Obama’s Foreign Policy and the Future of the Middle East

The Middle East Policy Council’s 77th Capitol Hill Conference has concluded. The video, an unedited 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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July 21st, 2014. 2:00 pm – 4:30 pm EDT
Rayburn House Office Building Gold Room (2168)


Kenneth Pollack

Senior Fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution
Former Director of Security Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Former CIA Military Analyst


Paul R. Pillar

Non-resident Senior Fellow, Center for Security Studies, Georgetown University
Non-resident Senior Fellow, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, Brookings Institution
Contributing Editor, The National Interest; former CIA analyst


Amin Tarzi

Director of Middle East Studies, Marine Corps University
Senior Fellow, Program on the Middle East, Foreign Policy Research Institute


Chas W. Freeman, Jr.

Chair, Projects International Inc.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia
Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense
Former President, Middle East Policy Council


Thomas R. Mattair

Executive Director, Middle East Policy Council



Obama’s Foreign Policy and the Future of the Middle East

Considering Recent West Point Speech Amidst Rapidly Changing Conditions on the Ground

WASHINGTON, July 21, 2014 — The Middle East Policy Council’s 77th Capitol Hill Conference convened four experts with in-depth experience in U.S. government and the Middle East to evaluate President Obama’s recent foreign policy speech at West Point and its application to the current turmoil in the region.

President Obama’s speech highlighted security partnerships and diplomacy as foundations for preserving U.S. national security in the Middle East.  But the ISIS advance in Iraq amidst retreating Iraqi security forces, the failure to conclude Iranian nuclear talks and the collapse of U.S. efforts to mediate a resolution to the Israeli — Palestinian conflict provide immediate evidence that this approach faces serious obstacles, particularly as some of our oldest allies in the region are concerned about the direction of U.S. policy. 

The panelists included Kenneth Pollack (Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution); Paul Pillar (Center for Security Studies, Georgetown University); Amin Tarzi (Director of Middle East Studies, Marine Corps University); and Chas Freeman (Chair, Projects International, Inc.).  Thomas Mattair, executive director of the Middle East Policy Council, moderated the event.  More specific remarks from the panelists:

• Kenneth Pollack recalled that President Obama’s initial view — the U.S. was “over invested” in the Middle East — led to U.S. policies there that were overly detached.  Now, the President has realized that with the right approach, U.S. engagement can help to solve some problems in the Middle East rather than exacerbate them.

• Paul Pillar reminded the audience that the “vision thing is over-rated,” suggesting that U.S. foreign policy should be more about avoiding losses than scoring gains, and that the most effective policies are usually flexible ones, designed to react to diverse, nuanced challenges.

• Amin Tarzi stressed the need for a middle route, where persistent political, economic and security dilemmas are addressed in a manner that gives clear signals to friends and foes, while not rewarding bad behavior, as has been the case with Iran (e.g. nuclear program) and Syria (e.g. chemical weapons).

• Chas Freeman asserted that every major U.S. policy in the region is at a dead-end, and gave examples of where national interests do not neatly align between the U.S. and its allies.  Furthermore, “narratives” dominate the U.S. foreign policy establishment, which tends to favor military “gladiators” over the long slog of diplomacy.

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

For interviews or other content associated with this event, please contact Grace Elliott – (202) 296 6767 – mepc.press@gmail.com

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