Robert Satloff

Robert Satloff

Robert Satloff has served since 1993 as executive director of The Washington Institute. In that capacity, he oversees all Institute operations and leads the organization's unparalleled team of Middle East scholars, experts and policy practitioners. He also holds the Institute's Howard P. Berkowitz Chair in U.S. Middle East Policy. An expert on Arab and Islamic politics as well as U.S. Middle East policy, Dr. Satloff has written and spoken widely on the Arab-Israeli peace process, the challenge of Political Islam, and the need to revamp U.S. public diplomacy in the Middle East. The author or editor of nine books and monographs, Dr. Satloff's views on Middle East issues appear frequently in major newspapers such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. A frequent commentator on major television network news programs, talk shows, and National Public Radio, he has testified on numerous occasions to Senate and House committees concerned with U.S. Middle East policy. In addition, Dr. Satloff is the creator and host of Dakhil Washington ("Inside Washington"), a weekly news and interview program now in its seventh season on al-Hurra, the U.S. government-supported Arabic satellite television channel that beams throughout the Middle East. In that capacity, he is the only non-Arab to host a program on an Arab satellite channel.

Congratulations on your election victory, Mr. President. Now you have four more years to achieve the lofty goals you have set for yourself. While these are principally domestic, you have also outlined a list of herculean objectives in foreign policy – from climate change to “global zero” to a “new beginning” with the Muslim world (a term from Cairo, circa 2009) to ending the festering sore of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Substantial progress on any one of these would (finally) merit a Nobel Prize; progress on all would reserve a spot for you on Mount Rushmore. But before your advisors convince you that you should invest your second-term mandate on a hunt for a foreign policy legacy, consider a narrow agenda that, in the Middle East at least, focuses on these goals:

  • Determining, once and for all, whether the strategy of diplomacy-plus-sanctions will produce a negotiated agreement to resolve the Iranian nuclear challenge or whether alternative means of coercion, including the use of military force, is necessary to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability; Click to read more.

For more than two hundred years, the United States has talked with Islamists in power. What separates that historical experience with today’s challenge is that U.S. leaders are facing with increasing frequency the unique set of problems posed by Islamists who come to power via the ostensibly democratic means of popular elections. Because of this, the “New Islamists” can claim a certain legitimacy that empowered Islamists previously could not assert.

The Arab uprisings of 2010-2012 have injected a new dimension to America’s engagement with Islamists in power. Neither the Saudis nor the Iranians – the archetypal cases of contemporary Islamist regimes – base their claim to legitimacy on a traditional democratic foundation. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a tribal/religious monarchy and while the Islamic Republic of Iran may call itself a “republic,” it is such in name only, with the “rule of the jurisconsult” – vilayet faqih – supreme above the president and parliament. Similarly, other Islamist rulers – in Gaza and Sudan, for example – have never put their hold on power to a free, fair and contested vote. But the Islamist leaders who have emerged in Tunisia and Egypt – and those who may emerge elsewhere in the region, such as Syria – are different. While their hold on power is uncertain, and their commitment to democracy, human rights and liberal values highly suspect they have a legitimacy that comes from popular revolution and internationally recognized election victories that earlier Islamists could not claim.

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