Dr. Michael Izady Interviewed by Russell Whitehouse
Dr. Michael Izady has been a professor of history and political science since 1991 at various European and Ivy League universities, and has provided in-depth lectures on the Middle East for NATO and US military and policy planners. He received his PhD from the Dept. of Middle Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Columbia University.
RW: How do you think a Donald Trump presidency would affect America’s relationships in the Middle East?
MI: It won’t, in any substantive way. Our presidents are not emperors. They execute what the legislature ordains. A president’s freedom of action is basically cosmetic and vastly domestic in its liberty of action. Comparing the policies of presidents GW Bush and B. Obama makes that point clear. US has national interests in its security and economic welfare around the world. That point remains constant while the style of implementation varies from administration to administration. It was GOP president & five-star general Eisenhower under who tenure the invasion of Cuba was planned and nurtured. But he left, leaving the Democratic president and bon vivant, Kennedy to implement it with no change.
RW: Donald Trump has not only made controversial statements about Muslims, but Jews and the state of Israel as well. How do you think Netanyahu would interact with a Trump administration, especially considering the loveless marriage that Bibi’s had with Obama these past several years?
MI: Trump many have a brash personality and a loud mouth. But that will change once he is in office and realizes his limitation of action and responsibility of his pronouncements. Pres. Obama’s a good example. He promised much and spoke valiantly about social entitlements and “change that we can believe in.” Once in office, it instantly became the “same old, same old” with very few notable changes of any type. Harry Truman once observed so pithily about the office of the presidency, “This office make a man out of every boy.” It does in fact, when reality kicks in.
RW: Do you think carpet-bombing proponent Ted Cruz would just carbon copy the Bush Doctrine when in the Situation Room, or do you think he has notable Middle East policy differences with Dubya?
MI: President GW Bush’s doctrine involved no “carpet bombing.” We have not had that since the administrations of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. If you mean a direct invention into internal affairs of Middle Eastern countries, well, since 1990 to the present day, that has been the policy of this country under 12 years of Republican and 15 years of Democratic presidency. Plus ça change, plus c’est la mâme chose! If you mean general engagement in wars; well as the military strategist Von Clausewitz put it long ago, “War is not merely a political act but a real political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, a carrying out of the same by other means.” Pres. Reagan fought two wars (Lebanon and Grenada, while concluding the Cold War); GH Bush fought two in Iraq and Panama; WJ Clinton in Bosnia and Kosovo, GW Bush in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Pres. B. Obama continues GW Bushes wars plus engaging in two new proxy wars in Libya and Syria. None of these presidents could or did start those wars without a full approval of Congress that sanctioned and financed them. And we the people elect the members of Congress to the last man and woman.
RW: A lot of people label Hillary Clinton a war hawk. Do you think this characterization of her is accurate? If so, how does she differ from the war hawks in the GOP primary race?
MI: I am not sure what a “war hawk” means in the context of the American political system where the executive branch is informed by the Legislature, the cabinet (that is likewise answerable only to the Legislature), and by the Joint Chiefs of Staff who have the heaviest weight in making military decisions, not the president? And of course, there is the State Dept. and various intelligence services (all 16 of them) that determine what course of diplomatic and political action is prudent in achieving the national interests of these United States. Then of course is the political philosophy and platform of the given political party that any president represents which also must be adhered to and fostered by him. How exactly a president would have a freedom of action given these obstacles over which he/she has to jump to do anything? “This office makes a man out of every boy” for sure.
RW: Hillary and some GOP candidates have pledged to establish a no-fly zone over Syria. Would you recommend this anti-Russian hardline approach or do you think the next US President must engage in serious diplomacy with Putin that will entail making real concessions?
MI: Russia got involved in Syria due to inaction of the West and the 5 years of stalemate. A “safe haven” (not just a no-fly zone: Syrian government can hardly “fly” anywhere without any air force to speak of) could have been created in Syria to prevent the mass of refugees. G.H. Bush did that for Iraq of 1991, saving the Kurds in the north. A safe haven, however, would sow the seed of possible dismemberment of Syria (which we do not approve of in the US). The safe haven in Iraq basically gave the Kurds an independence short of a declaration. It lasts to the present day. So we could and can declare a safe haven in portions of Syria where millions of refugees could go and stay. But is it prudent vis a vis our general policy in Middle East?
RW: Bernie Sanders has rarely broached foreign policy and when questioned on it, he usually just shifts his answers back to his pet issue of economic reform. Given that he appears to have little knowledge of or appreciation for geopolitics, do you think that a Sanders presidency would be a serious threat to Middle Eastern stability?
MI: Bernie Sanders is wise not to broach that which he shall have little say in it as a president. Read above. So it is the domestic policy that presidents along with their Party can have major influence. Being aware of that, he concentrates on domestic issues. But THAT may actually hurt him: No one wants a president who tells the truth about limitation of his powers and authority.
RW: How should the next US President tackle ISIS, both abroad and at home?
MI: It has been very difficult throughout history to tackle such amorphous, non-state violent entities as ISIS. How did we—or the rest of the West—deal with the Anarchists? Or the Communist insurgents around the world? Or Al-Qaeda? All that can be done is to limit their damage and capabilities to hurt civilians. In time, they all go away due to their own excesses, which turn the common people against them, drying up the sources of their recruits.
RW: What’s the strategy you’d recommend for negotiating continued compliance with Iran on the nuclear deal? Can the next President even trust Iran to keep up its side of the deal?
MI: Far more than producing nuclear weapons, Iran wants to develop the knowledge and infrastructure to produce them quickly once she feels threatened or attacked. Just remember, when Iran was being lavishly gassed by the Iraqis from 1985 to 1988, not even the UN condemned Iraq for such a totally illegal and immoral act. The New York Times had an OpEd by William Sapphire stating that it was the best scenario for the West if “Iran and Iraq could simmer in their own perverted juices forever”… Well, Iran does not want to be in that position again. So it wants to have the nuclear option this time around. She does now. That is why she is negotiating. Do not forget, Iran’s neighbor Pakistan is nuclear, so are India and Russia (both in the vicinity of Iran) & of course Israel and her nuclear capabilities. So, if we have reached a modus operandi with Iran, it is because it is a done deal and we find it prudent to bring Iran into the fold rather then keep it out any longer. Iran is too important, powerful and influence for keeping it on the outside.
RW: How should the future Commander-in-Chief try to steer Turkish President Erdogan, in terms of the NATO ally’s dangerous relations with Kurdistan and Russia?
MI: Turkey is an evolving democracy, a trustworthy ally of the US and a dedicated member of the NATO. They should never be forced to move too far from their national interests and social stability. For that same aim, we could and should encourage her to treat its own citizens equally with the same human and cultural rights as the majority. It only benefits Turkey and make her an even more valuable and stable ally than before.
RW: How do you think that increasing American energy independence will affect Middle East politics, particularly when it comes to US-Saudi relations?
MI: We do not want to abandon our friends, and oil is not an issue. Neither Turkey, Egypt nor Israel has any oil or gas to speak of. And yet, their prominence in American policy in Middle East is paramount. Oil is just a common commodity that can be had everywhere. Why do you think a gallon of gasoline is at the same price as bottled water or orange juice? Because there is so much of it. Canada and the US have more oil than the Saudis, albeit “hard to produce” oil. We can always bank on those local resources. But why should we if the Mid Eastern states are in need of selling theirs to the American and Western oil companies who find it, extract it, export it, refine it and sell it? The Western oil companies are the ones who make the money, not the ones who have it beneath their soil.