Live Blog: The Greater Middle East

8:20 a.m. “The Greater Middle East” kicks off Day 3 at the Humphrey Institute’s series of forums entitled America’s Future: Conversations about Politics and Policy during the 2008 Republican National Convention. The discussion is moderated by Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations. The panelists are:

* Michael Barnett (Harold Stassen Chair of International Relations, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota)
* Steven A. Cook (Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations)
* Valie R. Nasr (Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations)
* Meghan O’Sullivan (Senior Fellow and Adjunct Lecturer, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University)

8:34 a.m. O’Sullivan, a former National Security Advisor on Iraq for the Bush administration, attributes the rise in U.S. troops and the standdown of the Shia militias in Iraq as two of the key reasons for the improvement on the security front during the past 1.5 years.

8:37 a.m. O’Sullivan says the U.S. underestimates the national identity held by Iraqis — if asked to describe themselves, she believes most would describe themselves as Iraqis in the top 2 or 3 descriptors. And though Iraqis may not consider themselves Iraqis first, that is not crucial to national stability.

8:42 a.m. In discussing Iran, Nasr says the end goal of their government is to get a committment from the United States to diplomatic recognition. This recognition – ideally for the Iranians – would lead to a normalization of relations, as well withdrawing U.S. troops in the regions, and a guarantee of the current regime’s survival. Iranians have the North Korea model in mind of baby-step negotiations that eventually leads, two or three years down the road, that each side has come far enough that the United States is committed to the process.

8:45 a.m. Barnett says a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would have only a limited impact on the region. Barnett believes what we are facing in Iran and Iraq pales to what we are facing in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — that he has never been more ‘depressed’ about that situation in his lifetime.

8:55 a.m. Cook says the regimes in the Middle East are much stronger and flexible than is currently viewed by the U.S., though this stability is not necessarily in the interest in the U.S. (as it produces individuals and groups that wish to harm not only the regime, but also America).

9:04 a.m. Nasr says Pakistan’s government could very well collapse and be the first major crisis of the next presidential administration. Nasr believes there could be a total ethnic breakdown and civil war in Pakistan and the Pakistan military may not be up to the task to manage the situation.

9:09 a.m. Haass observes there has been a pushback in Afghanistan against coalition forces due to a resurgence of national identity / pride, just as the U.S. is starting to ramp up its presence there. O’Sullivan says more troops in Afghanistan is not the answer — the ‘Iraq solution’ will not translate there. O’Sullivan believes there is no number of U.S. troops that could stabilize that country.

9:15 a.m. Cook says the soar in oil prices has created countries in the Middle East which are “plastic guilded in gold.” (e.g. the Gulf Arab states). In these countries there is not a strong call for democracy, which is frequently brought about by a battle for reources, because there are resources a plenty.

9:29 a.m. Nasr and Cook agree that while many governments in the region privately would support the U.S. to put Iran ‘under seige,’ they would not publicly support this measure, or allow an attack from its borders, because they realize public opinion in the region is very supportive of Iran. Furthermore, when Israel enters into the equation, sectarian differences in the Middle East disappear.

9:34 a.m. When asked why the United States does not take a non-interventionist approach to the Middle East, O’Sullivan claims, vaguely, things would then even get worse in the region. (although she does not explain how things would get worse for the United States per se).

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