US relations with the Middle East in the Trump era at center of new 'Uncomfortable Conversations' panel

Category:  News
Wednesday, March 20th, 2019 at 6:28 PM
US relations with the Middle East in the Trump era at center of new 'Uncomfortable Conversations' panel by Amber Chisholm
Photo: Johnathan Mazur

The “Uncomfortable Conversations” series continued Thursday, March 14 with a discussion titled “Fault Lines: The U.S. and the Middle East in the Trump Era.”

The panel consisted of Dr. Baher Ghosheh, a professor in the Edinboro University Geosciences Department; Dr. Victoria Rickard, an assistant professor of political science at Mercyhurst University; Brian Lasher, a retired Naval officer and current instructor at the Northwestern Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy; and Dr. Gerry Gendlin, an associate professor in the history, politics, languages and cultures department.

After introductions by Chris LaFuria, of the marketing and communications department, along with interim provost Dr. James Fisher, Ghosheh began by sharing the opportunity to join the university in the March 27 “PA Promise” rally in Harrisburg concerning college affordability. He then transitioned into describing how the Middle East had entered its current circumstances.

“Middle East, West Asia and North Africa has been basically a British domain in the last century, [then] the Ottoman Empire took over the region, and with the French, divided it among themselves and eventually created many states, small countries that have never existed before,” said Ghosheh. “We (the United States) were late to the game; when we got there the Middle East was highly fragmented and highly unstable.”
The Middle East is now the most “undemocratic region of the world,” Ghosheh continued, because the U.S. objective has been to choose “stability over democracy.”

He further explained that the Pentagon released a report concluding the Middle East is not a threat to our politics. Rather, Gosheh said that people in the Middle East do not hate our freedoms, but our policies. “They hate their governments,” Ghosheh said, while reading a excerpt from the document, “and they hate those who support their governments.”

According to Gosheh, Barack Obama was the first U.S. president to call for peace in the Middle East. “President Trump’s approach to the Middle East is very different of that of Obama’s,” he said. “His first foreign visit (Trump’s) was to Saudi Arabia.” From here, Gosheh described Trump’s comments there as: “We are not here to lecture you. You have your own values. We are not interested in whether you oppress women or whether you imprison and kill journalists.”

Rickard expounded on that comment by sharing some background information on how the U.S. operates in these situations. She also argued that the 2018 missile strikes against Syria serve as an example that no rules are going to bind national conduct.

Lasher then discussed what Athenian historian Thucydides said to be the three main causes of war: honor, fear and national interest.
Gendlin continued the conversation by speaking about the three major U.S. goals in the Middle East, and what they will do to accomplish said goals. The goals are as follows:
1. Continued existence in Israel, in which U.S. support for them is “rock solid.”
2. The free trade of oil, which of the world’s supply, 60 percent belongs to the Middle East, followed by the likelihood of the U.S. becoming independent from it.
3.) The prevention of other countries from dominating the region.

The instruments for accomplishing these goals are hard power, according to Gendlin. This includes military and economic elements, which Trump is now scaling back on.

The U.S. also incorporates soft power, or “convincing others to want the same things you want,” according to Gendlin.

Rickard also argued that Trump runs by unilateralism, or one-sidedness, disengagement, and no regard for international norms.

Some questions then came from students. A student form the Middle East questioned the feasibility of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine. The speakers agreed this would likely never happen.

Promoting American values and democracy was one of the final concerns, to which Rickard recommends multilateral engagement while promoting stability and more, without necessarily focusing on the former. Ghosheh added that, “if we’re not going to promote democracy, let’s not promote dictatorships” of other countries.

The full discussion can be accessed on EdinboroNow’s Facebook page.

Amber Chisholm |

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