AEI teamed with the Center for a New American Security and the New America Foundation for an in-depth conversation yesterday in Washington about the opportunities and challenges posed to the U.S. by the events that have taken place in the Greater Middle East over the past year and a half.
Speakers included Marc Lynch and Douglas Ollivant of the Center for a New American Security, AEI’s own Danielle Pletka, and American diplomat Dennis Ross. Ross began the event by setting the frame of discussion, bringing to the fore a host of crises currently troubling the Middle East—civil strife in Syria, the rise of the Islamists in Egypt, Iran’s nuclear agenda, and the ever contentious Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The event’s aim was to assess the developments in the region and, in light of the coming presidential election in America, craft a national security agenda. What emerged over the course of the discussion was a basic consensus among the panelists: America must assert itself in both word and action.
Pletka stressed that the tumult in the Middle East called for “a set of principles articulated in the region which we support with concrete policies.”
“This is a region,” she continued, “in which we have interests. We have interests in the outcome, but our position is unclear.” That position, Pletka argued, “must be articulated through policy.”
Ambassador Ross echoed Pletka’s sentiments. “We are not the authors of these stories,” Ross said, “but we do have interests.” To ensure our interests in situations which are often complex and murky, the key, Ross argued, is to “keep in mind our principles and our values as a kind of lodestar.” Over time, Ross emphasized, our principles and values are what will serve us best.
With an election looming in November, the panelists agreed that the United States now has a fresh opportunity to at last delineate a cogent set of principles consonant with our foundational values—and act on them.
“Let’s start with Israel,” Pletka argued. “If Israel had more trust in the American government, would they feel they must to do what they need to do on their own timeline?” A clear and consistent approach to these issues, she stated, would not only benefit the US, but would necessarily benefit our allies as well. What’s more, it would contribute greatly to regional security.
Looking ahead to a possible change in American leadership, Pletka offered that “Governor Romney has articulated a strong belief in an American role in the world.” This stance, Pletka intimated, would be a first step towards establishing the principled approach she envisions for America in the Middle East.
It’s only when the United States resolves to, in the words of Ambassador Ross, “be very clear about our principles and values,” that we’ll be in a position to enact effective policy in the Middle East. The first order of business in crafting our national security agenda is to define our positions in the abstract, the second is to apply those positions to the concrete, contextual issues before us.