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University News

Speakers clash on nation’s role in Middle East

The panelists offered differing views on the effectiveness of political intervention in the region

Contributing Writer
Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Questions about the merits of intervention took center stage in a debate on United States foreign policy in the Middle East in a half-full List Art Center 120 Tuesday night.

The debate, entitled “America’s Role in the Middle East,” was sponsored by the Brown chapter of the Alexander Hamilton Society, a nonprofit group that organizes lectures on political topics. Middle East Studies Librarian Ian Straughn moderated the debate.

The U.S. government’s “desire to be a hegemon in the Middle East has not produced good results for the United States,” said Stephen Kinzer, visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies and a former foreign correspondent for the New York Times. Kinzer expressed his support for a reduced U.S. presence in the region, arguing that the nation’s current involvement has harmed the people of the Middle East.

Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute and a former official at the U.S. Department of Defense, disagreed with Kinzer, highlighting what he said were the benefits of continued U.S. engagement in the Middle East. Rubin said a  “power vacuum” would emerge if the United States withdrew  its political influence from the region.

The speakers disagreed over whether U.S. foreign policy efforts in the Middle East has yielded benefits for local populations.

Kinzer said the United States’ involvement in the region has been motivated by its own political and economic interests, rather than by a genuine commitment to the interests of communities in the Middle East.

“I believe that the new order of the Middle East, whatever it is, should be based on the desires of the Middle East,” Kinzer said. “This order may not be open to American intervention. I think this is a fair price to pay.”

But Rubin argued that the United States has acted as a necessary stabilizer in the region, adding that the nation has addressed human rights concerns that he believes other major powers, such as Russia and China, might overlook.

Kinzer rebutted by saying  a political shift would occur when the United States left the region, so the federal government should wind down its presence in the Middle East now rather than in the future. American citizens may not be committed to a long-lasting role in the Middle East, he added.

Both speakers criticized the process of U.S. developmental aid distribution in the Middle East.

U.S. aid to Middle Eastern countries in the form of financial assistance and economic development projects can often be detrimental, Kinzer said.

Rubin agreed — “Civilian aid is oftentimes undemocratic,” he said. “You are taking away the role of that government.”

Rubin cited cases where U.S. aid financed the building of roads in Afghanistan that local residents did not want.

Afghani military forces’ seizure of property from local landowners increased substantially following the U.S. road development projects, he said, adding these roads facilitated more land seizures.

Though Kinzer and Rubin agreed that some aid policies have been flawed, they had differing opinions on the effectiveness of the federal government’s efforts to transform the region into a collection of democracies.

Political restructuring efforts by U.S. policymakers have hurt developing states in the Middle East, Kinzer said.

“I believe we actually made Afghanistan less democratic by implementing parliamentary procedures,” he said.

The creation of a parliament has allowed warlords and drug dealers to exert a stronger influence on Afghanistan’s political process by winning seats in the legislature and supplanting local community leaders’ power, Kinzer said.

The United States must continue its political engagement in the region partly to combat terrorism, Rubin said. Terrorist threats in the Middle East stem from ideological agendas that will not subside if the United States withdraws from the area, he added.

Kinzer said he believed local grievances against the United States’ political involvement in the Middle East drive terrorist groups.

Both speakers voiced concern over the emergence of corruption in governments set up by the United States in the Middle East, but Rubin said he believed U.S. political involvement can help reduce that corruption.

“We are going to make mistakes,” Rubin said. “There is no magic formula in the region.”

But Kinzer expressed doubt about the United States’ ability to reduce the region’s political instability.

“The can-do attitude is quintessentially American,” Kinzer said. “But there are some challenges that even the can-do attitude can’t resolve.”

Some attendees said they approved of the speakers’ willingness to look beyond political ideology in discussing solutions to problems in the Middle East.

Matt Breuer ’14 said he was surprised by how Kinzer and Rubin were able to facilitate an open-minded discussion of complex challenges facing the region. He said Kinzer and Rubin transcended the divisive nature of the American political process in their presentations on foreign policy.


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  1. I’ve got a novel idea. Let’s do nothing. Let the Muslims deal with their own
    problems for a change. Let’s let countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait
    with their endless ocean of money and Western-bought armaments figure it out
    instead. Surely they – being practitioners of the religion of compassion and
    peace – will step right up to the plate in our stead.

    OK, you caught me there. You knew I was kidding! You knew what I know which
    is that there is no answer to these Islamic cesspools. Whatever we do will be
    discredited and if we do nothing then Syria will become just another country in
    the endless line of Hell on Earth Islamic countries.

    We cannot save Muslims from themselves. It is like trying to save an
    alcoholic. Until they are ready to abandon their religion – a religion that
    emphasizes aggression and violence and sadism – anything we do will simply be a
    band-aid on a gaping wound.

    Let them go through their DTs on their own. Only then will they be ready for
    our friendship and help, and only then will we find a way forward together as

    • Hey Arafat. What’s the going rate per blog posting from your IDF masters. I mean i really don’t wanna disturb u from your paid rant about those Moslems, but how about that little ethnic cleansing that u Israelis do on a daily basis. I mean how do we clean up those radical Jewish cesspools.

      B.T.W your leader Netenyahu was joined at the hip with dictators like Mubarak and the Saudis and now u’r kinda pretending that never happened. What’s up with all this amnesia.

      • mxm123,
        So Netanyahu was joined at the hip with the Saudis and Mubarak.
        Gosh, ya learn something new every day.
        mxm123, you should quit drinking to excess.

        • Gosh, i guess the front page of the FoxNews does not replicate to your settlements’ server fast enough….

          • Gosh now our Muslim water carrier is using Fox News to support his transparent lies.
            I’m betting that’s a first at Brown.

          • Denying the story, Mr IDF blogger. Or just throwing insults to segue the conversation ?

          • Nope. Just denying its accuracy.
            How could anyone question the accuracy of a Fox News article?
            I know I’m going out on a limb by doing so. LOL
            mxm123, if using Fox News is your way of proving a point then you really are dumber than I thought.

          • Disprove it bro. You haven’t proven the accuracy of any of your IDF sponsored claims.

          • I won’t disprove it. I simply won’t!
            You’re right. The House of Saud and Mubarak too love Israel.
            How could I possibly disprove it?
            You’re pretty funny in a desperate sort of way.

          • Why practice such blatant dishonesty ? When even such articles have show up in the WaPo. And here u go on and on about Muslims. Take a good look at your dishonesty in the name of religion.

          • Let’s not rewrite history quite that quickly, OK?

            Yesterday you wrote, “B.T.W your leader Netenyahu was joined at the hip with dictators like Mubarak and the Saudis and now u’r kinda pretending that never happened. What’s up with all this amnesia.”
            Now a WHOLE day later you’re telling us the Saudis and Israelis are not allies? Which is it? Or is it one of those Islamic facts (Goebbel facts ) that change on odd and even days?

          • Learn English lately bro ? Ever heard of a rhetorical question ? Quit using Google translate to translate from English to Hebrew. Ask your IDF masters for some English training.

      • mxm123 writes, “I mean how do we clean up those radical Jewish cesspools.”
        Gosh, I had no idea Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Chechnya, Bangladesh, Mauritania, Mali, Libya, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan were Jewish cesspools.
        You really do learn something new every day.
        mxm123 – where do you get your LSD? You might try a different source.

        • Adam, Adora, Alei Zahav…..i’m getting tired and i’m still in the A’s. A list of Israeli settlements where ethnic cleansing has been perfected.

          Now i’m sure your IDF masters have a complete list. But you may not get paid if you post them….

          • Algeria (Once a land of Berbers now 95%+ Muslim)
            Afghanistan (Once home to Buddhists now 100% Muslim)
            Bahrain (98% Muslim all other people goners)
            Bangladesh (90+% Muslim almost all Hindus – tens of millions – have been wiped out)
            Cario, Egypt (Once home to a large Coptic Christian community now almost all have been wiped out)
            Dubai (90% Muslim all indigenous people have disappeared)
            Egypt (All the Berbers and Christians are all but gone)
            Falujah, Iraq (Where Muslims hang burnt American bodies for sport)
            Helmund, Afghanistan (Where Taliban shoot women as a hobby)
            Iran/Iraq (where one million Muslims died in the seven year war…the religion of peace proving its true colors)
            Karachi, Pakistan (Where leaving your home is like playing Russian Roulette)
            Libya (Where they sodomize ex-leaders with large tree branches)
            Mauritania and Mali (Where Islamic slavery is still commonly practiced)
            Nigeria (Where Muslims have killed tens of thousands of Christians in their jihadist path southward)
            Pakistan (Where Osama Bin Laden found safe haven)
            Qurayza (Where Mohammed and his men beheaded 700+ helpless villagers – see the Hadiths for more detail)
            Somalia and Sudan (Where Muslims kill with wild abandon while stealing food aid from UN compounds)
            Tunisia (The latest Muslim country to go the way of the Islamists)
            Uganda (Home of Idi Amin a Muslim for whom no amount of killing was ever enough)

          • I don’t get paid like you to post the names of Israeli settlements where ethnic cleansing has happened. Look em up during your break.

          • Help me understand this…
            The Muslim population in Israel (you can check this fact with Fox News) is growing rapidly and some fear Muslims will breed their way into becoming the dominant demographic just as they are doing in certain European countries.
            So riddle me this, mxm, how is this ethnic cleansing? Do the Israelis force the Palestinians to wash more often? Is this what you’re saying?

          • You mean Muslims are being allowed to immigrate in larger numbers into Israel.

            I heard people have kids in North Korea too. Does that mean North Korea is a free country.

          • Yeah, I get your point.
            Ethnic cleansing IS taking place because Muslims are not allowed to immigrate to Israel even while their breeding like (let’s be PC here) Orthodox Jews.
            You’re sort of pathetic in a funny sort of way.
            You remind me of a child. Heels dug in. Refusing to listen to reason. Determined to believe in childish constructs regardless of the facts. I hope you enjoy banging your head against a wall as much as you appear to.

          • Nah, just clarifying the ethnic purity of Israeli immigration laws. And if u were gonna blame Muslims for immigrating in large numbers.
            Sure. There is no ethnic cleansing in Israel when Palestinians are forced to live in walled off villages. to make way for Jewish Settlers. Oh they must be so happy, cause they breed right ? Just like those North Koreans.

          • The Israelis could learn a thing or two from the Sudanese Islamists who in a few short decades wiped out most the black Animists and Christians. The Muslims sure know how to practice ethnic cleansing.
            Or the Israelis could take a lesson from the House of Saud who won’t allow any non-Muslims citizenship in their royal kingdom. How’s that for ethnic cleansing.
            The Israelis sure could learn a thing or two about ethnic cleansing from Muslims.

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