The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Motto Insight and Analysis on U.S. Middle East Policy
Formation 1985
Headquarters Washington, D.C., U.S.
Executive Director
Robert Satloff

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) is an American think tank based in Washington, D.C., focused on the foreign policy of the United States as it pertains to the countries of Southwest Asia. Established in 1985,[1] the institute's mission statement says that it seeks "to advance a balanced and realistic understanding of American interests in the Middle East and to promote the policies that secure them."[2]


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."[3]

Martin Indyk, an Australian-trained academic and former deputy director of research for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, helped found WINEP in 1985. Indyk sought to produce nonpartisan scholarship and disinterested assessments on the Middle East; he saw the institute as "friendly to Israel but doing credible research on the Middle East in a realistic and balanced way."[4] The research was thus designed to be more independent and academic-quality.[5] 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.[6] 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."[6] Under Indyk's leadership, the institute gained notability as a center for the study and discussion of Middle East policy, and attracted Arab intellectuals to its events.[7] Indyk 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.[8]

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.[9]

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 advances U.S. security interests.[10] 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)."[11] 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.[11]

The institute has come to be 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. It produces research with policy assessments of current events, and its recommendations have been adopted by senior policymakers. It has a bipartisan agenda and board, and is respected by both major political parties. It is closer ideologically to the Democratic Party; it generally opposes neoconservative policy.[12] To underscore its commitment to U.S. policy, the institute only accepts donations from American citizens, foundations, corporations and institutions.

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.[10][13]

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[14] Michael Knights [15] 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.[16]


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.[17] 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.[18] A Chicago Tribune editorial declared that institute-sponsored polls bring to light trends in popular thinking across the Middle East.[19]

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[20] and are broadcast live on-line.[21] 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.[22][23][24]

Institute scholars are public intellectuals who share their analysis frequently in major print and broadcast outlets.[25] 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.[26] The Institute also supports a program for research assistants and interns that provides foreign policy experience for undergraduates and recent college graduates.[27] 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.[28]

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.[29][30]

Current programs

The Washington Institute currently supports eight in-house research programs:[31]



In a 2014 study by the University of Pennsylvania's Lauder Institute of all think tanks worldwide, the Washington Institute was ranked 42nd on "Best Transdisciplinary Research Program at a Think Tank" and 42nd on "Think Tanks with Outstanding Policy-Oriented Public Programs".[32]

“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[33]

"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[34]


The organization has been criticized for having strong ties to the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC and for being founded by a former AIPAC employee.[35]

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."[36] In response, Martin Kramer, the editor of the Middle East Quarterly and a 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."[37]

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 pro-Israeli lobby in the United States.[38] 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."[38]

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",[39] the fact that "not only has the U.S.–Israeli relationship not been a liability for either country (the central claim of the book),[40] it has been, at least to some extent, an asset to the Arab regimes, as a strategic counterweight to radicalism",[40] and that "foreign policies are shaped by leaders and events, not lobbies."[41]

Notable current and former scholars

Several current and former members of WINEP have served in senior positions in the administrations of Presidents George H.W. Bush,[42][43] Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.[44]

Board of Advisors

As of August 26, 2014 the Washington Institute's advisory board included:[45]

Previous board members


  1. "About Us." Washington Institute for Near East Policy. 13 February 2012.
  2. "Our Mission". Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Retrieved 2013-05-22.
  3. "Mission and History". The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  4. Ottoway, David B. (March 24, 1989). "Mideast Institute's Experts and Ideas Ascendant; Latecomer's Go-Slow, Small-Steps Approach Finds Favor With Bush Administration". The Washington Post.
  5. Thomas G. Mitchell (2013). Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution. McFarland. p. 164.
  6. 1 2 "Our History". Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Retrieved 2009-11-02.
  7. Itamar Rabinovich. The Brink of Peace: The Israeli-Syrian Negotiations. p. 89.
  8. "Martin Indyk". The Brookings Institution. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  9. Quandt, William B. (2001). Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict Since 1967. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Inst. Press. p. 293. ISBN 0-520-22374-8.
  10. 1 2 Mark Landler (January 22, 2011). "Trying to Break Logjam, Scholar Floats an Idea for a Palestinian Map". The New York Times.
  11. 1 2 Robert Satloff, An Institute's Views, The New York Times. Accessed January 23, 2015.
  12. Alexander Murinson (2010). Turkey's Entente with Israel and Azerbaijan: State identity and security in the Middle East and Caucasus. Routledge. pp. 71–72. Ideologically WINEP is closer to the Democratic Party. Generally it opposes the 'neoconservative' agenda in Washington. ... The Washington Institute has acquired a reputation as the leading institute among think tanks with a regional focus. Specifically it made major contributions to the search for a resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. ... It is the most influential think tank in Washington with a bipartisan agenda. ... 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.
  13. Makovsky, David (September 11, 2011). "Mapping Mideast Peace". The New York Times.
  14. Fred S. Lafer was the third president of WINEP. (Fred Lafer, longtime Jewish leader, dies, May 1, 2013. Accessed 23 January 2015.)
  15. Michael Knights, brief biography. Accessed 23 January 2015.
  16. Baker, Peter (June 22, 2014). "Relief Over U.S. Exit From Iraq Fades as Reality Overtakes Hope". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 August 2014.
  17. "Mission & History". The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. self-published. Retrieved 2013-05-22.
  18. "Publications". The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. self-published.
  19. Ignatius, David (August 5, 2014). "Defang Hamas and give Gazans a fresh start". Chicago Tribune. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  20. "Israeli-Palestinian Conflict". C-SPAN. August 7, 2014. Retrieved 27 August 2014.
  21. "Event Broadcasts". WINEP. self-published. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  22. "Annual Conference". WINEP. self-published. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  23. "U.S. Blames Israelis, Palestinians for Failed Mideast Talks". NBC News. May 9, 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  24. "News Transcript". U.S. Dept. of Defense. Defense.Gov. May 9, 2012. Retrieved 27 August 2014.
  25. "Press Room". WINEP. self-published. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  26. "Experts". WINEP. self-published. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  27. "Employment". WINEP. self-published. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  28. "Steven A. Cook '90 Earns Top Honor in Washington Institute's Book Prize Competition". Vassar College. Vassar Hub. December 12, 2012. Retrieved 27 August 2014.
  29. "Scholar Statesman Dinner". WINEP. self-published. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  30. Pollak, Suzanne (December 10, 2012). "Ross, Abrams and Jeffrey see strike by '14 if Iran does not comply". JTA. JTA. Retrieved 27 August 2014.
  32. "The 2014 Global Go To Think Tank Index". University of Pennsylvania. 2015-02-04. Retrieved 2015-02-14.
  33. "Scholar-Statesman". WINEP. self-published. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  34. "News Transcript". U.S. Dept. of Defense. U.S. Dept. of Defense. May 9, 2013. Retrieved 27 August 2014.
  35. Rosenberg, M.J. (27 August 2011). "Who funds Muslim-baiting in the US?". Al-Jazeera.
  36. From Washington Al Jazeera, December 11, 2003. (Arabic only)
  37. "Columbia's Radical Caravan" by Martin Kramer, New York Sun, January 6, 2004.
  38. 1 2 Mearsheimer, John J.; Walt, Stephen M. (2007). The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy. Macmillan. pp. 175–6. ISBN 978-0-374-17772-0.
  39. Fishman, Ben (August 27, 2007). "Missing the Point". The National Interest. WINEP. Retrieved 2010-11-04.
  40. 1 2 Makovsky, David (September 8, 2009). "Why Walt, Mearsheimer, Still Wrong". WINEP. Retrieved 2010-11-04.
  41. Ross, Dennis (July–August 2006). "Foreign Policy Is Shaped by Leaders and Events, Not Lobbies". Foreign Policy. WINEP. Retrieved 2010-11-04.
  42. Ismael, Tareq Y.; Ismael, Jacqueline S. (1994). The Gulf War and the new world order: international relations of the Middle East. University Press of Florida. p. 333. ISBN 978-0-8130-1264-3.
  43. "The myth of the 'Jewish lobby'". 20 (20). Frontline. 2003-10-10.
  44. Obama’s Influential Mideast Envoy to Resign
  45. "Board of Advisors". Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Retrieved 2013-05-24.

Further reading

External links

Coordinates: 38°54′13″N 77°02′35″W / 38.9037°N 77.043°W / 38.9037; -77.043

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