Restoring the Balance in the Middle East

Richard Haass and Martin S. Indyk
Martin S. Indyk
Martin S. Indyk Former Brookings Expert, Distinguished Fellow - The Council on Foreign Relations

December 2, 2008

Martin Indyk and Richard Haass joined Charlie Rose to discuss the newly released Saban Center at Brookings-Council on Foreign Relations book

Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President

. They highlighted three major foreign policy challenges in the region that President-elect Obama will need to focus on and detailed some of the recommendations found within the book. 

Charlie Rose, host: President-elect Obama will inherit the most challenging foreign policy landscape in years when he takes office in January. But the global economic crisis and the attacks in India are reminders that he is already being tested. Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote “The hundred days are happening now, and many of the president’s next challenges lie in the Middle East.”

Joining me now — Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution in Washington. He is a former United States ambassador to Israel. The two institutions have cooperated on this new book [Restoring the Balance] which is out today. It is called Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President. I am pleased have both of them at this table. Welcome.

First, Mumbai. You [Richard Haass] left the day before.

Richard Haass: This Thanksgiving there is much to be thankful for.

Charlie Rose: Indeed. So, let’s just start with Mumbai first – tell me: What’s the significance? What does it say? What does it mean? What is it connected to?

Richard Haass: First, it’s a reminder that terrorism is not something you eradicate. Like disease, it is a part of our lives, and it will be a part of our lives for as long as we live them. Secondly, it’s a reminder that Pakistan or Pakistan/Afghanistan, which is really part of the greater Middle East now, is probably going to be the single toughest challenge in an inbox jammed with foreign policy challenges that Barack Obama will inherit.

And I would say what makes it particularly dangerous, and actually its consequences for the Middle East, is that India and Pakistan both have nuclear weapons and this is probably the most dangerous bilateral relationship in the world. And it’s also then, a warning, because the last thing we want to see is Iran and Israel having the sort of relationship they have with nuclear weapons introduced, which is conceivable if Iran is allowed to progress down the path it is already on.

So this combination of terrorism, unstable governments, and nuclear weapons is quite honestly toxic, and it is the reason the Middle East will probably be the part of the world that will be the cause for more 3am phone calls than any other part of the world during [Obama’s] presidency.

Charlie Rose: So what we have here is “restoring the balance”, let’s pick up on this title first.

Martin Indyk: Well, our thought was that the most important balance that needs to be restored is between the use of force and the use of diplomacy.

I think that fits very well with the whole attitude of President-elect Obama and his Secretary-designate Clinton – that there needs to be greater emphasis on diplomatic tools, and in particular in the Middle East, greater emphasis efforts to engage. And that is something that we go into detail in – how to engage Iran, which the President-elect has a mandate to do now; how to move the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward; and how also to bring Syria into the Arab-Israeli negotiations, so that there can be a comprehensive effort to achieve Arab-Israeli peace at the same time as we engage with Iran.

And to create some synergy between these three initiatives that we think can have some positive impact on the overall objective of trying to make the Middle East a more stable, peaceful, and free place. The critical thing here is that we have 3 huge diplomatic challenges, so it is going to be a very tall order for the next president.

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