MN Daily Q&A: David Makovsky

Makovsky is a Middle East expert and former adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry.

Author, Professor and Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Project on the Middle East Peace Process David Makovsky poses for portraits at the University of Minnesota Hillel building on Tuesday before speaking at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Maddy Fox

Author, Professor and Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Project on the Middle East Peace Process David Makovsky poses for portraits at the University of Minnesota Hillel building on Tuesday before speaking at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

by Brian Edwards

Author, professor, journalist and Middle East expert David Makovsky delivered a talk at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs Tuesday evening.
The Minnesota Daily sat down for a question-and-answer session with Makovsky at Hillel to discuss his views on attaining peace in the Middle East. Makovsky talked about his past experiences as a journalist, working with Secretary of State John Kerry and the challenges that young Americans face while advocating for solutions to conflict in the Middle East.
As a long-time student, writer and adviser on Middle Eastern affairs, how did your upbringing encourage you to pursue those things? 
I think for me, it was the age of possibility. I was 17 years old when Anwar Sadat made his electrifying trip to Israel. He spoke directly to the … Israeli parliament and basically said, “No more war. No more bloodshed.” Suddenly, it seemed that the wars … were not fated to just keep going on and on … I was struck by the possibility that old enemies could be peacemakers and maybe even allies. … I decided to devote my life to it.
You mentioned you are part of a think tank [the Washington Institute for Near East Policy]; what are some of the things you’ve done with the group?
I did a map. … It was to show if there was a [peace] deal, what it would look like. … It was a way to try to dramatize the idea of … a two-state solution that would bring dignity to both sides. I’ve also been conducting a set of dialogues to try to explore what is possible, even at a time that people may feel like is brimming with hope. … Some of the time, it’s trying to write policy ideas on how we could nudge the situation along.
Taking a step back, from 1994-95, you were the first journalist writing for an Israeli publication to travel to a few different [Middle Eastern] countries with unfettered access.
Can you talk about that experience?
It was fascinating. I got to go to Syria, Saudi Arabia, places that they had not allowed. … In the big picture, it’s a rough environment today. In many ways, some of the nation states have been in a meltdown. … At the same time, we don’t have the right to give up. … If we do not find solutions, I worry that paralysis will lead us to a radicalization, a polarization and people will be digging fresh graves for the old problems. … We have to explore what is possible. … We should not be importing the politics of confrontation of the Middle East but exporting the politics of pluralism, dialogue, tolerance that have really been the hallmarks of American society.
Going around to college campuses, have you seen young people that feel the same as you did at that age?
It’s really one of the reasons I do this. … In this rollercoaster called the Middle East, I’ve seen the ups as well as the downs. That has given me reservoir of experience to draw upon in the bleaker periods. I worry that the 20-some … generation has no memory of the ups … of the handshake on the White House lawn in 1993. … It is ancient history to them. … I feel this is the key audience because of their lack of knowledge of the past. I don’t say that as a knock on them … but I feel a certain obligation to do it because the people without the memories are the ones likely to give up the fastest. 
In 2009, you co-authored “Myths, Illusions and Peace.” You deconstructed a lot of different ideas that people had about policy relating to the Middle East. Can you touch on some of those, especially the [idea of] Israeli-Palestinian peace resulting in peace in the whole region?
I think Americans have had a graduate school course since Sept. 11 in the Middle East. … They used … to say that if you solve the Israeli-Palestinian thing, that it’s like the “open sesame”… and every problem in the Middle East will be solved. Americans know that’s not the case. … Americans have learned. They didn’t know a Shiite from a Sunni. It was a very different experience before Sept. 11. … We worked hard to do it as experts, but I think that the linkage argument is not made anymore because American people — the guy on the street to the experts — all know that there is just too many other things going on in the region.
You mentioned before that you worked as a senior adviser for Secretary of State John Kerry. Can you talk about that role and some of the things you worked on?
I think the Secretary was relentless in trying to bring the parties together. I feel of the five core issues, we made some progress on two of the five — the borders and the refugees. I could see a future in solving these. … You have another issue called mutual recognition, which is where you not only recognize the other state, but the character of the other state. That proved to be difficult. … We didn’t want anyone to say that this wasn’t solved because America wasn’t creative enough. … I worry that the leaders themselves are more risk-averse today than the giants of yesterday. … The leaders are more risk-averse because the public has been around the block a few times since then.
Late last year, you wrote an article for Politico about the Iran Nuclear Deal and what you saw as a needed toughening up of that plan. Do you think the current iteration of the plan went far enough?
Our view, and it still is, is that … the U.S. should be very clear about what we expect of Iran when [enrichment] caps are lifted. I think that this President … has a special place to clarify what he means when he said Iran will not be able to make a dash for a bomb. … Now that they have the money, can they give some of that to proxy forces that want to destabilize the region? Do they think they have the imprimatur to engage in unfettered enrichment in 10 to 15 years down the road? …We think the U.S. needs to take a position.