The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a spin-off the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is an influential beltway think tank whose members have advocated a host of hawkish, "pro-Israel" policies over the years. It is considered a core member of the "Israel lobby," a constellation of policy shops and advocacy groups devoted to pushing an Israel-centric U.S. agenda in the Middle East. Many of WINEP's current and former scholars have been closely associated with neoconservatism, and the organization has generally been supportive of the "war on terror" policies pushed by representatives of groups like the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Iran and Syria
Iran and Syria have long been at the center of WINEP's work, with the group's scholars promoting a host of aggressive U.S. policies towards these countries, which often dovetail with the goals of other hawkish "pro-Israel" campaigns.
An exemplary WINEP event was its September 2012 briefing advocating U.S.-Israeli cooperation to prevent "an Iranian nuclear breakout." At the briefing, WINEP research director Patrick Clawson raised eyebrows by appearing to suggest that the United States manufacture a situation that would require Washington to take military action against Iran in the event that negotiations over its nuclear program failed. "I frankly think that crisis initiation is really tough," Clawson said. "And it's very hard for me to see how the … president can get us to war with Iran." He then went on to recount a series of incidents in American history—like the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the attack on Pearl Harbor—that gave U.S. presidents the justification needed to go to war. He ended by saying, with a note of sarcasm in his voice, "So, if in fact the Iranians aren't going to compromise, it would be best if somebody else started the war."
Observers noted that Clawson, instead of debating the merits of military intervention or its potential impact, narrowly focused on drumming up ways to force the United States to intervene. Quipped retired colonel and former intelligence officer Patrick Lang: "Isn't this kind of thing somehow a violation of federal law?"
WINEP managing director Michael Singh weighed in on the nuclear standoff between the United States and Iran in an October 2012 op-ed for the Washington Post. Echoing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's 2012 speech to the United Nations—in which the Likud Party prime minister called for the body to set a "red line" that it would not allow Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program to cross—Singh called for the Obama administration to revise its own "red lines" on Iran, arguing that merely opposing Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapon was inadequate. "It is up to the Obama administration to suggest a red line that better meets U.S. objectives as well as the criteria of enforceability and credibility," Singh wrote. "And when it comes to credibility, the United States has undermined itself on multiple fronts — by rewarding Iranian defiance with better offers at the negotiating table, by enforcing sanctions reluctantly and by allowing senior officials to speak out publicly against the military option that the president insists remains 'on the table.'"
Echoing arguments advanced by many of his WINEP colleagues, Singh has claimed that sanctions alone are inadequate to prevent the Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapon. In an October 2012 blog post for Foreign Policy, Singh elaborated:"Rather than hoping that giving current sanctions 'time to work' will force Iran back to the negotiating table," he wrote, "the United States and our allies should add further pressure to the regime and the elites who comprise it, including through additional targeted economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation, bolstering the credibility of our military threat to the regime, and support for the Iranian opposition."
A more stringent U.S. "red line" on Israel appears to be a rallying cry for several WINEP scholars, as does the suggestion that international sanctions are not adequate to stall Iran's still unproven nuclear weapons program. "My assessment is that the Obama administration has not satisfied Israel's requirement for clear, bold U.S. red lines on Iran sufficient to convince Israeli leaders to limit or possibly surrender their option for independent action of their own," executive director Robert Satloff told journalist Jeffrey Goldberg in September 2012. Satloff also alluded to Goldberg that the direct threat of U.S.-led regime change would be a more effective deterrent to Iran than international sanctions. Sanctions, he said, while creating "an effective international coalition that succeeded in dramatically raising the cost to the Iranian economy for its leaders' pursuit of nuclear weapons," have had "no discernible impact on the pace and scope of the Iranian nuclear program." Instead, Satloff suggested, "if the Khamenei-led regime were faced with the stark choice—desist from pursuit of nuclear weapons, with all that it entails, or risk the end of the regime—there is a much higher likelihood they would buckle and at least slow down their program or suspend parts of it, as they apparently did with weaponization in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq."
At least one WINEP fellow, Raymond Tanter—a member of the Committee on the Present Danger and the founder of the Iran Policy Committee—actively agitated for delisting the MEK, a militant Iranian group opposed to the Iranian regime that was long considered a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department. In a September 2012 blog entry for U.S. News and World Report, Tanter wrote that if the Obama administration paid "more attention to the people of Iran—specifically to opposition groups—the regime might conclude that regime change from within is on the table and pay less attention to obtaining the bomb." Tanter specifically criticized Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for not delisting the MEK sooner, arguing, "Had Secretary Hillary Clinton taken steps earlier to remove the primary dissident organization that rejects clerical rule and nuclear weapons, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, from the U.S. terrorist list, a coalition of dissidents might have formed."
WINEP scholars have also lobbied for increased international action against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Andrew Tabler, for example, has been among the most oft quoted scholars advocating an escalated sanctions regime against Syria, and has called for a military response in the event that Assad deploys chemical weapons to quell the Syrian uprising. "By leading an effort to warn the Syrian regime about the dire consequences of using its chemical weapons stockpile," Tabler said in August 2012 testimony to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, "and raising the possibility of a military response in the event that effort fails, Washington will be communicating to Assad that he would be sealing his fate if he crosses this red line."
Programs and Leadership
Although Iran and Syria are core subject areas, WINEP's research and publications cover the gamut of U.S. interests in the Middle East. The group has special programs devoted to Arab politics, the Middle East "peace process" (specifically "on issues of critical concern to Israel and its Arab neighbors," with no explicit mention of Palestinians in the program blurb), energy issues in the Gulf states, U.S. national security, counterterrorism, Islamic extremism, and Turkey.
Like the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, WINEP has worked to cultivate close ties between senior military officials in the United States, Israel, and Middle Eastern allies. The main mechanism for this outreach has been WINEP's Military Fellows Program, which has "regularly hosted civilian analysts and senior military officers from the armed forces of the United States, Israel, Jordan, and Turkey," according to a program blurb for the institute's "Military and Security Studies Program."
As of late 2012, the executive director of WINEP was Robert Satloff and the managing director was Michael Singh. Patrick Clawson is the group's research director. Dennis Ross, a former Obama administration adviser known for his hawkish views on Iran and Israel-Palestine, was listed as a "counselor."
Other notable fellows and associates have included Michael Eisenstadt, Martin Kramer, and David Makovsky, among many others. WINEP adjunct scholars include Joshua Muravchik, Daniel Pipes, Harvey Sicherman (of the Foreign Policy Research Institute), and Raymond Tanter.
WINEP's Board of Advisers as of 2012 included former diplomat Max M. Kampelman, Nixon-era Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former U.S. ambassador to Israel Samuel W. Lewis, CSIS scholar Edward Luttwak, SAIS professor Michael Mandelbaum, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, New Republic editor Martin Peretz, former Defense Policy Board chair Richard Perle, former Air Force Secretary James Roche, former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, former CIA director and noted neoconservative activist James Woolsey, and U.S. News and World Report publisher Mortimer Zuckerman. Chief Iraq war hawk Paul Wolfowitz previously served as an adviser to the group, as did the late Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and Lawrence Eagleburger.
In part with the help of key media figures Peretz and Zuckerman, WINEP has long boasted an impressive presence in the media. Among WINEP's in-house publications are PolicyWatch and PeaceWatch, which have persistently championed conservative perspectives on the Middle East.
WINEP was founded in 1985 by several American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) principals, including Martin Indyk and Barbi Weinberg. Indyk, who later went on to serve as an adviser to President Bill Clinton, reportedly felt that AIPAC's reputation as a biased lobbying outfit limited its ability to produce "credible" research. Indyk once explained, "The image I would like to convey is that we are friendly to Israel but doing credible research on the Middle East in a realistic and balanced way."
An early inspiration to create an entity like WINEP apparently came from former AIPAC director Steve Rosen. Commenting on Robert Satloff's defense of the Obama administration's decision to place Dennis Ross and other WINEP/AIPAC associates in critical Middle East policy-making roles, M.J. Rosenberg wrote: "Satloff pretends that he does not know that WINEP is an AIPAC creation. Maybe that is because he was not in the room (he wasn't) when Steve Rosen announced his plan for an AIPAC cutout that would do AIPAC's work but appear independent. I was in the room. So was my friend, Tom Dine, the former head of AIPAC and other AIPAC staff."
According to WINEP's mission statement, it was established "to advance a balanced and realistic understanding of American interests in the Middle East and to promote the policies that secure them."
In their controversial 2006 paper about the influence of the "Israel Lobby" on U.S. foreign policy, the scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt argued that WINEP was central to the "pro-Israel" advocacy apparatus in Washington. "The Lobby created its own think tank in 1985," they wrote, "when Martin Indyk helped to found the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Although WINEP plays down its links to Israel, claiming instead to provide a 'balanced and realistic' perspective on Middle East issues, it is funded by individuals deeply committed to advancing Israel's agenda."
Although WINEP historically has had affiliations with both the Republican and Democratic Parties, the institute provided significant intellectual backing for the policies of leading Bush administration hawks and their supporters outside government.
At WINEP's annual Weinberg Founders Conference in October 2007, the group offered a speaking slot to Vice President Dick Cheney, who took the opportunity to push for stronger action against Iran. Described by Inter Press Service reporter Jim Lobe as "the harshest speech against Iran given by a top George W. Bush administration official to date," Cheney warned Tehran that there would be "serious consequences" if it did not freeze its nuclear program. He then accused Iran of "direct involvement in the killings of Americans," saying, "our country and the entire international community cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its most aggressive ambitions." He also used the occasion to defend the "surge" strategy in Iraq, arguing that the "greatest strategic threat that Iraq's Shiites face today in consolidating their rightful role in Iraq's new democracy is the subversive activities of the Iranian regime."
During the Bush Senior and Clinton administrations, WINEP was the most influential think tank on Mideast policy. Its 1988 report, Building for Peace: An American Strategy for the Middle East, helped shape the George H. W. Bush administration policy toward the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The report advocated that the incoming administration "resist pressures for a procedural breakthrough until conditions have ripened." Writing for the Middle East Report, Stanford University professor Joel Beinin stated: "Six members of the study group responsible for the report joined the first Bush administration, which adopted this stalemate recipe not to change until change was unavoidable. Hence the United States acceded to Israel's refusal to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization despite the PLO's recognition of Israel at the November 1988 session of the Palestine National Council."
WINEP followed up its 1988 policy blueprint in 1992 with its Enduring Partnership report, which recommended a policy of dual containment to isolate Iran and Iraq. Eleven signatories of the 1992 report joined the Clinton administration, which adopted the dual containment framework. Indyk joined the administration as special assistant to the president and senior director for Near East and South Asian affairs at the National Security Council.
At the onset of the George W. Bush administration, WINEP's influence dimmed as neoconservatives at the American Enterprise Institute and Project for the New American Century successfully pushed for a complete break from previous policy frameworks toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Middle East. With several leading neoconservatives on its advisory board, including Perle and Wolfowitz, WINEP responded by tilting further to the right, a move that was been buttressed by the addition of several other neoconservatives to its ranks, including Kramer, Pipes, and Muravchik.
In the spring of 2002, WINEP sponsored a 52-member group of experts and members of Congress who declared that "circumstances were not ripe for high-level efforts to restart the peace negotiations, and that the most urgent task was to prevent a regional war while fighting terrorism and weapons proliferation," as Beinin phrased it. Such a policy, observed Beinin, allowed "Israel to assert its overwhelming military advantage and to continue to create facts on the ground, especially settlements, which will make peace all the more difficult to achieve in the future." WINEP later rejected the Bush administration's "road map" for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Echoing those opposed to any negotiations with the Palestinians, WINEP executive director Satloff dismissed the proposal as a "sham" since it was based on an "indecent parallelism between Israeli and Palestinian behavior."
According to research by MediaTransparency.org, WINEP has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants the right-wing Smith Richardson and Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundations. However, this is far from the sum total of all funding for WINEP. Other WINEP funders have included the Adler Family Foundation, the CMS Foundation, the Lafer Family Foundation, the James and Merryl Tisch Foundation, the Harold and Anna S. Ullian Foundation, and the Etzioni Charitable Foundation.