Richard Engel Quotes

  1. Bhutto’s regime is remembered for having one of the worst human rights records in Pakistan’s history, and her government did not allow the media freedoms she criticizes Musharraf for crushing.
  2. The U.S. presence and American missteps made ethnic violence in Iraq far worse than it would have been otherwise after Saddam Saddam Hussein’s fall.
  3. Egypt has a presidential system. The president runs the state. Who the president is matters profoundly.
  4. Not surprisingly, in most Sunni regions there has little appetite for free U.S.-sponsored elections.
  5. Foreigners who speak Arabic in the Middle East are often assumed to be working for the C.I.A. or Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad.
  6. The Sahara is Africa’s great divide.
  7. Any information about U.S. special operations forces is highly sensitive.
  8. Under Islamic law, adoption is difficult.
  9. I don’t look for good-news stories or bad-news stories.
  10. Afghanistan was always a backwater in the Islamic world.
  11. The United States encouraged Iraqis to rise up after Saddam Hussein’s army was driven out of Kuwait. Washington assumed Saddam was weak after losing the 1991 Gulf War. Iraqis rose up, but Saddam’s troops killed thousands – Iraqis say tens of thousands – in a counter-offensive.
  12. In the 1990s, Islamists in Algeria won elections like the Brotherhood did in Egypt. The Algerian military refused to allow the Islamists to take power. A war erupted, killing between 100,000 to 200,000 people, depending on which estimates are to be believed.
  13. Unfortunately, the American policy towards Pakistan is just to worry and express concern, and that is not a clear policy at all.
  14. The U.S. spent billions of dollars to build a secular, professional national Iraqi army but failed because, despite all the U.S.-supplied guns, tanks and planes, the Iraqi military fell apart when challenged by a band of terrorists.
  15. Some Iraqi troops aren’t willing to fight for their government. But many Shiites appear willing to fight for their religious leaders.
  16. Foreign aid projects have pumped billions of dollars into the Afghan economy.
  17. You gotta love the names. They’re so eager, earnest, and hopeful: Camp Prosperity, Camp Liberty, and Camp Victory are the names of just a few of the U.S. military bases in Baghdad.
  18. ISIS is in many ways a creation of the Syrian regime.
  19. President George W. Bush, in his now-rare public appearances and interviews, still refuses to acknowledge he did anything to help Iran. But it doesn’t really matter what he thinks.
  20. There are clearly many Egyptian free-thinkers and intellectuals – lots of wonderful Egyptian artists and architects and scientists.
  21. A nuclear program has arguably worked as a deterrent for North Korea and other states – would Moammar Gadhafi have been deposed and summarily killed if Libya had had nuclear weapons? Iranians might not think so.
  22. Turkey wants to see Bashar al-Assad go and wants to kind of expand its sphere of influence into Turkey so its Ottoman glory or Ottoman past are once again project into the Syrian provinces. That’s kind of what Turkey’s vision is.
  23. Every child is taught if you try to please everyone, you end up upsetting everyone.
  24. Faced with the crippling sanctions, Iran could simply decide it is paying too high a cost to pursue its nuclear program and could opt for negotiations and reconciliation with the United States and other members of the international community. This is clearly the preferred option of American leaders.
  25. For eight years, you had the Bush administration with a very interventionist policy, driving into world affairs, driving primarily into the Islamic world, army first or fist first.
  26. In popular Egyptian and regional culture, women are seen as weak, easy victims to temptation in the same way Eve couldn’t resist that shiny apple in the Garden of Eden.
  27. For many foreign fighters, the jihad in Iraq and Syria is a commuter war.
  28. Ethnically, Tuareg describe themselves as white. And they don’t look Arab or black. Many Tuareg have light skin, light eyes and sharp angular noses and cheekbones. They are cousins of the Berbers of North Africa. Some legends say the Tuareg are the decedents of an ancient Roman legion that disappeared into the desert two millennia ago.
  29. There is no Afghan Awakening Movement.
  30. President Bashar Assad’s regime is in the unique position of being targeted both by Israel and supporters of al Qaeda.
  31. Traditionally, all the kings of Saudi Arabia have been sons of the founder of Saudi Arabia, and they’ve gone from one son to the next.
  32. I have seen heroics – soldiers saving other soldiers’ lives – and horrors.
  33. If Syria collapses completely, the United States and the world would have to consider who, and what, fills the vacuum.
  34. We know that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has some very dangerous, very important leaders who are tied directly to the top leadership of al Qaeda central, including a man who was formerly Osama bin Laden’s secretary.
  35. The truth was, there was never a connection between Iraq and Osama Bin Laden. There were no weapons of mass destruction, either.
  36. Syrians need to prepare for the aftermath if the Assad regime falls. Atrocities that could be considered war crimes have been committed in this country, and Syrians should rightly demand that the perpetrators be held accountable.
  37. Every war has revolutionary justice.
  38. Persia is 7,000 years old and will fight to survive.
  39. When you look at – when you talk to people in Africa and across the Middle East, they’re not satisfied with the way things are going. Sure, this idea of democracy was injected into the region, but it has brought mostly chaos.
  40. On one level, bombing ISIS is easy. The U.S. knows where the group operates. There’s no need for a ten-year hunt like the one for Osama bin Laden. The terror group has two capital cities: Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. Al-Qaeda never had such an obvious home address.
  41. I think it’s really important to start thinking about infrastructure as essential national security.
  42. Egypt is the most populous Arab nation, the seat of Sunni Islamic doctrine, and has tremendous political, religious and social influence on the rest of the region. For better or worse, it will lead the rest of the Middle East by example. So goes Egypt, so goes the region.
  43. I think war should be illegal.
  44. Mali exists mostly to itself. Few people go there. Few Malians leave. Most of Mali’s 13 million people live, and seem to live quite happily, off the rice, corn and millet they grow and the long-horn cattle and goats they keep.
  45. An Egyptian newspaper once publicly identified me as the C.I.A. station chief in Cairo. It seemed so stupid at the time. I was only 24, a little young to be a station chief, and, of course, I was never with the C.I.A.
  46. There was an insurgency under President Hosni Mubarak in the 1990s. Egyptian police and soldiers fought weekly battles with Islamists in the sugarcane fields and thick reeds along the Nile in rural southern villages like Minya, Sohag, Enna and Assiout.
  47. The U.S. invaded the wrong country, destroying an odious government that was not responsible for 9/11. I don’t know how you recover from invading the wrong country, no matter how you spin it.
  48. When you look at Syria, and you look at all the militant groups on the ground, there are many groups in Syria that could pose a threat to the United States, not just Khorasan.
  49. Hezbollah and the government are only two of 18 political factions in Lebanon, most of them armed. There are militant Christian groups, Palestinian radicals, al-Qaida, Druze militias and even armed bands of Marxists still operating in Lebanon.
  50. Bin Laden is dead, and most of his friends are dead. But did it need to cost a trillion dollars and two land wars, including one that didn’t have to do with Al Qaeda? Probably not.
  51. For years, Lebanese have known that Palestinian camps like Nahr al-Barid and Ain al-Helwe – hopeless slums crowded with generations of disenfranchised Palestinian refugees who can’t go home because of Israel, and can’t work because of Lebanese laws – are awash with gunmen, criminals and, since the war in Iraq, al-Qaida inspired jihadists.
  52. ‘Shabiha’ is a difficult word to translate into English. It comes from the word Syrians used to describe the luxury Mercedes favored by the Assad family’s operatives that the enforcers of the regime used to move money, smuggle weapons and intimidate opponents.
  53. By 2007, Iraqi society had completely collapsed.
  54. The Muslim Brotherhood is a fundamentalist group.
  55. Insurgencies are easy to make and hard to stop. Only a few ingredients need to combine to create an insurgency; like oxygen and fire, they’re very common and mix all too often. The recipe is, simply, a legitimate grievance against a state, a state that refuses to compromise, a quorum of angry people, and access to weapons.
  56. A lot of Iran’s empowerment is a result of the war in Iraq.
  57. Based on the people l’ve spoken to, I think the impression is: Is America safer from Al Qaeda? Yes. Is America weaker as a nation because we have overspent and over-focused on Al Qaeda? Yes. I think that would be the conclusion that people seem to have come to and that I tend to agree with.
  58. War is not a petri dish to examine and analyze our emotions.
  59. Egypt has a devout population. People go out, they pray, they fast.
  60. We should have a time to reflect on the accomplishments of the military, of their sacrifices, of their failures.
  61. Everyone knows what can happen to soldiers who are in front line units.
  62. There weren’t many weapons in Egypt in the 1990s. Police controls on guns were very strict back then. That is no longer the case in Egypt today.
  63. Israel specifically does not want Syria to hand over weapons, chemical or conventional, to Hezbollah.
  64. What is the Obama Doctrine? It seems to be one of disengagement, to try to ignore the hot, religious, dry, poor countries from Algeria to Pakistan.
  65. The Israeli military believes it has destroyed all of Hamas’s tunnels, or at least all the ones it knew about.
  66. I’m basically a pacifist.
  67. It’s probably time to end the global war on terrorism.
  68. Initially, before the modern state of Iraq was created, there were three separate provinces here: a Shiite in the south, a largely Sunni one in the middle, and a Kurdish one in the north.
  69. Under a decades-old agreement, Palestinian refugee camps are supposed to administer and police themselves. Lebanese troops are technically not allowed to enter them.
  70. Kidnapping is always a threat in this life of reporting on men hurting one another because of religion and politics.
  71. War does horrible things to human beings, to societies. It brings out the best, but most often the worst, in our human nature.
  72. Fences and walls can be effective and even soothing, at least for those who build them.
  73. Osama bin Laden organized an attack that was carried out against the United States, New York, Pentagon, and the other aircraft, with 19 attackers, 19 guys with box cutters. An attack that probably cost almost nothing.
  74. Israel is becoming a fortress. Fences along the borders with Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria.
  75. Putin believes Russia is back, and he may be right.
  76. Iraq was home of the Abbasid Caliphate, a golden age when the Muslim world was at the forefront of math, science and medicine.
  77. The U.S. spent years and years and billions of dollars to build the Iraqi army only to watch it collapse and hand over so many of its weapons.
  78. There are many Israelis who are not keen on Barack Obama – they did not want to see him elected.
  79. The dangers of an Afghan collapse are many: Afghan deaths, a loss of American prestige, a loss of NATO prestige, a moral blow to U.S. troops and veterans, a Taliban resurgence, huge setbacks for women, and greater power for Pakistan and Pakistani extremists.
  80. Every country where the the United States maintains troops has a status of forces agreement.
  81. ISIS controls a territory roughly the size of Maryland where 8 million people live. If it’s attacked and toppled, who will fill the void?
  82. Israel sees the world just beyond its borders collapsing.
  83. The U.S., often in secret, carries out counterterrorism missions all the time, with drones in places like Yemen and Somalia.
  84. Each time there is a conflict between Israel and Gaza, accusations fly over who started it, each side blaming the other.
  85. Israel is shutting out the Arab world and shutting itself in.
  86. It seems nothing good comes out of Abu Ghraib.
  87. Once you start bombing in Syria, when you start looking for targets, there will be a lot.
  88. Lebanon does not have a powerful army.
  89. The Muslim Brotherhood is much more hardline than Turkish Islamists.
  90. The Muslim Prophet Mohammed was a big believer in charity and firmly established helping those in need as a basis of the religion.
  91. Rockets fired by the Taliban generally aren’t guided.
  92. The Muslim Brotherhood, or ‘the Brotherhood’ for short, is an Islamic group founded in Egypt in 1928. It has been pursuing a secret campaign to take over the government since its creation.
  93. Every war has its demons.
  94. Anyone who follows the Middle East and Islamic world in general can’t deny it is often a very violent place, that a band of instability now stretches from Algeria to Pakistan.
  95. The people of Gaza are trapped. Israel has sealed the border, and they have no way to leave the Gaza Strip to do business.
  96. For decades, Saddam and his Sunni minority had imposed their will on Iraq, carrying on a 14-century tradition of Sunnis controlling Mesopotamia despite a Shiite majority.
  97. Many in the U.S. military believe ISIS needs to be immediately, and repeatedly, smashed by American drones and warplanes.
  98. Damascus was the seat of the Ummayad Caliphate in the 7th and 8th centuries.
  99. Shaped like Texas, but twice as big, Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. It exports almost nothing – mostly just cotton, gold and livestock – and doesn’t have enough money to import much of anything, either.
  100. Afghanistan and Iraq were lumped together in what was called a ‘global war on terrorism.’
  101. I don’t think you’re going to be seeing the U.S. employing large army divisions to deal with small terrorist groups again. I don’t think they’re going to be occupying foreign nations in order to dry up terrorist groups within them. I think that lesson has been learned.
  102. When I first arrived in Baghdad in January 2003, I thought I would soon rent a house and envisioned myself swimming in the Tigris to cool off after reporting in the city the caliphs called Madinit al-Salam, the City of Peace. A year later, I realized I wouldn’t be taking any midnight dips – Madinat al-Salam no more.
  103. The Taliban may pine for a pre-industrial society, but most Afghans do not.
  104. The Donetsk People’s Republic is the self-declared pro-Russian government that wants to break away from Ukraine.
  105. I think the Chinese model is one that appeals more and more in the developing world. People see that an authoritarian state can hold onto power, can hold on to stability and can drive the economy forward.
  106. War can be fun for certain people. It’s a magnet for sadists, losers, and angry dreamers.
  107. 9/11 was a terrible, horrific, tragic day.
  108. The Taliban mostly attacks international and Afghan security forces. They rarely carry out attacks in markets.
  109. In October 2008, American commandos launched a cross-border raid into Syria to capture an Islamic militant known as Abu Ghadiya. He was accused of being one of al Qaeda in Iraq’s main smugglers of fighters and money between Iraq and Syria.
  110. Many senior government officials, CIA, FBI, counter terrorism officials – when they look back at the decade, they effectively conclude that the United States overreacted after 9/11.
  111. The Syrian border town of Qa’im was the main gateway Islamic radicals used to go to Iraq. Syria became the passageway for extremists from Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations to fight a jihad against American forces in Iraq.
  112. I had some training on how to cope with hostage-taking.
  113. If democracy brings an undemocratic group to power, is that a victory for democracy?
  114. We’re all bloggers and punks and rebels with cameras. There is absolutely no respect for career journalists anymore.
  115. Assad’s regime helped ISIS grow by attacking other opposition forces and rarely targeting ISIS.
  116. Staying in a very public fight with the U.S. is exactly what Al Qaeda wants.
  117. Afghanistan does have an air force: It has two C-130s. I saw one of them. It was nice, a gift from the United States. But two planes don’t even make a Caribbean charter airline, let alone an air force for a country at war.
  118. Osama Bin Laden is dead. Killed not by a massive troop deployment but by a commando raid carried out by a few dozen highly trained men and helicopters.
  119. To be slapped with a shoe is a dirty insult in the Muslim world.
  120. I don’t think I’m invincible.
  121. Women, who enjoyed a high social status and levels of education under Saddam, saw terrible setbacks as Iraq fell into civil war. As a result of the sectarian violence from 2005-2007, women retreated to their homes and fell from public view.
  122. After literally hundreds of firefights, Chosen Company became increasingly battle-hardened. And they also became increasingly suspicious of their Afghan counterparts, believing – with their lives on the line at the end of the day – that they could only truly rely on themselves.
  123. The Arab Spring is over. The days of the protesters with laptops and BlackBerrys in Tahrir Square are long gone.
  124. The Iraqi government will try and retake some of the cities have that been captured by ISIS. That means the Shiite government dropping bombs on civilian areas, on Sunni cities. There will likely be a response with car bombings here in Baghdad, and this could be a long fight.
  125. Hamas has long been Israel’s enemy, but in the wake of the Arab Spring, the group is empowered like never before.
  126. When students and liberals initially occupied Tahrir Square, it looked like it might be a passing thing.
  127. If Israel sees weapons moving toward its border, it acts.
  128. Hamas is a Palestinian political party with an aggressive militant wing.
  129. Many governments are quick to condemn Assad, but a dwindling number of them would celebrate a rebel victory in Damascus.
  130. In 2009, Hamas was relatively new to power. It had won elections just three years earlier and was flexing its newfound strength via a war with its old enemy, Israel, which it officially wants destroyed.
  131. If you’re in part of rebel-controlled Syria, and suddenly your house blows up or a building next to you blows up, it would be convenient for rebels to say, ‘It was the Americans.’
  132. The Syrians are better suited to sort out their internal divisions than anyone else.

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