Roya Hakakian and Matthew Hoh: A New Middle East Power Vacuum?October 24, 2011
Roya Hakakian, author of Assassins of the Turquoise Palace and Matthew Hoh, former Marine and currently a Senior Fellow of the Center for International Policy talks about the power vacuums the U.S. withdrawal in Iraq and Arab Spring may have created, as well as whether Libya will use Sharia Law as a guide when establishing its new government.
According to Roya, “There’s somewhat of a Cold War at work here, between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and this has been going on since the rise of Khomeini to power in 1979. But with the revolutions that have unfolded in Tunisia and Libya, the landscape is changing, and Iran and Saudi Arabia are inching closer and closer to each other in a confrontation for leadership in the region. It’s Shiite versus Sunni. But it’s also democracy versus tyranny, which will make the region very interesting to watch.”
Matthew points to Bahrain as another spot that many are not talking about, but also weighs in on Saudi Arabia. “What a fantastic story that’s happening there [in Bahrain]. The United States has its presence in Bahrain. We’ve got our fifth fleet there. The Bahraini government pretty viciously suppressed the Arab Spring that occurred there. But when you get back to your question, Dylan, about where do the dynamics lay, who has the power? Right now I think these regimes in Iran, in Saudi Arabia, they’re sweating us. You just had a small event in Saudi Arabia a few weeks ago, but it was pretty powerful in how it occurred in terms of our television sets of a few women who decided to get in their cars and drive to flaunt or go against those Saudi laws, against women drivers. So I think those regimes are sweating the people right now.”
So, what are next steps for the U.S. when it comes to Iran? “In regards to Iran and getting to Iran,” Matthew says, “I think the most important thing we can do with iran is not military action. not to jump ahead in the section, but not military action, but to empower those people, provide more communications support, provide more of a way for people to organize and resist, and push people away from the government, rather than military action, which would drive people toward the government.”
Roya also had some insight into action we’ve recently seen in Syria and the presence of Iranian revolutionary guards within their borders. “We should also take into consideration that Syrian activists have consistently been saying over the past few months that they know — they’re aware of the presence of Iranian revolutionary guards inside their country. Not only were they brutal in and of themselves, but they’re also receiving the best reinforcements from inside Iran, from people who successfully put out the fire in 2009… It’s a matter of whether the regimes want to step down gracefully and come to terms with the fact that the moment, the moment for them has come for the people to embrace democracy and change, or whether they’re going to do it Gadhafi style and find the leadership finding themselves in tunnels and ditches. I think there’s a better way to step down and go and leave a graceful mark on history, rather than have to stoop so low,” says Roya.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT FROM MSNBC.COM
>>> well, good afternoon to you. the big story today is the new middle east. i am dylan ratigan. happy monday to you. we start the week with a mideast that is quite simply vastly different today than it was even just a week ago. we talk about the rate of change and everything we deal, i can't think of a place that is bearing that out more apparently than this region. first, today's developing story, frantic searches continue in turkey after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. more than 270 dead, hundreds hurt. turkey, of course, a major power player in the region, and there is some concern the setback will have ramifications on the region's political structure. although, ultimately, turkey continues really to hold its position as the nation that could keep iran in check or at least broker in that cold war between iran and saudi arabia. now, that relationship, unfortunately, between turkey and iran, may be starting to deteriorate. first, and this is important, turkey has thrown its support behind the growing opposition, the resistance, if you will, in syria. and syria is one of iran's closest allies. which then makes iran wonder what turkey's doing. the u.n. s assad has killed 3,000 of his own people since the march uprising began. we all know those numbers are difficult to get to begin with, but the point really is you're dealing with a man who is murdering his own people. tensions in syria so tight, the u.s. just pulled our ambassador out, this after weeks of harassment by the assad government. turkey, meanwhile, jockeying with iran for influence in iraq, whether as a power vacuum. just yesterday, the u.s. warned iran that just because u.s. troops are coming home does not mean that the u.s. does not intend a strong presence in that area.
>> iran would be badly miscalculated if they did not look at the entire region and all of our presence in many countries in the region, both in bases, in training, with nato allies, like turkey.
>> well, the u.s. withdrawal along with the arab spring have created power vacuums in egypt, where the military remains in control, and of course, most recently, libya. it is, in fact, the biggest political change of the past week, with the death of colonel gadhafi, there is now talk, or at least fear and speculation, surrounding the use of sharia law as the basis for a new government there. the fact is, i suspect nobody knows what's going to happen, but there is concern about tribal factions and outside influences competing for power in the form of government in every one of those nations. and we start with roya, author of "assassins of the turquoise palace." roya, i want to begin with you. put in context how different the power dynamic right now in the middle east is, with the vacuums, with the variables that we're talking about, compared to levels of either stability or instability in the region over the past 20 years?
>> well, certain things have remained the same. in other words, you formulated it beautifully at the top of the show, saying that there's somewhat of a cold war at work here, between iran and saudi arabia, and this has been going on since the rise of hue maney to power in 1979. but with the revolutions that have unfolded in tunisia and libya, the landscape is changing, and iran and saudi arabia are inching closer and closer to each other in a confrontation for leadership in the region. it's shiite versus sunni. but it's also democracy versus tyranny. which would be -- which would make the region very interestingly to watch.
>> but interestingly, matt, democracy versus tyranny is not so much iran versus saudi arabia or libya or anybody else, it is the people of every one of those nations in jetta, in riyadh, in syria, against the perceived, and i would agree with that perception, corrupt government in every last one of those nations. where do you see the power dynamic? in other words, how much of the power is coming from the resistance in the arab spring and how much of it is still really in the hands of kingdoms and the kings and their battle with each other for power. whether it's iran, saudi arabia, or anybody else?
>> well, you know, a year ago, if any of us -- if the three of us had this conversation about this map, what it looks like now, we would have said whoever made this map was crazy. whoever had -- was predicting these events was nuts. maybe in one place, but not in so many of these places. you know, not to shoot your map, dylan, but you left off tunisia, where they had their elections there over the weekend.
>> shoot away. you are correct.
>> what a fantastic story that's happening there. other places, not so fantastic, right? the united states has its presence in bahrain. we've got our fifth fleet there. the bahraini government pretty viciously suppressed the arab spring that occurred there. but when you get back to your question, dylan, about where do the dynamics lay, who has the power? right now i think these regimes in iran, in saudi arabia, they're sweating us. you know, you just had a small event in saudi arabia a few weeks ago, but it was pretty powerful in how it occurred in terms of our television sets of a few women who decided to get in their cars and drive to flaunt or go against those saudi laws, against women drivers. so i think those regimes are sweating the people right now. and getting to iran, i think the most important thing we can do with iran is not military action. not to jump ahead in the section, but not military action, but to empower those people, provide more communications support, provide more of a way for people to organize and resist, and push people away from the government, rather than military action, which would drive people toward the government.
>> and to that end, if you wouldn't mind, roya, what is your assessment to the degree to which you believe there's a credible threat to the saudi government in their own country, at least in their political decision making right now, if not in power. obviously in iran. and then, really, the center room right now, has to be syria. i mean, if there was one palace that you wanted to be inside of, to find out just how desperate and how brutal that leadership is intending to be, that would clearly be the place.
>> absolutely. and we should also take into consideration that syrian activists have consistently been saying over the past few months that they know -- they're aware of the presence of iranian revolutionary guards inside their country. not only were they brutal in and of themselves, but they're also receiving the best reinforcements from inside iran, from people who successfully put out the fire in 2009, you know, in tehran and other parts of iran. i think, you know, it's a matter of whether the regimes want to step down gracefully and come to terms with the fact that the moment, the moment for them has come for the people to embrace democracy and change. and gracefully step down, or whether they're going to do it gadhafi style and find the leadership finding themselves in tunnels and ditches. and i think there's a better way to step down and go and leave a graceful mark on history, rather than have to stoop so low.
>> it's interesting, matt, one of the big reasons, obviously, this subject warrants being the lead on a national cable television show or gets as much ink as it does in the american media, in general, is obviously our relationship with the energy assets in the middle east. not to indulge myself, but one of my favorite headlines of anything we've written so far on "the huffington post" is how did our oil get underneath their sand? and you do have to wonder at what point the american people will start to apply more pressure on our own government to stop conducting foreign and industrial and military policy based on securing fossil fuel assets in the middle east.
>> yeah. absolutely, dylan. that's a great point. you wonder with what's happening with occupy wall street, how much of that, how many people are there now because of what they saw occur over the last year, in the middle east, realizing that we need change here at home. i know you guys have been talking about it all day on msnbc. 25% of americans' homes are -- or homeowners are underwater right now. we've got a lot to fix here. and that's why i was very pleased with president obama when he spoke about the decision not to keep troops in iraq. he made that comment at the end of his speech that we have a lot to fix here. one of those things -- and that's what's great about this new middle east, this idea that the map is different. is that gives us a chance, that gives the united states a chance to do several things, to change our policy, not just with our energy acquisition strategy -- you know, our strategy that's dependent upon energy coming out of the gulf area, coming out of the broader middle east, but also in terms of how do we actually build a foreign policy now that best reflects our core values and our core beliefs? how do we actually get that foreign policy that, you know, henry kissinger spoke about that combines realism and diplomacy? so this is a tremendous opportunity for the united states in its foreign policy and along a variety of tracks to take advantage of.
>> it's a high wire act, to say the least. roya, congratulations on the book.
>> thank you.
>> "assassins of the turquoise palace," fun title, too, assassins always get people to open the book, and then it's the book. all the best with this. matt, it's been too long, hope to talk to