Trip reports give an overview of project member conversations with policymakers, business leaders, and journalists, while traveling in the Middle East.
In February, Martin Indyk and Richard Haass engaged leading Gulf policymakers in detailed conversations about what they are looking for from a new American president. While all those with whom they spoke were fascinated by the American presidential primary elections and seem to be following the results closely, few have yet focused on the possibility that a significant change in U.S. foreign policy might result from a new administration in Washington. There was also a significant disconnect between leaders and publics: The leaders are focused on how the next administration will deal with complex regional security challenge posed by Iran, whereas the publics are hoping that a new president will resolve the Palestinian issue and press authoritarian governments to be more open, transparent and accountable.
See more in Middle East, Presidency
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.
See more in Middle East, Proliferation, Presidency, U.S. Election 2008
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.
See more in Middle East, Counterterrorism, Presidency
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.
See more in Middle East, Economic Development, Culture and Foreign Policy, U.S. Strategy and Politics