December 12, 2014, 12:00 pm - May 24, 2019, 4:38 pm


SEIU Conference Center
1800 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, District of Columbia 20036 (Map)

The Middle East Institute is pleased to host Paul Eaton (National Security Network), Robert Ford (The Middle East Institute), Roy Gutman (McClatchy Newspapers), and Oubai Shahbandar (National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces) for a discussion about the prospects and challenges of training moderate Syrian rebel forces to challenge the Islamic State. The panel will be moderated by MEI's Kate Seelye.

As the Obama administration expands support for armed groups in Syria, there is growing concern about how the U.S. can deepen its involvement in Syria while avoiding the hazards often associated with arming rebel groups. MEI's group of expert panelists will examine U.S. strategies and plans for the training of additional rebel forces while also identifying the risks, challenges, and fresh thinking that should be considered moving forward. 


Major General Paul D. Eaton served more than 30 years in the United States Army, including combat and post-combat assignments in Iraq, Bosnia, and Somalia. As a major general he was assigned to Iraq from 2003 to 2004 as commanding general of the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team (CMATT), where he designed, manned, trained, and equipped the Iraqi armed forces for the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and the security forces for the Interior Ministry. Prior to that assignment, he commanded the Army’s Infantry Center and was chief of infantry for the Army. Eaton has appeared on a number of news and commentary programs including Face the Nation, Hardball, and all major networks. During the 2008 campaign season, he advised candidates for both congressional and presidential campaigns. He holds a bachelor’s degree from West Point and a master’s in French Political Science from Middlebury College.

Amb. Robert  Ford is Senior Fellow at The Middle East Institute. He recently retired from a 30-year career with the foreign service after serving as U.S. Ambassador to Syria from 2010 to 2014, and prevously as Ambassador to Algeria.  Shortly after the outbreak of Syria's civil war, Ford traveled to the city of Hama in a show of solidarity with Syrians protesting the rule of Bashar Al Assad. He subsequently worked closely with Syrian opposition forces and was instrumental in bringing them to the Geneva peace talks. He was awarded the Presidential Honor award for his leadership of the American embassy in Damascus and the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award for his work on Syria, which is the State Department's highest award. He is fluent in Arabic and French and currently teaches at Johns Hopkins University.

Roy Gutman is the Middle East bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. Previously, he served as McClatchy’s Europe bureau chief, Baghdad bureau chief, and before that as foreign editor. He has also been diplomatic correspondent for Newsweek and director of American University’s Crimes of War Project. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the 1993 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where he provided the first documented reports of concentration camps. Gutman’s honors also include the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting, the Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting, and a special Human Rights in Media Award from the International League for Human Rights. He holds a M.Sc. in International Relations from the London School of Economics.

Oubai Shahbandar is a Syrian-American that currently serves as a Strategic Communications Advisor to the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces.  With over seven years of experience working for the Department of Defense as a strategic analyst and foreign affairs specialist, Mr. Shahbandar has an extensive background in developing national security policy throughout the Middle East and South Asia. From 2010 to 2011, he served as a senior civilian advisor to the Combined Forces Special Operations Command-Afghanistan, working on the critical Village Stability Operations program.  He provided strategic communication and political support to the Syrian Opposition negotiating delegation in Geneva, Switzerland.

Kate Seelye (Moderator) is senior vice president of The Middle East Institute, where she oversees MEI's programs and communications. Prior to joining MEI, Seelye worked as a radio and television journalist covering the Arab world from 2000-2009 from her base in Beirut, Lebanon. She reported on the region for NPR, BBC's The World, PBS' Frontline/World and the renowned Channel Four British investigative news series, Unreported World. Prior to that she worked as a producer for the Newshour with Jim Lehrer on PBS.