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Five Questions with Michael Makovsky

(1) The latest news on the war in Libya brings word that the CIA has deployed operatives to the country to gather intelligence for airstrikes and meet with rebels in an effort to better understand their leadership. Where do you see the conflict going in the coming weeks?

It’s hard to say since it’s still very fluid. Regardless of one’s feelings about the wisdom of the US getting involved in Libya, we must focus on what we should do going forward, and this won’t end well unless Qaddafi is ousted from power. That needs to be the objective, and the US needs to help ensure that, whether stated publicly or not.

We should also be preparing to help the opposition smoothly take power if and when Qaddafi leaves. A lesson we should learn from Afghanistan in the 1980s is that leaving weak states to fend for themselves often undermines our interests in the long-term. As we argue in our upcoming Stabilizing Fragile States report, assisting fragile states build security and political capacity will keep the US safer and cost less, in blood and treasure, in the long run.

(2) In March, the National Security Project (NSP) staff released an updated case study, Fragility and Extremism in Yemen, from its Stabilizing Fragile States Initiative. The report, detailing Yemen’s security risks and political divisions, noted that counter-terrorism aid had to be coupled with meaningful civil and economic reforms. Is that a model that can be replicated elsewhere in the region—in Somalia, perhaps?

Somalia is a failed state, not even fragile, but that model is appropriate for addressing other fragile states, like Pakistan, Nigeria and the like. It is extremely difficult to stabilize fragile states, and it requires a very determined and strong leader, such was the case with Colombia, one of the few noteworthy success stories.

(3) Between 2008 and 2010, NSP published three reports tracking Iran’s progress toward producing nuclear weapons. One report called the development the “most immediate national security threat to the United States…” Do you still believe that is the case? What is Iran’s current nuclear status?

I still believe that. A nuclear Iran cannot be contained, as it would not be analogous to the Soviet nuclear threat, and we lack the same credibility as we had in the Cold War. The Iranian threat has become more imminent as Iran has advanced its nuclear program over the last year, despite what is commonly reported. One needs to see what’s happening in the Middle East and North Africa in recent months in the context of the Iranian nuclear threat. The turbulence in Arab countries in 2011 has generally developed for organic local reasons, but US policy toward it should be guided by how it relates to the Iranian nuclear threat.

(4) You have an extensive knowledge of international energy markets and have advised senior Defense, National Security Council, and Energy department officials on Middle East energy policy. Can you comment on the addition of former National Security Advisor Gen. Jim Jones to the BPC, especially considering his desire to work on energy challenges related to national security?

It’s great to have Gen. Jones rejoin the BPC. His leadership in our energy program sends the right message—that energy is a national security issue and our policies must reflect that. It will be great to have him around the office again. He’s also a good human being, and one can’t have enough of them around an office.

(5) Your scholarship of Winston Churchill includes a 2007 book, Churchill’s Promised Land, and multiple articles. What first drew you to the World War II icon?

Churchill was the greatest statesmen of the 20th century, who saved Western civilization by convincing the British to stand up in 1940 against Nazi Germany, which controlled most of Europe and was being supplied by the Soviets. The Germans failed to defeat the Brits, and then within a year the Soviets and Americans joined in, and world history turned. Churchill rigidly prioritized issues, and on the big issues of the day he was usually right, often in defiance of public opinion—e.g. the Russian Civil War following the Bolshevik Revolution, the rise of Nazism, the post-WWII rise of Soviet imperialism, mostly about Zionism. He was also wrong about some other large issues (e.g. imperialism). He didn’t always get his way on these big issues, but there’s much to be learned from such a pivotal historical figure who was involved in so many great global issues and causes for over half a century, historically grounded, complex in personality, who combined gutsy doggedness with generally brilliant strategic and moral insights. Anyone interested in foreign policy and statesmanship needs to study him.

2011-04-04 00:00:00

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