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Empowerment in the Middle East

Ambassador James Jeffrey, Chair, Middle East Program, Wilson Center
Barak Ravid, Middle East Correspondent, AXIOS

For years, the Middle East has been rife with challenge, began Barak Ravid, Middle East Correspondent, AXIOS. For Ambassador James Jeffrey, Chair of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, regional instability is the biggest hindrance to development. The investment sector and the U.S. have had much experience with shaky governments worldwide, but a questionable security environment is harder to plan for. One potentially destabilizing element is the high-youth population in the region. Governments will have to engage in significant workforce planning to make sure good-paying jobs are available when the time comes. 

Moving to the question of the role of the U.S. in the region, Ravid asked if we were disengaging from the region. Jeffrey explained that we are no longer in the business of nation building, but we can and will not disengage diplomatically or militarily. There is great need in the region for democracy, Ravid said, but the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan disabused us of the idea that we can simply rebuild governments. Jeffrey explained that the U.S. has a tremendous amount of “soft power” that it can use in development, international health, and energy. If we work together with societies and governments to create a better future, and encourage accountability, people will more easily turn to democracy. 

Key takeaways & next steps:

  • The Middle East remains a region of tremendous potential and challenge. Regional instability prevents investment and progress.
  • Although the U.S. remains militarily engaged in the region, its diplomacy and soft power is more persuasive in encouraging democracy to take root.

“We have disengaged from trying to remake the societies and governments and peoples of the region by force.”


Ambassador James Jeffrey, Chair, Middle East Program, Wilson Center

“If you look at the Middle East, you see that a lot of the problems that we’re talking about around the world today–issues like equality, poverty, women’s rights, climate change, food security, national security–all of those issues are exacerbated in the Middle East.”


Barak Ravid, Middle East Correspondent, AXIOS