NEAL CONAN, host: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
It's being read all over the world and found itself at the top of the agenda when President Bush met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair today at the White House while the co-chairs testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill.
On one of the deadliest days for U.S. troops in Iraq, the Iraq Study Group released its long-awaited report yesterday. The Pentagon, State Department, and the National Security Council are due to release Iraq's strategy reviews of their own over the next few weeks. There's no indication yet whether the administration will accept any of the Iraq Study Group's 79 recommendations, but the president spoke today of new directions in Iraq and promised to make a speech before the year is out. The report has clearly shifted the debate in Washington.
So far, it has not made as big an impact in Baghdad where some say the authors failed to understand or address the complexities of Iraqi politics. Coming up, we'll be speaking with two Iraqi officials about this, we'll also talk with two men who advised the study group, though one of them only briefly, about what the process was like and about the recommendations. And now that you had time to think about it, we welcome your questions about what's in the report and what isn't, whether the proposals point a way towards success.
Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK, the e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Later in the program, the Motley Fool's monthly visit. If you have questions about the market investment or toy stocks, hey, it's December after all. You can e-mail us now, the address again email@example.com, but first, the report of the Iraq Study Group.
Our first guest is Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He joins us today from Maryland. Shibley, nice to have you back on the program.
Professor SHIBLEY TELHAMI (University of Maryland): Nice to be back with you.
CONAN: Tell us a little bit about your role as an adviser. What were you asked to do?
Prof. TELHAMI: Well, first of all that, you know, there were these working - expert working groups that focused on a variety of issues from economic and political development to the strategic environment, which I worked on. Basically, there were a number of experts with different views. This was not a unanimous group by any means. People had different opinions that came from, you know, different backgrounds and different ideas on what could be done.
And they were asked in essence to put some options through before the commission and ultimately, to write some tentative recommendations and present them orally to the commission. And so the group's met a few times, there were a lot of e-mail exchanges going back and forth. Some members were more active than others. A lot of members participated actively; others did not. And the group, expert groups met with the commission members and presented and discussed the recommendations.
But I have to tell you that in the end, the actual writing of these reports was really done by the staff of the co-chairs with, you know, feedback obviously from a lot of people and input and the co-chairs themselves. And frankly, most of us really didn't - you know, we have some idea about what the recommendations were and what was coming out of the discussion in the commission meetings, but I didn't really see the full report until it was published.
I mean, I only read it yesterday and went, you know, just before I went to the meeting with the co-chairs at the U.S. Institute of Peace with other members and guests.
CONAN: Also with us here is studio 3A is Michael Rubin, who was also an adviser to the Iraq Study Group for a time. He's resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, also a former Pentagon policy official and political adviser to the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. Nice to have you back on the program.
Mr. MICHAEL RUBIN (American Enterprise Institute): Thanks for having me.
CONAN: And you started out as an adviser and what was your experience like?
Mr. RUBIN: Well, yes and no. I was asked to join one of these expert working groups about three days before the first meeting. The day before the first meeting, I saw the list of the advisers and came to the conclusion that as a so-called neocon, if you will, someone that prioritizes democracy and attaching U.S. foreign policy to democracy in the Middle East.
I was a token. I was the only one and I felt a lot of people will make a lot of hay out of the fact that the Baker-Hamilton Commission was bipartisan and it certainly was. But foreign policy isn't really partisan. It's more philosophical. In Sudan, in the Balkans, in the Middle East and so forth, oftentimes its coalitions of left and right versus the center.
So rather than sign a nondisclosure agreement, if I felt that I wasn't going to be able to influence the debate, a day before the first meeting, I withdrew. So I actually didn't take part in any of the meetings. But after I withdrew, the altered the makeup of the working group's a little bit more to add three of four other people, who might give a slightly different perspective.
CONAN: So in the end, do you think that, at least as far as what you knew about it, there was a - the spectrum of opinion was well-represented?
Mr. RUBIN: Actually, I don't think it was very well represented. The actual working groups, the four working groups and the military group contributed a lot of advice, whether - but the process was rather opaque as to whether that advise would be taken or not. At the level of the commissioners and the level of the staffs of the co-chairman, it seems to be a rather opaque process and perhaps somewhat predetermined.
CONAN: Shebley Telhami. I was wondering if you had some thoughts about that.
Prof. TELHAMI: Well, I mean obviously, you know, this - the commission is going to make up their own minds. They're major political figures and they have to read the political environment and one would be silly to think that, you know, any recommendations are not done with an eye to the political environment which they're made.
And so they obviously make their own decisions. There are names that are really on the report, our names or as advisers. We can disagree with the report. Michael can disagree with aspects of it. I can disagree with aspects of it. We can walk away from it but they can't.
And so in the end, of course, it was their report. And I think - now, the questions is, did the advice that I put forth - did I feel that it was actually considered and thought about and in some ways reflected in aspects of the report? I would say yes. And I would say yes, I think about other people's ideas that I saw there. That doesn't mean that, you know, this is, you know, that one has to take every aspect of it.
But I think, I think there was a struggle, I would say, among the members trying to find, you know, the option that they have to take. I don't think anybody went in with predetermined views. I really don't. I think we all - I don't - even to this point, I'm not absolutely sure about what should be done in Iraq. I think we have a difficult situation, probably no end, and - well, I would say not probably. I think one can say to you more confidently, no end.
And I think that reality is when you looked at the debate and the discourse and how this report evolved. I think a lot of people were asking questions they weren't sure. There were some - certainly some parameters as to what would - what is doable, both politically and in the reality and on the ground in Iraq for sure. But I don't think there was a predetermined idea as to what was going to come out.
CONAN: Michael Rubin, I guess there was one predetermined idea and that was that they wanted to come out with unanimous recommendation.
Mr. RUBIN: That's been - Baker and Hamilton have made a great deal about reaching a consensus. In on itself, that may be one of the problems of the report because sometimes, in order to reach an agreement, you come to the lowest common denominator of agreement and that can create a muddle-through strategy in a way that's been part of the problem all along with Iraq policy.
An analogy I would use is that if you have a Hornet's nest, you have two clear options: One is to leave it alone; the other one is to get rid of it. But if you try to find the perfect compromise, which is sit underneath it and lightly tap it with a stick, oftentimes that consensus, that compromise, can be the worst of all possible options.
Prof. TELHAMI: You know, I think we are actually also focused on the wrong thing in terms of whether the value of this report.
I think, let's face it. This report just basically institutionalizes the conclusion that current policy has failed and is failing. And therefore, you know, there needs to be a change of course and this is an occasion for anybody who wants to change, to start a debate about that change and this could be the basis of it. And that's really the important part, one of the important parts.
The other thing is to look at it and with the acknowledgment - I mean, you have to read this report not only in terms of recommendations - that's wrong just to read the recommendations.
You have to read the substance because for many people who are experts they know the reality on the ground. For a lot of people in America that have been hearing the debates and the sound bites and they don't recognize some of the little details, both about what the war is costing and how it's going, and also even about our ability to do things on the ground.
You've got 1,000 Americans in the embassy in Iraq. Only six of them are fluent in Arabic. I mean, that is an astonishing reality. Those are the kind of details that came out that describe and give texture. The people should read the whole report descriptively as well, not just the recommendations.
The final point is that - look, because our ability to control the environment in Iraq is so small now it's maybe too late. The consequences are huge. Everybody recognizes that - it's not just Iraq - for Iraq and the region broadly and the reputation and the credibility of the United States.
Whatever America does is connected to the other issues so therefore, it is very important to think of Iraq as part of a bigger strategic view of the region and as part of a new policy that connects the issues, and I think that's a broader strategy that is suggested here is something also that has to be debated.
CONAN: Michael Rubin?
Mr. RUBIN: Well, I would certainly agree that the Iraq Study Group report has created a much needed debate, but when we look - and I would also certainly agree that Iraq has to be considered as part of a larger region. When I read through the report a couple of the assumptions astonished me and I think undercut the basis of many of the report's recommendations.
First and foremost is the assumption that Syria and Iran want a stable, secure Iraq. Sure, it might be in their interest from our perspective but to assume that they want a successful, stable Iraq I think may be counter to the evidence, especially when we look at what is known about what's being smuggled in.
One of the other figures in here was about Moqtada al-Sadr's (unintelligible) having around 60,000 trained militiamen right now. It's no longer a ragtag bunch. So in many ways this idea that we should bring Iran and Syria in, conduct incentive diplomacy may be like rewarding an arsonist for starting a fire.
Prof. TELHAMI: Let's separate the issues about whether we should engage Iran and Syria or on what Syria and Iran want. I don't think the argument that Syria wants stability in Iraq ultimately is the wrong argument. It's the right argument.
I think the Syrians have huge stake in preventing civil war in Iraq. If there is civil war in Iraq and al-Qaida takes hold even more than it has already. Al-Qaida is a more an enemy of that regime in Damascus than any other in the region perhaps. And I think that they stand to lose big time.
There is a sectarian issue in Syria potentially itself. The spillover effect is big. I think they stand to lose the, you know, more than Saudi Arabia in civil war, one can argue. And I think they have certainly an incentive to prevent that. That doesn't mean that is their ultimate priority at the moment.
I think they've wanted - they were worried about American success given what they saw as an American agenda to undermine them, so on the one hand they wanted to see unified Iraq. On the other hand they wanted to see the U.S. fail. That's been the problem and we have to bring those two together.
CONAN: Okay. We're going to talk with Shibley Telhami and Michael Rubin more about the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group and we'll take your calls as well. We'll also hear from two Iraqis. 800-989-8255. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
We're talking about reaction to the Iraq Study Group's report with two men who were asked to advise the group, and in a moment with two Iraqis. You can also find reactions from U.S. lawmakers and from Syria and Iran at our website. Just go to NPR.org. Our guests are Shibley Telhami. He was an advisor to the Iraq study group and is the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, and Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, who was also asked to advise and declined for reasons he's explained on this program.
We're also taking your questions about the report: what's in it, what's not. Does it point a way to success? 800-989-8255. 800-989-TALK. E-mail is Francisco.
ROGER (Caller): Yes, thank you very much.
ROGER: You know, it baffles me in a way. Can we ever have an effective army in Iraq when there is so much sectarian anger in that country? I believe any government that's tainted by the influence of this government is going to be suspect. And there's one other thing I'd like to say. I'm soon going to Europe, and I've always loved going to Europe, and this program transmits to Europe.
I'd like to say to those European listeners, America's highly divided on this issue of Iraq. Many of us came out against this war long before it started, so do not judge all Americans by the actions of this administration and their followers.
CONAN: Okay Roger.
ROGER: You know, I still want to thank you for this opportunity.
CONAN: Okay Roger, thanks for the call. And sectarian divisions within the Iraqi army and much more of the Iraqi police a major element of the report, Michael, and certainly a continuing problem.
Mr. RUBIN: Absolutely, and the report is chockfull of details and one of those details which I'd like to bring out is that it's not enough to train the Iraqi army if they don't have the equipment and the logistics to get from place to place, but if we take a broader perspective the main problem in Iraq - I think people from across the political spectrum can agree - is security and rule of law, and so it raises the issue - how do we improve that?
I'm not sure whether creating a vacuum is the way to go. I'd much rather see very specific discussion about how to improve especially the police, which have become a haven for militias and death squads. When it comes to the Iraqi army itself, while it isn't as trained as we'd like it to be, at the same time it hasn't peeled apart and turned in on of itself like some definitions of civil war would have.
Prof. TELHAMI: May I say something on this? If you look at the report itself there is actually a very interesting little fact that is stated in the report, which says that the entire aid to the Iraqi army is less than the two-week budget of the U.S. military in Iraq, just to give you a sense of the priority of the spending, the equipment and the training that is going into the Iraqi army as opposed to just a - you know, less then two weeks worth of budget for the U.S. military in Iraq.
So, obviously, there has not been a - it hasn't been the major focus of this strategy, it just gives you a sense of it.
But I do agree with the general point, though, that when you bring down state institutions under the most difficult circumstances where you have sectarianism it's very hard to build an army, even with all the resources that you put in.
I think, you know, there are many decisions that were made that people will, you know, criticize like dismantling the Iraqi army to begin with, but a state was dismantled - an entire state. To build a state is very difficult and it's much more difficult when there's sectarianism, and I think the army equipment is only a small part of the problem.
I think the loyalty issue - you know, when the Iraqi army goes into a neighborhood in Anbar people don't say here comes the liberating army, here comes our police, here comes our army. They say here comes the enemy. That is really the problem, and I think it's much more political and institutional at the core than it is effectiveness of the performance of the military.
CONAN: Let's get another voice into the conversation. Joining us now is Qubad Talabani. He represents the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government here in the United States. He's also the son of Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, and he joins us from his office in Washington. Nice to have you on the program.
Mr. QUBAD TALABANI (Kurdistan Regional Government): Thank you Neal. It's a pleasure to be on.
CONAN: And obviously in descriptions of grave and dyer circumstances in Iraq, one of the places they were not talking about was Kurdistan.
Mr. TALABANI: Right. They haven't really - they briefly mentioned that the security situation in the north and in parts of the south are secure and calm but unfortunately they haven't really taken into consideration when preparing this report some of the realities that exist on the ground and some of the insecurities that exist on the ground, particularly as it pertains to the thoughts and the concerns of the various communities in Iraq.
CONAN: And by that I assume you begin with yours.
Mr. TALABANI: Absolutely. What this report seems to recommend is a return to some sort of centralized authority in Iraq. It seems to circumvent some of the progress and some of the political compromise that was made in Iraq's constitution, and I'm a little disappointed at the fact that how much this issue has been blown up on this report that we're seeming to forget the real important document in Iraq, and that is Iraq's democratically ratified constitution.
CONAN: And that, of course, provides for autonomy in regions like Kurdistan and that's what's been going on there, I guess, since 1991,long before the Iraqi constitution, of course. But as I look at the report, there are a lot of things that are asked of the Iraqi government, including figuring out how to get rid of the militias. This is going to be very difficult.
Mr. TALABANI: The militia issue is going to be very difficult because not all militias are alike. Some militias are contributing to security of the country while others are adding to the security.
CONAN: And again by that you mean your - the Kurdish militia, the Peshmerga, you say is supporting the state and some others are not.
Mr. TALABANI: Well we define the Peshmerga as a regional defense force because it's a valid force that has a clear chain of command. It's visible and reports to active duty, and it is one of the reasons why the Kurdistan region is stable and secure right now. And before dismantling something is stable, that is working sounds absurd for us that are dealing with this issue.
CONAN: Was anybody from the commission, the study group, did they contact people in Kurdistan? Were they spoken with?
Mr. TALABANI: Unfortunately, they didn't visit the Kurdistan region. They spoke with Kurds in Baghdad but they didn't meet with officials of the Kurdistan regional government, and I don't think they adequately gained the wishes and the desires and the requests of the Kurdistan people.
CONAN: Let me ask you, one of the fundamental aspects of the report is to try to convince the Iraqi government that it needs to take greater responsibility, a much greater role for its defense. Effectively, that the United States as least as a combat force is on the way out. Do you think that message has been received in Baghdad?
Mr. TALABANI: I think the message has been received in Baghdad and I do hope that ultimately it's going to be Iraqis that are going to make the situation better or worse, and these reports are good. They can help us with guidelines. They can help inject new ideas into the debate, but it's not going to resolve the problem on the ground.
It's going to be ultimately the leadership in Iraq that has to do some soul-searching, that has to reach within their constituencies and show leadership and express the desire to overcome the difficulties that we face and talk to international conferences and bringing in our neighbors and all of these things will be moot, if Iraq's leaders don't hold leadership and express a willingness to resolve the problems that we see today.
CONAN: And one final question, and that is two words that we heard an awful lot over the past couple of days as people were talking about this report. One of them is urgency and the other one is last chance.
Mr. TALABANI: Clearly, Iraq's presence has polarized and Iraq has polarized as a country. The fact that we haven't had a government in Baghdad that has been effective, that has delivered the basics to the citizens, that hasn't brought security to the people of the country have made the communities feel insecure about their future, which is why they have polarized into ethnic and sectarian groups.
And I think what we're seeing today is the new reality in Iraq where Iraq's identity could be waning and people are feeling more secure in their ethnic or sectarian guise than in being part of this thing called Iraq. And that's what I think one of the major omissions of this report is that it fails to take note of the changing dynamics on the ground in Iraq. And if they're not managed carefully and if they're not dealt with could lead to very different circumstances.
CONAN: Qubad Talabani, thanks very much for your time. We appreciate it.
Mr. TALABANI: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: Qubad Talabani, the U.S. representative of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government. He's also the son of Iraq's current president, Jalal Talabani.
We turn now to Faisal Amin al-Istrabadi. He is Iraq's deputy permament representative to the United Nations and a former deputy to the speaker of the Iraqi parliament. He joins us from a studio at Stanford Universtiy, where he happens to be today. And it's nice to have you on the program today. Thanks very much for joining us.
Mr. FAISAL AMIN AL-ISTRABADI (United Nations): My pleasure to be with you again.
CONAN: And how do you examine this report?
Mr. ISTRABADI: Well, in the first instance it strikes me that it is a commission established by Congress to report to Congress and to the president of the United States, and so in a sense it's really an internal document to inform the debate going on within the United States government.
And as a representative of my government, it's sort of incumbent upon me to wait to see what U.S. government policy becomes after this report - and really, to react to that, in essence.
CONAN: How do you react to the report's description of the situation in Iraq - grave and deteriorating?
Mr. ISTRABADI: Well, I mean, I think it's very clear that the situation in Iraq is not good. It is not as we had hoped it would be by this time. And it merits serious attention by serious people to attempt to solve real problems.
CONAN: Will the government, do you think, respond? We have to wait for the president to finalize his speech and make his address after he's looked at this report and the others that are due out that we mentioned earlier in the program.
But nevertheless, urgency on the part of the Iraqi government, more activity on the part of the Iraqi government seems unlike an unavoidable recommendation from the president?
Mr. ISTRABADI: Well, it isn't only a matter of recommendation from the study group. It is also something that we are actively promoting. I mean, one of the things that we insisted on in terms of the continued presence of the multinational forces in Iraq, which we absolutely need, and continue to need to try to engender stabilities, security stability.
But is absolutely necessary for us - and something that we insisted on as well - is that we have to have, as an Iraqi government and as a greater share of decision-making, and to have to have a clear, clear sort of goals as to a increased visibility, an increased control over the command structure within our country.
And I think that will help as well. Clearly, that is a kind of thing that the Iraq Study Group appears to be hinting at or talking about, and it was also something that my own government is insisting upon. So I think there's much room for, as they say, a meeting of the minds on some of these basic issues.
CONAN: We're talking about reactions to the publication of the Iraq Study Group's report yesterday. Our guests include Shibley Telhami, who was an adviser to the study group. Michael Rubin at American Enterprise Institute. Right now, we're talking Faisal Istrabadi, the deputy permanent representative of Iraq to the United Nations.
If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION coming to you from NPR News. And let's gets a caller on the line. This is Whitney. Whitney, are out there?
WHITNEY (Caller): Hello?
CONAN: Hi, there. Are you there?
WHITNEY: Oh, sorry. I was wondering how much pressure they - give me one moment please. I was wondering how much pressure that it -
CONAN: I know you're nervous, but go ahead -
WHITNEY: How much pressure they put on the Iraqi government, what do they expect the Iraqi government to do? Do they expect - don't they think that they're probably already trying the best as they can? How much, I mean, how much - Security is the biggest issue. What part of security do you think the Iraqi government can provide against these insurgents that the army can't?
Prof. TELHAMI: Well, that's a really good question. I think -
CONAN: This is Shibley Telhami. Go ahead.
Prof. TELHAMI: Yeah. I think it's a good question because, you know, it sort of what is expected. Now, I think you have to put in perspective, first of all, that no one had any illusions about a miracle solution in Iraq. You have to start with that. I mean, the page one of the report, people are recognizing that it's really - all of these are attempts, because you know it's - you're dealing with nothing but bad options right now. That's the reality of it.
But on this particular issue, in terms of what could the Iraqi government do, Mr. Talabani said a few minutes ago that it's ultimately up to the Iraqi people. I mean, one thing that the report is saying, saying yes, it's ultimately your decision and make it so, urgently, because if you're depending on us to save you or save the day, that's not going to happen.
So in essence, yes. Part of this is to say, look, it's urgent; it's your responsibility. You got to figure out a way on your own and don't just rely on us as, ultimately, as the ones who are going to keep you in place.
I mean, now I think that's the message, I believe that is coming or it's the way I interpret it.
But the second thing is, in the end, you say it's military and security. Obviously, security is central - no question. But security is tied to politics. The question is there needs to be some political compromise particularly between the Shia and Sunni Arabs.
And so the question is whether this creates an incentive for compromise, although it's part of the problem as is stated in the report is that the Sunni leadership is not very clear. You don't really have a single Sunni leader to -
CONAN: More than a few Shiite leaders as well. But let me ask - let me put that question to Faisal Istrabadi. Is this of focused minds?
Mr. ISTRABADI: Well, I think that the minds are focused, and I don't think that we needed the report from, you know, a panel of American experts to tell us that the situation in Iraq is critical, so I think the minds are focused. The problems are real and there is no magic wand to wave over them. There has to be, you know, I'm heartened, I heard Mr. Talabani, Qubad Talabani just now, talking about compromises. Well, obviously, that is the art of politics.
But it is also a learned behavior. It is not genetic. And politics have been absent in Iraq for far too long. So it is, unfortunately, a process that is unfolding, you know, in the best of all possible worlds, you would want to have peace effloresce, and you know, harmony and bucolic Iraq while these compromises are being worked out. We're having to work out the political compromises and fight terrorism and an insurgency and death squads at the same time.
CONAN: Yet, death squads, at least in part - well, you've heard this before, but they are in the uniforms of Iraqi government officials.
Mr. ISTRABADI: Some are, that's correct. But they are, nonetheless, operating as death squads. They're not sort of classic militias, because they're not fighting each other, with the exception of, occasionally here and there, such as in (unintelligible) a couple of weeks ago. They're not actually fighting each other.
What they're doing, these militias, are targeting the other side's civilians. It's a pernicious problem, and you're right, there are some - as the government fully recognizes - there are some people that have sort of one foot here and one foot there, and that is something that has to be dealt with.
The government is committed to the disarming of militias. That is a matter of clear policy. Of course, the difficulty is in actually undertaking the disarming of these militias. And as Mr. Talabani said, we have to be careful in what we define as militias and what in fact, not one.
CONAN: Yeah. Faisal Istrabadi, thank you very much for being with us. We appreciate your time.
Mr. ISTRABADI: Thank you. My pleasure.
CONAN: Faisal Istrabadi, deputy permanent representative of Iraq to the United Nations, joins us today from a studio at the campus of Stanford University. We're going to continue with Shibley Telhami and Michael Rubin when we come back from a short break and take more of your calls.
I'm Neal Conan. This is the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
Today, we're getting reactions to the Iraq Study Group report with two men who are asked to advise the group. Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, and Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. And let's see if we can get some more callers on the line. This is Judith. Judith, calling us from California?
JUDITH (Caller): Yes. I understand that part of the recommendations are called for the privatization of oil and a change in the constitution to centralize - to forward all oil revenues to the central government, and to allow international corporations to be involved in Iraqi oil.
And considering how many people believed this whole war had to do with oil, to begin with, and with Baker's and others connections, Halliburton, etc.
CONAN: And other parts of the oil industry, yes.
JUDITH: I have been listening for hours and hours about this plan, and I haven't heard, I mean, on many different programs, including NPR, PBS, etc. I haven't heard one mention of oil.
CONAN: Michael Rubin.
Mr. RUBIN: Well, the report does deal a great deal with oil, because oil provides so much revenue to Iraq. One of the issues, which I noticed when it came to the oil, was just how much it's calling for security for the oil industry. You know, an Iraqi Fulbright scholar in the United States, Bilal Wahab, recently estimated that 40 percent of Iraqi oil is actually siphoned off and helps fund the insurgency.
So there's two issues coming here. One is how to secure the oil and more broadly, how to secure the country that's part of it. And also, how to bring more oil out so that Iraq can use it. What I see is most important isn't whether that happens through private corporations or through state-centered enterprises, but how transparent the process is. Because ultimately, it's going to be that transparency that puts to rest the conspiracy theories.
CONAN: And. -
JUDITH: Well, this is one of my, why is no one talking about oil, now when they're discussing this plan, especially since it was such an important issue and it was such a big controversy from the very beginning. I mean this just feeds the people who believe that this whole war has been about oil.
CONAN: Shibley Telhami?
Prof. TELHAMI: Well, I don't know about the discourse, whether anybody has or not. I haven't heard all the talks. It is obviously an important issue, and I agree with Michael on some of the challenges. Obviously, the other challenge is the distribution of that oil because it is - the wealth from that oil, which accounts now for the vast majority of the income that the Iraqi government has.
And clearly, it's been, you know, there is worries, particularly among the Sunnis about how it's going to be divided. So the question is, always, any kind of fact that is going to be reached between the different factions in Iraq, and they have to have some kind of a formula for the distribution of that wealth.
I don't think this is really at the core of the recommendation that's why it's not being discussed. In fact, I'm actually surprised that one of the things that I haven't seen talked about as much is actually this notion that the strategy should be now a comprehensive strategy that includes an active American diplomacy to dissolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.
This is a strong recommendation, this report. Surprisingly, strong that comes out. It hasn't even been mentioned to some of the editorials today, and yet, it is a very - it's seen as a central component. Because if you look at the spirit of the report it's saying look - if we're going to succeed at all, you have to take it all as a comprehensive strategy. You can't basically cherry pick.
I mean that's the notion of this. And this is a component of it that's bolstered by a lot of the feedback they're getting. It's not that what you do in the Arab-Israeli conflict is going to change the internal dynamics in Iraq, no. I mean, right now, Iraq now, has got it's own dynamics.
It is that in order for you to affect all the other factors, both in terms of getting greater help from the outside in Iraq and to limit the damage of what's happening in Iraq or other issues, you have to create incentives for all the players. And one of those incentives that most people want is Arab-Israeli in negotiations.
JUDITH: But the Israelis are already that they have nothing to do with Iraq.
Prof. TELHAMI: Well, they are right at some level. That is that, you know, what's happening in Iraq today is not up to the Israelis. We're talking about how the region sees the U.S. In a poll I just did in the Arab world, I asked people which of the following things would improve your view of the U.S. most. Withdraw from Iraq? Withdraw from the entire Arabian Peninsula? Pushing for democracy in the Middle East? Giving the Middle East a lot of economic aid? Withholding aid from Israel? Or brokering an Arab-Israeli peace agreement based on the ‘67 war.
The number one answer by far was brokering Arab-Israeli peace between Israel and the Arab state based on the '67 war. This is the issue that makes the most difference in the view of the public and I think in the view of governments, and so it's not intended to resolve the problem in Iraq. It does not. It's intended to bring together an American strategy that creates allies that work together in favor of American policy.
You don't want people to be rooting against you because they see you as going against their interests. You want people to root for you because you see that they have a win-win situation.
CONAN: Judith, thanks very much for the call. And we have to leave this segment now, but not before I wanted to ask you both: If there was one idea that you could contribute that you would have like to have seen in the report, what would it have been? Michael Rubin.
Mr. RUBIN: Again, what I would say is the chief issue in Iraq is security. How do we fix the rule of law problem? I would argue that we need to embed U.S. troops with the Iraqi police so that they can't even take a cigarette smoke without having an American there with them, because at this point the police are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
CONAN: Shibley Telhami?
Prof. TELHAMI: I don't like to see a clear paradigm of what America's priorities in the Middle East and how Iraq fits. There's a lot of that in there, but I would have liked that to been articulated more clearly because I think that's where the debate should be today, given the fact that we have minimal influence on what is ultimately going to happen in Iraq.
CONAN: Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, joining us today from his home in Maryland. Thanks as always.
Prof. TELHAMI: Pleasure.
CONAN: And Michael Rubin joined us here in Studio 3A. He is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a former Pentagon policy official and political adviser to the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. Michael, thanks as always.
Prof. TELHAMI: Thanks for having me.
CONAN: When we come back, it's the Motley Fool.