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18th Annual
Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference

Fresh Visions, Old Realities,
New Possibilities:
The Impact of Leadership Change
on Arab-U.S. Relations

October 15-16, 2009



October 15, 2009

Before the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations launched its first Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers conference in 1991, we first asked numerous policymakers what bedeviled them the most in their 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, and they're 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, like 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 systems that do not exist or, if they do, would have to be transferred from where they are to someplace else at an immense expense 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 unto others as you would have them do unto you." Sometimes the cost will be a sharp downturn in a president, premier, or head of state's public approval rating. 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 with which policymakers on one side or another, and sometimes both sides, grapple daily. They are provided in the spirit of a public service not only to the policymakers entrusted to improve Arab-U.S. relations and not make them worse. They are also offered as food for thought for 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 Arab-U.S. relations.

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





How can one realistically persuade Iran, short of sufficient incentives, to forego those components of its current path of nuclear development that, if unchecked, may eventually provide it the technology and material to manufacture a nuclear weapon?

How, if at all, have the recent Iranian presidential elections significantly altered one way or another the prospects for the Obama administration continuing its efforts to extend to the Islamic Republic an "unclenched fist" with a view to accentuating the positive in Tehran and Washington's respective quests for finding common ground in pursuit of their respective strategic, economic, political, commercial, defense/national security and related interests?

How, if at all, can the Obama administration realistically be expected to begin serious negotiations with a view to improving Iranian-U.S. relations when United States policies, positions, actions, and attitudes towards Iran remain anchored in the belief that Iran remains an active supporter of parties, movements, and acts of extremism deemed inimical to Israel, the United States, and potentially Iraq and one or more GCC countries ?

How can one envision possible additional U.S.-led United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran being enacted and, if enacted, leading to anything indicative of an imminent breakthrough in the Obama administration's stated strategic objective of engaging Iran positively with a view to accentuating the common interests of the two countries?

How can the United States continue to live with the "porosity" of the existing American-initiated sanctions against Iran when so many countries, American allies among them, continue to defy the spirit and letter of the sanctions for reasons related to their legitimate national economic, commercial, and other interests?  How can economic sanctions be made effective in a manner that targets Iranian policymakers and regime leaders without endangering the general population and creating public resentment against the United States and its policies?

How should the United States react to the threat of unilateral military force against alleged Iranian nuclear targets by a third party, notably Israel?  How should the United States deal with Iran's nuclear development program if stringent sanctions prove ineffective?  Is the use of military force inevitable, or must Iran's regional neighbors and the world at large learn to live with a nuclear Iran? 



How is one to analyze the impact of the energy component in the past year's recession?

How soon is the recurring American official emphasis on the development of alternative fuels likely to begin to make a significant impact on the overall U.S. economy?

How might switching to greater reliance upon natural gas for America's energy needs impact the United States' overall fuel requirements?

How, as the international economy begins to recover, will increasing global demand for hydrocarbons impact energy price levels?  Will energy prices "spike" in the near future or have market dynamics changed fundamentally with additional sources of supply coming on-stream, in response to increased demand, such that prices will stabilize?

How will recent technological breakthroughs, which have significantly increased U.S. natural gas supplies, impact the United States and the international energy market?  How will the emergence of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) affect the energy production picture among major energy suppliers and how will it affect global energy markets?

How might the current U.S. administration's emphasis on shifting away from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources impact future energy investment in the Middle East?  Will current oil-producing states move toward investments in nuclear and solar energy production?  How will the policy emphasis on "energy security" be affected by a shift away from fossil fuels?

How will new climate change policies being debated in Congress and in preparation for the Copenhagen United Nations Climate Change Conference scheduled in December 2009 meet the simultaneous goals of providing energy and economic security for energy consumers and producers while dealing with concerns about the consequences of global warming?



How can the Obama administration initiate serious Israeli-Palestinian negotiations if the Israeli government refuses to budge from its positions on accepting an independent State of Palestine; continues to colonize the West Bank, including Jerusalem; and insists on preventing the entry into the Gaza Strip of basic goods vital to the Gaza economy and its people's reconstruction? And, what are the absolute minimal foundations necessary for a viable peace settlement in terms of the extent of the Israeli withdrawal, the status of Jerusalem, and the fate of four and a half million Palestinian refugees?

How might one realistically envision elements within the international community assisting in moving the peace process forward?

How can the Obama administration, its good intentions aside, credibly get meaningful Israeli-Palestinian and/or Israeli-Syria peace negotiations started?

How has the Obama administration fared thus far in implementing its commitment to a just and lasting peace settlement?

How can the United States, given its oft-professed support for the Rule of Law, on one hand, and the realities of the Israeli-Occupied Palestinian and Syrian Territories, on the other hand, continue to refuse to enforce:

(a) the United Nations Charter principle of "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force;"

(b) the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 as it pertains to the prohibition of specific acts by an occupying military power vis-à-vis the occupied peoples required to live under its regime and responsibility – e.g., prohibitions against the occupying power expropriating the occupied people's land, exploiting their resources, expelling their people, and settling its own citizens in the occupied people's land; and

(c) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other instruments of international law to which the United States is a signatory - in light of Article Six of the United States Constitution, which stipulates that "all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land . . . any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding." Does this not imply that duly constituted international law to which the United States is a party must be reflected in American laws and/or foreign policy lest those laws and this or that that policy be deemed "unlawful?"



Using the conceptual methodology of "gap analysis" – noting the chasm between strategic visions and empirical realities of facts on the ground – with a view to narrowing the distance between the two:

How might the United States, select Arab countries, and/or other regional as well as global players lessen the factors currently impeding  the accomplishment not of a nominally independent Iraq but of a fully sovereign nation-state that is politically independent and territorially intact?

How might the restoration of Iraq's potentially robust energy industry and the process of granting concessions to foreign oil companies best proceed with the country facing nationwide elections in 2010, on one hand, and, on the other, the likelihood that the near and longer term security situation on the ground may remain uncertain for the immediately foreseeable future?

How can the United States, having encouraged, nurtured, and protected the creation of a de facto sovereign autonomous region of Kurdistan, now avoid the emergence of an independent state of Kurdistan and encourage the reintegration of the Kurdish region into a truly unified state of Iraq?



How can one successfully triangulate the strategic reality of what is happening in Lebanon that reflects not just local politics, with its reverberations in the immediate region, but also external dynamics such as those linked to Iran and Syria that continue to have an impact on Lebanese internal affairs?

How has the ongoing ferment in Iran following its June 2009 elections affected political dynamics in Lebanon? In Syria?

How are the maelstroms that have yet to play themselves out in Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict likely to affect the near and longer term prospects for stability and security in Lebanon? In Syria?

How might yet another Israeli invasion of Lebanon affect the situation in Iran and/or the larger Arab-Israeli conflict?

How might a change in the nature and direction of internal developments in Lebanon and/or Syria affect the situation in Iran and/or the Arab-Israeli conflict?

How, if at all, can one disentangle the immediate prospects for a brighter future in Lebanon and/or Syria from the ongoing uncertainties of near-term developments, or the absence of meaningful progress, in the issues outstanding between the following:

      • Iran and the United States;
      • Iran and Israel;
      • Iran vis-a-vis numerous Arab countries;
      • Syria and the United States;
      • Israel and Syria; and/or
      • Lebanon and Syria?

How can one seriously ponder major foreign policy challenges related to Lebanon and/or Syria absent the larger international context inclusive of events in Iran, Israel, the United States, and other key countries with interests in Lebanon and Syria?

How can one meaningfully engage Syria in issues of mutual interest to Damascus and Washington without removing Syria from the United States government's list of State Sponsors of Terrorism and enabling Syria to regain all of its Golan Province land – two-thirds of the total province – that remains occupied by Israel?

How can the United States accede to these two fundamental Syrian needs – being removed from the U.S. government's list of sponsors of state terrorism and regaining all of the Golan Province - in the event that Damascus does not distance itself from its support for Hizbollah and Hamas?



How can the United States best respond to the charge made by many in the Arab world who perceive United States policies towards Israel-Palestine, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to be as great a threat, if not a greater threat, to regional peace, prosperity, stability, and security than extremism and terrorism?  This despite the claims by segments of Washington officialdom, the community of American political pundits, and representatives of various U.S. public policy research institutes about the principal threats to regional stability and security being Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other militant groups.

How can the Obama administration, in pursuit of legitimate American and allied national security and related interests in the Arab world, prevail over the impact of U.S. domestic interest groups? Here the frame of reference is those groups that remain determined to do whatever it takes to prevent an ever-increasing American-Arab relationship in the areas of grand strategy, economics, international relations, trade, investment, technology cooperation, and the establishment of joint commercial ventures as well as increasingly heightened defense cooperation and people-to-people ties.

How can the United States surmount, on one hand, foreign competition, and, on the other, American Congressionally-mandated restrictions on the sales of select advanced U.S. defense technology and defense systems to its Arab friends, partners, and allies?

How can the United States realistically increase the level of budgetary support for its International Military Education and Training program as it pertains to existing and emerging Arab defense leaders keen to engage their American counterparts, especially when the professed goal of engagement-seekers is greater coordination of strategic and tactical doctrines intended to improve the near and longer term prospects for regional peace, prosperity, security, and stability?

How might Arab countries that have entered into defense cooperation relationships with not only the United States but virtually all four of the other UN Security Council Permanent Members begin to improve the strategic rationale for why they have done this and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future?

How might Americans and Arabs alike better understand and explain to their respective publics the strategic rationale, as well as efficacy to date, of the Defense Cooperation Agreements that select Arab countries and the United States have entered into in the past three decades?



How can one envision the coming generation of Iraqi leaders of tomorrow benefiting from the best training and education possible, given that Iraq has been and still is wracked by violence, insecurity, improved but still minimum stability, and, rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding, the country has yet (1) to regain its undiluted national sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity, and (2) to remove the stigma, in the eyes of many Iraqis and others, of its leaders' collaborating with a foreign occupying power?

How can the United States proceed in any strategic campaign to win the "hearts and minds" of Arabs in the absence of sufficient and ever-increasing levels of American national budgetary appropriations in support of (a) scholarships for Arab students wanting to study in U.S. universities, (b) financial aid for American students wanting to study Arabic and enroll in universities and other study centers not just in such historically popular places such as Egypt and Lebanon but in other Arab countries as well, and (c) efforts to diminish the existing xenophobic and isolationist sentiments that persist throughout much of America as reflected in the negative perceptions of many that Arabs and Muslims are not part of "us" but "those," "them," and/or "other?"

How is one to interpret the emerging state of play in Saudi Arabia, the heartland of Islam, with regard to educational reforms relating to the position and role of women in society?

How can one best analyze the nature and extent of educational reform in Saudi Arabia as it pertains to the status and role not just of women but also of men?



How have the Obama administration's efforts to reach out to the Arab world – the president's Inaugural Address, the early interview with Al-Arabiya, the speech to the Turkish parliament, and his Cairo speech – been received by the Arab peoples and governments?

How has the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama been perceived in the Arab world and the region?

How can the Obama administration make the most effective use of the public relations capital it appears to have in the region?

How does the issue of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and calls for significant expansion of U.S. forces there impact on the Arab-Israeli peace process?

How does the continued operation of the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay affect the image of the United States in the Arab and Muslim worlds?

How can the Obama administration overcome the charges that its "peace policies" are rhetorically grand but ultimately hollow?  What realistic, practical, and effective leverage does the United States have that can break the perception that any negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli representatives are all process and no peace?

How can the Obama administration overcome the perception that it supports the idealistic language of political reform in the Arab world, in the process raising local people's hopes for political and economic change, but, for reasons of political realism, it is reluctant to challenge well-established political regimes whose cooperation may be needed in other areas of foreign policy?


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