Managing, Ending and Avoiding Wars in the Middle East

The Middle East Policy Council’s 79th Capitol Hill Conference has concluded. The video, a full transcript and a press recap are available below. To receive invitations to future events, click here, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook. To view our recent Capitol Hill Conferences, click here.

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Michael Hayden

General, United States Air Force (ret.)
Former Director, Central Intelligence Agency
Former Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence
Former Director, National Security Agency
Principal, the Chertoff Group


Daniel Bolger

Lieutenant General, United States Army (ret.)
Special Faculty, North Carolina State University
Author, Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars


Dafna H. Rand

Deputy Director of Studies and Leon E. Pannetta Fellow, Center for a New American Security
Former Director for Democracy and Governance, National Security Council
Former Policy Planning Staff, U.S. Department of State


Francis Ricciardone

Vice President and Director, the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East
Former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt and Turkey


Omar M. Kader

Chairman of the Board, Middle East Policy Council


Thomas R. Mattair

Executive Director, Middle East Policy Council



Managing, Ending and Avoiding Wars in the Middle East
Former military, intelligence and diplomatic experts on Capitol Hill on eve of State of the Union address

WASHINGTON, January 20, 2015 – The Middle East Policy Council’s 79th Capitol Hill Conference convened four experts with diverse backgrounds in the military, intelligence and diplomatic services of the U.S. government to look at the Middle East today and to discuss prospects for applying lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan to conflicts in Syria and Yemen and avoiding a new one over Iran’s nuclear program.

These lessons, according to the panel, are nuanced and not always applicable to the Middle East landscape U.S. policy makers face in 2015. Active conflicts like Syria more closely resemble the dynamics in the tribal regions of Pakistan than those in neighboring Iraq. Both Syria and Yemen face increasing Iranian influence, something that alarms U.S. Arab Gulf allies and illustrates the more expansive role of Iran and its proxies today as compared to the height of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The panelists included Michael Hayden (former director, Central Intelligence Agency); Daniel Bolger (Lieutenant General, United States Army (ret.)); Dafna Rand (deputy director of studies, Center for a New American Security); and Francis Ricciardone (vice president and director, the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East). Omar Kader, chairman of the board of the Middle East Policy Council, introduced the event. Thomas Mattair, executive director, was the discussant. More specific remarks from the panelists:

Michael Hayden explained that Iraq and Syria as defined by the Sykes-Picot agreement are “gone,” replaced by an emerging divide defined in large part along Sunni and Shia lines. He continued to assert that the best potential outcome in Syria is one where President Assad’s regime remains with changed behavior and that the U.S. should continue to combine its superior financial and technology advantage with local “on the ground” intelligence partners that are more culturally and linguistically agile.

Daniel Bolger emphasized that in losing the war in Iraq, the U.S. should reevaluate its definition of success, approaching this new war against ISIS with a more realistic goal of containing, rather than defeating, the Islamic State. He also suggested a need for a transparent debate on the future U.S. military role in the region, beginning with elected officials in Congress, who have not formally authorized U.S. military engagement in the region for over a decade.

Dafna Rand stressed the value of limited military engagements coupled with employing the coercive tools of statecraft at the United States’ disposal. In her view, while states in the region are weakening, they aren’t going to disappear; local actors will continue to value U.S. involvement amidst a lack of viable alternatives, and the United States should remain engaged so long as our interests are implicated.

Francis Ricciardone suggested the United States should focus less on what we don’t want and more on opportunities, so we don’t miss new chances for progress by being overly focused on the various challenges in the region. In addition to more assertively affirming what the United States is for, he urged leaders to “never waste a great crisis” and to highlight the Islamic State as one of the dangers of extreme sectarianism.

An edited video by speaker, including a full transcript from the event will be posted in a few days at and published in the next issue of the journal Middle East Policy. The full video from the event is already available on the Middle East Policy Council website.

Contacts:  For interviews or other content associated with this event, please contact Grace Elliott – (202) 296 6767 –

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