On Monday, Sept. 26, the University of Dallas welcomed a visit from U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker.
At a talk co-hosted by Student Programming at UD (SPUD) and the Alexander Hamilton Society, Crocker spoke of the “Meltdown in the Middle East.”
He would know plenty about the subject: Crocker served as the American ambassador to no fewer than six Middle Eastern countries, including Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom and other accolades.
Crocker framed his talk on the importance of history, opening the lecture on a brief overview of what occurred 100 years ago.
In 1916, British and French negotiators drew lines on a map, delineating what is now known as the modern Middle East.
Then arose an abundance of “isms,” among them colonialism, Arab nationalism and militarism.
This diversity in ideologies across the Middle East points to what Crocker believes is the true crisis in the region: a lack of good governance.
An important distinction to note, Ambassador Crocker said, is to differentiate between what he calls common wisdom and true fact.
For example, common wisdom dictates that Saudi Arabia and Iran — participants in the Middle East’s own Cold War — have always been enemies.
Not so: in fact, from the Nixon Doctrine in 1969 to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the two nations were allies. Iran sent military help to Saudi Arabia in a successful effort to stop a coup d’etat.
Another incorrect aphorism of common wisdom, according to Crocker, is the view that the Islamic religion carries with it an inherent creed of terrorism.
No one refers to the brutal Christian-led Palestinian Liberation Front as “Christian terrorists” because their acts are decidedly un-Christian.
This renders the modern term Muslim terrorist similarly incorrect, as acts of terrorism are not in accordance with the Muslim faith.
One thing the common populace does understand, however, is that violence has always been present in the Middle East.
This time, though, the violence is different, according to Ambassador Crocker.
The distinction relies on the collapse of so-called republics of Syria, Yemen and Libya, and the rise of non-state actors such as the Islamic State, Al-Shabab in Somalia and Nigeria-based Boko Haram.
Why the seemingly sudden degeneration of peace?
Crocker suggested a correlation between increased violence and decreased American presence in the region.
Returning to his theme of history, Ambassador Crocker argued that the modern, post-World War II world order was constructed and subsequently led by the United States.
The Obama “Anti-Doctrine,” however, implies that Middle Eastern security poses no security risk to Americans; consequently, America has begun to take less of a stance in foreign affairs in recent years.
Crocker asserted that President Obama focused too much on pulling troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan by an arbitrary deadline, rather than on the needs of the respective governments.
In the absence of the American military, Afghanistan has regressed into a state of war with the resurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
The Ambassador concluded that the American public may be tired of fighting, but that there are worse things than getting tired.
After the lecture, Crocker took questions on a variety of subjects ranging from Kurdistan to the importance of language differences to the most valuable lessons he learned from his many years as a foreign service officer.
His response? Never underestimate the importance of history and humility.