. I think the President has
largely in a very skillful way tried to have 22 different
policies and he has been affirming of freedom in some
places, he's been more conservative in others. And
frankly, it seems to me that's probably the right mix for
MS. VERSTANDIG: I agree with him.
MS. GORANI: But in the region people see that
simply -- quite simply as a double standard.
MS. VERSTANDIG: I understand, but I think that
that's a simply Twitter way of approaching our Middle East
MR. BURNS: Right.
MS. VERSTANDIG: And I think Nick has
articulated it quite well. I also think that if you look -
- the crown prince of the UAE just met with President
Obama and if you look at the White House statement that
came out, it reflects the deep relationship that we have
with the Emiratis and on a whole range of issue.
We have to have a nuanced policy. There is not
one approach for each and every country and if you go down
that path, you will pay a price. And I don't think -- I
think the President has taken the right approach. And I,
frankly, respectfully disagree with David on the issue of -
- that we may go and argue and slip into the path of
stability at all cost and we are not going to play a role.
I happen to believe -- if you listened this
morning to David Cote, who is the CEO Honeywell who just
received the CSR award -- corporations and our
corporations in particular are continuing to play
extraordinary leadership roles. They get the value of the
business development relationship with corporate social
responsibility, and I think that they can lead and bring
some of the other players to the table. And maybe, in
this case, they are some of our Gulf friends who have more
financial resources. We may have more of a background.
But that's what I -- when I articulate bringing
stakeholders to the table, I do agree we are not going to
be the ones as we historically were in the 90s when we all
worked together, you know, being in the leadership role.
But I will not subscribe that we do not have a
role to play, because we do and are playing a role and
catalyzing positive change on the ground.
MS. GORANI: And certainly something that is
beneficial for both sides. And you have a private-public
MS. VERSTANDIG: At Aspen we are doing a publicprivate
partnership ranging from Morocco to Pakistan and
Indonesia. We have 10 countries and local chapters in
each of these countries and we are yielding results and it
MR. ROTHKOPF: Let me say two things about this.
First of all, with all due respect, corporate social
responsibility is a scam, okay.
MR. ROTHKOPF: The average corporation spends
0.01 percent of their revenues on corporate social
responsibility. And where they do it? They do it to
enhance outcomes pertaining to their bottom line, because
it's their legal responsibility to do that. They are
legally obligated not to get too deeply involved in issues
that don't associate with their bottom line. Secondly, as
far as the Untied States role in the region is concerned,
the United States will always have an oversized role
because we have an oversized economy and oversized
military and we will try to be active here.
But I think the nuance in America's policy in
the Middle East and the way it is played out and where we
have intervened and where we have not intervened and how
we have avoided the situations that were thorny
diplomatically or thorny militarily suggests precisely how
limited the United States role is at the moment. And I
cannot imagine a circumstance going forward where the
Untied States' influence in this part of the world is
actually going to increase.
I think it is going to decrease, because it is
in our national interest for it to decrease. And because
unlike any other moment in our history as a country or in
the past 50 or 60 years, we will actually have the
opportunity to be less interested and involved in the
Middle East. Because we with Canada in the year 2020
according to a recent Citibank report will be producing 20
million barrels of oil a day and using 17 million barrels
of oil a day. The OPEC report that came out yesterday
said we would be energy independent by 2035. What that
means is that the main thing that drew us into this region
is not going to keep us in this region and we have to be
realistic about that.
MS. GORANI: So, Nick, you wanted to add
something? And then I want to get to Syria, because
that's really one of the central stories in the region
that will have an impact on other countries.
MR. BURNS: Well, I am a former diplomat so
maybe I will just try to be the bridge builder here.
Because I agree with part of what Toni is saying and part
of what David is saying as well.
I don't think it's realistic to expect that the
United States can in way that we might have 20 or 30 years
ago tried to guide these revolutions through aid programs
or corporate programs. The Egyptians are going to rise or
fall based on what Egyptians do. There's not much we can
do to try to steer this revolution one way or another.
But we do have influence when it comes to inter state
relations, to diplomacy, to international politics.
For instance, the United States is the pivotal
player on Iran and the Arab countries are rallying around
us to support, first, President Bush now President Obama
on what to do about Iran. Secondly, we have a very
important strategic relationship with Israel, which is not
going to go away when we are energy independent. We are
still going to care that Israel survives, prospers, is
able to live in the Middle East. And that has to do with
the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
We have a real opportunity -- President Obama
does now to convince the Muslim Brotherhood that it should
be working with the Egyptian military leadership to uphold
that treaty. And to send a message; it will be a private
message. It's probably already been sent. "If you try to
weaken or abrogate that treaty, American aid to Egypt will
be at risk." That's the kind of leverage we have. No
other country plays that role. So --
MS. GORANI: It's probably that SCAF got that
message by the way, the military in Egypt.
MR. BURNS: It's to the military leaders, but I
would be very surprised if that hasn't been passed to
Mohamed Morsi --
MS. GORANI: Sure.
MR. BURNS: -- the new president of Egypt as
well. So I wouldn't downgrade the ability of the United
States to be the consequential actor. Are we as powerful
as we were 30 years ago in the Middle East? We are not.
But we are not powerful in most places in the world
compared to where we were 30 years, because of the rise of
China and because of our own economic problems. So that's
how I would maybe split the differences here on the panel.
MR. ROTHKOPF: And that is why someday he will
be secretary of state.
MS. GORANI: And we will be your advisors.
MR. BURNS: Yeah, right.
MS. GORANI: So let's talk about Syria now,
specifically about Syria, because what's happening there
is having such an impact and potentially could have such a
-- so much of a bigger impact on the region. What is --
I'll start with you. We know that now we are in a state
of civil war at least in certain pockets in Syria. Turkey
is now advancing heavy military equipment to its border
with Syria and in no uncertain terms telling the Assad
regime back off or we are going after you. What's going
to happen there?
MR. BURNS: I would anticipate that the Syrian
civil war is going to worsen. The government cannot gain
control -- regain control over most parts of the country
because the opposition is too strong. The opposition is
not strong enough to unseat the government. So
unfortunately and tragically, particularly for the
civilians, who have been bombarded by the Syrian army, I
would anticipate the civil war would go on for some time
well into 2013.
Why has President Obama not gone into Syria the
way he did in Libya? Well, for a lot reasons. First,
remember in Libya a year and a half ago -- less than a
year and a half ago, the Arab League invited NATO and the
United States to go in. They've never done that before.
"Please intervene in the internal affairs of one of our
member states." Second, the Security Council blessed it.
Third, there was the imminent siege of Benghazi in a flat
desert like terrain, where it was easy to distinguish
friend and foe through the use of airpower. None of those
conditions are present in Syria.
The Arab League doesn't want us in. The
Russians and Chinese will veto any resolution to get us
in, and the fighting is block by block and street by
street and house by house. And if you are an American air
force pilot or you are trying to use American military
force judiciously and surgically, very difficult to do
that and not kill innocent people.
MS. GORANI: But now it is, but 12 months ago it
wasn't. I mean, you didn't have this --
MR. BURNS: But now it is.
MS. GORANI: But now it is. So what can other
countries do then?
MS. VERSTANDIG: Well, I think --
MS. GORANI: Not just the U.S., but regional
players. David? And I'll get to you, Toni.
MR. ROTHKOPF: Well, look -- I mean, first of
all, we know who is at risk and there are things that we
can do to protect those people who are at risk. We could
have established no-fly zones. We could have established
humanitarian quarters. We could have said -- you know, we
have an international criminal court and we should send a
message to leaders of countries like Syria that if you
start slaughtering your people, you will be indicted. You
will never leave your country. Your assets will be sized.
You will be arrested. There will be consequences.
We could have taken strong steps to protect the
innocents, thousands of whom have been killed. Unlike the
situation in Libya, where we stepped in because we could
based on a theoretical threat that there were innocents at
risk, but really do a regime change.
MS. GORANI: Right.
MR. ROTHKOPF: So not only did we fail the
innocents but we put on the stage a contradiction in
polices that has allowed people, as Toni said earlier, to
look at us and say these guys are hypocritical. They are
inconsistent in the way they approach this part of the
world. And that weakens our situation.
But just to amplify one point very briefly that
Nick brought up. I think we have to be very careful with
a situation like Syria, because it is not just Syria.
It's Syria and Turkey. It's Syria and Jordan, where the
refugees -- it's Syria and Lebanon.
MS. GORANI: And Lebanon.
MR. ROTHKOPF: It's Syria and Iraq. It's Syria
and Iran. It's Syria and Israel. And this is a region of
the world where we would be talking about Arab Spring
today and we could be talking about Balkans on steroids in
MS. GORANI: And in the same way that Tunisian
suicide sparked the Arab Spring when you think back to
what started the Arab uprising when so many people
said, "Syrians will never revolt, they are too scared."
And these kids who graffitied anti-regime slogans on the
walls of Daraa and were imprisoned, and that was the
tipping point. It's so often the smallest thing. When
the parents of Daraa said, "You have gone too far, you
have tortured our children," and they were shot
mercilessly in the street.
MS. VERSTANDIG: Exactly.
MS. GORANI: From that, we now have armed
rebellions; we have heavily armed FSA in some cases in
some parts of the country. But now interestingly and very
worryingly possibly attacks against civilians perceived as
being supporters of the regime as we saw with that proregime
MS. VERSTANDIG: I think --
MS. GORANI: When you describe it that way, what
is the solution in that country?
MS. VERSTANDIG: Well, I want to agree with my
colleagues, we are seeing an all out escalation and I
think that is -- I am very, very concerned that we are
going to have a long hot summer. As you look at -- my
great worry is Lebanon. Turkey has laid down the marker.
Their article IV consultations under NATO. As you said,
they are moving to strengthen their border and they have
made it absolutely clear, there is a red line. You cross
that line, that's it.
MS. GORANI: Right.
MS. VERSTANDIG: The really worry for me is
Lebanon, and you are starting to see the spillover in
Lebanon. We also are keenly aware of how Iran is using
her proxies. Iran will not let go, cannot let go of the
strategic importance of Syria that -- and I think we
cannot underplay that or understate the significance of
Syria, the relationship of Syria and Iran.
So what does that mean? I think we are seeing --
you know, we all know Iran has moved assets around and I
am worried that there could be a trip wire --
MS. GORANI: Right.
MS. VERSTANDIG: -- unnecessarily. And then what?
And I am very concerned, and I am mostly concerned about
the Lebanon-Israel peace. And then where are we?
MS. GORANI: But one thing I've noticed about
Lebanon is that it seems as though the factional leaders,
they are --
MS. VERSTANDIG: Nasrallah has kept it quite and
tried to --
MS. GORANI: While they are putting a lid on --
I mean, you can sense that when it becomes inflamed and
there is a real risk that this is going to degenerate,
that somebody ends up putting a lid on it.
MS. VERSTANDIG: Totally, absolutely, to a
point. But the question is --
MS. GORANI: That the appetite is not there --
MS. VERSTANDIG: Exactly.
MS. GORANI: Yeah.
MS. VERSTANDIG: But the question is how much
control do they have.
MS. GORANI: Yeah.
MS. VERSTANDIG: And maybe my colleagues can
speak to that issue. But that's the real worrying factor.
But as we all know, Kofi Annan is moving into a meeting in
Geneva this weekend and I think we need to watch this very
MS. GORANI: Was it a mistake not to invite
Iran, by the way, to that meeting? Because the Iranian
ambassador to the U.N. said, "Hey, you know, if they don't
want to talk to the people who have influence that's their
MR. BURNS: I don't think it was mistake at all.
MS. VERSTANDIG: And I don't either -- I don't
MR. BURNS: In fact, I would agree with Toni.
Remember that Hezbollah is a creation of and a creature of
the Iranian government, and the direct influence that
Tehran has on Hezbollah is really pernicious and we could
see it used in the future. I would say, Hala, the answer
probably lies in the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin has just
come back to his life presidency after a tenure as prime
MR. BURNS: He had a --it seems to be, but we
don't know because we weren't there -- an inconclusive
meeting with President Obama. But on two big Middle East
issues, the Russians have leverage on Syria. If anyone is
going to talk Assad into a Yemen like solution, which we
have all been talking about -- will he agree on a sometime
schedule to leave power? What he gets is, he survives.
He goes into exile. He has some money from some
authoritarian government and he is not executed.
What Syria gets is Assad exists and some kind of
timetable to a new government. Putin is the only one who
can put that together. And on Iran, if we are going to be
successful in stopping them short of a nuclear weapon
through negotiations and sanctions, the Russians are
critical. So I think President Obama has obviously turned
MS. GORANI: What do you give the Russians in
MR. BURNS: Well, the -- it depends on the issue.
MS. GORANI: On Syria, for instance?
MR. BURNS: In Syria -- the Russian policy has
been cynical on Syria and it has been brutal. They have
allowed civilians to be massacred because they are trying
to block the United States and European from a repeat of
what happened in Libya. On the Iran, the Russians have a
much more sophisticated policy. The Russians do not want
Iran to become a nuclear weapons power. They also don't
want us to go to war. Russia has an opportunity, and we
have an opportunity to work with Putin on both of these
I am not saying it's going to be easy. In fact,
we might not be able to arrange it, but it's worth at
least looking at it.
MR. ROTHKOPF: Look, but if -- look, if are
going to invite Putin to --
MS. GORANI: But what do you give the --
MR. ROTHKOPF: If you are going to invite Putin
to the table, who has some influence but very dubious
motives and is unlikely to be easy to deal with, invite
the Iranians to the table. The reality is they do have
influence, they are playing a role. We may hate the role.
We may not like them. We may not like their regime. But
you can't have a negotiation, a real effective negotiation
with one of the key players invited out of the
Putin has another set of motivations in addition
to those that you are talking about in which he is joined
by the Chinese. They don't like the United Nations
intervening to deal with countries that are putting down
unrest, because they think they are going to face that --
there is a real risk that they are going to face that
possibility in the future and they don't want to set a
precedent for that, or at least exacerbate precedents that
have set otherwise.
MS. GORANI: I want to tell also all of you that
if you like to ask a question raise your hand whenever you
want from this moment on, and introduce yourself and
direct your question at one of our panelist or to the
entire panel if you would like.
MS. LEBIK: Hi. Joni Lebik (phonetic). I live
here in Boston. Wonderful panel. Somebody said that,
yes, the Russians are controlling a lot of negotiations
and what they may want in return is us and Europe not
having the anti-missile program on their land. Do you
think this is one of the bargaining chips that they are
after, or what would it take for them to be willing? What
bargaining chips do we have and what do you think they
really want from us?
MS. GORANI: Good question.
MR. BURNS: Well, the Russians certainly have
been focused on missile defense. They haven't liked it
from the beginning. They have got an irrational position.
It is not directed at them. And both President Bush and
President Obama have offered the Russians, you know, joint
ownership over missile defense, but they are playing a
very tough and cynical game.
I wouldn't think that the Obama administration
would move quickly on that because that's a very important
program. It's a NATO program. Very important to the
central Europeans as, you know, particularly the Czechs
and the Poles. So -- possibly in the future. I think the
Russians are searching for something that's a little bit
more existential. They want to be treated with some
respect. And look, I -- for most of my career as a
diplomat I worked at odds with various Russian diplomats
and governments, but they are still in some ways nuclear
weapons, space program a superpower.
I think Putin is looking for a leadership role
at the table. If that's the price we pay, well, worth it,
especially on Iran -- to stop the Iranians not by war, but
through sanctions, which are taking effect today. The
U.S. central bank sanctions and Saturday the EU oil
sanctions. We've never sanctioned Iran like the way we
are beginning this week. There is an opportunity to bring
the Russians in. I think the President has recognized it
and it's the right thing to do.
MR. ROTHKOPF: But think of the inherent
contradiction in this, right. We are here talking about
the Arab Spring and democracy. We are trying to figure
out what kind of cocktail of policies produce the
advancement of democracy. And what we are suggesting is --
and I don't disagree with anything you said. But what we
are suggesting is let's put our arms around the Russians
as Putin, life president, is crushing democracy in his own
country, as he is proving himself to be an active
supporter of enemies of democracy around the world.
I am not in the Mitt Romney "they are our
biggest enemy camp". Don't get me wrong.
MR. BURNS: Good.
MR. ROTHKOPF: But I do think that we have to --
we do have to sort of, you know -- and I think we can.
But I think we have to grapple with the fact that there
are inherent contradictions in these approaches.
MS. VERSTANDIG: I think we also -- and I think -
- but I think we need to work with them. We need to bring
them in. We need to recognize their role. We also need
to recognize their historical role in the Middle East.
They were a cosponsor of the Madrid peace process. We
have not given them -- they need a role. They want a seat
at the table.
And on Syria, let's be absolutely clear about
this, they need to have a snapshot of what their
relationship in Syria will be post an Assad regime and
they need to have some assurances. They have this
historical romantic view of Syrian naval bases. They need
to be reassured. There are lots of things we can and
should be working with them on.
MS. GORANI: It's their one Mediterranean port.
MS. VERSTANDIG: Exactly, exactly. And we need
to be aware of it. I completely agree with David, but we
have to work with them and try to bring them this way. I
am not wildly optimistic by doing so.
MS. GORANI: But I just want give the lady, the
blonde -- oh. I guess I'm right, the blonde lady here
raised her hand first there. Introduce yourself please
and direct your question?
MS. PORGES: Sure. Shelly Porges. I am the
director of the Global Entrepreneurship Program at the
U.S. Department of State. Hi, Toni.
MS. VERSTANDIG: Hi, Shelly.
MS. PORGUES: The Arab Spring began as a
fundamental and economic revolution, not a political
revolution. It is estimated about 50 to 100 million jobs
are needed throughout the region by 2020 in order for
current employment levels to stay even, which are
unacceptable, by the way, given the high level of youth
unemployment. Could you all -- anyone of you or all of
you comment on what you see as the ongoing impact of this?
You talked about the, you know, geopolitical game playing
that's going on, but how about what's coming up from the
MS. VERSTANDIG: I feel very strongly, Shelly.
Thank you. And I work obviously very closely with Shelly
in the program that she works on, the Global
Entrepreneurship Program at the State Department -- has
been quite interesting and visionary and we work closely
with Shelly on this.
We have to do a bottom up and top down approach,
period, full stop. And if we do not grow the pie and the
economic bandwidth in all of these countries -- and I am
not talking about we, the U.S. I am talking about all the
stakeholders. So, I am going to be clear, David. All of
MR. ROTHKOPF: Why are you talking about me?
MS. VERSTANDIG: If Egypt doesn't get an IMF
agreement, Egypt will not be able to move a baby step
forward on their political process. So the relationship
of political and economic issues cannot be overstated
enough. So Shelly, I think your point is very well taken.
This administration has tried to be engaging and creative
on a number of these issues, and in fact in the
President's statement the next Global Entrepreneurship
Summit will be held in Dubai, which is a very interesting
message. And I am very --
MS. GORANI: The foreign direct investment issue
in Egypt is a big problem right now over the last 18
MS. VERSTANDIG: A huge problem.
MS. GORANI: And it's not just tourism. I was
surprised to learn how actually little it contributes to
the overall economy. The biggest sector is industry,
textile manufacturing --
MS. VERSTANDIG: Right.
MS. GORANI: -- energy, shipping. So they need
tourists, but they also need that investment in those very
MS. VERSTANDIG: They need mainly investment.
MR. ROTHKOPF: One of the most important things
that happened as a consequence of the Arab Spring was
eluded to in the question, which was that we recognize
that the underlying problem is economic. The underlying
problem was creating opportunities for men and for women
in these societies, and that does require job creation. I
thought for a moment what we would be doing as -- instead
of turning to the generals first we'd turn to economists
and business leaders and we would try to find a way to
stimulate that kind of growth.
Unfortunately, what's happened is it coincides
with economic crisis in the U.S., economic crisis in
Europe, economic crisis in Japan and economic crisis in
Russia, India, Brazil and China at the same time. So
there is not a lot of money and that makes this all that
much more precarious.
The one point that I would like to add and
perhaps we can pick up on it on later is, you can't have
this kind of economic growth, you can't attract investment
if you run a kleptocracy, if you don't have laws that
allow people to form a company and get out and get their
money out easily. You need the right structure, and
you've to educate your population. And by your
population, I mean everybody in your population, men and
women. You can't have successful societies where 51
percent of the society is uninvited from the party. And
that is a very serious issue that exists across the region.
MS. GORANI: The gentleman with the white shirt,
MR. LEFTON: Hi. I am Donny Lefton (phonetic)
from Aspen and Miami. And I think we would be remiss if
we didn't spend a little time on probably the most
dangerous cataclysmic event that is pending in the world
today since maybe the Cuban missile crisis, and that's
Syria and its ability to gain weapons of mass destruction.
My question is -- and I think
MS. VERSTANDIG: Syria?
MS. GORANI: Syria and its weapons of mass
MR. LEFTON: Syria and its position with regard
to weapons of mass destruction. I think that -- I think
we all realize and believe that the United States has
probably imposed a severe sanctions as they have ever done
and so far while we really don't know the whole story, it
probably hasn't worked. My question is at what stage of
the game does the United States enter and enact a
preemptive strike to Syria.
MR. BURNS: Do you mean Iran or Syria?
MR. LEFTON: I am sorry. I beg you pardon -- to
Iran. At what point in time do they enact a preemptive
strike to Iran, number one? Number two, when might Israel
do the same thing? And number three, the affect of the
entire Arab Spring which would be affected by the Iranian
weapons of mass destruction. When and what good can the
Arab World do, because they obviously would be at jeopardy
and at great risk if Iran obtained its weapons of mass
MS. GORANI: Thank you very much.
MS. VERSTANDIG: Thank you very much.
MR. BURNS: Sir, thank you very much for your
question. I would just say I don't think there is any
reason why either the United States or Israel should turn
to war in 2012. There is a very carefully worked out
policy that President Bush put in place that is highly
integrated with what President Obama is trying to do. I
think there is a nearby partisan consensus among the
senior leaderships of both political parties -- not every
member -- that we ought to do three things. We ought to
try to negotiate with Iran. We ought to sanction Iran,
and we should continue to threaten the use of force. But
there is no reason, given where Iran is on this trajectory
and given the fact that we just started negotiations to
leap to force right now.
I would frame it this way for you. We haven't
had a sustained serious dialogue with the Iranian
government in 32 years since the Jimmy Carter
administration on any issue. Every administration has had
an episodic fleeting discussion in Geneva or Vienna for a
day or two. No government since Jimmy Carter in the
United States has actually sat down with them over months.
And that's what diplomacy is and said, is there a way that
we can resolve this problem short of force.
The President has elected to do that, and I
sense he has strong support in both political parties for
that. Governor Romney has not been specific, but he
hasn't disagreed with this policy. Second, the sanctions
are just kicking in. I negotiated with my colleagues in
the Bush administration the first three United Nations
sanction resolutions with our ambassadors there, and those
sanction resolutions were Swiss cheese resolutions because
the Russians and Chinese forced us down to the lowest
This week, today, we are introducing central
banks sanctions and EU oil sanctions. Let's see the
affect of those over a month or two or three and let's
keep the threat of force on the table. I think that takes
us into 2013. And by all means it would be a serious
strategic mistake of Israel to attack Iran without the
approval of the United States. You have Russia, China,
Britain, France, Germany and the U.S. all at the table
together trying to work diplomatically with Iran. If
Israel went ahead of those countries -- there is no reason
for it. It would be costly to the Israeli, to their
credibility. I think we would have a right to be furious
If force ever has to be used in the future --
that's always an option -- the United States ought to be
the one that thinks about the use of force rather than
Israel for all sorts of reasons. So I think the President
and President Bush have put in place a policy that can
sustain us for quite sometime.
MR. ROTHKOPF: Just a couple of things on that.
One, Nick has described a comprehensive policy and I think
his outlook with regard to the pursuit of it is right.
There is a fourth component to it, and that has been the
use the force. The President has been conducting covertly
a campaign against the Iranians using cyber attacks,
drones, supporting covert actions or at least tolerating
cover actions within the Iranian borders by allies of the
So every kind of pressure that is reasonable to
put on short of war has been put on, and I think the
administration deserves some considerable credit for that.
And it is a consistent policy administration to
administration. It is also not in the interest of any of
the actors to take precipitous action before the election.
And indeed for the Israelis, it is fully in their interest
to be leaning forward to look like they are about to take
action, but to not actually do it.
Because once you do it there about a thousand
potential outcomes, only one or two of which are actually
good ones. There about 900 that don't work out so well,
where they either don't achieve their goals or they
inflame the world or they look weaker than they want to
Having said all of that, I think there is a
bigger problem here. And the bigger problem is that if
you play this out, Iran ends up with nuclear weapons at
some point in the not too distant future or at least they
end up with nuclear weapons capability. And I think if
you had to bet, it is more likely than not that they will
end up with nuclear weapons capability at least if not
actual nuclear weapons.
And what this suggests is that the NPT, the
nuclear non-proliferation treaty that exists and the
regime where the U.N. -- where the international community
tries to enforces that and has been serially unsuccessful
because it lacks effective enforcement mechanisms has
failed us. And we need to seriously look for an
alternative to that regime or we are going to see this
kind of slow movement towards an outcome that we don't
want, even though we are doing everything right repeated
over and over again.
MS. GORANI: And Toni, I am going to get to you
in a second. But there's this young man here, third row
with the black tee-shirt. We want to hear from the young -
- younger audience member.
MR. SABAN: Good afternoon. My name is Chris
Saban (phonetic). I am a Bezos scholar here at the Aspen
Institute. I know that you brought up the idea of
teaching high school seniors how to interpret news from
different news sources, and I would like to know if that
was inspired by your trip to Syria, where propaganda and
lack of information interpretation leads to strong biases
in the population? And if so, how do you pass that
inspiration on to the high seniors you want to teach?
MS. GORANI: That's a great question, not
directly -- I mean, I guess related to the Arab Spring.
MS. VERSTANDIG: Yeah, it is.
MS. GORANI: Yeah, it is a great question. And
really I think it's mainly in western democracies that I
think this is a useful tool, because when you are in an
autocracy or a repressive police state the level of
skepticism is so high that nobody believes what they see
on television. So it's mainly, you know, in countries
where there are several sources of information, where
perhaps something that is not news is packaged to look
like news. But I think that young people need the tools
to be able to interpret what they hear or what they read.
Of course, it goes without saying that if these
societies in the Arab World become free and have a free
press and become functioning democracies, that there too
they would need that kind of, I think, mandatory class for
high school seniors. Although it was suggested to me
yesterday by some of your colleagues that it should be
even earlier than that in their high school education.
So, yeah, I think it's all over the world that --
especially, as I am sure you get most of your news online.
Yeah, and so you have Twitter and you have Facebook and
you have all these different sources of information. How
do you know how to read those things and whether this is
opinion or whether is news is very important I think. But
definitely in Syria, you mentioned, so much of the news we
get out of that country is filmed by young people probably
not much older than yourself on their cell phone cameras,
and so many of the important developments in Syria have
been brought to our attention by young people really
risking their lives by becoming citizen journalists.
MS. VERSTANDIG: It's true.
MS. GORANI: And those can be the next
generation of journalists with the training though that
they need, because it is a craft. It's not just something
that you kind of learn on the spot in one month. But
thank you. That was really a great question. Thank you.
Yes, the gentleman in the fourth row from the
back with the blue shirt. Yes, you.
MR. LECHNER: I'm Ira Lechner, chairman of the
council for Livable World, dealing with nuclear nonproliferation.
There are many forces within the
Republican Party and hinted at as well by Governor Romney
that United States should begin to start arming the
insurgents in Syria. Given that there are many different
elements within the insurgency, are we inviting a Charlie
Wilson kind of question and resolution or outcome if we
start in that process, and how -- does that explain some
of the difficulties that the President has right now in
terms of dealing with the crisis?
MR. ROTHKOPF: Well, according to the New York
Times again -- and I'll defer to Hala whether I should
trust them or not.
MR. ROTHKOPF: But according to the New York
Times a couple of days ago, the CIA already has a program
where we are selectively arming members of the Syrian
opposition and we are -- I guess the keyword there is
selective, and I guess that's the key challenge in the
context of Syria.
MS. GORANI: And the Gulf countries -- yeah.
MR. VERSTANDIG: It is the key challenge. We
don't know this -- this is an amalgam of various factions
and constituencies, and we are not -- that's part of the
problem. And we have been trying to find out who they
are. We are trying to learn more who they are. It is a
very complex situation. We do know that our friends in
the Gulf have been much more actively engaged in
supporting them and trying to ferret out who the "them" is
and how to determine which are the right constituencies to
MS. GORANI: Right. And what strings, by the
way, are arming these rebels. What strings are attached
to that whole thing. Because if Saudi Arabia and Qatar --
and its difficult by the way, to be able to determine with
any kind of certainty whether or not they are arming, what
kind of weapons are maybe being funneled in. How do
things change in Syria if Saudi Arabia and Qatar and other
Gulf countries are the ones helping the rebels, who
eventually end up overthrowing the Assad regime?
MR. BURNS: One of the lessons that President
Kennedy, I think, tried to learn between the Bay of Pigs,
the Berlin crisis of 1961 and the Cuban missile crisis
of '62 is the importance of restraint. Sometimes the best
decisions you make are not to act or to delay action. And
I would like to see Assad overthrown, and I certainly like
to see the Syrian people relieved of this horrific regime,
and yet there is a lot of problems with arming the Syrian
We don't really know who they are. We haven't
met most of them. And it's -- I trust the New York Times.
MR. BURNS: And the Wall Street Journal.
MS. GORANI: But even in that piece, even in
that New York Times piece there was -- nothing was said
with any kind of certainty. Some rebel leaders said, yes.
Others said, no, we'd received nothing.
MR. BURNS: But persistent press reports, going
back now four or five months, that there are Al-Qaeda like
groups present in the rebel alliance, the rebel mix.
There is no central rebel organization.
MS. GORANI: Right.
MR. BURNS: And so the fact that the President
would stand off and not commit, to me, is smart and
sometimes restraint is more important than just impulsive
MS. GORANI: I think -- the gentleman who is
raising his hand there, who is next to the gentleman who
just asked the question. Yes, you -- yeah, with the blue
MR. SILVERMAN: My name is Jake Silverman
(phonetic) and I am a high school senior. And I actually
did take a class this year very similar to the one you
recommended, so good idea. My question is very
straightforward, do you foresee -- I am not asking you if
you foresee this crisis in Syria getting worse. I am
asking if you foresee it getting to a point -- do you
foresee the Arab League asking NATO to intervene at any
MS. GORANI: Well --
MS. VERSTANDIG: Look I think when you do -- let
me just say. The Arab League is a different constituency
than it once was, and I don't -- I think we are going to
see this playing out more in the short-term. It's this
bifurcated group, the U.N. Arab League, and it's Kofi
Annan's effort is what we are going to see more traction
in the short-term as to opposed to the Arab League as a
standalone versus the U.N. That's where I think is the
MR. ROTHKOPF: The other complication -- it was
a great question -- is that unlike Libya, you are not
going to have Russian, Chinese acquiescence. You will
have opposition to any possible NATO use of force. And
you've got Iran there, and there is no question that Iran
is physically present in Syria through its various
services and through the Revolutionary Guards. And so,
it's much more dangerous and problematic.
And for the reasons that we talked about before,
the idea of using force is more complicated. You can't
really draw the line towards success. I would think the
Arab League would be reluctant to do that at the --
they've had cause, but they've chosen not to. So
unfortunately, we are probably looking at a continuation
of this civil war without the type of intervention that we
saw in Libya.
MS. GORANI: I am going to go to the gentleman
there. Yes, you with the blue shirt. Everybody has a
MR. LIPSON: Thank you. Kevin Lipson (phonetic)
from Washington D.C. I have heard you all speak about the
Jeffersonian and Martin Luther King principles that may
underlie the Arab Spring. I perhaps take a different view
of that. I am wondering whether you think it's really
consistent with the vindication of democratic values if in
a democracy free elections results in a totalitarian
result, and by that I mean the elections in Gaza and in
MR. BURNS: Kevin and I started this
conversation here at Aspen last night. I am happy to
continue it with him. I am sure that David and Toni will
weigh in. This is really complicated for us. We called
for these elections in Egypt. That's what President Obama
and the Republican Party thought should happen; let the
Egyptian people decide the very first true elections in
many thousands of years in Egypt.
The first elections of an avowed Islamist in
Mohamed Morsi to the presidency of Egypt. They are not on
my dance card. I don't support the Muslim Brotherhood.
But I do think that what the President appears to be doing
is smart. He called -- President Obama called Morsi on
Sunday. Our ambassador, our embassy are actively trying
to work with them. We are trying to put together a
situation where our friends in the military might work
with the Muslim Brotherhood to avoid a civil war and to
try to lurch forward in an evolutionary gradual way
towards some semblance of a more democratic, more free
Egypt if it can be realized.
There's no reason for us to walk away from that
right now. There is every reason for us to work with both
the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. If they
disappoint us, if they seek to abrogate the Camp David
accord with Israel, that's a deal breaker for us. We can
deny aid. So -- but we don't have to make that decision
now. I am the one who talked about Jefferson and Martin
Luther King. Those are our values. They are not
necessarily the values of the people of the Arab World,
but we should want to support that. If we walk away from
dealing with Islamists right now, we will have zero
credibility among the part of the Arab constituency that
matters most, the people of the Arab world, not just the
MS. GORANI: But I want to add just also and ask
you this question as a follow-up. You know, in Egypt most
of the people you talk to will say they fear
totalitarianism coming from the military a lot more than
they fear from the Muslim Brotherhood. That's the view
from the ground. And that's what interesting, is that in
the western countries the fear is more of the Muslim
Brotherhood than the military. So there is a real
MR. ROTHKOPF: Well, I think -- look, first of
all -- and this sounds like sort of a set up for a joke,
but it's not. Well, I think we have to distinguish
between our principles and our foreign policy. And in
terms of the context of our principles, these are things
that we have to stand for in every occasion that they
arise. We believe in democracy and we believe in self
determination as the best way for countries to govern
their own affairs. That's sort of in our DNA; it's in our
founding documents. That means we have to grow up and
accept that democracy will produce outcomes that we don't
like. It will produce leaders that we don't like, and we
have got to learn to live effectively in a world where
there are people that we don't like.
That's just part of foreign policy. We may not
support the people that the democracy puts forward. We
may try to use our tools in our toolbox to influence them
in one direction or another. But I also think -- and I
think this is important -- that democracy is not some one
size fits all thing. Lots of people are using the term
democracy to refer to a lot of things that aren't very
If women aren't involved, if other groups are
kept out as a consequence of intolerance, that's not
democracy. And we need to be rigorous in support of our
principles in their totality and not just sort of cut
around them to fit into a foreign policy that suits our
needs at the moment.
MS. VERSTANDIG: Let me make a comment. I think
we need to look at this --
MS. GORANI: And just to -- we have five
minutes left totally.
MS. VERSTANDIG: Okay, very briefly. Elections
are messy. We saw an outcome -- we are in the middle of --
this was an ambiguous transition, let's remember. This
was a very close election. Nick, but you neglected to
mention -- if I could also add -- the President also
called Shafik, which was an unusual gesture.
MR. BURNS: Yeah.
MS. VERSTANDIG: So what he -- what that gesture
meant was, I am going to work with both sides. I
recognize this was a close election, but this was how the
Egyptian people voted, number one. Number two, you are in
the midst of a power sharing arrangement between the
military and this new president. We don't know how this
is going to play out. In addition, they have to write a
constitution. We should help -- we should be engaged if
they seek our help in terms of "how does this process
work, what kind of tools do you use." That is their
overarching legal framework. They haven't seated a
So the long and the short of it is, this is a
longer term process. But as Nick said, all so well -- and
David -- we have to look at what they are doing on the
ground. It is not just the words. And this is a long
term process and I want to restate, we have to be patient
and we have to stay the course. And we have to be willing
to accept "this may not be the outcome we exactly wanted,
but we are going to work with them and watch what they do
MS. GORANI: All right, we have time for one
more question unfortunately and then we are going to have
to wrap it up. But the lady in the back with the blue
MR. ROTHKOPF: Also blue.
MS. GORANI: And also a blue shirt.
MS. ECK: A blue shirt definitely. First thing,
I want to thank you. This has been the most interesting
panel. Diana Eck from Harvard University -- not in this
field exactly. But a lot of us have been reading Nick
Kristof over the last few weeks on Iran.
MR. BURNS: Yeah.
MS. GORANI: Yeah.
MS. ECK: His driving across Iran, bringing us a
portrait of some of the things that have been going on
there. His own view of -- his opinion, of course. But
many people here I am sure have been to Iran. What -- how
do you, as sophisticated folks who know the Middle East,
how do you evaluate his views on things, and what
potential do we have for the, what, a different kind of
people-to-people diplomacy there that could really begin
to transform something that desperately needs to be
MS. VERSTANDIG: May I start with that? I think
a reference point; the Aspen Institute six years ago --
Nick, you were a part of it -- we did the first U.S.
government sanctioned dialogue with Iran and it was on
health diplomacy. It was extraordinary and it showed how
if you engage on a people-to-people level, what results
you can have.
I think what Nick's pointing out, Nick Kristof,
was how the Iranian people want a relationship with the
American people. And we need to figure out a way. I am
going to underscore, I do not support military action
against Iran right now. And what Nick laid out in terms
of the sanctions that are kicking in, we need to give them
time. And I think -- I am going to underscore the
significance of those sanctions.
The Iranian people are having disagreements with
their own government. If we took precipitous action now
or if the Israelis did, all that would do is rally support
for that Iranian government that is tethering in my mind.
I see schisms.
MR. BURNS: Right.
MS. VERSTANDIG: But Nick you are an expert --
MS. GORANI: And let me ask you, so the Nick
Kristof columns were interesting because it is something
that always -- and I find this interesting; people in the
United States and in the west whenever they read an
article about the country they don't know that's many
times been presented as something scary, that in fact
young people listen to music and drink and all that, you
know, then it's kind of an eye opening thing, which is
What did you make of these columns?
MR. ROTHKOPF: Well, first of all, she had asked
for the comments of the sophisticated members of the
panel, so --
MR. ROTHKOPF: -- I assume she was leaving me
out. You know, I thought they were good columns. I think
-- you know, we cannot help but have our polices enhanced
by better understanding of the ground level situation in
these countries and who the people are. And the problem
is that when you get media whether it's in a Tweet or in a
news, so it's boiled down, it becomes a headline, a
person, a capital city, one point of view, and you lose
all the colors and all the range of realities that exist
within the country.
MS. GORANI: Right.
MR. ROTHKOPF: So we need that.
MS. GORANI: Yeah. One last word, a few seconds
and then we have to wrap it up, unfortunately.
MR. BURNS: I just want to thank Professor Eck.
She's been a great leader at our university. Nick Krist --
I am a huge admirer of Nick, because it seems --
MR. ROTHKOPF: Wait. What university did he go
to by the way? I just wanted to make sure --
MR. BURNS: Harvard -- Harvard, Harvard, Harvard.
MR. ROTHKOPF: -- that it's clear that this is
totally a setup.
MR. BURNS: Sorry.
MS. GORANI: Yeah, exactly.
MR. BURNS: Okay.
MS. VERSTANDIG: Thank you for pointing that
out, David. I was going to be discreet.
MR. BURNS: I admire Professor Eck, including
the fact that she is from Harvard. Nick is reporting from
the people's point of view not from government's point of
view, so it's unique. And he has illustrated the real
tragedy of the last 30 years. We talk -- we Americans
talk to everybody. We talk to the North Koreans, the
Cubans the Venezuelans, the Zimbabweans, we don't talk to
And I admire the fact that President Bush and
President Obama have tried to talk, and now we have, I
think through Nick's columns, a better portrait of a
highly complex country which is just over half Persian.
You have Baloch, Kurd, and all sorts of other minority
groups in Iran. This is a deeply complex country.
And to think that there is some unilateral
military solution -- the solution is talk. Get to know
them. Search for a bottom line. Search for a deal where
we make a messy compromise. If that's not possible, we've
always got the military option a couple of years down the
line. I hope we don't have to use it. I think Nick's
done us a great service by showing us that there is a lot
maybe that we can work with in terms of the Iranian people
and the American people.
MS. GORANI: David Rothkopf, Toni Verstandig and
Nick Burns, thank you all so much.
MR. BURNS: Thank you.
MS. VERSTANDIG: Thank you.
MS. GORANI: Thank you. Thanks. Great.
* * * * *
Watch and Listen: World
John Dickerson and former CIA director, retired Army General David Petraeus, take a tour of the unprecedented threats... See more
Welcome from David G. Bradley and Walter Isaacson A Conversation on the Future with Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots... See more
Often overshadowed by terrorism, nuclear weapons, and cybercrime in the public imagination, pandemics may actually be... See more
Tens of thousands of men and women have left comfortable, privileged lives to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—... See more
From election meddling to new US sanctions to close calls between fighter planes over the Baltic Sea, the US-Russia... See more