On October 15, 2008, the Brookings Doha Center, a Project of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, hosted Ambassador Martin Indyk, Director of the Saban Center, for its first policy discussion of the post-Ramadan season. The policy discussion entitled, “The Next U.S. President and the Middle East?” covered some of the most important challenges and responsibilities facing the next administration with regard to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. The director of the Brookings Doha Center and Saban Center fellow, Hady Amr, moderated the discussion.
Ambassador Indyk began his remarks by providing an overview of the findings of a joint project of the Saban Center and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The joint project is a compilation of policy recommendations for the new U.S. president-elect. Topics include Iraq, Iran, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Lebanon, terrorism, and more effective political/economic reform and democratization in the region.
Ambassador Indyk described several key steps for the new administration, which he summed up as a “strategic realignment theory,” based on the view that the U.S. needs to carefully consider and reevaluate its priorities in the region. He first mentioned the need to recognize that Iraq can no longer be America’s primary area of concern in the region. He also argued that while a stable and successful Iraq is imperative, by expending the majority of resources there, the U.S. is neglecting other extremely pressing situations, especially in Afghanistan. He also stressed that America must refocus serious efforts on working towards not only a peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but also peace between Israel and Syria and Israel and Lebanon. Further, he stated that there would be a need to deal with the issues surrounding a nuclear Iran.
Ambassador Indyk also recommended the U.S. begin rebuilding an international consensus so that any work undertaken in the region is made more credible by support from the global community. He argued that keeping this in mind, America should also reach out not only to Arab allies, such as Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf States, but it must also grapple with complex relationships with Russia and China. Working on these relationships must also be a part of a larger effort on the part of the U.S. to try to regain the moral high ground. And further that, public opinion of America has fallen dramatically in the past years due to torture scandals of Abu Ghraib and the conditions of imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay. The new administration should make it clear that the U.S. is moving beyond these past transgressions and intends to respect international conventions. Ambassador Indyk said that should Senator Obama be elected, it would be a strong and important reminder to the rest of the world of American values of respect and a signal that the U.S. is still a country of equal opportunity. And finally, that the U.S. can no longer afford to not invest seriously in finding alternative energy solutions to ensure that it is no longer dependent on foreign oil.
The discussion period included questions on how to rectify America’s tarnished image, the next president’s policy toward Iran, America’s role in solving the crisis in Darfur, and U.S. foreign aid in light of the current credit crunch.
The talk ended with Ambassador Indyk recognizing that accomplishing all of this would be a “tall order,” especially given the need for the “synchronization” among these steps.