by John Hajjar (February 19, 2019)
As soon as Ambassador Nikki Haley announced her resignation as representative for the United States at the Security Council of the United Nations, speculation spread quickly about who her replacement might be. It quickly circulated that a short list already exists, which included President Donald Trump favorites: His daughter Ivanka, Dina Powell-Habib and later, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. Many ambassadors and highly qualified personalities are also considered for the job. But even though the choice for Haley’s successor may already have been decided, there is another candidate, who in my view would be an effective and timely choice for American representation at the United Nations.
In a recent press release, the American Mideast Coalition for Democracy (AMCD), a federation of NGOs, announced its endorsement for Professor Walid Phares as potential ambassador for the United States to the United Nations. The AMCD listed a number of other professional and academic achievements of the Beirut-born American scholar who has been serving as National Security and Foreign Policy analyst at Fox News since 2007. Phares’ CV and his activities over the past 28 years reveal the significant and long term work that qualify him, like other possible candidates for the prestigious and tough job of US ambassador at the UN. However, what makes Phares’ profile rise to the top is a combination of professional, political, academic and field experiences, unmatched for the current circumstances. Regardless of the right political balance, the man possesses several high points.
Professor Walid Phares was the first foreign policy advisor, among the five named personally by Presidential candidate Donald Trump in March 2016 at a meeting with The Washington Post’s editorial board. Hours later, the advisor was lambasted for over two months by Trump’s various and sundry opponents in American politics and media as well as by radical forces outside the US, including pro-Iran regime groups and radical Islamist sympathizers. In return, Phares produced some of the highest intensity media and diplomatic work during the campaign. He engaged in a strong informational campaign, reaching out to American, European, Latin American and international press with dozens of interviews, statements and reports highlighting the campaign agenda in foreign policy, which later became the foundation of the Trump administration’s broader policies when he took office in January 2017. Phares also met with many diplomats and foreign dignitaries, at their request, to answer questions about the Trump agenda. Both in the media and with diplomats, he strongly defended the campaign’s announcements and future policy plans. His dedication through the difficult days of the rough campaign, with an experienced intellectual sophistication, was comparable to Ambassador Nikki Haley’s larger task of implementing the administration’s international agenda during her service at the UN. Phares practiced—in more difficult circumstances if in smaller scope—for a whole year the same defense and promotion practiced by Haley for two years.
In his statements and meetings during 2016, Dr. Phares addressed similar issues and crises soon to rise in 2017-2019 while still in their infant stage, including what he called “the east Asian conflict,” encompassing the North Korean crisis, China’s expansion, as well as Japan and South Korea’s worries during the spring and summer of 2016. Phares reassured numerous diplomats and journalists that the United States wasn’t abandoning its allies in the region. (See here, here, here and here.)
Phares also met with many European diplomats and officials visiting Washington, DC (including several members of the European Parliament), and discussed US-European relations in light of Trump’s announced agenda revealed in his foreign policy and convention speeches during 2016, while also providing reassurance of US commitment toward the transatlantic alliance and common security.
In the same vein, the foreign policy advisor engaged with Latin American foreign ministers, ambassadors and diplomats from—among others—Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, and Mexico and has given several interviews to Hispanic and Portuguese language press, all of which helped better explain the campaign’s ideas towards this hemisphere. Phares argued that despite all the criticism regarding Trump’s statements regarding refugees and the border with Mexico, both countries were bound to cut a deal to regulate their relationship. He projected changes coming to Venezuela and Brazil as well.
However, the largest policy communication network Phares developed was with Arab, Middle Eastern and African representatives, from areas where criticism of US policy in general, and of the Trump agenda in particular, were the highest. The foreign policy advisor conducted relentless interviews with Arab media, discussed the agenda with dozens of ministers, ambassadors and diplomats and traveled to the region to conduct deeper research about radicalization and indoctrination, including to Egypt and the UAE. As early as 2014, Phares encouraged a new partnership with Egypt, meeting President Sisi, setting up the basic idea for an “Arab Alliance” and was behind the concepts of safe zones in Syria. He also expanded on the notion of a US involvement to protect the minorities in the Middle East, a subject he has defended for decades. As it was said last year, Walid Phares did not land a job in the administration after victory, but his ideas did land in the White House. In addition, Professor Phares launched a coalition of Middle East and liberal Muslims leaders to demonstrate that a Trump administration wouldn’t be “Islamophobic”—as the candidate’s foes accused.
American International Talent
Professor Phares’ views on the UN are more than a quarter of a century old. For decades, he has been calling for fundamental reform of the organization to de-indoctrinate the UN and re-center it as an umbrella for all, particularly the weakest of civil societies. As a presidential and congressional advisor, Walid Phares argued that the UN should not be used by powerful coalitions to suppress the smaller national groups while at the same time slamming the United States ideologically. He supports a Trump inspired approach to the organization. He advocates for a transformation of the institution to what it essentially was supposed to be in 1945—yet adapted to the realities of the 21st century. A strong supporter of human and humanitarian rights, he is a strong opponent of terrorism, extremism and radicalization.
Walid Phares is an American international talent who has the potential to serve this country on the international scene. He has command of the content and the ability to express it masterfully, often in different languages. Professor Phares has already served two presidential candidates, advised dozens of members of Congress and the European Parliament, briefed many government agencies and is well known by the American public from the media. I strongly urge the President to use his skills and capabilities as the US ambassador to the UN. Many Americans share my views.
2012 Republican Presidential Campaign, National Security
Prior to his foreign policy tenure in the Trump campaign, Phares was named four years earlier as a senior national security advisor to the Republican Presidential candidate. He served from 2011 to 2012. He was also a co-chair of the campaign’s Middle East Working group. He was part of a team that worked on regional plans, which included strategies on terrorism, positioning civil societies and development in the region. Professor Phares engaged not only American, but also the international media and European lawmakers in significant ways.
US Government Agencies
Under three administrations, Democrat and Republican, between 1994 and 2017, Professor Phares worked closely with national security agencies on counter terrorism through geopolitical seminars and training. Among his most impactful work internationally was his role as a lead engager with international military delegations from over sixty countries. Over the two decades, Phares was invited by defense and intelligence agencies around the globe to discuss international security and strategy.
From all of his work internationally on behalf of US national interest and security, Professor Phares was involved in two specific UN activities while advising several INGOs. One campaign in 2014-2015, and another earlier in 2003-2005.
2014 UN: “The Yazidis and Minorities Genocide”
His most recent push at the UN in New York was on behalf of a coalition of Middle East minorities seeking to petition the Security Council to address the mass ethnic cleansing that took place in June-August 2014 in northern Iraq. Professor Phares led a delegation to meet with almost all permanent members of the UNSC in August 2014 and drafted a document that denoted the actions by ISIS regarding minorities, as “genocide.” Furthermore, Phares identified two more designations to apply in the cases of Iraq and Syria: war crimes and crimes against humanity. Last but not least, the coalition’s advisor recommended the formation of an international tribunal to try the terror group and all involved in the genocide. All permanent missions of the UNSC and the office of the Secretariat General received the Phares drafted coalition memo.
In March of 2015, Phares and the delegation were received as observers to attend the debate at the Security Council session, and a resolution was issued confirming the main talking points advanced in August 2014.
2004 UNSCR 1559: Syria out of Lebanon
Ten years earlier, Professor Walid Phares had led an NGO delegation representing Lebanese Diaspora communities to UN Security Council to request the withdrawal of the Syrian occupation forces from Lebanon. He had designed the draft memo demanding the Syrian pull-out based on international law. The memo was used to trigger the text of UN resolution 1559, calling on Syria to withdraw and on all militias, including Hezbollah, to disarm. The resolution and a mass demonstration in Beirut in March 2005 led to the actual withdrawal in April of that year.
Roots of Phares’ Engagement in International Law
Professor Phares’ history in engaging in and arguing in international law started early on, after he obtained a Masters in International Law from the Jesuit University in Beirut and the Jean Moulin University in Lyons, France. His first book, published in Arabic at age 23, encompassed a “critique of the political coalitions in the UN General Assembly blocking cases for minorities’ liberation.” During the 1980s, he published several pieces on international law and ethnic conflicts. His first briefing to the UN was offered at age 24 in Geneva about human rights and minorities. In the early 1990s, after his immigration to the US, he obtained a Ph.D. in international relations with a focus on strategic studies and ethnic conflict from the University of Miami.
Throughout the 1990s, Phares taught world politics and comparative politics at Florida Atlantic University and published a book and several academic articles. In 1997 he testified for the first time at the US Senate on the status of minorities in the Middle East, and in 1998, he was consulted as an expert by Congress on legislation voted as the “International Religious Freedom Act.” The latter was the core of US policy on religious persecution for over two decades.
Phares the Communicator
Having already published several books and articles before and after his emigration to the US, professor Phares’ communications skills boomed after 9/11, when American and international media sought his expertise on terrorism, radicalism and geopolitics. He was hired by MSNBC between 2003 and 2007 as their resident terrorism analyst before he joined Fox News in 2007 at the request of Rupert Murdoch. Walid Phares remained the national security and foreign policy analyst at Fox News and Fox Business Channel for more than a decade, but he was also sought by international media, including Arabic, French, European, Asian, Latin American and African. From before (and following) the Arab Spring, Professor Phares appeared frequently on Arab TV channels, particularly in Egypt, the Gulf region, Iraq, Lebanon, and North Africa. His views on international law, conflicts and organizations, and US foreign policy have been at the heart of his powerful debates.
Professor Phares possesses a first class strategic mind and the ability to explain and defend American strategic interests forcefully on the one hand, and on the other, to handle delicate diplomatic situations at the highest levels. Both intellectually and temperamentally, he is the perfect fit for UN Ambassador.