The FRONTLINE Interview: Norman Roule

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September 30, 2019

Norman Roule is a former senior CIA official. 

This is the transcript of an interview with FRONTLINE’s Martin Smith for The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. It has been edited in parts for clarity and length.

Let’s just start by talking about what you know about the reasoning behind King Salman’s grooming of Prince Mohammad?

Sure. The Arab Spring of 2011 was a tectonic event for the region and its leadership. And I believe there was discussion among the Saudi royal family in the years following that cataclysm as to where was their future. And a couple of different positions came from that.

The first is that — even with $100-barrel oil, the kingdom’s financial future was not secure. The nature of the kingdom’s demographics had changed significantly with ]a significant] population under the age of 30. What this meant is you have an entirely new polity with a different perception of their place in history and the kingdom’s role and their requirements for their own future. I think King Salman and certainly the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman agreed that a dramatic change was needed in the direction of the kingdom if the kingdom were to thrive and survive in the coming years.

He had many sons. He picks this particular son, the oldest of his third marriage. Why?

I understand that the crown prince and the king spent an awful lot of time together. And they have a similar way of looking at the world…

And have you heard stories? I mean, it seems from what we’ve heard that from a very young age, he began grooming him as a successor?

Well, I’ve heard those stories. But royal families’ succession in Saudi Arabia or any other country is a pretty iffy proposition. And things can go in a lotta different directions. What I can say is the king appeared to groom him to share his view on issues such as corruption, Iran’s place in the region, the nature of the royal family, the duties of the royal family.

When did the crown prince, Prince Mohammad, first come to your attention?

Well, I’ve known of him for years. But, truthfully, it was not until the ascension of King Salman that his importance became clear to me.

Talk about that a little bit. So that’s 2015?

Right. So what we’re looking at here now is you have an ambitious, determined individual with a strong world view who is now in a position of significant authority in the midst of an ossified, sometimes corrupt, and not terribly efficient bureaucracy. That’s a recipe for trouble for some people. And it’s a recipe for change.

So if you could just quickly walk us through, initially, he was not deputy crown prince?

Correct…So under late King Abdullah another son of Abdulaziz was assigned to become the crown prince. And that would be Prince Muqrin whom I know and is a very decent fellow. And Prince Muqrin, I believe, is the youngest son of the late King Abdulaziz.

And then the first big change — perhaps the shift in Saudi handling of how it would assign leadership roles — came when then-Minister of Interior, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, the son of a previous minister of interior, Nayef, and the son of the king, was named deputy crown prince.

So instead of choosing, perhaps, other sons of Abdulaziz or other older members of the royal family, a mid-level individual of great competence, particularly in counter-terrorism and his relationship with the West, Prince Mohammad bin Nayef was selected to be the deputy crown prince.

So first, we go from Muqrin– Muqrin’s pushed (UNINTELLIGIBLE). MBN moved into the second position?

Right.

And MBS is moved up behind him?

Right.

Around this time was the first time you met Mohammad bin Salman?

Yes.

And what was your impression of him? What was your initial impression of Prince Mohammad?

Frankly, my initial impression was he reminded me of a throwback to an earlier age of how the Saudi’s viewed themselves. He carried himself in a way that made me think of young kings from an earlier generation. He spoke of Saudi Arabia’s concerns about Iran in a way that were not only traditional. But he also brought to the meeting a number of hard facts. He wasn’t just throwing out data and views. He was bolstering what he said with facts. So I gained an impression that here was somebody who was very traditional. But at the same time, absorbed facts on an issue very, very quickly. And was able to push them out, to attempt to influence these interlocutors.

… People have said he’s brash, impulsive, reckless. What’s your take?

There’s certainly decisions he has made, such as the creation of … the tolerance of individuals in the royal court who undertook the cruel murder Jamal Khashoggi, that are unacceptable. I just think…any decision he made on that wasn’t thought out.

I’m not talking about a question about where he was guilty in ordering a deal or ordering a rendition. I’m just saying that process wasn’t well thought out. And I think that has to do with his lack of experience in process. Process in government is important. It can be stultifying. But at the same time, it allows decisions to be careful made.

I saw someone who was in a hurry. I saw someone who was a bit of a dreamer, extremely ambitious for his country, someone who had perhaps excessive confidence in the capabilities of some of Saudi Arabia’s government entities at the time.

But the word “reckless” tends to be something you could look at in different ways. The crown prince in the press was vilified for his role in Yemen, in western press. But if you’re in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi- move into Yemen is something that is not only natural. But it would be something as natural for the United States if we had the Soviet Union empowering rebels in Mexico who were firing missiles against Washington. So “reckless” tends to be a phrase that people use depending on where they stand on an issue.

But you did not see him as a reckless, impulsive, brash young man?

So I have had several dozen– maybe a couple of dozen hours with him. I’ve just not seen it. I’m not saying that those characteristics don’t exist. But in my old trade, we based what we did on what we know, what we can say is for sure.

I’ve seen him talk about the region. I’ve seen him talk about the domestic evolution of Saudi Arabia, of women’s rights, of how he sees the relationship with the West and with the East. And this is not an individual who’s reckless.

And it’s also an individual who I have seen take correction from those around him. I was surprised at the extent of people who were able to gently disagree with him. Because that’s not the reputation in the West.

… When you first learned of the economic reform program that becomes Vision 2030 by 2016, what was behind this? How was it explained? What was the impetus? What was the motivation, if you could put us in their mindset?

Well, Saudi Arabia looked at its own economy and what they saw was an economy in which there was a tremendous amount of corruption. There was very little change. It was focused on oil and petroleum resources. Women played no role. It was highly inefficient.

The public sector was bloated. Its economic relationships hadn’t significantly changed in a number of years. Although its trade with China and East Asia was growing. Saudi Arabia was in exactly the sort of place you would expect if you had a government run by elderly men ruling by consensus. It hadn’t changed in a very long time. And that’s a bad thing in today’s world…So if you look at the region at the time and since then, we’ve had amazing unrest in Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan, Iraq, the Sudan, Iran. These are the seeds of another Arab Spring. The transformation of the Saudi economy, given their vast wealth and the vast profits that come from their oil company and their partnership with the United Arab Emirates represent the only new economic engine in the entire region.

So we must ask ourselves as we look at Mohammad bin Salman and the king, King Salman, who are transforming their country for their own reasons, for American and international interest — is there any other hope of transforming the region’s economic future beyond this Emirates, Saudi experiment?

We’ve moved from the Obama administration and the tension between the Obama administration and the Saudi government to the Trump administration. The Trump administration became a friend immediately. What was the feeling inside the royal court about the Trump administration as it came to office?

The region’s relationship with the Obama administration was complicated. There’s no question that the Obama administration —and I observed this firsthand — was committed to the security of the region in terms of Iran and terrorism. And did much to provide the region with weaponry and security support to achieve that. At the same time, the administration was deemed to have disdain for the Gulf and Israel.

The Obama administration?

The Obama administration and the Iran nuclear deal sent a profound shock through the region. And I don’t think the Obama administration recognized —and I was part of that issue at the time — how significant that shock would be…Trump administration’s animus towards the Iran nuclear deal offered a very different route, a return to the international push back on Iran that existed until basically the second Obama administration. Much of what — if not all of what — Secretary Pompeo requested in his May 2018 speech was international as well as American policy requirements for decades against Iran.

And for good reason. The Obama administration wanted to try, for good reason also, a diplomatic route to see if they could change things. The Gulf and Saudi Arabia being foremost among this, just could not understand why their security was being so lightly handled.

So how did they view the Trump administration coming in?

Positively, a fresh start. People who understood the importance of the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, people who understood the big ideas regarding regional security. And that involves a common pressure against Iran.

So there was a great deal of excitement with the election of Donald Trump?

Yes.

The first visit of the president to a foreign country was to Saudi Arabia?

Right.

What do you understand to be the thinking behind that? And what was your take on it?

Well, it was certainly meant to say there was a new chapter in Middle East. It would be dramatically different from the approach taken by the Obama administration… And I was encouraged by the aspect of the visit that involved bringing together the heads of state of so many countries.

Because it allowed an opportunity for America, through its leadership, to explain our vision — seek to weave them together into a coalition to achieve a common vision for progress in the Middle East. And a way to identify priorities for the coming years.

Likewise, that’s a great opportunity for all of these voices to interact with American officials, some of whom may not have had a lot of becoming in government or on the Middle East, which isn’t unusual in administrations. Trust, me, I’ve experienced this firsthand. And to have these individuals interact with those new officials and say, “This is where we stand. This is why we do what we do. This is what you should think is important,” and build a personal connection as well.

So how did you first learn of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi?

Press reports.

Did you know him?

No.

And what was your reaction?

Outrageous. A journalist being killed in such a grotesque– being murdered in such a grotesque and horrible fashion inside of an official facility of a partnered government by members of that government. It’s an outrage. It’s unacceptable.

The Saudis-made many contradictory statements about what had happened. At first, they said for several days that he was outside; that he had left the embassy out the back door. Then they made the stories about the hit team; that they were actually tourists. They made up stories about all sorts of versions of the events that day.

That’s correct.

But yet those people that were responsible for the murder returned to Saudi Arabia. Many of them had close working relationships with the royal court. Why all the confusion over what happened?

So I mean that’s a question best put to the Saudis. But my understanding is that it dependent– an awful lot on with whom you were speaking to get the story. Clearly, there was a coverup at the very least by the people who were involved. In fact, the Saudis have told me that the people involved came back and lied as to what had happened. Many in the United States don’t believe that. There’s reason not to believe it.

But it does look based upon some of the contradictory stories that they had a bad coverup. And all coverups end badly. That said, I’m not sure everybody in Saudi officialdom was fully aware of everything that was going on in this situation. And I would also state that the Saudi royal court is a huge organization. So it’s important to recognize that it’s not as if there are 15 people and 12 of them, or whatever number, just went off to Istanbul.

There are thousands of people in the royal court. They’re not all close to every single official in the royal court. And although it is certainly true that Saoud al-Qahtani, their senior royal court official who apparently orchestrated, engineered this event, you know, would’ve known of most if not all of this, certainly from the planning stage. Beyond him, I’ve talked to other royal court officials who were completely unaware. And their knowledge base was because the size of the royal court. Despite their seniority, what they learned of it, they learned of it from the press as well.

The consul general in Istanbul was there at the time. The murder happened in his office, as I understand it.

I don’t know that, but he was there. I do understand that.

So he would therefore then have to have been part of this operation.

Well, he was present during the operation. Yes.

Well, then they, the team, went with bags — presumably of the remains of Jamal’s body — to the residence of the consul general.

There has been a press report on that, but I just don’t know.

Well, there are pictures of Mutreb, who was the leader of the operation, traveling to the residence of the consul general that day.

I’ve seen pictures of Saudis getting into vans. I just haven’t seen that particular picture.

And walking into the residence with bags.

Take your word at it.

I mean wouldn’t it have been possible for the royal court to call their consul general in Istanbul and say, “Hey, what the hell happened?”

Certainly. And by the way, it would’ve been equally possible for him to call back to the Saudi foreign minister or Saudi royal court or Saudi somebody and say, “What the heck just happened today” as well.

But for them to take two weeks before they could come clean and say, “Yes, these were Saudi agents”–

Unacceptable. Outrageous. And I have–

So was–

–stated that the Saudi government. There needs to be a punishment for this that is sufficiently severe not only to deal with this actual crime, but I believe this is­– we need to send a message to the world that says you cannot kill journalists. You cannot kill people involved in dissent. Be it a Russian chemical attack in London, be it a Saudi mur– cruel murder in Istanbul.

The people involved, the countries involved, must pay such a penalty that we protect journalism. If not, then countries which are not friends of the United States which aren’t necessarily susceptible to our influence in the same way might feel empowered to kill journalists.

And what pushback do you get from the royal court when you make that same point?

They know my views on this situation.

What did they say?

That this crime was not– doesn’t represent Saudi Arabia. They feel it’s equally outrageous. They feel it’s a horror.

Who is they?

Senior officials, people who knew Jamal Khashoggi. Some for decades. They were as shocked and outraged as anyone else. At the same time, their view was the whole country should not be judged by this one action. The country is at an inflection point in its history which will transform the lives of its next generation. And that that should not be imperiled by external action in response to this crime.

And that they, therefore, recognize that there must be some price paid for this. But at the same time, they worry that the price will be so significant as to threaten this unique moment in their history. These are the same Saudis who not only lived through the terrorism of the 2003–2005 period, but they’ve lived through the  corruption and the ossified decision making that has marked Saudi Arabia and its support for Sunni extremism since 1979. They want to change. And they’re worried this might threaten that change.

How is it possible that Mohammad bin Salman did not know of this operation?

Well, I have stated that I believe it’s very unlikely he did not know of at least a rendition. And I can easily imagine that the decision making might’ve been as simple as Saoud al-Qahtani approaching him one on one and saying something like, “We have this dissident. He is in touch with other dissidents. According to press reports, we have learned that he’s trying to support communications with dissidents in the kingdom. We will conduct a rendition operation from Istanbul,” and being told, “Go ahead.”

There are reports that in September of 2017, a full year and more before the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, that the crown prince himself said, “Look, we have to get this guy back. And if he resists, he should get a bullet.”

So I’ve seen the report. I don’t know if it’s true or not. But 2017 until the murder took place was a long time. So it doesn’t look as if they were actually that serious at that time.

Well, Jamal had gone to the United States. They had to get him back to a place where they could either kidnap him, rend him, or give him a bullet.

Perhaps, again, I don’t know if the report is true. But I don’t know that they didn’t try to do that. Or I just don’t know what to say. I’ve read the report. I have no data beyond that. I don’t know if it’s true or not. But I can say that there was certainly a sense of animus towards Jamal Khashoggi because of his unrelenting criticism of the Kingdom in a national newspaper in the capital of the Saudis’ closest partner.

Now, whether that animus reached a point where that justified, when it reached a point to justify a rendition — I don’t know. But I’ll go one step beyond that. If you’re in Saudi Arabia managing this huge transformation, how much time do you spend every day on an editorial in the Washington Post? So when that comes to your attention, it must usually must probably be because there were a series of them and it’s a very brief conversation. I just don’t think this was that important.

And indeed, some of the Saudis with whom I’ve spoken, who have said that they are, they are vehemently opposed to this grotesque murder. And the people involved should be punished. They say that Jamal Khashoggi’s activities weren’t worth this level of action by the kingdom.

But you’re an intelligence officer. You look at data. You look at trends in data.

I look at data and I look at trends. Newspaper reports are not necessarily data.

But everything seems to line up here in terms of an increasing crackdown.

Correct.

More and more arrests, renditions, and ultimately the murder of a journalist in Istanbul. It all seems to line up.

Well, I think there is a trend that says the Saudis are moving towards an extreme version of handling dissent. And, you know, there’s no silver lining in a murder. But my belief, based upon the conversations I’ve had, is the Saudis fully understand what this crime means and they fully understand they need to change the way they handle dissent. Now–

Their first instinct was to cover it up. Their first–

Their fir–

–instinct was to mount a series of clumsy explanations.

Absolutely. Yes, their– they did indeed–

Let me just– their first instinct was to cover this up with all sorts of lies and clumsy explanations.

That is correct. And the punishment they have endured since then has showed them that there will be a penalty for that decision.

Why doesn’t the crown prince simply come clean and says, “Look– I’m the man here. I’m in charge. I’m responsible,” and say that publicly?

Well, that would be unprecedented in Saudi Arabia…to make a public statement in that in that way. But I believe that the crown prince and the king need to go on record and say, “This does not represent Saudi Arabia.” The dissent needs to be handled differently. They need to reframe how they look at these issues. And they need to develop a different set of decision making on the inside to handle these sorts of potential threats. When we had this conversation, we looked at this in terms of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

What if this has been, the Saudis had taken a missile shot from Yemen, from Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran, and a similar conversation taken place and someone would’ve said, “Fire a missile on Tehran. Fire a missile on the Beqaa Valley.” You’re really coming out of the same problem set, which is when they have a national security problem or threat, they need to have an architecture and the discipline to use that to say this is the best way to handle that.

But you’re likening Jamal Khashoggi’s columns in the Washington Post as a national security threat.

No, I’m not at all. In fact, I am saying absolutely they were not. What I am saying is there were apparently people in Saudi Arabia who did see it as a security threat. I disagree with it. They were wrong. Don’t know how I can say it any more clearly. But they decided otherwise. And they committed a murder.

You say that you’ve recommended to the royal court, to officials of the royal court, that they make a statement of taking responsibility, of contrition, and that it would be unprecedented, but yet they’re trying to modernize the country. And they’re doing a lot of unprecedented things. So what is keeping the crown prince from coming clean and saying, “Look”— publicly stating, “Look, I’m responsible for this”?

You should ask the crown prince. The Saudis have–

I have, and he told me that he was responsible.

But he didn’t say it publicly. You should ask your questions why he doesn’t say this on national television. You should ask the Crown Prince. What I have–

What will he tell me?

I don’t know. But what I can say is the Saudis did respond very quickly that they would undertake an expeditious, thorough, and sufficiently transparent to the West investigation and severe punishment for those involved. And I advocated the severest punishment for those involved to show that they understand the gravity of this crime.

They have not even released the names of those that are on trial.

That is not uncommon in Saudi Arabia. In fact, it’s very rare for people on trial on Saudi Arabia to ever have their names–

All the women–

–released.

–and the men who have been arrested for their activism, for advocating for women’s rights, for advocating for the guardianship laws to be overturned, all of those people have been named.

Yes. And I wanna be careful here. My sense is that they– that has come about because they have been– they have sought that publicity. That that has come from supporters in the West or their family members outside of Saudi Arabia who have publicized that information. My view is they should give the names of these people. But if they did it wouldn’t tell me anything more or less than I knew yesterday. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Well, it would tell you who wasn’t being charged.

That’s true. But at the same time, what I want to hear is people involved with the murder are punished. People who supported the murder, accessories, receive a different sort of punishment. People who authorized the murder receive a different form of punishment. People who authorized the rendition receive a punishment for their poor management.

Why aren’t those people being named?

I don’t know.

Why is Qahtani– we don’t know, we hear reports that Qahtani is not on trial.

I’ve heard that, but I don’t know.

So you’ve asked the Saudis who’s on trial? Have they told you?

I have not asked. I’ve just urged a transparent, professional and efficient trial and the severest possible public penalties for the people who were involved in this action.

And what’s the response?

I understand they’re seeking the death penalty for at least five or six of the people involved. And there will likely be a conclusion trial if it goes in the direction of proving what apparently is clear to all of us, the involvement of people– that those involved in the action will receive very long prison sentences.

The number two man at the Foreign Intelligence Directorate, or presidency, as they call it, Ahmed al-Asiri, is reportedly on trial. He didn’t go to Istanbul, but he was said to have helped organize what was at least a rendition, if not more.

Correct. And one of the­–

Do you know if al-Asiri is on trial?

I don’t know that, but I know he is being– my data does not tell me that, but at one time I know he was being looked at and trial was a possibility.

You know him.

I have met him on a number of occasions. At no point did he ever come across as a murderer or someone who would engage in this sort of activity. And my understanding is that his story is he was told to support a rendition and what happened he had no knowledge of, wasn’t present, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE).

Who told you that?

Contacts who claimed they would know.

So you have contacts within Saudi Arabia at high levels that tell you that this was a rendition? Fair.

Yes. Yes.

Do you trust the reports that you see in the U.S. media?

Frequently.

Washington Post. New York Times. Their reporting on this series of events, do you trust it?

Frequently. But what I wanna make clear is that when the reporting is sourced to Turkish sources, I trust it less. The Turkish government has undertaken an aggressive and successful campaign to neutralize, if not annihilate, the reputation of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia because he represents the most significant political threat to Turkish political ambitions in the region. They have done this by dripping out information, some of which has been true, some of which is not.

What’s not true?

I’ll leave that for the trial and the Saudis to talk about.

Do you trust the legal system to tell us the truth about what happened there?

Which legal system?

Saudi Arabian.

I have no experience with the Saudi legal system. I don’t have that data.

Do you trust the Saudis to­…give a fair trial in this case?

The Saudis do not have an international reputation of unfair trials. They have a lousy reputation in the West. And there will be many who are going to be inclined to believe the worst of this trial. But there is no international reporting of which I’m aware to say that the Saudi legal system is skewed…It’s easy for those of us here to believe that in some way or another this trial was gonna go into a direction that might protect the crown prince. That, I think, will be a common perception here. But I have no reason to believe that trial won’t be fair and professional. And indeed, the results have been, per my request and per request of others, have been requested to be sufficiently transparent that we would understand that that trial was thorough.

You know, the Saudis have said from the moment that this murder happened that there was no way that the crown prince was responsible. Before there was a complete investigation. In fact, it’s continuing in a trial to be investigated. How is it possible before the trial takes place, before the– all investigations are complete to declare that the crown prince had nothing to do with it?

Well, it’s–

Does that make sense logically?

Sure. The crown prince said, “I authorize this.”

But that’s his– you take his word for it. There’s a very different perception of the Crown Prince in Saudi Arabia than outside Saudi Arabia. How is he seen inside Saudi Arabia as best we know? I mean there’s no independent polling that takes place there. But as far as you as a Saudi observer understand it.

I’ve spoken with dozens of Saudis — generally in the city of Riyadh. And if you are basically in your 40s or younger, you view this man as not necessarily the salvation of the country but a man who’s gonna make your life and the world a lot better. If you’re older than that, you view him as a person who might be moving a little too quickly. And you worry what that might mean. And if you’re much older and you’re very traditional, you’re split. You remember Saudi Arabia when women could drive and when it was a relatively liberal place in the 1960s. Or you believe that this is fundamentally against your conservative values.

And what’s the way out of this mess, as you see it?

Well, the Saudis will need a long time to prove that they are responsible players. But the Saudis must develop a decision-making architecture and demonstrate the discipline to use this to handle tough issues. It’s easy to say something like, “Don’t do stupid things.” It’s not a great solution. They haven’t done anything stupid since Khashoggi. Do we give them a medal? Are we gonna give ’em a medal in a week?

No. The answer is they need to show that they have the processes and decision-making capacity to make judgments. They may not be correct judgments. They may not be judgments we would support or would consider in our world. Because they are a different culture, a different government, with different interests. And we need to be part of their transformation. We need to be part of Saudi Arabia not because we want to sell weapons but because we want them to moderate Islam.

We want them to develop a new economy for the region. We want them to push back on Iran, the number one sponsor of state terrorism. We want them to develop the failed states of the region that no one else is going to pay to reconstruct which become havens for ISIS 3.0 or Iranian militias. We need Saudi Arabia for our interest. They may not share all of our values, but as Condoleezza Rice has said, “The United States is not an NGO.

“We’re a country. We sometimes have to work with people who don’t have– don’t share our values because we have real interests which must be protected.” And I’ll close by saying we need this done to stop wars and unrest in the Middle East. Because there have been too many wars where Americans have gone to die.

I’d like to get your view on just one more thing, and that is the criticism that the Trump administration and Jared Kushner have emboldened, have enabled the crown prince in his worst instincts.

Within the United States, we have made the Saudi U.S. relation something that is focused on President Trump and his son-in-law. When I’m in Saudi Arabia talking to the Saudis about their decisions on Qatar, Russia, China, Yemen, women’s rights, terrorism, I have never heard anyone say, “And President Trump thinks this is a good idea.” They have their own reasons for doing what they’re doing. And here in Washington, the Imperial City, we may think it’s all about us, but it’s not.

Do we bear responsibility in the United States for emboldening Mohammad bin Salman?

I don’t know that. I don’t know how anybody would say that. I don’t know, I mean I don’t know how anybody would prove that.

… Is the Trump administration doing enough to restrain the worst behavior of Mohammad bin Salman?

Well, the Trump administration through Secretary of State Pompeo primarily, and even, indeed, before his resignation, Secretary Mattis, had routine conversations with the Saudis on regional decision making and other actions. These conversations were long, they were multi-hour, they were robust, they were one on one, and they were done by very serious people in the United States who were capable of conveying clear and tough and, when necessary, tough messages.

The war in Yemen has gone on much longer and caused more death and destruction of civilians than anyone expected or predicted. The United Arab Emirates wants out of that alliance. The Saudis persist. Where is this where is this taking us? And what position has the Trump administration taken on this?

Well, first, welcome to wars in the Middle East. The United States went in pretty much unilaterally into Iraq. How did that work out? Went with a coalition into Afghanistan. How did that work out? We led from behind with Europeans in Libya. How did that work out? We have no empowered our Arab allies in Yemen. How did that work out? As I say, welcome to wars in the Middle East, which is why they must be avoided, especially when they involve Americans.

This said, if you are considering the strategic interests of the region and the United States, you cannot allow the Houthis, who are a splash of Hezbollah, a splash of ISIS, and a splash of Yemeni tribalism, to control the strategic territory. They’re exclusionary. Most of the deaths in Yemen occur in territory under their control because it’s a propaganda point for them and a money earner with aid. You cannot allow Iran to establish itself in Yemen the same way it established itself on the Israeli border.

Not just because their missiles would be just a few hundred miles from Mecca but because they would be a few miles from a strait that has more than 10 percent of the world’s trade every day going through it as well as oil. So it’s in our national interest that this conflict be pursued. The question becomes how best to pursue it. So let me roll out one scenario: The Saudis stop tomorrow. The Emirates stop tomorrow. What do you think the Houthis would do?

So how do you solve it?

Well, the answer is you work with them to prosecute a conflict which inevitably will not go well. And you do everything you can to provide food and the medicine required by the Yemeni people.

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