Panel Discusses U.S. Policy in the Middle East

Rachael Franchini ’19, Editor-in-Chief

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A crowd of students, faculty and community members filled every seat in the Stern Great Room as they gathered to hear a panel of professors discuss U.S. policy in the Middle East and their policy recommendations for the future.

The panel comprised of Professor Bernard Haykel from Princeton University, Assistant Professor of political science and international studies Andrew Wolff and Dr. Larry Goodson of the U.S. Army War College.

The event was organized so that each panelist would have between 15 to 20 minutes to speak about their topic of choice and then approximately 30 minutes was reserved for a question and answer session at the end.

The first panelist to speak was Haykel, who focused mainly on U.S. policies on Iran and Saudi Arabia.  Throughout his presentation, he maintained that “there are no easy solutions” to fix any of the problems in the Middle East.  “In fact, I don’t think there are any solutions to the problems in the Middle East…the way that the U.S. should think about [the region] is more of a management than a solution,” he continued.

He then chronicled several major historical events that have contributed to tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, including the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.  He also highlighted several policy statements made by both President Obama and President Trump during their respective terms in office.

Furthermore, he emphasized the importance of Iranian non-state actors gaining influence in the region.

“The Iranians…have been able to dominate the region,” he stated. “[It is] a way of projecting force and influence in the region through the use of non-state actors.”

Next, Wolff spoke on U.S. policy and foreign policy actions in Syria, and the Syrian Civil War.

He began his section by affirming that he believes that the Syrian Civil War is approaching its end.  Then, he went into an in-depth discussion of the two main policy prescriptions that the U.S. has had in the Middle East: regime change and fighting terrorism.

Wolff also shared with the audience that under the Trump administration, regime change has not been as much of a priority as it was under the Obama administration.  Rather, Trump appears to be focusing on “demolishing and destroying ISIS,” according to Wolff.

He finished his presentation by affirming that “ISIS is going to be obliterated this year, by the end of 2017…I’d be surprised if it’s not.”  Since the goal of regime change is no longer being pursued, it “seems as though the major foreign policy initiatives will have been met.”

Lastly, Goodson discussed Russian policies and actions in the Middle East, and the U.S. responses and implications.

He qualified the war in Syria as a “hybrid war,” which he defines as a war that blends conventional war with terrorist and criminal activities, as well as incorporating state and non-state actors.

He went into a brief history of Russia intervention, highlighting events such as Russian intervention in the Ukraine starting in 2014 and the recent alleged Russia hacking operation in the U.S. 2016 presidential elections.

“Russia uses elements of [the] hybrid war approach to achieve influence [in the Middle East] and above all else, challenge the U.S. position in the Middle East and beyond,” he stated.

In terms of policy recommendations, Goodson cautioned against getting involved in religious wars or “great wars,” which he defines as a war spanning more than one continent, involving multiple great powers, producing excessive death and destruction and causing lasting changes to the existing world order. However, he does maintain that “when you’re [the U.S.,] the world’s leading power, [getting involved] is hard to avoid.”

On the event as a whole, Associate Professor of political science and international studies Edward Webb stated:

“This kind of event is a very useful compliment to what’s going on in the curriculum and the courses in the Middle East studies program, political science and international studies, history…we’re really lucky to have the war college here in town; it’s a resource we use a lot. I think it’s great that we can bring guests like Bernie Haykel from Princeton, and I’m really pleased that there was a very good turnout so I’m very pleased by the event as a whole.”

The event took place on Tuesday, April 4 at 7 p.m., and was sponsored by the Program in Middle East Studies.