Money, Media and Policy Consensus

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

by Joel Beinin
published in MER180

Although the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) was established only in 1985, by the time the Bush administration came to office in January 1989 it had become the non-governmental organization with the greatest influence over US Middle East policy. WINEP built its success on ample funding; an extensive network of relations with the media, policymakers and academics; and dogged focus on its central policy objective -- keeping the strategic relationship with Israel at the center of US Middle East policy, a goal that resonates with the anti-Arab and Islamophobic premises of the conventional wisdom on Middle East affairs.

During the Persian Gulf war, WINEP associates were frequent sources of the sound bites, op-eds and canned quotes featured by the mass media. They reinforced the Bush administration’s framing of the issues, legitimized the war, affirmed the authority of the media and provided color commentary once the shooting began. When the Arab-Israeli peace talks convened in Madrid in October 1991, WINEP’s founder and executive director, Martin Indyk, was there as an expert commentator for CNN.

WINEP and the Bush Administration

WINEP registered its presence in Washington in 1988, when its Presidential Study Group on US Policy in the Middle East issued Building for Peace: An American Strategy for the Middle East. The model for this project was the Brookings Institution’s 1975 study, Toward Peace in the Middle East, three of whose endorsers -- Zbigniew Brzezinski, Cyrus Vance and Philip Klutznick -- went on to head the National Security Council (NSC), the State Department and the Commerce Department in the Carter administration.

WINEP was even more successful than Brookings. Six members of WINEP’s study group joined the Bush administration: co-chair Lawrence Eagleburger became Deputy (and later Acting) Secretary of State; Dennis Ross became head of the State Department Policy Planning Bureau and one of James Baker’s key aides in formulating Middle East policy; Richard Haass took the Middle East seat in the NSC; Harvey Sicherman served as a speechwriter for James Baker; Francis Fukuyama and John Hannah joined Ross’s staff.

WINEP’s Building for Peace urged the incoming president to pursue a comprehensive initiative that would “reshape the political environment, stabilize the military balance and provide his administration with the means to resist pressures to pursue a procedural breakthrough until conditions have ripened.” [1] The Bush administration adopted this stalemate recipe, but the intifada and the Gulf war rendered it obsolete. WINEP’s policy recommendation -- not to change until change was unavoidable -- did not reflect profound thinking. But its close correspondence with the approach of the Bush team won WINEP a respected place among establishment circles commenting on and shaping Middle East policy.

Armed with excellent access to the Bush administration and the legitimacy conferred by extensive media exposure during the Gulf crisis and war, WINEP formed a Strategic Study Group to guide post-Gulf war US policy. [2] WINEP’s cooperative relations with the Bush administration are registered in the acknowledgment in each of the three Study Group reports which say that the group “benefited greatly from the participation of advisers from the State and Defense Departments who, because of their professional responsibilities...[could not] be identified with” its conclusions. During 1991 and 1992, Indyk and Senior Strategic Fellow Marvin Feuerwerger (who had served in mid-level Pentagon positions) massaged the Study Group’s views into a consensus affirming WINEP’s strategic perspective. The group included several Reagan-era Middle East policy operatives: Geoffrey Kemp, Reagan’s Middle East point man at the NSC; Dov Zakheim, a former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense; and Charles Hill, former executive aide to Secretary of State George Shultz. WINEP’s regular circle of academics with Middle East credentials also participated: Daniel Pipes, a leading Arab basher and director of the right-wing Foreign Policy Institute in Philadelphia; Laurie Mylroie, formerly assistant professor of government at Harvard, where some of her former colleagues thought she was more suited to a career in the CIA than academia; Patrick Clawson, formerly on the staff of the International Monetary Fund and now editor of Orbis, journal of the Foreign Policy Institute.

This group is not distinguished by its erudition; scholarly accomplishment is not central to WINEP’s project. Nonetheless, it seeks legitimacy in the scholarly community as another component of its influence network. Martin Indyk and Marvin Feuerwerger serve as adjunct faculty in the Middle East studies program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (headed by Fouad Ajami) -- another site where distinctions between scholarship and centrist-to-conservative policy advocacy are often blurred.

The secondary role of Middle East scholarship at WINEP parallels the marginalization of area specialists as foreign policy was militarized during the Reagan-Bush era. Strategic policy types with little understanding of local history and culture in various regions of the world rose to the top of the bureaucratic heap. WINEP adopted their language and outlook. Hence, its views were perceived as realistic, hard-nosed and in line with US interests in the Middle East rather than merely special pleading for Israel. [3]

Like the 1988 Presidential Study Group, the Strategic Study Group was not a narrowly Republican affair. [4] Democrats included to ensure access in the event of a Democratic victory in 1992 were: Michael Mandelbaum, foreign policy adviser to the Clinton campaign; Stuart Eizenstat, a member of the WINEP board of advisers, chair of the 1992 Democratic Party Platform Committee and a member of Clinton’s “Jewish cabinet” headed by AIPAC general counsel David Ifshin; Steven Spiegel, a Middle East adviser to the Clinton campaign; and Madeleine Albright, a Carter administration NSC staffer who hosted a regular Washington Democratic foreign policy salon in the Reagan-Bush years. [5] WINEP thus positioned itself to influence a Clinton administration’s Middle East policy as well.

Main Movers

The two main movers of WINEP are Barbi Weinberg, former president of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles and vice president of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and Martin Indyk, an Australian academic who began his Washington career as deputy director of research for AIPAC. Weinberg heads WINEP’s executive committee and is key to its financial wellbeing. She has a record of extensive activity at all levels of nearly every major institution of the organized Jewish community, from presiding over two different Beverly Hills Hadassah groups to serving on AIPAC’s executive committee. Her excellent contacts with wealthy Jewish individuals and foundations allow WINEP to enjoy its current operating budget of $1.2 million. [6]

Indyk provides WINEP’s political vision. Disaffected by AIPAC’s high-profile partisan image, he saw the need for an organization that would be perceived as “friendly to Israel but doing credible research on the Middle East in a realistic and balanced way.” [7] Indyk formulated a strategy of cultivating close contacts with the media and policymakers in the executive branch, especially those with no prior Middle East expertise. WINEP’s name avoids reference to Israel, thereby proclaiming nonpartisan authority over the entire region. Indyk favors flexible tactics that enable WINEP to present itself as a legitimate player in the battle over foreign policy ideas. It is less dogmatic than AIPAC and does not shriek when its recommendations are not adopted. WINEP places a premium on maintaining influence and access and keeps its eye on its primary objective. Indyk and Weinberg conceived of WINEP after a period of tense US-Israeli relations in the early 1980s. The Likud, encouraged by the ineptness of Secretary of State Alexander Haig, had relentlessly pursued its vision of a Greater Israel, ignoring Washington’s effort to entice its Arab allies into an anti-Soviet “strategic consensus.” In December 1981, after Israel extended Israeli law to the Golan Heights and confirmed the annexation of East Jerusalem, the Reagan administration canceled a strategic memorandum of understanding with Israel. Following Israel’s invasion and occupation of Lebanon in 1982, US troops were deployed into a quagmire of Israeli manufacture. Israeli rejection of the “Reagan plan” for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict created additional frictions.

State Department officials prominent in rebuilding the US-Israeli strategic relationship in the mid-1980s -- Peter Rodman, Lawrence Eagleburger and Charles Hill -- later became regular WINEP associates. In the fall of 1983, after Syria had vetoed the May 1983 Lebanese-Israeli peace agreement brokered by Secretary of State George Shultz, Eagleburger and Rodman -- both proteges of Henry Kissinger -- encouraged Shultz to reorient US Middle East policy toward reliance on Israel. As director of policy planning at the State Department, Rodman had argued for US cooperation with Israel as a means of filling the power vacuum now apparent in Lebanon. [8] Following the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983, Undersecretary of State Eagleburger had traveled to Jerusalem to draw up a new US-Israeli strategic accord.

Iraq and WINEP

Since the Gulf war, Rep. Les Aspin (D-WI), chair of the House Armed Services Committee and Clinton’s choice as secretary of defense, has grown particularly close to WINEP as he has sought to project himself as an authority on revising US strategic policy in the Middle East. In the spring of 1991, Aspin twice traveled to the Middle East to review US policy, accompanied by Martin Indyk as his adviser. He has been a regular participant in WINEP events since then.

WINEP Middle East experts Laurie Mylroie and Daniel Pipes were among the more frequent media pundits during the Gulf crisis and war. Mylroie co-authored the first instant book on the Gulf crisis, which said appropriately bad things about Saddam Hussein’s regime. [9] But in the mid-1980s, she had actively promoted close US-Iraqi relations, and reportedly attempted to broker an Israeli-Iraqi rapprochement as well. Her views were given a prominent platform in the pages of Orbis, then edited by Pipes, and in The New Republic. [10] The prominence of “experts” like Mylroie in the major media enabled National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft to claim recently that “virtually every American expert on the Middle East” supported the administration’s policy toward Iraq before August 1990. [11]

WINEP’s 1988 Presidential Study Group report endorsed this perspective, arguing that during the Iran-Iraq war “Iraqi foreign policy exhibited elements of moderation that the US has an interest in encouraging.... In the post-war environment, a more moderate Iraq could be a positive factor for promoting regional stability.” The report did express concern about the “distasteful policies” of the Iraqi regime. Given the disregard for human rights in US foreign policy in the Reagan-Bush era, such language could be (and apparently was) understood as purely pro forma. [12]

After the war, Mylroie’s WINEP policy paper, The Future of Iraq, contained not a hint of her earlier views and argued that the US should move aggressively to overthrow Saddam Hussein. [13] During the 1992 election campaign, she suggested that “attacking [Saddam Hussein] would boost George Bush’s electoral prospects.” [14] Mylroie and WINEP thus executed a complete reversal on US policy toward Iraq while remaining at the center of the Washington foreign policy consensus, a spectacular demonstration of Eric Alterman’s maxim for media punditry: “It is better to look right than to be right.” [15]

More recently, WINEP has exploited the fiasco of the US flirtation with Iraq to oppose any rapprochement with Syria. In the fall of 1991, before the Arab-Israeli peace conference convened in Madrid, the late Elie Kedourie, then Koret Fellow at WINEP, lectured on the errors of US policy toward Iraq in the 1980s to a small audience at the Hoover Institution on the Stanford University campus. Kedourie’s remarks rehearsed facts about the US-Iraqi relationship well publicized by the anti-war movement. [16] His talk was followed by an unannounced presentation by Martin Indyk, who argued that the US experience with Iraq ought to make Washington wary of Syria’s overtures. Indyk’s argument drew on a recent WINEP policy paper by Daniel Pipes that sharply criticized “America’s soft touch with the Assad regime” since 1983 and argued that “the time has come for a tougher policy.” [17]

A 1992 WINEP policy paper by Military Affairs Fellow Michael Eisenstadt, who served as an analyst for the US Air Force Gulf War Air Power survey, continued the attack on Syria, claiming that despite its “countenancing the possibility of peaceful coexistence or...concluding formal agreements or tacit understandings with Israel,” Syria had not given up its ultimate goal of destroying Israel. [18] Eisenstadt proposed that the US limit Syria’s military and political options rather than offer incentives to pursue peace. Consistent with WINEP’s overall approach, Eisenstadt never considered the possibility that Israeli actions influence Syrian policy; this might suggest Arab rationality and lead to an examination of Israeli policy toward Syria.

The Israeli Connection

WINEP is not simply a think tank version of the crude racism and reaction represented by publications like Commentary. While the Arab-bashing press is well-represented at WINEP through columnist Charles Krauthammer (member of both the 1988 and 1991-1992 study groups), New Republic publisher Martin Peretz (WINEP board of advisers), and US News and World Report publisher Mortimer Zuckerman (board of advisers), they are not a primary source of intellectual input. Israelis, particularly those with senior positions at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University -- Joseph Alpher, Shai Feldman and Dore Gold -- have featured prominently on WINEP’s roster of associates. Ze’ev Schiff, military affairs correspondent of Haaretz who has excellent sources in the Israeli military, has also been a WINEP fellow. By way of the Jaffee Center and Schiff, WINEP has diffused the strategic thinking of retired Israeli senior military officers throughout Washington.

By Israeli standards, these people hold pragmatic and moderate views on the Arab-Israeli conflict. In response to the intifada, the Jaffee Center, in cooperation with WINEP, produced a study of Israel’s peace options suggesting that under certain circumstances a Palestinian state “would not necessarily threaten Israel” and that it would be advisable for Israel “to negotiate with Palestinian representatives associated with the PLO.” [19] Behind this moderation is a military-based conception of Israeli security that does not envision any modification of Israel’s military domination of the Middle East. Schiff’s 1989 WINEP policy paper, Security for Peace: Israel’s Minimal Security Requirements in Negotiations with the Palestinians, exemplifies this approach. It delineated the conditions that would allow Israel to agree to a restricted form of Palestinian independence. The notion that Palestinians have legitimate security concerns is simply absent from his analysis.

During a WINEP conference in Jerusalem in September 1992 Yitzhak Rabin remarked, “I would like Gaza to sink into the sea, but since that won’t happen we must find a solution to the problem of the Strip.” One of the American participants, shocked by Rabin’s crudeness, whispered to Yediot Aharonot correspondent Nahum Barnea, “Why are Israeli leaders either ideological brutes or pragmatists without a conscience? Isn’t there any other possibility?” [20] Within this range of options, WINEP is aligned with the latter camp. While AIPAC blindly repeats the Likud’s every fetishized ideological proposition regarding the West Bank and Gaza, WINEP’s military-strategic orientation allows more Israeli flexibility on territorial issues as long as Israel’s qualitative military superiority is preserved.

WINEP and the Arabs

To enhance its intellectual legitimacy, WINEP has solicited minimal Arab participation. Paul Jureidini, a consultant specializing in terrorism and urban violence, is probably the most frequent Arab presence at WINEP. The only Arabs with a reputation for independent critical thinking who have had a formal connection to WINEP are Hisham Awartani, economics lecturer at al-Najah University in Nablus, and Saad Eddin Ibrahim, director of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Social Development in Cairo.

WINEP has never published a policy paper or a research memorandum by an Arab or Arab-American; Arab views appear only in minor publications, such as conference reports. Arabs have attended and spoken at events designed to focus the attention of policymakers, academics and journalists on issues WINEP deems important, but their role is largely decorative.

The final report of WINEP’s 1991-1992 Strategic Study Group recognizes the importance of Saudi Arabia (along with Egypt, Turkey and, of course, Israel). [21] This is a significant innovation among Washington “supporters of Israel.” Nonetheless, the report insists that this strategic relationship must not influence US policy in the Arab-Israeli peace negotiations. Israel must, regrettably, accommodate the Palestinians to some extent, but the US should not advocate for the Palestinians, enhance the authority of the PLO or do anything to alter the balance of forces in the Palestinian-Israeli arena. [22]

The Islamic Menace

The 1992 edition of WINEP’s annual Soref Symposium examined “Islam and the US: Challenges for the Nineties.” The most astonishing performance was the keynote address by National Intelligence Officer for Science, Technology and Proliferation Gordon C. Oehler. His “country by country” survey of the Middle Eastern countries possessing weapons of mass destruction simply omitted Israel from the list. [23] Including it might have been incongruent with a discussion of the Islamic menace, the main order of business.

WINEP Deputy Director Robert Satloff opened his talk by praising The Economist for finally recognizing the seriousness of radical Islam (only months after its Middle East correspondent traveled to the region on a trip organized by WINEP). Satloff disclaimed any intent to issue a “hysterical call to arms or action, or...prop up a new post-Cold war bogeyman.” But his ahistorical analysis ignoring the recurrent upsurges of Islamist revivalism in the modern Middle East and his unproven contention that no compromise is possible between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas (funded by the same Saudi Arabia whose strategic significance WINEP has recently acknowledged) tended to do just that. [24] Peter Rodman’s perspective was close to Satloff’s.

Indyk typically enframes the discussion by offering concluding remarks at such events. He struck a more measured pose than his junior colleague, asserting that, “Islam is not the enemy of the United States in the Middle East. But militant Islamic fundamentalism does threaten American interests there.... Militant Islam does not present a strategic threat to American interests for the time being.” His policy recommendations, though, incorporated some of Rodman’s ideas and were less benign: The US ought not to encourage democracy in Middle Eastern states friendly to Washington; pressure for democratic reform should be targeted at Syria and Iraq, not Jordan and Egypt; Islamist radicals in Egypt and Jordan “need to be suppressed”; political participation should be limited to secular parties (a principle Indyk would never dream of proposing for Israel); and moderate Islamists should be coopted into political life. [25] Months earlier in Foreign Affairs, where foreign policy movers and shakers publish what they would like the rest of us to believe they are thinking and doing, Indyk argued that the US should be more aggressive in promoting democracy in the Middle East. [26] But, as we have already seen, consistency is not a prerequisite for being considered a serious player in shaping foreign policy and maintaining access to the media.

What Does WINEP Want?

Beyond maintaining access to the foreign policy making process, WINEP wants the United States to remain actively engaged in the Middle East at a high level. It wants to maintain and strengthen the US-Israeli strategic alliance. It wants to present Israel in the best possible light, even when it disapproves of Israeli policies. It wants to minimize the relationship between the US and the Arab states unless those states have demonstrated to the satisfaction of the Israeli military and intelligence community that they are not players in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

WINEP has been successful to date because it operates an effectively targeted spin machine with the considerable financial resources at its disposal. It assiduously courts the media, faxing the Washington press corps invitations to its weekly lunches with visiting dignitaries and scholars. WINEP’s downtown Washington location is close to Capitol Hill, the World Bank and the National Press Club. WINEP publishes an enormous quantity of material in a variety of formats, flooding Washington offices concerned with the Middle East with its materials.

WINEP’s organized trips to the Middle East are an example of its operating techniques. Participants are drawn from WINEP’s various projects; members of the foreign policy community and journalists travel to the region together. WINEP does not pay journalists’ expenses, but furnishes background materials, arranges interviews and provides an atmosphere in which WINEP associates, individuals close to the policymaking process and journalists can share ideas and experiences. The journalists write news stories when they return. [27] Policy types write op-ed pieces. Clinton foreign policy adviser Michael Mandelbaum has lately been a WINEP frequent flyer. These types of trips are the nuts and bolts in the construction of conventional wisdom.

WINEP’s combination of financial resources, close relationships with policymakers, minimal involvement of scholars with substantive knowledge of the region, playing down the Israeli connection and cultivating the media has proven effective. But the most important ingredient in its success has been its carefully crafted policy of situating itself at the center of the strategic consensus of US foreign policy and media elites in the Reagan-Bush era. It is unlikely that a similarly endowed project advocating arms reductions, human rights and a just Arab-Israeli peace could gain the influence WINEP has had in these circles and achieve similar results. This is because the problem with US foreign policy is not simply the policymakers, or the influence of organizations like WINEP. It is rather the array of interests, institutions and discourses that enable certain orientations to appear reasonable and to prevail, no matter what the facts, arguments and circumstances.

Endnotes

[1] Building for Peace: An American Strategy for the Middle East (Washington, DC: WINEP, 1988), p. 77.
[2] The three reports of the Strategic Study Group are: Restoring the Balance: US Strategy and the Gulf Crisis (1991); After the Storm: Challenges for America’s Middle East Policy (1991); Pursuing Peace: An American Strategy for the Arab-Israeli Peace Process (1992).
[3] I phoned John Hannah, rapporteur for the Presidential Study Group and former deputy director of research at WINEP, to ask him for some biographical information and explained I was preparing an article about WINEP and US Middle East policy. “Why do you want to talk to me?” he responded. “I don’t know anything about the Middle East.”
[4] Among the Democratic members of the Presidential Study Group were Brian Atwood, director of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs; Ann Lewis, a 1988 Jackson campaign adviser; and Ronald Lieber, Middle East adviser to the Dukakis campaign.
[5] The honorific steering group of the project also included prominent Democrats: Rep. Les Aspin (WI), Sen. Daniel Inouye (HI), Sen. Sam Nunn (GA), and former Vice President Walter Mondale. See also J. J. Goldberg, “Clinton’s Angry Bandwagon,” The Jerusalem Report, May 7, 1992 and “Clinton’s Dream Team,” The Jerusalem Report, October 22, 1992.
[6] Contributors to WINEP include the Blinken Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Koret Foundation, the Meyerhoff family and the Soref family. Until recently, Max Fisher, whose fortune was estimated by Forbes to be $340 million in 1991, was a member of WlNEP’s executive committee. He is a major Republican Party fundraiser as well as the largest single contributor to Jewish philanthropies in the world. Fisher remained loyal to Bush despite widespread disaffection in the organized Jewish community, and he may have left WINEP because he disapproved of its tilt toward Clinton. Weinberg, a former member of the California Democratic State Central Committee, has excellent liberal Democratic credentials.
[7] Quoted in David B. Ottaway, “Mideast Institute’s Experts and Ideas Ascendant,” Washington Post, March 24, 1989.
[8] Middle East Policy Survey, October 14, 1983.
[9] Judith Miller and Laurie Mylroie, Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf (New York: Times Books, 1990).
[10] This was first discussed in these pages by Al Miskin, “Mediations,” Middle East Report 168 (January-February 1991). See Laurie Mylroie, “The Baghdad Alternative,” Orbis 32/3 (Summer 1988), pp. 339-54; Mylorie and Pipes, “Back Iraq,” The New Republic, April 27, 1987.
[11] “We Didn’t ‘Coddle’ Saddam,” The Washington Post, October 10, 1992.
[12] Building for Peace, pp. 96-97.
[13] Mylroie was equally shameless in “How We Helped Saddam Survive,” her debut article in Commentary (July 1991), pp. 15-18.
[14] “The Time Is Right to Move Against Saddam,” Wall Street Journal, October 10, 1992.
[15] Eric Alterman, “So You Want to Be a Pundit: Five Easy Steps to Fame, Fortune and Fatuousness,” Lingua Franca (April-May 1992), p. 21.
[16] For a written version see Elie Kedourie, “Iraq: The Mystery of American Policy,” Commentary (June 1991), pp. 15-19.
[17] Daniel Pipes, Damascus Courts the West: Syrian Politics, 1988-1991 (Washington, DC: WINEP , 1991), pp. 60, 63.
[18] Michael Eisenstadt, Arming for Peace? Syria’s Elusive Quest for “Strategic Parity” (Washington, DC: WINEP, 1992), p. ix.
[19] JCSS Study Group, The West Bank and Gaza: Israel’s Options for Peace; and Israel, the West Bank and Gaza: Toward a Solution (Tel Aviv: The Jaffee Center, 1989), pp. 20, 22. Other Israelis in the WlNEP orbit are: Hirsh Goodman, editor of The Jerusalem Report, Ehud Ya’ari, Middle East editor for Israeli Television; Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s ambassador to the US, head of the Israeli negotiating team with Syria, former rector of Tel Aviv University and former director of its Dayan Center for Middle East Studies; and several lesser lights at the Dayan Center, which has close ties with Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
[20] Yediot Aharonot, September 4, 1992.
[21] Pursuing Peace, pp. x, 55.
[22] Ibid., pp. 29, 40, 43.
[23] Gordon C. Oehler, “The Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East,” in Yehudah Mirsky and Ellen Rice, eds., Islam and the US: Challenges for the Nineties (1992), pp. 15-23.
[24] Robert Satloff, “Palestinian Islamic Fundamentalism and the Peace Process,” in ibid., p. 33.
[25] Martin Indyk, “The Implications for US Policy,” in ibid., pp. 49-51.
[26] Martin Indyk, “Watershed in the Middle East,” Foreign Affairs 71/1 (1991), pp. 71, 79, 87.
[27] See Peter David, “The Road That Is Not Straight,” The Economist, January 25, 1992, pp. 40-42. David is notable for his candor in admitting that his work is the product of a WINEP trip.

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