Ever since the promulgation of President Jimmy Carter’s namesake “Carter Doctrine” in 1980, declaring that any threat to the free flow of commerce in the Gulf would be regarded as a threat to the United States, America has served as the Gulf’s primary security guarantor. American hegemony in the Gulf led the United States to protect the Strait of Hormuz during the Iran-Iraq War, force Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait in 1991, and topple the Iraqi dictator twelve years later. However, over the past two decades, America’s military deployments in the Gulf have come under greater scrutiny at home, and successive U.S. administrations have grown increasingly reluctant to participate in regional conflicts.
While former president Trump sought to reassure America’s Gulf allies that the United States would continue to support them, he also pushed for the United States to draw down its regional military footprint, and President Biden has shown similar instincts, declining to support Saudi Arabia during its military intervention in Yemen and seeking to return to a nuclear agreement with Iran. Uncertainty over America’s future role in the Gulf has led its traditional partners in the region to seek alternative foreign patrons and address their own security needs. As Washington has wavered, the GCC states have pursued closer ties with Russia and China, America’s two great-power competitors, and have also sought to resolve their disagreements with the Islamic Republic. These new developments have forced the United States to seriously rethink its own strategy in the region. America is not a “Gulf state,” but it is directly affected by the events in it—much as it was under President Carter.
What does the future hold for America and the Gulf? In what ways has America telegraphed uncertainty in its Gulf policy? How can Washington address Gulf states’ concerns in this regard? How have other world powers reacted? And must the “Carter Doctrine” always be enforced, or could it ever be made irrelevant by a new understanding of regional security?
Featured Speakers: Dr. Dania Thafer, Shaikh Nawaf bin Mubarak Al Thani, Bilal Saab, and Ambassador Patrick Theros (moderator).
Dr. Dania Thafer
Executive Director, Gulf International Forum
Dr. Dania Thafer is the Executive Director of Gulf International Forum, an institute based in Washington, D.C. that provides analysis on political, economic, social, and security issues for the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, Iran, Iraq and Yemen. She is also a Professorial Lecturer at the School of Foreign Service’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University. Her expertise is on the Gulf region’s security, U.S.-Gulf relations, and the political economy of the GCC states.
Dr. Thafer has been widely published and consults regularly on matters concerning the GCC and the Middle East. Dr. Thafer has a new book titled “Creative Insecurity: Institutional Inertia and Youth Potential in the GCC” published by Oxford University Press and Hurst Co. (2023). Additionally, she has co-authored two edited books “The Arms Trade, Military Services and the Security Market in the Gulf States: Trends and Implications” and “The Dilemma of Security and Defense in the Gulf Region.” Her commentary has appeared in international media outlets, including: The New York Times, Financial Times, BBC World, Washington Post, Forbes, Al Jazeera and others. Additionally, she is regularly consulted by governmental, non-governmental, corporations and research institutions globally.
Previously, she was responsible for building relationships with foreign dignitaries from the Middle East at the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, DC. Dr. Thafer has a master’s degree in political science from New York University, and Ph.D. in Political Science, specialized in the Political Economy and International Relations from American University in Washington, DC.
Sheikh Nawaf Bin Mubarak Al-Thani
Qatar’s Former Defense Attaché to the United States of America, Canada and Mexico
Sheikh Nawaf Bin Mubarak Al-Thani is a writer, columnist, and lecturer in the fields of International Relations and Defense, focusing on the areas of Small State Security, MENA Defense, and Intelligence. He previously served with the rank of Brigadier General as Director of Defense Intelligence Operations in the State of Qatar. As a Diplomat, he served as the State of Qatar’s Senior Defense Official and Defense Attaché to the United States of America, Canada, and Mexico. Before that, as the Official Spokesperson and Director of Strategic Communications (STRATCOM) in the Ministry of Defense.
Al-Thani has served in several foreign military deployments, including Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Odyssey Dawn, and Operation Unified Protector, and served in several humanitarian missions globally, including membership in the Arab League Humanitarian Observer mission in Syria in 2012.
Sheikh Nawaf has received distinguished commendations and citations from the Qatar Armed Forces, several NATO militaries, and multinational organizations. He is also the recipient of the French Republic’s Army Parachute infantry regiment Airborne wings “Brevet parachutiste militair”, the Qatar Armed Forces Airborne wings, and Ranger/Commando tab. He earned his LL.B from Qatar University and an M.Res in Defense Studies from Kings College London (U.K.). He graduated with distinction from the inaugural class (Class No.1) of the Ahmed Bin Mohammed Military Academy (Qatar) and is also a General Command & Staff graduate with honors from the Joaan bin Jassim Academy for Defense Studies (Qatar).
He serves as an Advisory Committee Member in Georgetown University’s Small States Research Program (Qatar). And as a Distinguished International Defense Affairs Fellow at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations (Washington, DC).
Bilal Y. Saab
Senior Fellow and Founding Director of the Defense and Security Program, Middle East Institute
Bilal Y. Saab is Senior Fellow and Director of the Defense and Security Program at the Middle East Institute (MEI) in Washington, D.C. In addition, he is an Associate Fellow with Chatham House in London and the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut (AUB). With Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program in the School of Foreign Service, Saab is an Adjunct Professor teaching graduate courses on U.S. defense policy in the Middle East and international security studies. And he is the author of Rebuilding Arab Defense: US Security Cooperation in the Middle East (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, May 2022).
Prior to MEI, Saab served as Senior Advisor for Security Cooperation (SC) in the Pentagon’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, with oversight responsibilities for U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). In his capacity as the Department of Defense’s lead on security cooperation in the broader Middle East, Saab supported the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy’s responsibility for SC oversight by leading prioritization and strategic integration of SC resources and activities for the USCENTCOM Area of Responsibility.
He has held director, fellow, associate, and research positions at the Clingendael Institute in the Netherlands, Council on Foreign Relations (International Affairs Fellowship 2018-2019), Atlantic Council, Middlebury Institute of International Studies’ James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Brookings, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and MEI. Saab is a term member (2016-2021) with CFR.
Saab has fluency in both written and spoken Arabic and French, and experience living in the Middle East for more than two decades. He has received various analytic and leadership awards throughout his career including the Thought Leadership Award from the Atlantic Council and the Abshire-Inamori Leadership Award from CSIS.
A prolific and widely published author in peer-reviewed academic and policy journals including the print editions of Survival, Middle East Policy, The Washington Quarterly, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, American Interest, and The National Interest and the online editions of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy, Saab is often called upon to brief and testify before various executive and legislative agencies in the U.S. government and other governments around the world. He regularly provides commentary to international media outlets, including CNN, NPR, PBS Newshour, Reuters, Washington Post, and New York Times.
Saab earned his BA from AUB, his MLitt from the University of St Andrews, and his MA from the University of Maryland, College Park.
Ambassador Patrick Nickolas Theros
Strategic Advisor and Senior Fellow, Gulf International Forum
Ambassador Patrick Nickolas Theros is Strategic Advisor and Senior Fellow at Gulf International Forum. He served as the U.S. Ambassador to the State of Qatar from 1995-1998. Prior to his appointment, he served as Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism, responsible for the coordination of all U.S. Government counterterrorism activities outside the United States. From 1991-1993, Ambassador Theros served as the Political Advisor to the Commander-in-Chief of Central Command (CENTCOM).
Ambassador Theros joined the Foreign Service in 1963, and served in a variety of positions in Washington D.C., Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Nicaragua and Syria, including charge d’affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. embassies in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
In 1999, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifah Al-Thani awarded Ambassador Theros the Qatar Order of Merit for his efforts in service of the U.S.-Qatar bilateral relationship. His commitment to national service also earned him the President’s Meritorious Service Award and the Secretary of Defense Medal for Meritorious Civilian Service (1992). Ambassador Theros has also earned four Superior Honor Awards, the highest awards for distinguished service given by the Foreign Service.
After his retirement from the Foreign Service Ambassador Theros assumed the office of President of the U.S.-Qatar Business Council in March 2000 until his retirement in 2017. Ambassador Theros’ personal commitment to community and public service earned him the rank of Knight Commander of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem (1999), as well as the Ellis Island Medal of Freedom (2005).
In addition to his duties as President of the U.S.-Qatar Business Council, Ambassador Theros is also active in the following organizations: The Middle East Policy Council, Board of Directors; The Council of Foreign Relations, Member; The Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs, Member; and The American Academy of Diplomacy, Member.
Ambassador Theros graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in 1963. He has done advanced studies at the American University in Washington, D.C., the Universidad Centroamericana in Nicaragua, the Armed Forces Staff College at Norfolk, Virginia, and the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. He is married to Aspasia (nee Pahigiannis) and has three children. He speaks and reads Spanish, Arabic and Greek professionally.