The election of Hassan Rouhani as the next president of Iran is a positive development and represents an opportunity for reform as well as renewed and rational engagement with the west. While it would be naïve to expect any sudden policy shifts from a regime still headed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Rouhani ran on a platform of reform that emphasized not only domestic economic issues, but also his goal of working toward normalizing relations with the international community and creating an environment in which sanctions can be gradually rolled back.
U.S. relations with Iran should continue to be driven by our regional interests and by ensuring the security of our allies. It should be understood, however, that the current policy of sanctions and isolation are not policy goals in and of themselves. American interests will be best served by a more democratic, open, and responsible Iran that respects international norms and laws. If President-Elect Rouhani wishes to normalize Iran’s relationship with the United States and our allies, they will need to bring their nuclear program under transparent monitoring and cease supporting regional terrorism and instability through the forces they control both directly and by proxy.
It is worth noting that Mr. Rouhani was instrumental in negotiating the 2003 Sa’dabad Agreement, in which Iran agreed to suspend nuclear enrichment. Though this deal eventually collapsed, the fact that he has demonstrated a willingness to constrain the Iranian nuclear program should be viewed as a possible opening for new talks. While it will take time for the President-Elect to bring new and hopefully reform-minded personnel into the bureaucracy, the Iranian people have clearly rejected the status quo and spoken out for change. The United States should seize this opportunity to develop a diplomatic relationship with the new President and deploy a strategy designed to encourage Iran to become a more open and responsible member of the global community.
On June 6th, NDN’s MENA Initiative hosted a panel exploring ways that decreasing US oil demand and rapidly growing Chinese presence in MENA oil markets is reshaping the global politics of the Middle East.
Bradley Bosserman, Director of the MENA Initiative, moderated the wide-ranging conversation with two experts. Dr. Gawdat Bahgat is a professor at the National Defense University where he specializes in American energy policy in the Middle East, grand strategy, and security issues. He brought to the discussion his significant experience not only in academia, but also in advising U.S. officials and global energy companies.
I-wei Jennifer Chang joined us from the University of Maryland, where her doctoral work focuses on Chinese foreign policy in the Middle East and how oil interests effect Beijing’s global strategy.
We will be releasing a major report in the next couple of week which addresses some of these issues in more depth. Full video of the event is available here.
Join NDN's MENA Initiative on June 6th for an exploration of how the growth of China is converging with changing global energy markets and decreasing U.S. import demand to remake the global politics of the Middle East.
U.S. oil imports have decreased sharply with a particular drop in imports from the Middle East and North Africa. A trend which is projected to continue over the next 10 to 15 years. Meanwhile, analysts predict that by 2035 roughly 90% of MENA oil will flow to Asia -- as demand surges in China and India.
Join us for a discussion with two leading experts about the implications of greater Chinese involvement in the region and how the U.S. can craft effective Middle East policy in light of this changing reality.
Dr. Gawdat Bahgat is a professor at the National Defense University where he specializes in Middle East policy, strategy, and energy security.
I-wei Jennifer Chang joins us from the University of Maryland where her research focuses on tension between Chinese economic interests and U.S. policies in the Middle East.
Thursday, June 6th
12:00 noon - 1:30 PM
The NDN Event Space @ 729 15th NW
Lunch will be served at Noon, Program to Start at 12:15pm
After 11 congressional hearings, an independent review and the release of 100 pages of relevant interagency emails about Benghazi, all serious questions about the attacks on our diplomatic facilities in Libya have been answered. Only political grandstanding remains — and the stakes in the Middle East and North Africa are far too high for the American people to tolerate point-scoring in lieu of genuine action.
In his May address at the National Defense University, President Obama observed that moving forward in the region will require not only a new strategy, but also a new politics. Republican members of Congress have been doggedly focused on perceived shortcomings of U.S. policy in Middle East, but they should now apply that vigor to serious bipartisan efforts to aid the democratic transitions throughout the Arab world, protect American personnel abroad, secure US interests and give our government the tools it needs to plan and execute a real, long-term Middle East strategy. Congressional Republicans can show that they are serious about these goals by pursuing at least these three critical policies:
Pass the diplomatic security bill. The furor that erupted over canceled White House tours and airline delays reveals the truth — inconvenient to some — that the vast majority of federal money actually goes to providing valuable services to the American public. Cutting budgets to the bone has real consequences, and few priorities are more critical than ensuring the safety of American diplomats and personnel abroad. Congressional Republicans should join Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) to pass S.B. 980, which would “properly fund embassy security and construction in our most high risk, high threat areas.”
This bill would fund the implementation of the independent review board’s recommendations in addition to helping our government ward off future attacks. Senate Republicans who were right to be deeply concerned about the loss of life in Benghazi should be eager to support the formation of a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center, to boost funding for the Arabic language training that can unlock better intelligence and to revise security contracting to ensure that our embassies have the best, rather than the cheapest, guards available. President Obama has made clear that “we need to come together and truly honor the sacrifice of those four courageous Americans and better secure our diplomatic posts around the world.” Acting quickly to pass the Menendez legislation should be a real priority for both parties.
Fully fund the MENA Incentive Fund. The president first proposed the $700 million fund in his 2012 budget, designed to be a potent and flexible tool to support the development of civil society organizations and non-sectarian forces throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The democratic revolutions that spread throughout the Arab world risk backsliding as the critical institutions of responsible self-governance struggle to get off the ground. The way to temper the more autocratic inclinations of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood is not by abandoning the region or by simply buying them off with blank checks; we must redouble our efforts to aid the development of modern civil society in these countries so that everyday people can express themselves constructively and powerfully in the public square.
This is why then-Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) heralded the MENA Incentive Fund as a “no-brainer” when it was first introduced, explaining that it would give the State Department “the flexibility to deal with unforeseen contingencies ... [and help to] empower moderates and reformers.” Effective U.S. policy in the region cannot be simply reactive. We must use every tool at our disposal to actively support the type of self-governance that millions of people in the Arab world demanded for themselves when they took to the streets during the Arab Spring. While fiscal politics have become nearly toxic, the president has correctly noted that “foreign assistance cannot be viewed as charity. It is fundamental to our national security, and any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism.”
Convene serious hearings on a forward-looking Middle East strategy. House Republicans have been eager to use their oversight powers to convene hearing after hearing on issues surrounding Benghazi, Iran and Egypt. They could truly do a service to the country by applying that enthusiasm to convening a series of serious, substantive hearings on American grand strategy in the Middle East. Since 2009, the primary thrust of U.S. policy in the region has been to extricate ourselves from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to suppress the threat of terrorism. While speaking recently about the so-called war on terror, Obama correctly identified that policy as being at a crossroads. “We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us,” he warned. And “to define that strategy, we must make decisions based not on fear, but hard-earned wisdom.”
The Middle East and North Africa remain one of the last places on earth to truly embrace modernity, and the Arab Spring proved that business as usual will no longer suffice. Instead of pivoting away from the region, American policymakers must recognize that the United States will continue to have vital economic, security and geo-strategic interests in the Middle East for decades to come. It is past time for us to update our long-term approach to those countries so that it reflects real vision and a holistic understanding of how our goals there fit into our larger set of global interests. Congress has shown that they are adept at calling hearings. They should gather the brightest minds and call a few on this topic.
Speaking nearly four years ago in Cairo, Obama recognized both the challenges and opportunities facing the Arab word. “I know there are many — Muslim and non-Muslim — who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort — that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash.” That is not the only path, however. If we are to secure American interests, act constructively in the world and see everyday people in the Middle East transcend the shackles of chaos and repression, we will need to move past petty division and find opportunities for bipartisanship, partnership, and productive engagement. Implementing these three policies can begin to forge that vital way forward.
Bosserman directs the MENA Initiative at NDN, formerly the New Democrat Network
NDN’s MENA Initiative will host a luncheon event on June 6th with Dr. Yitzhak Shichor to discuss the changing geo-politics of the Middle East in light of surging oil demand in China and decreasing U.S. energy imports. Dr. Shichor is a renowned expert on Chinese energy as well as a professor at the University of Haifa and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He’ll be in Washington to testify before Congress and we look forward to an engaging discussion here at NDN. A formal invitation will be forthcoming.
On Thursday, April 25th NDN's Middle East and North Africa Initiative hosted a discussion on global entrepreneurship with Shelly Porges. Shelly, who served as the Director of the Global Entrepreneurship program at the US Department of State, spoke about how the program has grown over the last two years to be active in nearly 150 countries. She described some of the ways that the US government is engaging the private sector to accelerate innovation and enterprise in developing countries, and explained how targeting female entrepreneurs in Africa and the Middle East remains key to spuring economic and political development.
You can learn more about the Global Entrepreneurship program at their website and find opportunities for public - private partnerships.
As always, you should bookmark the MENA Initiative website in order to stay infomed about ongoing developments in the region, our public events, and newly published research.
In this latest installment of MENA Chat, I interview Laura Rozen about the most recent round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the international coalition known as the P5+1.
Laura Rozen is the foreign policy reporter for Al-Monitor and editor of their Back Channel column. She has previously covered foreign policy and global affairs for Yahoo! News, Politico and Foreign Policy. She lives on Twitter as @LRozen.
Laura -- who covered the talks in-person from Almaty, Kazakhstan -- details the current state of negotiations, the response in the European and Iranian press, as well as the contours and likelihood of a possible deal.
Join us for a discussion on global entrepreneurship with Shelly Porges.
As Director of the Global Entrepreneurship Program at the U.S. Department of State, Shelly was involved in starting and leading a host of innovative programs designed to expand economic opportunities in the Middle East, Africa, and around the world.
We will have an earnest discussion about the role of economic statecraft and she will reflect on some of the programs’ successes and future opportunities.
Lots of recent work from the MENA Initiative. Make sure to stay up to date at www.menaprogra.org.
I recently hosted an interactive webcaston framing a more robust Middle East strategy, presenting a previously unpublished briefing deck that features some of the latest market research and polling and detailing political opportunities for regional policy. The presentation is available online.
Earlier this week I published a new essay on Syria, looking beyond the issue of chemical weapons and exploring ways the U.S. can help non sectarian groups to more effectively coordinate and consolidate power, helping promote the full range of American interests.
For the latest episode of Debrief from The Risk Shift,I sat down with James Sheehan to discuss the ongoing conflict in Syria. James and I explore the role that the U.S. can play in rebuilding Syria along with the significance of chemical weapons and the influence of extremist organizations. Listen to the podcast here.
In the latest MENA Chat webcast, I explore the strategy and challenges that underlie U.S. democracy assistance in the Middle East. I am joined by Dr. Sarah Bush, whose recent research provides important insights on possible reforms, and Rebecca Abou-Chedid who draws on her experience in Cairo to discuss some of the ways these dynamics play out in Egypt. Follow this link to view the webcast.
SAVE THE DATE: April 25th at Noon. The MENA Initiative will be hosting a discussion with Shelly Porges, who will have just left the State Department as Director of the Global Entrepreneurship Program. Find more information on this event here.
Bradley Bosserman hosted an interactive webcast on framing a more robust Middle East strategy. This previously unpublished briefing deck highlights some of the latest market research and polling from the United States and abroad, detailing political opportunities and framing mechanics that can successfully support a strategy of broader economic engagement with the Middle East and North Africa. You can watch the video presentation here.