Atlantic Council managing editor James Joyner asks in The National Interest, "Why Should Congress and the Courts Care About Snooping If Citizens Don't?"
J. Peter Pham, director of the Atlantic Council’s Michael S. Ansari Africa Center, was interviewed by Brian Todd on CNN’s Situation Room in a segment on the discovery of evidence in northern Mali that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) may have acquired surface-to-air missiles.
Atlantic Council Managing Editor James Joyner published an editorial in The National Interest arguing it's better to "trust in those charged with safeguarding our nation's secrets to do so honorably than to make every disgruntled Army private or low-level contractor a de facto national classification authority."
Senior Fellow Frederic C. Hof of the Council's Hariri Middle East Center speaks with host Scott Simon of NPR Weekend Edition about the worsening crisis in Syria and the United States' limited military and political options.
Atlantic Council chairman Senator Chuck Hagel delivered a speech at J Street's First National Conference, "Driving Change, Securing Peace." The text of his prepared remarks is provided below. A full agenda of the conference and video coverage is available at J Street.
Senator Hagel's Prepared Remarks for J Street's First National Conference:
Thank you for inviting me to speak at J Street’s First National Conference, “Driving Change, Securing Peace.” I share your commitment to American leadership helping end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict… justly and peacefully. And I share with you, that this commitment represents strong support for both Israel’s security and for the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Citizens of the world live within the sovereignty of manmade borders – but also within the realities of a global community. Either we understand this and accept these realities of a world of different religions and cultures, and attempt to accommodate these differences, or we will live in a world of perpetual violence and hatred. That is the stark choice that faces a world of six and a half billion people soon to be eight billion. That is also the stark question that presents itself to mankind – will we be wise enough and courageous enough to find manmade solutions to manmade injustice and problems?
In his column a couple of weeks ago Tom Friedman noted the poisonous political environment that we have allowed to develop in our country which affects decision making, respectful and informed discussion of difficult issues, and building a consensus to govern. He relates it to the political environment that he saw in Israel in 1995 when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Friedman was right to point out this present day danger. For if we cannot rise above it, we will surely all pay a heavy price… especially our next generation… for failing the world at an historic moment of possibilities. As Friedman noted the future of the Middle East is one of these great issues caught in this current irresponsible down-draft of destruction. Political atmospherics set the tone and frame the debate of great issues. They can either enhance or destroy political change. All nations have interests and their policies are driven by those interests. But it is humanity, the respect for all people, that should serve as a guiding signpost for our policies and relationships in the world.
President Obama has placed the Middle East conflict at the center of U.S. strategic policy. He deserves strong support for his leadership and courage. We all recognize that the Middle East represents an explosive political issue for any President. The history of failure hangs heavy over this issue with high accompanying political consequences. My friends and former Congressional colleagues who are here tonight also clearly understand this harsh political reality and the risks of these deep, swift and unpredictable political currents. I have great admiration for Members of Congress who are willing to put aside political differences and invest their political futures in helping shape and produce a just and lasting peace for all people in the Middle East.
There are differences on how the Middle East conflict should be resolved. There should be differences. But those differences must not stop the process from moving forward to find a common ground for a just and accepted peace by all sides. Yes it requires risks and it is difficult. But what is the alternative? The alternative is more hatred and violence affecting more people and more countries. This American President understands that a diplomatic and peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict would not jeopardize Israel’s future, but rather is an essential reality for Israel’s future.
The United States support for Israel need not be… nor should it be… an either-or proposition that dictates our relationships with our Arab allies and friends. The U.S. has a long and special relationship with Israel, but it must not come at the expense of our Arab relationships. That is a false choice, and not in the interest of Israel or the U.S. This is a much used distortion that plays to the single issue benefits of certain groups. The fact is we all need each other. U.S. interests are served by having strong relationships with both Israelis and Arabs. As is Israel’s interests, reflecting on its relationships with Egypt and Jordan. As long as nations continue to be driven by the lowest common denominator of conflict and instability, they will be incapable of rising above the swamps of conflict to clearly view their long term interests for more than just day-to-day survival. But rather they must give their people a future worthy of the dignity of man.
This divisive strategy – attempting to make the U.S. choose between its relationships with Israelis and Arabs perpetuates the current state of instability and mistrust… and continues to drive us toward more and deeper conflict. It destroys any possibility for positive political atmospherics that are always critically important in attempting to resolve historic conflicts. The radicals and extremists will continue to use religion and intolerant canons of life to recruit desperate hopeless people and use their twisted extremism to hate and kill and subjugate others to their will.
The world’s great religions do not preach this hatred and violence. Why can’t we sort this out? Terrorists and extremists exploit the Arab-Israeli conflict and use it as one of their most potent recruiting tools and arguments against Israel and the United States. Why do we continue to empower them… and give them this weapon that they so effectively use against us?
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is central, not peripheral, to U.S. vital security interests in combating terrorism, preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon, stability in the Middle East and U.S. and global energy security.
The Middle East is more combustible, complicated and dangerous today than it’s ever been. How does this continued danger and uncertainty benefit Israel, the Arabs or the United States?
America has not been without its share of tragedy in this region with its loss of over 5,200 Americans during the last eight years of wars. Today, we have 200,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan engaged in two of our longest wars… with Afghanistan soon becoming the longest in our history.
President Obama’s approach to achieving a Middle East peace is connected to other vital regional and global issues -- like helping forge an emerging Arab consensus on peace, combating terrorism, and future relationships with Iran and Syria. These issues are all in the long term interests of Israel, the U.S., the Middle East and the world.
There is an emerging consensus on the peace process in the Arab world, but it is fragile, fragmented and dependent on progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace track.
In July of this year, the Crown Prince of Bahrain, Shaikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post calling for Arab-Israeli dialogue and referencing a “potentially immense” peace dividend for all countries and the prospects for communication and trade between countries and peoples. He said, “when stability pays, conflict becomes too costly. We must do more now to achieve peace.”
The Crown Prince’s op-ed began with reference to the Arab Peace Initiative, offered by then Crown Prince now King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at the Arab League Summit in Beirut, in March 2002. It was a significant breakthrough. It was significant because for the first time ever all 22 Members of the Arab League had come forward with a unanimously agreed to peace initiative. This, after years of the U.S. telling the Arabs that they must get involved and take responsibility and leadership for helping resolve this conflict. They did but the last Administration ignored it. At its core, the Beirut Initiative offers to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, enter into a peace agreement with Israel, provide security for all states in the region, and establish normal relations with Israel… in return for Israeli withdrawal from all land occupied since 1967, a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, and acceptance of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.
Israel could not have immediately accepted the Arab initiative in its totality. All of these issues will require negotiation. But this was an important opening... a very important opportunity. Progress toward an eventual peace is going to be difficult and painful for both sides. Both sides are going to have to give and compromise. And the bottom line will be… are these compromises worth a just and lasting peace. Only the Israelis and Arabs can decide that. The U.S. nor any other country or institution can impose peace on them. What we can do is facilitate a peace process and act as the sponsor and facilitator of that process and use our considerable influence to facilitate a just and wise outcome.
It is my opinion that we do not have the luxury of indefinite time before a new peace process is agreed to and activated. We are beyond the step by step confidence building timeframe that has been tried in the past. We have witnessed past Middle East peace proposals be ridiculed, picked apart, stonewalled, and eventually discarded. What happened to the Road Map, the Mitchell Plan, the Tenet Plan, the Clinton Parameters, and the Beirut Declaration? I believe that we are now at a point where we must go directly to the core and defining… and most difficult issues… the final status issues. Both sides know what they are, as they were laid out in the 2002 Beirut Initiative. These are the issues that have held Middle East peace hostage since 1967.
The longer we allow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to drift the more dangerous and complicated it becomes for everyone… as it continues to severely weaken responsible Palestinian leaders… affecting their political capacity to engage, speak for and negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people. A path to acceptable Palestinian reconciliation must be found and more support by the Arab world should be given to Egypt’s efforts. No peace will be possible nor sustainable as long as the Palestinians remain a house divided. And this vacuum of failure further limits Israeli leaders’ capacity to take calculated and difficult risks for peace for their people. Who wins in this jungle of dangerous status-quo? The same radical groups that have been winning and holding the peace process hostage as they continue to radicalize and terrorize the Middle East. Vacuums in conflicts are never filled by positive events. Only more and deeper distrust, destruction and killing. That’s where we’ve been. We must break out of this disastrous cycle. We must find a new pathway to peace. We must build a new framework that allows us the flexibility and capacity to continue to work toward the high ground of accommodation.
Since the announcement by the Obama Administration of the highly respected former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, as the President’s Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, he has been pursuing opportunities for the basis for new peace talks where all parties – the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the broader Arab leadership – invest in and take the risks needed for peace. It is always difficult for leaders to step forward but no one – either in Ramallah, Tel Aviv, Riyadh, or Cairo – should let this opportunity be wasted. Now is the time when we must aggressively drive toward a two-state solution with the plain understanding that none who seek peace is served by further conflict, further intimidation and further pain and suffering.
We need a new peace process… and we need it now. Process is important. Process absorbs shocks. So every time a missile is launched into Israel at the beginning of a new peace initiative or cease fire, both sides pull out and we start all over, going back once again to the same futility of anger and violence that we’ve allowed to control the destinies of both Israelis and Arabs. We allow ourselves to be held captive to this historic madness. The extremists know exactly what they’re doing and we let them do it. And we all lose, except the extremists.
Security guarantees will be a central part of any Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement, especially for Israel. This should be addressed at the front end of a new peace process negotiation framework. Israel will require this assurance as borders and settlements are negotiated. A working peace keeping model of how this could be achieved has been in the Sinai since the Treaty of Peace was signed by Israel and Egypt in 1979. The Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) has worked effectively since the treaty was signed, and currently has about 1,700 security professionals from eleven nations in the Sinai, including nearly 700 troops from the U.S. The MFO would not comply with every facet required for a guaranteed border security force in any Israeli-Palestinian Peace Treaty. But it is a model for an important role that the international community could play led by the U.S. NATO might also be tapped for such a mission.
Another issue affecting peace in the Middle East is Iran. Preventing an Iranian nuclear weapons capability is a shared interest among the U.S., Israel, our Arab allies and most states of the world. Sanctions… even multilateral sanctions… the only sanctions that have any effect… have a limited value and are limited in their effectiveness. Multilateral sanctions are tools and influences that nations can use, but only in coordination with other instruments of power. The U.S. must continue to lead on the Iranian front working in coordination with our allies. This will require both short term and long term actions and proposals that will include regional security guarantees.
Arab states find themselves in a difficult bind when it comes to Iran. Anti-American and anti-Israeli agitation in the Middle East… spontaneous, contrived or organized… means they keep their counsel close. They worry about a hegemonic, potentially nuclear-armed Iran, as well as what might be the reaction to a military strike on Iran by Israel, supported by or perceived to be supported by the U.S.
Tangible and substantive steps toward Arab-Israeli peace would give more flexibility and credibility to U.S. diplomats as they attempt to shape the regional political and diplomatic environment. A new environment that encourages regional diplomacy, deters Iranian intimidation and lessons the possibility of the use of force against Iran – which would have potentially calamitous consequences for all parties in the Middle East. As Secretary of Defense Gates said recently about a military strike against Iran, “there is no military option that does anything more than buy time. The estimates are one to three years or so and that’s if the United States struck hundreds of targets. A less powerful Israeli attack could only damage, not destroy Iran’s facilities.”
Another link to comprehensive Middle East peace is Syria. Syria is at the intersection of many challenges for the United States in this area: Israel-Palestine, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq – and their relationships with our important longtime NATO ally, Turkey. Dealing with Syria is not easy and it will require time, energy, and focus… like all complicated diplomatic issues and relationships. Do we believe we can fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, seek to isolate Iran, support political stability in Lebanon, and improve Israel’s security – by isolating Syria? This is a bewildering notion if that’s what one believes. It certainly hasn’t worked so far.
I believe there is a real possibility of a shift in Syria’s strategic thinking and policies. For its own self interests… not because they want to do a favor for the U.S. or Israel. If we can convince Damascus to pause and re-consider its positions and support regarding Iran, Hezballah, Hamas and radical Palestinian groups, we will have made progress for the entire Middle East, Israel, and the U.S. Syria wants to talk – at the highest levels – and everything is on the table.
Success on the Israeli-Palestinian track will also contribute to more effective counter-terrorism policies in the Middle East – a development that would make the U.S., Israel, and our Arab friends more secure and the region more stable. The next bi-lateral peace treaty for Israel is with Syria. This would give Israel peace treaties with three former border enemies, Egypt, Jordan and Syria, adding to its security and minimizing its risks for peace. We must address all of these Middle East linkages in order to have a possibility of reaching a comprehensive agreement required for a just and lasting peace in this volatile region.
Why must we accept the failures of the past as the dull half–lit beacons of the future? Did Begin, Rabin, Sadat, and King Hussein accept the failed thinking of the past? They heard the call of history and acted on behalf of their people and their country’s future. They did not fail their people or history. They fulfilled the difficult and harsh responsibilities of leadership. And it cost two of these great leaders their lives. Leadership always matters… and in the end it is the final determinant of history. Our character, our humanity and our wisdom must now find their way to a joining of global realities at another great confluence of historic proportions.
On June 19, please join the Eurasia Center for a discussion on the IMF’s recent presentation Two Decades of Transition in Caucasus and Central Asia: Taking Stock and the Road Ahead with Dr. Juha Kähkönen, deputy director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia department, and the Honorable William Courtney, former US ambassador to Georgia and Kazakhstan and former special assistant to the President and senior director of the National Security Council staff for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. This event will be streamed LIVE from 10:30 a.m.
On June 24, the Brent Scowcroft Center of the Atlantic Council will host a panel discussion on the most recent claims of Chinese cyber espionage and the implications of this threat for the US-China relationship and China's ties with its neighbors in Asia.
On June 27, the Atlantic Council’s Iran Task Force will launch a new issue brief by Ramin Asgard and Barbara Slavin entitled US-Iran Cultural Engagement: A Cost Effective Boon to US National Security, along with a public briefing on people-to-people exchanges with Iran.