Go to Top
tel. (707) 480-3539

Jasmine El Gamal talks about Syria

Yesterday, Jasmine El Gamal came back on The Drive with Steve Jaxon to talk about the political and diplomatic consequences of President Trump having ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk missles at an air base in Syria.

Steve Jaxon:
Alrighty, our next guest has been with us before. It’s great to have her back. Jasmine El Gamal, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, the Center on International Security. Hi, how are you, Jasmine?

Jasmine El Gamal:
Hi, it’s so good to be back. Thank you for having me.

SJ:
Oh it’s our pleasure. Now this is such a great story. Born in New York, raised in Egypt, you served in Iraq as a translator and cultural advisor for the 82nd Airborne division, during the initial stage of Operation Iraqi Freedom

jasmine el gamal talks about syria

Jasmine El Gamal

JEG:
That’s right.

SJ:
Wow. That just blows me away. It blew me away last time you were on, just thinking about this.

JEG:
It was quite an adventure.

SJ:
Yeah! Reiterate for my listeners how that came to be.

JEG:
It actually was much more random than it appears. I came home one day right after I graduated from undergrad, and there was a letter in the mail asking for people who spoke English and Arabic and who liked to travel. Very vague, but made it sound really good. And before I knew it, I was in Iraq a couple months later on the eve of the invasion.

SJ:
Wow. And you also apparently briefed people like, I don’t know, Defense Secretaries, Panetta, Carter, Gates, all those guys,

JEG:
That’s right, I covered several Middle East portfolios in the office of the Secretary of Defense and got to brief the secretaries as part of my job.

SJ:
And in 2008 you were a policy advisor on Middle East issues with the Defense Department. Man! So, what is it you’re doing now, with the Atlantic Center?

JEG:
So right now, I’m at the Atlantic Council. I’m actually looking at the role that narratives and stories play in radicalization and whether and how people become radicalized simply by listening to, or at least partly by listening to news stories, and things like that, and if that is the case, what can we do to reverse that process, or stop it from happening in the first place.

SJ:
And what are your thoughts on Syria at this point and the recent attack from the US?

JEG:
You know, it’s a much more complicated problem, issue, than I think it appears. You know that the US deployed 59 Tomahawk missles late last week on a Syrian air base, a Syrian air field, from which the President of Syria launched a chemical attack, one of the, his latest chemical attacks, on innocent civilians, killing about, you know, the estimates are about 70 to 100 people, and wounding many more. And President Trump, in a statement, later that week, made it clear that that was unacceptable to him but he didn’t think any child of God should have to suffer such horror and that that was why he struck the air field. What remains to be seen is what kind of effect that will have in the medium to long run and whether or not the administration will see fit to strike again or to change its policy towards Syria, which so far they haven’t been willing to kind of state very clearly. Many many questions and very very complicated, Steve.

SJ:
Yeah, and boy, it all goes over my head, it’s just insane. Jane Harmon, former Democratic Congresswoman, from our state here, was quoted as saying Obama should have done this four years ago when the problem was easier. What do you think?

JEG:
You know, I respect Jane Harmon greatly and I think that, I just always, always hesitate to make judgements, especially based on hindsight. I was actually working, I held the Syria portfolio for about three years during the height of the Syrian conflit, at the Pentagon. So it was basically my job to do this, 24 hours a day if you will, to look at what was happening in Syria, to brief my boss all the way up to the Secretary of Defense, and try to figure out how to deal with this really complicated issue. And I think it’s way too simple to say that the President, President Obama should have done one thing or the other, and that it would have changed the course of history. The fact is we don’t know. Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have done more than we did, that’s definitely not what I’m saying. It was often a source of frustration for us, working these issues, that we couldn’t do more. However I would caution against thinking that any type of military action in Syria, then or now, could have changed Assad’s thinking, his calculus. You know, President Assad has backing from Russia and Iran. It’s impossible to say what they would have done had we attacked, again, either then or in the future, so it’s one thing to say we should strike but it’s quite another to be the President of the United States and to sit there and have to think of second, third and fourth order effects that you might have to deal with after that initial strike.

SJ:
Would an action like what we’ve taken in the last week there, can that help re-energize, say, a diplomatic channel? I mean, is that going to help?

JEG
That’s actually, that’s actually one of the things that the Trump administration I hoping and stating that it will do. One of the biggest criticisms of the Obama administration was that they tried so hard and really in earnest, and I can attest to that, to make, to find a diplomatic solution to this crisis. The criticism is that we didn’t have any sticks, any sort of reason why Assad would come to the table and negotiate in good faith. So the Trump administration and proponents of the strike will say that this could incentivize him to come to the table and make him realize that we’re serious about a political solution and that it is in his interests to do so. Of course it’s a gamble, right, because what if he doesn’t? Are we prepared to do more strikes? Are we prepared to escalate? I think these are a lot of questions that the Turmp administration is probably grappling with right now, which again, is why this makes this issue so complicated.

SJ:
Apparently former Secretary of State John Kerry said he was supportive of Trump’s strike and gratified to see that it happened quickly.

JEG:
I did read that in the press and obviously I don’t know this first hand, but can imagine that Secretary Kerry probably wished that there was some sort of incentivising action that he could have taken to his negoations with the Syrians, to let them know that it was in their interests to come to the table in good faith.

SJ:
And what about any strategy that the administration has? They’re being really tight-lipped, they’re not saying anything. They keep saying, Spicer keeps saying, he doesn’t want to tell people what he’s going to do. Is that just because they’re working on it and he doesn’t know yet?

JEG:
I would assume and I would hope that they are working on it. They are very tight-lipped but I’m not surprised by that, Steve, because I think that they’ve been tight-lipped, generally speaking, for better or for worse, on policy deliberations and policy options that they have in their pocket. So I don’t expect them to come out and tell us step by step or word for word what they’re thinking about, but I do hope that they are thinking very clearly and very carefully about, like I said, second and third order effects of any actions, especially military actions that they might have on the table. And I would expect nothing less from Secretary Mattis and General McMaster.

SJ:
We’re talking with our friend Jasmine El Gamal, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. You’re quoted in this Politico article, by the way, I won’t bother repeating it because you just told us pretty much what was in that article, and your thoughts, so I don’t know, where do we go from here? Obviously they want, they would like to get some diplomatic channels open, Assad keeps doing this, I assume, we’re going to keep attacking.

JEG:
Well we’re not sure, it’s not clear whether we’ll keep attacking, it’s a big question mark. I think moving forward, we have a couple of major issues that we need to be thinking about and that I imagine the Trump administration is thinking about. One is, do we insist that Assad has to go? So far the Trump administration has stated that that is not a priority for them, but recently in Sunday talk shows, ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley stated clearly that she does not see a political solution as long as Assad is in power. So we’re waiting to see if that’s a stated change, that’s an actual change in our stated policy toward Syria, or if that was just a factual statement that she was making but that doesn’t mean that we will necessarily try to make that happen. So that’s number one, it’s whether Assad stays or goes, and what our policy is regarding that issue.

The second one is Russian and Iranian reaction. I mean, so far, the Russians have been pretty clear that they were very displeased with our actions. They suspended an official channel that they used with the US to deconflict actions in Syria. They stated that if something like this happens again that that would be their red line that has been crossed. They made that in a joint statement with the Iranians. And so it’s unclear where this goes and what kind of escalatory potential this has, if we can’t come to an understanding with the Russians and the Iranians about the way forward in Syria and the use and the acceptability or the non-acceptability of the use of chemical weapons again.

And the third and final issue, Steve, that I would try to raise is the humanitarian aspect. I’m sure you and your listeners have seen many many op-eds over the last few days about the fact that, OK, if President Trump now feels that these beautiful babies, as he called them, if that was unacceptable to see the pictures of these babies, you know, dead and suffocated and just awful, awful pictures, does that mean that you’re now going to change your refugee policy in the US?
SJ:
Right.
JEG:
Does that mean that we’re now going to open our doors to Syrian refugees? Another big question mark and another thing to watch out for looking forward.
SJ:
Yeah. Wow. Well, we shall see, as always, with this administration, how this plays out. What is Iran, what is their role with Syria and why are they involved, what are they looking to get out of this?

JEG:
It’s always hard to try to figure our Iranian decision-making and I’m not an Iran expert so I won’t go too much into your question. I will say that Iran has traditionally suppported President Assad and definitely see any action against him as a transgression against their interests. So I’ll just leave it at that.

SJ:
This guy has killed over half a million people, apparently, I just, I don’t get it. There’s no way to get him out, is there, at this point, without everything blowing up?

JEG:
You know, that’s the big debate right now. I mean, you have people saying the US should not be in the business of regime change, that’s it’s never worked well for us before. We’ve certainly tried it before and it’s never turned out very well. You have Colin Powell’s “Pottery Barn rule,” you break it you own it, and I don’t know that the American people have the stomach for that after years of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. The question is, is that what it would entail? Do we have to break it? Do we have to be all in? Or can we find some sort of way, in cooperation with our international partners, to convince Assad, or even coerce him, in some way, to leave, peacefully, semi-peacefully, through a political transition? And I think that’s what the Trump administration and most of our international partners would like to see. I don’t think anyone has the stomach for another multi-year conflict and security vacuum right now.

SJ:
Wow, I really appreciate you taking so much time with us. Jasmine El Gamal, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and a good friend of this show. We will talk soon, I hope.

JEG:
Thank you so much, it’s always a pleasure.

SJ:
Thanks, take care, have a great night.

JEG:
Bye.

 

Contact Vicario Productions

Contact us for more information about getting any of our shows on your radio station or network.

Contact Us