Walid Phares, a Middle East and terrorism expert, and Fox News commentator, talks about his new book at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. (Photo/David A. Schwartz / March 24, 2014)

Author criticizes U.S. response to Arab Spring

By David A. Schwartz, Staff Writer

3:48 p.m. EDT, March 24, 2014

In his new book “The Lost Spring: U.S. Policy in the Middle East and Catastrophes to Avoid,” Walid Phares, a Middle East and terrorism expert, and Fox News commentator, takes the United States to task for not seeing the rise of civil societies that was evident as early as 2009.

Phares also criticizes the U.S. for intervening too late and siding not with the revolutionaries but with the new authoritarian powers.

The result, he says, was the Arab Spring becoming the “Islamist Winter.”

The Jewish Journal sat down with Phares last week after he spoke at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

Jewish Journal: Why do you blame the Obama administration for what you call the failure of U.S. policy in the Middle East?

Walid Phares: It’s not just about the Obama Administration. It’s also about the Bush bureaucracy. My cause to partner with moderate, democratic, civil society forces in the Middle East has been there since at least 2004.

But with the Obama Administration, something has changed. [Advisers] felt that, and with good intentions, if we partner with already organized forces on the ground, and cut then cut a deal with them, we can bring the region to stability and after stability, we can move later on, on democracy.

Dialogue, but partner with the democrats. Unfortunately, what was happening was we were partnering with the Islamists and not dialoguing with the secular liberals. They did not buy that there is a social force in the Arab world that they could actually partner with.

[In Iran, Obama] was advised not to make a speech and push the youth to revolt and crumble the regime because his advisers told him it’s not going to work. When he said ‘We don’t want to meddle,’ then the regime crushed them.

Now, the good news is those youth are still around. So there is another spring coming. The cycle will be back.

JJ: What do you think of the recent “deal” with Iran?

WP: The deal said the Iranians would lower the production of uranium and they’ll start to get cash from their frozen money. The Iranians are getting that cash. They’re reusing it to support their people in the Middle East. And they are investing it here in America with companies and PR and media so that they would say that the deal is working. The deal is not working. I’m very concerned about that.

I think now we are in a much more dangerous situation than ever before because Iran got much stronger. Iran is still developing its missile fleet. We in America, in the west, have been focusing on the production of the nuclear bomb in Iran.

The Iranians, that’s my view, are not going very fast in the production of the nuclear bomb because if they produce one, it’s going to be hit. So what is it that they’re doing? They’re going very slow in the production and meanwhile, they’re developing all the defenses around that bomb — long-range missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, more bases outside Iran — in Iraq, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Eritrea, in eastern Arabia.

So what the Iranians are doing is like Israel has this dome, they’re creating a dome over Iraq. And once the dome is solid and they know that it’s going to be costly for us, then we are going to be surprised. Like China, like India, like Pakistan.

JJ: Could Israel and the United States take out Iran’s nuclear arsenal?

WP: Combined, from the air. Of course, they could take it out. But they cannot reverse it forever. If you don’t bring down the regime, the regime will be back in.

The Israelis may strike if they feel the red line has been crossed. That’s they’re own clock.

But for the international community and the United States, I would have recommended a strong support of a position that showed the youth, the younger people in the country that are against the regime.

We were so close in June of ’09 [when there were mass protests of Iran's presidential election results]. We would have won half of the war on terror by Iran. Imagine just Iran going down. You would have Iraq changing. Assad go down. Hezbollah gone. Peace between Israel and every country around it. And Hamas gone. With one mistake we’re done in June ’09.

JJ: What is the likelihood of a peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis?

WP: I don’t see it happening. The PA is afraid of Hamas. That’s the secret why Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas], the president of the Palestinian Authority, [is] not making those concessions and moving closer than those strong statements. I don’t think he really believes that being tough is the solution. He’s afraid of Hamas.

Now, Israel and Netanyahu [are] not going to accept the concession to a tough Palestinian position. They are deadlocked. But both could reach a solution if the generators of radicalism, Hamas, would be disarmed.

Now, something may happen to change everything. Egypt may be the one to pressure new forces in Gaza to rise against Hamas.

Mark my words. Nine months, a year from now, you’re going to see Palestinian moderates starting to rise against Hamas, backed by this whole group of moderates — Egypt, Saudi [Arabia].

And I’m not surprised to learn that in the Sinai there is a discrete cooperation between Egypt, Israel, the Saudis and the other Arabs. So that has changed. All because of Iran and their frustration with us.

“The Lost Spring: U.S. Policy in the Middle East and Catastrophes to Avoid” by Walid Phares is published by Palgrave Macmillan.

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