THE COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
& ITS MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM
By Daniel Mandel & Asaf Romirowsky
As the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) prepares to celebrate its eighty-fifth anniversary, it enjoys a reputation for balanced debate.  Newspapers such as The New York Times, which provides space on its website for Council products,  treat the institution as a neutral authority. But, when it comes to the Middle East, the Council has increasingly eschewed research and debate and, instead, picked an ideological line and political agenda, to the detriment of its intelectual honesty and scholarship. As some scholars retire and Council President Richard Haass taps younger scholars to take their place, he has an opportunity to restore the Middle East Program's relevancy.
Judith Kipper is Director of the Council's Middle East Program. Her scholarly credentials are minimal: a bachelor's degree from the University of California at Los Angeles. Writing in the Columbia Journalist Review, Janet Steele, University of Virginia Rhetoric and Communication Studies Professor, noted, "though Kipper has spent time in the Middle East, she does not speak Arabic and has written nothing of consequence on the region."  The Council website credits her with no research publications and only seven opinion pieces in the past four years. In these, Kipper writes most often about the Arab-Israeli conflict, whose solution she believes lies in perfecting the land-for-peace formula.  The assumption that land-for-peace is the only viable formula ignores the experience of practitioners. Dennis Ross, the U.S. White House's Middle East Peace Process Special Envoy throughout the entire Oslo Process, culminating with the Camp David II Summit, has written:
Kipper's analysis also ignores issues such as the problem of Palestinian incitement to violence and terrorism and the absence of a Palestinian consensus supporting a two-state solution. 
Kipper also comments frequently on Islamism, arguing that radical ideology has nothing to do with Islam, a position that puts her at odds both with moderate Islamic leaders and a growing number of Middle Eastern intellectuals.  Kipper says:
On an assortment of conflicts involving Muslim societies, Kipper has dismissed any possibility that religion is a motivating factor. Speaking before a town hall meeting in Los Angeles, she stated:
The assertion that "Muslims are just like you and me" is politically correct and true for many Muslims who have internalized Western constitutional democratic values. But, there is also ample documentation that Saudi-funded mosques have disseminated very different teachings. A recent report issued by Freedom House details how Saudi publications have disseminated extremist religious ideology in the United States, promoting hatred of Jewish and Christian "infidels" as well as the suppression of women.  Anti-American incitement has also led to violence. According to U.S. State Department statistics, between 1961 and 2003, terrorists killed 3,776 Americans.  Of that number, Muslim terrorist groups killed all but some two hundred.  Kipper's mantra may be in part motivated by naïveté, but the records of other Council scholars suggest an unwillingness to cross lucrative supporters and business partners undercuts Council scholarship.
Richard Murphy, until recently the Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for the Middle East, was a career foreign service officer whose postings in the Middle East culminated with ambassadorships to Syria (1974-1978) and Saudi Arabia (1981-1983). Murphy holds a B.A. from Harvard University and an A.B. from Emmanuel College, Cambridge University. Sabbagh, his patron, is the Vice-Chairman of Consolidated Contractors Company and made his money in the Persian Gulf over decades working with regimes such as Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. 
Murphy's television commentaries show sympathy toward his subjects that sometimes trumps analytical dispassion. He downplays criticism of the Saudi Kingdom, despite evidence that Saudi officials have played a double game. As the 9-11 Commission found, the initial Saudi government's reaction to heavy involvement by its citizens in the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks was "disbelief and denial." While Saudi authorities have often said their government sought cooperateion with the U.S. anti-terrorist efforts, requests by Washington for assistance received, at best, lackluster support.  Saudi charities have also remained pivotal funding sources for terrorist groups like Hamas  that have not only murdered Israelis, but also Americans. For example, Hamas was responsible for the July, 2002, terror attack in a cafeteria at Hebrew University, frequented by American students. Five of the nine killed were American students. 
Responding on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor" to allegations that Saudi officials and citizens financed terrorists, Murphy stated that the Saudis "don't fund terror."  Such statements stand in contrast to a body of evidence presented by Robert Baer, a former CIA case officer, in his book, Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude:
Murphy may now be retired, but his shadow remains formidable as he keeps up his media commentary arguing, for example, that Washington should engage more with Islamists. 
Criticism of Israel and the support it receives from the American Jewish community  is a frequent theme of Siegman's writing. His perspective of the Arab-Israeli conflict is not based on fieldwork or practitioner experience, but, rather, upon reference to his own background as a refugee from Nazism, which, he says, sensitized him to the tribulations of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
Siegman argues that Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict,  a conclusion that discounts both pre-1967 hostilities and attempts by rejectionist states like Iran and Syria to undermine Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. It also ignores statements by Yasir Arafat that the Oslo agreement was merely a part of the Palestine Liberation Organization's "phased strategy [for] the complete liberation of Palestine." 
Siegman's account of the Oslo Accords' failure  also contradicts accounts by those with firsthand knowledge of events. Dennis Ross, for example, wrote, "Oslo might not have failed if Arafat had been prepared to be a leader and not just a symbol."  President Bill Clinton, too, speaking after the failure of the Camp David Summit, said, "[Barak] moved forward more from his initial position than Chairman Arafat … particularly surrounding the questions of Jerusalem." 
Siegman's tendency to use Council prestige to add gravitas to his political pronouncements continued into the Palestinian terrorism campaign that erupted in the aftermath of Camp David II's failure. Ignoring several dozen suicide attacks in Israeli cafes, hotels, and buses, he asked:
While Siegman holds Sharon guilty of original sin, Siegman has not only given Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas the benefit of the doubt,  but also has expunged his record of Holocaust denial,  efforts to avoid a Palestinian Authority commitment to dismantle terrorist organizations,  and responsibility for the death of sixty-four Israelis in terrorist attacks during his brief PA Presidency. 
Following Arafat's death, Abbas assumed the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. While Siegman maintained that Abbas was sincere in his desire to crack down on terrorism, the Palestinian politician has sidestepped any commitment to end permanently Palestinian terrorism.  During his election campaign, he shared the stage with wanted terrorists, whom he called "heroes."  He later confirmed death sentences on three Palestinians condemned by Palestinian state security courts for helping Israel fight terrorists.  Siegman, however, blamed Israeli counterterrorism efforts for Abbas' failure to fulfill his commitments.  Even Benny Morris, among the most prominent of Israel's new historians, said Siegman "simply, completely, does not understand the Middle East."  When facts undercut Siegman's theories, he simply omits them.
Siegman's revisionism and factual inaccuracies extend to his treatment of Israel's security fence. While Siegman attributes the fence to Sharon,  Left-leaning Prime Minister Ehud Barak first proposed the measure in 1999.  Sharon began to implement the Barak plan in February, 2002, following a month in which Palestinian terrorists killed eighty Israelis and wounded 600 in twelve different suicide attacks. While the fence cut Palestinian terrorism in Israel by 95 percent,  Siegman suggested that the barrier might serve not only as an excuse for the Palestinian leadership to avoid dismantling terrorist infrastructure, but also as the cause of an internal Palestinian civil war.  To Siegman, the fault for Palestinian intracommunal violence rests with Israel.
In recent years, Siegman has made his demonization of Israel more pointed. In 2001, Siegman wrote that Israelis "have found it painful to acknowledge the injustice that the establishment of the Jewish state inflicted on the Palestinian people, for fear that such an acknowledgment would delegitimize the entire Zionist enterprise."  He has subsequently promoted an analogy between Israel and apartheid South Africa, an analogy common among fringe political movements, but not borne out in fact. "An apartheid political system that the world would not tolerate in racist South Africa will not survive in a racist Israel,"  he wrote in the International Herald Tribune.
New Middle East Program hires under Haass' stewardship have mirrored his own views favorable toward engagement and skeptical of sanctions, unilateralism, and military force. Following Operation Desert Storm, while Haass served as a senior director for the Near East on the National Security Council, he counseled "moderation" toward Saddam Hussein, who had turned his Republican Guards on civilians to crush the Shi‘ite and Kurdish uprising.  After resigning from his most recent stint in government service in 2003, Haass penned several articles critical of George W. Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq. 
Under Haass, in July, 2004, the Council published a working group report entitled Iran: Time for a New Approach.  The working group was stacked with long-time proponents of engagement, and the group's report was penned by Suzanne Maloney, a Middle East advisor for ExxonMobil. The report proposed renewed U.S engagement with the Islamic Republic and was dismissive of the significance of the decision by Iranian authorities to give Al-Qa'ida operatives safe-haven within Iran.
Such views mirrored those espoused by Haass both during his government tenure and in his think-tank interludes. Utilizing funding by oil companies Conoco and Arco to promote his work, he has consistently opposed U.S. sanctions against Iran. 
Further mirroring Haass's views is 2004 hire Ray Takeyh, a task force member and Maloney's husband. Takeyh, who took the unfortunate step of predicting the death of Islamism a few months prior to 9-11,  has, in recent years, become a leading voice for rapprochement with Iran, despite its nuclear ambitions.  Ignoring Iran's status as "the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2004,"  and, absent supporting evidence, Takeyh wrote that Khatami "secured Khamenei's essential backing for his ‘good neighbor' diplomacy." 
The polemization of scholars' work extends beyond the Iran issue, though. In 2005, David Phillips, a former U.S. State Department official who serves as the Deputy Director of the Council's Center for Preventive Action, wrote a book purporting to be a study of post-Iraq war planning.  He argued, for example, that "Iraq was thrown into crisis when Bush administration officials, especially Pentagon political appointees, rushed to war and decided to ignore the planning that was under way."  But much of the book's discussion was inaccurate.  Phillips omitted discussion of the interagency process and based analysis of post-war reconstruction upon secondary accounts rather than fieldwork. When pressed, his publicist acknowledged that he had not traveled to Iraq to interview Iraqis or conduct research. The Wall Street Journal determined that he had lifted descriptions of Iraqi cities from newspaper accounts.  The Economist opined that Losing Iraq "resounds with the unmistakable sound of bureaucratic scores being settled." 
Rachel Bronson, Senior Fellow and Director of Middle East and [Persian] Gulf Studies, has scholarly credentials — a Ph.D. from Columbia University  — but seldom produces research that challenges the conventional wisdom of the more cautious State Department establishment. Her opinion articles counsel continued support for Arab regimes  place emphasis on maintaining the U.S.-Saudi partnership. 
The Middle East Program can, however, produce solid and timely research. Steven Cook, a New Generation fellow, speaks Arabic, has a Ph.D, and has published solid journal articles on subjects ranging from political liberalization in Algeria, to U.S. and Turkish cooperation against terrorism,  to the value of the U.S.-Egyptian partnership. 
The Council has been unable to retain other scholars, though, who might have added to the Council's intellectual diversity on the Middle East. Adjunct Senior Fellow Michael Doran, a specialist on Arab politics who has criticized the Saudi royal family,  left the Council, after a brief affiliation. The White House subsequently tapped Doran for a senior National Security Council position.  Michael Mandelbaum, a U.S. and European foreign policy specialist, also parted ways with the Council in mid-2004.
Max Boot, a senior fellow in national security studies, takes a more hawkish approach to terrorism, Islamism, and their Middle Eastern sponsors than does Haass. He bucks the rule that Council scholars do not support the Bush administration's democratization drive, Israel's right to defensible borders, and a no nonsense -- and, at times, undiplomatic -- approach both to dealing with terrorism and to counter-proliferation efforts. Then again, Boot remains outside the Council's Middle East Program altogether.
Collaboration across disciplines, fieldwork, and practitioner experience separate the premier policy think tanks from the isolation of university departments and the shallowness of many pundits. Research quality declines when fieldwork, language ability, and practitioner experience take a back seat to polemics. Columbia University, for example, has seen its reputation plummet, because of the tendency of a single department to apply political litmus tests in both job searches and tenure decisions.
Islamism, Arab-Israeli diplomacy, and terrorism ensure that the Middle East will challenge the U.S. policy establishment for years to come. The Council on Foreign Relations can play a role in developing relevant strategy. Whether its Middle East Program will do so remains to be seen.
 See "From the Council on Foreign Relations," The New York Times website, accessed June 14, 2005.
 Janet Steele, "TV's Talking Headaches," Columbia Journalism Review, July/Aug. 1992.
 Judith Kipper, "Cease-fire Fails to Stop Violence in Middle East," The San Diego Union-Tribune, July 8, 2001.
 Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004), p. 762.
 On these sources of conflict, see Yossi Klein-Halevi, "The Asymmetry of Pity," The National Interest, Fall 2001, pp. 37-44;
two representative polls: "While Indicating Important Shifts in Palestinian Public Attitudes toward the Intifada and the Peace
Process, PSR Poll Shows Significant Support for the Appointment of a Prime Minister and Refusal to Give Confidence in the
New Palestinian Government," no. 6, Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Nov. 14-22, 2002; "Opinion Poll #11,"
Development Studies Programme, Birzeit University, Mar. 12, 2003.
 See, for example, "Arab Liberals: Prosecute Clerics Who Promote Murder," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2005, pp. 84-6.
 Judith Kipper, speech at town hall meeting, Los Angeles, Jan. 21, 2003, accessed June 3, 2005.
 Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Fill American Mosques (Washington, D.C.: Center for Religious Freedom, Freedom
House, 2003), chaps. 1, 2, 3, 5.
 "Significant Terrorist Incidents, 1961-2003: A Brief Chronology," Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S.
Department of State, Mar. 2004.
 See Consolidated Contractors Company official website, at http://www.ccc.gr; Forbes, Dec. 5, 1994.
 The 9/11 Commission Report (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2004), p. 373.
 Dore Gold, Hatred's Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism (Washington, D.C.: Regnery
Publishing, 2003), p. 127.
 "Americans Killed by Terrorists," editorial, International Broadcasting Bureau, Aug. 6, 2002.
 Fox News, Apr. 10, 2002.
 Robert Baer, Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude (New York: Crown Publishers,
2003), p. 69.
 Richard Murphy and Basil Eastwood, "Talk to Political Islamists in the Arab World," Daily Star (Beirut), May 4, 2005.
 Henry Siegman biography, CFR website, accessed June 3, 2005.
 Chris Hedges, "Separating Spiritual and Political, He Pays a Price," The New York Times, June 13, 2002.
 Henry Siegman, "How Palestinian Property Was Seized," The International Herald Tribune, Jan. 27, 2005; Hedges,
"Separating Spiritual and Political."
 Henry Siegman, "Middle East Conflict: Seek Palestinian Confidence in What?" The International Herald Tribune, July
17, 2001; idem, "The Road Map Was Doomed from the Outset," The International Herald Tribune, Sept. 1, 2003.
 "Political Program for the Present Stage Drawn up by the 12th PNC, Cairo, June 9, 1974," Journal of Palestine Studies,
Summer 1974, pp. 224-5; Daniel Pipes and Alexander T. Stillman, "Two-Faced Yasser," The Weekly Standard, Sept. 25, 1995.
 Siegman, "Middle East Conflict."
 Ross, The Missing Peace, p. 767.
 President Bill Clinton, statement on Middle East peace talks, Washington, D.C., July 25, 2000.
 Henry Siegman, "Sharon's Real Purpose Is to Create Foreigners," The International Herald Tribune, Sept. 25, 2002.
 Yael Yehoshua, "Abu Mazen: A Political Profile," no. 15, Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Apr. 29, 2003.
 The Sydney Morning Herald, July 23, 2003; Michael Freund, "Abu Mazen — Arafat's ‘Pragmatic' Protégé," The Jerusalem
Post, Apr. 2, 2003.
 London Telegraph, Sept. 9, 2003.
 Bruce Thornton, "Will Abbas Bring an End to the Conflict?" Private Papers (Victor Davis Hanson), Jan. 15, 2005.
 WAFA (Palestinian News Agency), Jan. 1, 2005; Associated Press, Jan. 1, 2005.
 The Jerusalem Post, Feb. 16, 2005.
 "Siegman: Abbas Needs Political Boost from Bush," cfr.org, May 25, 2005.
 New York Review of Books, Apr. 8, 2004.
 International Herald Tribune, Dec. 26, 2003.
 Ehud Barak, "Peace as My Paramount Objective," Mideast Mirror (London), June 28, 2000.
 David Makovsky, A Defensible Fence: Fighting Terror and Enabling a Two-State Solution (Washington: Washington
Institute for Near East Policy, 2004), pp. 16-7.
 Henry Siegman, "Don't Be Fooled by Sharon's ‘New' Message: Israel's Future," The International Herald Tribune, Dec.
 Henry Siegman, "Israel: A Historic Statement," The New York Review of Books, Feb. 8, 2001.
 Siegman, "Don't Be Fooled."
 Richard N. Haass biography, CFR website, accessed June 3, 2005.
 Lawrence F. Kaplan, "Drill Sergeant: The Oil Industry's Man at the State Department," The New Republic, Mar. 26, 2001.
 Richard N. Haass, "Wars of Choice," The Washington Post, Nov. 23, 2003; idem, "Freedom Is Not a Doctrine," The
Washington Post, Jan. 24, 2005.
 Zbigniew Brzezinski and Robert M. Gates, co-chairs, Iran: Time for a New Approach (Washington, D.C.: CFR, July 19, 2004).
 "Iran's Link to Al-Qa'ida: The 9-11 Commission's Evidence," Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2004, p. 72; Agence France-Presse,
July 19, 2004.
 Kaplan, "Drill Sergeant."
 Ray Takeyh, "Islamism: R.I.P.," The National Interest, Spring 2001, pp. 97-102.
 Ray Takeyh, "Iran's Nuclear Skeptics," The Washington Post, Apr. 25, 2003.
 "Iran," Country Reports on Terrorism, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, U.S. Department of State, Apr. 27,
2005, chap. 5B.
 International Herald Tribune, June 17, 2005.
 Losing Iraq: Inside the Post-War Reconstruction Fiasco (New York: Basic Books, 2005).
 John J. Miller, "The Phony Insider," The Washington Examiner, May 15, 2005.
 The New York Times, July 10, 2005.
 Robert Pollock, "The Armchair Analyst," The Wall Street Journal, May 10, 2005.
 The Economist, July 2, 2005.
 Rachel Bronson biography, CFR website, accessed June 3, 2005.
 Rachel Bronson, "Recall, Reagan Had Riyadh to Thank," The Daily Star, June 19, 2004.
 See various opinion articles catalogued at Rachel Bronson biography, CFR website.
 Steven A. Cook biography, CFR website, accessed June 3, 2005.
 See, Steven A. Cook, "Egypt - Still America's Partner?" Middle East Quarterly, June 2000, pp. 3-13.
 Michael Scott Doran, "The Saudi Paradox," Foreign Affairs, Jan./Feb. 2004, pp. 35-51.
 Jewish Telegraph Agency, May 11, 2005.
The Middle East & the Arabs
The Israeli-Arab Conflict
The Middle East & the Problem of Iraq
The Middle East & the Problem of Iran
North Africa -- The Arab States of Islamic North Africa
War & Peace in the Real World
Page Two Page One
Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
Against the U.S.A. & Western Civilization
Islamist International Terrorism &
U.S. Intelligence Agencies
U.S. National Security Strategy
Daniel Mandel is author of H.V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel (Frank Cass, 2004) and Asaf Romirowsky is a research fellow at the Middle East Forum.
The foregoing article by Daniel Mandel and Asaf Romirowsky was originally published in the Middle East Quarterly, Fall, 2005, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum.
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