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Challenges Facing Future Administrations

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William Quandt

From The Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict Since 1967
© 2001 University of California Press
Reprinted with permission by the Brookings Institution Press


With alarming regularity since 1967, American presidents have found themselves dealing with Middle East crises for which they were poorly prepared. Many, but not all, of these crises have been related to the Arab-Israel conflict. The June 1967 war, the war of attrition in 1969-70, the Jordan crisis of September 1970, the October 1973 war, the Iranian revolution in 1978-79, the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982-83, the early years of the Palestinian intifada in 1987-88, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the subsequent war against Saddam Hussein in 1991, and the "second intifada " late in 2000 were enormous challenges for American foreign policy. Each evoked serious debate in Washington over the proper course of action. Each seemed to threaten important American interests in the region. Each, to some extent, caught Washington by surprise.

Future administrations will most likely find themselves in the position of dealing with some form of ongoing Arab-Israeli peace negotiation. Since the Madrid conference in October 1991 the parties to the conflict have been in broad agreement on procedures for peace talks. What has been needed, besides direct negotiations, has been an effective mediator who could steer the negotiating teams toward realistic agreements, engage with political decisionmakers to extract command decisions, and offer both reassurance and pressure when necessary. President Bill Clinton tried to play this role at the very end of his presidency, but fell short of his goal as his term came to an end.

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