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Friday, August 23, 2019

An incisive Washington eye

by Linda S. Heard

© Shutterstock: Capitol Hill, Washington DC
© Handout: Morris L. Reid, Managing Director - Mercury
© Shutterstock

Morris L. Reid, Managing Director of the Washington-based ‘high-stakes public strategy firm’ Mercury and former Clinton Administration staffer, shared his perspectives on hot-button global issues with Linda S. Heard during his recent visit to Dubai.

Well-known among Washington’s doers and shakers for his expertise in resolving complex political and corporate problems, Ohio-born Morris Reid frequently visits the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to foster business development programs, forge partnerships and help settle disputes on behalf of Mercury’s clients. This former Director of Vice President Al Gore’s Office and a senior Democratic strategist to the 2008 and 2012 Obama presidential campaigns is quick thinking, fast-talking, possessing not only an insightful mind but also an easy-going charm.

Dubai needs to get back to fundamentals

Reid’s admiration for Dubai’s lifestyle and trajectory was evident from the getgo. However, he believes Dubai “needs to get back to fundamentals” rather than concentrate on ‘niche tourism’, citing Las Vegas that came to the realisation that there was a bigger opportunity in family entertainment. “Dubai is never going to be a financial hub,” he says, “but it can be tourist capital of the region and Expo2020 offers a chance to invest in long-term, sustainable projects that fit into Dubai’s overall context.”

The United States of Confusion

Earlier this year during the largely bipartisan row over the US government shut-down, Reid dubbed his country “The United States of Confusion”. What drove him to such a scathing conclusion?

“Congress wasn’t doing its job; the White House wasn’t doing things the right way.” Lawmakers eventually agreed to extend government spending to January 15 2014, but Morris Reid says he is pessimistic there’ll be a repeat performance. “I think there will be the same fight as earlier because the Tea Party and people like Republican Senator Ted Cruz are putting their personal interests before the country. I never thought I would see the day when Republicans would turn their back on the nation and harm the economy.”

 I’m a diehard fan of Obama

Do you believe President Obama has lived up to his promise - and if not, why not, I asked? His response: “I’m a diehard fan of the President. He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does right. The stock market has reached new heights but no one wants to give him credit. He rescued the auto industry, one of America’s most fundamental, yet some call that government interference. And by sheer luck or otherwise, America’s energy policy is transforming on his watch and it’s 100 per cent his doing that we’re exporting gas.”

He adds, “On the flip side, there are opportunities he’s missed and for that he’s receiving less enthusiastic support. One is his failure to cut tax rates early on when he had political capital. He also missed encouraging American companies keeping their capital offshore to repatriate those funds, for instance, with a one-time tax-free opportunity. His health care bill is another missed opportunity. For the way it rolled-out someone needs to be fired. And that is a White House problem; they don’t know how to fire people. They should have tested and re-tested the website, but they blew it and this will be a set-back slowing down the program.”

Snowden is a traitor

“How damaging has NSA spying leaks been to US standing worldwide and is Edward Snowden a traitor or a courageous whistleblower?”, I asked. “Snowden is a traitor. What he did is treason. He should be brought back to the US as a bad guy who needs to be punished. Countries are never going to stop spying on each other; it’s just a fact of life and the only time there’s a problem is when we’re caught. The spying program has been successful. There hasn’t been another terrorist attack on American soil (since September 11, 2001), so we’re doing something right. I am a proponent of spying and I’m unapologetic about it. The idea that so many world leaders are shocked is so much baloney.”

This region is important

There’s a geopolitical buzz that the US is shifting its priorities away from the Middle East in favour of South- East Asia and the Far East partly due to the fact that America is now selfsufficient in oil and gas due to the development of shale. “I think this is correct,” says Morris Reid. “Everyone is up in arms about this but this region is important and will remain so as Japan and Europe will continue to rely on its resources; so the US will always be supportive but America has to focus on its own priorities. I think this is a good time for the Middle East to refocus on renewable energy and in that way oil and gas-rich countries can export their natural resources and get involved in downstream plastics as an ancillary business; perhaps also turning their attention to the African market.

Iran will never become a strategic US partner

I asked Mr. Reid whether he supported the interim pact between the P5 + 1 nations and Iran relating to the curtailment and monitoring of Tehran’s nuclear ambitions - and whether Obama will receive the necessary Congressional approval to lift all anti- Iranian sanctions given objections from Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“I am not bullish on this. Actually, Obama and his team are looking for a win but I think the deal will fall apart. In any case, as America engages with Iran, it will be more dependent on the GCC. Iran will never become a strategic US partner. It will never be an ally. We will always mistrust the Iranians and depend on Saudi and Gulf States for backdoor information. This may be the way the Gulf will re-engage as the US pivots towards Asia. Also, there is no way the hardliners in Congress will do anything to help Iran whatever the Administration wants to do. That’s a red line, one because of Israel - the US will never let anything happen to Israel - but also because Iran has been a cancer on this region. It’s a bad actor. Getting nuclear weapons off the table is a good move but they are still bad actors with a disruptive influence on Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere.

Are Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States correct in fearing some kind of ‘grand bargain’ between the US and Iran that would undermine their own leverage and bolster Iran’s regional hegemonic stratus?,” I asked.

“The Saudis are doing the right thing by going on record and being vocal about their opposition to the deal; America would be upset if Saudi Arabia entered into a grand bargain with, say, China. Saudi should look how to maximise this to its own advantage. The Saudi-US relationship has been too much one way with America dictating to the region. At the end of the day, Saudi is unhappy and must speak-up with its own loud voice.”

I have no hope for Geneva-II

Was Obama right to step-back from attacking Syria’s chemical facilities and can Geneva-II end the civil war?

“It was very bad staffing advice; they should never have gone on record to say Obama would do this. When David Cameron lost the vote in the British Parliament, America was undermined. That was a rookie move. I have no hope for Geneva-II. Everyone is really worried about what happens when the Syrian leadership topples. Look what’s going on in Libya. There’s real concern. The only people who can solve this are the GCC leaders because what happens in Syria has a direct correlation with their own economies. The GCC should step up to solve this problem with all options on the table; they have weapons and technology - and America can’t fight their wars any longer.”

No honest broker

Morris Reid is similarly pessimistic concerning the outcome of the current US-brokered Israel-Palestine peace talks. “There’s no hope and there never will be as long as Israel has double standards - Israel can do what it likes and the Palestinians will fall into line - and there’s no honest broker.”

We were wrong to cut aid to Egypt

Was cutting aid to Egypt a misstep, opening the door to Russia to expand its influence and is there a disagreement over this between Obama’s National Security team and the Pentagon?

“There are always disagreements between the White House and other agencies. We were wrong to cut the aid to Egypt. People there are fundamentally questioning ‘Are you with us. If you are with us you have to be with us through thick and thin’. Egyptians are saying, ‘Why doesn’t America stand by us like the Russians are standing with Syria?’ Egypt is a friend and an ally. We should stop picking leaderships. We need to engage appropriately, rather than taking decisions on the basis of democracy should be one-size fits all.”

Hilary for President

Would you back Hilary Clinton if she decides to run for President in 2016?

“It would be my pleasure to support Hilary. Hilary and Bill are unbelievable. They’re both highly political and bring credibility to the table; they’ll be able to usher-in a new renaissance to America - and I think America needs that right now.”

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