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19th Annual
Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference

Arab-U.S. Relations: Going Where?

October 21 - 22, 2010

HOW Questions for the
Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference

By John Duke Anthony

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 the following:

    "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 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



How, taking into consideration Arab viewpoints and interests, might the restoration of Iraq’s potentially robust energy industry and the process of granting concessions to foreign oil companies be expected to proceed with the likelihood that the near and longer term security situation on the ground may remain uncertain for the immediately foreseeable future?

How can one envision occurring what the many of the members of the League of Arab States wish to see occur far sooner than has occurred to date: namely, the reintegration of Iraq into the Arab world in such a way that it could begin to play a role commensurate with its heritage, history, and potential?

How, given the paltry number of Arabic speakers among American personnel assigned to the planned 1,000 person American embassy in Baghdad and similarly small numbers attached to the provincial reconstruction teams, can the United States expect to succeed in achieving its most important strategic objectives in Iraq?

How, especially, when communicating relies so heavily on Iraqis willing to interpret for the Americans and, for that reason they and to an even greater extent the Iraqi security forces the Americans are trying to train are viewed by many Iraqis as aiding the country whose forces have occupied their land?

How, in light of persistent attacks on Iraqi, American, and other security forces in Iraq, can one envision Iraq regaining the degree of national sovereignty and political independence, if not also degree of territorial integrity, that it manifested prior to the American invasion and occupation?

How soon and how in terms of specifics, if at all, can the United States be expected to disprove the observation among numerous Gulf Arabs and international strategic analysts farther afield that "The United States attacked Iraq and Iran won -- without firing a single shot or shedding a drop of blood"?

How, taking Iraqi nationalist and other Arab viewpoints into account, can the United States, having encouraged, nurtured, and protected the creation of a de facto sovereign autonomous region of Kurdistan, avoid the establishment and recognition of a nationally sovereign, politically independent, and territorially intact State of Kurdistan and, instead, encourage and help achieve the reintegration of the Kurdish region into a truly unified state of Iraq?

How, with a view to Iraq's fellow Arab countries and/or the United States, Europe and others currently providing assistance, can one envision the coming generation of Iraqi leaders of tomorrow benefiting from the best training and education possible?

How, especially, given that Iraq, seen through the lens of many Americans, Iraqis, other Arabs, and much of the rest of the world, has been and still is wracked by violence, insecurity, and improved but still questionable political stability?, and

How, American bureaucratic, media, and other rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding, given that the country has yet:

  1. to regain its national sovereignty, political independence, and undiluted territorial integrity?,
  2. to remove the stigma, in the eyes of many Iraqis and others, of its leaders’ collaborating with a foreign occupying power?,
  3. to achieve anywhere near the level of foreign direct investment once envisioned?, and
  4. relatively few of the country's two million largely middle class educated entrepreneur, academics, scientists, doctors, dentists, and many other professionals are refugees abroad, and a like number of domestically displaced Iraqis are unlikely to be able or willing to return to their homes now occupied by others?



How can one, whether or not in concert with Iran's numerous Arab neighbors, realistically expect to persuade Iran, short of providing it sufficient incentives, to forego those components of its current path of nuclear development that, if unchecked, may eventually provide it the technology, material, and capability to manufacture a nuclear weapon?

How, if at all, and taking into consideration relevant perspectives of neighboring Arab countries, has the aftermath of Iran's June 2009 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” -- if only with a view to accentuating the positive in Tehran and in such relations between the United States and Iran as exist?

How realistic, given that the capitals of Iran's seven Arab neighbors all have their own issues with Iran, is it to expect that Washington will likely be able to re-set its relations with Tehran without upsetting or impinging unduly upon the strategic, economic, political, commercial, defense/national security and related interests of Iran's Arab neighbors?

How, if at all, and taking into account the needs, concerns, interests, and objectives of Iran's seven Arab neighbors, can the Obama administration realistically be expected to begin serious negotiations with a view to improving Iranian-U.S. relations?

How, especially, 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 realistic, with or without Arab encouragement or acquiescence, is it to envision possible additional U.S.-led UN Security Council sanctions against Iran being enacted and, if so, what would be the likelihood, if any, of their 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 and Iran's Arab neighbors continue to live with the “porosity” of the existing American-initiated sanctions against Iran when so many countries, American allies among them, continue to circumvent the spirit and letter of the sanctions for reasons related to their legitimate national economic, commercial, and other interests?

How, given the views of Arabs, many of whom have relatives in Iran and as many have important trade relations with it as well, can economic sanctions be made effective in a manner that influences 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, and also the Arab world, react to Israel's implied threat of unilateral military force against alleged Iranian nuclear targets?

How should the United States and Iran's Arab neighbors deal with Iran’s nuclear development program if stringent sanctions prove ineffective?

How credible is the view of some that the use of military force is inevitable, or must Iran’s Arab and other regional neighbors plus the world at large learn to live with a nuclear Iran? 


GEO-POLITICAL DYNAMICS (III): The Palestinian Future 

How might the United States, select Arab countries, and/or other regional as well as global players lessen the factors currently impeding the accomplishment of a fully sovereign State of Palestine that is politically independent and territorially intact?

How are political developments in the United States, on one hand, and in the Arab world, on the other, as well as trends in Iran, Lebanon, and Syria in particular, likely to affect the near and longer term prospects for stability and security in the Occupied Palestinian Territories?

How have developments related to American as well as Arab policies and politics, with particular respect to initiatives by the League of Arab States as well as internal developments in Iran, Lebanon, and Syria, affected the political dynamics and any possible outcomes that might occur when and if Palestinian-Israeli talks resume?

How might yet another Israeli invasion of Lebanon affect Palestinians, Syrians, Iran, the United States, and the larger Arab-U.S. relationship?

How likely is it that a change in the near term nature and direction of the United States Congress, on one hand, and developments in Lebanon, Syria, Hamas, Fatah, and/or Hizbollah, on the other, will affect the Arab-Israeli conflict and/or the situation in Iran?

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

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

How can one seriously envision major positive changes affecting the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation absent more effective American actions towards the occupying power and the Palestinians?

How can American diplomats or trusted and respected third parties in the Arab world and elsewhere meaningfully engage Hamas in issues of mutual interest to Hamas, Fatah, Israel, Syria, and Washington without removing Hamas from the United States government’s list of terrorist groups?



How can the United States best respond to the charge made by many in the Arab world who perceive various 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 regionally-based purveyors of extremism and terrorism?

How, especially given 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 that are opposed to any significant strengthening of the overall Arab-U.S. strategic relationship?

How, especially, given that some in the United States remain determined to doing whatever it takes to prevent or limit ever-increasing mutually respectful and mutually beneficial American-Arab relations in economics, energy, international relations, trade, investment, technology cooperation, and the establishment of joint commercial ventures as well as heightened defense cooperation and people-to-people exchanges?

How can the United States surmount, counter, or proceed effectively in terms of its national interests against, 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 soon can the United States realistically be expected to devise a strategy towards the Arab world that is accepted and respected as such, as opposed to claiming it has a strategy when what it projects to much of the Arab world and elsewhere is viewed regionally and globally not as a strategy but, rather, an excessive reliance upon force?

How, especially, taking Yemen as an example, where there are all kinds of unofficial proposals to substantially increase the costly defense and security components of America's governmental assistance to it but, in marked contrast, little prospect as yet for a substantially less expensive but likely much more effective, multifaceted, decades long, truly strategic approach -- one that would address the country's far-reaching, fundamental, massive, and pervasive needs for capacity-building, together with advanced training and education, so as to better enable the country to deal with its people's legitimate economic and social development and institution-building needs?

How can the United States realistically increase the level of budgetary support for the Arab components of its International Military Education and Training program -- especially those aspects of it that pertain to existing and emerging Arab defense leaders, many of whom are keen to engage their American counterparts so as to be able to derive the kinds of educational and professional benefits associated with their attendance, learning, and leadership development at some of America's armed forces institutions?

How soon might the United States, in association with its Arab partners that are ready and willing, increase substantially the number of its armed forces personnel being trained and educated at Arab armed forces agencies?

How, especially, when the goal of those who advocate positive U.S.-Arab defense cooperation engagement, and vice versa, is one of forging greater oneness in strategic and tactical doctrines, thereby improving the near and longer term prospects for Arab region-wide peace, prosperity, security, and stability -- an Arab-U.S. cooperative goal opposed by some American and other special interest groups?

How might Arab governments that have entered into defense cooperation relationships with the United States and most of the other UN Security Council Permanent Members better explain to their respective publics 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 efficacy to date of the Defense Cooperation Agreements that select Arab countries and the United States have entered into in the past three decades?


ENERGY: Sources, Supply, and Security

How, taking into account differing American and Arab analyses, is one to analyze the impact on the past year's economic recession, if any, of the energy component and specifically the policies of any of the Arab oil producers' policies?

How soon, factoring in Arab viewpoints, 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 -- and, when and if it does, what impact is it likely to have, if any, on the relations between the Arab oil producers and the United States?

How might switching to greater reliance upon natural gas for the energy needs of the United States, on one hand, and Arab countries, on the other, impact their respective overall fuel requirements and prospects for economic growth?

How, as the international economy begins to recover, will increasing global demand for Arab and other hydrocarbon resources impact American, other international, and domestic energy price levels?

How credible is the view of some that Arab-related and other countries and regions' energy prices will likely spiral upwards in the near future and, weighing American and Arab interests, what would be the likely impact should this occur?

How plausible is the view that Arab, U.S. and other international energy market dynamics have 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, the Arab gas producers, and the international energy market?

How will the emergence of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) affect the energy production picture among major energy suppliers in the Arab world and elsewhere, including the United States, and how will it likely affect global energy markets?

How might the current U.S. administration’s emphasis on shifting away from reliance upon fossil fuels to alternative and renewable energy sources impact future American and other foreign energy investment in the Arab world, on one hand, and future Arab investment in the United States, versus other economies, on the other?

How, if at all, have moves by the United States and some Arab oil producing countries toward investments in nuclear and solar energy production affected Arab-U.S. relations?

How, in terms of Arab-U.S. relations, might the U.S. and Arab policy emphasis on energy security -- versus the more recent hyping, by U.S. executive and legislative branch representatives as well as mainstream media and policy research institute pundits, of the "need" to end America's energy reliance on foreign sources of oil and gas -- be affected by an American shift away from use of fossil fuels?

How, for Americans and Arabs alike or differently, have the policies being debated in Congress and the proceedings of the December 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, come close to meeting the simultaneous goals of, on one hand, providing energy and economic security for energy consumers and producers -- an interest that the United States and Arab oil producers share -- while dealing, on the other, with concerns about the consequences of global warming?


THE GLOBAL EDUCATIONAL CHALLENGE: What Prospects for Future Arab Employment?

How can the United States expect to succeed or register significant and ongoing progress 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:

  1. large numbers of scholarships for Arab students wanting to study in U.S. universities,
  2. significant financial aid for American students wanting to study Arabic and enroll in Arab 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
  3. 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 even begin to measure the damage to the human and youth leadership development components of the overall Arab-U.S. relationship stemming from how difficult it has been most of the years since 9-11 for Arabs of any age and need -- educational, medical, business, touristic, etc. -- to obtain visas to the United States?

How effective have the increasing American successes in establishing four-year universities in Arab countries, and other Arab-U.S. educational exchange and partnering arrangements, fared in comparison to similar successes by institutions of higher education in such English-speaking countries as Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, and New Zealand -- and what impact, if any can be discerned, have these alternate sources of Arab higher education abroad had on the overall Arab-U.S. relationship?

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

How far has the Arab world in general progressed since the publication several years ago of the United Nations' widely circulated report on the Arab world's various societal deficits, and where there have been successes, what are the reasons and how likely are they to be sustained?

How credible it is that in some GCC countries where there are significant employment challenges alongside educational and economic ones, many analysts seem to imply that, unless this major threefold challenge is address quickly and effectively, major social unrest is inevitable and unavoidable?


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