Mason Vision Series on the Middle East: Peter Mandaville

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Professor Peter Mandaville of the Schar School of Policy and Government will hold a discussion called A Decade Beyond the Arab Spring: New Challenges for U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East tonight at 7 p.m. as part of George Mason University’s Mason Vision Series of events.

Mandaville’s former roles in the Middle East were serving as a senior advisor at the U.S. Department of State and as a member of the State Department's policy planning staff under former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But we wanted to know what makes this region fascinating for him.

When and how did you become interested in the Middle East?

I was born and raised in the Middle East, the third generation of my family to live and work in the region as American expatriates. Most of that time was spent in Saudi Arabia, but at various points members of my family also lived in Lebanon, Yemen, and Egypt. So, I’ve had a lifelong connection to the Middle East.

What keeps it interesting for you?

What I find most interesting about the Middle East today—especially from the perspective of foreign policy analysis—is the fact that the rulebook governing regional politics and diplomacy seems to have been thrown out the window in the last few years.

Leaders in the region are starting to entertain a much broader portfolio of strategic relationships—including with China and Russia—and that brings with it a whole new set of variables and a more complicated calculus for U.S. policy makers.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your role(s) with the State Department? 

As academics, we are trained and incentivized to explore and explain the complexity of the world in our research and teaching. We relish the many shades of gray and rarely are we forced to repackage our expertise in terms of black and white, yes or no.

At the State Department, however, I found myself in situations where I had to advise senior national decision makers about what course of action the United States should take in response to some event or development, knowing that their decision would have significant and very tangible effects in the world. Making that shift was deeply challenging and, at times, highly stressful.

The Mason Vision Series will be live-streamed through GMU-TV at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 19. Individuals will have the opportunity to participate and engage in the discussion by submitting questions via email to or Twitter by using #VisionSeriesMason. To RSVP, click here.