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|Motto||Insight and Analysis on U.S. Middle East Policy|
|Motto||Insight and Analysis on U.S. Middle East Policy|
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) is a think tank based in Washington, D.C. focused on United States foreign policy in the Middle East. Established in 1985, the institute's mission statement says that it seeks "is to advance a balanced and realistic understanding of American interests in the Middle East and to promote the policies that secure them." John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have described the think tank as "part of the core" of the Israel lobby in the United States, a charge that WINEP denies.
A group of American citizens created the Washington Institute in 1985 to draw from the experience and scholarship of academics and former high-level government officials. The Institute would "focus on cutting-edge research on regional issues that were not being addressed comprehensively by existing organizations."
Martin Indyk, an Australian-trained academic who, with foreign policy scholar Dennis Ross, co-founded the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, was WINEP's first executive director. He would go on to serve in several U.S. diplomatic posts including U.S. ambassador to Israel, special envoy for Israeli–Palestinian negotiations, special assistant to President Clinton and senior director for Near East and South Asian affairs at the National Security Council and assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. Indyk is currently vice president and director of the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.
Under Indyk's direction, Ross, who had previously co-authored a study recommending U.S. intervention in the Persian Gulf "because of our need for Persian Gulf oil and because events in the Persian Gulf affect the Arab–Israeli conflict," wrote the Washington Institute's first publication. Ross would later serve on the Institute's staff from 2001–09 between stints in the White House and rejoined the organization in 2011 as counsellor and William Davidson Distinguished Fellow.
One of the first staff researchers at the Institute was Robert Satloff, a specialist in Arab–Israeli affairs, who would succeed Indyk as executive director in 1993. Satloff writes widely on Middle East affairs, and his book, Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands, was adapted into a one-hour documentary which aired on PBS in 2010.
Author Alexander Murinson describes the Institute as "the leading institute among think tanks with a regional focus," which, he says, "made major contributions to the search for a resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict." Murinson also recognizes the institute as "the most influential think tank in Washington," noting that "due to its privileged position within both Republican and Democratic White House administrations over the last three decades, the Washington Institute was able to go beyond influence; the American government on some occasions adopted WINEP's policy prescriptions." To underscore its commitment to U.S. policy, the institute refuses donations from non-U.S. corporations, foundations or citizens.
At the time it was founded, the Institute focused research on Arab–Israeli relations, political and security issues, and overall U.S. Middle East policy. In the 1990s, prompted by the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Persian Gulf War, and changes in regional strategy, the Institute expanded its research agenda to "focus on Turkey and the rise of Islamic politics."
According to The New York Times, the Institute has earned a reputation for solid scholarship, is committed to the peace process, and is supportive of Israel — a relationship which its board members think will help to advance U.S. security interests. However, the Institute claims not to identify as "pro-Israel;" in a letter to the editor of The New York Times, the institute's executive director Robert Satloff wrote:
"While the institute is not shy about its view that strong United States–Israel ties advance American national security interests, the moniker 'pro-Israel' projects two false impressions — first, that the institute does not value American interests above special pleading for a foreign power and second, that the institute must be 'anti' others in the region (Palestinians, Arabs). This shorthand terminology perpetuates 'old thinking' that views the Arab–Israeli conflict as the key dividing line in a region where the division between moderates versus radicals is a more accurate prism through which to understand local politics. On the personal level, this one-dimensional description of the institute's quarter-century of research does a disservice to the many current and former United States government officials and military officers at the institute over the years as well as the numerous institute scholars from Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Morocco and other Middle Eastern countries over the years who have undertaken impeccable research on a broad array of topics.
In addition to ongoing research, the Institute has striven to provide in-depth analysis at key inflection points in Middle East policy, such as during presidential election years. Beginning in 1988, the Institute convened bipartisan Presidential Study Groups that have offered policy papers for incoming administrations of either party. The inaugural PSG document informed the policy of the George H. W. Bush administration toward the Middle East peace process.
In 2011, the institute devised a report entitled "Imagining the Border", which drafted maps that sought to reconcile the Palestinian demand for sovereignty over the West Bank and the Israeli demand for control over most of the Jewish population now residing in the 121 various illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The report drew heavily on statistical data, and proposed certain "land swaps" to ensure that a future Palestinian state would be viable and have quality land. The Institute gave briefings to senior American, Israeli, and Palestinian government officials about the maps.
After the takeover of areas of Iraq by the Sunni militant group Daesh (ISIL) in 2014, The New York Times reported that Institute Lafer Fellow Michael Knights  had alerted the U.S. National Security Council as early as 2012 to the rising level of insurgency among Iraq's Sunni minority. White House officials questioned his statistics and did not take action.
The Washington Institute accesses the policy process from many angles: the written word, the spoken word, and personal contact. Institute experts research the region and brief officials in all branches of the U.S. government, both civilian and military. In addition to producing printed long-form monographs, the Institute issues time-sensitive policy briefs which are distributed electronically by e-mail and social media. A Chicago Tribune editorial declared that institute-sponsored polls bring to light trends in popular thinking across the Middle East.
While the institute frequently hosts off-the-record events with policymakers and scholars, its policy forums are public events featuring newsmakers and analysts that are attended by officials and journalists and are broadcast live on-line. The Institute also holds an annual policy conference that convenes policymakers, journalists and diplomats in Washington, D.C., for in-depth discussion and debate on the key Middle East issues facing the United States.
Institute scholars are public intellectuals who share their analysis frequently in major print and broadcast outlets. All institute output is available through its website in both English and Arabic.
In addition to its permanent resident fellows – a group of experienced policymakers from government and academia – the institute also hosts visiting fellows from around the world. Visiting fellows include both young people beginning their foreign policy careers and veterans who take advantage of a year in Washington, D.C., to study the Middle East from an American vantage point. In cooperation with the Army, Navy, Air Force, and State Department, WINEP offers one-year fellowships that enable rising officers to immerse themselves in the geopolitics of the Middle East and the process of Washington policymaking. The Institute also supports a program for research assistants and interns that provides foreign policy experience for undergraduates and recent college graduates. Several institute alumni now hold positions in the government, military, and academia internationally.
The Washington Institute Book Prize, which recognizes English-language books on the Middle East each year, is the most lucrative award in the field with gold, silver, and bronze winners receiving $30,000, $15,000, and $5,000, respectively.
The institute’s Scholar-Statesman Award honors individuals "whose public service and professional achievements exemplify sound scholarship and a discerning knowledge of history." Recipients have included former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The Washington Institute currently supports eight in-house research programs:
“You have for almost three decades been engaged in the extraordinarily important work of making ideas matter in some of the most vexing, critically important issues of our time. Ideas do matter, but they matter only if they are ideas that are tested by people who are willing to engage in civil discourse with those who might disagree, people, indeed, who search for the truth. That has been the reputation and the reality of the Institute since it was founded." — former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
"For nearly 30 years, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has helped the United States government better understand and respond to big policy challenges focused in the Middle East." — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
In a December 2003 interview on Al Jazeera, Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian-American professor and director of Columbia University's Middle East Institute, sharply criticized WINEP, stating that it is "the fiercest of the enemies of the Arabs and the Muslims," and describing it as the "most important Zionist propaganda tool in the United States." In response, Martin Kramer, editor of the Middle East Quarterly and visiting fellow at WINEP, defended the group, saying that it is "run by Americans, and accepts funds only from American sources," and that it was "outrageous" for Khalidi to denounce Arabs that visited WINEP as "blundering dupes."
John Mearsheimer, a University of Chicago political science professor, and Stephen Walt, academic dean at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, describe it as "part of the core" of the Israel lobby in the United States. Discussing the group in their book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, Mearsheimer and Walt write: "Although WINEP plays down its links to Israel and claims that it provides a 'balanced and realistic' perspective on Middle East issues, this is not the case. In fact, WINEP is funded and run by individuals who are deeply committed to advancing Israel's agenda ... Many of its personnel are genuine scholars or experienced former officials, but they are hardly neutral observers on most Middle East issues and there is little diversity of views within WINEP's ranks."
Members of WINEP have in turn criticized Mearsheimer and Walt's book on multiple grounds, pointing to its "not including any interviews with current or former government officials about the lobby's influence on foreign policy", the fact that "not only has the U.S.–Israeli relationship not been a liability for either country (the central claim of the book), it has been, at least to some extent, an asset to the Arab regimes, as a strategic counterweight to radicalism", and that "foreign policies are shaped by leaders and events, not lobbies."
On the other hand, in October 2003 the Zionist Organization of America criticized WINEP for "embracing a delegation of representatives of the Fatah terrorist movement". (After its renunciation of armed struggle in 1988, however, no government today regards Fatah as a terrorist organization.)
According to M.J. Rosenberg, a former employee of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), WINEP is an "AIPAC front" which invariably takes the Israeli point of view. Others describe WINEP as an "AIPAC offshoot." Rosenberg said he was "in the room" when AIPAC decided to establish WINEP, and that it was funded by AIPAC donors, staffed by AIPAC employees, and located one door away, down the hall, from AIPAC headquarters. Rosenberg said that AIPAC split its research department into two parts, one for lobbying, and another, WINEP, which could raise money as a 501(c)3 organization through tax-deductible contributions.
As of August 26, 2014 the Washington Institute's advisory board included:
Previous board members