Toward A New U.S.-Middle East Strategy is a joint Saban Center at Brookings–Council on Foreign Relations project staffed by Middle East experts from both policy establishments. The project has a Board of Advisors that consists of a select group of leading foreign policy generalists, including former senior government officials. Co-directed by Martin S. Indyk, director of the Saban Center at Brookings, and Gary Samore, vice president and director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, the strategy group is conducting in-depth research, fact-finding trips to the region, dialogue with regional officials, and consultation with American policymakers in an effort to develop a new Middle East strategy for the next president.
When the next president assumes office, he or she will be immediately confronted with multiple crises in the Middle East:
- How to promote national reconciliation in Iraq and contain the spillover effects of Iraq’s instability
- How to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its assertion of influence across the region
- How to end the Arab-Israeli conflict and resolve the Palestinian problem
- How to promote stability in Lebanon
- How to deal with the threat of radical Islamic terrorism
- How to promote political and economic reforms in the Middle East in a more effective way
The joint Brookings–Council on Foreign Relations project will present a non-partisan policy blueprint that the next president and his/her advisors can use as the basis for their administration's Middle East strategy. A final report will be published in late 2008. The strategy group will also brief members of the incoming administration and present its recommendations for constructing a new Middle East policy framework to Congress, the media, and the public.
The project marks the first time in the history of the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations that a group of their respective experts are partnering to develop strategic recommendations.
In February, Tamara Cofman Wittes and Isobel Coleman met with business leaders, academics, journalists, and civic activists in Riyadh and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Among Wittes and Coleman's key findings are that many Saudis welcomed the emergence of a more open atmosphere, pointing to King Abdullah's ascension to the throne, dynamism in neighboring Gulf states, and a new "post-post-9/11" environment as key catalysts for the change. Yet, there was frustration at the unpredictability and arbitrariness of the newly expanded social and political space. The next U.S. administration may have a new, but narrow, window of opportunity to reintroduce itself to Saudi Arabia. Many Saudis argued for the creation of a deeper, multi-dimensional relationship between both countries that engages civil society, not just the government and business sectors.
Daniel Byman traveled to Israel and Jordan in March -- a time of crisis in the Middle East. During Byman's trip, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired rockets against the Israeli cities of Sderot and Ashkelon, an attack occurred in the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, and Israel took retaliatory measures in the Gaza Strip. In both Israel and Jordan, Byman found that the predominant mood was one of frustration and gloom. Israelis felt trapped between their sense that inaction would encourage more violence and their recognition that the military and political options looked unpromising. Jordanians fretted that the Israeli reaction to the violence would strengthen the radicals politically.
Bruce Riedel traveled to India in February to meet with business leaders, government officials, and members of the media. Riedel notes that much of the conversations revolved around Iran's pursuit of nuclear capabilities and the Iran-India relationship. Some in the United States have strongly criticized India for maintaining strong economic relations with Iran and for having exchanges of low-level military delegations. Riedel notes that although India opposes a nuclear Iran, its ties with Iran will lead it to oppose use of a military option against Iran.