Exclusive: Q&A with former CIA director Jim Woolsey

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Wed, 05 Apr 2017 - 12:08 GMT

Khaled Salah (L) with Jim Woolsey in Washington, D.C., April 4, 2017 - Photo courtesy Khaled Salah

Khaled Salah (L) with Jim Woolsey 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 Amb. Jim Woolsey Tuesday. Woolsey is the former director of the CIA and a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.


Khaled: Thank you very much for having me here. I just want to ask about your impression about Egyptian President Sisi’s visit and this warm welcome that he received from President Trump.

Jim: I think that this welcoming by President Trump suggest that he very much wants a warm and positive and cooperative relationship with Egypt as his administration goes on.

Khaled: You mentioned the separation between Egypt and the U.S. during Obama’s Administration. Do you think that Mr. Trump can move past the issues that were raised during Obama’s administration, like human rights and the deep relationship with the Brotherhood?

Jim: I think you will almost never have an American President who does not take a strong position on human rights. It is kind of a large part of what we’re about. But there are different ways to raise the issue and to discuss it and to work on it in a cooperative manner; and I think President Trump will work very hard to make our relations with Egypt. When Egypt needs to criticize us or we need criticize Egypt to do it in an often private and sensible way. Candor is one thing friends owe to one another.

Khaled: Mr. Trump and Mr. Sisi have two visions on the war against terrorism; so how can the United States of American cooperate with Egypt during its war against terrorism?

Jim: If it needs weapons of the types that we were not shipping over the Obama years we ought to provide those, if it needs training, from some of our Special Forces and so forth, we ought to provide that. We ought to do whatever is necessary to help Egypt succeed in this counter-terror, counter-guerilla war that ISIS has brought to the Sinai and to other parts of the Middle East as well. There is no point in being hesitant as President Obama was on several occasions in dealing with a threat like ISIS – we need to obliterate them. Obliterate them.

Khaled: Some Middle East countries like Qatar and Turkey are accused by Egypt of helping terrorism. Do you agree with this vision, do you think the States could help?

Jim: In Middle East, we work in one way or another sometimes with terrorist groups or groups that have the interest of us or Egypt or other countries very much not in mind, and that creates tensions and difficulties. Sometimes one simply has to accept and deal with the fact that an ally is far less than ideal. I always point out that for three years and 8 months the beginning of 1940s, the United States was a close ally of Joseph Stalin; and Stalin at that point had killed more people than anyone in human history. But we needed him against Hitler, so he was our ally. And Franklin Roosevelt even called him Uncle Joe. So I think that sometimes for Egypt, and even for the United States, there will be countries we would need to work with that are not as bad as Stalin’s Soviet Union, but have some traits and characteristics that we find highly objectionable, and I think it will be the same for Egypt and other countries of the Middle East, particularly countries that are democracies. But rigid is to refuse to work with people that sometimes you disagree with.

Khaled: On the economic level, Egypt faces a lot of challenges regarding its economic situation. How do you think that this visit could help?

Jim: One of the things we could do is help with some of techniques and approaches that our mainly marines and but also some other many troops were using in Anbar province in Iraq in helping encourage small local business and business growth. Our experience of U.S. is that creativity and growth, fast growth, comes best of all to small and most medium-sized companies. [Large companies] employ a lot of people and sometimes do useful things but the creativity is the small and medium sized. Silicon Valley is just outside San Francisco; it’s not just outside Moscow.

Khaled: But do you think that Egypt could go faster with SMEs?

Jim: Yes, I think it is possible.

Khaled: How can America help?

Jim: That is a good question. I thing we ought to work with Egyptian engineers and technicians and smart and able people to see how can help get companies started, Egypt has a natural average for some businesses in its tourism industry, which is the central piece of a lot of the world’s tourism, it’s not just a sidebar, everybody wants to see Egypt. And there are other things as well, businesses where Egypt has been successful in the past and one wants to, I think, grow those and build on them, and also on new areas. But growth, economic growth, and creativity for small and medium-sized companies requires peace. You can’t do it in the middle of a war zone, and so our first and biggest need is to destroy ISIS.

Khaled: It may take a long time to defeat ISIS. So do we have to wait, or we can work parallel?

Jim: Speed up.

Khaled: Speed up the war?

Jim: Speed up the war. Go after them.

Khaled: Yeah. And that’s why President Trump referenced the huge power of the United States, so he can help accelerate this?

Jim: We have set aside the hesitancy and I think the bad direction that occurred under some major portions of President Obama's administration and we need to get down to business and defeat ISIS totally. Not only in Iraq, not only Mosul, but throughout the Middle East and we need to do the same thing with various instrumentalities of the Iranians, such as the Hothis in Yemen. We can't just sit there and let the Iranians become nuclear power. I think the agreement that President Obama signed with Iran is very bad agreement. I do not think it is one that has legally taken force in effect because the copies of important parts of it, appendices and the like, were never transmit to the other negotiating parties. I think there’s a perfectly good legal argument that that agreement has never started to take effect and it can’t take affect until two-thirds of the Senate approves it. And our Senate skipped that step for reasons of its own two years ago and we need to change that and go back, re-submit it to the Senate. If the Senate does not approve it by a two-thirds vote as our constitution requires, then we ought to acknowledged that that agreement has no force in effect and we should stop providing anything to the Iranians or the Russians that depends on existence of that agreement. And we ought to do everything we can to help, use technology that will lower the price of oil, thereby creating some serious economic problems for both Russia and Iran, who are the two most aggressive states in the region.

Khaled: Do you think Saudi Arabia will play a positive or negative role?

Jim: I think Saudi plays a positive role especially if they can turn away from letting their education and structure educate people who turn into terrorists. I was in Saudi Arabia in 1977 and worked very closely with the Saudis for couple of weeks on some navy matters, I was undersecretary in the navy at that time. I think it is quite possible to have a very cooperative relationship with the Saudis, especially as they get more and more concerned about Iran, and I think the Saudis and the Jordanians and the Egyptians, and a number of our friends in the region could work cooperatively with one another and with us, and we ought to try to make that happen as soon as possible.

Khaled: One of the major issues in Egypt now is whether the United States is going to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group or not. Do you think that would help?

Jim: Well, when the Trump administration came into office, it, I think unwisely initially, announced that it was going to restrict immigration into the United States from seven Muslim-majority states. And our constitution with its first amendment makes it, I think, clearly illegal for us to discriminate even on things like immigration or trips to the U.S. between people with different religions.

Countries one can discriminate against. It’s true for many countries, not just the United States. If we had some huge problem with the British and we wanted to say we won't let Brits enter into the United States for six months we could do that. It would be pretty dumb but we could do it.

And I think that by shifting this travel ban – and they’re still negotiating about it - away from a religious focus toward a state-by-state focus, then okay, they can do it legally.


Politically, to start over, to do that or anything else in a coherent fashion, is to start with a ban on, or at least nominally religious organizations. Now I don't think of Muslim Brotherhood as a principally religious organization, I think of it as a very very political organization.

Khaled: Do you think it is terrorist or not?

Jim: Well I think best thing to do would be to educate the American people about the Brotherhood before we take action. And one of those things ought to be, people need to understand what's in the basic documents of the Brotherhood, such as the materials that were found in the Holy Land Foundation trial in Texas, and the discussions by the Brotherhood leadership if jihad. Americans need to understand that before they and their elected representatives make a decision about how to deal with the Brotherhood. But we should not just accept the Brotherhood’s assertion that they are just good religious people. I think, in many circumstances, things are considerably more complex than that.

Khaled: Do you think that we can set a time to end this war against ISIS?

Jim: It's not the way to win wars. The way to win wars is to destroy the enemy, and destroy them as quickly and decisively as possible. We should not pull any punches, we should not set deadlines for ourselves, we should go after them and destroy them. No holds barred. Except for those that exist under the laws of war.

Khaled: Is Libya included?

Jim: Well, Libya could very definitely use some help, and I think we should be ready to provide that help because where it has some stability in the east, it's in pretty chaotic shape in the west, in Libya.

Khaled: Help whom? The army or the other groups?

Jim: I mean if you just looked at Libya from space on any given night, I think there are probably more explosions in the west than there are in the east. But I think that if some leader, and it might be Khalifa Hafter, can come in control of the bulk of the Libyan armed forces and establish themself as a leader it might provide the basis for beginning to move towards more stable situation. The United Nations organizations are not doing anything useful. It’s just kind of a pro-formist structure.

Khaled: Do you think Egypt during its war against terrorism, especially in Sinai; Are we too kind?

Jim: In war one has to observe the laws of war. What can illegally, in the international law, I think it’s called jus ad bellum, steps you can reasonably take to get into war, if you believe have to, you’re attacked or whatever, and then there's law in the midst of war, in bello, and that is the way you fight. You cannot torture prisoners, you cannot kill prisoners; there are a number of steps that have built up over time which people recognize. Decent states recognize that there are limits to what they can do when they’re at war, but other than that, other than those laws of war, there's no limitations on numbers of forces and tactics and weapons system so as long as they are not weapons of mass destruction, and we should not just fiddle around with ISIS. This organization wants to destroy us. Wants to destroy Egypt, wants to destroy the United States, and they are in the business of burning people alive on the seashore and we need to end ISIS’ existence.

Khaled: You did not answer my question; are we too kind?

Jim: Well I wouldn’t put it that way. Kind sometimes, even in war. And one has to be kind to the enemy, an injured soldier on the other side for example.

Khaled: But we don't use excessive power, I guess.

Jim: But winning a war quickly rather than letting it drag on is not a bad idea. One doesn’t improve the legality of the war by fighting so slowly that you can't figure out what you're doing, or only intervening a little bit so you only do enough to get your forces damaged. That's not kind, that’s not sensible, that's stupid. If you go to war, win.

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