Former Adviser to Bush: Saudi Arabia Warned Us of Iran and We are Surprised by Obama’s Stance

Townsend

The former Homeland Security Adviser to former US President George W. Bush Frances Townsend said that she sympathises with how Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, feel about the change in the Obama administration’s policies towards them.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Townsend said that “While the countries in the region feel that they are surrounded and greatly threatened by the Iranians, they see that their historical ally, the United States, has sided with the enemy who Saudi Arabia has warned us of. However, the Obama administration has not adhered to that advice”.

Townsend added that countries in the region, especially the Gulf states, feel that the Obama administration’s shift in stance is “a form of betrayal” and is detrimental to the historic relations between them and the United States. She continued by saying “In many respects, our security and that of our allies in the region are closely linked. The Saudis have fought with us against terrorism, and Saudi Arabia, in terms of the fight against terrorism, is among our strongest allies. It is also our most competent ally in the region in the fight against Al-Qaeda”.

When asked about the steps that the next president of the United States must take in order to restore the traditional Arab alliances with the United States in the region, Townsend said “From my point of view, the matter requires a restoration of confidence even before being able to build relations. While President Obama has achieved a lot in local politics, the harm done to many of our traditional allies in the region has a historic origin and is not isolated. Not only has our relationship with the Saudis been damaged, but also with the Emiratis and the Bahrainis”.

New York Federal Judge Finds Iran Provided Material Support for 9/11 Attacks

Six documents procured by Asharq Al-Awsat from the New York courthouse
Six documents procured by Asharq Al-Awsat from the New York courthouse

 

New York- A civil suit filed by two insurance companies and hundreds of families of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks has ended in a multibillion dollar judgment against the government of Iran.

In a prior case which concluded in December 2011, Judge George Daniels of the Southern District of New York ruled that senior officials of Iran and its proxy Hezbollah — including Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — had materially and directly supported Al-Qaeda in the September 11, 2001 attacks, and were responsible to pay billions in damages to compensate the victims. This month’s verdict in a related case is a summary judgment, augmenting the judgment and damages on the basis of the same evidence.

Asharq Al-Awsat has published six excerpts from court testimony, deemed factual by the judge, detailing aspects of Iran’s role in the terror plot, which brought down New York’s World Trade Center, damaged the Pentagon, and led to the downing of a plane in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing thousands. As Judge Daniels stated in his ruling, “The Islamic Republic of Iran provided material support or resources … to Al-Qaeda generally. Such material support or resources took the form of, inter alia, planning, funding, facilitation of the hijackers’ travel and training, and logistics, and included the provision of services, money, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safe houses, false documentation or identification, and/or transportation.”

Court documents assert that the Iranian government, Hezbollah, and Al-Qaeda formally declared an alliance in Khartoum in 1993, and Bin Laden and his cohorts subsequently received training and other assistance from Iran, which enabled Al-Qaeda to implement a series of terror attacks prior to September 11. Imad Mughniyeh, a prominent Hezbollah operative later assassinated by Israel in 2008, visited the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks in October 2000 and facilitated their travel to the United States via Iran. The Tehran regime saw to it that the hijackers’ passports were not stamped in transit. In addition to Khamenei and Mughniyeh, the judgment also finds former Iranian intelligence Ali Fallahian and Brigadier General Mohammed Baqir Dhu ‘ll-Qader, deputy commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

According to attorneys on the plaintiff’s committee, the ultimate judgment will be in excess of $21 billion, and would entitle plaintiffs to claim frozen Iranian assets as part of the settlement — though the value of frozen assets accessible to an American court does not reach the demanded sum.

In addition to Iranian leadership figures and the state itself, the judgment also names the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence, the IRGC, and its special operations division, the Quds Force.

Former US Defense Intelligence Director: The Obama Administration Lifted Sanctions Prematurely on Iran in Exchange for a Weak Deal

shedd

David Shedd is one of the most influential American intelligence officers in the post-September 11 era. During the Bush Years, serving in the National Security Council and eventually as Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Policy, Plans, and Requirements, he implemented sweeping intelligence reforms and a new “National Intelligence Strategy.” Under the Obama Administration, in August 2010, he was named Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and, four years later, took the post of Acting Director for several months before retiring from public service.

In his exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Mr. Shedd recalls his views of the Arab world during the “Arab spring” period and how they differed from the majority view within the Obama Administration. He explains the challenge of conducting intelligence work on Iran and the role of intelligence in America’s policies toward the Islamic Republic. Finally, looking ahead to the next White House, he presents some new options for the United States which would mark a significant departure from Obama Administration policies.

Q: What were your foremost concerns about the Middle East and North Africa on the eve of the upheavals of 2011-12?

A: Well before the “Arab spring,” I was seeing a growing arc of instability that extended from Damascus to Tehran and Lebanese Hezbollah — a relationship that was necessary in order to keep Bashar in power. It also went in the easterly direction toward Baghdad and southern Iraq, wound its way down through the Gulf, and looped around all the way to Yemen by Iranian support to the Houthis. That’s the fulcrum of the conflict we see today. And as I was told by a very senior official in Kuwait three years ago, “Thank you for putting Iran on our border.” He meant that Basra, in the south, was so Iranian-dominated following our departure from Iraq that it was de facto Iranian territory. What proved to be the other arc of instability was of course the North African wave of the Arab spring that launched in Tunisia and ended up with Egypt and Libya in dire straits politically in 2011 and 2012. While my opinion was not mainstream, there were certainly those that shared my view about the “Arab spring” that, at a minimum, the expectations of Tahrir Square would not be realized — and either Al-Qaeda would take advantage of it or Iran would see it as a useful tool to promote instability. The institutions were not in place in these countries that could provide the basis to meet the aspirations of the protestors.

Q: What is your view of the Administration’s response to the revolutions?

A: The Administration’s response engendered a feeling among those incumbent leaders still in power that we weren’t going to stand with them. And in fact, we were even prepared to dump our partners — in addition to Mubarak, also Qadhafi, who had been helping to fight Al-Qaeda in Libya and had given up his nuclear ambitions. So the message was very clear: The U.S. would be not even neutral — but actually pivot toward Tehran.

Q: What was the thinking behind the Administration’s decision to pursue a deal solely on Iran’s nuclear program, while leaving aside the regime’s support for international terrorism?

A: The plan was always, let’s carve out the nuclear file, get that done — and as the Iranian government is embraced by the international community over that “good behavior” of putting limitations on their nuclear program, we then will start to see opportunities to deal with the rest of the portfolios that were left unattended, such as international terrorism and human rights, such that Iran rejoins the international community.

Q: What is your view of this logic?

A: It reflects a certain naiveté. Samuel Huntington observed that revolutions must reinvent themselves. At some point, the second and third generations have to find a reason why there still has to be a revolution, because the reasons that applied at the beginning no longer do. The Iranian regime, in order to stay in power, needs to constantly reinvent its revolution. And the fact that religion plays such a crucial part of the revolutionary ideology — the waiting for the advent of the twelfth imam — means they actually have to create instability and violence in order to create the conditions where the Imam would arrive.

Q: What is your reading of the effectiveness of the Obama Administration’s negotiation with Iran?

A: The one thing that I saw consistently when it came to that part of the world is that, the worst thing you could do was negotiate from a position of weakness — either of actual weakness or perceived weakness that becomes reality. And indeed, the Iranians perceived this administration as weak. We couldn’t get a deal on a residual force in Iraq and, so, we left. We put no boots on the ground in Syria, and our “red line” disappeared. That was absolutely the worst approach when you’re going into negotiation. I got the sense in the final March-through-June 2015 period of negotiations that by then it was very clear to the Iranians that there was virtually nothing they couldn’t demand that would cause the United States to walk out.

Q: Over the period of the negotiations, what was the role of American and international intelligence agencies in assessing the Iranian Supreme Leader’s strategic thinking?

A: Iran has been an extraordinarily challenging target to any of our international intelligence partners to acquire information on the plans and intentions of the Supreme Leader and his inner circle. In the absence of that knowledge, there was a lot more reliance on evaluating the broader Iranian psyche. In other words, the inquiry was shaped around how well the sanctions were working: how badly they were impacting the Iranian economy, against the backdrop of the Iranian population’s frustration and anger that the Supreme Leader had to deal with. So you’d look, for example, at how the price of pharmaceuticals in Iran were being affected by the sanctions. But you’d also have to be careful about potentially getting a “false positive,” because the elite may still be getting whatever pharmaceuticals they want, regardless of what the majority population has to pay.

Q: Were there efforts to scrutinize Iranian government media as a possible window into Khamenei’s mind?

A: Great advances have been made in developing computer algorithms that analyze the media — not only social media but also traditional media — for trends in the tone and content of state propaganda. The algorithms identify key words and key phrases that, together, start to paint a picture. But the reliability of the analysis is only as good as the extent to which official media are truly a reflection of the Supreme Leader’s thoughts. It presumes that anything said by the Supreme Leader as well as everything said about the Supreme Leader that comes from an official source is actually sanctioned.

Q: In light of all these limitations, what kinds of input would analysts provide as the negotiations progressed?

A: The question of when to lift sanctions was obviously crucial. No one who was supportive of the deal said that the sanctions weren’t working. We all agreed on that. The question was, when do you get your maximum leverage on the sanctions? As someone who was very favorably inclined to the stiffer sanctions and maintaining them for a longer period of time, I nonetheless could not give them an answer as to when was enough. There was no good measure of intelligence that would tell you, in a sort laboratory-tested way, “If you wait 18 more months and do x, y, and z, this will break the regime.” I did not know the answer. All I knew was that instinctively, if the sanctions were working to this degree, how about one or two or five more degrees? But as the political window started to close for the [Obama] Administration, they decided to move. I believe the Administration acted prematurely to lift sanctions in exchange for a weak deal — one that did not dismantle the program, which was the original promise of the negotiations.

Q: Looking ahead, how would you assess prospects for an internal process of change in the Iranian government?

A: I believe the likelihood of a new “green revolution” in Iran is very low. I think the intelligence and security apparatus of Iran took many valuable lessons from the green revolution, and decided that that kind of opposition is unacceptable.

Q: What about systemic change through the election of the Majlis?

A: The Majlis is mainly an outlet that is part of the system itself and its survival to allow that. It is highly controlled. They Majlis may have the authority to figure out the annual budget or wherever the fiscal year is. Every system, particularly an authoritarian system, requires outlets. It can’t cap everything, because at some point it explodes, and so very adeptly, the regime in Tehran works to have those outlets. I believe the lifting of sanctions is going to be able to provide them with the kinds of additional resources which they need to foster those outlets as well.

Q: Now ten months away from a new White House, what do you see as some desirable policy options for the next President with respect to the Arab region?

A: There needs to be a clear and decisive signal of a strategic rebalance. Part of that is for a new administration, regardless of who it is, to come out with a relatively quick win in the Middle East. It may be a game changer in Raqqa, and probably requiring some boots on the ground: You won’t get there through an air campaign, and you won’t get there with allies alone. It needs to be led by a US presence. I’d achieve this “quick win” by rallying around something that’s the closest thing to a common enemy: international terrorists. So you’ve got the Russians on your side, on this specific, narrow problem set. You’re in consultations in Ankara and Amman. You go in and wipe out ISIS in Raqqa on that corner into Anbar, into Iraq. You retake Mosul. Something that’s a very significant victory, which also at the same time provides very direct and vivid evidence that ISIS is not invincible. It’s about staking out something that’s decisive and big. Maybe you clean out Sirte in Libya. You assist the Nigerians with Boko Haram in a dramatic way — including Cameroon and Niger. Some two or three big achievements, fairly quickly, would signal a serious reassertion of American military force that goes far beyond drones.

Q: Would the American public support such a shift?

A: I think it’s a question of presidential leadership. Right now, a lot of Americans are in the fog of wondering, “Are we winning or not?” The President needs to level with the American people about how, just when you thought the situation couldn’t get worse, it actually can — and will, unless we act now.

Q: What about the “tilt toward Iran”?

A: There has to be a clear American re-engagement with its traditional Arab allies. That doesn’t mean throwing away the Iran nuclear deal entirely, unless the Iranians do it themselves. But it does mean a very strong outreach to Sisi, to the Gulf — an escalatory outreach. It means that a lot more capabilities need to be brought to bear for countering the Iranian proxies and their promotion of instability in the region. What I would not do, however, is say on day one, the nuclear deal is off. That’s a bumper sticker — the situation is far more complex than that. The President has committed us. You’ve got the UN, and now a long cue of Europeans desiring to invest in Iran is what it is.

Q: As a career intelligence officer who has worked closely with your counterparts in the Middle East, could you share some views about Arab intelligence agencies as partners?

A: I would distinguish between Arab intelligence agencies on the one hand and, on the other hand, the intelligence agencies of the so-called “five eyes” — the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and Canada — together with France and Germany. To a large extent, the latter category of intelligence agencies has done two things: First, they’ve removed the politicization of intelligence, that is, telling those who hear what they want to hear. They are able to deliver bad news that doesn’t necessarily fit the political narrative. The second thing is that the leadership of these intelligence agencies is separated from the political establishment. You don’t go into running the CIA, for example, because you’re a Republican or Democrat. Your job is not to reinforce either the politics or the policy perception. By contrast, the Arab world is a region where their intelligence capabilities tend to be, first, inward looking — on their own opposition, or threats to their own stability. Second, they are not standing back and reporting on the threats without a political bias, but rather, in such a way as to promote their own leadership. In terms of their capabilities, they give us geographic advantage by virtue of the fact that they are actually in the region with which we are concerned — but oftentimes they do not give us a whole lot of capability advantage.

US Representative Eliot Engel: Rouhani is not a moderate

Eliot Engel giving a speech at the White House, August 30, 2013. (AP Photo)
Eliot Engel giving a speech at the White House on August 30, 2013. (AP Photo)

Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat—For many foreigners, one of the most striking—yet often overlooked—features of the US political system is the impact that the US Congress can have on foreign policy.

One of the key players in this regard is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, which has sought to take a leading role in shaping US policy towards Iran.

Recently, Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to the second-most senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Eliot Engel, in his office in Washington about Congressional attempts to toughen the US sanctions regime.

Engel, a Democrat, represents the 16th New York Congressional District, and recently introduced the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act with his colleague, Ed Royce (R-CA). The bill would broaden economic sanctions on Tehran, as well as increase oversight and enforcement of existing sanctions, while negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program continue.

Asharq Al-Awsat: Amid hopes for a negotiated settlement with Tehran over its nuclear program, some American policymakers view Iranian president Hassan Rouhani as a “moderate.” What’s your view?

Eliot Engel: That’s ridiculous, and Rouhani in my opinion is not a moderate. The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the final arbiter, and before the last Iranian elections he disqualified all the moderates. What brought Iran to the negotiating table was sanctions, which placed their economy in shambles.

Q: You’ve been a strong proponent of maintaining financial pressure on Tehran while negotiations continue over its nuclear program. What is the state of Congressional efforts to re-impose sanctions on the regime?

We passed last summer in the House the Royce–Engel Bill, which slapped the strongest sanctions on Iran yet. The Senate unfortunately did not follow suit, and it was only when these negotiations with Iran—[and] the P5+1—were taking place, that we started hearing some rumblings from the Senate about a different sanctions bill. First we heard about immediate sanctions, then we heard about a delayed sanctions bill that would kick-in six months later if Iran didn’t negotiate an agreement in good faith. But unfortunately, the administration is opposed to that as well.

Q: In the meantime, how do you see the negotiations proceeding?

My main problem with these negotiations—although I support them and I hope they work—is that Iran continues to enrich while we’re talking with them. I think it would not have been too much to say to the Iranians, “While we’re talking, you stop enriching.” If the whole purpose of the talk is that in the end, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon, then why are we allowing them to enrich while we’re talking? They lied about their program being for peaceful purposes. That’s a lie and we all know it’s a lie, and I don’t think we can believe what they say.

Q: Do you think that negotiations with Iran will lessen tensions in the Gulf, or bring an end to Iranian support for Hezbollah and Hamas?

Unfortunately, I think the chance of that is about zero. That’s also what bothers me about this. We’re negotiating with Iran on their nuclear program, and Iran is carrying out business as usual. They’re sending Hezbollah into Syria, and Hezbollah has turned the tide in the civil war in favor of [Syrian President Bashar] Al-Assad. They continue to make mischief wherever they can, and at same time we’re negotiating with them. It seems to me that these things are tied in to one another. It’s as if we’ve put blindfolds on and said to Iran, “We’re going to forget about all the mischief you’re causing, like being the world’s leading supporter of terrorism and turning the tide in favor of Assad.” I think it sends a bad message to them. It bothers me.

Q: What is your opinion of September’s UN-brokered agreement for the disarmament of chemical weapons in Syria?

I’m told that only 11 percent of the weapons have been destroyed. Meanwhile, Assad is still making war on his own people, with barrel bombs that either kill them or cut them up if they’re not killed, using starvation as a weapon of war and of course gassing his people. The world should not just wring its hands and say that they can’t do anything. It’s not easy, but we can do something and we should do something—first, because the Syrian people deserve better; second, because the humanitarian crisis threatens to destabilize Jordan through the inflow of refugees; and third, because foreign jihadists exploiting lawless sections of Syria represent an existential threat to the US and its allies.

Q: Some Americans argue that military aid to Syrian rebels would not lead to a desirable outcome. Do you agree?

When I introduced my bill over a year ago, I was convinced that if we provided aid to the Free Syrian Army, they would become the preeminent people fighting in the war. Now the worry is that if you intervene in Syria and you help the people fighting Assad, you may be inadvertently giving weapons to the jihadists. But after speaking with the King of Jordan [King Abdullah II] and others, I think the Free Syrian Army in the southern part of Syria can still be helped, and I think we have to find a way of doing it. I don’t support US boots on the ground, but I would support the possible use of targeted air strikes to weaken Assad and to let the Iranians know that we’re not going to sit idly by.