Middle East expert Aram Nerguizian transcript

Bob Schieffer: Welcome to Face to Face, I'm Bob Schieffer. This is our weekly webcast brought to you by the folks who produce "Face the Nation." Aram Nerguizian is a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. A Middle Eastern expert to say the least. So, what's happening now and what's going to happen in Syria? Is there any end in sight to this do you think?

Aram Nerguizian: Well Syria sits at a nexus of local, regional and international events. Locally you have a an opposition that's fighting against a brutal dictator. That beguiles the fact that you also have sectarian tensions. You have the Sunni majority that is largely rising up mainly from the rural periphery of the country versus the urban elite that are still largely asking themselves, will there be a Syria left when all is said and done? And against the opposition you have an Alawaite core. The Assad regime is dominantly Alawite. The president himself is Alawite. You also have other minorities like Sunnis, Ismailis, and the country's beleaguered Christian community. So that's the local struggle: who inherits the post-Ottoman, even the post-Assad Syria. Whether or not you can even keep the country together. Whether or not it partitions, fractures. Whether the country will look like in 20 years we can scarcely predict. Now that sits on a regional Sunni-Shiite fault line. Now the Gulf states, mainly Sunni battling for hegemony and influence against Iran which is mostly Shiite. You have the so-called axis of resistance: Iran, Syria and Hezbollah that hangs in the balance. And what happens in Damascus? If Syria falls that doesn't mean the end of Iran's ability to project influence. It just means that the battle for power and influence metastasizes, changes, becomes more complicated. And the US and international players like Russia and china are trying to make sense of this, compete on either side as best as they can. The US is competing with Iran for influence in the Levant. It does side with the Gulf states on many issues. But there are big differences of opinion on what the end state should look like in Syria. The United States would like a Syria that preserves some aspect of pluralism versus the Gulf States which are in a unique position. They no longer have to deal with Egypt -or not as much. Iraq is a non-player. And now Syria is teetering or unstable. And they want a Sunni victory in Damascus.

Bob Schieffer: Do you have any doubt that one way or another Assad is going?

Aram Nerguizian: Well I would not put a date stamp on that, and frankly we've been talking about the imminent collapse of the Assad regime on and off for the last 20-plus months. That doesn't mean it's not going to happen. We have too much of a focus on turning points and not enough of a focus on the fact that what you have in Syria is a swinging pendulum. The regime acts against the opposition, the opposition entrenches, adapts, thinks of new strategies. The regime does the same. You have political Darwinism now that's dictating a lot of this. And even if Assad goes tomorrow, I don't think that's the most important question. I think getting rid of Assad is relatively easy. Whether by external intervention or potentially by the effects of internal attrition. Whether it's now, a year, or two years from now, that matters less. What is more important to me is that Assad leaving will not change the fact that the fabric of Syrian society has come undone. The different communities are at knife's edge. You have these brutal dividing lines with no clear path to a stable end state. And countries like the US that on the one hand want a soft landing with democracy as a template for power in the country. On the other hand you have countries like Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar that don't exactly have a reputation for democratization. And that could have negative implications for whatever happens in Syria. So that's the big question.

Bob Schieffer: Let me shift to Iran. We now have these reports that they've captured one of our drones. But we say it's not ours. What do you think is going on here? Who has drones in that part of the world?

Aram Nerguizian: Well the US is not the only country that fields that particular type of UAV. The Emirates also have that capability. This is a system that is on the export market and is sold to allied states. You have an information going on between the US and the Iranians. So far I have no reason to doubt the US military's view that they have accounted for all of their UAV holdings. That being said, deniability is an important part of the battle on either side of this. In the Gulf, between the US and its allies, and Iran. We'll have to wait and see if something more substantial emerges. You have to remember, when the Iranians got hold of that stealth capable UAV, there also was a lot of deniability into that. This is evolving. We need to be careful about making definitive assumptions about where any of this is going right now.

Bob Schieffer: What is your assessment of the Israeli-Palestinian situation right now? I mean we're in this ceasefire right now, but obviously this is far from the end of it. Where do you see this going?

Aram Nerguizian: The peace process has always been a rock and a hard place. But both the rock and the hard place have essentially settled into this long cycle of bitter brinksmanship. You have a Palestinian playing field that's evolved on its own trajectory. What that trajectory looks like is one where Fatah, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, has become increasingly marginal, has come under increasing Palestinian pressure for its nepotistic practices, its patron-client dynamic, and frankly the perception among Palestinians that Fatah has little more than a client of the United States and Israel. Meanwhile Hamas continues to have a tenuous relationship with Iran, even though you have gaps, especially on Syria, and the recent fighting, while costly for Hamas, has done nothing to diminish their standing in the Arab world and among Palestinians. We're going to a place where unless something happens to dramatically shift the efforts on the peace track, in ways that can consolidate moves toward a final settlement, you're going to see the eventual eclipsing of movements like Fatah. The moderate forces, just on the Israeli side you've had a gradual shift of the entire political spectrum towards the right. And the eclipsing of some of the more traditional elements within the Israeli left. The same dynamics exist among the Palestinians. You might see a scenario where, down the road, the only game in town is Hamas. And what do you do then?

Bob Schieffer: That takes us to Egypt. What do you assess the situation there to be right now?

Aram Nerguizian: Well there are two ways of analyzing this. The first is that the classical view that this is the Islamists versus the liberals and moderates. And sure, up to a point, you do see that. But there's another side of the equation. This isn't just about the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi trying to elevate their political agenda and create reality on the ground in terms of the Islamist agenda. What you also have is the reality that the Egyptian state is divided along sectors. Corporative sectors: security forces, judiciary, other elements of government. And in many ways they are battling amongst themselves. Who will draft or impact the constitution? Which entitlements, which welfare structures will be carried over? Whose jobs will be secure? And this is arguably less popular in terms of the analysis on Egypt. But it is driving a lot of this and it really eschews civil society. It ignores the street protests. In many ways it's the different branches of the Egyptian government trying to see who will blink first in an effort to chart their own futures. That doesn't mean that pressure from below cannot impact this. It just means that you have two levels. The internal corporatist struggle within the Egyptian state bureaucracy on the one hand trying to see who will dictate this. And then the broader, ideological battle between the Islamists on the one hand and the liberals and the moderates on the other.

Bob Schieffer: You know when we began to see this turmoil across that region, somebody said to me, "It's wrong to call it the Arab spring. This is going to go on a lot longer than just a season. And hearing you really underlines that. The Middle East and the problems there, it's going to be a while before we see any of this sort itself out."

Aram Nerguizian: Well we very rarely use the term Arab Spring in our own efforts within the Burke Chair. We call it the long Arab Decade - and you might add an "S" to that if things continue to degrade. The realities here are that you've had decades of economic mismanagement, decades of hoarding of resources that are limited under the best of circumstances. You have traditional rural versus urban shift. And in the Levant, as we've said, you have these communal and religious dynamics to say nothing of the Kurds and other ethnic minorities. All of these issues will play out. And if you look at European analogs of revolutions, the French Revolution started at the end of one century, took almost a century to play out. It's only by the beginning of the first World War that you had some sense of stabilization in Western Europe. Not trying to say that's where we're going in the Middle East. We've learned a lot since then. But have we learned enough to make some of the right choices without competing too much? That's difficult to answer under the best of circumstances.

Bob Schieffer: Aram Nerguizian, thank you so much for being with us on "Face to Face."

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