The panel discussion "America in the Middle East: What Comes Next?" was held during MEI's 61st Annual Conference at the National Press Club, Washington, DC.
Philip Gordon, David Ignatius, Tariq Ramadan, Robert Satloff
The panelists discussed what they considered current trends in the Middle East and gave some of their own suggestions as to where American policy in the region should be directed in the near future.
Tariq Ramadan dominated the first half hour of the discussion due to the anticipated brevity of a satellite broadcast from England. During his time, Dr. Ramadan stressed the necessity for a critical assessment of US policy toward the Middle East as he outlined a couple of main points.
The first point was that America’s unilateral support of Israel should be criticized. Secondly, he stressed that after 9/11 not only terrorists but also Islam itself was being targeted. Dr. Ramadan also stated that human dignity and the principles of human democracy were universal values but that America often superimposed “our democracy, our values,” and neglected the collective psychology of other societies.
In regard to the future of the American presence in Iraq, Tariq Ramadan supported a step-by-step withdrawal of American troops and the temporary use of international forces to facilitate the process. Regarding Palestine and Israel he claimed there was silence in Europe and America about what had occurred in the Palestinian Territories and that more pressure should be aimed at Israel to realize the dignity of Palestinians. Dr. Ramadan also called for more consistent discourse on the issues in the Middle East and open channels of communication to listen to what may be considered controversial voices.
During the question and answer segment of Dr. Ramadan’s presentation he openly denounced terrorist attacks against civilians from both Israel and Palestine, and affirmed that only armies and military forces were legitimate targets. For the speaker, non-Muslims living in majority Muslim societies should be allotted equal citizenship. He then criticized Arab countries that had committed civil injustices for perpetuating a double standard on civil rights. As for the future of Muslims in Europe, Dr. Ramadan noted that Muslims were getting more involved in European politics and society and increasingly impacted the larger body of Muslims globally.
After Tariq Ramadan signed off, Philip Gordon spoke. Dr. Gordon held that America was moving away from the notion of “grand designs” in the Middle East to a series of step-by-step crisis management scenarios. According to the speaker US policy had become and would remain more pragmatic in the near future and that Democrats and Republics were gradually converging in opinion on Iraq, largely relinquishing the idea of immediate withdrawal. However, Dr. Gordon noticed that if Iraq policy appeared to be moving more slowly, Iran alternately seemed a more pressing matter, and the speaker said the debate on what to do with Iran over its nuclear ambitions still remained within the realm of diplomatic resolution. Russia and China's indifference to escalation between Tehran and Washington were noted as the bigger roadblocks to the US's desired settlement with Iran.
Robert Satloff began his talk by announcing his belief that the Middle East was predictable and unlikely to either deteriorate into a regional war as a result of the Iraq War, or to see a violent Islamist regime replace the existing governments in the region in the near future. The speaker emphasized that for all the damage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appeared to have caused in the region “there is very little empirical evidence that it has much impact on the stability of states, on the actions of people on the behavior of Arabs and Muslims around the world.”
Iraq, Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts would remain problematic however, and the three “civilizational countries” of Turkey, Iran, and Egypt would become the hugely important focal points for US interests in the Middle East. The first challenge Dr. Satloff considered was whether or not Turkey would remain a pro-Western country. A second challenge he foresaw was how America would support the transition of power in Egypt, and thirdly the issue of an Iranian regime attempting to become a nuclear power.
During the Question and Answer session, Dr. Satloff claimed the Syrian regime under Bashar Assad exhibited a greater tendency to put Syrian interests in jeopardy by moving closer to regimes like North Korea and Iran. In considering the reality of Kurds in Iraq if the US were to withdraw its military forces both Dr. Gordon and Dr. Satloff agreed the impact would be nominal, granted the Kurds didn't actively support the PKK according to the latter speaker. Dr. Gordon candidly pointed out the irony in the US position of opposing a Turkish incursion into Iraq to capture suspected Kurdish terrorists, which according to him would essentially be implementing the Bush Doctrine.
Both moderator David Ignatius and Dr. Gordon noted the potential for Saudi Arabia to serve as a conduit for the US policy intent of forcing the Iranian regime to change its policy on proliferation while Dr. Satloff, citing the Mecca Agreement, downplayed the potential for a larger possible peace initiative in the region mounted by the Saudis.
About this Event
The panel discussion was held during MEI's 61st Annual Conference at the National Press Club, Washington, DC.
Justin Dunnavant, a Programs Intern at the Middle East Institute and a student at Howard University, prepared this event summary. Shane Lloyd, a Publications Intern who recently graduated fro St. Andrews University, was the peer editor for this summary.