US: the pro-Sharon thinktank

Le Monde diplomatique juli 2002

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy influences the thinking of the United States government and has a near monopoly on the supply of 'expert' witnesses to the media. After almost two decades of relative moderation, the institute is now drifting towards the Israeli right.

THE Washington Institute for Near East Policy (Winep) was established in 1985, and soon became the most influential thinktank with effects on the United States government's Middle East policy and US mass media reporting about the region. The institute's founding director, Martin Indyk, was previously research director of the leading pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac). In contrast to Aipac's partisan image (see Watch and tell ), Indyk successfully positioned Winep as an organisation that was "friendly to Israel but doing cred ible research on the Middle East in a realistic and balanced way" (1). While Aipac targets Congress through the massive election campaign contributions that it coordinates and directs, Winep concentrates on influencing the media and the executive branch.

To this purpose it offers weekly lunches with guest speakers, written policy briefs, and "expert" guests for radio and television talk shows. Its director for policy and planning, Robert Satloff, its deputy director, Patrick Clawson, its senior fellow, Michael Eisenstadt, and other associates appear regularly on radio and television. Winep views prevail in two weekly news magazines, US News and World Report and The New Republic (whose editors-in-chief, Mortimer Zuckerman and Martin Peretz, sit on Winep's board of advisers).

The views of Winep's Israeli associates, among them journalists Hirsh Goodman, David Makovsky, Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari, are spoon-fed to the American media.

Winep has close links with both leading Democrats and Republicans. Its first major success was the publication of the report Building for Peace: An American Strategy for the Middle East on the eve of the 1988 presidential elections. The report urged the incoming administration to "resist pressures for a procedural breakthrough [on Palestinian-Israeli peace issues] until conditions have ripened" (2). Six members of the study group that produced the report joined the administration of President Bush Sr, which adopted this recipe: not to change until change was unavoidable. So the US acceded to Israel's refusal to negotiate directly with the Palestine Liberation Organisation during and after the 1991 Madrid conference despite the PLO's recognition of Israel at the November 1988 session of the Palestine National Council.

The Clinton administration continued this policy. As a result, from 1991 to 1993, 11 rounds of US-sponsored negotiations between Israel and "non-PLO" Palestinians produced no result. When Israel became serious about negotiating with the Palestinians it met official PLO representatives in Oslo, behind the back of the Clinton administration. These talks resulted in the September 1993 Israeli-Palestinian declaration of principles.

During the 1990s it seemed that the end of the cold war might diminish the strategic value of the US-Israel alliance. Winep and its associates strove to maintain the US-Israeli relationship as the principal factor in the US's Middle East policy by promoting Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's view that Israel was a reliable US ally against radical Islam, which was a new enemy in the post-cold war world order. In December 1992 Rabin expelled more than 400 Palestinian Islamic activists from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to Lebanon. To justify this, Ehud Ya'ari, an Israeli television journalist and a Winep associate, denounced, in The New York Times, a vast US-based conspiracy to fund Hamas (3).

Winep's 1992 symposium focused on whether Islam was a danger to the US. Martin Indyk argued that the US ought not to encourage democracy in countries that were friendly to Washington, like Jordan and Egypt, and that political participation should be limited to secular parties (4). This policy seems like a formula for ensuring that Islamic forces would forsake the political arena and engage instead in armed struggle. To the extent that Washington was identified with this policy, the US would be targeted as well - as happened in Egypt from 1992 to 1997.

The Clinton administration was even more thoroughly colonised by Winep affiliates than its predecessor. Eleven signatories of the final report of Winep's 1992 commission on US- Israeli relations, Enduring Partnership, joined the Clinton administration. Among them were National Security Adviser Anthony Lake; the UN ambassador and later Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright; the Undersecretary of Commerce, Stuart Eizenstat; and the Secretary of Defence, the late Les Aspin.

In 1993 the Clinton administration announced a policy of "dual containment" directed against Iran and Iraq. This was the practical, although not the ideological, fore-runner of President Bush Jr's "axis of evil" policy. The principal formulator and spokes-person for dual containment was Martin Indyk, in his new role as special assistant to the president and senior director for Near East and South Asian affairs at the National Security Council (5). As Indyk had been raised and educated in Australia, he had to be quickly naturalised as a US citizen in order to join the Clinton administration. Later he served as US ambassador to Israel, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, and then did a second tour as ambassador to Israel. In all these positions Indyk was a significant player in the Oslo "peace process".

Dennis Ross is another Winep figure with major responsibility for Oslo. He was a key aide to Secretary of State James Baker in formulating Middle East policy during the Bush Sr administration, and then became President Clinton's special coordinator for the peace process. After retiring from government service Ross became the director of Winep.

Until the current Bush administration and the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, Winep tended to embrace positions identified with Israel's Labour party and the "moderate" retired Israeli generals of the Jaffee centre for strategic studies at Tel Aviv University. Crude right-wingers like Martin Kramer and Daniel Pipes (see Watch and tell ) were rarely featured. But Bush Jr brought to Washington a clique of Middle East policy makers linked to Israel's Likud party and to neo-conservative, hawkish thinktanks like the American Enterprise Institute, the Project for a New American Century, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (Jinsa), and the Centre for Security Policy (CSP).

Vice President Dick Cheney, Undersecretary of State for arms control and international security John Bolton, and Undersecretary of Defence for policy Douglas Feith were all on Jinsa's board of advisers before they entered the Bush administration: in all, 22 CSP associates secured positions in the Bush national security apparatus.

Winep had limited but significant connections to this circle before they assumed office. Richard Perle, the ideological father of the war against Iraq and until recently chair of the Defence Policy Board, was a member of the Jinsa board and also the Winep advisory board. His superior at the Pentagon, Deputy Secretary of Defence and fellow ultra-hawk Paul Wolfowitz, also sat on the Winep advisory board until he joined the Bush administration.

Winep has enhanced its credibility with the Bush administration by recently adding figures with solid neo-conservative credentials to its staff. Jonathan Schanzer, previously a research fellow at the Middle East Forum, is now a Soref fellow at Winep. The director of the Middle East Forum is Daniel Pipes, one of the loudest anti-Arab and anti-Muslim voices in the US. Pipes is now a Winep adjunct scholar. Max Abrahms, a Soref fellow specialising in Israeli security affairs, has been a columnist for National Review Online, a devoutly neo-conservative organ. Matthew Levitt, a senior fellow in terrorism studies and a former FBI analyst, also writes in the National Review Online, where he publicly supports counter-terrorism operations.

A Winep adjunct scholar, Joshua Muravchik, simultaneously works for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Richard Perle's home base. Michael Ledeen, holder of the AEI's Freedom Chair, has formulated a doctrine that captures that institution's ideological orientation: "Every 10 years or so, the US needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business" (6).

Winep's opposition to the "road map" for Palestinian-Israeli peace clearly shows its con version to Likud-style thinking. Robert Sat loff objected to the road map on the grounds that it is based on "sham, even indecent, parallelism between Palestinian and Israeli behaviour". Muravchik endorsed Satloff's views as "the most penetrating analysis" of the road map's flaws (7).

As befits a former diplomat, Dennis Ross's criticisms of the road map are less categorical and rather more judiciously phrased; none the less he believes it "requires far too little of Arab leaders" (8).

This political shift to the right reflects the parallel movement of the leading Israeli political and military figures whose thinking Winep echoes. Since the outbreak of the current intifada, Winep's previous "moderate" Zionist outlook has been marginalised in Israeli polit ical discourse. Winep's rightward drift is also in accord with the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment that has proliferated in post-11 September US thought and culture.

Its new political stance ensures that Winep will have access to the Bush administration, even if its affiliates do not comprise the inner circle of Middle East policymakers as they did in the Bush Sr and Clinton days.

Winep's criticism of the road map appears to put it at odds with the Bush administration. But this is deceptive. Few experienced observers believe that the road map will succeed. Winep's characterisation of the plan as too pro-Arab helps to lay the groundwork for blaming the Palestinians when it fails, just as President Clinton blamed Yasser Arafat for the failure of the July 2000 Camp David summit.

* Joel Beinin is professor of history at Stanford University

See also:Watch and tell

(1) Washington Post, 24 March 24 1989.

(2) Building for Peace: An American Strategy for the Middle East, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1988.

(3) Ehud Yaari, the New York Times, 27 January 1993.

(4) Martin Indyk, "The Implications for US Policy," in Islam and the US: Challenges for the Nineties, Washington Institute, 27 April 1992.

(5) Martin Indyk, "The Clinton Administration's Approach to the Middle East", Soref Symposium, Washington Institute, 18 May 1993.

(6) Quoted by Jonah Goldberg, "Baghdad Delenda Est, Part Two," National Review Online, 23 April 2002.

(7) Robert Satloff, "Inside a Flawed Roadmap: Truth or Consequences for the Peace Process", Peacewatch n 414, 20 February 2003 ; Joshua Muravchik, "The Road Map to Nowhere", The Israel Report, April 2003.

(8) Dennis Ross, "Through Street or Cul-De-Sac?" Peacewatch n 408, 24 December 24 2002