ABC News analyst talks politics
“It is said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the Middle East you tend to repeat it anyhow and those who focus on the past have no future,” began Anthony Cordesman in his lecture on “U.S. National Security and the Middle East.” The address to students centered on the Iraq war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Arab reform, and emphasized the need for a comprehensive and realistic approach to these issues.
Cordesman is a national security analyist for ABC News and a former Georgetown University adjunct professor of national security studies. He holds a chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has authored more than 20 books and has more than 40 years of experience in the Foreign Service.
The Arab-Israeli conflict is, according to Cordesman, “a key source of Arab and Islamic anger towards the U.S. [and] the most polarizing issue” in the Middle East, and a reason and rationale for the lack of reform in the region.
There were reasons for hope, maintained Cordesman, citing the election of new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, Israel’s plans for withdrawal from the Gaza strip, a more active American role and desire among Arab leaders to end the myriad conflicts as such positive developments.
Despite these optimistic trends and glimmers of hope, Cordesman said, it was all “negative hope.”
“The truth is that when you meet with Israelis and Palestinians, you get a much more stark view,” continued Cordesman. He observed among Palestinians “a significant portion committed [to] armed struggle” and identified Palestinian division, corruption and an economic crisis as major issues.
According to Cordesman, Israel was faced with the problems of preserving the current governing coalition, internal elements committed to maintaining outlying settlements in Palestinian territory and the potential backlash against withdrawal from Gaza.
Judging from Israeli media, Cordesman said that settlement expansion is “more expansive than the U.S. press lets on.”
In Iraq, negotiations and outside intervention will not solve the problems that exist, said Cordesman, as there are “no troops that can substitute for Iraqi troops or the Coalition.”
The sentiment of excitement among Americans over the Iraqi elections was misguided, because “without governance elections are meaningless,” said Cordesman. “We have turned democracy into a four letter word in this country.”
“Iraq doesn’t have to be reconstructed; for many it has to be constructed,” he said.
“We are not winning in reducing the number of insurgents...the metrics at the command level do not show a decline in the insurgency,” Cordesman said. He explained, “This is not a national insurgency” and that crime, not the insurgency, is the main concern of most Iraqis.
Progress is being made in training Iraqi security forces, said Cordesman, but the debate over the number of trained and equipped Iraqi forces is “rubbish.”
“People...in security forces are not transistor radios,” he continued, saying that the number of troops that could actually be deployed mattered more than the number of troops trained.
Cordesman concluded, however, that “we are not winning, nor are we losing.”
On the subject of terrorism, Cordesman said there was no large increase in the number of terrorists; there was a loss of experience among terrorists, but terrorism is becoming more adapted. He said, “It is easy to talk about addressing the causes of terrorism,” but the issues are very difficult to solve.
Cordesman highlighted the region’s high population growth and declining importance to the world economy. He noted, “We do not have a coherent aid program, nor has anyone ever proposed one.”
The Mid-East, said Cordesman, faces “not a clash between civilizations, but a clash within civilizations, playing out country-by-country with more violence and more terrorism.”
Cordesman repeatedly cautioned against excessive idealism and high expectations.
“All problems must be addressed at once and in a climate where we have
to react every day,” he said. “There are not quick or easy solutions
for any of these problems.”