National Council on US-Arab Relations Conference: Strengths, Weaknesses, & Opportunities #NavigatingUSArabRelations

“Sticks are becoming more lethalized whereas our carrots (soft power) less tasty-possibly rotting.”~Sharpe

From Tuesday October 22nd to October 23rd, the National Council on U.S. – Arab Relations held its annual conference.  This year’s title theme: “Strengths, Weaknesses, & Opportunities”.  Pita-consumers may consider this the “S.W.O.T. analysis” of U.S.-Arab reltions without the “Threats” discussion, but we assure you: the “Threats discussion” definitely was described within the softer context of challenges.  Also, with the panel on the Gulf Cooperation Council Geopolitical Dynamics, speakers like Dr. Al-Shayji assigned most of the blame for Gulf countries challenges and concerns to Iran.  Although the goal was to explain geopolitical dynamics in the Persian Gulf, the highly charged allegations against Iran most definitely made up for the missing “Threats” portion of the S.W.O.T. analysis.  The irony is that another panel called for U.S. relations to “pivot to Persia” calling for sanctions on Iran to be lifted.

Each year, the program booklet lists great, probing questions–many of which are not asked explicitly.  For example, How can interests benefit from plans to build passenger/freight railways?  It is a missed opportunity to get answers from the panelists who are assembled.

At the lunch keynote, NCUSAR awarded former Illinois Congressman Paul Findley for policy-making achievement.  Findley wrote “They Dare to Speak Out’ and “Deliberate Deceptions”, which discusses missed opportunities by the U.S.  in policy-making in the Arab world.

HRH Prince Turki-Al Faisal shared his remarks during lunch where he focused on why Saudi Arabia declined a seat at the U.N. Security Council last week.  This boiled down to two reasons:

  1. Dissatisfaction with how the UNSEC Council has handled the Israeli-Palestine issue.
  2. Disappointment with how UNSEC Council allows veto power of China and Russia to derail action in the Syria crisis.

Al-Faisal led into the Syria crisis by stating that Assad and his accomplices must be tried at International Criminal Court of Justice.  He added how Lebanon’s recent collapse of the AlMikati government will push Lebanon to the brink of another civil war.  He tried to support his apocalyptic scenario for Lebanon by warning of the spillover from the Syria crisis and pointed fingers at Iran for meddling (he added that Iran meddles in Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and even in Yemen)… his remarks foreshadowed the theme for the second half of the conference: call for harsher U.S. action towards Iran and ignore the upcoming P5+1 negotiating path on achieving a peaceful resolution on Iran’s nuclear aims.  He even stated that GCC nations may even consider acquiring a nuclear deterrent if Iran’s “leadership succeeds in pursuing a nuclear path”.

Interests & Technology


Electricity generation through is oil declining stated the panelists.

Moderated by Ms. Randa Fahmy Hudome – President, Fahmy Hudome International; General Counsel, American Egyptian Strategic Alliance; former Associate Deputy Secretary of Energy; Member, Board of Directors, National Council on U.S-Arab Relations.



Dr. Herman Franssen – Executive Director, Energy Intelligence Group; former Senior Associate, Energy and National Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies.


Ms. Sarah Ladislaw – Co-Director and Senior Fellow, Energy and National Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies.


Mr. Kevin Book – Co-Founder and Head of Research, ClearView Energy Partners, LLC; Senior Associate, Energy and National Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies; Member, National Petroleum Council.


Ambassador Thomas Graham – Executive Chairman, Board of Directors, Lightbridge Corporation; Member, International Advisory Board, United Arab Emirates; former U.S. diplomat.

  • Shared great confidence in nuclear energy as an alternative energy source within the United Arab Emirates.
  • Regarding safeguards and security measures, is getting advice from former IAEA inspector, Hans Blix.
  • The 1st plant is scheduled for 2017.
  • The Baraka site would employ about 20,000 workers with a contract for construction amounting to about $20 billion.

PITAPOLICY NOTE: We were unconvinced on the case for nuclear energy use because there was no discussion on corporate social responsibility and specific examples of the stakeholder guarantees on safety.


Dr. Shihab Kuran – President, SunEdison Advanced Solutions.

  • Megatrend of solar power growing because gas commodities in Saudi Arabia are more expensive to liquify and export.
  • Despite high upfront capital costs, solar produces more per megawatt basis.



Moderated by Mr. Christopher Blanchard – Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division, Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress.




Mr. David DesRoches – Associate Professor and Senior Military Fellow, Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University; National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Malone Fellow in Arab and Islamic Studies.


Mr. Robert Sharp – Assistant Professor, Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University.

  • Strategic Inflection Point: is a “sharp” critique of how weapons, or the “stick” have grown increasingly more deadly and precise, which makes their use as a tool more attractive for immediate gratification.  At the same time, the “carrot” or the soft-power tools are facing more budgetary cuts in Congress, which makes it harder to balance the use of force.
  • Borrowed Samuel Huntington’s phrase “Clash of civilizations” in that conflicts are between the “‘Haves’ and ‘Have-nots'”: those with food security versus those without.



Dr. Janet Breslin-Smith – former Professor of National Security Strategy and Chair of the Department of National Security Strategy, National War College.


  •  Built up on Sharp’s framing of conflict as “‘Haves’ versus ‘Have-nots'” but departed from his assessment because conflict is not just about using solutions to focus only on alleviating poverty.
  • Argued that relationships are different in that ideology are not clashing because of economic differences, unlike during the Cold-War era.  Now religion has entered certain ideological strains, which creates more conflict beyond borders.
  • PITAPOLICY NOTE:  Sharp’s and Smith’s comments forced us to ask: “How do you ask their question (how do we dig deeper in the culture to understand defense politics) without sounding Orientalist?”We do not agree entirely with her premises or logic, but we agree with her conclusion: need more depth of understanding.



Moderated by Dr. John Duke Anthony



Mr. Jason Buntin – Director for Europe and Middle East Affairs, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

  • In 2012, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) of 6 countries represented a combined GDP of $1.5 trillion. GDP per capita was $35,000 per person–which catapults them into high-income country status.
  • Represents the 6th largest supply of imports to the U.S., which is over $1.2 billion.


Dr. Abdullah AlShayji – Chairman, Department of Political Science, Kuwait University; author, Kuwait’s Ceaseless Quest for Survival in a Hostile Environment.

  • Focuses on the ‘trust deficit’ between the U.S. and the GCC regarding Iran.


Dr. Ken Katzman – Specialist in Middle East Affairs in the Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division, Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress.


Mr. Mohammed Al Rais – Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Middle East Operations, Hill International.


Ambassador Richard Schmierer – Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy, Bureau of Near East Affairs, U.S. Department of State; former U.S. Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman.


Ambassador of Iraq to US Lukman Faily () opens 2nd day of 22nd Arab-US Policymakers Conference

  • Iraq favors diplomatic means to settle disputes




Dr. Thomas Mattair – Executive Director, Middle East Policy Council; former Research Scholar, Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research; author, The Three Occupied UAE Islands: The Tunbs and Abu Musa and Global Security Watch — Iran: A Reference Handbook.




H.E. Ambassador Maen Areikat – Chief Representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to the United States; former Deputy Head and Coordinator-General of the Negotiations Affairs Department of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.


Mr. Bill Corcoran – President and CEO of ANERA (American Near East Refugee Aid); former Vice President, Child Fund International.


Mr. Chris McGrath – Senior Liaison Officer and Acting Head of the Washington Representative Office, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA); former Communications Strategist for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.


Ms. Leila Hilal – Director, Middle East Task Force, New America Foundation; former Senior Policy Adviser to the Commissioner-General of UNRWA.






Moderated by Dr. John Iskander – Chair, Near East and North Africa Area Studies, Foreign Service Institute, U.S. Department of State.



Dr. Trita Parsi – Founder and President, National Iranian American Council; author A Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran and Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States.


Dr. Judith Yaphe – Distinguished Research Fellow for the Middle East, Institute for National Strategic Studies; Adjunct Professor in the Elliott School, George Washington University; former senior analyst in the office of Near Eastern and South Asian Analysis, Directorate of Intelligence, CIA.


Dr. Bassam Haddad – Director, Middle East Studies Program and Assistant Professor, Department of Public and International Affairs, George Mason University; Co-Founder/Editor, Jadaliyya Ezine; Visiting Professor, Georgetown University; author, Business Networks in Syria: The Political Economy of Authoritarian Resilience.


Dr. David Lesch – Professor of Middle East History, Trinity University; author, The Fall of the House of Assad, The Arab – Israeli Conflict: A History, and The New Lion of Damascus: Bashar al-Asad and Modern Syria.


Dr. Michael C. Hudson – Director, Middle East Institute and Professor of Political Science at National University of Singapore; former Director of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Professor of International Relations, and Seif Ghobash Professor of Arab Studies, Georgetown University.




Ms. Leila Hilal


Moderated by Ambassador Ford Fraker – former Senior Adviser and Chairman for the Middle East and North Africa Group, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. L.P.; former U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.




Ambassador Patrick Theros – Executive Director, U.S.-Qatar Business Council; former U.S. Ambassador to Qatar.


Mr. Ken Close – Founder and CEO, Quincy International; former Senior Policy Advisor to HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal.


Ms. Nahlah Al-Jubeir – Director, Center for Career Development, Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission; former Deputy Director for Financial and Administrative Affairs, Saudi Health Mission in Washington, DC.


Mr. Nathan Regan – Country Manager for the United States, Bahrain Economic Development Board, Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain.




Ambassador Dr. Rene Leon – Economic Growth Consultant, Creative Associates International; former Ambassador of El Salvador to the U.S.





Moderated by Ms. Elizabeth Wossen – Principal and Lead Consultant, Energy Links Group LLC; former Coordinator, Congressional and Government Relations, Kuwait Petroleum Corporation; Member, Board of Directors, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations.



Dr. Paul Sullivan – Professor of Economics, Eisenhower School, National Defense University; Adjunct Professor, Security Studies, Georgetown University; Columnist, Turkiye Gazetesi, Istanbul, Turkey.


Mr. Karim Haggag – Visiting Professor, Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University; former Director, Egyptian Press and Information Office in Washington, DC.


Ms. Alexis Arieff – Analyst on Africa and the Maghreb, Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress.




H.E. Ambassador Mohamed M. Tawfik – Ambassador of Egypt to the United States.


Dr. Nejib Ayachi – Founder and President, Maghreb Center.






Moderated by Dr. Andrew Parasiliti – Editor & CEO, Al-Monitor; former Executive Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies-US and Corresponding Director, IISS-Middle East; former Foreign Policy Advisor to U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel.




Commodore (Ret.) Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – Columnist, Arab News and Al Yaum; Retired Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy.


Mr. Steven Clemons – Editor-at-Large, The Atlantic; Founder, American Strategy Program, New America Foundation; Publisher, The Washington Note.


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