Less force, more diplomacy

The Middle East Policy Council’s 79th Capitol Hill Conference yesterday provided an overview of issues of concern to US policymakers with regards to the current conflicts in Syria and Iraq, as well as the broader issues facing the region. The topic was particularly pertinent in light of recent signals from the Obama administration of a shifting approach to Syria’s president Assad, as well as the president’s call for congressional authorization of the current anti-ISIS campaign.

A common theme was the need for the US to scale down ambitions in the Middle East while diverting more of its resources to non-coercive methods of conflict management. Michael Hayden, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, called for more intelligence cooperation with U.S. allies from the region, who possess greater understanding of the cultural and political dynamics on the ground. He also argued that a scenario in which the Assad regime remains in power is the best possible outcome as the situation is today.

Daniel Bolger, retired Army Lieutenant General, argued for a de-escalation of US military objectives in the Middle East. He also called for an authorization from Congress if the Administration intended to continue the current campaign against ISIS. On the flip side, Dafna H. Rand, Deputy Director of Studies at the Center for a New American Security, argued for escalation of non-coercive methods of conflict management, with a greater focus on multilateral diplomacy. She also argued that more support for the Syrian opposition should be directed towards strengthening good governance.

This argument was also reflected in the presentation by Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, Vice President and Director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. He advocated the same kind of financial and political backing to the diplomatic and development corps as is provided to the US military, so that these forces can effectively assist in the formidable challenge of regenerating a stable and legitimate system of states in the Middle East.

A summary of the event is available on MEPC’s websites.

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