Five professors gathered Tuesday night to address the changing dynamics of politics in the Middle East. The panel discussion, hosted by BC’s Model UN (BCMUN) brought together Franck Salameh, Peter Krause, Erik Owens, Charles Derber, and Mudafer al-Ziyadi to share their views on the history of the Middle East and United States’ involvement in the region.
Salameh, an associate professor of near eastern studies in the department of Slavic and eastern languages and literature, spoke about the novel 70,000 Assyrians by William Saroyan. Written just after the massacre of thousands of Assyrians in northern Iraq, the writer, he said, wanted to shed light on the event that was largely forgotten.
Krause, a political science professor, took a different approach to discussing the Middle East. He encouraged the audience to become educated on foreign affairs and international relations before judging a nation or a community based on one event in the media. He then posed the question of what role United States’ should play in the world.
There are two approaches to foreign affairs, either deep engagement or restraint, he said.
Since World War II, he explained, the U.S. has been implementing deep engagement. Through this approach, the U.S. gets better trade deals, keeps the oil free-flowing, and brings stability to the nation. This tactic, however, costs a lot of money and gives rise to an anti-American sentiment.
On the other hand, there is restraint. Those who believe in this approach see deep engagement as an opportunity for those natives to free ride off of the U.S.—they do not need to pay for protection. With the money that the government would save from not getting involved in the Middle East, the people could be afforded better education, Krause said.
If the U.S. does not get involved, the country could be seen as weak, and might lose its international influence. This could upset allies who wanted the U.S. there, and in the long run, might cause instability in these regions.
Owens explained the just war theory, which emphasizes thinking about war in a moral realm. It is crucial, he said, to have a just reason to go to war, such as protecting civilians lives or rights, and then a just way of fighting that war.
On the other hand, there was Reinhold Niebuhr, a Christian theologian who thought about the morality of war and peace, who did not believe that there was any just cause to go to war, Owens said.
The “responsibility to protect”, Owens said, is a humanitarian-based approach to war. The theory of “responsibility to protect” says that each state must protect its citizens, all states must help other states protect their citizens, and outside nations must intervene in a nation to protect that nation’s citizens.
Owens presented these different approaches as viewing war through an ethical lens and asked the audience to reflect on how effective these approaches have been.
Derber took a different approach in talking about the Middle East by looking back at its history. He talked about how the U.S. helped overthrow the elected Iranian official, Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, in 1953 and placed General Fazlollah Zahedi at the head of the state. This new leader, Derber said, was involved in terrorism and tortured nearly a quarter of the population.
“This should not be heard comfortably by any American,” Derber said.
This, however, is just one of many examples of U.S. involvement in foreign policy that has made the state worse off than it was before, Derber said. In fact, this pattern goes back throughout history.
He said that what is so scary is that we use moral arguments to try to justify what we have done, meaning that we continue to make the same mistakes. The U.S., he said, has deemed itself as a “city upon a hill” that is meant to help other people. But history shows that the U.S. is not helping anyone, he said.
Derber noted that this pattern will not change soon, but that there is hope for it to change in the future. He believes that the next generations will be more willing to listen to different points of view and work with each other.
“And I think that there is a point of exhaustion,” he said. “You know, empires rise and they fall. A large number of people believe that the United States has reached a kind of peak of its economic and military superpower and is beginning to overstretch, exhaust itself.”
An Iraqi himself, al-Ziyadi offered a unique point of view on the U.S. treatment of the Middle East. He pointed out that the Middle East as it is now is a product of a treaty between the French and the British post-World War I. After World War II, he said, the U.S. took over the region.
“It’s not a good history,” he said. “It’s an evil history.”
Al-Ziyadi pointed to more examples of how the U.S. government supported terrorists and dictators in the Middle East. He spoke about Saddam Hussein who was originally a puppet to the U.S. but hated by many people.
He said that he believes that much of the radicalism that has taken root in the Middle East, such as the group Islamic State, is due to American intervention in the past 50 years, specifically the Afghanistan War.
History shows, he said, that Iran and other nations in the Middle East are victims of U.S. foreign policy. He told the audience not to listen to the tainted American media, which he called “a weapon of mass destruction” because it does not accurately capture the nature of the Middle East.
“I love American youth,” he said. “They are very strong. And also they will be the future not just with the United States but to the world. And this youth, when they open the discussion about important issues such as terrorism, you need to understand that you … have a duty for your conscious.”
Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Staff