Challenges in U.S. Iran Policy

A half-day conference to examine Iran’s military buildup and the threats it poses to states in the region.
Wednesday, July 12
12:30 - 5:30 pm
The Middle East Institute
1319 18th Street NW
Washington, District of Columbia 20036
(Map)

Event Information

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Countering Iran's growing influence in the broader Middle East is a major goal of the Trump Administration. President Trump forcefully reinforced this policy on his recent visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel. But what does this mean? The administration has so far upheld the JCPOA with Iran and tolerated Iranian-backed proxies in the fight against ISIS in Iraq. Iran, meanwhile, has continued to build up its conventional military and missile capacities and doubled down on its asymmetric military networks in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen. U.S. bombs have struck Iranian-backed militias propping up the Assad regime in Syria. Is U.S. policy changing?

The Middle East Institute (MEI) hosted this conference, which aimed to examine and assess the outlines of U.S. policy toward Iran, addressing its overall goals, the strategies being pursued, and the measurement of failure and success.

Agenda:

12:00 PM | Registration

12:25 PM | Welcome and Introduction
Amb. (ret.) Gerald Feierstein
Director for Gulf Studies, MEI

Keynote Remarks and Audience Q&A
The Honorable Christopher A. Coons (D-DE)
United States Senator, Delaware

Panel I: Assessing the Threat, Calibrating a Strategy
Iran, and in particular the Revolutionary Guard Corps, is building up its conventional power and asymmetric militia alliance system in the Middle East. What are its short and long-term aims and the risks for the United States and its allies in the region? What are the U.S.’s strategic goals vis-a-vis Iran, and how can America best work with Gulf Arab partners to achieve them? How is the Administration integrating the various tools of force, coalition building, and diplomacy in its policy toward Tehran?
Panelists:
Anthony Cordesman
Arleigh A. Burke chair in strategy, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
Suzanne Maloney
Deputy Director, The Brookings Institution Foreign Policy Program
ADM (ret.) James Winnefeld
Board member, Raytheon Company
Karoun Demirjian (Moderator)
Foreign Policy Correspondent, The Washington Post

2:45-3:00 PM | Coffee Break 
 
Panel: Challenges in Syria and Iraq
What are the facts of Iranian deployments (own forces and directed militias) in Syria and Iraq? What is the U.S. strategy for reducing Iran’s direct and indirect military presence in Syria and in reducing Iranian influence in Baghdad post-Mosul? What strategies are Arab states and Turkey pursuing? How should Washington measure success in pushing back on Iran in the complex arenas of Syria and Iraq?
Panelists:
Mohammed Alyahya
Atlantic Council
Matthew McInnis
Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
Randa Slim
Director of Track II Dialogues Initiative, MEI
Paul Shinkman (Moderator)
National Security Senior Writer, U.S. News & World Report

Panel: Challenges in Yemen, Lebanon, and Afghanistan
How far has the Iranian-Houthi relationship developed? What defines success in addressing the Iranian role in Yemen? What are the facts and trends in Iranian support for Hezbollah and its broader role in Lebanon? What are the risks of another Hezbollah-Israeli confrontation? What risks for the U.S. arise from Iran's recruitment of Afghans, sectarian incitement in Afghanistan, and support to the Taliban?
Panelists:
Amb. (ret.) Gerald M. Feierstein
Director for Gulf Studies, MEI
Ahmad Majidyar
Director of IranObserved, MEI
Aram Nerguizian
Senior Fellow, CSIS
Joyce Karam (Moderator)
Correspondent, Al-Hayat Newspaper

5:30 PM | Closing Remarks and Adjournment
Amb. (ret.) Gerald Feierstein
Director for Gulf Studies, MEI

Speaker Biographies:

The Honorable Christopher A. Coons, D-DE
United States Senator, Delaware
Chris Coons was elected to the United States Senate in 2010 and is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee. Senator Coons has used his position on the Foreign Relations Committee to advocate for key foreign policy and national security priorities. He has worked with his colleagues to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, supported comprehensive sanctions against the Iranian government, and pushed for aggressive implementation and enforcement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Senator Coons believes the United States must remain globally engaged and utilize our diplomatic, military, and economic power to promote stability, support our allies, and counter terrorism and other forms of extremism.

Mohammed Khalid Alyahya
Nonresident fellow, The Atlantic Council
Mohammed Khalid Alyahya is a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council's Middle East Center. He is also a research fellow at the Gulf Research Center and serves on the advisory board for the Future Trends in the GCC Program at Chatham House. He was an associate fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies from 2014 to 2015. Alyahya is a Saudi Arabian political analyst and commentator. His writing has been published in the New York Times, Financial Times, the Guardian, Al-Monitor, the Royal United Services Institute, the Telegraph, Al Arabiya, and the Huffington Post.

Anthony Cordesman
Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy, CSIS
Anthony Cordesman is the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Cordesman is the author of a wide range of studies on U.S. security policy, energy policy, and Middle East policy and has served as a consultant to the Departments of State and Defense during the Afghan and Iraq wars. Cordesman formerly served as national security assistant to Senator John McCain on the Senate Armed Services Committee, as director of intelligence assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and as civilian assistant to the deputy secretary of defense. He has been awarded the Department of Defense Distinguished Service medal, is a former adjunct professor of national security studies at Georgetown University, and has twice been a Wilson fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars.

Karoun Demirjian
Defense and Foreign Policy Correspondent, The Washington Post
Karoun A. Demirjian is a multimedia international journalist and freelance reporter at The Washington Post covering defense and foreign policy, and was previously a correspondent based in the Post's bureau in Moscow. She has worked in Jordan, Russia, Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Germany.

Ambassador (ret.) Gerald Feierstein
Director, MEI Center for Gulf Affairs
Gerald Feierstein is director for Gulf affairs and government relations at MEI. He retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in May 2016 after a 41-year career with the personal rank of Career Minister. As a diplomat he served in nine overseas postings, including three tours of duty in Pakistan, as well as assignments in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Lebanon, Jerusalem, and Tunisia. In 2010, President Obama appointed Feierstein U.S. Ambassador to Yemen, where he served until 2013. From 2013 until his retirement, Feierstein was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.

Joyce Karam
Washington Bureau Chief, Al-Hayat Newspaper
Joyce Karam is the Washington bureau chief for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with a focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a journalist in Lebanon, covering the post-war situation.

Ahmad Majidyar
Director of IranObserved Project, MEI
Ahmad Khalid Majidyar is a fellow and the director of IranObserved Project at MEI. From 2008 to 2015, he worked as a senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he co-authored two monographs on Iran: Iranian Influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan (AEI 2012), and The Shi’ites of the Middle East: An Iranian fifth column? (AEI 2014). As an instructor with the Naval Postgraduate School’s Leadership Development and Education for Sustained Peace program (2008-2016), Majidyar provided graduate-level seminars to more than 3,000 U.S. and NATO military leaders on Afghanistan and the broader region. His articles on Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan have been published in Foreign Policy, The New York Times, Fareed Zakaria’s GPS, Fox News, U.S. News & World Report, The Daily Telegraph, and Forbes, among others. He has also discussed Middle Eastern topics on the BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera English, Sky News, CBC Canada, Bloomberg News and Voice of America’s Dari, Farsi, Urdu and English services.

Suzanne Maloney
The Brookings Institution
Suzanne Maloney is deputy director of the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution and a senior fellow in the Brookings Center for Middle East Policy and Energy Security and Climate Initiative, where her research focuses on Iran and Persian Gulf energy. She is the editor of Markaz, a blog on politics in and policy toward the Middle East published by the Brookings Institution. Her books include the 2008 monograph "Iran's Long Reach" (United States Institute of Peace, 2008) as well as "Iran's Political Economy since the Revolution," published in August 2015 by Cambridge University Press. Her Brookings Essay, "Iran Surprises Itself And The World," was released in September 2013, and she has also published articles in a variety of academic and policy journals. Maloney previously served as an external advisor to senior State Department officials on long-term issues related to Iran. Before joining Brookings, she served on the secretary of state's policy planning staff, as Middle East advisor for ExxonMobil Corporation, and director of the 2004 Council on Foreign Relations Task Force on U.S. policy toward Iran, chaired by former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Matthew McInnis
Resident Fellow, AEI
J. Matthew McInnis is a resident fellow at the AEI and the former senior expert for Iran at the U.S. Central Command from 2010-2013. At AEI he focuses on Iran’s intentions, strategic culture, and military posture as well as Tehran’s activities throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. McInnis also works on broader US defense and regional security issues in the Middle East and on the effectiveness of the U.S. intelligence community. He is regularly called to give expert testimony before Congress, and his public writing has been frequently featured in The National Interest and Newsweek as well as The Daily Beast, Foreign Policy, Fortune, CNN, Real Clear Defense, and other media. Before joining AEI, McInnis served as a senior analyst and in other leadership positions for the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense, where he worked on Iran, Iraq, and the larger Middle East; counter proliferation; and East Asian security issues. From 2006-2007, he served in senior leadership and advisory positions with both Multi-National Force–Iraq and Multi-National Corps-Iraq in support of Generals George W. Casey Jr., David Petraeus, and Raymond T. Odierno.

Aram Nerguizian
Senior Fellow, CSIS
Aram Nerguizian is a senior fellow with the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at CSIS, where he conducts research on strategic and military dynamics in the Middle East and North Africa. During his time at CSIS, Nerguizian has focused on specialized themes such as U.S. and Iranian strategic competition in the Levant, Syrian instability and regional competition, Hezbollah, the Lebanese Armed Forces, security sector reform, and challenges to civil-military relations and force development in post-conflict and divided societies. He is frequently consulted by governments and the private sector, appears regularly on CNN, BBC News, Al-Jazeera, CBS News, VOA and PBS, and has been quoted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time Magazine, Foreign Policy, The Financial Times, and by the Associated Press and other news outlets on security issues in the Middle East.

Paul Shinkman
National Security Correspondent, U.S. News and World Report
Paul D. Shinkman is the national security correspondent for U.S. News and World Report. He has reported from conflict zones in Ukraine, Iraq, and Afghanistan, where he embedded with local and American forces, and has corresponded from around the globe, including from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and the "front lines" of Russia's influence and cyber campaign in Europe. He has interviewed and traveled with some of the Defense Department's top officials and reported from U.S. military facilities throughout the U.S. and internationally. Shinkman was a Next Generation National Security Leaders fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

Randa Slim
Director for Track II Initiatives, MEI; Fellow, SAIS Foreign Policy Institute
Randa Slim is the director of the Track II Dialogues Initiative at MEI and a non-resident fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies' Foreign Policy Institute. A former vice president of the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue, Slim has been a senior program advisor at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a guest scholar at the United States Institute of Peace, a program director at Resolve, Inc., and a program officer at the Kettering Foundation. A long-term practitioner of Track II dialogue and peace-building processes in the Middle East and Central Asia, she is the author of several studies, book chapters, and articles on conflict management, post-conflict peace-building, and Middle East politics.

Admiral (ret.) James “Sandy” Winnefeld
Board Member, Raytheon Corporation
Admiral James Winnefeld, U.S. Navy, retired, served until July 2015 as the ninth vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as the second highest-ranking officer in the United States Armed Forces. After 37 years of service in the Navy, Winnefeld currently sits on the board of directors at the Raytheon Company and is a non-resident senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, as well as a distinguished professor at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech. During his career in uniform Winnefeld served as commander of the U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) and commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).