Tuesday, August 13, 2013

AIPAC Seminar: Panel Discussion Crafting Middle East Policy

Panel Discussion: Dr. Yamara Cofman Wittes Former deputy assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affarirs-Obama Administration
John Hannah- Former national security advisor, VP Richard Cheney

moderator-Jeff Jeff Colman- AIPAC

Exploring the current trends
ethnic nationalism
Muslem Brotherhood approach
Al Qeada approach
What is different that is going on now?
absence of strong states.
There is a vacum and regional actors are doing what they do which is take advantage of the vacum.
Turkey is running up agains the limits of their power surge.
The actors in the Gulf States are responsible for stoking that fire in Lebanon and Iraq.
And what they do is lend credence to the arguments of Al Qeda and the most extreme elements.
 Both panelists agree that the war in Syria is a game changer for the region.
They both agree that the tension especially the religious tensions between the Sunni and Shia is unprecedented.
American Policy options.
Goals and Options?
John Hannah
1. Administration would like to see a negotiated ouster of Assad-unlikely
2. strengthen the  hand of the rebels.
3. Is there a viable American partner in Syria?
she agrees that the momentum is to create the process to negotiate
the other process is containment- not getting Assad out but just protecting refugees and defend against use of chemical weapons.
yes there are options but no low cost options.
How important is getting the desired outcome in Syria to American interests?
How much of an American investment in this issue given that America is exhausted with international intervention. Polls demonstrate that Americans are more isolationist since 1992.
There is no pressure from the population to do anything about this matter.

Colman to Hannah: Is America just not as big a player in the Middle East?
Response- Not to dictate but to shape them.  But the US needs to be engaged. The world is better off with US involvement and leadership.
The president does well in steering the course. The one player everyone looks to is still the US. The players still look to the US even if the regional players say they  hate the US 
Panel Response
Is it American policy to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?
What would be the perception about US if Iran gets the weapon?
Hannah- It comes down to the President.
He will have to use military force to downgrade and buy time to figure out what to do in the long run.
The president has given himself little wiggle room.,
The President asks, "Do I want on my political legacy, on my watch, to have the Iranians get the bomb?" The problem is how effective will the intelligence be to know before it happens. It is a new world if they get a nuclear weapon. There is no communication between diplomats between Iran and US. No one to talk to resolve problems . Incredibly dangerous.
A nuclear standoff between Iran and Israel and Saudi Arabia will have huge economic implications -oil.
Wittes response:
1.  there is a permissive response in the American public opinion to allow for a US strike against Iran.
2.  a best case scenario would only retard Iranian process not destroy it.
3.  international coalition that has worked together on sanctions against Iran might help create a change in Iran. It is important to maintain that coalition.
4. Iranian elections: Meaning? Iran@saban blog.Iranian politicians are arguing over the sanctions and what they are doing to their economy. the new elections show that the regime is trying to do something about Iran's isolation and building ties to the  world. 
It does mean that the sanctions are having an impact politically but may not match the timetable of development of Nuclear weaponry. 
Hannah response.
Everyone was surprise. He agrees with Wittes comments.
Sanctions have been effective in generating a huge amount of debate in the society.
Keep the pedal to the medal with Iran. Pressure.
the current president was a concession to the disgust of the Iranian people to their government.

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