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Oberlin’s World Views Symposium discusses global terrorism, U.S. image abroad

By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Correspondent


Oberlin College hosted a World Views Symposium on Dec. 5-6, 2008 to: examine the United State’s image abroad, identify roots of terrorism, and discuss the future of the country under a Barack Hussein Obama administration.

Jorge I. Domínguez and
Jennifer Siebens


The symposium attracted more than 200 people. Oberlin President Marvin Krislov said it was a huge success, “I learned a lot,” he said. Krislov informed La Prensa that “this is a turning point for the country and the college wanted its students to analyze the country’s foreign policies.


“The timing for this was crucial, we wanted to host it after the elections [Nov. 4, 2008], regardless of who won, and examine the role the U.S. plays in the world,” he said.


Panelists included some of Oberlin’s most distinguished alums: foreign journalists, political analysts, former Chief of CIA, and retired Foreign Secretary of Pakistan. Panelists agreed the country’s approval has been at its lowest under the George W. Bush administration.


“Everything from now on will be discussed as pre and post Bush era,” said Jorge I. Domínguez, Vice Provost for International Affairs, the Antonio Madero Professor of Mexican and Latin American Politics and Economics, Chairman of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, and Senior Advisor for International Studies to the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University.


He described the U.S. – Latin American relationship as bleak and said the country’s image has plummeted drastically under the George W. Bush administration. He said unilateral ‘with-us-or-against-us’ polices and invasion of Iraq reinforced perceptions of the U.S. as a ‘vulgar bully’.


Latin America important for a stable U.S. economy
Dr. Domínguez said regardless of intrusive and unfair foreign policies the world has always been in awe of the country’s success and ways of life;
“Views of U.S. policies didn’t contaminate views of U.S. culture until this decade,” he said.


The U.S.’s support of proxy governments, its emphasis on the United State’s national security and interests trumping the needs of Latin American countries, and threats to withdraw from treaties like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), caused relationships to deteriorate. “Despite how Ohio voted, NAFTA has been a good and has increased trade,” he said.


Jennifer Siebens, CBS News, Vice President and London Bureau Chief said Obama’s election restored a surge of respect for the United States. “Europe was on its knees praying for an Obama victory,” she said.  Siebens said as the euphoria dwindles, ending the War in Iraq, stabilizing Afghanistan, reining Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and paying for it all in an economic recession will be topics of much discussion and a true test for the Obama administration.


She said normalizing U.S.-Cuban relations would be a tremendous start.

Jorge I. Domínguez


Dr. Domínguez is enthusiastic an Obama administration will be able to mend bridges but cautioned things will not get better immediately. Domínguez emphasized Latin America is strategically important due to geography, existing trade advantages, national defense, and domestic policing.  


“Recovery of the U.S. economy can be built on existing and expandable trade relations,” he said.


Migration is another element of crucial importance, said Dr. Domínguez. He said Obama must reform the policies and create a path towards citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants in the nation because ignoring the matter is counter-intuitive to security.


He said Obama’s personal life has been touched by immigration and the issue is more than an electoral policy for him. Dr. Domínguez believes the president-elect will bring both parties together to reform immigration, after he has dealt with Iraq, Afghanistan, and stabilized the U.S. economy.


Middle East inferno, resolving Israeli/Palestinian conflict

On Dec. 5, speaking at the The Saban Forum 2008, President George W. Bush said; “The Middle East in 2008 is a freer, more hopeful, and more promising place than it was in 2001.”


But Cairo-based McClatchy journalist Hannah Allam said the reality is much bleaker. She warned as the U.S. prepares to withdraw from Iraq, it must ensure there is no room for sectarian genocide, by encouraging stronger minority presence in the Iraqi democratic government.

Dr. Burton Gerber


Allam stressed Obama’s administration must take care of the 5 million displaced refugees within Iraq and neighboring countries like Syria and Jordon. She said the administration needs to tour the Middle East, and look beyond the glittering places to the slums and ghettos for the real issues.


Pakistan’s retired Foreign Secretary Riaz Khan agreed—the U.S. needs a clear-exit strategy from Iraq or withdrawal may have worst consequences than the invasion itself.


He emphasized that the occupation of Palestine is the root cause of terrorism in the world.


“The Palestine issue agitates the psyche in the Arab world and within the Islamic world,” he said. He said resolving the conflict in a fair and balanced way will eliminate a major recruiting tool from terrorists.


Allam said the U.S. has lost influence and credibility in the region since the invasion of Iraq, and due to its unequivocal favor of Israel. She said anti-U.S. sentiments rise when Israel attacks liberal nations like Lebanon and Jordon, leaving a cluster of bombs in the rubble, clearly marked with ‘Made in the U.S.A’.


“A constant reminder of where the bombs came from,” she said.


Blunders in Iraq, she said, are used by monarchs and authoritarians as failures of democratic principles. Allam said and added that Bush’s legacy in the region is bleak. 

Riaz Khan


Khan said the 2001 Afghanistan War was justified for its links to Al-Qaeda and could have been defeated if attention had not been diverted to Iraq, beginning in 2003. He said the world is enamored by the U.S.’s charm, opportunities and makes a clear distinction between the people of the United States and its policies abroad.


“The U.S. is in fact a superpower, and the world pays much greater attention to the U.S. than people in the U.S. pay to the world,” Khan said. However, he added, the U.S. is often unnecessarily blamed for domestic turbulence.


Khan said people view the U.S. as an unreliable, fickle partner that abandons friends when its interests are fulfilled. He pointed to the Post-Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan where militants funded by the U.S. —like the mujahideen—were abandoned and ignored as they collated into Al-Qaeda.


The Plain Dealer’s Foreign Affairs columnist, Elizabeth Sullivan, said historical context is important in understanding the depth and magnitude of the conflicts in the region. She compared Al-Qaeda’s recruiting philosophy to a McDonald’s franchise, as expansion of its network depends on finding local disgruntled people.


She said the lowest era of violence in Israel/Palestine was when their citizens had a glimmer of hope and a two-state resolution seemed in sight. 


Eliminating terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan

Khan said U.S. rhetoric of democracy, freedom, and human rights is met with disappointment because the country has no moral ground in the wake of Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, and extrajudicial renditions.


“The problem of missing persons is huge in Pakistan ... thousands of people have been handed over to the U.S. Government... their families want answers,” Khan said.

Elizabeth Sullivan


He reiterated Pakistan has been a crucial ally in the “War on Terror” and has lost more than 4,000 soldiers in counter-terrorism efforts. Khan said the U.S. can still salvage its reputation by avoiding military intervention and exercising leadership by investing in economic growth through technological advances, education, and leading on environmental issues.


Slate columnist Fred Kaplan said part of the failure in Afghanistan is due to NATO, which he described as a dying organization that has outlived its usefulness. He said the ally countries were never convinced of imminent war and only signed up as a peace keeping force.


Kaplan said after war was declared and body bags began returning home, popular opinion sank and NATO allies began limiting their engagement to noncombatant areas. He said the Bush administration’s isolationist rhetoric also hurt. “The more we behaved as if we didn’t need our allies the weaker we got,” he said.


Siebens said the Europeans have lost their appetite for war, and they are eager to listen to solutions for rebuilding Afghanistan. She questioned how Obama plans on funding his efforts in Afghanistan and said he will not find the Europeans as willing to contribute in an economic recession, nor in terms of personnel for a NATO coalition. She said Obama can not expect much help from three key allies—Germany, France and Great Britain—due to their elections and the voters’ unpopular opinion of the wars.


In response to Obama’s tough rhetoric against Pakistan’s lack of vigilance in fighting terrorism and endorsing cross-border attacks, Khan said the U.S. needs to be more sensitive to the domestic issues of its allies as well.


Dr. Burton Gerber, Adjunct Professor and Senior Fellow in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University and former CIA Chief of Station, said the respect of the foreign community should be the founding principle of all alliances.


“We are not going to destroy terrorism simply by killing people; a lot more has to be done,” Gerber said. He said protection of citizens is the main purpose of government. “In the American tradition, it also includes respect for civil liberties, and those two things must always be looked at together in all actions,” he said. 


Above all, Dr. Gerber said the U.S. must abide by the rule of law. He said with power comes the great responsibility of leadership and the world still turns to the U.S. to solve its problems.


Khan said the recent Mumbai attacks in India are a tactic to increase tensions between Pakistan and India and to force the Pakistan military to lessen its assaults on Al-Qaeda’s interest in Pakistan’s western border.


Khan said the U.S. must return to its multilateral approach if it is to be successful in its influence and position in the world.






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