Involvement in the Middle East has been a large part of U.S. foreign policy for generations. President after president has had to take the multifaceted and complex web of alliances and relationships in the Middle East into account as they navigated policy in the region.
But after President Joe Biden withdrew U.S. forces from Afghanistan in neighboring south Central Asia, the balance of power in the Middle East underwent a major shift. America’s departure from the region resulted in a number of important geopolitical ramifications and strategic reorientations.
Joel C. Rosenberg, an American-Israeli communications strategist and author of the new book “Enemies and Allies: An Unforgettable Journey Inside the Fast-Moving & Immensely Turbulent Modern Middle East,” has spent years learning the ins and outs of Middle Eastern politics.
His new book includes interviews with Middle Eastern leaders, including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and long-time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to get their views on the future of the Middle East with a less-present United States.
One point of concern is Iran. The Saudis “see Iran the way Israel sees Iran, which is, the people are great, the leadership is evil, and the leadership is trying to build nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them,” Rosenberg says.
Rosenberg joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss his new book and the implications of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, as well to explain the ongoing realignment between Arab states and Israel against Iran.
We also cover these stories:
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says Congress’ Democratic leaders have agreed on a framework to pay for their $3.5 trillion spending bill.
- The Biden administration announces it will prohibit the Border Patrol from using horses in Del Rio, Texas, in response to images of agents on horseback appearing to abuse Haitian refugees—which wasn’t the case.
- The administration begins reimbursing Florida school officials who had their pay docked for refusing to enforce Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Doug Blair: Our guest today is Joel C. Rosenberg, an American-Israeli communication strategist and author of the new book “Enemies and Allies,” focusing on the ever-shifting political landscape in the Middle East. Joel, thanks so much for joining us.
Joel C. Rosenberg: Hey, great to be on the podcast. Thank you so much.
Blair: Before we get into your newest book, I’d like it if you could tell us a little bit about yourself. So reading your website, you are amazingly prolific, you’ve written a number of fiction and nonfiction books. So the question being, how did you get into writing and what made you select the topics that you choose to write about?
Rosenberg: Well, the simplest way to put it is, I am a failed political consultant. Lived in Washington with my wife and kids for almost a quarter of a century. My first job was actually [at] The Heritage Foundation, not too exciting. I enjoyed it, but I was only making coffee and typing memos and so forth. That was my first job. But anyway, I ended up working for a number of U.S. and Israeli political leaders.
And the bottom line is, I helped them all lose. Wasn’t my intention. I helped Steve Forbes lose two presidential campaigns and about $70 million of the inheritance money due to his five daughters. So that didn’t go so well. Though, I love Steve and the flat tax and all the issues we were working on. My last campaign I worked on was then-former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had been prime minister in Israel from 1996 to ’99, and then lost his reelection.
And in the fall of 2000, I got hired on a small team of political advisers and consultants, me focusing on media for his comeback campaign. Those who followed the career of Netanyahu know that he didn’t come back for nine more years and I played no role whatsoever in helping him.
So basically, in January of 2001, Netanyahu being the last project I worked on, I started writing my first political thriller, and that was called “The Last Jihad.” The first page puts you inside the cockpit of a jet plane hijacked by radical Islamic terrorists, coming in on a kamikaze attack mission into an American city.
That’s how the book began, “The Last Jihad.” And it went to an American president, not only declaring war against radical Islamist terror cells throughout the Middle East, but to his decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.
And I was finishing that book in Washington, D.C., well near Washington Dulles [International] Airport, where we lived at the time, on the morning of 9/11. And it was just crazy. But when the book came out in the fall of ’02, it became a monster bestseller. No. 1 on Amazon, 11 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list.
And it set into motion a whole new career, centered around what is going on in the Middle East and … how did we get blindsided by these attacks? And that’s been a theme in my work. And yeah, 5 million books later, that’s what I’m working on.
Blair: In terms of your newest book, “Enemies and Allies,” you actually do continue on with that theme of the Middle East. You focus on the evolving relationships in the Middle East, between Israel, the Arab states, some of the Western powers.
And to write this book, you conducted interviews with Middle Eastern leaders. So you had people like Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; as we talked about, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. You did this to try and get a better picture of what the political landscape in the Middle East looks like.
So with all of that, from a purely political perspective, as of right now, what is the situation politically like in the Middle East?
Rosenberg: Bleak. Did you want me to go on longer or would you stop there?
Blair: Well, let’s go a little further.
Rosenberg: Darkness is rising. Our enemies have been emboldened. Our allies are deeply rattled by President [Joe] Biden’s abject surrender to the forces of the radical Islamists, a Taliban movement in Afghanistan. Literally snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
I mean, Afghanistan is Afghanistan. I’ve been there. I’ve met with Muslim tribal leaders. I’ve met with Afghan Christian leaders. It’s a poor, hobbled, troubled country. It was never going to be like getting rid of the Nazis in Paris and then thinking, “Oh, this is Paris, this is lovely, it’s going to be great.” It’s Afghanistan. But it was stable.
Americans were not dying. A small force of about 2,500 with about 7,000 or so NATO forces were able to advise and assist and give a little backbone to the Afghan forces who were doing their best. They were the ones dying—60,000 Afghan soldiers have died in the last 20 years fighting the forces of radical Islamism.
But Biden, unilaterally, single-handedly pulled the key Jenga sticks out and the whole thing collapsed. And in “Enemies and Allies,” I warned that something like that’s coming. …
I described in the book how in 2011 Biden persuaded, he boasts of this, he boasts of persuading … President [Barack] Obama to pull all U.S. forces out of Iraq, even though major Democrats within the administration—Leon Panetta at CIA, Bob Gates at [the Department of] Defense—were warning, “Don’t do this. If you pull all of us forces out, you’re going to create a vacuum, bad forces are going to surge into that vacuum, and you’re going to have a disaster.” And it actually led to genocide.
So in “Enemies and Allies,” you’re right, I met with all these key American allies, Israeli and Arab at the highest levels—the kings, the crown princes, the presidents, the prime ministers—to get their perspective on how they see the enemies and how they see themselves as allies trying to become better allies of the United States. And Biden should try listening to them.
This book is the only book that puts you in the room with these leaders. But Biden can pick up a phone. He can invite them here. He literally does not understand the nature of the threat of the evil that we’re up against. And he is getting blindsided over and over again. It’s a disaster.
Blair: You’ve mentioned that you did talk with those leaders and I’m curious, what were some of the things that stood out to you when you spoke with these Middle Eastern leaders about the political situation there? What were they saying about what the current landscape looked like? Was it positive, negative? Before we pulled out, what were they saying?
Rosenberg: Sure. Well, the first thing is interesting … it is, why did they have me? I’m not a billionaire, I’m not the leader of political movement. I’m a novelist and an author of nonfiction books. I’ve got two websites that deal with news, but I hadn’t started them yet—All Israel News, All Arab News. But I’m Jewish on my father’s side, I’m an evangelical follower of Jesus Christ. I’m an American, I’m Israeli. I’ve got four sons, two of which served in the Israeli military.
Why in the world does the Saudi crown prince of all people invite me to come and sit down with him for hours and hours, and to bring a group of evangelical Christian leaders from the United States? And not just once, but he invited us back to do it all again two years ago.
So that’s the first thing that you’re watching, is tectonic changes inside the thinking of the Arab world at the leadership level and on the street. The Arab world, not entirely, but largely is fundamentally reassessing, who is my friend and who is my foe?
They see Iran the way Israel sees Iran, which is, the people are great, the leadership is evil, and the leadership is trying to build nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them.
Like Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, MBS, told me on the record—by the way, this is the only book in which he has spoken on the record. There’s literally other biographies about him in which the reporters have never met him, much less interviewed him. But MBS told me on the record that he regards the supreme leader of Iran as “The new Hitler.” That tells you how closely aligned Riyadh and Jerusalem see the threat. And that was echoed all throughout my conversations with these Arab leaders.
So there’s this reassessment. They used to see Israel as the enemy, for the last 75 years or more, and now they see Israel as the ally and Iran is the existential threat to all of them. They want a closer relationship with Israel. They want a closer relationship with United States. And under [President Donald] Trump, they were getting it. Under Biden, they’re not.
Blair: So it seems like now that America has left Afghanistan, that our presence in the region has been pretty severely diminished. You mentioned, obviously, that Israel and the Saudis are basically trying to connect a little more to counter a growing Iranian threat, but have there been any other immediate geopolitical ramifications in the Middle East due to reduced American presence?
Rosenberg: No. I think everybody in the Arab-Muslim world right now, and certainly in Israel with our new prime minister, Naftali Bennett; our new foreign minister, Yair Lapid; they’re all trying to get their head around Biden’s full-on retreat from the Middle East. Surrendered in Afghanistan, but also, he’s basically signaled this summer to the Iraqi prime minister that America’s done with combat operations in Iraq.
Remember that after pulling all our forces out, the Obama-Biden team in ’11, Trump had to send them back in to dismantle the caliphate, to destroy ISIS, to liberate 5 million people living under the slavery, the reign of terror of ISIS, being beheaded, being crucified, being burned alive in cages, sex slavery. It was just a horror show.
And so now we’re down to about 2,500 troops or so in Iraq. Maybe they won’t all come out immediately, but effectively, Biden’s like, “Basically, we’re done in Iraq. We’ll leave a few troops there for now.” But after Afghanistan, everyone’s going, “Well, will you?”
Biden’s pulling Patriot missile batteries out of the region. He’s signaling he doesn’t want to be there. He thinks that Americans are exhausted by this fight and many Americans are, but the problem is the terrorists and the Iranian regime, most importantly, they’re not exhausted. They’re emboldened, they’re invigorated.
Today, as we record this, is the one-year anniversary of the historic game-changing Abraham Accords, the first Arab-Israeli peace and normalization agreements we’ve had in a quarter of a century.
My book “Enemies and Allies” is the only book that goes into the inside story of how this came about—my interviews with President Trump in the Oval Office, [Vice President Mike] Pence, [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo, and with … [Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan], the [United Arab Emirates] crown prince, where he told me two years before he committed to the Abraham Accords that he was going to do it. And that story is told only here in “Enemies and Allies.”
So everybody’s saying, “Look, the good news is, we want to be closer with the United States. We want to be closer with Israel. We’re ready. We’re fighting the radical Islamists. Let’s join together and create a Middle East NATO.” But Biden’s in full retreat. And it is freaking out the people in the Middle East. They’re just trying to handle it diplomatically at the top levels: “How do we handle this with Biden?”
Blair: Absolutely. Now, one of the things that I’m really glad you brought up is the terrorism angle. I think a lot of people’s biggest concern out of the Middle East pullout was that with a reduced American presence, we will start to see the rise of terrorism. So as we start to talk a little bit about the terrorism situation, I’d like to know, what was the situation regarding terrorism like while American boots were still on the ground? Were there still plots that we were foiling or was there kind of this lull in activity? What was the terrorism situation like while we were there?
Rosenberg: Yeah, no, there’s no question that plots are being cooked up and they’re being intercepted and thwarted by American intelligence and counterterrorist operations and special forces—by Israeli operations for sure and by Saudi, Emirati, Egyptian, Jordanian, everybody’s doing this.
And the reason we haven’t seen in the last few years, since the end of ISIS, … any major horror shows is because the region has gotten quite good at fighting this. Like, we really have.
Twenty years ago, you’ll recall on September 11th, in the days that followed, Americans were not only shocked and grieved, but angry, right? Where are the Muslim leaders that stand up and say, “This stuff is crazy, it’s nonsense.” Well, they exist now. King Abdullah is the only leader in the region who was around on September 11th and he was already fighting radical Islamists in Jordan. But every other leader in the region, including all the ones I spoke to and interviewed at length for “Enemies and Allies,” they didn’t exist. I mean, they existed. They just weren’t the leaders.
For example, we interviewed Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia: “Where were you on 9/11? You’re Saudi, Osama bin Laden [is] Saudi, 15 of the 19 hijackers [were] Saudi. Right?” He said, “I was 16 years old.” … And he says, and we have it exclusively in “Enemies and Allies,” he says, “We were so horrified. We thought we’re going to be, Islam is going to be defamed forever. Being a Saudi is going to be, we won’t be able to show our faces in the world as they think of us as the terrorists.”
And he told me, and this is his language, not mine, but he says, “In the months that followed, my cousins and brothers and I, we concluded we’re going to grow up and kick the a—– of the people who did this to us.” And that’s what he’s doing. I mean, love him or hate him.
And all the leaders in the region, these guys are serious about counterterrorism now. And I describe it in great detail, what has happened and the successes that we’ve achieved together with our Arab and Israeli allies.
Let’s also note that President Trump was mocked and ridiculed as being a novice coming into the White House, no foreign policy experience, no military experience. He dismantled the ISIS caliphate. He took out Qasem Soleimani, the top terror general from Iran. He took out Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS. Pretty impressive counterterror operations and big ones, like a lot of things happened under the radar, but things happened above the radar that showed our enemies, “You guys better watch out because we’re coming for you.” And for all of the criticisms of Trump, these are some of the things he did really, really well.
And that’s that confidence in fighting, in dealing with Iran, ripping up the Iran nuclear deal, taking out the top Iran terrorist leader, etc. And standing closely with Israel really bolstered the Arab conference, “Let’s go make peace with Israel. It’s time.”
And when everybody said, “Oh, moving the embassy. Moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.” Everybody, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the time, said, “Mr. President don’t do it. That’ll blow up the Middle East. It’ll ruin all your hopes for peace.” Just the opposite was true. And Trump and Pence, they knew it. They got it.
Blair: Interesting. So one of the things that I think we’re gathering from here is there are a lot of different interests at play here. And there are a lot of different factions that are interacting with each other that make the Middle East such a unique political landscape to deal with.
A lot of people are kind of questioning, what interests does the United States have in this political landscape? What interests does the United States have in a peaceful Middle East? Should we be using our money and manpower to achieve the ends of a peaceful Middle East or is this something that we should sort of leave to them to deal with?
Rosenberg: I think it is both. And I don’t think of it as either/or.
The great part is we have great allies in the Middle East: Israel, the Jordanians, the Egyptians, the Bahrainis, the Emiratis, the Saudis, Omanis, a number of others. But let’s be clear: These guys not only want to be engaged in the battle against the radical Islamists, they’re doing so—not just militarily, they’re doing so theologically and ideologically. They are engaging the radical Islamists on social media and in the mosques. They’re firing the clerics that are extremists. They’re changing the textbooks, even in Saudi Arabia, that teach extremism.
I mean, I’m a novelist at heart, like, I would have to make this stuff up if it wasn’t actually happening, but it is happening. Trump got it and built on it. Biden doesn’t get it and he’s dismantling it, or trying to at least. So I would say this, we’re making a huge error, a huge error. And we put ourselves and our allies and our own citizens and prosperity at risk if we take our eye off the ball of radical Islamists.
I pointed out at the beginning, right? Like literally, the first sentences of “Enemies and Allies,” I say, listen, “It’s long been said about Las Vegas, that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Right? But nobody says that about the Middle East. That makes sense. You’d think that there’s a logic to that, but 9/11 proved it’s not true. Right?
So, I don’t usually quote the last and worst of “The Godfather” movies, but there was Michael Corleone in the last of “The Godfather” movies, says, “The more I try to get out, the more they pull me back in.” Biden’s trying to get out of the Middle East, but the Middle East won’t let you, they won’t.
And the good news is we don’t have to have 500,000 troops on the ground there. We don’t have to spend $2 trillion. I mean, we’re talking about small numbers of troops. We’re talking about small amounts of money to strengthen the allies. They’re engaged. They weren’t 20 years ago. Israel was and Jordan was, but I think the others, honestly, weren’t. And that’s where 9/11 came from.
But we live in a different world. Don’t play the game by September 10th rules of 20 years ago. Play them by the current geopolitical environment. And “Enemies and Allies” paints that environment. And it does it by sitting down with every top consequential, controversial, complicated leader that’s actually in those decision-making roles. So you hear them in their own words, what the media is not telling you. What do they believe? Why are they doing this? Can we trust them?
And I’m very encouraged by our alliances, but I really do believe the Iranian regime is coming. They want a nuclear 9/11. To misunderstand that is to risk being blindsided by it. And God forbid that Biden lets ourselves get blindsided.
The Iranian regime is only a few months away now from having enough military-grade enriched uranium that they could start building these nuclear weapons. And OK, maybe it takes them a little longer to attach it to a high-speed missile, but we’re at the threshold. We’re at the point of no return.
We’re also, sadly, tragically, in the early stages of the Biden administration. If they continue on this road, trying to beg Iran for a nuclear deal that the Iranian regime clearly doesn’t want—they want to build the bomb, they do. Biden better get it and get with the program and start working with our allies rather than undermining them or Americans are going to suffer. And we’re going to suffer big.
Blair: I think you’ve given us quite a bit to think about. So Joel, we are running a little bit low on time, but I wanted to give you the last word. If people would like to read more of your work, where should they go?
Rosenberg: Sure. Well, you can certainly always come to my website, Joelrosenberg.com; track our daily news tracking sites, All Israel News and All Arab News. Could certainly follow me on Twitter. And yes, I hope people will get a copy of “Enemies and Allies,” especially as we celebrate the one-year anniversary of the historic, game-changing Abraham Accords. And as we honor and remember how bad it was when we didn’t pay attention to all this, because of what happened on 9/11. I think this book, “Enemies and Allies,” is a must-read for anybody who cares about making sure we don’t face a nuclear 9/11 in a world of great darkness.
Blair: Excellent. Well, Joel, thank you so much. That was Joel C. Rosenberg, an American-Israeli communication strategist and author of the new book “Enemies and Allies,” focusing on the ever-shifting political landscape in the Middle East. Joel, thank you so much again for joining us.
Rosenberg: My pleasure.
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