POMED Notes: “The U.S. and the Greater Middle East”
On Tuesday, July 17, the New America Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Center for a New American Security, hosted an event entitled “The U.S. and the Greater Middle East.” The featured speaker was Ambassador Dennis Ross, with responding panelists Dr. Marc Lynch, Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Center for New American Security; Danielle Pletka, Vice President of the Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute; and Douglas Ollivant Former Director for Iraq on the National Security Council under the Bush and Obama administrations and Senior National Security Studies Fellow at the New America Foundation. The discussion was moderated by Peter Bergen, Director of the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation.
For the full notes, please continue reading. Or, click here for the PDF.
Dennis Ross opened noting that in much of the region people now see themselves as citizens and not subjects. This is a reminder of why this process should be expected take a long time, because the means and institutions that create the accountability that accompanies citizenship must be developed. Therefore, the process will be marked by ups and downs and certainly will not be linear. Ross argued that the question in the present reality, in which Islamists emerged in the early going, is what they will do, how will they build? What is the focal point of their governance going to be? He believes that U.S. efforts in the region ought to be guided by a set of principles that include respect for minority and women’s rights, political space where competition can thrive, and a respect for international obligations. The more we can be true to a set of principles, the better U.S. efforts will work.
Many believed, Ross asserted, that the Arab Awakening would be an opportunity for Iran, but it did not make the gains in the region many expected. He feels that there aren’t many in the region who think it is a good idea for Iran to have nuclear weapons, and the policy of the Obama administration – prevention instead of containment – is the right objective. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for diplomacy to achieve that objective. If diplomacy is going to work on Iran’s nuclear program, the 5 + 1 fearing its failure more than Iran must change.
As Syria is concerned, Ross argued, the longer it goes on the more likely it is that central authority is going to break down, the more sectarian divides will harden, and the more likely it is Syria will face a partition. Moreover the balance of power must be changed to facilitate the exit of Bashar al-Assad. Russia must change their posture, understanding that they can play a role in a transition, or the rest of the world will stop coming to them. In addition, an effort must be made to appeal to the Alawis. The Saudis, he asserted, ought to be offering Alawis assurances because of their ties to the community. Finally, efforts to create a safe-haven in Turkey may have an effect on changing the balance of power.
Turning to the issue of Arab-Israeli peace, Ross argued that the difficulty of making progress today is that neither side believes in the possibility for a resolution. There is a conviction that a two-state solution is not possible, therefore the prospects for a political process lacks credibility. Ross believes that a new dynamic is necessary and outlined six steps each side could make to improve the credibility of their interests in a two-state solution. Such steps would constitute a highly unusual “virtuous cycle” that would feed upon itself.
The panel was then opened for discussion and response. Danielle Pletka commented on the Syria crisis, noting that in the case of the U.S. the question is what has been done, or what has not been done. The well-articulated and executed principles that guided the U.S. in Libya have not been present in its response to Syria and has led to a sense of confusion for those in the region. She believes that safe havens are a possible question, that the U.S. can avoid mission creep, and there is much more we can do. However, we need to have a set of principles we can uniformly apply to the region.
Marc Lynch disagreed. The important thing to keep in mind, he argued, is that Libya is not Syria. It is important for U.S. foreign policy to be guided by coherent principles, but you don’t have to mindlessly repeat the same response in every case. Syria does not have the confluence of factors that made intervention in Libya possible. The major disagreement is about what kind of U.S. interaction will influence a desirable outcome. In addition, Lynch asserted that Bahrain was extremely important in introducing sectarian polarization into the equation during the Arab Uprising. Essentially helping to break the momentum of the uprisings. In regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict, he sees no prospect for gains in the near future. He wondered, though, when the Arab Uprising would hit the Palestinian territories. Such an event could be a potential game changer.
Douglas Ollivant felt that creating a safe-haven outside of Syria is not impossible, but it would be very hard. He cautioned against arming the Syrian opposition, asking, who are they, and what becomes of the arms afterward? Momentum is moving in a direction in which Assad will not last, but the longer the crisis continues the uglier it will be. He also believed that while Libya provided a much easier case, Syria is a much more important state for U.S. interests, and it should be given more of our focus. Ollivant was optimistic concerning Iraq, believing that the regime is moving forward, though perhaps not as quickly as we would. Iraq is a parliamentary democracy, he argued, and if the Iraqi people don’t like Maliki he will lose when he run’s again in 2014.