Bravo to General Wesley Clark for making his way to Dubai for the Arab Strategy Forum taking place here this week. It was fun to see him earlier today make his way quickly across the room to kibitz with former New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen who I am traveling with this week in the UAE.
Tomorrow, Clark speaks on a panel along with my New America Foundation/American Strategy Program colleague and CNN Terrorism Analyst Peter Bergen. Clark regularly impresses me with his vision of what needs to be done in this region as well as his clarity and bluntness. More on his remarks tomorrow.
I plan to write more when I get a bit more time about various aspects of this conference — and particular want to mention my brief meeting this morning with Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.
But let me just put something out there that I learned this evening during a 90 minute discussion from one of the most prominent incumbent national security officials in the Middle East:
This senior policy official stated that he had never seen a Secretary of State as weak, disorganized, and without a plan of any kind than Condoleezza Rice — and this from someone who strenuously insists that he and many other regional foreign policy officials want to be supportive of her and the U.S.
He stated that American withdrawal from Iraq — despite the growing clamor for that — would yield a complete change in the profile and character of nearly every one of the Middle East’s 22 countries. He said that several governments in the region — outside of Iraq — could very easily “and would probably fall.”
He said that America would be facing a new roster of regimes that were loyal either to Tehran or to al Qaeda.
He said that there is only one non-military way to break Iran’s current course, and that the military option was not credible and would not be supported in the region. This official said that the only way to stop Iran at this point was to make the price of oil plummet.
He said that America could engineer this with coordinated support from oil producers in the Gulf Cooperation Council.
The price of a dramatic increase in oil production would be expeditious movement — real movement — on Israel-Palestine negotiations towards a viable state of Palestine and a clear, coordinated plan on Iran.
He said that though the GCC were close, many-decades-long allies of America that the U.S. regularly ignores its regional allies and has not communicated its basic policy course on Iran.
Without a clear and credible plan, there would be no confidence in America’s effort to knock back Iran’s growing pretensions and nothing would be done on the oil front.
But it seemed clear to me that this prominent person believed that it was well within the power of major oil suppliers to get the price of oil below $40/barrel — and that this would stifle Iran’s growing influence significantly.
He said that America needed only to get re-engaged, set a course, and build allies to move forward — but that America continues to approach these matters in disconnected, reactive, and ultimately futile ways that show no fundamental understanding of regional realities and demonstrate a lack of strategic vision or common sense.
I cannot divulge this individual’s identity, but while I don’t agree with every point he made, his comments were extremely candid and very important for American policy makers and strategists to hear and consider.
There was more that he said — which I will recount when I have more time to think through how to frame his comments responsibly and in a way that protects his identity.
More on this conference and these side discussions soon.
— Steve Clemons