Political divisions make US foreign policy unreliable, Saudi expert says

JPost One-on-One weekly 'Zoomcast': Seth J. Frantzman and UAE-based Saudi-American independent academic researcher and political expert Najat al-Saied - Episode 6

JPost one-on-one Zoomcast - Episode 6
Great, well good morning and welcome to this week's edition of JPost 1-on-1 Zoomcast. I'm here today with Najat al-Saied, who is a Saudi-American independent academic researcher based in the UAE and an expert in political communications and social development. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Thank you for inviting me, thank you so much.
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I'm not sure where we should start. There are so many things happening in the Middle East at the moment. I thought we would start with just a general overview, or get your sense of what do you think the biggest challenges are facing the region at this moment, let's say in February 2021.
 I don't know where to start from, because there are many challenges. But let me focus on the challenge that was a ramification from the previous year and the other years in my point of view. Let us start mainly with the US foreign policy that is related to the region. One of the main challenges that I see that is facing the region, especially regarding the US foreign policy, which I've written about a lot, you know, in coherence between the two parties. The clash and the division in the United States domestically is so obviously reflected in their foreign policy, between the Democrats and the Republican conservatives. And if we pay attention to the foreign policy, then they are not consistent at all. One party is saying something, and the other party is saying another thing. For example, if we go back to the Obama administration, then we see that it was quite aligned or supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood. It did that in the Arab Spring, it supported the Muslim Brotherhood big time. We see how it was so much supportive of and funded the Iranian regime with millions of dollars and sold our secrets to it afterwards.
And we see in general, its view in political Islam, that we are doing here in the UAE and Saudi Arabia and Egypt for example, as moderate Islam. While the others, countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, like UAE, mainly they are observing political Islam as a terrorist.
So, when you don't have one coherent view of what is a terrorist and what is not, what should be done and what is not, and one administration does one thing and the other contradicts it, you are giving a huge signal, and a positive signal to your aims. Like those who you are accusing [of being behind] the turmoil in the region.
When the Trump administration came, they canceled the deal completely and they said this is an unfair deal. Which is quite right, and a lot of countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia supported this, but the problem was [when] the Biden administration came, the first thing they did was to go back to the Iranian deal, and it seems that though what we see that they are the ones initiating it, and the Iranian regime now is dictating, they want to go forward the deal without lifting sanctions. So, you are putting them on the top, at the same time they are freezing the selling of their weapons to their allies. So regardless, whether the intention was to review it or not, as this happened at the end of the Trump administration, but still the fact that are you are freezing the sales of weapons to your allies and you are not rewarding a country that is trying to bring normalization and is doing its best to resolve an unsolved issue for ages, and you are rewarded with this kind of revision or freeze. Or whatever, and at the same time you are running after a big troublesome regime like that, that gives a huge bad signal to the whole region.
This is what the US is doing, it's rewarding its enemies and putting hard pressure on its allies. That's an insult from the start from the Biden administration. What you are trying to say, and the other one, as you see, the other problem, you're starting with the Iranian deal, there are many other unsolved problems in the region.
And we not only have the Yemen war they started, what about Syria? The Syrian problem was since the Obama administration and wasn't even really resolved during the Trump administration. And what about Iraq, is Iraq stable? From bad to worse, it's going from bad to worse. We see militias that are funded by Iran are hitting US troops, so at the same time you are leaving US troops to be hit by militias, and you are going after them for a deal? As like you are rewarding them for what they are doing to the US troops, doesn’t make sense, doesn't make logic.
And you, for one, are focusing too much on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and not the humanitarian crises in other countries, like for Syria. Is the situation in Syria better than Yemen? So why are you focusing too much on this? So, it seems that there is too much focus on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Honestly, I see it as more politicized in order to blackmail Saudi Arabia more than to help the Yemini people. Because if you are fair, you have to be fair for everybody. Why are you focusing on one, and the other one is almost null? Give me the whole thing.
The other thing is who is the cause of this whole humanitarian crisis in Yemen? We know that it is Houthi, you know yourself in Israel that all the militias are using civilians [who are] innocent as human shields, and this is the strategy of militias all over. So, I am not the cause of this crisis, the cause is this militia.
This is another disaster the Biden administration did, the previous administration designated these bad Iranian militias as a terrorist organization and now they are running after removing this. So, what are you trying to say? You are rewarding the Houthis by the many missiles that they are throwing towards Saudi Arabia. And who's the cause of this whole human crisis in Yemen? They are the ones that are taking all of this assistance, and they are the ones who are even taking it for their own militia, and they are preventing humanitarian aid for the civilians, and now you want to remove [their designation] as terrorists. What did they do in order [for you] to reward them, and what did the Iranian regime do to have the US run after it for a deal? All of that is huge. So, if there is no coherent bipartisan agreement between the Republicans and between the Democrats on what is the "definition" of terrorism, what exactly is terrorism for you? Okay? Who are your allies? And who are not?
If you are against the war in Yemen, please give me another solution. Saudi Arabia, and any country you know, won't accept another Hezbollah next to its border. Look what happened. Why didn't they learn the lessons from Lebanon? Look what Hezbollah did to Israel, look what Hezbollah is doing now to its own people. Look what it’s doing. They integrated Hezbollah into the political system of Lebanon, and look what happened. Now they want to repeat the same thing in Yemen. They want to integrate a terrorist militia within the political system of Yemen. So how can we imagine that there will be stability? Why can't we learn from the lessons of other countries? Why must we repeat the same mistakes over and over again?
These are the main things that I see, and the other thing. Look, you know, I've wrote since 2012 that the war against terrorism is a war of ideology. If you don't solve the ideology, you will never solve the terror. The problem with the Democratic Party is they see political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood and even  the Iranian regime as moderate. The terrorists are only the fighters like ISIS, and others. If you want to realize the situation deeply from an ideological perspective you will see that those terrorist militia are actually driven from the ideologies of political Islam, but what's the difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS? One wears a tie and is clean cut, and the other is not. But [in their heads] they are both the same.
Also with the militias that are funded by Iran, we see them as terrorists but they also share the same ideology as the Iranian regime. If we have this kind of drift and division between what is moderate and what is a terrorist, this is the core problem when we see political Islam using a religion, a peaceful religion for their own political agenda and brainwashing the people with terrorist ideologies and using Islam for it.
This is the core problem of terrorism, and you are saying that those people are moderate. So here we are going to be in and endless crisis forever, terrorism will never be solved, if we don't agree on what is terrorist and what is not. It will go over and over again.
The other disaster of the Biden administration is that they want to bring together stable countries that want to go for peace, coexistence and development with completely different ideological regimes that do not believe even in statehood, they only fund militias and they are against coexistence, they are against peace they are anti-any people who are against them, call it antisemitism, anti-moderate Muslims, anti, anti, anti. So how are we going to bring those together?
At the same time, you want to withdraw gradually from the region because you don't see the Middle East as important as before and you see other challenges for the US like China and Russia, so you want to throw on me a monster and leave? You want to give all of those tools to the Iranian regime and Turkey and leave me and go? And you go to other continents, what about us? You want to leave from the region before resolving them, before resolving what is terrorism, without identifying the ideology, the terrorist ideology, which is the main core of terrorism. You won’t leave without giving the tools to your allies and you have to define your allies and instead of the Biden administration supporting the good things that have been done in the Trump administration, which is normalization, they didn't continue the normalization path they went after a terrorist regime that is against normalization. That wants to destroy Israelis, that wants to destroy the monarchies because they want to apply their own agenda and their own political system.
We all know that the Iranian regime from the start wants to expand the Iranian revolution to the whole region. They think the Muslim Brotherhood is moderate, so in here they are giving huge support to Erdogan's Turkey and his ideology. They want to support all of that and you leave me. Here's the problem, so I didn't know what to do. Either we see coherent bipartisan agreement in the US foreign policy - not completely opposite. Or either, we enter the region, go and make an alliance. I would like, this is my dream honestly, to see a Moroccan, Emirati, Bahraini and hopefully Saudi alliance with Israel. Thank you, we can go together, and US foreign policy is not reliable to us and this is how see if they are going to continue seeing this incoherent foreign policy, then we are going to work by ourselves.
Why do you think the Biden administration has taken on the Yemen thing? But it seems to me, you say, why don't they choose Syria? Maybe because Syria is much more in the heart of the Middle East and ties into so many different things. You think that it’s not a cohesive ideology, but it’s more about a bit of virtue signaling the Yemen crisis, they want to be able to say that they have done something. Is it really part of an overarching plan or if you listen to the statements, they say a.) they are going to take them off the terrorist list, but they were only on the terrorist list for about three weeks, so they are just reversing a policy, and b.) they are going to end support for what they call "offensive weapons" which is a very encompassing term, it doesn't mean everything it means maybe missiles or something. So, I wonder do you maybe think it's really part of a conflict of cohesion. I just wonder if you think it’s part of a complex cohesive ideology, or if you just see it as a symbolic gesture?
The way I see it, is it's not strategic and it's not cohesive. All that I see it is just undoing what the Trump administration has done. This is basically, as I told you, you know the problem with this kind of conflict and division inside the US is affected in US foreign policy unfortunately and we are here as a scapegoat in the region. They are clashing with each other and we are here the victims. If you want to clash, clash domestically something internally, but don't put your clashes on us please.
Okay, so that's why I didn't see any kind of sense in all of the decisions that have been made. Because as I told you, if it is done strategically, everything goes smoothly, but the fact that proves to you that this is not strategic is at all, at all. It’s giving very dangerous signals as if you were saying to those radicals or those regimes that are ideological regimes, and instead of putting on the maximum pressure on those ones, you're putting the maximum pressure on your allies.
It is unstrategic. It's basically what has been done because they were clashing with the Trump administration and they were against the war in Yemen because some members, especially the more-left members felt as though the Trump administration allied with countries such as Saudi Arabia for example, so they want more pressure on Saudi Arabia because they saw the Trump administration was allied with it. So basically what Biden is trying to do is to fulfill his promises that he was saying in his campaign, "I'm going to be against Saudi Arabia," "I am going to be against the war in Yemen," "I am going to go back and highlight and put pressure on Saudi Arabia in the Khashoggi case." It's, you know, doing the opposite of what the Trump administration was doing is not going through a strategic path, and there will never be a strategic path in US foreign policy if they don't stand together - the two parties together. That I don't see at all, I see more and more divisions. I can see to the maximum extent. They want to weaken the Republican Party and the Republican Party is just being on the defensive side.
This is dangerous, if you want to go strategically you have to admit that the other administration did something good, and to me that's normalization, so continue it, continue it. Why do you think it's not important, it is the main problem in the region, continue it. Why I think it is important, the normalization. Not because of the unsolved issue, which is the most important thing, but more importantly, you're killing the radical ideology. If you're looking into the radical ideologies with Arab nationalism or Islamism, are all antisemitic and anti-Zionist and anti-Israel. If I'm going to kill that, with normalization, this is the big fight against those radicals.
Look you are against them, not because you want better lives for the Palestinians or because of the holy mosque in Jerusalem, it's all nonsense, you did nothing. You want to use this whole Palestinian cause to elevate your radical ideologies in the region and that's what the Iranian regime is doing and that's what the hypocrites in Erdogan's Turkey is doing.
By continuing this normalization, you're not only making peace with Israelis, you're also adding to that killing the terrorist at their core, the ideologies, because the war on terrorism is a war on ideology. So instead of seeing the Biden administration doing that and pushing for more countries to do that especially big countries and stable countries, we are seeing them running after the radicals who are against us, who are against us not physically but what we stand for, what we stand for is peace, what we stand for is coexistence, development, good for our people.
These are the things that for the Iranian regime, when you lift the sanctions, do you think they will invest the money and the billions of dollars to their people? No, no. We saw what they have invested in during the Obama administration, those people do not care about development, do not want peace and are against coexistence. So, how do you want me to work with them? The best thing in politics is compromise, but I compromise with countries that I differ with them politically, but not ideologically. We all differ. I am not like you completely 100%, we all differ, all of the Gulf countries differ they have certain differences even though they are quite similar, but you want me to get along and have a talk with a country that is completely against me ideologically. Force the Iranian regime to stop funding the militias, this is the minimum thing that you can do.
We don't have a lot of time. I'm sorry, I just want to ask you to get a sense of what you said. Do you think that, just quickly. It's your assessment that you probably, you think we are going to see a bit more of Iranians in terrorism and instability? Is that your [opinion], do you think these policies will be in place within the next sixth months that we will see not only more Houthi attacks, but more instability in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.
Yes, of course. We see it now in Lebanon. The explosion in Lebanon, this is a big sign. We will see more attacks on US troops in Iraq definitely and look at the language. See the language of the Iranian regime, look at Khamenei, how he is dictating and the fact of the way he is talking to them in this language, that by itself is a hint. We will see more violence in Syria, and we will see more violence in Yemen, their Houthi militia will attack Saudi Arabia even more, and this is only the beginning. The fact that the US froze the selling of weapons to their allies, and at the same time and at the same moment they are running after a deal with the Iranian regime, that by itself is a disastrous start, and it will cause, eventually more violence and more terrorism, and unfortunately, I'm not optimistic at all. I hope I'm not broke, but that is what I see from the first few weeks.
Well, I hope so too. We will have to circle back and do another talk in a few months to see what's happened, because I guess that's the key question is whether or not this policy, whether it's just one thing or if it will become a wider chaos in the region. So, I really appreciate you coming on and it was a really great conversation, and you said a lot of interesting things, and definitely gave us a kind of preview of the kind of multi-layered cake that faces us in terms of the region and in terms of the administration and the challenges we may or may not see down the tracks. So, I really appreciate your time and thank you so much.