U.S. foreign policy expert speaks on relations with the Middle East

U.S. foreign policy expert speaks in Hendricks

Martin Indyk spoke on his time as ambassador to Israel and shared observations on relations between the U.S. and Middle East.
Published: April 17, 2019
Martin Indyk Lecturer University Lecture 2019
Martin S. Indyk speaks in Hendricks Chapel on April 16.

The University Lectures Series hosted its last guest of the the spring 2019 semester in Hendricks Chapel on Tuesday. Martin S. Indyk, diplomat and expert on the Middle East, North Africa and U.S. foreign policy, joined the on-stage conversation with James Steinberg, a social science professor at Syracuse University. 

Indyk, a distinguished fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, talked about his experience as the U.S. special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negations and U.S. ambassador to Israel during the Clinton and Obama administrations. Moreover, Indyk shared his observations on the Trump administration’s Middle East policies and explained to the audience where the country is heading in terms of rebuilding trust and peace in the region. 

Indyk started his career in Washington, D.C. after he immigrated from Australia in the early ’80s. After working for around 10 years in research and analysis of Middle East policy, Indyk joined Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. After Clinton’s win, Indyk served as principal adviser to the president and national security adviser on Arab–Israeli issues, for Iraq, Iran and South Asia.

Based on his experiences, the Indyk said the Clinton administration played a big role to create peace between Israel and Palestine, while noting that the Obama administration was not able to act similarly. 

“Clinton was committed from day one to pursing a comprehensive resolution of the conflict,” he said. “But by now, it’s been the most bloodiest five years.”

Indyk said from the first year he took on the ambassadorship in Israel, President Clinton made efforts to end conflict and even decided to host leaders of Palestine and Israel in the United States. 

“If you told me nine months before, ‘Yasser Arafat is going to be in the White House,’ that would just be laughable,” he said. 

However, he said the Trump administration’s foreign policy significantly differs from previous administrations and under these circumstances it will be hard for the United States to establish positive relations with Arab countries. 

The administration’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem has deeply hurt the peace-negotiation process of Israel-Palestine conflict, he continued.

“Trump is driving Palestinians away from the table. They stopped talking to us,” he said. Conflict cannot be resolved if the president’s administration neglects the Palestinian side, Indyk continued.

He said the under the current U.S. administration, the relationship between the United States and Israel has developed in an intense way, and has been built very strongly, so it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for the United States to use any leverage it has on Israel.

Steinberg went on to bring up the idea that Trump is strengthening ties between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Indyk responded that Saudi Arabia is a “big friend” of the country; however, this is only because of the oil trade, otherwise the countries would not be allies. 

“Saudi Arabia was never particularly a strong pillow on which we could rest our policy,” Indyk added. 

Indyk said U.S.-Iran relations were already bad prior to the current administration, and that they’ve become still worse under President Trump. Indyk added that while previous deals didn’t address problems related to the Arab Spring revolution and conflict between members of Sunni and Shia Muslim denominations, Trump has re-imposed sanctions on Iran without even solving existing problems.

“Trump re-imposed sanctions, while he supposed to build new deal and address these problems,” he said. “Then we would be in much better position that we are in now.”

Indyk added that Trump influenced countries which purchase oil from Iran and made them stop doing so. Thus, currently, the Iranian government expects that Trump will serve only one term and hopes to make a deal with a new administration. He said the main question remains — how will that relationship evolve if Trump gets re-elected?

Indyk wrapped up the lecture by discussing ongoing revolutions in Sudan and Algeria, describing recent protests as the “second Arab Spring.” He explained that these differ from the previous Arab Spring in a positive way, since leaders and people seem they have learned from the past. 

“Now, the peaceful revolutions taking place,” he said. “People on the streets put peaceful demonstration and military respecting people for the time-being.”

The expert suggested that the United States shouldn’t get deeply involved in the internal affairs of foreign countries, as it may inflate expectations from the civilians of those countries, while the United States may lose its communication with the leaders. 

“We lost our ability to talk to the leaders on the other side,” he said. “We set goals for ourselves that we had no intentions of fulfilling. I think we’re much better off in the situation where we do not talk the lead, we let the people decide.”