last updated: December 19, 2010
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Quatre Brasstraat 6 Rue des Quatre-Bras
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“Founded in Brussels in 2004, the Transatlantic Institute was established at a critical juncture in the history of the transatlantic alliance as a nongovernmental, non-partisan and independent organization, devoted to strengthening transatlantic ties, improving dialogue on policy challenges and promoting better understanding of core issues confronting the democratic world. The Transatlantic Institute was built as an intellectual bridge between the United States and the European Union. Throughout the year, the Transatlantic Institute holds a variety of meetings, seminars and conferences at which government officials, scholars, and policy specialists discuss world affairs and exchange views. It conducts research, promotes discussion of foreign policy options, and aims to provide a forum to air diverse views on topics of international importance, particularly Middle East affairs.”
Although it characterizes itself as a “non-partisan” research organization, the Brussels-based Transatlantic Institute has been closely affiliated with U.S. neoconservatism and other hawkish supporters of Israel. It was founded with the support of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the former publisher of the neocon flagship journal, Commentary. Its former executive director, Emanuele Ottolenghi, is currently a senior fellow at the neoconservative think tank, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, based in Washington, D.C.
Founded in 2004 as the AJC’s “latest initiative in international diplomacy,” the Institute says that its main focus is “improving dialogue” and “strengthening transatlantic ties.” According to its mission statement, the institute was founded as “an intellectual bridge between the United States and the European Union” and is “devoted to strengthening transatlantic ties, improving dialogue on policy challenges and promoting better understanding of core issues confronting the democratic world.”
In its publications, the Institute’s devotion to improving transatlantic dialogue often translates into pushing Europe to adopt a more hawkish stance toward global affairs. During the George W. Bush administration, the Institute heavily supporter the “war on terror” and chided Europeans for not being sufficiently supportive of this “war.” More recently, the Institute has focused on Iran, calling for stiffening sanctions and pushing for stronger actions from the European Union.
The Transatlantic Institute’s chairman is Louis Perlmutter, a U.S. private equity fund adviser and former chairman of the board of trustees of Brandeis University and the American Jewish Congress. According to his bio, Perlmutter “is a director of the Charles H. Revson Foundation and his current memberships include the Council on Foreign Relations, board of fellows (directors) of Harvard Medical School, Board of Directors of Harvard Medical International, the advisory board of Foreign Affairs, trustee of the Blaustein Institute for Human Rights and the committee of visitors of the University of Michigan Law School. He has received honors from The Phoenix House Foundation, The Israel Policy Forum, The World Federation of United Nations Associations, and the American Jewish Committee.”
Ottolenghi, the former director who left in 2010, appeared to have been the Institute’s intellectual leader. His articles often focused on criticizing European countries for not being sufficiently hawkish and hyping concerns on Iran. In an October 2007 article originally published in Liberal Magazine entitled “Iran: The Looming Threat,” Ottolenghi pushed Europe to use its economic strength to pressure Iran, arguing that Europeans “are doing something wrong, for our desire to make a profit with Iran in the short term will leave us at a loss in the long term.” He wrote: “Europe can use its mighty economic, financial and commercial clout, to squeeze Iran. Iran’s industry would come to a standstill if Europe stopped selling spare parts. Iran’s economy would freeze if Europe stopped providing refined oil products—Iran has to import 40% of its gasoline despite being an exporter of crude. There is equally no need for Europe to promote economic ties. Yet, bilateral chambers of commerce based in Tehran do just that. European companies attend the annual fairs in the Iranian free trade zone in the island of Kish. And so far, when Iranian dignitaries come to Europe on a visit, nobody objects to the numerous Iranian business delegations they bring along. All this must change if Iran’s regime is to be persuaded to change course without the recourse to force.”
The Institute’s other writers held similar positions. A July 2007 article titled “Sanctions? Business!” co-authored by Ottolenghi and Rackowski, argued that Europe’s “credibility” and “core values” depend on a singular achievement: “If Europe were to fail to prevent Iran’s ambition to build a nuclear bomb, the world—Europe first and foremost—would be a more dangerous place. The US, having backed Europe’s multilateral diplomacy, would see this approach as a failure. The possibility of unilateralism, coalitions of the willing, and pre-emptive strikes, would regain credence, after the Iraq crisis cast a shadow on their viability.” They highlighted Germany’s dual roles as 2007 holder of the EU presidency and high-level trading partner with Iran, arguing: “As the current holder of the EU presidency and therefore the lead EU country on the international scene, Germany is a case in point: its volume of trade has increased very profitably precisely during the time when the EU-3—having unmasked Iran’s nuclear ambitions—was trying to persuade Iran to back down from its bellicose intents.”
The Transatlantic Institute serves as venue for conferences, briefings, and debates on topics ranging from migration and development to Islamic extremism and UN peacekeeping operations. Frequently, its Middle East focused events bring in figures from the United States closely associated with the hawkish “pro-Israel” lobby, often to debate officials from European countries. A November 18, 2006 “panel debate” entitled “What Policies Options Exist vis-a-vis Iran” featured Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in a debate with Martin Briens, deputy of the French government policy planning staff, and Efraim Inbar, a professor at Israel’s Bar Ilan University. A December 2007 sponsored conference titled “Is There a New Middle East?” drew in panellists from both sides of the Atlantic, including Reuel Marc Gerecht and Michael Rubin, two scholars then based at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute.