Former U.S. ambassador to Morocco Marc Ginsberg and previous executive director at the American Task Force on Palestine Ghaith al-Omari presented a lecture in Campbell Hall about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East on Wednesday night.
The talk, titled “U.S. Foreign Policy and the Chaotic Middle East,” traced the history of U.S. and Middle Eastern foreign policies from the Iran war in the 1980s to modern conflicts with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a Sunni fundamentalist group controlling large portions of Northern Iraq. The speakers made points explaining how America has negatively influenced the current state of the Middle East, education in the Middle East and ways to prevent youth from joining ISIL.
Ginsberg said American policy makers need to take accountability for their mistakes interfering in the Middle East.
“I want to see more American policy makers say that they were dead wrong,” Ginsberg said. “We’ve invested so much with [former Iraqi] Prime Minister al-Maliki. Remember President Obama’s goals, noble goals — we want to get out of Iraq. And yet we turned the keys to a prime minister that was determined to exacerbate the Sunnis, persecute Sunnis as a result of Saddam Hussein and recreate himself as a proxy puppet for the Iranian Wars.”
According to Ginsberg, the U.S. may not be entirely at fault for the current status of the region but still needs to take responsibility for contributing to the disorder in the Middle East.
“Let’s be very clear here,” Ginsberg said. “The Middle East is a mess. It’s a jungle out there. If we don’t understand when we need to jump into the trees when the elephants are trampling through the jungle in the forest, we have no one to blame but ourselves.”
Al-Omari said although the U.S. should be held liable, the lack of structure in the Middle East also took part in the rise of disorder.
“First of all, it is not the U.S.’ fault that these things happen,” al-Omari said. “We have diplomats and intelligence and people on the ground. Of course they know about religion. But we don’t have structures. There’s a bankruptcy of many ideologists of the ’60s faded when Iraq turned into a dictatorship under the guise of pro-western liberals who never really tried to engage. Between Islam and the Iraq revolution, it was only natural Islam would come in and take part.”
According to Ginsberg, the Obama Administration is not qualified to successfully create effective foreign policy in the Middle East.
“I believe foreign policy is made by people sometimes with good intentions and sometimes by people with good intentions who make mistakes,” Ginsberg said. “My biggest gripe with the Obama’s administration Middle East Policy is that there’s absolutely no one who’s been given authority in this White House who’s been in the Middle East more than two weeks of their lives.”
Ginsberg said the creation of ISIL can, to a large extent, be directly attributed to the mess that was turned over to former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
“This is not the right guy to leave in front of the storm. In some respects, and I don’t enjoy saying this, could there have been an alternative, that could side step the horrible war that is claiming so many lives in such barbaric ways,” Ginsberg said. “We’ve made our share of mistakes by trying to abandon the region and thinking by doing so we can claim victory. We did that in Vietnam and we thought we could get away from it. We are not doing the same in Iraq.”
Al-Omari said although there is an absence of complex critical thinking on education in the Middle East, innovators should still be given credit for their accomplishments in the brutal conditions they work in.
“Although there’s a lack of such complex skills, you have to look at what these kids work through — chaos, murder, bloodshed,” al-Omari said. “There is a sheer idea that young Palestinians could work in the incubators in Israel and work in entrepreneurial computer skills that could turn into a huge center of technological enterprise in the Middle East.”
According to Ginsberg, there is a significant need for critical thinking in Middle Eastern education.
“I think, in terms of education, if you look at the education at the university level, there is a tremendous lack of critical thinking,” Ginsberg said. “There is a failure to provide critical thinking and skills for the marketplace. Ultimately education is about creating national identity. It is not only lack of educational skills but also lack of critical thinking that will greed into national identity.”
Ginsberg said a straightforward way to prevent youth from joining ISIL exists, and one method to do so would be to take away their passports.
“Three perfectly charming young educated women are on their way to Turkey to become, as they say, of the many virgins for ISIS,” Ginsberg said. “The type of person being recruited, what is driving the FBI, CIA and homeland security … there is no one way to prevent this. Parents have to ask themselves — what are their kids watching and do they have a passport? If the kids are watching bad stuff, the first thing they should do is take away their passport.”
The type of kids who are most vulnerable to being recruited for ISIL are often misfits who are looking for a new adventure in life, according to Ginsberg.
“They are looking for adventure, the one thing that attracts them is that they think ISIS is winning,” Ginsberg said. “They think they’ll reach a new homeland and set aside barbarity. The recruitment videos they sent out look like they’re at Disneyland!”
According to al-Omari, the best way to prevent youth from joining ISIL is to try to understand and reach out to them before they are most vulnerable to join.
“Once they’ve got on a plane, it’s too late,” al-Omari said. “The only thing you can do is arrest them. It’s too far out of our control. What we’re seeing right now is an attempt to start partnerships targeting communities that are the most vulnerable for being recruited and to try and understand those community members. We need to hit it before it gets to that point.”
Fourth-year political science major Alex Nguyen said the talk presented him with a new perspective of American foreign policy and American interests in the Middle East, and gave a clearer description of the occurrences in the Middle East and how they affect the U.S.
“I had never been exposed to something like that on that kind of level in foreign affairs in that kind of detail,” Nguyen said. “It helps frame it a lot better at where the U.S. is at. You see interviews and you see press conferences on this kind of stuff all time and it always seems like it’s thrown around, but this is very condensed and helped me understand it a lot better.”
Nguyen said the event and others similar in nature have allowed him to apply subjects learned in his classes in order to try and solve modern conflicts.
“Studying political science, you learn these theories of how people and countries work with another, and you put it in the form of what people are trying to see,” Nguyen said. “I think it’s a very healthy thing. We as college students are the minds of the future, and it’s great we’re having these events. I hope we have more.”