Russia's Resurgence in the Middle East: How Does US Policy Meet the Challenge?

May 30, 2019 - 2:00 pm

1030 15th Street NW, 12th Floor
Washington, DC

Russia's Resurgence in the Middle East: How Does US Policy Meet the Challenge?

Introduced by:

William F. Wechsler

Director, Middle East Programs

Atlantic Council

Keynote address by:

Kathryn Wheelbarger

Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs

US Department of Defense


Mark N. Katz

Professor, Schar School of Policy and Government

George Mason University

Becca Wasser

Policy Analyst

RAND Corporation

Russia is once again a major player in the Middle East. Moscow has notably backed the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while it has a growing footprint in Iran, Turkey, and the Gulf. Russia's return to the region has posed significant challenges for transatlantic policymaking in this era of renewed great-power competition. The Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security will bring together a panel of experts to discuss Russia's growing role in the region and its economic, political, and security implications. This event is intended to qualify as a widely-attended gathering under the Executive Branch and Congressional gift rules.


William F. Wechsler is Director for Middle East Programs at the Atlantic Council and Director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. Mr. Wechsler’s most recent government position was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Combatting Terrorism. Previously, Mr. Wechsler served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics and Global Threats, where he directed a budget of $1.6 billion and oversaw military and civilian programs around the globe. During the Clinton Administration, Mr. Wechsler served as Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury, where he helped establish the legal regime and policies we use to impose foreign sanctions and combat money laundering. He had previously served as Director for Transnational Threats on the National Security Council staff, and prior to that was a Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mr. Wechsler is a graduate of Cornell University and received a master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. 

Kathryn Wheelbarger is the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. She performed the duties of the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs from July 2017 to November 2017. She oversees policy issues related to the nations and international organizations of Europe (including NATO), Russia, the Middle East, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere. Previously, Ms. Wheelbarger managed CSRA's litigation and investigations portfolio as well as oversaw the company's Ethics and Compliance Office. From 2011 to 2017, Ms. Wheelbarger served within Congress as Policy Director and Counsel on the Senate Armed Services Committee, where she specifically handled the Committee's intelligence portfolio for Chairman John McCain; and as Deputy Staff Director and Senior Counsel on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where she performed budget and policy reviews of IC programs, led investigations, and developed policy positions for Chairman Mike Rogers. Prior to working in Congress, Ms. Wheelbarger served as Counsel to Vice President Richard Cheney and general counsel to the Vice President’s 80-person staff from 2007 to 2009, and as Counselor to Secretary Chertoff and Associate General Counsel at the Department of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2007. Before entering the Executive Branch, Ms. Wheelbarger was a litigator with two law firms and served as a judicial clerk on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Boise, Idaho. Ms. Wheelbarger graduated Summa Cum Laude from UCLA and Cum Laude from Harvard Law School. 

Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University. and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He earned a BA in international relations from the University of California at Riverside, an MA in international relations from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, and a PhD in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the author of The Third World in Soviet Military Thought (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), Russia and Arabia: Soviet Foreign Policy toward the Arabian Peninsula (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), Gorbachev's Military Policy in the Third World (Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1989), Revolutions and Revolutionary Waves (St. Martin's Press, 1997), Reflections on Revolutions (St. Martin's Press, 1999), and Leaving without Losing: The War on Terror after Iraq and Afghanistan (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012). In 2017, he was a visiting scholar first at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington (January-March), and then at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs in Helsinki (April-September). In 2018, he was a Fulbright Scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London (January-March), and was then the 2018 Sir William Luce Fellow at Durham University in the United Kingdom (April-June).  

Becca Wasser is a policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, where her primary research areas include wargaming, international security, and U.S. defense and foreign policy in the Middle East. Prior to joining RAND, Wasser worked as a research analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), based jointly in Washington, DC and Manama, Bahrain. At the IISS, she analyzed political and security developments in the Middle East and managed a series of regional security conferences and workshops in Asia and the Middle East. Wasser holds an MS in foreign service, with distinction, from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University where she was also a junior fellow at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, and a BA in international and global studies and Islamic and Middle Eastern studies from Brandeis University.