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|Motto||Insight and Analysis on U.S. Middle East Policy|
|Executive Director||Robert Satloff|
|Motto||Insight and Analysis on U.S. Middle East Policy|
|Executive Director||Robert Satloff|
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."
A group of concerned American citizens created The Washington Institute in 1985 to provide a balanced and realistic approach to U.S. policy in the Middle East drawing 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, was tapped to be the first executive director. He would go on to serve in several high-level 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 The Washington Institute’s first publication was written by foreign policy scholar and former government official Dennis Ross. Ross would serve on the Institute's staff from 2001-2009 between stints in the White House and would rejoin the organization in 2011 as Counselor 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.
The Institute is regarded as the preeminent think tank with a regional focus. It has made major contributions to the search for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The Institute's research is timely and policy related, and its recommendations have been adopted by policymakers. It has a bipartisan agenda and board, and is respected by both major political parties. In order to underscore its commitment to sound U.S. policy, the Institute only accepts donations from American citizens, foundations, corporations and institutions.
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 cover a larger array of Middle East topics, including a "special 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 with which it believes helps advance U.S. security interests. However, the Institute does not identify as "pro-Israel," saying "the moniker 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)." It adds:
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 strived to provide in-depth analysis at key inflection points in Middle East policy such as during presidential election years. Beginning in 1988, the Institute has 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 received much attention for drafting 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 there. 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 the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in 2014, The New York Times reported that Institute Lafer Fellow Michael Knights had alerted the White House 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 conduct in-depth research in the region and brief officials in all branches of the U.S. government, both civilian and military. The Institute utilizes all communications platforms to publish and disseminate its work. In addition to producing printed long-form monographs, the Institute issues time-sensitive policy briefs which are distributed electronically around the globe by email and social media. Institute-sponsored polls bring to light trends in popular thinking across the Middle East.
While the Institute frequently hosts, high-level, 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 online. The Institute also holds an annual policy conference that convenes leading policymakers, journalists, diplomats, and experts in Washington, DC, for in-depth discussion and debate on the key issues facing America in the volatile Middle East.
In addition to its permanent resident fellows – a group of highly experienced policymakers from government and academia – the Institute also hosts visiting fellows from around the world. Visiting fellows include both young people at the beginning of 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, the Institute 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. Institute alumni have gone on to hold important positions in the government, military, and academia internationally.
The Washington Institute Book Prize, which recognizes the best 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 President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The Washington Institute currently supports eight in-house research programs:
- The Program on Arab Politics focuses on social, political, and economic developments in the Arab world.
- The Project on the Middle East Peace Process is committed to providing America's policymakers with timely analysis on issues of critical concern to Israel and its Arab neighbors.
- The Gulf and Energy Policy Program focuses on the conservative Arab Gulf states and the key role these countries play collectively as a primary source of the world's oil and natural gas.
- The Iran Security Initiative aims to generate critical analysis, private dialogue, public debate, and operational recommendations designed to address the many challenges posed by Iran.
- The Military and Security Studies Program engages policymakers and educates the public on a range of issues that deeply affect the vital security interests of the United States.
- The Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence is a leading center for the analysis of terrorist groups, state sponsors, logistical and financial support networks, and counterterrorism policy.
- Fikra Forum is an online community that seeks to stimulate debate across borders and languages with the goal of generating ideas to produce a brighter future for Arab democrats.
- The Turkish Research Program actively engages policymakers in discussion about Turkey's political, diplomatic, and strategic environment.
“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." 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."
As of August 26, 2014 the Washington Institute's Board of Advisors included: