Jonathan Conricus was born in Jerusalem but grew up in Sweden. His family returned to Israel when he was 13 years old. A few years later he joined the Israeli Defense Forces, eventually rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel and serving as the IDF’s international spokesman.
He joins Foreign Podicy host and FDD founder and president Cliff May to discuss his life, career, what it was like dealing with the journalistic herd, and – now that he’s retired from the military – opine on some of the Middle East’s many conflicts and controversies.
Also joining the conversation is Jonathan Schanzer, FDD’s senior vice president for research at FDD whose most recent book, Gaza Conflict 2021: Hamas, Israel and Eleven Days of War, challenges – and corrects – some of the major media’s inaccurate reporting on that conflict.
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Who Needs Soft Power?
51:05American political scientist Joseph Nye popularized the concept of soft power decades ago. As he wrote in his 2004 book by that name, “soft power – getting others to want the outcomes that you want – co-opts people rather than coerces them.” Such soft power cooption can be less costly than hard power coercion.But we see daily reminders that soft power is insufficient and hard power often remains decisive, at least initially.Consider:Putin’s unprovoked large-scale invasion of Ukraine;Beijing’s saber rattling in the Taiwan Strait; andTehran’s continued employment of terrorist proxies and steps toward a nuclear weapon capability....These remind us that soft power has its limits.But it would be a mistake to dismiss the role of soft power. It’s a necessary but not sufficient complement to hard power that can help the U.S. secure its interests.America needs both hard and softer power tools and needs to employ and integrate them more effectively. That’s one of the big ideas animating FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP).What are the tools of soft power? How do they relate to hard power?How is China using soft power tools against the United States and its allies?How can we wield our soft power tools such as international development more effectively?To discuss these topics and more, Bradley Bowman — senior director of FDD’s CMPP, filling in for Cliff May as host — is joined by Daniel Runde and Elaine Dezenski.Daniel RundeDan is a senior vice president and director of the Project on Prosperity and Development (PPD) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he holds the William A. Schreyer Chair in Global Analysis. Dan has held leadership roles at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Bank Group and has significant experience in the private sector.He has written a new book: The American Imperative, Reclaiming Global Leadership Through Soft Power.Elaine DezenskiElaine is senior director of FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power. Elaine has more than two decades of leadership in public, private, and international organizations and is a recognized expert on geopolitical risk, supply chain security, anti-corruption, and national security.
The Skunks at Israel’s Birthday Party
48:02Israelis are now celebrating 75 years of independence – 75 years of self-determination for the Jewish people in part of their ancient homeland which for centuries was ruled by foreign empires. There are not many nations that, as the late Charles Krauthammer used to point out, are “living in the same land, worshipping the same God, and speaking the same language as did their ancestors 3,000 years ago.” But not everyone is celebrating. Islamic Jihad — a terrorist organization funded, armed, and instructed by the Islamic Republic of Iran — recently fired hundreds of missiles at Israel from Gaza, a territory from which Israelis withdrew in 2005. Israelis retaliated with precision strikes targeting Islamic Jihad leaders. For the moment, a ceasefire is in effect. On May 15, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivered a “Nakba Day” speech at the U.N. General Assembly. Nakba is Arabic for “catastrophe” which is how he and other enemies of Israel regard Israel’s birth. Abbas said that the U.S. and Britain are to be “blamed” for creating Israel in order to get rid of their Jews, and he claimed that despite Israel’s efforts to excavate under the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is also the site of what Jews call the Temple Mount, no historical or archeological evidence has been found proving that Jews were present in Jerusalem in the past. In Washington, Rep. Rashida Tlaib staged her own “Nakba” event with help from Sen. Bernie Sanders. And Foreign Affairs, a prestigious American journal, published a long article that also made no attempt to suggest how peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians might be achieved. The four authors suggest instead that the root of the conflict is, as Islamic Jihad, Mr. Abbas, and Ms. Tlaib would have it: Israel’s existence. The solution – implied rather than stated – is to rip out that root. The consequences of such a policy – not least for the more than 9 million Israelis – were not explored. Elliott Abrams read the article and responded in Pressure Points, his blog. He joins host Cliff May to discuss. Elliott has served at high levels in several administrations. He is currently a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, which happens to be the publisher of Foreign Affairs.
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Under African Skies
50:04Africa is the second largest continent in the world, both in land area and population. It has more than 1.2 billion people — most of them young and poor — living in 54 countries. If current demographic trends continue, Africa will account for a quarter of humanity by the middle of this century.In Africa, conflicts are more often within countries rather than between them. Sudan and Ethiopia are current examples.Today, al Qaeda and the Islamic State are active across Africa. So is the Wagner Group, a lawless private army loyal to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.And China’s ruling Communist Party has become a neo-imperialist power on the continent, exploiting African peoples and resources.Joining host Cliff May to talk about Africa is Joshua Meservey.He’s currently a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, where he focuses on African geopolitics, counterterrorism, and great power competition in Africa.He was previously a research fellow for Africa at the Heritage Foundation. He’s also worked at the US Army Special Operations Command, for Church World Service based out of Nairobi, Kenya, and he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia. And he’s a member of FDD’s National Security Network.
Special Edition: Ukraine’s War of Independence
1:04:13Ukrainians are defending their homeland from the unprovoked, blatantly illegal, and imperialist war being waged by invading Russian troops under Vladimir Putin’s command. They are also on the front line of a global struggle, fighting in defense of the free world. To discuss, host Cliff May is joined by Ambassador Oksana Markarova, who has served as Ukraine’s envoy to the United States since April 2021. They talk about war and peace, nationhood, independence, freedom, democracy, Ukraine’s enemies, and allies. This special edition episode was recorded in front of a live a studio audience at FDD.
The Hashemite King’s Gambit
50:38For decades, American policymakers have come to view the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan as an indispensable ally in the Middle East, committing billions of taxpayer dollars to support Jordan's budget, economy, and military. Indeed, Jordan's Peace Treaty with Israel; its strategic position between Israel, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia; and its pro-American military and intelligence services remain critical to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. And yet, challenges inside this relationship are reaching alarming levels. From harboring one of the FBI's most wanted terrorists and inciting violence against Israel, to a member of its parliament facing charges for trafficking guns and gold into Israel, Jordan's recent behavior has U.S. policymakers considering their options. Filling in for host Cliff May is Rich Goldberg, senior advisor at FDD. To discuss U.S.-Jordan relations, he's joined by FDD Senior Vice President for Research Jonathan Schanzer and Joe Truzman, research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal.
Israel’s Little Fires Everywhere
35:49The Islamic Republic of Iran makes no effort to conceal its desire to wipe Israel off the map. Just this week, leaders called for the elimination of two major Israeli cities: Tel Aviv and Haifa. The regime in Tehran deploys a wide range of tools and proxies to achieve this end. The result was a series of low-level conflagrations over the course of the last several weeks, with Iranian proxies routinely attacking Israel both inside and just beyond its borders: In Lebanon, Iran-backed Hezbollah fired more than forty rockets at Israel. In Syria, the Iranian regime has deployed Shiite militias and military installations that Israel strikes with regularity. In the West Bank, longstanding terror groups (and, now, some new ones) continue to attack Israel. The Palestinian Authority has essentially lost control, making the West Bank even more lawless and dangerous. Iran seeks to exploit this chaos. In Gaza, the Hamas terrorist group routinely fires salvos of rockets into Israel — including about three dozen very recently. All of this has been happening during the holy month of Ramadan, a period in which every year Iran has worked to stoke tensions and incite violence. This year has been no exception, with rioters at the Temple Mount throwing rocks and shooting fireworks at police. Little fires everywhere. That’s what the Israeli Defense Forces saw this month. And from all appearances, the IDF has snuffed all of them out. But there are no permanent victories in the Middle East — only permanent battles. To discuss, FDD Senior Vice President for Research Jonathan Schanzer (filling in for host Cliff May) is joined by Brigadier General Jacob Nagel. He’s the former acting Israeli National Security Advisor under Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. He’s also a Senior Fellow at FDD.
Deterring Aggression in the Pacific: A Conversation with General Kenneth S. Wilsbach
51:56Many in Washington speculate on the nature and urgency of the military threat from China and the readiness of U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific to deter and defeat aggression by Beijing. But rather than speculating from afar, it's important to hear candid, informed insights of the American military leaders and warfighters closest to the threat. They know best what’s actually going on. U.S. Air Force General Kenneth S. Wilsbach is the top U.S. Air Force officer in the Indo-Pacific, where he has served as Commander of Pacific Air Forces, Air Component Commander, and Executive Director of Pacific Air Combat Operations Staff since July 2020. That means he spends a good portion of his time focusing on the threat from the People’s Liberation Army and ensuring the more than 46,000 U.S. Airmen serving in the region have what they need to accomplish the missions they are given. In addition to these leadership positions, he’s also accumulated more than 5,000 hours in the cockpit. In other words, he’s someone leaders in Washington might want to listen to as they make important decisions related to China and the U.S. military. Why should Americans care about the Indo-Pacific and the situation in Taiwan — what’s going on there? What lessons might Beijing be learning from the war in Ukraine? How capable is China’s military? What aircraft, munitions, and capabilities do our forces most need in the Indo-Pacific? How should U.S. forces be arrayed in the region? As the military threat from China grows and Congress considers the Biden Administration’s fiscal year 2024 defense budget proposal, General Wilsbach discusses these and related issues with Bradley Bowman — senior director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP).
The U.S.-led Global Order and Its Discontents
47:04When you hear or read about the American-led rules-based liberal international order do you think: “Yes! That’s important to me and my grandchildren and it needs to be sustained at all costs!” Or do you agree with a recent front-page article in the Wall Street Journal that reported, with no hint of disapproval, that “China and its allies are no longer obliged to conform to a U.S.-led global order”? Or do you think: "What global order? I don’t see any global order!" These are just a few of the questions that host Cliff May asks our guest for this episode, Ambassador Kurt Volker. He served as the U.S. ambassador to NATO and is a leading expert in foreign and national security policy with over 35 years of experience in a variety of government, academic, and private sector capacities. Also joining the conversation is Reuel Marc Gerecht, resident scholar at FDD, whose previous career was in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations.
Six Months of Protests in Iran
55:39For more than six months now, the Iranian people have protested against the state by taking to the street, chanting "Woman! Life! Liberty!" and other anti-regime slogans. Iranians continue to show the world that they seek a government that represents their interests and values. The Iranian people are demanding freedom. To discuss, FDD Senior Fellow Behnam Ben Taleblu is joined by Darya Safai. Darya is an Iranian-Belgian author, human rights activist, and politician currently serving as a member of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives.
The Dark Side of the Coin
45:52With the implosion of FTX and the arrest of its founder, Washington finally woke up to the need for more effective regulation of cryptocurrency. Yet as government agencies and legislators take up the challenge of crypto regulation, the associated national security challenges need to be front and center, too. Relative anonymity or pseudonymity make crypto currency naturally attractive to those seeking to avoid government oversight and intervention — like criminals, terrorists, and the states that sponsor them. From cybercrime, terror finance, and sanctions busting to domestic extremism and drug and human trafficking, Washington needs a plan to tackle the unique challenges posed by crypto. To unpack everything, guest host and FDD Senior Advisor Rich Goldberg is joined by economic and national security experts Alex Levitov and Elaine Dezenski. Alex Levitov Alex is an associate managing director at K2 Integrity where he works with financial institutions, technology firms, and jurisdictional authorities to identify, assess, and mitigate risks associated with money laundering, terrorist financing, bribery and corruption, sanctions evasion, and other forms of illicit financial activity. He recently co-authored with Rich an FDD report on the risks of digital assets: The Underside of the Coin. Elaine Dezenski Elaine is the senior director and head of FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power. She’s a powerhouse and leading thinker on geopolitical risk, supply chain security, anti-corruption, and national security. Richard Goldberg Rich is the former Director for Countering Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction at the White House National Security Council. Prior to that, he focused on U.S. foreign assistance, including foreign military financing, international security assistance, development, and economic support funds as a staffer on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State-Foreign Operations. He also worked in the U.S. Senate, where he emerged a leading architect of the toughest sanctions on Iran. He was also the lead Republican negotiator for three rounds of sanctions targeting the Central Bank of Iran, the SWIFT financial messaging service, and entire sectors of the Iranian economy.