Image: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Derek Seifert

The MEI-CENTCOM Annual Conference is a flagship event of MEI’s Defense and Security Program

It convenes top CENTCOM leadership and staff as well as some of the world’s leading Middle East scholars and practitioners to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the United States and its regional partners. Unique in the U.S. public policy and think tank communities, this two-day conference features speeches by CENTCOM leaders in addition to multiple policy-relevant panels on a range of strategic, political, military, and economic issues in the region.

2023 Conference

The third MEI-CENTCOM annual conference on May 24 will feature multiple panels as well as a keynote address by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities Mara Karlin at MEI’s headquarters on May 24.

Please note that, except for the public keynote, attendance for the conference is by invitation only, and the sessions will be held under Chatham House Rule.


May 24, 2023

8:30 – 9am

Breakfast & Registration

9:00 – 9:10am

Introductory Remarks and Overview

Bilal Y. Saab Senior Fellow and Director, Defense and Security Program, MEI

9:10 – 10:10am

Keynote Address

Dr. Mara KarlinAssistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities, US Department of Defense

Bilal Y. Saab (moderator) Senior Fellow and Director, Defense and Security Program, MEI

10:15 – 11:30am

Session I: After Afghanistan, After Ukraine: Lessons for US Middle East Policy

Anne Patterson Kissinger Senior Fellow, Jackson School of Global Affairs, Yale University

Ellen Laipson Professor and Director of the Center of Security Policy Studies, George Mason University 

Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr. Distinguished Senior Fellow on National Security, MEI

Steven A. Cook (moderator)Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies and Director of the International Affairs Fellowship for Tenured International Relations Scholars, Council on the Foreign Relations

11:30am – 12pm


12 – 1:15pm

Session II: A US China Policy in the Middle East? 

Michael K. Nagata Distinguished Senior Fellow on National Security, MEI

Dawn Murphy Associate Professor, National War College

Yun Sun Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the East Asia Program and Director of the China Program, Stimson Center

Missy Ryan (moderator) Reporter, The Washington Post

1:25 – 2:40pm

Session III: Innovation in US Middle East Security Cooperation

Vice Admiral Brad Cooper Commander, US Naval Forces Central Command

Celeste Ward Gventer President, Defense Security Cooperation University

Katie Crombe Non-Resident Scholar, MEI

Melissa Horvath Non-Resident Senior Fellow, MEI

Eric Schmitt (moderator) Senior Correspondent, New York Times

2:50 – 4:05pm

Session IV: Combating ISIS and Addressing the al-Hol Challenge in Syria

Charles Lister Senior Fellow and Director of the Syria and Countering Terrorism & Extremism Programs, MEI

Mick Mulroy Non-Resident Senior Fellow, MEI

Mona Yacoubian Vice President and Director of Middle East and North Africa Center, USIP

Courtney Kube (moderator) National Security Correspondent, NBC News