Joshua Landis (A deep dive into the Syrian conflict)

  • 00:03:37 Why the Middle East seems ‘excel at conflict’ the last 70 years?
  • 00:14:03 How America managed to avoid ethnic strife (unlike the Middle East)?
  • 00:18:02 What is actually happening in Syria? What conflicts predates the war? How does ISIS fit into the Syrian War?
  • 00:33:33 Why the major world powers abuse the Syrian conflict as a proxy conflict? What does Russia in particular want?
  • 01:00:00 How can we rebuild Syria? Should we abolish sanctions? Do we need a new Marshall Plan for Syria?

You may watch this episode on Youtube – #78 Joshua Landis (A deep dive into the Syrian conflict).

Joshua Landis is the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies
and an Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Read Joshua’s opinions on his blog or follow him on Twitter @joshua_landis.

Apologies for my terrible audio in this episode. Joshua’s excellent audio and video makes up for that – I hope!

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Josh, welcome to the Jackson and Cobb Podcast. Thanks for doing this. We really appreciate it. Well, of course, it’s a pleasure. Hey, so when I look for for experts on the Middle East and when I look for experts in Syria, your name comes up every time. So give us a little bit of a background. How did you get drawn to the Middle East and especially Syria over time? Well, I grew up in the Middle East. I spent my childhood in the Middle East. My father opened the first bank, American bank in Saudi Arabia in Jeddah in 1958. And then we moved to Lebanon in the 60s and I grew up in Lebanon until I was 10. Then I went back after graduating from college in 1979, the year of the Iranian Revolution and taught in Beirut International College for a few years. Went on a Fulbright to Damascus. It was the just started this Fulbright. And I lived in the in Damascus University in the dorm, and that’s how I got introduced. That was a year of the Hama uprising, which was a brutal, brutally put down. It was the Muslim Brotherhoods took over Hama, the center of the town and the regime surrounded it, pounded the city, killing 20, perhaps 30,000 people. And it was a prelude to what we’re seeing today. And Israel invaded Lebanon that summer and conquered Beirut. So it got me very interested. I went to Harvard for a master’s Princeton PhD. I wrote on Syria. Eventually I was doing research in 2002 and met my wife, a Syrian who is from Latakia. She’s Alawite, which is important because the Alawites have been supportive of the Assad regime and Assad himself is an Alawite. But I have many friends from Syria. I’ve spent many years living there and would go back every summer once I got married so that my kids could speak their grandparents and I could do research in Damascus. So I’ve had a long relationship with Syria and I wrote a blog starting in 2004 called Syria Comet, which really became the central clearinghouse for Syrian information for over a decade. And I would write every day and I don’t write like that anymore, but I did for a long period of time and I got to know a lot about Syria from doing that. And I’ve written a lot of articles and so forth and I’m about to come out with another book on the Syrian independence period and how democracy really collapsed after being there for only a very short period of time after the French left in 1946. Yeah, so the whole Middle East and that’s from my perspective as an outsider for someone who doesn’t know much besides visiting most of the countries as long as I had the chance. And unfortunately I hadn’t made it to Syria because it’s kind of a tricky place to go right now and spend for quite some time. When we look further back a little bit, it seems like the Middle East from the outside, we feel there’s always something, there’s always an amount of craziness or war, revolution of uprisings going on, something that we haven’t seen in that depth at least, unfortunately maybe in Europe or in South America. So this is the center of the original spring of humanity, so to speak, and it seems to the old world religion or many world religions, all the Abrahamic world religions come originally out to the Middle East. It seems to have this crazy potential for humanity, but the last 70 years it finds itself over so many conflicts. Is there like a rude source to this? Is there something intrinsic to the Middle East where you would say, well, this is because we see more conflict now than anywhere else? Well, let me argue with you a little bit here, dispute your argument that we haven’t seen this in Europe. I would compare what’s going on, the violence and the instability in the 11th, the eastern part of the Middle East today, is really very similar to what we saw in Europe from 1939 to really 1950, because if you take the new states that were created in 1919, the class, what I call the class of 1919, the states that were created after World War One at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, because World War One was the empire destroying war. It proved how vital and vigorous nation states were, and four empires were destroyed in World War One, the Russian Empire, the German Empire, the Austro Hungarian Empire, and of course for our purposes, the Ottoman Empire. And out of those four multi ethnic, multi religious empires were created a long string of states, there are nine new states created in Europe, and a whole bunch in the Middle East like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, so forth. Almost every one of those states has failed spectacularly in the last century, starting from Poland, all the way down to Palestine. And why, you may ask, why do they fail? And I think, you know, one answer is that because they’re coming out of these multi ethnic, multi religious empires where different national, different ethnic groups and different religious groups live cheek by jaw, share cities, and borders are drawn around them rather arbitrarily, and inside these new states that are created, you get several ethnic groups or religious groups that don’t necessarily want to live together, don’t know how to live together and are stuck together and told get along. You know, if you think of Poland, you’ve got the Germans in Poland, you’ve got Ukrainians, Lithuanians, they were all stuck together. Poland, before World War Two in 1939 was 64% polls. By the end, by 1950, Poland is 100% Polish. And all those minorities are destroyed, either they’re killed like the Jews, 3 million Polish Jews, or they’re expelled like the Germans. And if you take, if you add in Eastern Prussia, there were about 6 million, 7 million Germans that were ethnically cleansed from Prussia and Poland that fled back to Germany. And Ukrainians were wiped out. This happens in Czechoslovakia as well with the Sudenten Germans and so forth. There was tremendous 43 million people were ethnically cleansed from Central Europe between just between 1945 and 1950 and we think World War Two is over by that time because in the west it largely was but in the east it was not. And that’s related to state building. This violence is related to trying to create nation states out of these multi ethnic empires. And I would argue with you that that’s what we’re seeing in the Middle East today that same kind of violence with ethnic cleansing and one group fighting the other for the nation in the states, like Syria, which has hollow whites, Sunni Arabs, Christians, Kurds, any rocket Sunnis Kurds and Shiite Arabs. And in Lebanon, you’ve got a similar situation but you’ve got Maronite Christians, and so forth and and Israel is Jews and Palestinians. This is a very, you know, it’s a cauldron of nation building process, which is long and bloody. It’s a zero sum game for minorities. And generally the borders are not changed to fit the people. The people are changed to fit the borders. And that’s what makes it so messy. And I agree with you. This has been always the scourge on nation building to get these lines correct and the probability that a country survives, a state survives that is multi ethnic and multi religious is always, it’s precarious. But the two questions that align that I see there. One is, is an empire better? So do we, if we would have to charge, let’s put it for a second, we have the choice and we obviously have the United Nations, but is an empire better in protecting the rights of minorities and get and make people get along. So was it was actually the precursor to to what we see in the Middle East and parts of Europe? Was that a better thing? And if so, should we think about that again? Well, you know, there are a lot of people who argued that it was better. You know, there’s a lot of nostalgia, particularly amongst groups like the Jews for the for the Austro Hungarian Empire, or for and for the Ottoman Empire. There are Middle Eastern Jews have written very eloquently about how the Ottoman Empire was better than nation states because of this ethnic cleansing. And and but the problem is, you can’t sustain it. Empires were creaky old buildings that that couldn’t really mobilize their citizens. And if you look at nation states, beginning with France after with Napoleon and the French Revolution, but also Germany and so forth, who could mobilize their people to sacrifice for the nation. And millions would get killed. And they’d continue to volunteer and come and get killed in the old empires. People didn’t go to the army. They tried to run away. And they didn’t want to die for their empire, because they didn’t feel like they really were committed to it. And that’s so nation state inspires a great deal of love and willingness to sacrifice. That’s also what’s wrong with it, in a sense, because it does. People are very jealous in a nation state. They don’t like subnational minority identities in the same way that you know Americans today. When you suggest having Spanish as a second language, they get very upset. And they don’t. Anyway, you know, it’s it. There’s good and bad to nation states, but whatever the argument for or against, it’s impossible to bring back empire really, because nation states have been so successful in a Darwinian way. And today, there are 193 nation states in the world. They didn’t exist 200 years ago. Before the French Revolution, there were no nation states. There were bishoprics, free cities, caliphates, shogunates, tribal groupings, kingdoms, principalities, sheikhdoms, but there were no nation states. Today, all of those political entities have been wiped out. And we have 193 nation states, but most of those nation states were only got their independence right after World War Two, and many of them very recently. So between World War Two and 1973, 100 countries got their independence and joined the UN. They’re brand new. And they’re bubbling with turmoil and dissent. You know, you look at Sudan, southern Sudan, which is just created, where the tribal conflict over resources is broken out. But that’s what’s going on in so many of the modern states, trying to figure out where the borders really are, which group is on top, who’s going to define the nation. And it’s a bloody, you know, knock down fight in many cases. And this is why there’s so many refugees in the world, and I think why the West is sort of building the wall, because they’re worried about this outflow of refugees from many of these new modern nation states. That’s a beautiful history lesson that I think you just shared. For most of us in our generation that we grew up after the Second World War, obviously, its nation states are like a given, like there’s 193 was a little less. But there’s no debate if what was before that we maybe know about that, but we don’t really have an emotional connection to this. And I was talking to Boris Kessler, who went to 193 countries, we were just playing around and he says, yeah, well, 30 years ago, then maybe we’re only 120. So the task was much easier in that sense, right? So it was really less countries. Obviously, it’s the problem is getting there wasn’t that easy. This has definitely gotten easier per COVID. Now it’s probably going the other way again. But if you say the nation state is this model for success and we still are reeling from the consequences. Well, how does America fit into this for a second if you go to America, which is a country that’s built, you know, by by by absorbing pretty much everyone else who is kind of a reject from all the other countries was a refugee for whatever reason. And for some reason, America has made it work to bring these people together without killing. We have killed each other that often let’s put it this way. So we kind of have a decent track record. Is there something that the world can learn from America or do you think America was just lucky and we will end up with the same profit with the same problem. Well, America is different. It’s identity is national identity is a civic identity connected to this Constitution and the laws of the Constitution. But in a in a sense, Americans, the Europeans that came to America came two by two sort of Noah’s Ark, and they left behind their old identities, whether it’s a serve or a Croat or a German or a British or Scott, you know, of course, we continue to have these folkloric things that the Scots like to dress up and kills every once in a while and these sorts of things. But really people remade themselves as Americans. Now, that’s the, how we’re different. And our nationality, our sense of identity is different from, let’s say a German, where you have an ethnic identity, you have a German ethnicity. And, for example, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Germans from the Soviet Union, over 2 million went back to Germany, even Germans who had been in the Soviet Union for five generations. They could pull up their stakes and say, I don’t want to be living in Kazakhstan anymore because the government’s now Muslim and I’m going to be marginalized. And they could go back to Germany and they got citizenship back after five generations of not living there. You couldn’t do that in America. But the point of this is Americans did obviously come to the United States and they killed the Indians, who they couldn’t really absorb very well. And, of course, there’s a small minority that is being absorbed today, but they’re, they’re losing their independence, in a sense, in order to, and then, of course, we had a civil war where the South tried to secede and be its own national identity and 700,000 people were killed. And if you compare that number to the Syrian civil war, it’s about the same per capita of dead people. So Americans fought a very violent civil war over their identity. And of course, there was slavery, which, which showed, you know, absorbing black Americans as equal citizens has been extraordinarily difficult for the United States. And, and it’s still a major problem today. So the nation building process is still ongoing. But you’re right. I think to point out the multi ethnicity because it’s a civil, a civic nationality based on a set of laws, instead of an ethnicity, it does provide an example. But it’s the settler states like Australia, New Zealand, America, which have was exemplified this. And that’s partly because they killed the natives. And they, yeah, well, I mean, the Europeans did that too. I mean, one day. Well, they did that. The Europeans did just 2000 years earlier, right? They were the most successful, you know, at the time they were the most successful group of people and they could they could do it. Other people had done that previously in past iterations. When we go back to Syria, and we really want to I really want to talk about that. It’s you’re so knowledgeable about Syria, when what I know about Syria, and that’s that hopefully is at least somewhat of a knowledge. I know that it’s it’s a country. And I was surprised to see this in Lebanon, but with its really stark division between the Christian part and the Muslim part, I think a similar thing is true in Syria. And a lot of people that I interviewed, they they sing the glorious song of Syria’s one of the best countries I’ve ever been to some of the friendliest people they know are the best food in the Middle East. And what I know from the last 10 years seems to be an enormous mess of endless amounts of factions and big local powers going into this war. I’ve lost all track of what’s actually going on. Maybe you can give us a really brief history what actually happened at last 20 or 30 years. Okay, well, I’ll try to be brief. It’s hard to be brief in a situation like this because everybody has their own point of view. But Syria was created after World War One, out of this, you know, in 1919, about the Paris Peace Conference and the French took it as a mandate, a colony to be short. And they ruled it from 1920 to 1946. And Syria had a number of different peoples in it. There are Sunni Arabs. There are Kurds, about 10% Kurds. And there are Alawites who are Shiite, different religion. They’re Arabs. But there are other minorities, Arab minorities, like the Christians who were 10%, 12% after World War Two, the Druze, 3%, Ismailis, 1%. There are a lot of little minorities. And they had a hard time finding, agreeing on what kind of government and who should rule. And when the French left, they left in an uncomfortable situation because they had privileged the minorities by drafting them into the army. The minorities joined the army in big numbers. And so when the French left, the army had was stacked with minorities, Alawites, Druze, Christians, and Sunni Arabs from the countryside. But the political elite that ruled the country in parliament were dominated by Sunni Arab Muslims who make up 70% of the Syrian population. And very quickly, they came to blows. And the army took over in Kudaytah. There was a series of Kudaytahs for some time in 1970. The Alawite minority, which was big in the army, took power in a Kudaytah led by Hafiz al Asad, the father of Bashar al Asad, who rules today. And he ruled from 70 to 2000 when he died. And then his son took over and has ruled for 20 years. So this dictatorship led by a minority has ruled for 50 years. It’s become quite corrupt. And the way it holds on to power is it has made a bunch of alliances with other groups, but in the military, it’s jammed the top ranks of the military full of Alawites and other minorities. The top 30 generals today are all Alawite. And some of them are related to the president. And that’s the way he has clung to power is by stacking them security state, intelligence and army with coreligionists, other minorities who fear the Arab Sinni’s taking over and being in marginalizing them because they fear that they’ll be an Islamic, some kind of Islamic law. And, and that’s really, I think that’s the heart of what went wrong. Of course, the regime was very corrupt. Wealth was not spread equally. And, and it was brutal. It put people into jail if they dissented. And, you know, when you, what you just said about Syria, to an extent, obviously it sounds a bit like Iraq without the intervention by the US, right? So we have a dictator, we have these these factions, and we have a varying influence of religion that comes on top of that. I mean, just let me cut you off, Torsten, because Syria is very much like Iraq. It has, you know, it’s built at the same time. It has these same various religious groups and ethnic groups, Kurds in the north and both countries, and then Shiites and the, the mixture is very different because in Iraq, there are more Shiites than there are Sinni’s. But the Sinni’s ruled, the minority ruled under Saddam Hussein, and they had the army, which he stacked full of Sinni’s at the top, and the bath party, which was stacked full of Sinni’s at the top. In Syria, the Alawites are the minority, 12% of the country, but the president is Alawite, he stacked the military full of Alawites, and the bath party, the same party was in Iraq, but a different branch of it, was loaded with Alawites at the top, and so, and other minorities, and loyal people, and that’s how they ruled, is through those two instruments, and Saddam was overthrown by the United States, but once he was, it sparked what I’ve called the Great Sorting Out, the civil war between these different groups, all vying for power, and the same thing happened in Syria. Once Assad was weakened by the Arab Spring, 2011, and big demonstrations broke out, everybody thought the different groups really lined up on different sides, and the rebellion was overwhelmingly Sinni Arab. There were Kurds who rebelled too, but they wanted really their own independent state, let it in north, quasi independent, whatever, they were fighting for themselves, and they didn’t get along well with the Arab rebels, and then the minorities stayed very loyal, and many Sinni stayed loyal to the state as well, especially rich Sinni’s who feared being dispossessed, but that same religious ethnic divisions in both states that had been under these minoritarian states, caused the civil war to be so long and brutal. When we look at the, we still remember that, it’s been only a few years, you know, ISIS was a conglomeration between Syria and Iraq, and it seemed to be a haven for terrorists, and for quite some time, it seemed to grow without any boundaries, and it seemingly got popular support in the places that it, that it, that it terrorized, we thought, but it seemed to get some popular support. What is the role of ISIS in all of this? From what I understand, they’re mostly Sinni’s as well, they obviously extremist terrorists, but how does that fit in as kind of a third nation that sprang up between those two? Well, it did, it was an effort to build a nation, and of course, it wanted a caliphate, it was looking backwards in history to build this sort of authentic, what they believed was to reestablish a caliphate in, but it was the Sinni Arab, and Iraq, America, when it invaded in 2003, it threw the Sinni’s from the top of society down to the bottom. They were in the army in the Bath Party, and America dissolved both, and punished them. So they immediately went into rebellion in order to be successful against the majority Shiites who had been, who had been catapulted from the bottom of society, up to the top by the Americans, who saw them as the carriers of democracy, if you will, because they were the majority. The Sinni’s went into revolt, and in order to win, they reached out to Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan came to them in the form of Zarkawi, this young buck. He helped to form Al Qaeda in Iraq, and they needed help, the Sinni’s were minority, they were beleaguered, and they were against the superpower. So Al Qaeda knew how to fight the superpower, because it had been trained in Afghanistan. And they had smarts, they had military experience, and they had weaponry, and they knew how to build these weapons. So Al Qaeda very quickly managed to imbricate itself in Iraq, and draft tons of Sinni’s, and they could also do their propaganda to get volunteers to come from around the Islamic world. And 85% of Muslims are Sinni’s. So they sympathized with the Sinni’s. So Al Qaeda is kind of a Sunni subgroup, is that right? Yes, it’s a rabidly movement. It’s a rabidly Sunni, you know, Salafi jihadist group, and it’s very xenophobic against non Muslims, and, and particularly against Shiites in Iraq, because that became the big battle cry is do we’re going to not let the Shiites who are this foreign force crypto Iranians who are agents of America to come and destroy us, and they called fellow Muslim, Sinni Muslims, to come and join them. And this ISIS, which is sort of the second iteration of Al Qaeda in Iraq, it drafted the Sunni, particularly tribal elements in, in the east of Syria, who joined them, and to create a this super state, which was the Sunni parts of Iraq, and the tribal deserty parts of Syria, right up to the cities. In a sense, the government in Damascus was led by Shiites, these all whites, and the government in Baghdad was led by Shiites, and the Sunnis in between were being squeezed like between two bookends. And the Sunnis, in a sense, created their own nation state, very anti Shiite, and try to fight against them. The problem that they faced is that America joined the Shiites in Iraq, and started bombing the Sunnis. The Russians joined the Shiites in Syria, and started bombing the Sunnis and ISIS. So ISIS was just outclassed in every way, two major air forces, just pounding them, and the, and the militia of both Iraq and Syria after them. So they didn’t really stand a chance. I’m curious about ISIS. We know all these horror stories, right? What happened there? And we know that is that all there is to this story? That’s what I’m wondering. So I really have no, no deep research or exposure to it. But is actual life under in the ISIS state, was it like we see in these horror stories, or was actually assembling normal life? Well, it was both. There, you know, when ISIS first conquered big hunks of Syria, and then it swept into Iraq. Almost nobody defended against it. None of the Sunni Arabs fired a shot, almost. They swept through the Sunni parts of Iraq without much resistance. And that’s because the Sunni Iraqis saw ISIS to be a savior, in a sense, against what they believe was a very prejudicial, biased Shiite regime supported by the United States. And so for the first year, I think people, many people were intrigued, and they wanted to see whether ISIS could actually build a state. And in some ways they did. And you’ve heard many people from within the state say, Hey, that’s less corrupt. They’re, they’re following Sharia law. But of course, once the war, once America mobilized, and they became really beleaguered. They, they were paranoid. They were looking for spies everywhere. They had to tax people. Young men, it fell apart. And it became the brutality really got accentuated. And they, they did horrible things to minorities within that region, like, like the Yazidis, who they, they killed thousands of their men and took their women into slavery, because they were considered to be pagans, who could be turned into slaves. And so the horror stories are real. And, and the ideology was, was really pretty horrible, the way that they had radicalized this Islamic Sharia law to justify the kind of military actions they were taking. They take a little excursion just for a moment, because it’s something I always try to wrap my mind around. So when, from what I understand in history, there was the split one day between the Sunnis who are really looking as their, their authoritative figure as their ruler to be a blood relative of Muhammad, and the Shia, it’s from what I am saying, but correct me if that’s wrong. They at some point broke that idea from that idea and said, well, it needs to be some kind of more, more someone to be reelected by certain merits. So it’s a bit of a democracy, just the opposite. Yes, it’s the Sunnis who, after Muhammad died, there was great confusion, and seven or eight of his closest, his closest associates, if you will, got together that evening, they decided, you know, what’s called a shura, a little conference to appoint Abu Bakr as caliph and to create an office and to fill it immediately because they were worried that the place would explode and there would be lots of dissent and tribes would fight each other. So they decided on this. Now he’s a Quraysh, he’s from the same tribe as Muhammad, but he can be chosen. And that becomes, if you will, a little microcosm for later for people saying this could be democracy, this could support democracy. The Shias supported Ali, the cousin of the prophet and his son in law, who became the fourth caliph, but the Shiites, the supporters of Ali, and Shia just means Shiat Ali, which means the faction who support Ali. So Shiites get their name from being supporters of Ali. And they wanted, they thought Ali as his closest male relative should become, and then their relatives, their descendants would become. So that’s, that is the original split. And of course, afterwards, they acquired doctrinal splits and in many other differentiating the same Quran and the same basic principles. Yeah. When we, when we look at Syria now, we have the world powers pretty deeply entrenched and we also have Turkey. And I find it so interesting because Turkey is a NATO ally. But it’s at odds with the Kurds who make up, as you just mentioned, a good part of the population of Syria and also of Iraq, obviously also of Turkey. Then we have the US who isn’t so happy about the NATO ally and whatever they’re doing there. We have Russia, suddenly entering that war for me, somewhat surprising. Is that, is there another big, big power involved? Is China involved at all? China is involved, but very tangentially. Turkey is key. And the United States, President Obama, when the uprising in Syria began with the Arab Spring 2011. The United States pressured Erdogan, the president of Turkey to take the lead really in organizing the Syrian opposition and driving out Assad. And at first Erdogan was reluctant, but then he jumped in and he thought, okay, this is my moment. We can organize the Sunni Muslims and he is a Sunni Muslim to take over from these minorities and they will bring greater equality and justice to the region. And so he, Istanbul and Ankara became really the home for the Syrian opposition to organize and get funding from an international community, but from Turkey as well and we’re armed and trained and so forth through Turkey. So Erdogan really led the way in this rebellion. Unfortunately for him, it failed. And the rebels in Syria became increasingly Islamist, radical, and they never coalesced. There were tons of little malicious and that was really the, that’s the really weakest point of this opposition is they could not unite and Washington got fed up with them and got scared by them spooked. So by 2015 Washington and many others, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates began to turn away from the rebellion and become frightened of it. And so Turkey was left alone with this very difficult problem. And the United States, when they abandoned the Arabs, rebels who they had initially supported, they went to the Kurds, who are 10% of the Syrian population. And by that time, the Arab rebels, the Muslim Arabs, one of their factions was ISIS and was dominating a big hunk of Syria. And so the United States wanted to destroy that because ISIS was blowing things up in Europe in the United States. And, and so they turned the Kurds into a proxy army to destroy ISIS. And the Arab rebels would not do that, because ISIS was fellow Arabs and Sunni Muslims, but the Kurds would, because the ISIS was driving the Kurds out of northern Syria, out of their homes, and destroying Kobani and other major Kurdish cities. So they put hate in their hearts and they joined up with America and they destroyed, helped destroy ISIS and a lot of them died on the battlefield, you know, alongside their American advisors in this effort to destroy ISIS and that infuriated Turkey, because about 20%, 15, 20% of Turks are Kurds. Many of them live in the east of Turkey. And some of them, a minority who belong to the PKK, the Kurdish Workers Party, want their own state and want to divide Turkey and take the east for a Kurdish state. And Erdogan was terrified that the Syrian Kurdish movement that was allied with the PKK would become well trained, well equipped, have American backing, and they would pass on that training in those arms to the Turkish Kurds. And this would cause much worse civil war and terrorism inside Turkey. So they turned against America, turned against this effort, and that’s caused real deterioration in the relationship between the United States and Turkey. And Turkey’s been insisting on a big hunk of the border territory in Syria to be controlled by Turkey so that they can get rid of the Kurds and get rid of the PKK, get rid of the Kurds that Americans allied to and use it as a buffer zone to protect Turkey. And that’s been at the real heart of this conflict, the new conflict between Turkey and the United States. How does Russia fit in? They obviously loyal to the old regime, but why is that? Why do they like the old regime so much? Well, because they have a very tight relationship with this Alawite leadership. And the Christians, Orthodox Christians in Syria, about 5% of Syria, they see themselves also as a protector of Orthodox Christians, like they were under the Ottoman Empire. But mostly it’s geostrategic. Syria is their real, their zone in the Middle East, and they have a port in Tartus, which is the only port in the Mediterranean where they can rebuild their ships and repair them, and uses a base for the Russian navy in the Mediterranean. And so it’s strategically very important, but it also was the basis for the Russian president to rebuild his position in the Middle East. And this is, it’s really his success in Syria that has allowed Putin to reestablish himself in the Middle East and really in the international community, because he took on America’s policy in the Middle East and America’s policy in the Middle East had been we’re going to carry out regime change, get rid of these strong men who are ruling, and we’re going to create democracy and power share. And America did that, right, by getting rid of Qaddafi in Libya, Saddam Hussein, trying to get rid of Assad. They’re done so by kicking the Russians out of Afghanistan, and then encouraging regime change in Yemen and other places. So Russia said this is stupid. And Putin, looking at the world from his eyes, said the Middle East is not ready for democracy. He looked at the Middle East, not unlike he looks at Russia, which he of course does not really believe is ready for democracy. And he thinks you need a strong man to rule Russia. And he says, the Middle East is just like this. You need strong men because you’ve got all these fractious groups, and there’ll be civil war, and you need to keep order. So he said America’s just creating chaos, and they’re encouraging Islamist militias to spring up in this chaos. When they went to Afghanistan, you got al Qaeda. They went to Iraq, you got al Qaeda and then ISIS. You went to Syria, you’re getting ISIS and al Qaeda in Syria. Same thing’s going to happen in Libya. And so Putin said America’s just stupid. And this is against international law. It’s against the sovereignty of these nations. And America is way off base in doing this, and we’re going to take them on. And I think they found a lot of partners, and it opened a space for Russia to come back as a regional power in the Middle East. And so when we understand a potential solution, Russia would like to keep the current regime, the old regime in place. The US doesn’t really know what it wants anymore, it seems, because we got rid of the first primary target, which was ISIS, and the Islamic State. And Turkey seems to be happy with Syria just being as far away or as safe as possible. Unless it becomes independent Kurdish, then they have a problem. But as long as the Kurds are not too noisy, they are fine with pretty much any solution, right? So, no, Turks are acquiring territory. The Turks dominate northern Aleppo province, which they have proxy militias there. They dominate Idlib province, where a Muhammad al Jolani rules. He was the right hand man for Caliph Baghdadi of ISIS originally. He defected and created his own militia, Nusrah, which was allied then with al Qaeda. Then he moved away from al Qaeda, and now he dominates this one province, and he works with Turkey. So Turkey has gained a lot of territory in this and is acquiring territory as a buffer zone, theoretically, against the Kurds. But it’s also, it’s a power move that aggrandizes Anatolia. Now, the United States does have a policy in Syria, and that is, as it was expressed by the special envoy under Trump, James Jeffrey, Ambassador James Jeffrey, who had been ambassador in Iraq. And he was made a special envoy to Syria by Trump, where he worked for two years, and he has just, now that he’s out of office, he’s given a lot of exit interviews, and he’s explained very clearly what his policy was. And there’s the, you know, there’s the rhetorical policy, which is to bring democracy to America, to Syria, and to implement UN resolution 2554, I believe it is, and 2254, which is to create a political solution, have elections overseen by the UN, Assad is out, the opposition comes in. But that’s never going to happen. Assad won the war. So what James Jeffrey said is, what my real job was was to turn Syria into a quagmire for Russia and Iran, to make it as weak as possible. And this means keeping as much territory out of Assad’s hands. And 35% of Syrian territory is now in the hands of the Kurds, who are proxy for America, into East, and Turkey, in the western northern parts. There’s sanctions, very heavy sanctions, and secondary sanctions, which punish any businessman that tries to rebuild Syria. And there’s an effort to starve the regime from energy. Over 12 Iranian tankers bringing oil to Syria, which is the only way they can get energy now, have been scuttled, have been blown holes into with the mines by Israel, which is working with the United States on this. I think they agree on this policy. So it’s an effort to weaken Assad and keep him, because he’s allied with Russia and Iran, to really put the pressure on him. And the Syrian budget has collapsed as a result of this. It’s gone from over $10 billion in 2010. This year, it’s about $3.6 billion. That’s a budget for 15, 16 million people. Because in the north, where America dominates with the Kurds, almost all of Syria’s oil is in the north, much of its best agricultural land, and the Euphrates River water. So by denying those things to the majority of Syrian people in the government, it’s impoverished the Syrian people. And today, the UN has recently announced that over 80% of the people are in severe poverty, and the economy has really collapsed. And that’s the American policy, which is, I think America is hoping that Assad will crumble and leave. I don’t think it’s likely to happen. And so we have sort of the worst of all worlds for the Syrian people, because this battle continues, not so much militarily, but economically. Yeah, that’s very tragic. And I was in Lebanon when the Syrian war just started or was underway in 2015. And I think there were a few million at the time already, a few million Syrians that went to Lebanon. Because of the conflict, probably numbers are much starker by now. Well, there are a million refugees in Lebanon today. Many went through Lebanon and passed through. But a million is a tremendous amount, because the Lebanese are only about four and a half million. So this is one fourth of the country. The biggest per capita number are in Lebanon. Jordan has another million, but it’s a little bit bigger country, and Turkey has four million, which is just mind boggling. But of course, Turkey is a country of 80 million people, so they can absorb it, and it’s much richer. So I can absorb them. But the amount of refugees, six to seven million refugees out of the country, is staggering. Yeah, probably Berlin has another two million. Germany took in a lot of refugees. Yeah, they took in a lot. And then maybe that’s because refugees don’t know, but it seems like there is a Turkish Syrian affiliation, at least in Germany, which is where Turkish dominated as the biggest group of non ethnic Germans. So the food has gotten much better. Well, the food’s gotten better. But you know, the Syrians, the Syrian opposition called Merkel, Mama Merkel, because she welcomed, at least in the original days of the uprising, she welcomed almost a million refugees into Germany, which was, you know, a real statement. It was a statement in some ways that we’re not the old Germany. We’re certainly not Hitler’s Germany when when semites were being persecuted. And today, Germany opened his arms to welcome this million semites, if you will, to become citizens. And of course, it’s created a backlash in Germany, but all the same Germans have done extraordinary job of absorbing this big flow of refugees. It’s really admirable. And America hasn’t done anything of the kind needless to say. Yeah. Yeah, there is this proposal. It might lead us a little bit astray, but there is this proposal to to bring in 600, 700 million people into the US. So go to a similar population size as China within the next 20 years. And obviously, just going to be some criteria and you can be a little bit. I think to an extent you can you can make up your mind who you actually let in what what are the rules on the ground. But I think it’s a fascinating plan to to make America again this this nation where it’s really about meritocracy. So anyone can join the American dream in America. I thought it’s fascinating. Obviously, we might not have enough space in New York or in San Francisco, but we have plenty of space in the United States for way more than a billion new immigrants. So I thought it’s a fascinating plan probably doesn’t have a lot of political backing right now, but it would be amazing. It becomes true. I haven’t heard of this plan, but I’m sure it will cause a lot of a lot of a big strong reaction. And we’ve already seen that in the Biden administration with the southern border. It’s going to be an ongoing problem. And I I imagine America is going to be very reluctant to let in lots of refugees over the next decades. Of course, there has been an effort to to let in more refugees from the rest of the world. But still it’s very limited compared to what used to happen in the United States. Yeah, I think it’s really sad with you. If you think of Syria, let’s go back to Syria for a moment. What would be a solution? And what do you think are really the bad guys? You know, if you think in movie terms, what are the good and bad guys? If there is a potential outcome that you think is not just be all sit together and stop shooting each other, which is obviously going to be necessary. But what are the people from your or the infectious from your point of view who would have to suffer a little more have to give up a little more and what are the people on the other side who maybe gained a little bit too much? Well, you know, clearly, the last few decades have just been terrible for Sydney Arabs in both Iraq and Syria. They had been the dominant, the dominant power in both countries. And today they’re not in any way shape or form in their society has been really pounded. And they’ve lost a great deal. They’ve suffered tremendously and many of the refugees are Sydney Arabs. I don’t know how they’re going to regroup and whether they will be able to reestablish themselves in the way that they had been, you know, around the Second World War. The Alawites of Syria and Christians and other minorities continue to shrink as a percentage of the total population, because minorities have been leaving the region. I don’t know how Syria is going to repair itself and you know this regime led by Assad has been extremely brutal in order to cling to power. Of course, they fear that they’ll be ethnically cleansed and persecuted if they lose power, which is why, you know, the only way to explain this level of brutality. So they fought tooth and nail to stay in power and done everything, you know, barrel bombs, you name it, chemical weapons. I don’t see the regime collapsing in the near future. I don’t see any opposition that can overthrow this regime. The Sydney opposition has just been crushed and it will remake itself eventually, but I think it’ll take a long time to do that because Syria is so badly devastated. The Kurds have in many ways been the beneficiaries. There is a quasi independent Kurdish dominated state in the northeast of Syria. That’s helped by the United States. The problem for that, there are a lot of NGOs, it’s getting a lot of help. It’s got the oil of Syria, so it has an income. But the problem with the Kurds of Syria is that they’re only about two million two and a half million people. And they’re traditionally been the poorest people in Syria. So they don’t have a big infrastructure. And they don’t have an air force and they’re surrounded by countries Turkey in the north, Assad regime in the south, Iraq, none of which want to see an independent or quasi independent Kurdish state. So if America leaves and stops policing this turning into a no fly zone, the Kurds will be overwhelmed very rapidly and subsumed back into a Syria. And that’s, you know, that’s going to be a real danger for the United States in the future. It’s going to be a debate like Afghanistan. You know, do we leave at some point? Or do we stay and protect the Kurds for decades to come? That’s going to be a real dilemma on the front page of, you know, American policymaking right now. It doesn’t seem to be a big issue because we only have about 1000 troops in Syria. We don’t spend that much money, but it’s going to be an ongoing boiling problem. Because as we speak, Assad and his government are training rebels in those regions to strike at the Kurdish forces and to strike it at the Americans. Turkey is doing the same thing and Russia will be helping them because they don’t want America staying there. America is going to have to figure out how, what it wants to do and what its interests are in this region. Is there a chance that after this devastating war, and I think to an extent that happened in Lebanon, that all the factions could come together and realize, well, we tried, we tried our best to win this battle, but we are all in this together in the end. Maybe, just maybe we have our differences, but we create and live peacefully in a multinational, multiethical state. Like it happens in Malaysia, obviously a very different setup, but it’s split three ways pretty much perfectly. And it’s pretty peaceful for the longest time. It has its conflicts, but definitely not violent. Is that completely unthinkable? No, it’s, well, in that form it’s unthinkable, I think today is that people are going to sit down and agree. We see no Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Iraq, all of these countries are deeply divided along these ethnic and sectarian lines. What we have in Lebanon, there is no strong power that can force people to submit to them. And so you get a really dysfunctional government where, you know, there is no leadership, really. And the country has gone into bankruptcy and the Lebanese pound has collapsed. In Syria, you have a tough regime, and I’m led by this minority that’s kept control. And in Iraq, you have the Shiites who are dominant power. They share a little bit of power with the Kurds and the Sunnis, but they’re the dominant power. So I don’t know how they’re going to knit together and find a modus vivendi amongst each other. I think, of course, they will, you know, look at the south and the north of the United States that did it. There’s still tensions, but people do come out of these wars and knit themselves together again. It’ll be long, and it’s going to be clearly very difficult in all three of these states, because we’re really in the middle of this struggle for power amongst these different groups in each one of these states. This is a theory that I entertain a lot and that particular policies don’t matter so much, because, A, they change over time quite a bit and they can flip flop quite a bit. And, B, it is often the economic resources and obviously natural resources play a role, like I said earlier, with the oil and further north, but also if you find a somewhat, maybe just for a period nonviolent state where you can rebuild the country when you can raise productivity, this probably pays for, and it’s like what happened in Europe, right? They changed their active violent conflicts until the first and second world war, it was an economic war, so to speak, right? So it’s an economic competition, kind of what we taught them, so to speak. Is that something that you can see in, say, the United Nations of the Middle East? Like a model that we used for the European Union because we knew they’re going to quarrel again, but we redirected their energy, so to speak, after the second world war. Is that something we could try in the Middle East? Well, Arabs, of course, and others have tried this in the past, and I think Erdogan thought that Turkey could be the leader for an integrated Middle East, where there’d be pipelines running north and south and so forth and roads. That was the dream. Of course, there are two contradictory dreams. There’s more than two, but for example, Iran, which has a lot of influence in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, would like to build roads from Iran to the Mediterranean, would like to build pipelines to bring Iranian oil and gas out of Iran to the Mediterranean, where they could go up into Europe and feed Europe with oil and gas. Much easier to do that across the Iraqi and Syrian desert than to go through the mountains of Turkey or up to the north. But the international community, led by the United States, is not going to let that happen. The United States has put several hundred troops in the middle of the desert on the main highway between Damascus and Baghdad in order to stop trade, because this will strengthen Iran, strengthen Russia. If these economic union, if you will, and cooperation between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon were to actually realize itself. And Saudi Arabia is threatened by this, too, the Sydney powers of the Gulf and Turkey. Turkey and the Gulf have been trying to rearrange things so that Syrians would dominate in Syria, and you could build north, south pipeline. Iran wants to build east, west across Syria, and the two are struggling, if you will, over who is going to be the leader of the Middle East and who is going to build pipelines and roads and commerce in their favor. But you make it sound like, and that’s a very honest question, you make it sound like it’s all about power and creating power structures and policies to prevent someone from doing something in economic terms or in military terms. Isn’t what we learned more or less, and that’s not always true, there’s obviously clarifying exceptions like Germany, but generally once a country gets richer it has more to lose and the citizens have more to lose, it becomes less prone to violence and we know that the rule of the golden archers, right, once you have plenty of McDonald’s, once everyone’s integrated deep, the likelihood that this country goes to war is relatively low, even if there was an evil regime which still is, I think it still has to contend with this population changing their mind on this, more or less. There’s obviously exceptions, it shouldn’t be, let’s commerce and trade flourish. But there is, and really the solution to Syria, something I’ve been advocating in a number of articles with some colleagues is that the United States should lift sanctions or ease sanctions on Syria to allow Gulf money to rebuild Syria, because this will compete with Iran, this will bring people out of their poverty, and it would allow the region to renit itself together. The UAE, the leaders of the UAE have called for this in the last few weeks and said, you know, we’ve got to stop sanctions and we’ve got to bring Syria back into the heart of the Middle East. Immediately the EU foreign minister said, no, we’re going to keep sanctions on us as a criminal, we’re going to punish them. And the United States said the same thing, because they fear that if you lift sanctions, you stop isolating them, Russia and Iran will consolidate. So what should be happening, just as you suggest, is that the leadership of these countries should be rebuilding and finding a way to accommodate each other. And that’s what a lot of people want, the businessmen certainly want it, they want to invest and take advantage of the rebuilding process. But unfortunately, because there’s sort of this Cold War between Russia and the United States, Iran and the United States and Iran and Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia really. Those better instincts of people and capital are being prevented from doing what they should be doing and to what they can do to help people rebuild. And unfortunately, until those political struggles are settled through diplomacy, we’re going to see this standoff, which is hurting people. Yeah, I feel like the sanctions is a bit like a lockdown, right? It’s a very useful instrument, but it’s a short term instrument. Once everyone adjusts to it, it’s only the smugglers who make more money and the citizens actually suffer because the prices rise. And so we’re going to have to go back to our union and just add sanctions because we know it doesn’t really work, even say it would be legal, it’s probably illegal. But we know it’s a short term instrument and the threat of sanctions is obviously more useful than the actual sanctions because it’s very, very costly to enforce them from the US. You know, cold war just after Second World War policies, because we have seen that in the end, and the US is usually the best example for this, you have to outcompete everyone in terms of productivity, right? If you have enough productivity, we have the same problem with China on a bigger scale, we can have any kind of weird policies about China as long as their products are so much cheaper and better than what we could do or we could buy from someone else. There isn’t much we can do ever militarily, we can try, right, but we will fail. So, and I think the same should apply in the Middle East, shouldn’t it? It should. And unfortunately, you know, the United States used to believe that by building a stronger middle class, free trade, this is going to help development and encourage democracy. And in the 1950s, with a Marshall plan point for money and so forth, the United States invested in the infrastructure around the world, and it was much appreciated for this. And that’s the way the United States saw building democracy today. Unfortunately, the United States foreign policy has become the number of places we use sanctions. You know, whether it’s Russia or Iran or Syria or, or Venezuela, Cuba, you name it, there’s a lot of places and a lot of humanity increasingly China is going to get them to. We’re not doing that, we’re punishing people. And it’s going to, there’s going to be a backlash, I fear, against the United States for this behavior because Europe is not, you know, Europe gets cowed by the sanctions, but it’s not happy with them. And in fact, the sanctions to Syria and other places hurt Europe because the refugee outflow, it encourages people to leave because they can’t make a living for themselves. And those people are going to go to Europe. So Europe doesn’t want to see that Europe wants to see rebuilding of Syria. So refugees will go home. And that’s not happening. And that’s, that’s what’s very disturbing about this because it is a punishing policy. And if it doesn’t work immediately, it’s not going to work. And we’ve seen that, especially in these dictatorships, tough dictatorships like Iraq, where we had sanctions for many years and the UN estimated that almost, you know, 500,000 people died, old and children mostly because of the sanctions. And, and that could happen again in places like Syria, because they’re so weak and vulnerable. It’s something we can do. And I use this example with the Second World War, right? So the idea was to appease Germany, the idea before the Second World War, it was certainly an free and open market competition. And then Germany obviously abused the system, right? So they were pretty good at scaling up their military inventory, and it just overtook Europe and then a war was necessary. I don’t think there was any other way to get out of this relatively soon. That was the best outcome even for Europe. But isn’t that something we should, because most of the time we think we’re going to have an opponent coming up to our policies and to what we think should serve human development the most. But most of the time it doesn’t happen. That’s what I’m trying to say. So we exaggerate this, like the communism where we felt like, oh, if this one country in Africa goes to the Russians, it’s over, right? Or Vietnam goes to the Russians. You know, it would have meant any difference in Vietnam would have been more Russian or less communist. Nobody would care today, right? So we invested all that money and effort just to, on something where we felt as like a virus that scales out, right? But most of the time it doesn’t happen. It can happen like they did with Nazi Germany, but that’s relatively rare. So we should err on the side of, let’s say everyone should have a good time and then it gets really bad, then we have to bring in the tax. You’re absolutely right. And it’s quite clear that Saddam Hussein was not Hitler. Assad was not Hitler. And we’ve accused them of being these powers that are going to somehow take over the Middle East. If we had left Afghanistan in the hands of the Russians and not built up the Mujahideen that later turned into al Qaeda, it probably would have been better off, both for the Afghans and for the United States. The same is true with Iraq. And I can’t help but feel that Syria would be better off if we had not jumped in and tried to manage this uprising, because I think the uprising went on for 10 bloody years. But many more people were killed because tons of weapons and tons of money were shoveled into Syria by both the Russians and Iranians and the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey. And the two sides kept on shoveling in money and arms. And so a war that would have perhaps ended in a year or two took 10 years and a lot more people were killed. And with the same outcome, the outcome is not very different from what it would have been if the United States had not jumped in and encouraged people to send arms and money. Who is responsible in the U.S. for this policy? I don’t know if it’s a withdrawal or if it’s more activist, I don’t know what to call it, but to really use sanctions pretty widespread and to keep them in place forever and just very proactively going into these conflicts and seeking a specific outcome. Is that something we’ve done for a long time? Do you just see it more now or is that some relatively new development? It’s relatively new. The sanctions really became an instrument in the 1990s and then it picked up speed in the 1910s. And if you just look at our foreign policy establishment, the Treasury Department, which oversees sanctions, now has almost 300 permanent employees that do nothing but hunt down sanction breakers and find people who are trying to sneak around them and put sanctions on them and punish them. So a lot of our foreign diplomacy is being run through the Treasury Department now. And the State Department becomes smaller and smaller compared to both Defense Department and Treasury. It’s CIA, other arms of our foreign policy establishment. So diplomacy has taken a smaller and smaller role and it’s really gotten out of control. And those sanctions are a way for various lobbying groups really can get involved through both through Congress and by lobbying the president. And often putting sanctions on a country is the least, it’s the easiest way for the president to do something that doesn’t cost America, at least that he believes doesn’t cost America very much because it doesn’t mean putting troops on the ground and getting involved. But it does, I think it’s a very, it’s a very, it’s a brutal way to deal with it. It often doesn’t solve any of the problems. It’s just, it’s a feel good mechanism. So you can tell your allies that you’re doing something, but it doesn’t solve the problems. Do you think, and we, you know, Obama tried the drone wars, which was, I think, sold to him as more surgical. Do you think we have that makes sense to have drone strikes and very specific CIA operations? Well, what do you think is a track record with this, because it was especially with the drones, this huge backlash against what we did in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Do you think this is this an alternative that we can very surgically when we’re talking about two operations a year, right? Like something very small, not only we did in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but those are things where we can, I don’t know, notch along global policy or just, just the backlash is not worth it. I think we’re using it way too much as we are with sanctions because what you see is a small little operation at first often expands. It becomes bigger and bigger and you’re trying to hold the balance of power in a country in the favor of your allies. Often those allies are corrupt and weak and unpopular. And so you have to put more and more in. It’s like the government in Afghanistan, which is corrupt and weak, and the United States kept on having to up the ante in order to keep them in power. And we couldn’t defeat the Taliban. And now we’re going to pull out after 20 years and probably very bad things will happen as a result. And it’ll be very heartbreaking because many people have come to rely on us in Afghanistan. But I don’t see an alternative. You can’t just stay forever. There’s no, you know, America’s running out of money. People are unhappy. We have our divisions inside of America that need to be healed. And we can’t just do it forever. And we’re doing it in more and more places. And that’s the, we can’t afford to do it. And other countries are going to get involved, like China and Russia and Iran and Turkey and so forth, and make it very difficult for America to achieve the ends that it wants to achieve. So I see this attempt to micromanage countries, which often starts as a teeny little operation with drones, but it expands. And that’s, you get sucked in. And America’s, you know, in its sort of brief period as the only superpower has gotten way too ambitious for itself. And I think it’s learned in the Middle East with the Arab Spring that we can’t achieve the outcomes that we dreamed about, which is to bring democracy to the Middle East. And we get mired into these ethnic and religious internal wars that we don’t really understand and can’t fix. We just see it makes an argument that America has been on a retreat from its global power status literally since the 90s. No president in their campaign have any real, put any real effort into foreign policy. It’s something that they do kind of accidentally while they go along while they’re in the job. And he makes that argument that America, strangely enough, when it is receding to its own country, to its own continent, it still is out of, so we don’t need to control global commerce as much for our own benefit. We do it mostly, and that’s kind of surprising his analysis, we do it mostly for the benefit of our allies for Europe, for the allies in Asia. They profit the most from it. If we kind of retreat on our little continent, we’ll be fine and others will lose a lot in this change that are coming. That’s his thesis. But I think there’s something really fascinating about that to retreat. But on the other hand, we also know that that’s the argument that a lot of people who fought for us in Afghanistan make instinctively is, well, if we don’t go to Afghanistan, these people come here and they blow up our buildings. So we got to be there. And someone’s got to work on this, right? And it’s better to do it in Afghanistan than to wait until they come to America’s source. You know, I don’t buy that argument at all. Because there was not a World Trade Center too. And there is not a World Trade Center too, because we took some very basic precautions, policing efforts. It wasn’t because we went to Afghanistan and destroyed al Qaeda. We could have heard al Qaeda very badly from the air without occupying Afghanistan. But it was mostly policing because prior to 9 11. The protocol for airplanes that are being hijacked was to keep the door open and do whatever the hijackers said, because in the old days, the good old days, the hijackers wanted to fly to Cuba or some other place and make a statement about what they wanted and who they protest. So the protocol was just do what they say, and then you all go home at the end of this. Once you got al Qaeda, they could walk right in those front doors, which were wide open, and the pilots did whatever they said, because that was, but once we changed that, we locked the doors, and we had searches in airports, they couldn’t do it anymore. And they never achieved success at it. Again, the second time, we didn’t need to go occupy Iraq and Afghanistan in order to defeat this small little force. We turned it into a monster. When, of course, it was a problem, but it wasn’t the kind of problem that could be solved through occupying foreign countries, which just got us into a quagmire in the Middle East. We were carried away with our own might, and it got turned into a much bigger agenda, which was to bring democracy to the Middle East, which was a fool’s errand. And I think we’ve been very chastened by that. Yeah, we’ve definitely got our ambitions cut, and I think it was because we didn’t really have an enemy at the time. We did have an enemy in ISIS, but it’s an al Qaeda, but it isn’t something that we couldn’t do much about it. They could hit us in surgical strikes, so to speak, but we couldn’t fight back, and I think this was a big part of that motivation. We didn’t have anyone. The Russia was gone. We didn’t have anyone who was an enemy who would push back. Nobody would push back in 2001. And we could have just policed. We could have gotten much more cooperation from our countries that were very sympathetic to us and turn the international policing force much more towards consciousness about the Salafi jihadist ideology and groups like al Qaeda that would be contained internationally. And we could have done it. You know, if we’d focused on that effort, we would, I think, had a much more fruitful effort against this group, which for a lot less money and a lot less deaths. Is this something that we’re missing and not educating people enough? So I know how hard it is to get the message out when you do PR, when you run a startup, right? But what happens in the world and what would we know what the research is? It seems to not land on my Twitter feed or on my YouTube feed. And I’m really interested in these topics, right? So what I’m trying to say is instead of fighting dictators in the battlefield, why don’t we just lay bare what they actually up to and hopefully over time people will create a consciousness everywhere, not just in the U.S. And now with the Internet, maybe we have that opportunity. Are we missing out on this? Well, I think we’re beginning to, I think we have been doing it for some time now. And there’s been fairly good counterterrorist activity through police forces, through intelligence agencies that are sharing intelligence on these groups. And we’ve, we’ve seen a tremendous decline in the success of Al Qaeda and so forth. And that’s, I think, largely because of the consciousness, the education that all these police forces have gone through in intelligence groups, and that people have finally sort of figured out how these networks, not all of them, but they’ve become much better at gaining intelligence, which is what we didn’t have to begin with. We just had no clue who these people were and what motivated them and how they were recruited and so forth. Now, there’s a lot better intelligence coming in and we’re, we’re able to stop them, not all the time, but much more efficiently than we did before. Yeah. If you, if you can give a let’s go back for a moment to Syria, if you could give a timeline, obviously, maybe it’s just a hope. When do you feel we see this conflict settling down? Well, it has largely settled down. There’s no more overt war between the major armies. There’s, you know, there are explosions that go off. There are assassinations there. Because all of these different zones of Syria are still very unstable. There’s very little money. People are unhappy. But there’s no major armies fighting each other anymore. When does Syria get to rebuild and some stability come back? I think that’s going to be, it’s going to be a few more years. I think before foreign investment finds its way into Syria, but it will find its way into Syria because there’s so much that needs to be done. And there’s so much opportunity for people who know how to maneuver within Syria because land is dirt cheap. Everybody’s trying to sell and get medical help or food or whatever. So people with a little capital and some savvy can do tremendous things. But of course, nobody knows how to do it today because of sanctions, because the regime is on its heels because they don’t trust the security forces. There’s a lot of corruption. But that I think will stabilize and increasingly foreign money will find its way into Syria. And Syrian money will find its way into Syria. And things will begin to happen. But I don’t see a happy story coming out of Syria for the next several years. You know, I can tell you, my wife and kids wanted to go visit their grandparents in Syria this month, actually. And my father in law, who’s 82, said don’t come because there’s no electricity. We’re getting one, two hours of electricity a day. You know, people are miserable here. There’s just no money. Their income is collapsed because both of them are on government stipends. And that used to be around $400 a month, which was a lot for Syria in the pre revolution days. But now they did the calculations. We did them recently over the phone. And both of their pensions add up to about eight roasted chickens at the local chicken stand. That’s what they can buy with one month because inflation has just destroyed the currency. And people aren’t happy. So they’re saying don’t come because they don’t know how they’re going to entertain people and show you the grandkids a good time. They are embarrassed. And that’s, you know, that’s the situation in Syria today. And it’s going to take some time to get out of it because Russia and America are odds, Saudi Arabia and Iran are at odds. And there isn’t the will to use diplomacy to find a good way out of this. And that’s, that’s going to take some time, but it will happen. It will happen because as you started this program, saying Syrians are wonderful people, the food is exquisite, the tourism, the amount of ruins and beautiful places are, you know, everywhere. Anybody who travels to Syria, who did travel to Syria would come back saying boy, what an undiscovered jewel this country is and what kind and lovely people. And, and that’s going to, you know, that will find its way back. And that will once again become, I think, a destination. There’s a lot of, you know, rebuilding of some of the old souks and just the main ones. But that’s going to, that’s going to happen, I think, on a much broader scale. On this positive note, Joshua, I hope it’s going to happen rather sooner than later. Thank you so much for coming on the program. That was awesome. I learned so much. It was really, really interesting. Well, person, thank you very much for inviting me on. Thank you for some great questions. Absolutely. Hopefully we can do this again and then Syria is a better shape. Hopefully very soon. Okay. Joshua, thank you very much. Okay. Can you say bye bye? You too. Thank you.

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