History of the Council

The Middle East Policy Council is a nonprofit educational organization founded in 1981 to expand public debate on the political and economic issues of the region and the policies devised to further American interests there. The Council is an independent, non-membership entity favoring neither right nor left and having no loyalties to any country but the United States. We have established two principal policy forums: the quarterly journal Middle East Policy (published by Wiley-Blackwell) and a series of conferences on Capitol Hill.

Fresh thinking and new insights have been our stock in trade from the beginning. The policy practitioners, analysts, economists and academics appearing in our venues have provided a wide diversity of views on the region stretching from Morocco to Afghanistan and from Central Asia to Oman. They question conventional wisdom and explain complex issues without oversimplifying them. A receptive audience has welcomed these efforts from the appearance of the first issue of the journal.

The events of the last three decades in the Greater Middle East are the grist for our mill. At the Council’s inception, the Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel had recently been brokered by the Carter administration, the Iranian Revolution was still fresh, and a war was raging between Iraq and Iran. The Gulf Cooperation Council had just been established by Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Yet to come were the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and President Reagan’s 1982 Fresh Start Initiative — an unsuccessful attempt to lure the warring parties back to the negotiating table.

Comprehensive peace remains elusive, despite the 1991 attempt at Madrid following the first war against Saddam Hussein. The Clinton administration left office in 2000 without having closed the deal between Israel and the Palestinians conceived at Oslo almost a decade earlier. Even worse, the unprecedented September 11, 2001, attacks on the American homeland generated wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the ultimate outcome of which history has yet to decide. The transformative wave of protests known as the Arab Spring, which began in late 2010 and toppled regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, has stagnated into a bitter civil war in Syria. Tensions have also escalated with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

On the hopeful side, the comprehensive 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, re-endorsed several times since then, remains on the table. In addition, the U.S. administration and top military leaders affirmed in spring 2010 the centrality of a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to American strategic interests in the region. The Council welcomed this official endorsement of the thinking of its founders, its board, its advisers, its contributors, its staff and its audience. It matches an international consensus that crystallized four decades ago.