U.S. Middle East Policy: Ambitions Versus Reality


America’s proper role in Middle Eastern affairs remains very much under dispute, despite decades of debate by diplomats, policymakers, and academics. On one hand, the Trump administration has presented Americans with an ambitious agenda designed to help shape the region in America’s favor. The “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, the administration’s stated goals in dealing with the escalating war in Syria, and its new plan for the Israeli-Palestine dispute constitutes an ambitious American agenda for the region. Conversely, some advocates of restraint in American foreign policy question the ability of the U.S. to effectively assert meaningful leadership in the Middle East and contend that heavy-handed efforts to do so often produce results which are counterproductive to American interests. Given these competing schools of thought, just how realistic are America’s current plans and objectives towards the region?

The Center for the National Interest hosted a luncheon discussion on February 27, 2020 to address this very question. The featured speaker at the event was Ambassador Martin Indyk, a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Indyk was the U.S. special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations from July 2013 to June 2014 and served as U.S. ambassador to Israel from 1995 to 1997 and again from 2000 to 2001. He also served as special assistant to President Bill Clinton and senior director for Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council (1993-95) and as assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs in the U.S. Department of State (1997-2000). Dr. Geoffrey Kemp, the Center for the National Interest’s Senior Director of Regional Security Programs, served as the moderator for the event.

Ambassador Indyk spoke at length about the evolving dynamics impacting regional affairs in the Middle East, America’s changing interests in the region, and the complex challenges associated with projecting American influence there. Ambassador Indyk also took questions from several of his fellow discussants, including Ambassador Thomas Pickering, the former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs whose distinguished diplomatic career included stints as ambassador to Russia and the United Nations, among others.