BY FREDA MIKLIN
On March 3, 2022, The Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab (CELL) hosted a virtual program on the impact to U.S. security of Russia and China, with a particular focus on the ongoing attack of Ukraine by the president of Russia, dictator Vladimir Putin. Panelists for the forum were Ambassador Nikki Haley, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and a member of President Trump’s National Security Council from 2017 to 2019, who also served as governor of the state of South Carolina for six years just prior to joining Trump’s cabinet, along with Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff to CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and founder and managing director of Beacon Global Strategies, advisors in international policy, defense, cyber, intelligence and homeland security. Bash is also a national security analyst for NBC news. Haley has been mentioned often as a potential Republican candidate for President of the United States.
Bret Stephens, author and well-recognized expert in foreign policy who currently writes a column for the New York Times and is a Pulitzer Prize winner, served as moderator. He began the discussion by asking Ambassador Haley if the Biden inspiration could have done anything to have dissuaded Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine?
Haley blamed the way the U.S. left Afghanistan and what she called President Biden “falling all over himself to get back into the Iran deal” as signals to Putin that this would be a good time for him to do what he did.
Bash disagreed, pointing to the fact that the decision to leave Afghanistan was made and announced by President Trump, although Biden agreed with it. Bash’s view was that Putin “was emboldened by the belief that the United States and NATO were not aligned,” adding, “Putin is attacking the global rules-based system that has been in place since World War II. I think the outcome of what happens in Ukraine will inform whether Putin is overreaching. If Russia miscalculates and this backfires on Putin, it has the potential to deal a devastating blow to his ambitions.”
When Stephens asserted that Biden had rallied the Europeans, including pointing to Germany’s increased spending on defense, Haley pushed back, arguing that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy “rallied the west by refusing to leave when he had the opportunity,” adding, “What Biden got right is to declassify the intelligence, getting into Putin’s head. But I don’t think the U.S. came out strong in this.” Asked whether she thought that Putin “is a genius,” (former President Trump said that he was when Russia first attacked Ukraine), Haley instead called Putin evil and a thug.
Moving on to the friendship pact recently signed between Russia and China, Bash said, “We are in an era of geopolitical competition between our values and those of Russia and China… China is a rising economic power. Russia is a declining military power. They are the same in terms of the authoritarianism. This is a moment for the U.S. and the West to rally the world’s democracies and confront authoritarianism. In order for us to prevail in this generational conflict, we are going to have to advance our values around the world, including investing in our capabilities.”
When Stephens pointed out that the West is tied to Russia and China because Europe is highly dependent on Russian energy and thousands of companies manufacture goods in China, Haley’s response was, “Europe has to stop being dependent on Russian oil. We should help them,” and, “In terms of China, we shouldn’t have COVID tests and N95 masks that are made in China. China doesn’t want to be like us. They want to be Communist,” adding that, “We shouldn’t be dependent on China for things that matter like medicine.” Bash agreed that dependence on China is a threat to U.S. national security, particularly in the area of technology, in which he thinks we should increase our investment in research and development.
When Haley asserted that we got the COVID-19 vaccine through the innovative efforts of the private sector, Bash pointed out that, “They didn’t do it alone. The vaccine was developed by the drug companies with $6 trillion in government spending.”
After some back and forth about the former president’s actions vis-à-vis Ukraine and Russia, Stephens turned the conversation to Iran. Haley said, “We should not be negotiating with Iran because that is negotiating with Russia.”
Bash pointed to the complexities of the relationship, saying that he agreed with Haley that Iran “is the number one state sponsor of terror and they are developing a nuclear weapon that could threaten Israel, Europe and the U.S.,” but he went further with his analysis, pointing out that, “We could let them keep doing what they’re doing and they might have a nuclear weapon by the end of this year. We or Israel could disarm them covertly, as maybe Israel has done in the past, but Biden probably won’t do it.” Taking it to the next logical step, he continued, “So what do you do? Where we’re going to end up doing is to try to have some international inspection of Iran, and that is doing a deal. Or, do we just let them keep going where they’re going?”
Haley offered, “We get with the Arab countries that are in the Abraham Accords, together with Israel, and we can solve this.” Bash retorted, “How?” Stephens also noticed that Haley’s answer did not include a solution. He asked, “Do we act militarily or take something that’s on the table in Vienna or just let them go?” Haley responded, “Trump’s policy was to get everyone else in the Middle East together. The Abraham Accords were about aligning (Arab countries) together with Israel against Iran. We can do that. Then the Europeans will come on board.” The British, French, and Germans have been meeting with representatives of Iran in Vienna to see if a new agreement can be reached. Although the U.S. has not been directly participating, it is considered to be aligned with the three western countries who are conducting the negotiations.
Bash was still looking for a solution on Iran. He said he agreed with the goal of the Abraham Accords, “But I don’t see how we actually prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon by just ‘working with the Arab community.’ It’s too amorphous.”
Stephens added, “I think Iran is scared of somebody but it isn’t the Arab community or the U.S. or Europe, adding, “It’s someone else. You can guess,” referring, of course, to Israel.
The CELL is a Denver-based nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of the Mizel Institute that “is dedicated to preventing terrorism through education, empowerment and engagement.” It sponsors regular speakers, panel discussions and training initiatives to “provide a comprehensive look at the threat of terrorism and how individuals can play a role in preventing it, ultimately enhancing public safety.” Larry A. Mizel, who founded Richmond American Homes in 1972, is The CELL’s president and founder.