Historical Perspectives on the Middle East

Historical Perspectives on the Middle East

Don Pollard

More on:

Middle East and North Africa

Civil-Military Relations in the Middle East

from The Rita Hauser Annual Event

This is the opening session of The Future of the Middle East symposium, which convenes CFR scholars and experts from think tanks and academic institutions to address the region's current political, economic, and security challenges.

For this event, the panel discusses the past, present, and future of the Middle East. 

For further reading, please see the CFR blogs From the Potomac to the Euphrates by Steven A. Cook, Middle East Matters by Robert Danin, and Pressure Points by Elliott Abrams.

HAASS: Well, good evening. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations and to the opening—and sure to be cheerful—session on “The Future of the Middle East.” This is timely and then some.

I’m Richard Haass. I’m president of the Council. More important, I want to welcome Rita and Gus Hauser here this evening, sitting here, appropriate enough—tonight’s symposium is, appropriately enough, the Hauser Symposium, and once a year we try to do an in-depth, serious look at a set of issues—often current issues, but try to take a step back and look at them in some context. And Rita and Gus have long been supporters of the institution. Rita was on the board for many years, and we are—continue to be fortunate to have them in our midst, so thank you.

I also want to welcome those from the U.S. Central Command who are here in attendance, and this symposium actually was and is being done in collaboration with those from Central Command. We expected to have a fairly large contingent here tonight, but rumor has it they are somewhat preoccupied with—I guess it’s bowling night in Tampa or something—(laughter)—or something else. So we’re a few people lighter and we’ve had to do a little bit of adjustment. But we are in a—we are in good shape.

Tonight’s opening session will examine the Middle East and will try to help frame what has been, is, and likely will remain the most turbulent part of the world. We’ll try to frame it in a historical perspective, and I’m hoping that when everybody leaves here tonight, before they hit the bar, they have a better context for what is—what is taking place, and I don’t just mean in the next 24-48 hours, but more broadly.

And I’ll speak for a few minutes now, from here, and then I’ll ask Lisa Anderson and Howard Eissenstat to join me, two real experts on this part of the world. We’ll continue the conversation a bit amongst the three of us. They’ll essentially take a few minutes to explain how I got it wrong, and then—and after we kick it around a bit, we’ll open it up to you. We’ve got a good hour-plus to do this, so that is the agenda for tonight, and I’ll say a few things about tomorrow when we’re done.

But let me—let me turn to the subject at hand. When I was thinking of what—you know, what we wanted to do with this and what I wanted to say tonight, I went back to something I’d written for our magazine, for Foreign Affairs, just over a decade ago called, “The New Middle East.” And the argument that the article made was that the region—if you look back over roughly the last century, from just before World War I to, say, a decade ago—had gone through a number of really definable years. You had the latter stage of the Ottoman Empire. You then had World War I and the unraveling of Ottomanism, and then you had the rise of the colonial, essentially European era in the Middle East, and then you had World War II which, among other things, largely depleted the European countries after which—followed by the decolonization movement where a lot of the areas in the Middle East became countries, in fact, in addition to just name. Some of it was immediate, some was more gradual. You then had the four decades of Cold War, a Middle East that was in many ways framed by the U.S.-Soviet competition, particularly after the mid-’50s when the Soviets got directly involved in the region. You then had the end of the Cold War, roughly ’89-’90.

The first big event in that period in the Middle East was the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in the summer of 1990, an event that actually I believe would not have happened had the Cold War still been going on because the Soviet Union never would have allowed Iraq to have—to have done such a thing.

The Gulf war ended the way it did, led by the United States putting together an extraordinary international coalition, and what followed then was an American era in the Middle East. And I was never a big fan of the word “unipolar,” but there was a degree of American primacy in the world and in the Middle East that was pronounced. And the Gulf War was one example. The Madrid peace process and what came after was another. U.S. troops were stationed in significant numbers, and again, this was—this was very much an American era in the region.

I don’t think anything I’ve said it remarkably controversial, though I expect I can be corrected on parts of it, but my argument in the piece—and I think it’s still right—is that the American era came to an end pretty quickly—and again, eras are sometimes hard to date, but maybe roughly a decade, 12, 13 years after it began. I mean, you could argue it was 9/11. You could argue it was the 2003 Iraq War, but around that time, events and dynamics were set in motion that I believe historians will say ended the period of pronounced American influence and primacy in the greater Middle East.

The Iraq War was critical because, among other things, it brought to the surface a degree of Sunni-Shia competition or conflict that had not been visible or nearly as intense. Iraq was no longer a balancer of Iran but, in many ways, was a vehicle of Iranian influence. The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations went nowhere slowly. You had the rise of radical Islam in various forms, new terrorist groups, and more.

And in many ways we’re still in this era. We’re still in the post-American era in the Middle East. The Arab Spring, such as it was, has come and mostly gone. Some things have changed but quite a few have stayed the same. So what I thought I would do is take a few minutes to describe what I think are the cardinal features of where we are in the contemporary Middle East and then put out a few ideas as to what we might want to do about it—so basically, as we would say when we do task forces, some findings and some prescriptions.

I think the Middle East, now and for the foreseeable future, will be a region that is not dominated by a single local state or a single outside power. So this is going to be a highly competitive Middle East and, because they tend not to agree, it will also be—to use my favorite word—a Middle East in disarray, but disarray doesn’t begin to capture it. This is disarray on steroids, and that is what the Middle East is going to be.

And you’ve got strong local states, and there’s at least four that count the most: Iran, Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia—different forms of strength, but all four countries to be reckoned with. You’ve got militias and terrorist groups—essentially non-state actors—some, you know, supported by states, some more independent. You’ve got any number of conflicts: the conflict du jour, obviously, in Syria; you’ve got, in some ways the even more intense conflict in Yemen; you’ve got the realities of Afghanistan, Libya. And what these conflicts are are many things. I mean, some of them are civil, some of them are proxy, some of them are regional, some have elements of great power involvement, and in many ways, they are hybrids. Increasingly it’s hard to put them into a neat box. But what they are are conflicts.

I’d say Iran has emerged as something of an imperial power in the sense that it has a notion of state agenda that goes beyond its borders, beyond the narrow sense of its own self-interests. It’s got a larger—a larger canvas it is painting on. It’s constrained by the JCPOA, the multinational nuclear deal—it’s constrained in the nuclear area but not in other areas—and there are some interesting domestic developments there—not so much the green revolution, but the more recent public ferment. But Iran is very much, I would argue, going through something of an imperial phase in the region.

The divide between Iran and the Sunni countries led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE is in some ways arguably the most pronounced fault line in the region right now, and countries increasingly see themselves on one side or the other, and if they’re not, they, as Qatar will say, you can pay a price for that.

The number of weak or failed states, or places where governments do not have real authority, are many, so what some people call negative spaces, so you have a—you know, you have this map of the Middle East that Mr. Rand and Mr. McNally, who unfortunately couldn’t be with us tonight—(laughter)—that they—that they developed—but the reality is in many cases there’s a gap between Rand McNally Middle East and the real Middle East. And that is, I think, one that is here and it’s likely to linger.

Rita, forgive me, but I see very little promise for progress between Israelis and Palestinians given the internal politics of both. The one intriguing thing is certainly under the surface—to some extent above the surface—we see some of the barriers between Israel and some of the Sunni states beginning to come down. It already happened with Egypt and Jordan, but obviously now it’s happening with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, at least to a point.

Those of you who want to see people in the region reading The Federalist Papers in Arabic translation are likely to be frustrated for some time to come. Democracy does not seem to be at hand. The hopes for a political transformation have not been realized and, I would argue, are not likely to. The reformist movements in the region are not democratic reformist movements; they’re more administrative reformist movements.

Egypt is back to being the Egypt we all recognize. It is authoritarian, it is overwhelmed by its own demographics, and there is, I think, very little prospect for serious reform. Indeed, I constantly feel Egypt is on something of borrowed time because I don’t see it turning the corner economically, it’s heavily dependent on subsidies, and I don’t see set in motion a political dynamic which would create a broad base of support for the government. I look forward to Lisa Anderson’s views on this because she lived in Egypt for so many years.

Energy will continue to play an outsized role in the economies of several countries, and there—and I think it’s important to mention—an intriguing reform effort underway, obviously, in Saudi Arabia—Vision 2030—under the dynamic, young crown prince, but there are also enormous questions. You know, at the Kennedy School we used to teach the difference between policy design and policy implementation. Saudi Arabia is something of a case study in the difference between policy design and policy implementation. And we’ll see how it goes, but there are obviously significant questions—I’ll be generous—about how this will play out.

One last point: Afghanistan is not often always—and it’s not always mentioned in the Middle East, but we, for the purposes of this conference, working with CENTCOM, we wanted to talk about it a little bit. And I would simply say that Afghanistan continues to struggle with the fact of a central government that is not in effective control of big chunks of the country, a peace process that is not really going anywhere, and I don’t see much prospects for change or stability so long as, among other things, Pakistan provides a sanctuary for the Taliban and so long as the political divisions within Afghanistan remain as intense as they are.

So what does all this add up for policy for the—in particular, for the United States? If I had to just frame it, bound it, I would say we want to avoid the extremes of either withdrawal, to think we could safely pull out of the Middle East because we’re frustrated for whatever set of reasons or because of mistakes we’ve made in the past.

That’s one extreme we would want to avoid, and we also want to avoid the extreme of getting too ambitious in the Middle East—the idea that we can in fact transform it to make it look like other parts of the world. I think it’s an interesting question, one which real Middle East scholars have not really wrestled with hard enough, which is why has the Middle East had such trouble turning the corner.

What is it about this part of the world that seems unable to get it to pull it together in terms of the political economic transformations that we’ve seen in Latin America to a larger degree, important parts of Africa, obviously, and big chunks of Europe and Asia. What is it about local political culture—you know, as time goes why it’s harder and harder to blame it on colonial periods and the rest and on maps. There’s something—there’s something that's not right in this part of the world and I think it calls for a degree of intellectual honesty that only rarely we have seen in the—in the field.

In Syria—and I expect we’ll talk about that a lot, given the news—for all I know, events will intervene—my view is, again, we need to avoid extremes between walking away from it and trying to unseat the government anytime soon. I don't think this government right now is particularly vulnerable and I also don’t see the means of unseating it and I don’t see in place a viable alternative, which is not to say that—you know, it’s not to make the case for the government. It’s just—again, it’s not easily unseated and I don’t see what you’d put in its place. I think the Russian and Iranian interventions did make a big difference. There’s still, though, a counterterrorist mission I think has some validity. I do think that ISIS would be much more likely to reconstitute itself if we walked away.

So I think that—I do think there’s an argument for a modest presence. There is an argument for significant humanitarian help that need not be America alone. There is a place for our allies and friends and neighbors to help there. The diplomatic question—there’s been these quiet diplomatic talks going on. By and large, diplomacy reflects conditions on the ground more than it creates conditions on the ground. So it’s hard to be optimistic in a national sense. But I haven’t given up on the idea of some progress in local areas and I think that ought to be the emphasis for the—for the time being.

Turkey—and I’ll be interested in hearing what Professor Eissenstat has to say—I think Turkey qualifies as an ally in the technical sense but not as a partner in any real sense and I do not believe Turkey’s agenda is anything like America’s agenda or a European agenda in the Middle East, much less at home, and the sooner the United States weans itself on need and for access to Turkish bases the better, and I do not believe that the United States and Turkey in any way have similar goals in the Middle East. I believe the Syrian Kurds are an effective partner for the United States against ISIS. I also think it tends to be bad business to desert your partners when you decide they’re no longer all that helpful. So if that means the United States and Turkey end up at loggerheads, so be it. I think the sooner we face up to that reality, the better.

The Yemen situation is a strategic and a humanitarian nightmare. I don’t think the Iranian hand was heavy at the beginning. I think it’s grown somewhat over time. Civil conflicts and the rest create their own dynamics. When the Saudis got in there, my comment to a senior Saudi official was, my Arabic isn’t good enough to say this is going to be your Vietnam in Arabic, but it’s going to be your Vietnam.

It’s going to get a lot more difficult to figure a way out of that you’ll leave behind something stable than it was to get in, and I think that’s the Saudi dilemma. It’s become a political liability at home but they haven’t figured out a path that they could safely get out and it gradually keeps escalating, as we’ve seen with the various missile launches. I’ll be curious if others have ideas about what a path forward is.

But at the moment, I think this is probably in some ways even more than Syria. This has become the biggest strategic and, certainly, humanitarian crisis in the region. I would push hard to end the cold war against Qatar—to basically find a way to bury the hatchet there. In the case of Iran, I think the—I think the joint agreement—the JCPOA—has its flaws. I think the sunset provisions on centrifuges and enriched uranium were too short.

That said, it’s the only nuclear agreement with Iran we have. We’re better off with it than we are without it. The chances of renegotiating it are somewhere between zero and nil. An American departure from it would leave us isolated much more than Iran. So I would live with it. What I would, however—I would—what I argued for and what I still believe is we ought to be quietly working for a follow-on agreement.

Again, the provisions, the constraints were way too short-lived. I actually think they ought to be permanent but that’s just my own bias. But I would be working towards that, and in the meantime we’ve got to have a broader strategy towards Iran. I don't understand also why it has to just be one dimensional. I was asked by President Bush 43 to chair the interagency process towards the future of Afghanistan after 9/11.

The Iranians were actually useful partners in that, including a gentleman who happens to be their foreign minister now. The idea that we—we have multifaceted relations with Russia, with China, and others. I do not understand why we cannot also have a multidimensional and multifaceted relationship with Iran where we disagree profoundly in some areas but maybe find limited pockets of overlap in others.

That seems to me to be the challenge of diplomacy. As you expand areas of cooperation, your limit areas of spillover. I don’t believe that is impossible with Iran and I don't believe our interests are served. So, again, I want to avoid the extremes. I don’t think we can turn them into partners or allies across the board. We’re not going to transform them anytime soon.

But, again, I think it’s wrong to dismiss the possibilities for limited cooperation and I also think it would be a mistake, given the domestic dynamics in Iran, to have such a confrontational relationship that it becomes impossible for Iranians to disagree with their regime lest they be branded as unpatriotic. I think a lower temperature might actually help the process of political dynamics in Iran.

I think what’s going on in Saudi Arabia is interesting. I’m not smart enough to know whether it’ll work. But I do think there’s a case to be making—to make a broader Sunni reform agenda in the region, one that is anti-corruption, does introduce market reforms, rule of law, a slightly greater space for civil society. It’s not perfect. It’s not Jeffersonian democracy.

But it is a Sunni reform agenda and that’s something that we ought to be, I believe, developing with the Sunni countries. They know they’ve got to deliver a slightly better bargain for their people in many cases. So I actually think that ought to be on the—on the agenda.

In the case of Israelis and Palestinians, I think both sides pay and will pay an even larger price in the future for some version of the status quo and the real question is can we do things that over time will help bring about a situation that is more ripe, to use my favorite word, for progress and that to think about what would be the ways we could gradually, either what we say publicly, privately, what we encourage, what we discourage.

But this is not going to solve itself by itself, and the current and future trajectory is bad for Israelis and bad for Palestinians, and so I don’t think that means necessarily convening peace talks but it does mean thinking about what can we do to help set in motion dynamics that, over time, would make peace talks look at little bit more promising.

In Afghanistan, ironically enough—this will probably surprise a few people—it’s one of the few places, I think, where candidate Trump was closer to the truth than President Trump. Candidate Trump had a fairly limited view of American objectives in Afghanistan. President Trump has taken a more ambitious path. I’m not sure that greater investment will lead to greater returns. So I would have a minimal presence in Afghanistan, but I would not essentially have an ambitious either nation-building agenda or one that would require, you know, the scale of troops we have or are contemplating.

So let me just stop with just three final points before I ask the two real experts to come up. One is, unless I’ve got it completely wrong, it’s hard to be optimistic, given where we are, the political culture, the history, and the dynamics. If I’ve missed something, I really look forward to hearing about it. My wife and others are really tired of living with someone who’s so negative. So if we can—if we can improve things, it would be—it would be welcome.

I do think that on one of the—you know, one of the—I have two rules about the Middle East, by the way. One is the enemy of your enemy can still be your enemy and the other is things get worse before they get even worse. Things can be worse than they are, and one of the paths that really worries me is the path of nuclearization in the Middle East and I worry about the—what Iran—could happen with Iran and I worry about how the Saudis and some others might follow suit. And that, to me, would take a bad situation and make it far worse.

And one of the goals has to be that nuclearization—further nuclearization does not come to the region, and that means that if we’re dealing with the Iran agreement and Iran in certain ways and discouraging Saudi Arabia from going down that path, and one of the tricky questions is going to be, obviously, how the United States deals with the Saudi ambition for a nuclear energy program and under what terms we would provide it and so forth. So I think these—and by the way, these issues are happening this spring. This May is going to be critical for the Iran agreement and for the question of U.S.—potential sales of reactors to Saudi Arabia. So this is all coming to a head real, real soon.

Lastly, almost like in investments, there’s times in markets that you think about how much money you can make and there’s times in markets you think about how you can preserve the money you’ve got, and some might argue in the current market condition we’re more—we’re closer to the latter than we are to the former. That’s where I think we are in the Middle East, too. I don’t think this is a moment where we—there’s great upside to the Middle East. The real question to me is more how we can prevent significant further downside. That may sound too modest. It may not sound ambitious. But even in the Middle East even that tends to be ambitious.

Let me stop and let me invite the other two speakers up to the stage and then it’s their chance to have at me. So I’ll introduce you but come on up. (Applause.)

Sitting down next to me is Lisa Anderson. Lisa, I expect, is known to just about everybody in this room. She used to be the dean at Columbia. She is now a senior lecturer there and she ran AUC—the American University in Cairo—and she’s one of this country’s—you know, we’ve been fortunate over the decades to have, you know, a number of real Middle East hands and Lisa is one of them.

Howard Eissenstat, to her left, is associate professor of Middle Eastern history at St. Lawrence and he also is associated with the Project on Middle East Democracy. I apologize for all those things I said about Middle East democracy on that dais. (Laughter.) Nothing personal.

Lisa, why don’t you begin? And, Professor Eissenstat, you can take it over after that.

ANDERSON: OK. Wonderful. Well, thank you very much and thank you for the opportunity to think out loud, as it were. I have something between five and—four and five points that you have provoked in your observations. So let me just throw them out and then we can play with them.

In the first instance, I agree—I think it is hard to be optimistic. It pretty much doesn’t matter what you want to happen. You’re still not going to be very optimistic. It’s that kind of time, in a way, in the world and particularly in the Middle East, and perhaps one of the things that—well, I’ll return to this but one of the things that I think we need to be thinking about is the extent to which the Middle East reflects the world. It’s not—it doesn’t operate in a vacuum. The world itself is very confusing. The world itself doesn’t seem to have the kind of compass points that we who grew up after the Second World War have been accustomed to and the region reflects that.

I was struck as I was thinking about the article on which you were keying off about how often people who have studied the Middle East have talked about the new Middle East. There is a new Middle East in the 1950s, the Shimon Peres’—I mean, there have been new Middle Easts all the time, suggesting that we haven’t really figured out either what’s there or what we want to change particularly effectively.

I would—I almost never disagree with Richard Haass but I will take the opportunity for a very modest disagreement. The question of why this region as opposed to other regions of the world hasn’t, as you put it, turned the corner I think is not as—is partly, presumably, a reflection of things that have happened within the region itself. But as long as it’s the crossroads of the world and everyone in the world is paying attention to it, it doesn’t have a lot of opportunity to do very much on its own and to think about what countries, governments, peoples want. So I think, to some extent, it has not been beneficial to the region to be under the microscope all the time. So there’s a political science about that that I—we can play with, but I—

HAASS: Right. Well, we disagree, but we’ll come back to that.

ANDERSON: Yes, we can do that.

You said that there were four important countries, and I don’t think these countries are unimportant—Iran, Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia—but I must say don’t forget Egypt. It’s a third of the population, and I think Egypt is—what happens in Egypt is going to matter more than it simply being as it now is, something of a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Emirates. That will not last, and Egypt is going to be important. And the debates that the Egyptian government are now having with the Ethiopians about the dam on the Nile River and so forth are going to matter a lot in the coming years, so perhaps not in the next year, but if you are looking a little bit further than that, I think Egypt is going to turn out to be a country that we need to be paying a fair amount of attention to.

On—as you think—as you talked about the—Iran having an imperial agenda, which I entirely agree with, and it is interesting to see Iran behaving as an imperial power in the region. Conversely, I don’t think we see a Sunni reform agenda anywhere. I don’t think the Saudis represent that, and I think the hope that Mohammed bin Salman will represent a, you know, reformist vision of Sunni Islam is probably misplaced and certainly one we need to be careful of.

But I want to end with a return to some of the work that you yourself had done about the same time you published this piece on the Middle East, and it’s your reference to the Rand McNally map and the real map. This is a region in which you can see the decay of sovereignty everywhere, and to me, that’s probably one of the most—we tend to say, you know, there’s a country here—there’s Yemen, there’s Syria, there’s Libya. Honestly, in some ways, there isn’t, and part of what Americans need to begin to do is make policy toward what’s there as opposed to the Rand McNally map, which we’ve become so accustomed to. And that’s a huge challenge. But unless we can begin to think about what U.S. policy is not to the, you know, members of the United Nations government types, but what’s on the ground, I think we’re going to be really in a pickle.

That will do for now.

HAASS: In a pickle is a technical phrase—(laughter)—that is much better in the Arabic original. (Laughter.) Sir?

EISSENSTAT: Thank you. There’s not a lot that I can disagree with in your presentation, and the things that I disagreed with in your original article—you changed—

ANDERSON: (Laughs.) You’ve fixed those.

EISSENSTAT: You fixed those. (Laughter.)

Of course, I was reading the article with the advantage of 12 years of hindsight, so—I guess I’d like to put an exclamation point on one of your things, which is that we are in very bad times. If we were looking at the Middle East from the perspective of 2001, it wouldn’t look particularly violent. All of the Arab-Israeli conflicts from 1948 on have cost perhaps 170,000 lives, which is—which is a tragedy and which is a lot of human lives, but relative to the conflicts that have occurred since then seems a drop in the bucket.

The second is that sort of these failed states in the center of the Middle East, both in Iraq and Iran, have fundamentally dislocated the region as a whole. I’d also like to go back a bit. In your article you warm my heart by talking about the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, the 1774 Russian-Ottoman treaty, but there’s two things that come out of that that are really—that are really important and continue to be important. The first is that you start to have programs of self-modernization in the Middle East, and those programs of self-modernization have sort of common components of we need to modernize in order to compete with the West. We need to borrow, we need to develop technologies and education so that we do not—so that we are no longer in control. And each sort of successive generation that you talk about rebelled against its predecessors precisely because it viewed its predecessors as failing to achieve social justice, state legitimacy and effective modernization.

The second thing that comes out of that is the beginnings of a wave of sectarian violence. In the 19th century case it was violence primarily between Christians and Muslims, and it resulted in the—what a contemporary diplomat referred to as the great unmixing of the Balkans and Anatolia but continued into the Middle East, and has resulted in the diminishing of Judaism outside of Israel in the Middle East and of Christianity outside of the Middle East. It was, however, not out of religious hatred that this wave of sectarianism began, but out of politics. And the wave of sectarianism that I think I might have emphasized even more in your paper was—that’s shaping the Middle East today is, again, something that is defined by politics and not by religious hatred. If we go back to the ‘50s and ‘60s, Sunnis and Shias were not shooting each other, and so while sectarian violence is often, you know, described by the first fitna and all that, what we’re really seeing is the ways in which sectarian difference has been politicized by both Iran and by Saudi Arabia as a way of sort of describing their competition. And, you know, the first—that first wave of sectarianism was concluded with ethnic cleansing. How this wave of sectarianism—which is in a sense far more balanced—will conclude, I can’t imagine.

And then I’ll just—because you mentioned it—I’ll just highlight Turkey and while it’s technically an ally, I agree it’s not much of a partner, and it points to one of the larger ideas of your paper, which is that there’s a tremendous number of both outside and inside powers within the Middle East that are competing, that have their own ambitions, their own agenda, and that the United States can—no longer seems capable of playing that referee role and defining policies. The—effectively, Turkey has a vision for what it sees the Middle East should be like and what its role should be in that region. I wouldn’t describe it as imperial, but it’s certainly—it’s certainly ambitious and it doesn’t particularly include the United States. And I would say that in the new assertiveness of Saudi Arabia, in the spat with Qatar, what we’re seeing is the United States has certainly a place in the Middle East, but it’s no longer a defining place.

HAASS: Well, thank you.

Let me say one or two things. I have some—I have one or two questions for both of you, if I may.

I think—I’ll start with Lisa’s point, the idea that the Middle East is not so much sui generis, but in some ways slightly representative is interesting. That’s also worrisome because the Middle East has been a place, over the last decade beginning with the Obama administration and continued by this one, where we’ve dialed back or dialed down American involvement, and the results are not necessarily pretty. So if it is a harbinger of things to come, it’s not a reassuring. I’m not sure harbingers can ever be reassuring, but this one isn’t.

The only area I think we clearly disagree on is what I would call the blame game. At some point I think Middle Easterners have to own up to themselves, and you can blame it on Europeans, and blame it on Cold War, and blame it on Americans, and blame it on geography, but at some point there’s something wrong. And it gets into the area of politically incorrectness on what’s it about, the local cultures, and all that, but I—at some point there’s got to be a kind of ownership-taking because the rest of the world is never going to sort out the Middle East. So even if you’re right, it’s not going to help the people of the Middle East, so the real question is how do these—how do these countries get on a trajectory because, again, you look at the success of the Asia miracles, those in Latin America, obviously the success of Europe, so whether it’s within states or between and among them, every other part of the world is looking better. And—I don’t know—so I just—I just throw that out.

Egypt. The reason I left it out is I think Egypt is going to have its hand full being Egypt, and if Egypt is going up a million people, what, every nine, 10 months, plus or minus, and given the economic problems and the rest, I just think making Egypt a viable place is going to be a full-time job. And I think the era where Egypt projected a lot of influence outside the region—I mean, around the region—I think we’re less likely to see that. So I don’t argue the fact of Egypt’s importance in the sense of it’s a third, or whatever the percentage is, of the Arab world and the rest, but I think it’s going to be harder and harder for Egypt to project power and project influence just given its internal challenges economically and politically, and I think at various times in terms of stability.

I want to—I’m going to ask you a question about the Sunni reform—why don’t I just turn that to questions on that—which is you’re skeptical of what Mohammed bin Salman is doing, that his reform is—so I’d like to hear a little bit more about why you’re skeptical, but—so what would you have to see to be less skeptical? But if you’re right and—what does that mean? What are the consequences—because his analysis is, interestingly enough, we have to reform—we, the Saudis—that oil is not going to be the great provider, you’ve to too many young men who are under or are unemployed, that basically Saudi Arabia is not a sustainable proposition. That’s his argument. And if you buy into that argument to some degree, and if you’re right that he hasn’t adopted a serious reform program, where does that lead you to think? I mean, does that lead you to think that Saudi Arabia is in serious trouble?

ANDERSON: Yes. I don’t think that there is any dispute. Probably 90 percent of Saudis think that it’s time for reform, so the idea that there is a reform agenda in Saudi Arabia I think probably excites a fair amount of enthusiasm within the kingdom.

I worry about the difference between the plan and the implementation. I don’t see capacity to really have a sustained, thoughtful, systematic implementation of this reform plan. On the contrary, I think some of the things, including the gambit in the Ritz-Carlton and the Saad Hariri mistake I guess we have to call it, there are certain kinds of things that don’t bode well for a capacity to implement a reform vision.

So, yes, I think honestly, frankly across the region there’s an appetite for reform. Within Egypt, within Saudi Arabia there’s a sense that things have not gone well, we haven’t gone in the right direction, there needs to be some reform, and so forth. But there also is a sense—and I can’t—you know, looking at the world from Cairo if I may—that, you know, 30-somethings aren’t the answer to our problem. We already saw what happened with the Arab Spring. That was 30-somethings. The likelihood that this is going to be a huge improvement over that seems to be relatively modest. Now we wish him well—who could not wish him well—but I think there is reason to be somewhat skeptical and somewhat concerned about that.

On Egypt, just very quickly, I agree that Egypt is preoccupied with a variety of its own problems, Libya being one of them, frankly, and that is part of, you know, the backyard of Egypt, and they need to genuinely be concerned about that. That said, I think the likelihood that a country that has the kind of strength of state that Egypt has, the history that Egypt has, and the population that Egypt has is likely to be one of the last men standing. So don’t discount it.

HAASS: Got it.

Now, Howard, let me ask you one question, and then I’ve got one last question for the—a common question. We’ll talk about Turkey for a second, which is on Erdoganism. Have we passed the point of no return? So what is—what does Turkey look like—imagine he’s in office for five more years or 10 more years. Indeed, can you imagine that he’s alive and not in office? And what is—what do you think Erdoganism ultimately means for Turkey? What does he hand off?

EISSENSTAT: As best I can tell, should he survive, he’s got another 29 years or 27 years ahead of him, which gives him a long, long time to define his legacy. So there’s a few things I can in the negative. I don’t see any moderation. I think that Erdogan is exactly what we think he is. I don’t think that there’s a secret Erdogan waiting to come out.

It seems to me that he really—he believes in elections in a very sort of limited way. He believes that there should be elections and he believes that they should be contested, but that they shouldn’t be—but the idea of them being contested in a way that actually challenges him is not really of interest. In a sense, I think of this as the Chicago machine under Daley, right? That, of course, we have elections, but the system is rigged.

It seems to me that he believes that there is a model for the Middle East that he represents and that model is populist, it’s in touch with the new urban middle classes, it’s personally devout, it’s comfortable with technology and with industry, and it’s able to walk on the world’s stage.

My sort of new research interest is Turkey and Africa. And it’s really striking how aggressively Turkey has moved into Africa both diplomatically and economically over the last 15 years. There’s outreach to the Balkans, there’s outreach to the wider Middle East, and this is less ideological, Pan-Islamism, or Erdogan is Islamist than it is Erdogan believing that Turkey is a first-rate power. Intrinsic is that, however, is a tremendous sense of aggrieved. He believes that the West has held him back. He believes the United States has held him back. And he believes that the aggrandizement of Turkish power must necessarily come by opposing U.S. power.

HAASS: That probably translates well into Russia in that description.

Last question for you both, then we’ll open it up, which is, imagine this president were to change fundamentally or in three years we have a successor who basically comes along and wants to go back to some version of the good old days in the Middle East where the United States did have a larger degree of influence and a larger role. And the question I have: Even if we wanted to do that, has that—has that ship sailed? Essentially, has that era where the United States could play that kind of an outsized role, even if we wanted to, is that—is that essentially now resigned to history?

ANDERSON: No. I do think that this is a world and this is a region particularly that really does want compass points, that does want a sense of—you know, in some ways, it is partly who do we oppose or what do we not want, and in some ways, what’s the desire, you know. So it’s, you know, it’s a magnet and some filings turn toward it and some turn away it.

But I think there is a sense, as I say, in the world as a whole, but particularly in this region, that the region has lost its way. We don’t know one, I don’t think there’s a single government, with the possible exception of Mohammed bin Salman who has a sense of where he wants to be going and what he’s going to be doing in 10 years or 20 years or what the country is going to look like.

I think the Turks have entertained imperial ambitions. I think they’ve been disappointed by the failures of the Arab Spring; that’s been a problem for them. The Iranians are doing that now. Nobody really thinks that that’s going to last for a very long time.

So I do think that there is an opportunity; whether we should seize it or whether it would be good for the world for the United States to seize it is a different question. But there’s certainly an opportunity, an appetite in the region for a sense of kind of, you know, an adult in the room.

HAASS: Sir.

EISSENSTAT: Yes, so we could finally have some livid disagreement. I think that—

HAASS: Yes, you think the ship has largely sailed?

EISSENSTAT: I think the ship has sailed.

ANDERSON: Yes, yes.

EISSENSTAT: I think that, in a sense, the diminishing of U.S. power in the region was likely inevitable and we quickened it through unforced errors. But it strikes me that it’s much easier to play a counterhegemonic role—Russia, Turkey, Iran—than it is to maintain a system. It’s particularly—that’s particularly true once their fractures have been created.

And I would say that even during that period of U.S. dominance, we carried Saudi Arabia and Israel with us in large part because we were doing things they agreed with. If we were to try to pull them towards a reintegration of Iran into the region, I’m not sure that any amount of cajoling or U.S. efforts would do that.

HAASS: OK, a good—a good debate, a big question. OK.

What I want to do is open it up to you all. I’ll do it traditional style. Wait for a microphone. Let us know who you are. Be succinct and we’ll try to be as succinct as we can be.

Yes, ma’am.

Q: Thanks very much. I’m Nussaibah Younis from Chatham House.

I wonder if the panel would be interested in exploring a new way of framing the Middle East given the way in which identity politics has become less and less of a driver of regional alignment since the start of the Syrian war.

So at the beginning, we saw very traditionally Iran allying with Syria, with Iraqi support, with Hezbollah. And now we’ve seen Turkey breaking away, Qatar breaking away, the Turkish-Iranian relationship developing further, and Saudi rapprochement with Iraq deepening Saudi-Israeli relations. There seems to be much less of a clear-cut Sunni-Shia outlook here. Maybe more pragmatism? What else could be driving these shifts?

HAASS: Want to take that?

You may see less—I’d say one thing. You may see less of a slightly—of a Sunni-Shia thing, but I would not underestimate for a second the Saudi-UAE versus Iran schism. That seems to me to be profound, so I think—particularly from the Saudi point of view.

You know, I do think the idea that you have shifting alignments and people will casually switch sides and change teams, it’s got a little bit of a pick-up game quality to the Middle East, and I think we’ve seen that particularly in Syria. And I think that’s right. And constantly, people are weighing which way as they see their interests better served and they’re willing to change their leanings or their loyalties or their affiliations. So I think that—I think that part is—what I have to think about is whether that’s good news or bad news. It’s news, I just haven’t figured it out yet.

EISSENSTAT: But to add on to that, the Syrian civil war had—it’s kind of already been defined in terms of who is winning. For Turkey in particular, it had to come to terms with the failure of its preferred opposition and it particularly had to deal with the empower of the YPG for which a different kind of identity politics was at work. And in the end, while it continues to (viturperate ?) against the Assad regime, it fundamentally saw the YPG as a direct strategic threat in a way that the Syria war largely was not.

HAASS: Let’s see, I want to get some geographical diversity.

Yes, ma’am, in the one, two, three, fourth row.

Q: Thank you. My name is Karen Young from the Arab Gulf States Institute.

I wanted to challenge you a little bit on this notion that the region is failing in comparison to others. I mean, part of the puzzle of political reform in the Middle East, to me, is that economically it’s actually seen a lot of success compared to sub-Saharan Africa or parts of Asia. I mean, we’ve seen good, you know, improvement in child mortality and rising levels of education, and income inequality is reducing. I mean, a lot of the problems and the animus that drove the Arab Spring was this sense, a kind of a squeeze on the middle class and lack of employment, the same kind of issues we have animating populist politics in the United States and Western Europe, right?

So, you know, what would you advise then? What’s the struggle for the United States to advise to governments to do better in governing and to do better in creating economic opportunity? I mean, we don’t have good ideas either, right? Isn’t that kind of the paucity of transfer of ideas and development notions there?

HAASS: Do you want to take that?

ANDERSON: You should take that.

I agree with you. (Laughter.)

HAASS: Oh, wow. I feel like the Lone Ranger, somewhat deserted by Tonto here. (Laughter.)

Look, no—well, I would agree no one thing. I mean, the U.S., our ability to preach is much diminished, and it’s one of the sad things. I mean, if Joe Nye were here, he would correctly talk about soft power, and the power and the allure of our example is much diminished. And I think we’ve done a bad job of selling democratic reform by the dysfunction of Washington and things like—and the attacks on what were independent institutions to not make us—put us in a position where, again, we can talk about the strength of civil society. I could go on and on.

But I think—so I think—and the 2007-8 crisis made it very hard even a decade ago to walk around the world talking about the virtues of the Washington consensus. So I get all that, which doesn’t—I still think, though, we do have things to offer the region in terms of ideas and assistance for all of our mistakes.

Well, in terms of the region, we could go around and that would be a longer conversation. But I—if one were to, you know, to basically redo the Arab human development reports, I still think the larger story is a depressing one in terms of the quality of education, in many cases still about opportunities for girls and women, corruption indices, difficulty versus ease of starting businesses. I still think it’s a pretty depressing thing.

I think in countries like Turkey—I would defer to Howard—you see also a consolidation of state authority and a squeezing out and basically using state power to squeeze private sector, squeeze civil society. Egypt, I think we see elements of that in the aftermath of the experience with the Muslim Brotherhood. We’ll see what happens in Saudi Arabia.

But then again, I am intrigued by the idea of thinking about what an administrative—I mean, the problem with anticorruption, it can’t be selective if it’s going to be anticorruption.

ANDERSON: Exactly.

HAASS: It loses its legitimacy, so the question about how that—how that plays out.

So, again, maybe I can argue around or (flat ?), but I see—I guess I’m more of a critic than I am—than I am anything else still.

ANDERSON: If I may, I don’t think that there’s nothing to criticize, obviously. But I think part of the impulse to the question is, is this region qualitatively worse than Jacob Zuma’s South Africa or Maduro’s Venezuela? I mean, we have catastrophes around the world and the fact that there seem to be quite a lot of them in this region doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s unique or even unusual, unfortunately.

So the question then is, how do—I mean, if we think about Erdogan and you think about Orbán in Hungary, to what extent are we talking about a qualitatively different?

HAASS: The bads are replicated. What I don’t see are the equivalent of Macri’s Argentina or Chile. What I don’t see is the equivalent of Macron’s France. What I don’t see—so I can—you’re right, the bads are replicated, alas, around the world. I don’t see the South Korean example. I don’t see countries which have come out of authoritarianism and basically moved toward serious democracy and markets. So that’s what I don’t see in the Middle East.

Bad, you’re right, every part of the world has its bad examples. What I don’t see are the positive cases. And even in sub-Saharan Africa now, we’re seeing a larger number of positive cases. I don’t see that in the Middle East.

ANDERSON: OK.

HAASS: That’s my—that’s where the Middle East distinguishes itself.

Yes, sir, all the way in the back.

Q: Hi, Richard. Mike Moran.

HAASS: Hey, Mike.

Q: Hi.

Very quick question for all three of you and then I hope maybe you’ll discuss it. (Laughter.) In five years, will Turkey be a member of NATO?

HAASS: Well, just to give one factual point, there’s no clause in the NATO treaty that is a clause to boot anybody out. There’s not an expulsion clause. So if I’m not mistaken, the only way Turkey could cease to be a member of the NATO treaty were for Turkey to resign.

EISSENSTAT: That’s right.

HAASS: It can’t be booted. So in that case, the initiative is with Turkey in the legal, formal sense.

EISSENSTAT: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I don’t see—obviously there’s unforeseen contingencies, but I don’t see any reason why it would want to leave NATO. And it’s fair to remember that some of the things that we in the United States are exercised about, the S-400s, aren’t particularly NATO issues. They’re things that Washington cares about. But the read from France, from Great Britain, are not necessarily the same. And so—and indeed, it’s likely that whatever happens to the U.S.-Turkish relationship, there—the relationship between Europe and Turkey will be somewhat happier.

HAASS: Bettye, you had your hand up.

Q: They need a microphone.

HAASS: You’ve got a microphone heading your way. It has arrived.

Q: I’m Bettye Musham.

Given the way that the prince of Saudi Arabia took power and alienated everyone in the country that has any influence and money, and Yemen and Qatar, what are the chances of him being assassinated? It seems like that would be something people would be talking about.

HAASS: I would slightly challenge your preamble. I don’t think he, quote-unquote, alienated everybody in the country. Indeed, in my experience with Saudis recently, I have been impressed by—I’ve encountered, for the first time in my career, some genuine enthusiasm on the part of Saudis for what’s going on in their country. And it’s not just cynical. I think there’s actually genuine positive thinking about where this might come.

Now, I’m not going to say he hasn’t alienated some people. Obviously, those who were entertained at the Ritz Carlton have a different view. I’m not—and also this is a very un-Saudi-like political arrangement. Saudi Arabia essentially has spread the butter very thin on the bread, and lots of members of this or that faction or this or that part of the royal family had a piece of power. This is an un-Saudi-like, unprecedented degree of political consolidation. With that comes risk. Also with that comes power. And we’ll see how it—but I would just simply say that I think he has taken on a lot. He’s taken on enormous domestic challenges. He has alienated some people. And he’s taken on several foreign-policy challenges. And I think the question for me is whether he has taken on too much, too soon. He would answer the question that he had no choice, that Saudi Arabia has to reform fast at home and it has to deal with a number of external challenges that won’t wait.

I would simply raise the question of whether he’s like a general who’s chosen to fight too many battles on too many fronts, and I think that is a—that is a question.

ANDERSON: I agree with that. I think he’s a young man in a hurry, and I think that has some advantages and some disadvantages. I think he should keep in mind that when he becomes king he can be king for 50 years, and so he should probably relax a little. (Laughter.)

HAASS: Sure. Pacing is important.

Yes, sir.

Q: Charles Henderson, AIG.

Lisa, you talked a little bit about your pessimism over the movement of these reforms. What do you see as actually being executed? And if not all of them are executed, what is the downside risk that only some of them are executed?

ANDERSON: In Saudi Arabia?

Q: Yeah.

ANDERSON: Yeah. Again, I think the sense of optimism that Richard reports, I think, is—in many quarters in Saudi Arabia, there really is a sense of, you know, finally we’re going to get the next generation; we’re going to be able to do things that we have known for decades we should be able to do, and so forth and so on. So I think there’s some running room here.

I don’t think that Aramco IPO is going to work. I think the issue of funding a lot of these major initiatives, not only the new city, Neom, but, you know, how are you going to fund the Yemen debacle? How are you going to keep the Egyptian regime afloat? How much of that are you going to divide with the Emirates, who are contributing in substantial ways to being able to pursue a lot of these foreign-policy endeavors in any event?

I do think that there isn’t as much of a sense of how this is going to roll out over the course of the next decade. So you get to 2030, give or take a little. How much of that are you going to have accomplished, and how much of it are you going to have—you know, ultimately shaken down some of the members of the royal family to get some of the money to bridge you to the next moment, because then you’re going to have the IPO or then you’re going to—there doesn’t seem to be the long trajectory that I think, if you’re going to be king for 50 years, you should really be thinking over the long run.

Once you seem to have lost control of that, I think domestically there is—I don’t think he’s going to be assassinated. I don’t think people, you know, honestly do that anymore. But I can well imagine factions within the royal family and factions within the Saudi elite saying, you know what, you’ve overpromised and underdelivered, and we’re unhappy because we’ve been forced to be subsidizing this in ways that we don’t think is fair. And then I think he’s in trouble. But I think he’s in political trouble, not existential trouble.

HAASS: Rita. Wait for a microphone.

Q: Thank you. Rita Hauser.

I found it interesting that none of you discussed—none of you discussed Islam. None of you discussed the fact that in the colonial era, and then some, the intervention of Europe was always under the guise or largely under the guise of protecting Christians. The region has been completely denuded of Christians, other than the Copts, which have their own problems.

How does that shape up? This whole vast region is now basically one religion, putting little Israel aside.

EISSENSTAT: Well, as I said in my initial comments, I think that was the outcome of this wave of sectarian violence that occurred over the course of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. It was—Muslims were cleansed out of Eastern Europe and Christians were cleansed out of the Middle East.

To take, you know, my country, Turkey, in 1911 there were—maybe 25, 30 percent of the population of what’s today Turkey was Christian. By the end of the World War I era, it was 7 percent. It’s now .02 percent. And that’s—to greater or lesser degrees, that’s the story of the Middle East in general.

I think, though, that Islam can mean many things. I think that there are many—the question is, how does—how can you have a government that’s reflective of your populace and still pursues—still pursues a modern state?

The focus that we most associate with Islamism, the Salafi jihadi types, they exist in vacuums. They exist on the peripheries of societies. They have nowhere demonstrated a capacity to maintain a sustainable state.

That said, all Middle Eastern governments, including those that we describe as secular, play up their Islamic bona fides, because that’s their population.

ANDERSON: If I may, I think—I mean, I think Howard is right. The great unmixing started, you know, a long time ago. But I do think there’s something happening in the region now that is somewhat different or more an extension of this that is a reflection not only of regional dynamics but global dynamics. You see the rise of religious politics everywhere in the world. Virtually every religious tradition is producing religious politics.

I think this is, in my estimation, a reflection of the decline in confidence in the state, in the state’s capacity to provide for citizens. And as that happens, people look to alternatives for rule of law, for fairness, for equity, for morals, for solace, for provision of various kinds of things. And, lo and behind, religious traditions have done that since the beginning of time.

So you see in the Middle East, you see many, many people who no longer think the Arab nationalist state of Iraq or Syria or Egypt and so forth is going to do what they promise to do. And obviously they’re right. They’re not. So where are you going to turn when you need help? As a citizen of these states, you’re not going to get anything. So even if those—they overpromise. They’ve certainly underdelivered. And people look to alternative identities and communities for those kinds of communities.

And I think the—I would say that’s also true in India. I would say, you know, you can see it in lots of places in the world. But it’s important in this part of the region—in this part of the world, in part because of the incredible weakness of these states and the growing importance transnationally of these kinds of identities and communities.

So this gets to this question of the, you know, decline of sovereignty and the alternative communities that we’re going to be living in. So I think some of this is, you know, clearly a kind of great-power play. You know, the Saudis are going to say the Iranians are horrible because they’re Shia, and this is a, you know, power politics, But I also think in much of the region people are looking to sources for support and solace and help and aid and community and so forth that they’re not getting in the Rand-McNally map. And that’s part of what you’re seeing too.

HAASS: Very quickly, I think there’s two interesting experiments going on. One is called Saudi Arabia. One is called Iran. And I think Iran, which, you know, since ’79 has had something of a fusion or at least coexistence of political and religious authority, that’s being slightly challenged for the first time from within, early days; may amount to nothing, but it’s worth watching.

And Saudi Arabia, you’re beginning to see some pushback by the crown prince and others against the religious police, against some of the religious authorities. So the basic bargain of Saudi Arabia, the question of whether that is now in play for the first time, because he sees it as, in some ways, holding Saudi Arabia back.

I don’t know how either of these will play out, but I think this issue is in play in ways that it hasn’t been for a while in those two countries and conceivably elsewhere. So I think it’s an interesting time. And what I was getting at before when I talked about why this part of the world hasn’t turned the corner, this question of the role of Islam, Arab political culture, something of the fusion of the two, I think there’s something to that. But I don’t quite know how to capture it in a way that doesn’t get me run out of town. (Laughs.)

Sure. We’ve got—yeah. Sorry.

Q: I’ll stand up.

HAASS: Sorry. Yeah, stand up.

Q: Michael Skol of Skol and Serna.

For decades, and I would say for many if not most Americans, when they thought of the Middle East, they thought of Israel versus the Palestinians. But we’ve all been talking about the fact that that whole dynamic has been diminishing in terms of the world’s notice and power politics in the Middle East. Is that a permanent diminishment? And what, therefore, does it mean?

HAASS: Well, I have views on that, but—

ANDERSON: And you should share them.

HAASS: Yeah, but they won’t make—(laughter)—I may alienate the person for whom this is named tonight.

Look, I think it’s been a while since that dispute held the key, so to speak, to unlock the future of the region. Or, to put it another way, if tomorrow there was, as I think would be a good idea, a separate Palestinian state, whatever the details were, I don’t think that would help resolve most of the issues we’ve talked about here tonight—future of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Syria. These crises would—they’re not derivative in any way.

So I think, in many ways—not totally, but in many ways—the Israeli-Palestinian dispute has become more of a local dispute—powerfully important to the future of the Jewish state; to Palestinians, obviously. There are ways in which it could—it still inhibits certain things. The Saudis are inhibited in certain things they’re willing to do overtly with the Israelis.

I can imagine that if certain kinds of violence came to it, it could make things a lot more complicated. And imagine if there were destruction of holy places, what that could mean. I think it could be real fuel on flames. So I could see the potential for negatives in certain ways, negative spillovers, more than positives. I really do think the great benefit of it would accrue to Israelis and Palestinians, but I don’t think it would affect meaningfully the dynamics that we’ve been discussing here tonight.

I don’t know if either one of you disagree.

ANDERSON: I don’t disagree with that. I think that’s essentially—I would subscribe to that.

HAASS: A B+ on that answer, Professor?

ANDERSON: Yes. (Laughs.) But I think I would be a little bit—I think there would be more positive—a little bit more positive spillover there, because I think one of the problems in the region since the Second World War has been this capacity on the part of governments to basically put lots of things off because you had this problem. Until this problem was solved, you didn’t have to solve any problems at home.

So the fact that the Palestinian issue continued to be a kind of perennial question meant that some of the obligations you would expect states to undertake and so forth were not—you didn’t have to, because there was always this problem. If that problem wasn’t there anymore, if you had a Palestinian state, you would also have a Lebanese state and a Syrian state and a Jordanian state that had obligations to its citizens and not obligations to other citizens of the Palestinian state, presumably. And it would be much clearer.

So I think that this has been an opportunity for ambiguity and for passing the buck, if you will, for a very long time in the region. So were the problem solved, I think there would be some positive spillover in the region as a whole. So I think it—I agree that the negative could be terrible, but I think there’s an upside too.

EISSENSTAT: So if we go back—1948, 1967, 1973, all of these—in the grand scheme of things, these should—this is a relatively small amount of territory, a relatively small number of people. Take all of Israel, all of Palestine; it fits into the greater Cairo area. But each of these became tremendously important for neighboring states, precisely because they were seen as representative of that state’s legitimacy, its ability to live up to its values.

And so I don’t see that dynamic changing in the long term. It’s been in relative abeyance in part because the conflict itself seems to be in a sort of stasis, in part because Syria and Iraq have been such egregious tragedies that everybody has focused on them, and Yemen as well.

But I think, you know, as the other panelists have said, when the Arab-Israeli—when the Palestine-Israeli conflict reignites, as it inevitably will, as we go into another wave of tragedy, it again will have these ripple effects in the region.

HAASS: Shockingly enough, we did not solve the Middle East within an hour and 15 minutes. I was hoping if we spoke quickly we could do that. (Laughter.) But I’ve clearly let my two colleagues down and you all down, for which I apologize.

I do want to thank Lisa Anderson and Howard Eissenstat for being with us tonight, and really for not just tonight but for their contributions to the debate about this part of the world. So thank you both. (Applause.)

I want to again thank Rita and Gus Hauser for their support of this institution and this symposium.

I want to urge you all to be here bright and early tomorrow morning. I think we have breakfast at 8:00, breakfast at 8:00. And then the first session on Iran begins at 8:30, and that is the first of three sessions where we’ll tackle big parts of this part of the world.

So thank you all.

And thank you both for getting us off to such a good start. (Applause.)

(END)

 

Up

Explore More on CFR

Japan

CFR's Sheila A. Smith joins James M. Lindsay to discuss the recent meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Trump. 

Syria

Syria is likely to remain a broken country for years to come. The latest strikes did not change that reality.

Cuba

Miguel Diaz-Canel, set to replace Raul Castro as president of Cuba after sixty years of Castro rule, will be faced with the challenges of implementing economic reform and sidestepping regional isolation.