The incoming administration of President-elect
Barack Obama should move quickly to engage Iran without preconditions and to
promote an Israeli-Syrian peace accord, according to two veteran Middle East
experts whose views are likely to have influence over Obama's just-announced
foreign policy team.
Obama should also "make a serious effort from the outset to promote progress
between Israel and the Palestinians," propose its own solutions to the
parties "sooner rather than later," and enlist the active support
of the Arab League in its success, according to Richard Haass and Martin Indyk,
senior Middle East aides under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton,
They also called for Obama to consider providing nuclear guarantees and enhanced
anti-ballistic missile defense capabilities to Israel if negotiations to curb
Iran's nuclear program fail or do not achieve quick success in order to dissuade
the Jewish state from attacking Tehran's nuclear facilities on its own. Such
an umbrella could also extend to Washington's Arab allies in part to prevent
a regional arms race.
At the same time, "the option of a military response launched by either
the United States or Israel needs to remain in the background precisely
because without it, Tehran might see a diplomatic initiative by a new, young
U.S. president as an opportunity to play out the clock until Iran can cross
the nuclear threshold," according to the two men.
Their recommendations, laid out in both an article to be published in the
January-February edition of Foreign Affairs and in a new book, Restoring
the Balance, released jointly by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
and the Brookings Institution Tuesday, appear designed to provide a relatively
detailed roadmap for Obama's top policymakers, notably Secretary of State-designate
Hillary Clinton; Pentagon chief Robert Gates; and his national security adviser,
retired Gen. James Jones; as well as the president-elect himself.
They come at a moment of intense speculation about where Obama wants to take
U.S. policy, especially in the Middle East, the region that has dominated policymakers
in the administration of George W. Bush since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on
New York and the Pentagon.
The professional, institutional, and even personal affiliations of both Haass
and Indyk, as well as their own policy-making experience, underline the potential
significance of their recommendations for the incoming team, whose ideological
inclinations range from moderate Republican "realists," like Gates,
to pro-Israel liberal internationalist Democrats like Clinton.
Haass has served as president of New York-based CFR, the country's most prestigious
foreign policy think tank, since he resigned as the State Department's director
of policy planning under Colin Powell shortly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
He was a protégé of George H.W. Bush's national security adviser,
Brent Scowcroft, as were Powell, Gates, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Jones.
During the Clinton administration, Haass headed the foreign policy section
of the Brookings Institution, Washington's oldest and perhaps most venerable
Indyk, who served in several Middle East-related posts, including ambassador
to Israel and assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, under
Clinton, heads the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, whose
president, Strobe Talbott, was Clinton's deputy secretary of state and longtime
personal friend of the Clinton family. Before joining the Clinton administration,
Indyk was closely tied to the so-called "Israel Lobby" having worked
as research director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)
and as founding director of AIPAC's spin-off, the Washington Institute for
Near East Policy (WINEP).
Restoring the Balance, the culmination of an 18-month project, was
overseen by a bipartisan board of advisers co-chaired by Haass and Talbott
that included Clinton's former national security adviser Sandy Berger and Scowcroft
among other leading foreign policy figures. It also includes chapters on specific
issues by a number of Brookings and CFR scholars who have served in past administrations
and may very well secure key posts in Obama's, such as Michael O'Hanlon, Kenneth
Pollack, Suzanne Maloney, Bruce Riedel, Gary Samore, Daniel Byman, and Steven
In presenting the book, both Indyk and Haass stressed that the chapters represented
the views only of their authors and not of the two institutions or the project's
board of advisers. Indeed, the chapters on U.S. policy toward Iran, by Maloney
and Ray Takeyh, and on the Arab-Israeli conflict, by Stephen Cook and Shibley
Telhami, are noticeably less hawkish toward Iran and Hamas, respectively, than
that written by Indyk and Haass themselves.
The title Restoring the Balance itself appeared to refer both to reducing
the emphasis on Iraq that has dominated U.S. policy in the Middle East for
the past seven years and to refocusing U.S. efforts in the region much more
on diplomacy and multilateralism what Obama himself called the "core
vision" of his foreign policy when he introduced his new team Monday in
On Iraq, Haass and Indyk warned against both a "too rapid withdrawal"
that could generate renewed instability there and a "too slow withdrawal"
that could leave U.S. forces tied down and "unavailable for other priority
tasks, including backing [Obama's] diplomacy vis-à-vis Iran in particular
with the credible threat of force."
Indeed, they write that Obama's "principal focus will need to be on Iran"
because it could make sufficient progress in its uranium-enrichment program
to have a credible nuclear weapons capability in as little as two to three
To prevent or delay that eventuality, the two authors argue for Washington
to engage in direct and unconditional negotiations that would offer Tehran
both more carrots including reduced sanctions, security guarantees,
and normalized relations backed up by bigger sticks, including more
stringent financial sanctions and a multilateral ban on Iranian gasoline imports.
While there is no guarantee such an approach would succeed, "lower oil
prices do create a context where prospects for diplomacy would be enhanced,"
Haass said Tuesday.
Ultimately, Washington could accept an enrichment program in Iran under enhanced
international safeguards to ensure that it cannot develop a "breakout
capability," according to the two authors, who also note that there is
"no realistic prospect of toppling the Iranian regime, either through
military action or through support of an internal uprising."
At the same time, Washington should pursue bilateral talks over normalization,
Iran's backing of Hamas and Hezbollah, and its role in Iraq, possibly within
the context of a broader regional negotiation similar to the Six-Party talks
with North Korea.
On Arab-Israeli talks, the two authors argue that the Syrian track which
the Bush administration, despite pleas from the mediator, Turkey, and the outgoing
Israeli government headed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, has refused to promote
offers the greatest chance of success both because Damascus, unlike the
Palestinian Authority, "is in a position to fulfill a peace agreement,
and the differences between the parties appear to be bridgeable."
"Moreover, the potential for a strategic realignment [by Syria] would
benefit the effort to weaken Iran's influence in the sensitive core of the
region, reduce external support for both Hezbollah and Hamas, and improve prospects
for stability in Lebanon. In other words, it would give President Obama strategic
leverage on Iran at the same time as he would be offering its leaders a constructive
way out of their security dilemma."
Progress on the Syrian track could also bolster the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian
track, which should be continued by Obama, despite the deep divisions on both
sides of the table, according to the two authors. Unlike Bush, however, Obama
should propose solutions to issues at which the parties reach impasse and even
"outline in some detail his views of the principles underlying a final
settlement" in order to encourage progress.
He should also seek "renewed involvement" of the Arab states in
the process, which would be made easier if the U.S. and its Quartet partners
the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia can prevail
on Israel to halt its settlement activity.
(Inter Press Service)