|Motto||Insight and Analysis on U.S. Middle East Policy|
|Headquarters||Washington, D.C., U.S.|
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 in the Near East. Established in 1985, 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."
WINEP was started in 1985 by founding chairwoman Barbi Weinberg of Los Angeles, CA. Martin Indyk, an Australian-trained academic and former deputy director of research for AIPAC, was the first executive director. The Institute's founders sought to produce nonpartisan scholarship and disinterested assessments on the Middle East. Indyk described the think tank as "friendly to Israel but doing credible research on the Middle East in a realistic and balanced way." The research was thus designed to be more independent and academic-quality. 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. 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." It was during the Gulf War that the institute gained public recognition as a source for commentary and analysis. By 1992, it had a staff of 12-15 in-house research fellows, in addition to visiting scholars and support staff. 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. 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.
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.
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. 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)." 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.
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.
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. In November 2017, the research organization created "Settlements and Solutions", which provides interactive maps detailing information about Israeli settlements over the Green Line.
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 Michael Knights  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.
The Institute has been a forum for the discussion of key issues in U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia. In May 2016, it hosted the former Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Turki bin Faisal al Saud, alongside IDF Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a rare joint public appearance. Two years later, Dr. Mohammad Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League, addressed the Institute and advocated a more moderate and tolerant Islam.  Dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi participated in an Institute forum in November 2016 in which he stated that Saudi Arabia should be "rightfully nervous about the Trump presidency," according to The Economist. The magazine reported that Saudi authorities asked Khashoggi to stop writing after the Institute appearance but the journalist chose to live in exile instead. He was murdered in Istanbul in 2018 while visiting the Saudi consulate.
The Washington Institute is considered an academic think tank (akin to the Brookings Institution and Public Policy Institute of California), staffed largely by researchers holding doctorate degrees and generally not having a mission affiliated with a particular ideology, as opposed to an advocacy think tank, which is staffed by individuals with strong ideological leanings. Academic think tanks focus on producing extensive research reports and books, whereas advocacy think tanks focus on marketing their ideas with condensed materials. Think tanks of all types typically also organize conferences, provide briefings to legislative committee staff, and testify as policy experts.
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. 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. A Chicago Tribune editorial declared that institute-sponsored polls bring to light trends in popular thinking across the Middle East.
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 and are broadcast live on-line. 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.
Institute scholars are public intellectuals who share their analysis frequently in major print and broadcast outlets. 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. The Institute also supports a program for research assistants and interns that provides foreign policy experience for undergraduates and recent college graduates. Several institute alumni now hold positions in the government, military, and academia internationally.
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, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and former CIA directors Michael Hayden and George Tenet.
The Washington Institute currently supports eight in-house research programs:
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".
"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.
"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
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." 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."
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. 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."
As of December 12, 2018 the Washington Institute's advisory board included:
Previous board members
Dedicated to providing research on the Middle East that is timely, of high quality and policy-relevant, the Washington Institute provides information and analysis on US interests in the Middle East. ... As a source of commentary and analysis, it became well known during the Gulf War.
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.
Political scientists generally differentiate think tanks based on the nature of their work. ... Examples of academic think tanks include the Brookings Institution, Public Policy Institute of California, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. ... Both academic and contract think tanks have a 'muted ideology' and as such tend not to have a mission affiliated with a particular political perspective. ... Lengthy research reports and books are more typical of the publications produced by academic and contract think tanks, while advocacy think tanks put more emphasis on producing policy briefs, summary reports, thought pieces, and newsletters.