Khaled Salah (L) with Eli M. Gold in Washington, D.C., April 4, 2017 - Photo courtesy Khaled Salah
Editor-in-Chief Khaled Salah, on the ground in Washington, D.C. as part of the Egyptian press delegation accompanying President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, interviewed Mr. Eli M. Gold Tuesday. Gold is the Senior Vice-President and Co-Founder of the London Center for Police Research.
Khaled: Eli, thanks for accepting my questions today.
Eli: Thanks for having me.
Khaled: Could you tell me more about your research center?
Eli: Sure. In 2012, the president of the center, Herb London, who was the past president of the Hudson Institute, which is another research center in Washington, came to me and asked me to assist him with creating a foreign policy national security think tank focusing on global threats, and working to forecast threats 3, 5, and even 10 years out.
Senior fellows, scholars, people that can help us with this research, to create this unique entity which doesn’t look for simple solutions but what we call out-of-the-box thinking to complex issues. And we put together a group of 36 senior fellows, some of whom you may know, such as the former director of the CIA, Jim Wowzy, as well as Mike Flynn, Lt Gen who was the national sec advisor to president trump, and a variety of others as well. But all hand-picked, who are not necessarily scholars, but are actually practitioners, so they clearly understand exactly the situation. It’s not just by reading books or studying talking to people but actually have participated in there. And in fact, my specific focus is on legislative affairs. So I’ll work with congress, I’ll take these complex issues, and I’ll have my senior fellows put together solutions for these global crises. And then work with congress and the administration – foreign governments as well, which is how I’m here today talking to you, to find these solutions and it’s created something very unique.
A lot of people don’t understand how Congress works. So, Congress has two houses – the House and the Senate. In each chamber, we have committees, and then subcommittees, and then we have caucuses, which are formal groups of members of congress who work on a specific issue on their own, and then we have coalitions, which are informal. I like to tell people I know one caucus that nobody else knows of. It’s the ‘Too Damn Hard’ caucus. When you bring to them a solution, and very often they’ll look at it and go, ‘oh, it’s a great idea – on paper it’s great. But in reality it’s too damn hard to make it happen.’
Well my response is, we’ve seen how well the easy solutions work, and quite often, they don’t, as we’re still battling Isis, or there’s still instability in the Middle East, in the greater Middle East. There’s still a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. And that’s just focusing on the Middle East. What about if we focus … if we move to China, and to North Korea, and so on. So there’s clearly a need for complex solutions to complex problems. And that’s why we are here, to work with governments. Not to throw a paper at them and say, ‘this is our solution,’ but to actually work with them to create solutions to these problems.
Khaled: So, do you think… you said that you determine what are the threats to the world right now, and to work with the government. Can you tell me, from 1-10, ISIS is how dangerous is this threat?
Eli: Well, that’s a difficult question because it depends. Are we looking today? Or are we looking long-term? If we’re looking to today, there’s no doubt ISIS and militant Islam as a whole is the immediate threat that we face today. But that shouldn’t take away from looking at the long-term threat that Iran poses, or the long-term threat that NK poses, or what’s the relationship between North Korea and Iran? And where does Russia fall into the mix? What’s Russia’s relationship to Europe, and its threat to Europe? But if you’re taking a look right now, from an American perspective, I would say you have ISIS, you have Iran, you have North Korea, and I would include militant Islam, because that includes the Muslim Brotherhood as well. And the Muslim Brotherhood is a key threat that we have to focus on. And then of course, not to get too complex here, but what are the ultimate ramifications of each one of these or the secondary effects of each one?
Khaled: You mentioned the Brotherhood as one of the threats. I wonder why, if the think tanks in the states consider the Brotherhood a terrorist group, why don’t Congress and the White House declare the Brotherhood as a terrorist group?
Eli: You’re making the assumption that think tanks in Washington think that the Muslim Brotherhood is a threat. That’s what we believe, and there are think tanks in Washington that do believe the Muslim Brotherhood is a threat. What makes the Muslim Brotherhood unique is the makeup of this organization. It’s not just are they shooting people, is a Muslim Brotherhood member detonating a bomb on a Russian subway. But they look at it as, the Muslim Brotherhood was elected in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is providing humanitarian aid. The Muslim Brotherhood has become a political institution, so it makes things a little bit difficult just to snap your fingers and suggest that we should classify it as a terrorist organization. There’s a whole process. And additionally, which is most important, the Obama administration felt that the Muslim Brotherhood was a group that should be supported and brought stability to the Middle East. For that reason…
Khaled: Especially Egypt.
Eli: Right. And for that reason, the Obama administration would never have approved the foreign terrorist, or FTO, designation for the Brotherhood. We now have a new administration. President Trump has repeatedly stated that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization, and the Muslim Brotherhood should be classified that way. There are many in congress who feel not like that. There are many in congress who feel that it in fact should be. I have been involved since 2013 in drafting legislation, to classify the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Part of the issue…
Khaled: You yourself. With Congress?
Eli: I myself, with Congress. And part of the issue that we fact is that we have certain constitutional restrictions, because at what point does it cross the line of religious freedom that we face? So those are the hurdles that we’ve had to deal with over the past number of years as we’ve tried to do that.
And each year that we introduce a new piece of legislation, sometimes it’s a good piece of legislation that just never passed the last time, we’ll re-introduce, or congress will re-introduce, that same piece of legislation. What we have done is we have perfected it over time. I believe that this current legislation, that Mario Díaz-Balart in the House and Senator Ted Cruz in the Senate, has been able to put together really good legislation that should be able to pass. President Trump will sign it if it does pass. And then send it to the Secretary of State, which is where it goes. But the most frustrating part of it is, it’s not going to happen in the first 100 days. It may not even happen in the first year. But it will certainly happen within the first two years. Let me rephrase that, I take that back – I am cautiously optimistic that it could happen, even within the first 2 years. But from our perspective, from an American perspective, the president cares about health care. These are things he ran on in his campaign. He cares about taxes, he cares about certain…
Khaled: He has other priorities
Eli: He has certain priorities that have to be addressed in the first 100 days-
Khaled: Not the Brotherhood
Eli: Because we picked this arbitrary 100 days, to see what we can put through…
Khaled: So it’s not a priority now.
Eli: National security is a priority for President Trump, so I don’t want to suggest that it’s not a priority. The Muslim Brotherhood part of the national security is not the priority above healthcare and taxes and so on. It’s going to take time, it’s going to take political capital, it’s going to take political will to make it happen.
Khaled: But you are optimistic that the Trump administration is serious to do this?
Khaled: So, it illustrates to the world…
Eli: So it illustrates to the world that we are moving past the animosity between the Obama administration and the Sisi administration. It shows the world that we’re willing to re-visit and reshape this relationship with the key ally in the region, which is Egypt.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to take a look at what’s happening on the streets. Maybe nothing will happen, maybe something will happen, we don’t know. This, what ultimately happened is that Egypt ultimately elected President Morsi, and the Muslim Brotherhood, and you may be able to answer better than I, as an outsider, exactly why that is the case, but it appears to me that the Muslim Brotherhood at that point in time was the group that was the most put-together, shall we say, and therefore they were able to win the election. But, what ultimately happened after that was, when things took a turn for the worst because of the Muslim Brotherhood and ultimately Field Marshall Sisi stepped in as we all know happened from there.
I had a very unique conversation in 2011, during what we call the Cairo Uprising, with a member of congress, we were at dinner and I said tell me, what do you think is going to happen about peace with Egypt? And the congressman looked at me and he said, Elie, we’ve had peace with Egypt for the past 30 years. What makes you think something’ going to change now?
It’s not for an American president to say, or to influence, what is going on in Egypt. Either if we support you, we support you, no matter the choices that the Egyptian people have made. Otherwise, if we don’t support you, that’s fine, that’s our prerogative, but you can’t influence what’s happening in other countries. It’s somewhat what the Democratic Party is complaining about, Putin in our current elections. You can’t go into another country and try to influence what’s happening on the ground. When Field Marshal Sisi was ultimately elected president, at that point in time president Obama put a key ally of ours in the region on the back burner and basically closed the door. I’ve been working with the senate back when it was a Democrat senate, and they were going hand-in-hand between then-Senator Lahey and the Obama administration and really blocking any support, any real support, to Egypt. What ultimately has happened, now, this is a very long answer to your very short question, but what’s ultimately happening now is showing the world that we are now moving past any ills that the Obama administration had towards Egypt. We are now going to work with you to re-build your country, your economy, but most importantly to bring stability to the Middle East. Because we know – we meaning Americans as well as President Trump – know that in order to bring stability to the region, you must have Egypt at the forefront.
Khaled: Thank you. You mentioned that we have to move past the Obama period. When it comes to economics and USAID, what do you think that Trump can do?
Eli: Well I think that President Trump is in a very unique position because he’s a businessman, he’s not a politician, and it remains to be seen what’s ultimately going to happen, but he understands that in order to allow Egypt to take the lead in this battle that we’re currently facing, that Egypt’s economy must be rebuilt. Creating an environment where economic investment in Egypt is encouraged, that I think will be a much-needed first step.
Khaled: What will Trump gain by helping Egypt? He’s a businessman, as you mentioned.
Eli: Well this is something that most foreigners that I speak with, whether it’s in Europe and members of various different parliaments or elsewhere, are asking the same exact question. What does it mean, we’re putting America first? Does the Trump administration no longer care about key allies?
The Obama administration, his policy was to create a global environment where no country is bigger than the next. And you see this in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, where he was trying to bring Israel down as much as he could by influencing their elections as well as US policy toward Israel and boosting the Palestinians in any way that he could, trying to create what he calls a level playing field. When President Trump came in to the presidency, and in his remarks, what he was attempting to do by creating ‘America first’ is that its our responsibility to worry about US interest first. I mean first. We’re not worried about the Mexican economy when we want to bring back our own manufacturing back to the United States. We’re not going to look to multilateral trade agreements because ultimately what happens very often is be that the bug guy loses and the small guy wins. So what he wants to do is to create an environment where, in his policies, the US comes first.
Now in theory, President Obama wanted the same thing. However, what he was looking to do was create an environment where we may or may not take care about our allies. Let me rephrase – it’s irrelevant who our allies may be so long as we’re trying to create an environment where everything is equal.
So getting back to Egypt, President Trump is saying that, ‘I care about the US first,’ however we now have to revisit who are our allies? Because even a country like the United States can’t battle ISIS or create stability in the Middle East on their own. It can’t rebuild an economy in Egypt that’s suffering on its own. It has to be an environment where we help each other. We’re not going to rebuild your economy, but you have to want to rebuild your economy. You have to want to work with us, where it’s beneficial for America and Egypt, not just Egypt or not just Europe or not just Canada. It has to be mutually beneficial.
Khaled: One of the major obstacles for us in Egypt fighting the war is the media who are supported by some of the states in the region, like Qatar and Turkey, which actually support terrorism. Do you think that those media or those countries could be part of the war?
Eli: Well there’s no doubt about it that when you have media who has their own agenda-
Khaled: Like Al-Jazeera.
Eli: Correct. That has their own agenda, and one that is counter- or counter-productive to battling or bringing stability or battling militants, including the Muslim Brotherhood, or that actually support the Muslim Brotherhood, of course that’s part of the war. It’s informational warfare. And that’s really what it is. We have technological warfare we have informational warfare, and this comes maybe a little too much for my own liking, but talks about the lying media, ‘fake news’ and so on… of course that doesn’t help. No one’s asking Qatar to support President Sisi. But just report it accurately. That’s the important thing. Just report the news accurately. The same thing is here. Just report the news accurately. Because reporting it inaccurately only emboldens those, whether its Putin and the Russians in the context of the Unites States, or its countries that support terror in one way, shape or form in the Middle East.
Khaled: But do you, personally, as a researcher and as one who looks to the ground, not only the theory, do you think that Qatar helps terrorism?
Eli: I think that there is certainly, their support of Muslim Brotherhood and others that definitely helps the terrorism, yes, there’s no doubt about it.
Khaled: What about turkey? Do they apply the same rule? Especially as they host Brotherhood members-
Eli: Well Erdogan is clearly a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and is unabashedly a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, that’s not anything new. Turkey is a very unique country. Should they be part of NATO? That’s… we can debate that. That they’re not helping the cause. Now that being said, they’re the KRG’s biggest trading partner, and Kurdistan is at the forefront of this battle against ISIS in their region. So it makes it a very unique case. The big question that I always face in regards to classifying the Muslim Brotherhood as an FTO, a foreign terrorist organization, is what does that do to Turkey? How do we reconcile that? Can we work with Qatar? Can we work with these countries that, if it’s not a Muslim Brotherhood government but the government, as you said, is supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, how does that affect it one way or another?
So those are more imminent threats. And when you take a look at dealing with secondary threats, I’ll call it that and people will argue with that terminology, it may not be a secondary threat, but then you have to look at Turkey as well and see what do you do with Turkey, Qatar, and so on. If we could put together, say, a coalition of countries in the Middle East that are willing to work together to counter jihadist Islam, that are willing, that want to bring stability to the Middle East, you see that Saudi Arabia is attempting to build a coalition as we speak. We’re working on, and I’ll send you a copy of the document, what we call a Gulf and Red Sea Treaty Organization. They’re essentially like a Mid-East NATO. Well many of these countries will have to be part of it. But from our perspective you need to have Egypt at the front. You really need to have Egypt at the forefront and it’s a very complex situation. There’s no doubt about it, that Turkey is a big threat, is a threat right now. There’s no doubt about it, it’s a threat. The question becomes, is it a threat like Iran is a threat? There are certain levels of threat.
Khaled: Yeah, okay. It’s all about priorities.
Eli: Well I wouldn’t say priorities, because priorities means that we’re going to look at one first and then we’ll look at the second and so on, no you have to look at them all at the same time. You have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. The question becomes, what do we do about each one? Sometimes, so long as you know what they’re doing, sometimes that’s good enough. I’m not suggesting that that’s what we should do, just let them go, just keep an eye on them, but there are certain threats that you have to deal with today and focus on that are a more imminent threat. A more imminent threat, in my opinion, would be Iran.
Certainly, I personally would contend that Egypt needs to take the lead on it. But other countries have a funny way of looking at it, of who’s going to take the lead. So we could take a look at the European Union for example. It’s headquartered in Brussles, but then they have the headquarters in Strasburg and then they have this headquarters in Germany and, so, obviously that has to be structured. Once everyone is willing to come to the table, that has to be hashed out. So the reason why I say that is because what you see as a threat today may actually be able to be reined in if they’re part of this coalition that I referred to.
Khaled: Do you think that the Trump administration would take steps against those two countries? Qatar and Turkey?
Eli: I think that the president has been, because I know his Secretary of Defense, has been looking at these countries seriously and attempting to put together a strategy for dealing with them. In the past, both Republicans and Democrats, this isn’t a partisan issue, in the past, the administrations have looked at each country independently. What do we do about Qatar? What do we do about Turkey? What do we do about Egypt? This administration, with their Secretary of Defense, and others that are advising them, are now taking a look at the Middle East and looking at the region, looking at that whole area and saying what do we do? What do we do as a comprehensive plan? Rather than look at each one of these countries independently. Now granted, Turkey is a different story because it’s in NATO, it’s larger and so on. But yes, they’re looking at it from the grand strategy and not dealing with each country individually.
Khaled: If you were in a meeting with President Sisi, and from your position as a researcher and head of this center, what is the advice that you would like to give to him?
Eli: I would start by talking to him about, well the advice would be for him to work with the United States on creating this Gulf and Red Sea Treaty Organization, or this Mid-East NATO. It’s important to see how we can work together to bring stability to counter terrorism. That is first and foremost. Once we can do that, then it would be my next step, or maybe concurrently, is to put together a comprehensive trade plan with the United States. Because the economy is as important as fighting terrorism. If you can’t feed your people, then that’s how this feeling grows, and it will only help the terrorism as opposed to helping the country.
Khaled. Yes. Thank you very much, Eli.