Posted by Ali Albassam on October 13, 2016 in Blog

The Middle East Policy Council (MEPC) held its 86th Capitol Hill Conference which focused on the challenges for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and opportunities for the next administration. The four-person panel, made up of former government officials and current civil service members provided their perspective on how the next administration should handle the Middle East’s most challenging problems. The main issues discussed were the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, and Iran’s role in the Arab world.

Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (Former Ambassador, Saudi Arabia) argued that neither the U.S. or Saudi Arabia can “afford to make an enemy out of the other”. On Yemen, he emphasized that the U.S. must help Saudi Arabia replace warfare with less ruinous ways of pursuing their entirely understandable interests”. He suggests that the next administration is likely to ratchet the current policies in the region instead of changing them. An unfortunate reality for a region he considers “ripe for new approaches”.

Mr. Goldberg (Senior Fellow & Director, Middle East Security Program, Center for a New American Security) agreed with Mr. Freeman on the region’s problems, but differed on the prescriptions. He emphasized how security vacuums in the region have set the conditions for regional chaos and suggested that the U.S. fill in these vacuums (particularly in Iraq and Syria) by asserting who they support rather than who they oppose. This approach, he argues, reaffirms U.S. commitments to its allies in the region and provides leverage when dealing with their counterproductive behavior.

Mr. Hymen (Former Senior Advisor and President, Hills Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies) divided the region into six country types referenced in the Fragile States Index. He recommended that solutions must stem from local conditions and actors rather than external actors. He also encouraged the next administration to take preemptive measures in bolstering the state security of relatively stable but vulnerable Arab states such as Jordan, Tunisia and Egypt. Mr. Hymen suggested that post conflict strategies must consider the creation of federation and confederation systems rather than splitting countries into smaller pieces such as the case in Yugoslavia.

Dr. Zogby (President, Arab American Institute and Member of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom) implored the next administration to change policies in the Middle East. He suggests that the U.S. reverse the recently passed Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), punish Israel for its illegal settlements, and reduce U.S. foreign aid package to Israel. 

“No president has done as much as this for Israel’s security. The question is, what do we do about Israel’s behavior? That’s the big issue… And we can save Israel from its enemies, but can we save Israel from itself?”

Although President Obama has spoken more harshly of Israel’s settlement activity, Dr. Zogby warns that “we’re a bit late and $38 billion short.”

Dr. Zogby ended his segment by stressing the limited time period that President Obama has in making dramatic changes that can help bring the region under control before the next administration.

The full video from the event can be found here.