Military colleagues (same ones who produced this fine piece) recently asked some good questions. I replied:
- How could DoD and DoS be better postured to address regional and world conflicts to ensure a whole of government approach to identify and synchronize lines of effort in both planning and execution?
While intellectually DoD and DoS are more in agreement on a whole of government approach than any other time I can remember in the past 20 years, there is a gigantic imbalance in the capacities and cultures of the two institutions. State persists with a “sink or swim” culture fundamentally opposed to planning, which is still honored more in the breach than the observance. It also lacks appropriate personnel and resources. That is about to get worse, not better, due to budget cuts.
Ideally, State Department officers should train with military units with which they might deploy in the future. That would vastly increase mutual esteem and communication. But it is mostly impossible today. The best that can be hoped for is some commonality in the training materials for both, though State is likely to be doing precious little training for stabilization operations in the next few years. I fear we are back to where we were 20 years ago: our military instrument is far more potent than our civilian instruments, and there is a yawning gap between them.
2. What does a successfully concluded campaign against ISIS look like? Considering costs, reputation, and balance of influence, how should the U.S./Coalition define success? Is the defeat of ISIS a success if it causes the balance of power in the region to shift towards Iran, Assad, or Russia?
Success in Syria should be defined in terms of sustainable peace and security. That won’t be possible under Assad or with the Russians and Iranians playing the roles they play today in propping up a minority dictator and repressing the majority Sunni population. So long as Assad is there, Syrians will be fighting him. The longer it lasts, the more those Syrians will be extremist.
After a successful campaign against ISIS, Syrians in different parts of the country should be able to govern themselves, repress terrorist activity with forces that do not oppress or attack the rest of the population, begin to return economic activity to prewar levels, and return to their homes or resettle freely without fear of persecution. We are a very long way from that, even in the most stable parts of the country (some Kurdish-controlled areas and parts of the south).
3. Does U.S. foreign policy strike the right balance in supporting U.S. interests and its role as a global power? Or, should the U.S. consider a more isolationist approach to foreign policy? What impact could an isolationist policy have on Middle East security and stability, balance of influence by regional and world actors, and U.S. national interests?
It is a mistake to ask foreign policy experts about isolationism, which they will all condemn, but I’ll go this far: U.S. interests in the Middle East are not as salient as they once were and we should be thinking and planning about reducing our commitments and burdens there.
The main U.S. interests in the region apart from counter-terrorism are generally defined as these: non-proliferation, oil, maintenance of alliances, and human rights/democracy. The only significant proliferation risk in the region (Iran) is on hold for 10-15 years or so, the U.S. is far less dependent on Middle East oil than once it was, our allies are mostly interested in military assistance, and we appear to have mostly given up on human rights and democracy in the region.
I think it is arguable that a) deterring Iran could be (maybe better be) accomplished with a much reduced U.S. presence in the Gulf, b) we should not be spending as much American treasure as in the past or risking American lives for oil flowing out of the Gulf to China and Japan (which should share that burden more than in the past), c) our allies should be taking on more of the burden of defending themselves with the enormous amount of kit we’ve sold them, and d) human rights and democracy will gain traction in the region better with less U.S. military presence.
4. What are the competing national interests of the U.S. and Iran in the Middle East and what are the options for alleviating U.S. / Iranian tensions to mutual satisfaction and improved regional stability?
Iran is a revolutionary power looking to extend its security perimeter into neighboring states and to burnish its Islamist credentials by resistance to Israel. It will be impossible to overcome these problems exclusively in a bilateral U.S./Iran context, though increased communication between Tehran and Washington (including diplomatic representatives at some level in each of their capitals) is highly desirable.
Regional stability would also benefit from some sort of regional security architecture—think OSCE in Europe or ASEAN in Asia. This would aim at de-escalating Sunni/Shia, Saudi/Iranian, Turkish/Iranian, and other regional conflicts and tensions. There are few places on earth today with less regional cooperation and connectivity than the Middle East and North Africa.
5. What are the respective national interests of the U.S. and Russia in the Middle East and what are the options for alleviating U.S./Russian tensions to mutual satisfaction and improved regional stability?
It is approaching 100 days since Donald Trump took office. He is getting applause in Washington for a cruise missile attack on a Syrian air base responsible for launching a chemical attack, and I suppose he’ll get some tomorrow for using the biggest conventional bomb ever in Afghanistan, but he has yet to clarify his goals or enunciate strategy for achieving them in either country, or anywhere else.
Here is a summary of the incoherent foreign policy of a president who is playing golf more often than any in recent memory and spending more money on security and travel for himself and his family:
- Threats to do something about North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles if China doesn’t, but it is clear what. Promised concessions on trade to China if it will and backed off his pledge to designate Beijing as a currency manipulator, which in any event hasn’t been true for a couple of years. The guy is one tough negotiator: carrots up front.
- Warm greetings to Egyptian autocrat Sisi, who continues to hold US citizens in prison on trumped up charges (pun half-intended) and has vastly increased repression over and above his predecessors’ already draconian measures, not to mention his cozying up to the Russians and making a peace settlement in Libya impossible by supporting a would-be strongman.
- A plea to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to pause settlements, which Netanyahu is pointedly ignoring with the authorization of the first brand-new settlement in many years.
- An unfriendly meeting with Germany’s Chancellor Merkel, during which Trump pointedly refused to shake the hand of Europe’s de facto leader and strong US ally.
- Increased air strikes in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen that have caused a notable bump in civilian deaths, as well as increased (but now unannounced) US deployments to all three.
- Revelations of a web of contacts between the Trump campaign (and eventual appointees) and Russian businesspeople, spies, and government officials. If there is no fire beneath all this smoke, it will be a miracle.
- Delegation of major responsibilities to son-in-law real estate heir Jared Kushner, who at various times has appeared to be entrusted with Israel/Palestine negotiations, China, Iraq, reducing the Federal bureaucracy, and countering the opioid epidemic.
- Initial efforts to build a pointless wall on the Mexican border that would cost many billions the American taxpayer will need to pay, despite the years of decline in illegal immigration from Mexico. I’d guess no more than a few miles of this wasteful project will ever be completed, as Congress will not provide the funding required for more.
- A travel ban that courts are consistently finding violates the US constitution by singling out Muslim countries that have not in fact sent terrorists to the US.
- Decisions on coal that will make it impossible for the US to meet its commitments under the Paris climate change agreement.
I could go on, especially with respect to domestic policy: utter failure so far to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, a Supreme Court nominee so extreme his approval required the Senate to nuke the long-standing requirement for 60 votes in the Senate, and a budget proposal that cuts everything but Defense and Homeland Security, including crippling cuts to the State Department and USAID (not to mention the zeroing out of the UN Population Fund).
There is one reason to hope that things might improve on the international front. National Security Adviser McMaster, who is a serious expert himself, is hiring serious people with real expertise. He has already gotten Trump to reverse direction on NATO, which the President is now praising. But the State Department is still a wasteland, with no appointees to any of the sub-cabinet positions and a Secretary of State who seems not to understand or care for the public affairs part of his job. He was initially laconic to a fault. Now he talks but contradicts himself. I’m not sure which is worse.
Yes, I too would have thought Americans up in arms at this wholesale betrayal of their values, but I’m afraid it is no longer clear what those values are. Are we prepared to play a leadership role in moving the world towards liberal democracy, or are we content to cut deals with the worst autocrats on earth? Are we going to rely on real facts and knowledge, or are we going to try to scam the world, just as Trump has scammed his investors and contractors as well as the students at his “university”? Are we going to pursue a foreign policy that relies at least in part on diplomacy and international assistance, or are we going to use only the military?
Our current course is clear: towards a more militarized, less honest, and more illiberal foreign policy. I’m not seeing anything on the horizon that will turn us in a better direction.
For those who doubt that things are so bad, here is Trump’ April 12 interview with Fox Business, in which he remembered the cake he was eating when he ordered the missile strike but not the country targeted (at 27:30-29:30):
Never mind that he forgets that he opposed an attack on Syria while President Obama was in office and fails to credit his predecessor for the military technology used, not to mention that the meeting with Xi Jinping he claims went well the Chinese think went badly, especially with respect to Syria and North Korea.
- A Panel Discussion on Debating the Merits of the Trump Administration’s New Travel, Immigration, and Refugee Ban | Monday, April 10 | 11-12:30pm | SAIS | Register Here | “Debating the Merits of the Trump Administration’s New Travel, Immigration and Refugee Ban,” will be hosted at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). The panel discussion is a part of the Human Security Forum by the Foreign Policy Institute (FPI) at Johns Hopkins SAIS. Panelists include T. Alex Aleinikoff, Director of The Zolberg Institute of Migration and Mobility at The New School, George Biddle, Chairman of World Connect and former Executive Vice President of the International Peace Committee, James Jay Carafano, Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation, and Danielle Pletka, Senior Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Eterprise Institute
- Where Will Turkey’s Referendum Lead? | Tuesday, April 11 | 1-2:30pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | Turkish voters on April 16, 2017 face a referendum to shift to a presidential system and further empower Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Whether Erdogan succeeds in his long-sought consolidation of authority or suffers a reversal, Turkish policies on the economy, domestic issues, the Kurdish question, regional security, and engagement with the U.S. and NATO are all apt to be affected by the referendum’s outcome. The Middle East Institute (MEI) Center for Turkish Studies is pleased to host Kemal Kirisci (Brookings), Omer Taspinar (Brookings), and Amberin Zaman (Wilson Center) for an analysis of the plebiscite, its political context, and potential consequences of the impending vote. Gonul Tol (MEI) will moderate the discussion.
- Militancy and Conflict in the Sahel and Maghreb | Tuesday, April 12 | 8:30-3pm | Carnegie Endowment | Register Here | Crises and upheaval in the Maghreb and the Sahel have altered the regional security terrain. Security challenges are increasingly becoming entwined, and many are becoming more pronounced amongst at-risk border communities in marginalized peripheries and rural communities. This day-long conference brings together leading scholars from around the world to address the key security and governance challenges in the Maghreb and Sahel. Panelists will examine the interaction of the expanding horizon of insecurity with conflicts, political vacuums, and Western response policy. They will also discuss the broader ramifications of the trends for peace and development in both regions. Panelists include Rasmus Boserup, Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck, and Claire Spencer to discuss the security complexes in the Maghreb and Sahel; Bruce Whitehouse, Jimam Lar, Joel Nwokeoma, and Amy Niang to discuss violent extremism in West Africa and Sahel; and Frederic Wehrey, Faraj Najem, and Manal Taha to discuss the potential spillover from Libya into the Sahel.
- Russia’s Gambit: Moscow’s Plans and the Trump Administration | Tuesday, April 11 | 4-5:30pm | The Institute of World Politics | Register Here | You are cordially invited to a lecture on the topic of “Russia’s Gambit: Assessing Moscow’s Plans in the First Months of the Trump Administration” with Nikolas K. Gvosdev, Professor of National Security Affairs, Captain Jerome E. Levy Chair in Economic Geography and National Security at the U.S. Naval War College and Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
- Book Launch: Al-Qaeda’s Revenge: The 2004 Madrid Train Bombings | Wednesday, April 12 | 10-11:15pm | Wilson Center | Register Here | Al-Qaeda’s Revenge: The 2004 Madrid Train Bombings tells the story of “3/11”—the March 11, 2004 bombings of commuter trains in Madrid, which killed 191 people and injured more than 1,800. It runs from the development of an al-Qaeda conspiracy in Spain in the 1990s through the formation of the 3/11 bombing network beginning in March 2002, and on through the fallout of the attacks. Fernando Reinares’s account draws on judicial, police, and intelligence documents to which he had privileged access, as well as on personal interviews with officials in Spain and elsewhere. The book’s full analysis links the Madrid bombing to al-Qaeda’s senior leadership and unveils connections between 3/11 and 9/11. Speakers will also include Bruce Hoffman, Professor at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, Jytte Klausen, Lawrence A. Wien Professor of International Cooperation at Brandeis University, and Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow and Director of the Brookings Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution.
- What’s Next for Afghanistan-Pakistan Relations? | Wednesday, April 12 | 10:30-12pm | Wilson Center | Register Here | The fragile Afghanistan-Pakistan relationship is in crisis. Each country has accused the other of harboring terrorists, and border closures have caused hardship for people on both sides. A recent British-led mediation has defused some of these tensions. However, the relationship remains troubled, and longstanding irritants—such as a disputed border and the treatment of Afghan refugees in Pakistan—continue to fester. What is next for Afghanistan-Pakistan relations? Will the new détente be sustained or short-lived? Additionally, what are the implications of all this for U.S. policy? Can or should Washington play a role in trying to help ease these bilateral tensions? This event, which is co-hosted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, will address these questions and others. Panelists include Daud Khattak, Senior Editor at Radio Mashaal, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Omar Samad, Former Afghan Ambassador to France, and Joshua White, Associate Professor of Practice and Fellow at SAIS.
- 2017 IMES Annual Conference: Restless Matters: the Socio-Political Lives of Historical Sites and Objects in the Middle East | Friday, April 14 | 9am-3pm | Elliott School | Register Here | Historical sites and objects are a focal point of socio-political contestation in the Middle East today. Whether it be the destruction and looting of the Egyptian Museum, Palmyra, or the Buddhas of Bamyan, or it be the renovation and rebuilding of Mecca, the Eyup Sultan complex, or heritage districts in Doha, Cairo or Beirut, the ways in which these historical sites and objects are intertwined with political projects and political-economic processes have drawn increasing scrutiny in recent years. While popular discourses and news media accounts often portray these matters in terms of the actions of religious zealots, crass developers, or enlightened preservationists, this glosses over a far more textured socio-political terrain this conference seeks to explore. A day-long event that brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars who focus on the Middle East and the region’s past and present connections to other parts of the world, this conference explores the myriad socio-political work historical sites and objects do. Speakers include Esra Akcan, Associate Profess in the Department of Archaeology at Cornell University, Azra Aksamija, Associate Professor in the Art, Culture, and Technology Program at MIT, Farah Al-Nakib, Director of the Center for Gulf Studies at American University of Kuwait, Amin Alsaden, PhD Candidate at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Luna Khirfan, Associate Professor at University of Waterloo School of Planning, Michele Lamprakos, Assistant Professor at University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and Amal Sachedina, Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Institute for Middle East Studies, George Washington University.
1. U.S.-Egyptian Relations In The Age Of ISIS | Monday, April 3rd|11:45-1:00| The Hudson Institute| Register Here
Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s visit to Washington in early April presents an opportunity to renew the American-Egyptian alliance. Over the past three and half years, a wide gulf in policy approaches has led to disagreements on a range of issues, from democracy and human rights, to Islamist extremism and the Libyan Civil War. Will the diplomatic visit mark a new chapter in U.S.-Egyptian relations?
President Sisi’s visit comes at a critical moment for his country. In the Sinai, the Islamic State’s local affiliate is inflicting daily casualties on security forces. Its genocidal campaign against Egyptian Copts has led to a mass flight of Copts from north Sinai. This followed the bombing of the St. Mark Cathedral compound in Cairo that left 29 people dead.
As the new Trump administration refines its strategy towards the Arabic world’s most populous country, Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom will host a discussion on the security, political, and religious freedom challenges facing Egypt. On April 3, Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, Vice President of the Middle East Media Research Institute, will join Hudson Senior Fellows Nina Shea and Samuel Tadros to assess the situation in Egypt and discuss effective U.S. policy options toward the country.
2. Is Something Stirring In Central Asia? |Monday, April 3rd | 4:00 PM | Atlantic Council | Register Here
Since the death of Uzekistan’s President Islam Karimov in September of 2016, the stability that characterized key developments and overall dynamics in Uzbekistan as well as in the Central Asia region as a whole, has been undergoing a noticeable shift. Initiatives of the newly installed President Mirziyoyev in Uzbekistan and proposals regarding reforms by President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan suggest that something may be stirring in Central Asia. This first joint forum of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and the Atlantic Council will present these developments, ask if they represent a real shift, and consider the implications of such changes for the Central Asia region as a whole and for its place in the world.
Moderated by Dr. S. Frederick Starr, Chairman, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute
American Foreign Policy Council; The event features Ambassador John Herbst; Ambassador Richard Hoagland Interim Co-chair OSCE Minsk Group; Daniel Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central Asia State department; Dr. Martha Olcott, Visiting Professor at Michigan State University.
3. Afghanistan: The Reconciliation Option |Tuesday, April 4th |12:15- 2:00 PM | The Stimson Center| Register Here
U.S. commanders characterize the fight against the Afghan Taliban as a “stalemate.” As U.S. national security leaders and Congress evaluate strategic choices in Afghanistan, the discussion has narrowly focused on military options and troop levels. The Stimson Center is pleased to host Ambassador Richard Olson who will detail what an alternative approach, a reconciliation option, might look like in Afghanistan. Shamila Chaudhary, former Director for Pakistan and Afghanistan on the National Security Council (2010-2011), will offer comments, Sameer Lalwani, Deputy Director of the South Asia program, will moderate a discussion, and Stimson Center President Brian Finlay will convene the event.
4. Global Cities, Local Neighborhoods In Displacement, Migration, And Promise | Tuesday, April 4th|4:00 -7:00 PM | Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars| Register Here
Please join the Urban Sustainability Laboratory and the Education Policy Program and the Center of Education Policy and Evaluation in the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University for the first in a set of seminars to discuss equity and justice challenges that confront our cities and neighborhoods.
By addressing critical issues that face our urbanized world, the seminars seek to both advance public understanding about the significance and future of our world’s cities and to create more sustainable, equitable, and peaceful cities through research and policy.
On April 4, a panel of experts will examine key issues facing neighborhoods and communities in transition in the United States. From Ferguson to Baltimore, Chicago to Los Angeles, cities and neighborhoods are experiencing transition to larger processes of urban renewal, gentrification, and marginalization, while at the same time under pressure from an intersection of housing, social welfare, education, and political forces within and beyond this country. Panelists will identify solutions and offer a vision for American cities, especially in an increasingly stratified world:
Leon Andrews, Race, Equity, and Leadership Initiative, National League of Cities; Johanna Bockman, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, George Mason University; Michelle Chatman, Department of Crime, Justice, and Security Studies, University of the District of Columbia; Sonya Horsford, Teacher’s College, Columbia University; Derek Hyra, Metropolitan Policy Center, American University
5. Foreign Fighter Fallout |Tuesday, April 4th | 9:00- 12:00 | CSIS | Register Here
As international and local forces battle in Iraq and Syria, an unknown number of the conflict’s tens of thousands foreign fighters may flee to other areas. These returnees could bolster international operations for the Islamic State and al Qaeda, oxygenating social tensions or conducting attacks on U.S. interests and allies around the world. Please join the CSIS Transnational Threats Project (TNT) for an in-depth discussion between Lieutenant General Michael K. Nagata, Director of the Directorate for Strategic Operational Planning at the National Counterterrorism Center and TNT Director & Senior Fellow Tom Sanderson. The discussion and Q&A will be followed by an expert panel discussion moderated by Tom Sanderson.
Weighing the Options: Choices and Challenges in the Middle East (in Arabic) |Wednesday, April 5th | 11:00 AM| Atlantic Council| Register Here
President Donald Trump confronts an array of difficult choices as he and his administration consider how to address the conflicts and problems in the Middle East that continue to threaten global stability. Please join us for an interactive online video discussion in Arabic with Hariri Center experts Abdul Rahman AlAgeli, Sarah El Sirgany, and Nabeel Khoury about the shifts in US policy towards the Middle East under the Trump Administration and how the new approach will impact regional conflicts and alliances, among other issues. The panelists will also share their views on whether the recently released Albright-Hadley Middle East Strategy Task Force report’s strategy is a valid vision to address the problems in the region. Mohamed Elmenshawy will moderate the discussion featuring Nonresident Fellows at Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council Mr. Abdul Rahman AlAgeli, Ms. Sarah El Sirgany, and Dr. Nabeel Khoury.
6. Containing the Civil War Contagion| Wednesday, April 5th | 12:30-1:00| MEI | Register Here
Civil wars in Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq have killed hundreds of thousands, displaced millions, enabled the resurgence of terrorist organizations, and threaten the stability of neighboring countries as well as Europe. These conflicts erupted in the wake of domestic demands for change in the face of repressive governments and in the context of bitter proxy struggles between regional powers. Bringing these civil wars to a sustainable and inclusive end is key to denying space to terrorist groups, repatriating IDPs and refugees, and starting the process of post-war reconstruction.
The Middle East Institute (MEI) is pleased to host Kathleen Cunningham (Univ. of Maryland), Marc Lynch (George Washington Univ.) and Kenneth M. Pollack (Brookings Institution) for an analysis of the causes and trajectories of the Middle East’s civil wars and policy implications for the United States. Lynch will present the thesis of his recent book The New Arab Wars and Pollock will draw on his co-authored article “Escaping the Civil War Trap in the Middle East” in opening remarks. MEI Scholar Ross Harrison will join as discussant.
7. Syria’s Trajectory and Challenges for the United States |Thursday, April 6th |8:30 AM -3:00 PM | Carnegie Endowment | Register Here
In six years, the Syria conflict has evolved from a democratic uprising to the world’s most pressing international crisis. As a new administration in the United States hones its policy to address the conflict, Carnegie’s Middle East Program will bring together speakers from Syria, other Arab countries, Turkey, Europe, and Russia to examine the potential scenarios for the future of the Syria conflict, the role of external players, as well as the serious political, humanitarian, and security challenges posed by this tragic conflict.
Carnegie’s Middle East Program gathers scholars from around the globe to examine the potential scenarios for the future of the conflict in Syria. Marwan Muasher, Nikolay Kozhanov, Hossein Mousavian, Galip Dalay, Riad Hijab, Rouba Mhaissen, Jihad Makdissi, Abdulhakim Bashar, Bassma Kodmani, Taysir Raddawi, Tobias Ellwood, Shanta Devarajan.
8. A Guide To Geopolitics In The 21st Century|Friday, April 7th |12:00-1:30 PM | Foreign Policy Research Institute | Register Here
How to understand a world where Russia threatens to break up the post-Cold War order in Europe, while China lays the groundwork for a new order in East Asia, and the entire Middle East is riven with conflict —this is the assignment we’ve given to one of the world’s great geopolitical thinkers, Jeremy Black, author of over 100 books on military and diplomatic history.
- Islam in France | Monday, March 27 | 10:30-12:00pm | The Brookings Institution | Register Here | After a series of terror attacks in 2015 and 2016, security issues are among the primary concerns of French voters heading into this spring’s presidential elections. As the European country with the largest Muslim minority, the issue of Islam in France and how to tackle terrorism is particularly fraught, and it is interwoven into broader debates about immigration, nationality, identity, secularism, and social cohesion. Furthermore, with right-wing politicians across Europe eager to galvanize their electorates, they have intensified concerns, incited Islamophobia, and exploited public misunderstandings of the teachings and practices of Islam. To provide a broader portrait of Islam in France and dispel misapprehensions surrounding the fraught dynamics of mosque and state, the Paris-based think tank Institut Montaigne has recently released a data-driven report on Muslims living in France. On March 27, Brookings will host a panel discussion with Project Director Hakim El Karoui and Senior Counselor Dominique Moïsi of the Institut Montaigne to unpack the conventional wisdom and polemics about Muslims in France. The panelists will consider whether better policies can be implemented that address the root causes of radicalization in French society, such as socioeconomic marginalization and inequality, while increasing safety and security. Shadi Hamid of the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at Brookings will also provide remarks, and Philippe Le Corre of CUSE will moderate the conversation.
- The Russian Military in Ukraine and Syria: Lessons for the United States | Tuesday March 28 | 4:00pm | The Atlantic Council | Register Here | The recent escalation of military activities in Donetsk and Luhansk in Eastern Ukraine and military power projection in Syria demonstrate massive improvements in Moscow’s military capabilities. Russia is using hybrid warfare and conventional military operations to achieve its geopolitical goals: apply massive pressure against the democratically elected government of Ukraine, keep Kyiv from European integration, and punish Ukraine for its Western and Euro-Atlantic choices. It also has created a credible threat against the Baltic states – NATO members. In Syria, Russia-led military operations successfully buttressed the Assad regime, assured Russian military presence in strategic coastal towns of Tartus and Latakiya, and established an air base in Khmeimim. The Russian military has learned to coordinate operations with several Middle Eastern allies: the Syrian Army, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the Hezbollah terrorist organization. Apart from Moscow’s geopolitical objectives, these operations are designed to demonstrate the effectiveness of Russian-made weapons to potential foreign buyers, to test new Russian military capabilities, and to display new capacities to potential adversaries. Russia is now the main adversary of NATO in Europe and the second great power in the Levant – after the United States and its allies. The Atlantic Council will bring together a panel of experts to discuss Russia’s military power and the lessons learned from Russia’s military performance in Syria and Ukraine. The panelists are Evelyn Farkas, Senior Fellow at Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, Alexander Golts, Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Yezhenedelny Zhurnal, and Brigadier General (Ret.) Peter Zwack, Senior Russia-Eurasia Fellow at the Institute of National Strategic Studies.
- The Baltic States in the Trump Administration: A Conversation with Foreign Minister of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania | Tuesday, March 28 | 6:30-8:30pm | Hudson Institute | Register Here | In 1991, one year after the Baltic States regained their independence, Hudson Institute hosted the prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania at its Conference on the Baltics—the first ever such event outside the Baltic region. The United States has since developed a special relationship with each country, marked by their accession to NATO and the EU in 2004. Together, these countries constitute the easternmost members of both the EU and NATO. Now, after years of calm, the security and political situation in Europe is again at a crossroads. The Russian intervention in Ukraine and the political crises of the EU pose increasing challenges to Europe. A quarter century after the Conference on the Baltic States, Hudson Institute is honored to host the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to discuss the view from Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius—and the opportunities and challenges confronting each.
- The Inaugural Haleh Esfandiari Forum Event with Secretary Madeleine Albright | Wednesday, March 29 | 2:00-3:00pm | The Wilson Center | Register Here | Join us for the inaugural Haleh Esfandiari Forum event. The Haleh Esfandiari Forum at the Wilson Center is a series of public events focused on women’s empowerment in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. This joint initiative by the Middle East Program (MEP) and the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative (GWLI) honors Haleh Esfandiari’s commitment to promoting women’s empowerment and her leadership of MEP from its inception in 1998 through 2015.
- Egypt and the United States Under the Trump Administration | Thursday, March 30 | 2:00-3:30pm | Project on Middle East Democracy | Register Here | President Donald Trump has signaled a desire to build even closer ties to the Egyptian government, a policy shift that poses significant potential risks for the United States due to Egypt’s deteriorating human rights conditions. Ahead of President Sisi’s upcoming visit to Washington, join us to take stock of the situation on the ground in Egypt and examine potential changes to the U.S.-Egypt relationship. The panelists include Michele Dunne, Director and Senior Fellow of the Middle East Program at Carnegie; Bahey Eldin Hassan, Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies; Moataz El Fegiery, Protection Coordinator of Middle East and North Africa at Front Line Defenders, and Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 2014-2017.
- The Yemen Conflict in Perspective: Geopolitical and Humanitarian Challenges | Friday, March 31 | 9:00-2:00pm | The Middle East Institute | Register Here | Yemen is gripped by clashes between Houthi rebels and pro-government forces, interference by regional actors, and a failure to complete the political transition following the 2011 uprisings against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh. This instability has created an opening for the militants of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and a devastating humanitarian impact. How can international engagement take into account the domestic and geopolitical forces at work, secure a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and combat the extremist threat? What are the challenges faced by humanitarian aid organizations that operate in Yemen, and how can the international community confront the coming challenge of reconstruction and repair of the damaged country? Speakers include Amb. (ret.) Wendy Chamberlin, President of the Middle East Institute; Ismail Ould Chaikh Ahmed, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Yemen; Mohammed Abulahoum, Justice & Building Party of Yemen; E. Ahmed Awad Binmubarak, Ambassador of Yemen to the United States; The Honorable Anne Patterson, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs; Nadwa al-Dawsari, Nonresident Senior Fellow at POMED; Albert Jaeger, Mission Chief for Yemen, IMF; and Nabil Shaiban, Senior Operations Officer at the World Bank.
- Deterring Iran After the Nuclear Deal: Report Launch and Panel Discussion | Friday, March 31 | 10:00-11:30am | Center for Strategic & International Studies | Register Here | Although the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program is working, the United States has largely been unable or unwilling to deter Iran’s incremental extension of regional power and threshold testing in the Middle East. A new report by the International Security Program at CSIS, “Deterring Iran After the Nuclear Deal,” seeks to better understand and analyze Iran’s strategy, motivations, and military and paramilitary development; explores a set of policy pathways for the United States to counter challenges from Iran; and provides a recommended Iran deterrence strategy for the Trump Administration and U.S. Congress to consider. Join us for the report launch of “Deterring Iran After the Nuclear Deal,” featuring a panel discussion on Iran’s regional activities post-JCPOA, implications for the Middle East, and policy options for the Trump administration and U.S. Congress to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior and capability development. Panelists include Gen Charles Q. Brown Jr., USAF, Deputy Commander for US Central Command; Dr. Colin Kahl, Associate Professor, Security Studies Program, Georgetown University; Mr. Michael Singh, Lane-Swig Senior Fellow and Managing Director, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and Dr. Jon Alterman, Senior Vice President and Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy and Director of the Middle East Program at CSIS.
- Northern Ireland’s Lesson for Israeli-Palestinian Peace | Monday, March 13 | 1:00- 5:00pm | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | When Northern Ireland’s combatants finally made peace in the 1990s, they did so on a broad foundation of grassroots reconciliation and economic development work, built over more than a decade by the International Fund for Ireland. On March 13, the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Embassy of Ireland will gather former government officials, peacebuilding practitioners and scholars to examine what worked in advancing peace in Northern Ireland—and what lessons might be applied to the difficult process of peacemaking and peacebuilding between Israelis and Palestinians. Former Senator George Mitchell, who served as an envoy in both peace processes, will be the keynote speaker. The first panel on the International Fund for Ireland, will include Carol Cunningham of Unheard Voices, Melanie Greenberg of Alliance for Peacebuilding, Professor Brandon Hamber of Ulster University, and Adrian Johnston of the International Fund for Ireland. The second panel, on implications for Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding, will include Joel Braunold of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen of the United Institute of Peace, Father Josh Thomas of Kids4Peace, and Sarah Yerkes of Brookings.
- Regional Perspectives on US Policy in the Middle East | Monday, March 13 | 3:00- 4:30pm | Atlantic Council | Register Here | As the dust begins to settle after the transition of power in Washington, the spotlight is slowly moving to the administration’s policies toward the Middle East and North Africa. With the region already troubled by one of President Trump’s early executive orders and several phone calls and meetings with regional leaders, many unanswered questions remain about the direction of the relationship with the Middle East. Our distinguished panel will discuss how the region is watching, anticipating, and reacting to shifts in policy, including Kristin Diwan on the Gulf, Haykel Ben Mahfoudh and Karim Mezran on North Africa, A. Hellyer on Egypt, and Nicola Pedde on Iran. Will the Trump administration fulfill its campaign promise to re-assert its role in the Middle East? How will the president and Congress react to ongoing challenges and opportunities in Libya, Yemen, and Egypt? Will the president’s style have a significant impact on the relationship with hardline leaders in Syria, Iran, and others across the region? Please join us for a discussion of these and other issues of concern to the United States in the Middle East.
- Report Launch: “The Other Side of the World” | Tuesday, March 14 | 2:00- 4:00pm | Center for Strategic and International Studies | Register Here | China’s growing interests in the Middle East, and the United States’ enduring interests in the Middle East, create challenges for two of the world’s most powerful nations. Should they seek more active collaboration? Are their goals for the future of the Middle East compatible? To discuss the implications of increasingly robust China-Middle East ties for U.S. interests, CSIS invites you to the launch of its new Brzezinski Institute Report: “The Other Side of the World: China, the United States, and the Struggle for Middle East Security.” The discussion will feature Carol Giacomo of The New York Times as well as CSIS experts Jon B. Alterman, Michael J. Green, Christopher K. Johnson, and Matthew P. Goodman.
- Why Tunisia Should Matter to the New U.S. Administration | Tuesday, March 14 | 3:00- 4:00pm | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | Tunisia’s peaceful, though difficult, transition since the Arab Spring and its centrality in U.S.-supported efforts to stem terrorism punctuate its role as a major non-NATO ally of the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump “praised Tunisia’s stability and security,” in a Feb. 17 phone call with Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, according to a White House statement. Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui will discuss the U.S. partnership and Tunisia’s own development and influence in the region, in a discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace on Tuesday, March 14.
- America’s Role in the World: Congress and US Foreign Policy | Thursday, March 16 | 9:00-10:30am | Atlantic Council | Register Here | As the Trump administration continues to form its foreign policy and national security strategy, Congress has a distinct role of its own to play in shaping how the United States addresses emerging global threats and approaches its leadership role on the international stage. At this early stage, little is defined within the administration’s approach. Congress has an opportunity to help characterize what America’s role in world should be and how it aims to deal with issues in the Middle East, especially ISIS and Iran, China, and Russia. To help think through these issues, two Representatives with military backgrounds, Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), will offer their perspectives on the United States leadership role and national security strategy in an environment of increasing global risks.
- Congressman Adam Kinzinger on America’s Role in the Middle East and the World | Friday, March 17 | 8:30am | Atlantic Council | Register Here | The United States faces a number of security challenges across the globe as well as increasing questions about what role the Trump Administration believes the United States should play on the international stage. Please join the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East for a conversation with Congressman Adam Kinzinger on America’s role in the world and in the Middle East in particular, and what we can expect from a Trump presidency in terms of foreign policy and national security. This event is part of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Strategy Task Force initiative, co-chaired by former US Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and former US National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley. In November 2016, the co-chairs published their Task Force Report that proposes a pragmatic and actionable Middle East roadmap that emphasizes the efforts of the people of the Middle East themselves supported by the long-term engagement of the international community, with an eye toward harnessing the region’s enormous human potential. The Task Force brought together a broad array of regional stakeholders and international experts to collaborate in identifying ways in which people in the Middle East can build and support governing institutions that offer legitimacy, opportunity, and an alternative to violence.