tv Charlie Rose Bloomberg February 18, 2015 7:00pm-8:01pm EST
director during that time. egypt launched airstrikes in libya yesterday. the attack was in retaliation for the beheading of 21 christian egyptian hostages. the killings raised concern that isis is expanding its global footprint. in geneva international powers have entered a decisive phase in nuclear negotiation. they are slated to reach a framework agreement in march and a formal agreement in june. iran's supreme leader remarked last week that no deal is better than a bad deal. american politicians have said the same thing. i'm pleased to have mike morell back at this table. welcome. mike: good to be here. charlie: someone said to me there is a sense that somebody's got to come together. the isis and the extent of their footprint is much more troubling
than anybody ever imagined. tell me how you see isis today based on what we just saw in egypt, in libya, paris, copenhagen, iraq, and syria. what is the challenge here and what kind of response is demanded and what is the context? mike: let's first start in iraq itself. we've been at this now the united states and the coalition, we've been at this for six months. six months of airstrikes. in iraq, what we've done in those six months is basically stopped their expansion. stopped their blitzkrieg. we put an end to that. we the coalition, have put an end to that, and the iranians have put an end to that. the iranians have built very
effective shia militia that are taking on isis on the ground while we do a lot from the air. charlie: these were militias that were already in place, shia militias that had been engaged in iraq before. mike: many of them, but not all of them. charlie: so they are new. and how is iran contributing to their effort? mike: they are funding training, equipping, providing strategic guidance and technical ravens -- tactical guidance on the ground as well. so we stopped the expansion in iraq, but within the sunni areas of iraq and the sunni areas of syria isis has consolidated its position over the last six months. what does that mean? it means that six months ago, they could not control all of that territory. now, they pretty much do.
there were some towns they didn't control. they've taken those over. they've consolidated their position. that's one thing that's happened. the other thing that's happened is, we've seen their ideology spread in two different directions. one is to young people in western, canada, australia, and the united states. people who had become radicalized. we've seen what they've done in paris, sydney, denmark, new york with the hatchet attack on two new york police department officers. we've seen that spread of their ideology. the other spread of their ideology, which has only become clear in the last month or so is the spread to other extremist groups in algeria, in libya, in egypt, increasingly in
afghanistan, and in yemen. and these aren't groups that didn't exist and all of a sudden have popped up to call themselves isis. these are extremist groups that existed didn't associate themselves with anybody, and are now saying, we are part of this. charlie: and swearing allegiance to baghdadi. mike: exactly. why does that matter? i think it makes it more dangerous. before, they were primarily going after local targets. they had local grievances, local targets. now, they are expanding their targets. what we saw in tripoli last month was, we saw a group that now aligns with isis attack a western oriented hotel, a hotel where western businessmen stay. we saw an attack on that hotel
by a group associated with isis and we saw a handful of people killed, including an american. look what we just saw in the eastern part of libya with the beheading of these coptic christians from egypt. that wouldn't have happened if they had not been part of isis. this spread of this ideology to self-radicalized youth and terrorist groups is faster than anything we saw with al qaeda. charlie: and the threat is that it will continue to spread, like a rolling stone gathering momentum. mike: and why is it spreading? i think the answer to that is twofold. one is, isis is seen as successful. nothing breeds followers in the terrorism business like success. the other is the quality of
their social media. charlie: they also have money and weapons because of those that they've captured from the iraqi army. this is "the new york times" this morning. under the headline, the obama administration is revamping its effort to counter the islamic state's propaganda machine, acknowledging that the terrorist group -- so that's one small thing. mike: very small. i would say two things about it. it is very small. the state department office has never received the funding it needs to take this on. even with this it is still not going to. the other thing is that in this propaganda war we can't be at the center of it. we don't have any credibility in
that part of the world. a big part of the messaging here has to be about islam itself and what the religion is about and what it is not about. we have no credibility in talking about that. charlie: but haven't al-sisi and abdullah begun to talk about that? mike: yes, and that is very important. ultimately, the leaders of those countries have to take it on. the clerics have to take it on. but most importantly, those clerics in the mosque on fridays giving sermons have to take it on. charlie: the other thing that came up and i think is true about what they've discovered in copenhagen, is that these people who become adherents to isis got their indoctrination in prison because they were simply criminals. they were thieves. they went to prison.
and they became indoctrinated. and then they go out and do acts that are political, not just criminal. mike: prison is a place, around the world, where people get radicalized. it happens for a couple of reasons. one is, you join a group in prison to protect yourself. and so you tend to join groups that are of like-minded people. if you are a young person, you gravitate towards those who like you. if you are muslim, you gravitate to other muslims. the other is, for a lot of people in prison, they feel alienated from their society. and what isis and other terrorist groups give you is a purpose, a purpose to your life. that's probably the major thing that attracts people to terrorist groups.
charlie: let's shift back to this argument some people -- and the president has gotten in this little bit -- that these are not , they are not islamic. yes, they say they are, but islam says they are not. there's nothing about islam that they are acting on. others say, that is not true. there is an extreme part of islam, going back to saudi arabia. that they do find things that inform them about what they want to do and give them identity. where are you on that? mike: there is no doubt that religion plays a role here, and an important role. they believe that what they are
doing is defending their religion. they believe they are interpreting their religion correctly. most muslims would disagree with them. you and i would disagree with them. most clerics would disagree with them. but they believe deeply in what they are doing. they believe they are religious. they believe they are defending their religion. mike:charlie: and that's what they've been taught. mike: one of the ways young people get radicalized is, they have not been good students of their religion. they don't understand their religion anywhere near as well as they should. they become vulnerable to the messages from these radical preachers, and these radicals about what the religion really stands for. what is actually called for is more religious training in a lot
of parts of the world, so people really understand what islam is all about. charlie: so there has to be internal engagement within islam about what it is that these people are hanging onto. so they are on the move. while they may have been stopped, but not turned around and consolidating. what is necessary on the ground in a strategic military way? mike: ultimately, you have to take their territory away. if you don't take their territory away, they will continue to have safe haven which is extremely valuable to a terrorist group. and what they will ultimately used to attack us, they have said that.
as long as they have territory they are going to continue to get money. they produce and sell oil. they are going to continue to get money and weapons. taking that territory away from them is vitally important. charlie: how do you do that? mike: ultimately, you have to do it on the ground. you have to take it away from them with ground troops. our plan in iraq is holding that with airstrikes, retraining the iraqi army which has dwindled to 50,000 guys -- it needs to be rebuilt. the former prime minister of iraq by putting political people in charge of it, by disenfranchising sunnis, really destroyed the army. that is a long-term process. meanwhile these shia militia i
was talking about, trained by the iranians, 100,000 strong now. so somebody's got to take this territory back from them in iraq. i'd put more money on the shia militia doing it than the iraqi army. one of the possibilities here is that we defeat isis in iraq, but we lose iraq to iran essentially. charlie: is that a risk worth taking? mike: i don't know. we should talk about that. but not only do you have to take the territory from iraq, you have to take the territory from them in syria. if you only take the territory from them in iraq, they go back across that border into syria
and they have safe haven there. you have to have a strategy in iraq, which we do, but you also have to have a strategy in syria. charlie: how do you create a strategy in syria? mike: the strategy in syria is to train 5000 moderate sunni oppositionists a year to go in there and take on isis. that number is nowhere near large enough. whatever sunni oppositionists you train are going to face isis, which is the government estimates between 20000 and 30,000 guys, and assad's army. they are taking on both isis and assad. 5000 a month or a year, is nowhere near enough. charlie: some people have said
you've got to prioritize and not take on the syrian army, and what you have to do is first take back whatever isis controls in syria and cut off syria as a place for isis to come to. mike: right. now we come back to the iran problem. really, there's kind of three overlapping fundamental issues in the middle east right now. one is this struggle that we and the moderate sunni states have with islamic extremists. that's been playing out five or six years before 9/11. that's at play. the other thing that's at play is the whole arab spring. the arab spring is an educated population saying to their governments, we don't think that
we are going to have a better life and we don't think our kids are going to have a better life under the direction you are taking this country and we want you to go. that has played out in egypt tunisia, yemen, and syria. it is going to continue to play out in different places. why is that relevant to this problem? because the arab spring has created failed states, created a failed state for a while in egypt, until sisi took matters into his own hands. it has created a failed state in libya. we are at risk of a failed state in yemen. and it has created a failed state in the eastern part of syria. aside basically still controls the west, but the east, isis controls. so the arab spring has created these failed states, which is being filled --
charlie: and that is why they go in in the first place. mike: and then you got a third problem, which gets to your assad question. there is a cold war going on in the middle east between the moderate sunni states, saudi arabia and its gulf allies on the one hand, jordan and the emirates, and iran on the other. it is a cold war, a struggle, a fight over the future of the middle east. charlie: on one hand you have sunnis, and on the other hand, you have shia. it is iran shia, has bola shia iraq shia. mike: and yemen shia. charlie: and even bahrain. mike: it is a sunni-shia thing,
but more than that it is a persian-arab thing. there is a desire on the part of the iranians to be the hegemonic power in the middle east. there is a desire to re-create the persian empire, which at one point ruled 44% of the world's population. standing in their way is saudi arabia and the moderate sunni states. i believe that it is in our interest to back saudi arabia and the moderate sunni states in this struggle between them and iran. why the you believe that? mike: because, charlie, most people think that our only plan with iran is the nuclear program. we have many problems with iran.
one is this desire to be the most influential power in the region. charlie: why isn't that a natural quality? should we blame them for doing something? the egyptians, because the army was once the most powerful in the region, saudi arabia because of its oil the iranians say, we have a right to be a powerful factor in this region and to want to exercise our power. that doesn't mean we have to like it. mike: it is a legitimate aspiration but it is legitimate policy on our point of view to oppose it. we don't think they follow policies that are in our interest. this is a part of the world that , despite the energy revolution in the united states, and all the oil and natural gas we are producing, that still remains
vitally important to us. charlie: i want to come to this point with respect to assad. syria is so critical. what do we need to do? some say it is an unspoken thing happening between assad and what he's doing and what we would like to do. there's no agreement. they are not communicating. but assad said recently, i get information. mike: i don't know about that, but here's what i do know. i think the way to think about the strategy is and i'm going to tell you why it is hard to implement, yes, defeat isis and then take care of assad. the problem is, these moderate sunni oppositionists that we are going to send into syria with weapons, they are not going to share our priority.
their priority is, get rid of assad. charlie: even though isis is against them. even though it is said that isis would much rather eliminate them more than assad. then it will just be them versus assad and not anybody else. mike: and i worry that without assad you lose all of syria. so all of syria looks like libya rather than just the eastern part. but here's the key to the assad piece. to any extent that assad wins iran wins. so syria was the perfect state from the iranian perspective because syria did whatever a iran wanted it to do. charlie: and it gave them access
to lebanon and hezbollah. mike: exactly. and has bala couldn't exist -- hezbollah couldn't exist without the support it gets from iran. syria is important for a lot of reasons. that's why this is so hard. charlie: before i go to iran you do have the sense that you've got to do something now, that this thing is growing, becoming more violent, and they are consolidating. yes, they've been stopped and at some point there's going to be the launch of a campaign to get back mosul and there's the pashmerga who say if you give them the weapons, they will fight. but we are not sending them anything, so they say. i can't understand why we wouldn't support. mike: i know exactly what
they're saying. we are clearly not doing enough from their perspective. i think we have to accelerate. we have to accelerate what we are doing on the ground and it doesn't necessarily need to be us, but we have to -- charlie: in fact it shouldn't be us. except for air and weapons. mike: it probably shouldn't. and let me tell you a reason. i'll give credit to a former boss of mine. petraeus is a very smart guy when it comes to that kind of stuff. one of the points he made to me when we were talking about this recently was that you got to be careful putting a u.s. surge or -- a u.s. soldier with a group of iraqis. you put a u.s. special forces guy with an iraqi unit, and that
guy becomes michael jordan. he become superman. the iraqis just stand back and watch. they got to do the job themselves. that is a very powerful argument. charlie: but we have to have somebody over there. mike: that is from a strategic level. but i think we have to find countries willing to put people on the ground, whether it is the jordanians, the emirates i think it is time to put more pressure on isis so that we start pushing them back. i think it is time to upscale the number of syrian oppositionists we are training and i think we need to speed the rebuilding of the iraqi army. ♪
the jordanians have sent airstrikes, the egyptian sets and airstrikes, and the saudi's have been -- mike: a couple of interesting points. look way back to when the shia uprising took place in bahrain. saudi's and emirates sent in troops. they saved -- they sure did. just over the weekend, the gulf cooperation council put out a public statement that said if the u.n. doesn't do something about yemen, we will take matters into our own hands. mike: -- charlie: and sisi is talking about getting some kind of resolution. mike: what that said to me was gcc ground troops in yemen. the fight is being played out between iran and the gulf arab states. i think they are prepared to put troops into yemen to fight that fight.
i think they should also be prepared to put troops into iraq to fight that fight as well. charlie: and you think they will? are they closer to it than before? mike: yes, and i think we should be encouraging them. charlie: because they are on the front line of that. mike: they understand that better than anybody. back to iran. charlie: iran today has great influence in iraq, has great influence in syria, has great influence in lebanon. mike: and yemen. charlie: huge influence. the most powerful influence in those countries from an outside source. mike: yes. that is part of the struggle that is going on. absolutely. let me just go back through the things that bother us about what the iranians are doing. their desire to be the most
powerful country in the middle east, not in our interest. it is iranian policy. it is iranian policy for israel to know longer be on the face of the earth. the supreme leader, who is the most powerful person in iran calls the shots on national security president rouhani does not have influence on national security. all national security decisions are made by the supreme leader. the supreme leader has called israel a cancer that needs to be cut out. four days before the interim nuclear agreement was first signed in the fall of 2013, the supreme leader called zionists animals and called for israel's annihilation. just last fall, the supreme leader put out a nine-point plan
that would result in israel being removed from the map. to be fair to him, if not by force, it would be by a vote. but his nine-point plan is stacked in a way that that outcome would be guaranteed. he says, in the meantime, we need to continue to provide weapons to israel's opponents. and so, the iranians want to destroy our most important ally in the middle east. that's two. hegemony, get rid of israel. three the iranians are state sponsored terrorism. they practice terrorism as a tool of statecraft. essentially one of the only countries left in the world that does that. what do you mean by that, michael? the iranian -- the iranian
revolutionary guard force, which is independent of the iranian military, has special forces. damascus, baghdad, and iran managing these different wars. charlie: and reports only to the ayatollah. mike: correct. so that force practice terrorism around the world. i'll give you an example. it was the force that was planning to assassinate the saudi ambassador to the united states in a georgetown restaurant. they were planning to assassinate him. they were planning an attack on the saudi embassy. they were planning an attack on the israeli embassy. mike: there's note -- charlie: there's no doubt about
that? mike: no doubt about it. and no doubt that it went to the highest levels of the iranian government. it is not some rogue operation. so that's one type of state sponsored terrorism. the other type is support to internationally recognized terrorist groups. palestinian groups attacking israel. hezbollah could not exist without the support it receives from iran. charlie: hamas. mike: hamas historically but a little less now. they don't like what the iranians are doing in terms of supporting assad. but historically, yes. hezbollah, before 9/11, had killed more americans than any other terrorist group on the planet. most people don't know that. they did the embassy bombing in beirut among other things. hezbollah, the stated purpose of
its existence is to destroy israel. and the iranians provide it with money and weapons. hezbollah conducts terrorist attacks around the world against israel. you may remember one from a couple years ago in bulgaria. hezbollah attacked a group of israeli tourists, mostly young people, and killed a handful of them, and injured 30-some. that would not be possible without the iranians. next, you've got iranian support to these shia militia groups. in some ways, that's helpful to us today in iraq because they are fighting isis, but those same shia groups killed american soldiers in iraq by the dozens
and dozens. then you've got iranian support to regional insurgent groups. you got iranian support in yemen , and you saw the result of that. they took over the capital. took over the government. and you've got iranian support to the shia opposition in bahrain. you got iranian support to shia opposition in the eastern provinces of saudi arabia. all that is designed to overthrow those regimes and put in regimes like you have in syria, who are close to iran. charlie: someone said you have two choices in circumstances like this, either change the regime or change the behavior. what should be our policy? mike: the supreme leader believes that it is already the policy of the united states to
get rid of him and the clerical regime in the iranian government. there is not a policy. he's wrong about that. just like putin was wrong that the cia was responsible for what happened in the streets of kiev. nonsense, but he believes it. and the supreme leader thinks the same thing about cia and his regime. charlie: they think the cia is all-powerful. mike: here's the thing about iran. while some people believe there is a hope, i think you and i have talked about this before in those arab gulf states that are friends of ours, saudi arabia, the emirates, egypt, the leaders of those countries love us.
the populations don't. the polling shows just the opposite. they don't like us at all. charlie: why is that? why is it that the populations -- they think that we have propped up regimes that have no popular will, so except for us those regimes would not be in power? mike: i think they blame us for many of their problems. they blame us for our support of israel. and they do see us as propping up regimes. some, certainly not all. charlie: then you go to iran where the ayatollah -- mike: despises the united states. but the people of iran culturally, love us. music, clothes, western films,
western books. it is really interesting. 45% of the population in iran is 25 and younger. that's where most of these feelings are about us. charlie: and you see it erupt as it did with this contested election. mike: there are some people that see hope over the long-term. there are some people that believe that a nuclear deal would allow the beginnings of a conversation with the iranians that would lead to less distrust on both sides and better relations ultimately. i'm skeptical of that. i'm skeptical for two reasons. one is, you are talking about a very long time. this current leadership is entrenched. the demographics are such that that generation in iran that
fought in the iran-iraq war, when they believed we were on the side of saddam hussein we were. they got that one right. that generation despises us. that generation is going to be in power for quite some time. so you are talking, this change will be very slow. then the other is, even in our own society, people get more conservative as they age. it just happens. people who like us today may well grow out of that. as they move on in their life and get jobs, it happens to all of us. so i'm worried about how long it will take to get there and what could happen in the meantime.
now we come to the nuclear agreement. the nuclear problem sits atop this whole thing. the iranians have the technical capability to build a weapon. the iranians have the technical capability to build a weapon. they have the know-how and the means. that is what they've developed. so whether they do or not will depend totally on whether they want to or not. i believe the supreme leader once a weapon, and i believe that his plan is to eventually get a weapon. so what matters in this nuclear deal and what doesn't? i think, this is michael morell talking, not cia i think the debate over the number of
centrifuges is misplaced. the number of centrifuges we are talking about the number of centrifuges at declared facilities, facilities that have been declared to the international economic energy agencies, that are inspected regularly. charlie: you said they want one and if they don't, why not? mike: up until 2003, they were building one. in 2003, they stopped. charlie: and we know about the guard left and went back. mike: they stopped. most people believe they stopped because we had just invaded iraq over weapons of mass destruction , and the supreme leader was afraid we would do the same to him. charlie: which was the same opinion held by baghdadi. am i right about that? they said, we don't want that to
happen. charlie: right. and the north koreans are thinking, glad we got this done in time. so they stopped. the 2007 national intelligence estimate said that they stopped in 2003, but it also said that the analysts at the time believed that their goal was to get close, as close as possible to a weapon, but they hadn't decided to do it yet. i can't tell you charlie, whether the analysts still believe that today, but i don't believe it. when leon was testifying -- that the supreme leader has made a decision that iran will have a nuclear weapon someday. charlie: you do remember -- mike: he was saying what our analysts believe. i used to, now i'm allowed to
say what i believe. i believe that he has made a decision to eventually get a weapon. because i believe, why put all this effort into this nuclear program pre-2003, and then continuing post-2003 with all the work on the centrifuges, i believe that the enrichment facility outside of the religious capital, i believe that was a covert facility, that we caught them and they made it public before we did. charlie: here is an argument that is being made. we made it the sanctions made it too high-priced to pay to have a nuclear weapon. and that is why they prepared to stop. they did freeze it in place. that's what the agreement has done. mike: come back to the deal.
i don't think the focus should be on the number of centrifuges. there's a great irony. 5000 centrifuges, if you are going to have a nuclear weapons program, 5000 is pretty much the number you need. if you have a power program, you need a lot more. by limiting them to a small number of centrifuges, we are limiting them to the number you need for a weapon. great irony here. charlie: it is a very important question. mike: i'm not around the table. charlie: but you know what kind of arguments they would make. mike: by limiting the number of centrifuges, you are limiting their ability to use those declared facilities to break out. i don't think that's how they are going to do it. i think they are going to build another covert facility. i think we should focus on three things. i think we should focus on not letting them do anymore rmb work
-- r&d work on centrifuges. they would like to do work on even more advanced centrifuges. i wouldn't allow them to do that anymore. an advanced centrifuge produces enriched uranium at a much faster rate than a first-generation centrifuge. that's got to be part of the deal. the other thing i'd say is that they are building -- and i think this is part of our discussion with them -- they are building a plutonium-producing reactor. they are building one. they don't have the capability today to produce plutonium for a weapon. i don't think we should allow them that capability. and because it is so -- because a covert facility is the way
they are likely to go, inspectors have to be able to go anywhere they want. charlie: so there thought is, we don't have a deal. we don't get the deal but we get some kind of agreement. mike: here's the problem. i don't know to what extent people have thought about the implications of no deal. what happens? from the iranian perspective, they unfreeze everything that they froze. what do we do? the sanctions never came off. a few of them came off. do we put more sanctions on them? do we do anything else? do the israelis do anything? i don't think anybody's thought through the implications of no deal. better start doing that.
charlie: so you already believe they could have a weapon. mike: if they want to, yes. charlie: so you don't have an interim agreement. you have no agreement. they start building. how long is the so-called breakout time? a month? mike: it depends. my analysts used to look at the declared facilities look at the state of the declared facility how many centrifuges, what kind how much uranium they've produced, three-month breakout six-month breakout, whatever it was. it was getting shorter and shorter overtime. but nobody believes that's the way they are going to do it. everybody believes covert facilities. how long will it take? it depends on whether they have a covert facility or not.
charlie: so you are in the white house and you say, it may be a month, maybe two months. maybe they have a covert facility we don't know about. and maybe israeli intelligence tells you we don't know where they are going to produce it but they are going to have one in two months. what do you do? mike: what do you strike because you don't know where it is? charlie: first of all, do you strike? mike: that's a tough question too. charlie: it would turn all the iranians against you. mike: yes, and any hopes of -- there's no deal after that. if the analysts are right boy nothings going to make a decision faster to get a weapon than bombing them.
they are going to say, north korea's got a weapon, i need a weapon. he wants a rep in -- a weapon for two reasons. one is, he believes we are trying to overthrow him and his regime. what is the best guarantee against that, a nuclear weapon. and he wants a nuclear weapon because he sees it as part of this regional influence. it would make a difference. charlie: so if iran gets a weapon, the conventional weapon is that assad will have a weapon from pakistan in a month. mike: i don't know if it is true. charlie: it seems to me that time is of the essence. mike: you asked earlier about, should we change the regime? our batting average with changing regimes is not very good. even if we could, i'm not sure we should.
charlie: does the cia take responsibility for that? for not changing regimes well? mike: no. it is not getting rid of the person that's hard. it is what follows. charlie: who is responsible? mike: look at iraq. getting rid of saddam was not that hard. replacing saddam with somebody who could actually run the place, very hard. charlie: but we also misled people too. some of the people we supported thought they were -- mike: sure. there was a reason why saddam ran the place he did. there's a reason he ran it with an iron fist. charlie: there was a story that was he the way he was because iraq was the way it was? mike: there was a reason qadhafi kept control. so we don't have a very good track record. mike:: two fundamental problems
in the middle east. isil and iran. both of them are significantly detrimental to u.s. national security interests. and yet there's this weird relationship between the two of them. the iranians are actually helping us with isil . charlie: in public opinion polls, whatever they mean people have come to the conclusion, they want to see the united states do something about isil. the percentage is still pretty even, not majority one way or the other, but all these beheadings and burnings and decapitating christians in libya, it has created some sense that it reminds people that these are crimes against civilization. mike: you have to wonder about
why they are doing it. i think they are doing it because they see it as keeping their name in the news. they continue to dominate the news cycle everywhere. boy does that feel good if you are isil. that's the point of it. i don't think they've thought through the downsides. if we sat down with them, we would advise them, don't do this. you are hurting your brand. charlie: but al qaeda, bin laden advised isil don't go for caliphate. don't do that now. mike: and you remembers r kelly who created -- you remember zar kawi, bin laden counseled him, don't kill shia, don't kill
civilians, don't mistreat people. charlie: the other argument beyond the two you cited is that somehow their strategy is to draw us in and get more adherents on their side, that they somehow are trying to get us involved. mike: i don't know if that's their strategy. that was certainly bin laden's strategy, to draw us into afghanistan. he was pleased to be able to draw us into it. certainly, you can say this, that the creation of the coalition airstrikes have helped their brand. it really wasn't until we went to war with them, which i think