Biden’s Middle East Trip: Bad Deal or Shrewd Diplomacy?

This week, President Biden will travel to Saudi Arabia and Israel for a trip that’s expected to further align his administration’s Middle East strategy with that of his predecessor, Donald Trump. Biden is expected to announce some form of new U.S. security commitments to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. in exchange for concessions on Israel, Ukraine, oil production, and more. While the details of such assurances aren’t yet public, the prospect raises vital questions for U.S. policymakers: What do Americans stand to gain or lose from a deal like this? Will this lead to deeper U.S. military engagement in the Middle East, contrary to Biden’s election pledge? How will it impact stability in the region and U.S. interests? A potential energy deal looms large, too, as American families struggle to make ends meet during an inflation crisis. Will Saudi Arabia agree to pump and export more oil? What’s their realistic productive capacity? Could such an agreement have a significant, sustainable influence on U.S. gas prices? Join our conversation with QI Non-Resident Fellows Aslı Bâli, Faculty Director at Promise Institute for Human Rights; Paul Pillar, Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies of Georgetown University; and Joshua Landis, Sandra Mackey Chair and Professor of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. QI Executive Vice President Trita Parsi will moderate.


Aslı Bâli

Aslı Bâli is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Quincy Institute and Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law, where she served as the founding Faculty Director of the Promise Institute for Human Rights and the Director of the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies. Bâli’s research focuses on two broad areas: public international law—including human rights law and the law of the international security order—and comparative constitutional law, with a focus on the Middle East. Her scholarship has appeared in the American Journal of International Law Unbound, Cornell International Law Journal, International Journal of Constitutional Law, University of Chicago Law Review, UCLA Law Review, Yale Journal of International Law, and Virginia Journal of International Law, among others. She is the editor of Constitution Writing, Religion and Democracy (2017). She has also written essays and op-eds for such publications as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Boston Review, Dissent, Slate, and Jadaliyya. She currently serves as co-chair of the Advisory Board for the Middle East Division of Human Rights Watch and as chair of the Task Force on Civil and Human Rights for the Middle East Studies Association. Bâli is a graduate of Williams College, the University of Cambridge where she was a Herchel Smith Scholar, Yale Law School and Princeton University, where she earned her PhD in Politics.

Joshua Landis

Joshua Landis is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Quincy Institute and Sandra Mackey Chair and Professor of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma in the College of International Studies and Director of the Center for Middle East Studies. He writes and manages, a daily newsletter on Syrian politics that attracts some 50,000 page-reads a month.

Dr. Landis publishes frequently in policy journals such as Foreign Affairs, Middle East Policy, and Foreign Policy. He is the author of Syria at Independence: Nationalism, the Fight for Leadership, and Failure of Republicanism (2020). He is a frequent analyst on TV, radio, and in print and is a regular on NPR and the BBC. He has received three Fulbright Grants, a SSRC Fellowship and other support for his research and won numerous prizes for his teaching. He is past President of the Syrian Studies Association.

He has lived 15 years in the Middle East and four in Syria. He spent most summers in Syria before the uprising on 2011. He was educated at Swarthmore (BA), Harvard (MA), and Princeton (PhD). He is married to Manar Kashour and has two sons, Jonah and Kendall.

Paul R. Pillar

Paul R. Pillar is a Non-Resident Fellow of the Quincy Institute and Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies of Georgetown University. He is also an Associate Fellow of the Geneva Center for Security Policy. He retired in 2005 from a 28-year career in the U.S. intelligence community, after which he was visiting professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. His senior government positions included National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia, Deputy Chief of the DCI Counterterrorist Center, and Executive Assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence. He is a Vietnam War veteran and a retired officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. Dr. Pillar received an AB summa cum laude from Dartmouth College, a BPhil from Oxford University, and an MA and PhD from Princeton University. He is the author of Negotiating Peace: War Termination as a Bargaining Process (1983), Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy (2001), Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform (2011), and Why America Misunderstands the World: National Experience and Roots of Misperception (2016). He is a contributing editor of The National Interest.

Trita Parsi (Moderator)

Trita Parsi, PhD, is an award-winning author and the 2010 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. He is an expert on U.S.-Iranian relations, Iranian foreign politics, and the geopolitics of the Middle East. He has authored three books on US foreign policy in the Middle East, with a particular focus on Iran and Israel. He is the co-founder and former President of the National Iranian American Council. He received his PhD in foreign policy at Johns Hopkins’ School for Advanced International Studies, a Master's Degree in International Relations from Uppsala University, and a Master's Degree in Economics from the Stockholm School of Economics.