Speaker 1: Good afternoon, welcome to the Rumi Forum luncheon series.  We are honored to have Ambassador David Mack with us today.  My name is Sania [???] I am an associate at the International Law firm and I am also a *Forex scholar from Turkey and I would like to introduce our speaker today.  Ambassador Mack comes to us from the Middle East Institute.  He is a scholar there and Middle East Institute is the oldest organization in the whole United States that focuses on modern Middle East.  David Mack served in various positions in the US Foreign Service from 1999 to 1993.  He was a deputy assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs and from 1986 until 1989 ambassador Mack was the US ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and he also held other diplomatic assignments in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.  Without further delay I would like to leave the floor to ambassador Mack.

Speaker 2: Thank you very much Ms. Sania.  In his inaugural address, President Obama signaled right at the start that the Middle East was going to be at or nearly the top of his foreign policy agenda and this has been borne out by the various actions he has taken and the various foreign trips he has made and the foreign visitors that he has met with in Washington during the first 100 days of his administration.  Notably the President emphasized the need for Americans and for our foreign partners alike to be responsible in how they approach hard issues.  The whole theme of responsibility ran through that inaugural address whether it is parents dealing with the education of their children or corporations dealing with global economic meltdown or in matters of foreign policy and the President called for improved US relations with the Muslim world, based on two things, shared interests and mutual respect and if you look at the actions that he and his administration have already taken that includes a greater willingness by the US administration to consult with our traditional friends and also a readiness to engage with old adversaries and autocratic and authoritarian regimes.  In regard to the latter, President Obama pledged to extend the hand of American friendship, provided they unclench their fists.  And since his inauguration the administration statements and regional travel have very much dramatized determination to move fast and assertively on a wide number of issues.

The Middle East has had second place on Obamas’ agenda, second only to the global economic crises and that began his first week in office, when he met with senior advisers regarding the Middle East and South Asia.  The President has taken an integrated approach to the stalemate at Arab-Israel conflict, the challenge of Iraq, complicated  problems of regional terrorism and weapons proliferation and the inter-related issues of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Fulfilling pledges he made in his campaign, the President has met with US defense officials and secretary of state Clinton to discuss a strategy for responsible military disengagement from Iraq.  Not a strategy that officials at the US Central command, the US embassy in Bagdad, the Pentagon under the steady continuing leadership of defense secretary Robert Gates and the State Department, all of them together started working on this strategy as soon as the results of the election made clear that changes were coming in US Middle East policy.  Now with regard to Iraq, I understand and correct me if I am wrong on this Ms. Sania, I understand that there is a Turkish proverb that says something to the effect if a mad man throws a stone into the well it will take 50 very wise men to get it out.  So I think we all know that’s very serious US mistakes both in the invasion of Iraq and in its subsequent occupation created policy dilemmas, which offer no easy answers.  Naively the neoconservative chair leaders for the 2003 invasion argued that it would be a victory that would transform the Middle East for the best.  Iraq would quickly become a democratic nation, have a prosperous free market economy and be a staunch US ally.  Sort of the equivalent of Norway in the Middle East and that that would lead quickly to positive political changes in Tehran, in Damascus, in the capitals of our generally authoritarian Arab partners.