‘HOW’ Questions for the 2015 Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference

Before the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations launched its first Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference in 1991, we asked numerous policymakers a single question: “What bedevils you the most in your tasks to recommend effective policies?” The answers differed only slightly from one person to the next. A common theme running through all the responses was, and I paraphrase, the following: The “W” questions are ones that policymakers deal with all the time. In and of themselves, they are difficult enough. They include:

“What” needs to be done;
“When” does it need to be done;
“Why” does it need to be done;
“Where” will we likely be if we do this or if we do not;
“Who” needs to do it; and, sometimes even,
“Whether” something needs to be done.

But the most difficult questions of all, the ones policymakers inform us they find most vexing, are “How” questions, for these, unlike most of the others, cannot be answered with a yes or no. Rather, the answer to each comes with a cost.

  • Sometimes the cost is political, as when leaders of an administration’s political party or a government’s most important advisers or constituents are certain to put their foot down and say no.
  • Sometimes the cost is financial, as when it is pointed out that there are no funds allocated, authorized, or appropriated for that which is recommended.
  • Sometimes the cost lies in having to admit that the requisite competent human resources to implement a policy recommendation simply do not exist.
  • Sometimes the cost is one of technology, equipment, and/or structures or systems that do not exist or, if they do, would have to be transferred from where they are to where they are needed more at what, arguably, is a prohibitively high cost in terms of time, effort, and money.
  • Sometimes the cost is in credibility, as when an administration or government is on record as being strongly opposed to exactly what someone has just recommended as a solution or a palliative.
  • Sometimes the cost is moral in the sense that it clearly violates the Golden Rule of Do Not Do Unto Others What You Would Not Have Others Do To You.
  • Sometimes the cost will likely be a sharp downturn in the public approval rating of a president, premier, or head of state.
  • Sometimes the cost might be a definite setback to the country’s image and the degree of trust and confidence it seeks to cultivate and maintain among its allies.

With this as background, context, and perspective, there follows a series of questions relating to contemporary Arab-U.S. relations. The questions are ones that policymakers on one side or another, and sometimes both sides, grapple with daily. They are provided in the spirit of a public service. To whom? To not only the policymakers entrusted to improve Arab-U.S. relations and not make them worse. They are also offered as food for thought. Again, to whom? To intellectuals, scholars, teachers, students, analysts, investment strategists, specialists in public policy research institutes, and many others eager to enhance their knowledge and understanding of the state of play in the relations between the United States and the Arab world, and who want to improve these relations.

Dr. John Duke Anthony
Founding President & CEO
National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations


Categories of “HOW” Questions










How will U.S. relations with the Arab oil and gas producing countries change due to the United States’ shale oil revolution?

How will China’s increasing need for Arab oil affect international relations, particularly between the United States and the GCC countries?

How can U.S. and Arab companies best coordinate their efforts to invest in and develop Africa’s energy sources and thus compete with China’s similar efforts in the continent?


How can the U.S. renewable energy industry benefit from the drive of Gulf countries toward clean energy production?

How, if at all, can Arab oil producers in OPEC and/or OAPEC determine what pricing mechanisms help serve the overall health of the American and global economy?

How can the United States help Egypt, Lebanon, and the Palestine Authority exploit their oil and gas reserves?

How can one best envision an amicable resolution of the competing claims by Israeli and Palestinians to the allegedly immense gas reserves reported off the coast of the Gaza Strip?

How can the United States help to shore up the December 2014 agreement made between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdish Regional Government that aims to ensure a fair distribution of the country’s oil wealth?

The guided-missile destroyer USS O’Kane (foreground) patrols the Arabian Gulf supporting maritime security operations and cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th fleet area of responsibility. Photo: U.S. Navy.

How can the United States prevent the potential collapse of the oil industry in Libya as a result of the ongoing political turmoil and deteriorating security situation?

How can U.S. companies assist in a pan-Gulf energy grid or a future pan-Arab energy grid if decided?



How can the United States participate in an international coalition that would help settle the political and security situation in Libya?

How can GCC countries overcome congressional opposition to deploying high-end American defense assets in the Gulf even if satisfactory security arrangements are made for such assets to be monitored by U.S. personnel?

How ought one to analyze and assess the implications for American and other international interests of the unprecedentedly large and diverse display of pan-GCC military cooperation vis-à-vis Yemen?

Saudi Arabian forces prepare for Operation Decisive Storm. Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

How can one evaluate the nature and extent of GCC and other Arab countries’ contributions to the campaign to contain, if not roll back, the advances in Iraq and Syria of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant?

How can one measure the importance of U.S. military sales to GCC countries to the overall health of the U.S. economy?

How can the United States facilitate the acquisition by Iraq and Yemen of armed drones for use in their battlefields against violent extremists?

How might the United States re-approach its own drone policy given that its killing of Arab civilians as well as militants has frequently exacerbated rather than alleviated the nature and extent of anti-Americanism in the region?

How might the United States help GCC countries in overcoming the limited effectiveness of their military coordination and interoperability?

Emirati F-16 aircraft fly in formation during a multinational exercise. Photo: U.S. Department of Defense.

How can the United States augment its maritime presence in the Arabian Gulf as its military budget shrinks and visits by naval vessels decrease to the area?

How likely is it that the United States might withdraw from or downsize its forward deployed military forces in Qatar and Bahrain and compensate for them by augmenting its presence in Djibouti or elsewhere?



How is the nuclear deal that allows Iran continued enrichment but deprives it of stockpiles of highly-enriched uranium likely to be accommodated or countered by the GCC countries?

How might the United States be more effective in allaying the security fears of its GCC partners and allies now that it has concluded a major nuclear deal with Iran?

How has the Obama Administration’s supposed “pivot” to Asia affected its relationship with the GCC countries?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry listens to opening statements at a meeting about the Iranian nuclear deal with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Doha, Qatar, on August 3, 2015. Photo: U.S. Department of State.

How are the GCC states of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE, and Kuwait working as an alliance facing the challenge of the Houthis in Yemen?

How is the reconciliation between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE vis-à-vis Qatar faring?

How can the GCC countries collectively help reorganize political life in lands beyond their borders with a view to helping promote a greater degree of security and stability in the Arab world?

How likely is it that the GCC will find the right formula to resolve such political issues as the proposed monetary union, insufficient military coordination, and slightly divergent, if not on some issues opposing, foreign policies?

How likely is it that the GCC will announce a collective or individual member-state nuclear effort comparable to the one reached with Iran now that negotiations with Tehran Iran have concluded?

How likely is it that Cairo could persuade the GCC countries to allow it a strategic role in their defense?

How might such Egypt-GCC defense coordination occur, and were it to be expanded, how might one assess the benefits that adding Jordan and Morocco would bring?

How will the United States’ commitment to the defense of Israel impair its political and military relations with the GCC countries?

How might the GCC union idea develop in the future?

Foreign Ministers of the GCC countries meet on the sidelines of the 10th GCC Summit in Muscat, Oman, in 1989. Photo: Dr. John Duke Anthony.

How might GCC countries’ involvement in Syria be coordinated to help moderate forces in the Syrian opposition?

How, if at all, given the fact that Qatar backs Libya Dawn while Saudi Arabia and the UAE support the internationally-recognized Tobruk government, can the GCC Secretariat and/or one or more GCC countries coordinate GCC action in Libya to help settle the political and security situations in that country?

How can the GCC countries collectively coordinate to protect against possible expansion of the Islamic State’s activities or the resurgence of al-Qaeda and its possible incursion into Saudi Arabia from Yemen?

How is the still relatively new GCC-U.S. Strategic Dialogue likely to play out in the near term?



How can Iran effectively re-engage with the world now that a nuclear negotiation has been reached?

How can the United States help implement the provision of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that deploys UN troops on Lebanon’s borders with Syria?

How can the United States and the GCC countries loosen the grip that Hezbollah appears to have on the political process in Lebanon? How can they cooperate on limiting Iran’s influence in the country?

How likely would a possible U.S.-Iraq-GCC coalition be able to roll back the gains that the Islamic State has achieved in northern Iraq and eastern Syria? How can they utilize local assets and resources to achieve that goal?

A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle departs after refueling while flying a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, seeking to degrade and defeat the Islamic State group, on August 30, 2015. Photo: U.S. Department of Defense.

How can the United States devise a winning diplomatic strategy that helps Iraq’s political leadership achieve the unity needed to prevent partitioning the country?

How likely is it that Iraq’s political leaders will soon amend the Iraqi constitution to resolve flawed articles and unworkable arrangements?

How likely is Iran to continue supporting the Syrian regime now that a nuclear deal with the international community has been reached?

How has the American media’s role in exposing the suffering of Syrian refugeesaffected U.S. opinion of the conflict, and how might it galvanize change in U.S. policy?



How will the Gaza Strip be rebuilt now that the United Nations has warned that it could become uninhabitable in just five years if remedial action is not taken?

How likely is it that the Saudi Arabia-led Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 will be revived or changed?

How likely is it that Hamas and Israel will achieve a five-year truce or a ceasefire of any meaningful duration? How likely will there be enough pressure on either side not to renege on its obligations in any peace agreement?

How, and to what extent, can the United States participate in an international effort that would be part of an overall peace keeping deal between the Palestinian Authority and Israel?

How likely is it that the Palestinian Authority could lose upcoming elections in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, allowing Hamas to be the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians in any future negotiations?

How might the Palestinian Authority’s membership in the International Criminal Court impact Israel?

How likely is it that Palestine will be recognized by the United Nations as a sovereign state? How likely is the Obama Administration to oppose this possibility if it found a unified and strong Arab push toward realizing such a goal?

How can the Lebanese government and security forces deal with the possibility of unrest and even armed conflict instigated by extremists in Palestinian refugee camps? How will mainstream Palestinian organizations respond?

How will the Palestinians, Egyptians, and the international community manage the Rafah crossing point with Egypt? How might other parties, such as Morocco and Jordan, be involved?

How can the Palestinians strengthen their national unity and how likely is it that Hamas will allow the Palestinian Authority back into the Gaza Strip in any substantive way?

Mahmoud Abbas (center), President of the State of Palestine, presents Palestine’s flag to be raised for the first time at United Nations Headquarters in New York on September 30, 2015. Photo: United Nations.

How and to what extent has American media coverage of Israel changed, if at all, since Israel’s last war on the Gaza Strip and the slow but steady increase in support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement?

How has social media galvanized international public opinion about the plight of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip? How can that public opinion be harnessed to change American policy toward Palestinian national aspirations?

How possible is it to still think of a two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli, and Arab-Israeli, conflict? How can the principle of withdrawal to the 1967 borders, in keeping with UN Resolutions 242 and 338 as well as the UN Charter dictum about the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force, be realized to assure a contiguous Palestinian state given Israeli facts on the ground in the West Bank and Jerusalem?



How might GCC countries properly utilize their human resource assets to lessen their dependence on foreign labor and expertise? How, if at all, might they devise alternative development plans that do not require a massive influx of manual labor?

How can the United States help organize a large industrialization effort that can aid in diversifying GCC economies?

How possible is it to increase trade and investment flows between Arab countries themselves? How can individual governments help break down bureaucratic barriers to such trade and investment?

Potential Omani leaders of tomorrow – schoolboys, their book bags strapped to their backs, returning home from a day’s study in Qumzar, a small seaside village tucked into a cove adjacent to the Hormuz Strait. Photo: Dr. John Duke Anthony.

How can the League of Arab States be strengthened to play a major role in coordinating Arab economic cooperation?

How will education and health issues in the Arab world affect the future of the region, and how can individual countries improve their human development indices?

How might the ‘brain drain’ from the Arab world be stopped or at least decreased in nature and extent? How can the oil- and gas- rich Arab countries absorb excess educated talent?

How will future GCC investments in the United States and Europe help in elevating the GCC countries’ stature globally more than is already the case?

How can the sovereign wealth funds of some Arab countries, or parts thereof, be utilized as development assets to be invested in poor Arab countries?

How can the banking sector in some Arab countries be strengthened to play its role in helping economic development?



How is the U.S.-Egypt relationship faring now that the Obama Administration has resumed military aid to Egypt?

How do the warming relations between Egypt and Russia affect the U.S.-Egypt relationship?

How likely is Egypt to return to playing a central role in Arab politics? How can it leverage its relations with GCC countries to help that process?

How will the Egyptian government deal with the continuing arrest and detention of the leaders of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood?

How can the new Suez Canal help Egypt’s economy and international trade?

How likely is it that the United States will play a decisive role in assisting Libya end the turmoil engulfing it?

How can the United States and Egypt face down the Islamist militias in control of Libya’s capital and other areas?

How do Arab media outlets, specifically broadcast television, influence Arab politics?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry addresses reporters at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt, on July 22, 2014. Photo: U.S. Department of State.

How has the media’s coverage of the Islamists’ rise and fall after the Arab uprisings played a role in intra-Arab rifts?

How, and to what extent, will Arab media coverage of American policies in the Middle East effect a change in American-Arab relations?

How will the United States help Algeria build the credible institutional infrastructure that can help chart its political future?

How should the United States work with regional actors and European countries to stem the flow of violent extremists and arms across northern Africa?

How is the March 2015 agreement between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan regarding Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam panning out, and how can each of the three countries ensure that its legitimate water needs and interests are safeguarded?

How likely is the United States to become further involved in resolving the dispute between Algeria and Morocco over the Western Sahara?

How likely is it that a coalition of North African partners can be built to deal with the Islamic State as its influence spreads in the area?

How can Tunisia resolve the problem of radical extremists on its soil and how can it prevent Tunisians from joining the ranks of jihadist organizations fighting in Syria?

How might Tunisia’s leaders and its democratic development influence political dynamics in neighboring countries?