Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Ryan Mauro, the founder of WorldThreats.com. He is currently a national security researcher for the Christian Action Network and a researcher for the Reform Party of Syria. A frequent guest on radio and TV programs, he is the author of Death to America: The Unreported Battle of Iraq. He can be contacted at TDCAnalyst@aol.com.
FP: Ryan Mauro, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I’d like to talk to you today about the primary foreign policy challenges facing President Obama. What are they in your view?
Mauro: Clearly, the biggest one is Iran. The United Nations now believes Iran has enough enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb. The question now is whether Iran will wait and build up its nuclear capabilities so they can quickly build a nuclear arsenal at a later time, or whether they’ll go ahead and start trying to enrich that uranium to a high enough level to actually create a nuclear weapon. This milestone will force Israel to make a decision in the coming months about whether they will launch a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Reports that Russia may sell the advanced S-300 air defense system to Iran to protect those sites also decreases the time in which Israel can debate whether to go ahead.
President Obama, therefore, has several challenges. He needs to hope he can put together some sort of deal that will compel Iran to suspend its overt nuclear program and again, hope that Iran doesn’t have a parallel covert enrichment program that the UN inspectors and Western intelligence can’t locate. There are unconfirmed reports that the Obama administration has decided to stop placing sanctions on Iranian companies involved in their WMD program and even stop enforcing current sanctions. This is a gamble of the highest order. It will free up assets the Iranians intended to use for their missile and nuclear programs, and we simply have to hope that this outreach to the regime convinces them to cut a deal.
It is doubtful that the Israelis will accept this, so he’ll also have to convince the Israelis to delay whatever aggressive action they decide upon by assuring them that his plan will buy them some time. The only thing that could potentially stop Israel from acting is convincing them that their offensive will fail and result in a regional war, launching a naval blockade of Iran, or launching a diplomatic offensive that convinces the United Arab Emirates to stop allowing the transit of gasoline to Iran through their territory and convinces Western companies that provide them with gasoline to end their business with the government. The Iranian regime has numerous pressure points we can take advantage of if we’re creative, and if they are utilized correctly, make the prospects of a deal where the regime suspends their program more likely.
President Obama then has to convince the Arab states in the Middle East not to build their own nuclear weapons capabilities. Based on Secretary of State Clinton’s remarks during the presidential debate, this will likely come in the form of an agreement to protect place a “nuclear umbrella” over them to deter Iran from any type of aggressive action.
The President also may have to deal with a terrorism-related political issue emerging at home. The Christian Action Network’s new hit documentary, “Homegrown Jihad: Terrorist Camps Around the U.S.” is quickly gaining steam, with tremendous response from law enforcement, intelligence personnel, and active citizens alike. It documents a network of at least 35 radical Islamic compounds in the U.S., as discussed in my previous interview. It can be obtained at ChristianAction.org and is vital viewing for all those concerned with national security.
If the country wasn’t so consumed with our current economic troubles, it is likely this would already be a much talked about political issue demanding the Administration’s attention.
FP: President Obama has also ordered Guantanamo Bay to be shut down within a year. If that happens, what sort of impact will it have on U.S. security?
Mauro: We must face the fact that Guantanamo Bay does contribute to anti-Americanism and is used as a propaganda tool by our enemies. If there is a way to shut it down without freeing terrorists who will only return to their trade, it should be considered. However, no plan that I’m aware of has been presented to ensure this won’t happen.
My friend Colonel Gordon Cucullu has written a new book called “Inside Gitmo.” He describes it as “the single greatest repository of human intelligence in the war on terror, the single greatest accumulation of terrorism-related information, and the world’s best, most humane, and most efficient interrogation facility.” He also suggests transferring convicted terrorists held in U.S. prisons to Guantanamo Bay so they can continue to be interrogated after their sentencing, a very logical proposal. Gitmo has been used as political football, and many people are forgetting how much it has contributed to the War on Terrorism. Any plan to shut this base down must preserve our capability to gain intelligence from the prisoners and ensure that we aren’t letting go those who would do us harm.
We already know that Said Ali al-Shihri was a former prisoner who was released to the Saudis in 2007. He is now the deputy leader of Al-Qaeda in Yemen.
The Pentagon reports that 18 former prisoners are known to be involved in terrorist attacks, and another 43 are suspected of being involved in terrorism again. That’s at least eleven percent of prisoners who have been released, and we have to assume more are back in the terrorism business that we don’t know about.
It is said that President Obama is considering sending many of the prisoners into the “rehabilitation” programs in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. While these programs have undoubtedly worked in some cases, we need to question the claims of their radical success. The Saudis love to brag that not a single graduate from their “rehabilitation” program relapsed into terrorism. We need to consider the fact that the Saudi imams being used to convince terrorists that they are on the wrong path are Wahhabist, one of the most extreme sects of Islam. Now we know that fourteen Saudis who graduated from the program did relapse, including the aforementioned deputy leader of Al-Qaeda in Yemen.
FP: What do you think will be the result of President Obama’s outreach to Iran and Syria?
Mauro: Predictably, the governments of Syria and Iran are talking up the prospects of diplomatic engagement. The Iranian government will use the diplomatic talks to delay Israeli and Western action against them until they can either build a nuclear bomb or at least, increase their capabilities so they can produce as many as possible at a later time.
The Iranians are gearing up for an election year, with the two major competitors being the so-called moderate Khatami and the blatantly extremist Ahmadinejad. I am concerned that Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei, who has endorsed him, will try to provoke Israel into launching a limited strike on their facilities that fails to significantly destabilize the regime. They will hope such an event as helping Ahmadinejad’s election prospects; rally some of the Iranian people, most of whom want to see the regime fall, to their side; and Ahmadinejad may view it as the trigger that allows him to lead a regional war against Israel and her allies that will provoke the return of the Hidden 12th Imam who he believes will intervene and vanquish his enemies.
At the same time, the Iranian regime is highly unstable and is suffering more than ever due to the lowering of oil prices. It is estimated that by 2015 the regime will have to end its oil exports, which account for over 90% of government revenue. If big changes are not made, the regime will fall, which brings me to my next point. If Khatami wins the presidential election, it may very well extend the life of the regime. He plays the “moderate” part well, and will likely try to play the part of Iran’s Gorbachev. He may push the Supreme Leader and the mullahs to introduce some liberal reforms to the economy, and use America’s trust in him to solicit Western investment and trade, providing the government with the financial resources they need to stay in power.
Analysts will debate what happens at this stage. The mullahs, with Western technology and money, may be given a new life. Others will argue that the increased openness will encourage and arm the Iranian opposition to demand more freedom and change. Iranians who currently have to be loyal to the regime for food or money, or spend all their time trying to make enough money just to feed their families, may be enabled to challenge the regime and demand political freedom in addition to the partial economic freedom. The truth is that nobody knows, but it’s clear that in the coming years the Iranian regime will either have to act like Stalin, brutally massacring people inside the country to remain in power, or act like Gorbachev in order to seduce the West into helping them survive.
President Obama is going to try to lure Syria into the Western fold in order to help isolate Iran, accurately recognizing that the Assad regime’s primary concern is money and power. The U.S. has tried this again and again, but with Syria’s economic troubles, there is some possibility of this occurring. I expect President Obama to offer Western aid, the lifting of sanctions, and pressuring Israel to hand over the Golan Heights in return for Syria cutting off ties to Iran and terrorist organizations. If President Obama is successful, it will greatly help the U.S. strategically, but I’d hope he’d remember to still speak out on behalf of the oppressed Syrian people and push for some more openness, so one day we can stop choosing between the Assad thugs and the Muslim Brotherhood, who some believe would come to power if Assad fell.
FP: What has been the reaction of some of our allies?
Mauro: The Egyptian government has released Ayman Nour, a democratic political activist, from prison. President Obama should encourage more of this. Nour’s aim is to build a democratic base in Egypt to serve as a third option between Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood. President Obama would do well to call for the release of similar prisoners throughout the entire region.
When President Obama said “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” I was hoping he was tying the improvement of ties with the U.S. to improvements in how these governments treat their people. It remains to be seen whether the Obama Administration will only be concerned with the “clenched fist” in our direction, or whether they’ll recognize that the “clenched fist” that threatens their own people also threaten ours.
The government of Yemen is backtracking on their commitment to the War on Terror, although that has been going on since before President Obama took power. Yemen has released 160 terrorists from prison, and is reportedly utilizing radical Sunni militants to create a militia to combat its Shiite enemies in the north.
FP: What else do you see President Obama pursuing in terms of foreign policy?
Mauro: Vice President Biden has been a very forceful advocate of military intervention in Darfur. He has called for the establishment of a No-Fly Zone over Darfur and sending in peacekeepers. The idea of a No-Fly Zone over Darfur is an honorable one that we should embrace, although we should make sure there is no Sudanese military presence on the ground as well. In Iraq, we established made a similar arrangement with the Kurds in the north and their success has become a shining beacon of light for the entire region.
However, I am concerned that the Sudanese government will sponsor the Janjaweed militia and similar forces to attack any peacekeepers on the ground and to wage a campaign of terrorism in Darfur and perhaps, South Sudan. There is a possibility that the terror will continue or even escalate with Al-Qaeda-type forces joining in that can only be destroyed through a counter-insurgency campaign that the world is not eager to fight. However, a No-Fly Zone would still be a definite improvement over the current situation.
FP: Ryan Mauro, thank you for joining us.
Mauro: Thank you Jamie.