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Michael Rubin

Michael Rubin is a former Pentagon official whose major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy. Rubin instructs senior military officers deploying to the Middle East and Afghanistan on regional politics, and teaches classes regarding Iran, terrorism, and Arab politics on board deploying U.S. aircraft carriers. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, both pre- and post-war Iraq, and spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. His newest book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engagement examines a half century of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups. (American Enterprise Institute).


Middle East Political Chaos and the Kurdish Question:

1. As you are aware since Russian President Vladimir Putin took presidential office the tension between Russia and West has been in dramatic rise. Does the tension over the Ukraine becoming a turning point in international relation?

I think the Russian invasion of the Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of the Crimea does represent a turning point for a couple reasons. First, it forces a recognition in both the United States and Western Europe that the Cold War continues, and that there is a price on the world stage to be paid for military cut backs, even if I suspect that politicians will still be willing to pay such a price.

Second, the defiance which Russia shows in the face of European and American condemnation will ultimate lead other states with aggressive intent to conclude they face no real consequence for seizing lands which they might covet.


2. To what extent the Russian expansionist ambitions in Ukraine and Middle East enforce Western powers to re-calculate their foreign policies and re-consider their state and non-state actors allies in both regions?

Well, certainly the American congress will be less willing to trust Russia, regardless of what the policy or desire of the president in the White House might be. There is discussion among some in the United States and Europe about whether NATO policy and outreach into Eastern Europe and the Baltics might have antagonized Russia. But to condemn Eastern Europe to permanently remain under Russian dominance would be wrong. And to suggest that there are two NATOs, one worthy of full defence and one less so, would be equally wrong.


3. In both countries, Iraq and Syria the sectarian conflict spreading to include different dimensions of political and social life of the people. Three forces are fighting in each country, regimes, Islamic extremists and Kurds, to what extent external force and changes may influence the current structure of the conflict? Do not you think ISIS recent attacks in Iraq particularly in disputed Kurdish regions in Iraq is a sign of ISIS realization of possible coalition or cooperation between Shia and Kurds in the region?

I don’t believe that ISIS has had any particular revelation with regard to a potential Kurd-Shi’ite coalition, after all such pragmatism on the part of regional Kurds and Shi’ites is nothing new. Rather, I see the recent ISIS offensive more simply as an indication of its growing strength.


4. Occasionally, it has been reported by various Western and Middle Eastern sources that Syrian regime has been able to infiltrate ISIS deeply; if it is presumed to be true do not you think ISIS deadly war on ROJAVA, Syrian Kurds is indirect war waged by the regime and ultra religious nationalists against PYD and Kurds?

You know, I often hear these rumours but I don’t believe such rumours are true. Assad certainly had a relationship with jihadists before the outbreak of civil war. He was willing to accommodate and support them so long as they waged their violence outside Syria, hence his facilitation of an underground railroad of suicide bombers into Iraq.

But the division between ISIS and the Nusra Front and the resulting slanders and propaganda arising from that internal Islamist conflict seems to have much more to do with the allegations of regime-ISIS complicity.


5. Current conflict in Syria and Iraq to some extent classified as a sectarian religious conflicts, in your perspectives do not you think it may shifts from sectarian religious conflict to ethnic conflict in the region?

Honestly, the advice I always give to Americans deploying into the region is to avoid seeing identity in the region as a single variable. It’s never just Kurd vs. Arab, or Shi’ite vs. Sunni. And it’s also important to recognize that definitions of ethnicity are rather fluid in the Middle East.


6. How do you describe US policies in the region? Do you think US foreign policies have been successful in the region, particularly after 2003 war? If not why the American model of democracy has not been successful?

The United States has very little to show for the sacrifices it has made over the years, save for the removal of Saddam Hussein himself. Over the past ten years, we have seen the steady unravelling of American alliances. American policy toward the region has, for several decades, been based upon a desire to undercut nuclear proliferation, combat terrorism, and advance the Middle East peace process. Despite the negotiations with regard to Iran, there appears to have been little progress on any of these three issues.


7. Western model of democracy is based on individualization of the society; do you think that model ever fits mass societies?

I believe that freedom and liberty are characteristics that should not been sacrificed on an altar of cultural relativism.


8. How do you view current state of US and Islamic regime diplomatic approach? Do not you think regime’s theoretical opening to West has significant impact on internal policies, human rights, democratization and ethnic minorities’ rights in Iran?

Well, I am certainly cynical with regard to Iran’s intentions and whether their willingness to come to the table actually means a willingness to negotiate sincerely. I’m also a bit dubious about whether the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps would abide by any agreements which the foreign ministry negotiates.

Regardless, there is an unfortunate pattern that Tehran’s diplomatic outreach to the West is coupled with internal crackdown on political opposition and ethnic and sectarian minorities, and that is certainly is the case now. The regime in Tehran appears to figure that the West is so desperate to continue the diplomatic process that it won’t dare risk its talks by criticizing the redoubling of repression.