Walid Phares: Migrant caravan is a 'super headache'

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," October 23, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: We have been following this give-and-take the president has had with reporters in the Oval Office.

It ended off on this caravan, who is who in the caravan. The president generated a great deal of controversy when he said that there were definitely MS-13 and other elements, ISIS elements, within the 7,000, he says as much as 10,000, as many as 10,000 migrants who are making their way here to the United States from all points South America, like Guatemala and Honduras, El Salvador.

But there was simply no way and we have seen no way to verify the fact that there were MS-13 elements or anything approaching that. The president said there is no proof of anything, which seemed to remove any of the doubts there might have been about the veracity of that statement.

But we have simply not heard separate confirmation of any such thing that there were elements like that within the 7,000 to 10,000 migrants who are making their way to the United States.

Much has been said about the makeup of this caravan and who is in it, who is not in it. I told you about the three countries in question, that they are largely, those three, some Mexicans could be added. There is an obligation, the president says, to make sure that there is a due process there.

He did say, as is the case, that we allow many into this country, in the latest people, better than 1.6 million, the legal way. This is not the way to go about it, that these are -- stressed, cases that would be taken on an individual basis.

The legal requirements are, once those seeking asylum status come into the United States, their paperwork is processed, the rap you hear from critics of this system that that ultimately they are given a date to come back and return to court and state their asylum case, but, by that time, they have long skipped town and they are in the United States.

Now, another idea that's been bandied about, that the president didn't touch on it here, but one idea that has been approached is that maybe the Mexicans hold them until they are cleared or their court dates are cleared.

That's a leap. But, again, I want to stress here there has been no independent confirmation of some of these migrants being terrorists or certainly parts of MS-13 or any other nefarious element.

There is simply no way to prove that. The suspicions notwithstanding, suspicions isn't good enough. And, as the president said -- and I thought this was a takeaway -- there is no proof of anything, which is not exactly a reassuring comment to make when you make a charge like that.

Having said that, Walid Phares says whether there are such elements within that group or not, the question is and becomes such a large group coming to our border and how we deal with that.

And that is a problem, right, Walid?

WALID PHARES, FOX NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND FOREIGN AFFAIRS ANALYST: It is a problem, of course, the sight of it and the thinking about it, what to do about it.

This is not individuals coming through our borders and then we need to do some vetting, and that alone is a headache. This is a super headache.  Why? Because, in security assessment, it's not the judicial clearing. A judicial clearing, yes, did you have any evidence that this person is M-13 or -- MS-13 or Hezbollah or Al Qaeda? No.

But in security assessments, you have to look at the trends. And there are multiple trends here, number one, that all these gangs across the Central America area, plus, in addition to that, the cartels, have tried before for many, many years. And we have established. There are hearings in Congress. So the trend is there.

Number two, the vice president said something very important. He said, we have information from our allies in Central America that the Venezuelan regime, with whom we are in conflict right now over many, many things, has been participating in pushing for this demonstration.

That, I will stop and say, wait a minute. The Venezuelan regime that is not assessment, this is now information we're talking about. And Venezuela has an alliance with Iran, has an alliance with Hezbollah. This is how the security assessment would say we need to make sure that we are secure.

CAVUTO: But just getting it on a whisper and a Q.T. from some allies doesn't make it so, Walid, right? I mean, this is not a new thing, where caravans of people have tried to come in, and using shear their numbers to try to walk through.

To think they have to be inspired or brought on by nefarious elements, that while that might indeed be the case, we still don't have the proof of that, do we?

PHARES: I don't think I'm in the position to say that we have the proof or not.

Our intelligence agencies, the counterintelligence agencies are the ones who should be actually inside the demonstration. That's why you felt hesitation on behalf of the president and the vice president to go in the details.

But in their security assessment, I imagine that they have asked this question to our intelligence community. And I imagine that some answers were made available.

CAVUTO: All right, well, we can hope that is the case.

Walid, in the meantime, you might be of the impression, hearing all of this, that we are shutting down the borders of this country, when, in fact, we have been averaging anywhere from 1.1 million to 1.2 million legal immigrants into this country going through the legal methods per year every year.

And that has continued under the Trump administration. It's actually accelerated a little bit. So, I think sometimes there is the misnomer out there that we are shutting down the border. But I'm wondering, from your vantage point, does this give an image that we are just trying to police people we don't want or people who are doing it the wrong way? What do you think?

PHARES: Look, my friend, I have been a legal immigrant. That's how I came to the United States. I wasn't born here.

So, thousands and thousands of people like me came and come every day to the United States. That's a normal thing. What we are looking at here is an organized movement which basically is not heeding the advice or instruction of, let us do the right thing, the vetting. Let us clear out things.

They want to get to the border and cross the border and prove a political point, an ideological point. That is suspicious. Had this movement, for example, accepted the notion of U.N.-sponsored humanitarian zone north of Guatemala or south of Mexico, many recommendations were made in that direction. The organizers refused.

So they don't have...

CAVUTO: But caravans themselves -- I just want to be clear on this.

Caravans themselves are groups of people with the same goal of getting to the United States or into Mexico in this case, that is not new. Obviously, there's a little bit more motion and heat attached it to these days, but that is not a new development. We have seen it before, right?

PHARES: We have seen attempts by groups of people to cross the border.

CAVUTO: All right, gotcha.

PHARES: Have we seen...


CAVUTO: Go ahead.

Walid, I'm sorry I'm interrupting you there. We are following up on, the State Department, Mike Pompeo taking questions, probably on the Saudi developments and maybe some other things the president just brought up.


CAVUTO: All right, we are going to continue monitoring this press conference with the secretary of state.

Suffice it to say that Mike Pompeo is moving and says the State Department is moving on meeting out some punishments for the Saudis' role in the death of The Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying that he would revoke some Saudi officials' visas. He didn't specify exactly which ones, probably among those 18 detained right now by the Saudi government, including former top attaches, communication directors and even military advisers for the crown prince, who so far is staying in his job.

The read on this with the retired Army General Stanley McChrystal. He's author of a new book out, "Leaders: Myth and Reality."

It's a fascinating look at both those who inspire and those who kind of intimidate and what keeps their base loyal to them. And these are not all wonderful characters. But the general is.

And he joins us right now. Thank you for coming, sir.


CAVUTO: First off, before we get into the book, how we handle this Saudi situation here.

The kingdom is roiled over this. They're announcing multibillion-dollar trade deals and the rest to sort of remind the world, we are important to you economically. President Trump said as much.

What do you think?

MCCHRYSTAL: These are very difficult.

And regardless of what the Saudis did or didn't do, this is a test for us.  It's sort of like if you have got a close friend or a relative who does something pretty bad, you have got that relationship, and you are probably going to have that relationship for years to come, like we will with the kingdom.

But it's a moment where we have to decide what our values are. And we can't pretend that those values don't apply now just because we weren't involved in the apparent killing.

What we have got to do is send a clear message to the world and to ourselves what's important to our children. What's important, what are our values?

And so we need to take a long-term view of that. And I think that being firm is going to be key, because it's not just the Saudis who are watching.  It's the world, whole world.

CAVUTO: All right, you talk about -- obviously, what's keeping that world together is the royal family. Right?

And there's a great deal of loyalty certainly among the royal family, or there was until the crown prince came along and imprisoned, albeit in a very hotel, a lot of his relatives, fellow princes and the like. That should have been a tipping point, as he was extracting billions from them, that he wasn't everything he appeared.

Why do we have to stay loyal to someone like that?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, it's one of these decisions.

You can on one hand say, it's not our business to go into other country and change their form of government. On the other hand, it's not our business necessarily to endorse it and prop it up.

So, I think there are cases where we have to be very clear-eyed with countries, have relationships, but have the kind of relationship where we say, we don't think what you are doing is acceptable. We're not going to do regime change. We don't believe that...


CAVUTO: What if the crown prince stays, General?

We -- to your point, we really can't change that.


CAVUTO: But, I mean, a lot of people are wincing at the idea that we stick with the Saudis simply because there is so much money involved.

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, I think that would be a mistake.

I actually think the Saudis need the United States much more than we need the Saudis. And we should understand that, particularly in the oil markets in the world.

CAVUTO: So, when the president says something, if we abandon them, they are only going to give those contracts to someone else, like the Chinese, the Russians, you say?

MCCHRYSTAL: Yes, I think that's a pretty short-term concern.

You know, a few contracts -- and they are not going to equal the kind of money that the president says they are. They never have historically.  There are always promises.

CAVUTO: So, the $110 billion is actually much less?

MCCHRYSTAL: Absolutely.

So, we shouldn't think that way. Our values are worth a lot more than that. And our credibility around the world is priceless.

CAVUTO: All right.

Let's talk a little bit about the book, because a lot of it comes to mind here. And I was thinking of the president, sir, not you. You eschew politics, which is very wise.

But you talk about loyalty, or what keeps people loyal to even bosses who can be pretty nasty. Obviously, you go back to Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, of course. There were a great deal of casualty counts and the like from those who worked with him or briefly lived with him, under his leadership, all the way to people like Walt Disney, the great entertainer, who wasn't good at sharing credit, certainly not good at making a very nice working environment for those around him.

But they all wanted to be part of that and be around the glow of that.

Many argue the president has that same mystique, the controversies notwithstanding, that there is an excitement, a buzz to be with him, even with all the discord that's been written about. What do you think?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, I would say we have a crisis in leadership in the United States. It's not the president of the United States or any single person.  It's leadership at large.

And, as I studied this, and we spent a lot of time on it, we spent a lifetime of practicing leadership, what I have come to conclusion is, leadership isn't what we think it is, and it never has been.

When we go back and look at the historical characters in this book, like Harriet Tubman or Martin Luther King Jr. or Margaret Thatcher, what we find are complex characters. And, in many cases, they don't produce the results we think they will.

They sometimes take us into pretty difficult places. And it's really incumbent upon followers. Leadership is not something that someone directs at us and affects us. Leadership is a relationship between leaders and followers.

And we have agency. We have responsibility. If we go a bad place with a leader who shouldn't have taken us there, we are equally responsible for our responses to that.

I would say that there is a magnetism or a -- almost like moths to a flame around charismatic or celebrity or very zealot-like leaders, because they just burn a white-hot flame, and we're attracted to that.

But the reality is, sometimes, that can be very dangerous. Sometimes, it can be very positive.

CAVUTO: Is President Trump's flame dangerous?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think President Trump's flame burns very bright.

And I think, sometimes, when you stare into a bright flame, it's hard to focus your eyes, and you look at certain things and you choose to ignore other things.

And I think, you go back in history, when other very populist leaders have taken a group or a nation in a direction, there is often regret afterward.  And I think, in many cases here, we need to put a tougher lens on all our leaders, not just President Trump, but all of them, and ask hard questions.

CAVUTO: Well, he is the leader of renown, so he gets the attention he does.

But you apply this to both who you would think are obvious champions, and those who are anything but. I was surprised that Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader who was among those who beheaded Nicholas Bergdahl -- we all remember that -- that he was part of that passionate, you know, leadership that just enthralled.

What did you mean by that? Why was he included here? Because he was not a nice guy.

MCCHRYSTAL: No, he was not.

And I spent two-and-a-half years fighting him, and, ultimately, we killed him. And I stood over his body right after we killed him with sort of mixed feelings.

I was glad he was dead. But there was an awful lot of respect for him.  Here's a guy who grew up with nothing in a tough town, in Zarqa, Jordan.  As a young man, he get involved in crime and whatnot, got tattoos on his body.

But then he became ideologically committed when he went to Afghanistan.  And then, during his five years in a Jordanian prison, he tried to remove the tattoos with bleach.

CAVUTO: Right.

MCCHRYSTAL: And then he took a razor blade and cut one off, very openly to all the other inmates. What he was showing was, I am committed, I'm ideologically pure, I am strong.

CAVUTO: Yes, but I read that, General, that, all right, this guy is a nut.

MCCHRYSTAL: No, I think what you read is, here's somebody who is so committed, so willing to give for the cause.


CAVUTO: Even if it meant taking on Usama bin Laden, right?


MCCHRYSTAL: That's right. He took on Usama bin Laden.

Then he committed these horrific murders, and in some way, we recoil from that beheading of Nicholas Bergdahl.

CAVUTO: But they were to make a point on his part, right?

MCCHRYSTAL: That's right.

CAVUTO: Right.

MCCHRYSTAL: He showed people...

CAVUTO: But he created what is now ISIS, if you think about it.

MCCHRYSTAL: He is the godfather of ISIS, not Usama bin Laden.

CAVUTO: So you included him for what reason?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, as much as we may disagree with him, he was a very effective leader.

And if you step back and go from his perspective, what makes him wrong and us right? The reality is, there was a lot of blood spilled on both sides.

I am glad we defeated him. But here's a guy who was completely committed to his cause.

CAVUTO: And we have to understand that, right? And you have gone again and again, even in cases where it would be a little unusual -- the Walt Disney example.

He was quite a tough taskmaster, not good at treating his people well, but they all wanted to be part of that. Then there's Martin Luther King. And you go back to Martin Luther, comparing him.

But they all had what in common? What -- because they weren't necessarily popular people, but they could -- they could extract huge loyalties.

MCCHRYSTAL: In very different ways.

Robespierre basically sat in his room and wrote speeches. Zarqawi went out and killed people.

Walt Disney created this team of animators and then pushed them to create the breakthrough picture "Snow White" in 1937.

CAVUTO: But they knew they were part of something bigger than themselves, right?

MCCHRYSTAL: The leader managed to create the idea that, that's right, they were part of something special.

People would stand like human mannequins for Coco Chanel for hours.

CAVUTO: Right.

MCCHRYSTAL: She was a bit abusive. And she'd be...

CAVUTO: A bit abusive? I had no idea know how much.


MCCHRYSTAL: I didn't know she existed before I started writing this book.


CAVUTO: But I thought General McChrystal is talking about Coco, then I thought this is -- he is really renaissance now.

MCCHRYSTAL: Yes, you guys were really worried about me at that point.

CAVUTO: Yes, right, right.

MCCHRYSTAL: But they would stand there, but they would not lead the organization. They wanted -- because Coco Chanel created something special you wanted to be a part of, like Martin Luther King Jr. did with the civil rights movement.

He was never elected, never appointed. He just was...

CAVUTO: And a flawed human being, but that didn't matter.

MCCHRYSTAL: Absolutely.

CAVUTO: Robert E. Lee, a flawed human being. You took his picture down in your office. You talk about it. You start out the book with him.

And I'm wondering, was that a post-Charlottesville issue for you? Because my only criticism of you -- I can say this now because you are sitting at a bit of a distance -- is that that...


CAVUTO: We all knew about that. We all knew about the slavery. We knew about it all.

So, why, after admiring his military skill, his leadership skills, all his obvious gravitas at the time, why did you turn on him?

MCCHRYSTAL: This was the toughest for me to do and the toughest to write.

After Charlottesville, I had had this picture my wife had given me 40 years before. And I had hung it in every set of quarters we lived in.

And she said, "I think that picture may be communicating something to visitors that you don't think it is."

And I said, "No, he is just a general. He is apolitical."

She says, "Visitors may not feel that way. They may see the symbol that groups had taken after the Civil War and used Robert E. Lee for."

And it was a fair point. So I didn't want to be associated with that. I took it down.

CAVUTO: She's not the same woman that had you write about Coco, was she?



CAVUTO: Just curious.

Go ahead. I'm sorry.

MCCHRYSTAL: And then, as we started to study Robert E. Lee -- I started being hugely supportive, because he is almost the penultimate, perfect military leader. He's courteous, he's courageous, he's decisive. He's all of these things.

The problem is, at a critical moment in his life, not when he was a young person, but when he had been in the Army for 32 years, after graduating from West Point, and he got the opportunity to make this decision.

And what he decided to do was violate the oath that I took on a plane at West Point later to go against the nation that he'd been sworn to and that his role model, George Washington, had, in fact, helped create.

CAVUTO: But that was a tortured decision. It's a famously tortured decision, that he owed his obligation to the people with whom he was surrounded.

MCCHRYSTAL: And he did it to support the institution of slavery, which wasn't a hidden issue.


CAVUTO: But you knew that prior.

MCCHRYSTAL: I did, but like many people, I sort of compartmented it.

CAVUTO: Understood. Yes.

MCCHRYSTAL: I said, this is Lee, the general. And they'd say, well, Lee, the slave owner, Lee, the opponent to the United States.

I sort of put it away and said, yes, but that's not -- that doesn't matter.  He's a general.

But everything we do matters. It makes all of us human and complex.

CAVUTO: But part of when you look at them, General, is you see them warts and all.

The only one I think got a pass in your book, or at least got -- was a good guy, struck me, was Albert Einstein, as just a human being, besides being brilliant and avant-garde thinker. He just seemed like a nice guy.

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, he looks like your uncle.

CAVUTO: Right.

MCCHRYSTAL: He was unfaithful to his wife sort of serially.


MCCHRYSTAL: He did some amazing things.

But I think Einstein's great genius was his approachability. He took something that none of us can understanding, physics.

CAVUTO: Right.

MCCHRYSTAL: And in his persona, his willingness to help other young physicists, he created an atmosphere in which science could move forward.  He became symbol for it, an advocate for it, even though, really, almost all of his real contributions happened before 1923.

CAVUTO: Thirty years before his death. You're right.

What is your sense, General, about...

MCCHRYSTAL: Call me Stanley.

CAVUTO: Well, I can't. You're a general.

MCCHRYSTAL: Come on. Come on.

CAVUTO: You can call me Mr. Cavuto.


CAVUTO: But, in all seriousness, what is your sense then these days are lessons for leaders today?

I think of President Trump, and a lot of it goes back and forth. You again try to eschew the politics. But I use these examples as describe their base, their loyalty, what keeps people with them. The president generates these huge crowds among a base that believes every word he says, will not question the very controversial comments he has made about MS-13 elements, ISIS elements within this caravan.

Might or might not be so. I have seen -- and I have done some reporting on this, sir. I have seen nothing to verify or confirm that. If and when I do, I will be happy to pass it along. I can't. I don't.

So -- but it plays on a perception that many have who follow him that he is right, and they will never doubt him. What do you think of that?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think that's dangerous for any leader. And I think leadership is very contextual. And a leader who is good at connecting with followers and finding out a resonation...

CAVUTO: But he is very good at that.

MCCHRYSTAL: He is brilliant at it.

But followers have a responsibility as well. What do we -- if we step back and look in the mirror and say, what do we want from our leaders, and we say we want integrity, we want values, we want decisiveness.

And you could have a list of those things. And if we look and say...

CAVUTO: But all the great leaders you looked at, many of them don't have those qualities.

MCCHRYSTAL: They don't have all those.

But if we look at that's what we want, we, as followers, have part of the responsibility to help pull that or demand that in our leaders. We will never find perfect leaders. There aren't any. And you can't sit at that...

CAVUTO: But there are a lot of people who are making the assumption of this caravan coming here, General, that it's all these nefarious elements.  Now, some might not be. I don't know. Can't prove it.

Isn't that misleading people?

MCCHRYSTAL: When I used to counsel young military leaders, I said there is something called cheap leadership tricks.

And one of them is, when you take commands of an organization, the first thing you do is demonize your higher headquarters. You say, the idiots up there don't understand.

CAVUTO: Right.

MCCHRYSTAL: And, temporarily, what it does is, it brings the team together around you. And you feel popular.

What happens over time is, they understand that higher headquarters is not all screwed up. And your credibility starts to drop.

It's the same thing with abusing your clients or your allies or your -- anyone you have relationships with. In a very short term, you can do an awful lot of things.

In the long term -- look at Mexico today.


MCCHRYSTAL: Mexico is not interested in helping us with the migrant caravan. Why would they?

If we had a closer relationship, a more respectful relationship, they might process that slightly differently.

But I -- when I commanded in Afghanistan, I commanded a 46-nation coalition. Most of those nations were there because we, the United States, asked them to be there. They didn't have interests in Afghanistan. But they thought the relationship to us mattered.

I would argue, the more we fail to maintain that, the more we fail to respect that, over time, when you call, it won't be 46 nations. It may be four. And then, someday, we may call, and there may be none. And we can say, well, that's fine.

I don't think so.

CAVUTO: The president and his loyalists might call you some names, based on what you just said.

MCCHRYSTAL: I have been called names before.

I think what we have to be do is be honest. I think we have to really decide what matters to us.

CAVUTO: All right, well, this book does that.

I don't care whether you are on the right or left, folks. It makes you think. He has some unusual pairings, like I said, the Martin Luther-Martin Luther one, the Walt Disney one. There are some that make you think and step back. What -- what breeds loyalty? What makes leaders?

They are not necessarily saints, but they have a unique skill set that keeps people watching them. Who it applies to, how it applies today, that's for the reader to decide.

It's going to be a runaway bestseller, if it isn't already.

Stanley McChrystal, thank you very, very much. "Leaders: Myth and Reality."

That will do it here. "The Five" is now.

A reminder, again, we were down 125 points. We did OK by day's end.

Here's "The Five."
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