By Marcus Lavergne
With the ever prevalent influence of corporate news and social media looming overhead, organizations on campus are taking the time to help students hold educational conversations on important social and political issues regardless of their political affiliations.
The Young Democrats: University of Nevada, Reno Chapter and University of Nevada College Republicans teamed up to launch their Wolf Pack Smart Talks campaign last Wednesday. The discussions are focused on national issues, most of which are surrounded by heavy controversy. That evening, the groups brought in adjunct professor of political science Dr. John Scire to lecture on the U.S.’s past, present and future in the Middle East.
“What I wanted to do was take the issues that are most important to America, [that] people do claim they care about, and bring a professional to the university to give those students the facts and give them the chance to make an educated opinion,” said Young Democrats President Kyle Sharp.
Most of the seats in the Ansari Business Building lecture hall were filled during the conversation with Scire, who began by asking students a simple, albeit loaded, question: why is the U.S. in the Middle East? Some responded with popular theories like protecting oil producers, catering to business interests and facing the multitude of challenges presented through terrorist organizations. Others based U.S. involvement off relationships with countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel, and some discussed the ongoing and increasing destabilization of Syria.
The actual answer to the question seems to lie somewhere in between, as the relationship between the U.S. and the Middle East is more than a little historically convoluted.
Highlights from Scire’s presentation on the U.S.’s history in the Middle East included the recognition of Israel’s statehood in front of the U.N. in 1947; the U.S.’s initial importation of Middle Eastern crude oil in 1948; numerous coups that involved some form of CIA support throughout the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, along with missions to hinder Soviet Russian occupation; and communist influence in the area during the Cold War era.
Scire also pointed out decades of military operations throughout the area that have shaped the U.S.’s connection to powers throughout the region into what they are today. American military support of authoritarian regimes and Persian Gulf battles for oil security have created links with foreign powers that remain inconsistent, fairly unpredictable and generally shaky.
After giving the compressed history lesson, the question remained: why does this nation continue to occupy the Middle East? Scire noted that, in actuality, the U.S. hasn’t been as reliant on crude oil from the area since 2008 when dependency reached an all-time high, which rules out the resource as the sole reason, and maybe even as the top reason. He says intelligence could be the most valuable, vital commodity making the stay so worthwhile.
“[The] U.S. is trying to stay neutral, which is [one reason] why Obama recognizes Iran,” Scire told the group of students. “Having people there still allows for intelligence flow.”
According to Scire, continued U.S. support for Israel also creates more motivation for the prolonged stay. Ties between the country and the Obama administration have become strained between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since the Israeli leader voiced his strong opposition of the Obama-backed Iran nuclear deal last March, but as closely associated allies the bond remains imperative to the U.S.’s stay in the Middle East.
Scire remains wary of Netanyahu, even after the two leaders have suggested moving on from their differences to pay more attention to problems in the Middle East.
“I think Netanyahu is not good for the state of Israel,” Scire told students. “I don’t see him being kicked out, but I don’t think he’s good in the long term. Does that mean we’ll walk away from him?”
It’s important to address that the U.S. emphasis on military strength in the area has dwindled since the Obama administration took over in 2008, but according to Scire, the problem with the past is that repairs are difficult to make in the present.
The U.S. has intervened in the politics of several nations throughout the area, and according to Scire, that intervention has left some countries, namely Iraq, with a fragile governmental structure. Sunni Muslim extremists continue to attack government authorities and Shiite Muslims, and ISIS maintains a stranglehold over some northern stretches of the country.
The conflict occurring in the Middle East has long been an open debate and a serious issue being addressed by world leaders and the current presidential candidates, all of which have the potential to transform U.S. foreign policy if elected, according to Scire.
For him, the discussion being had on the future of the Middle East around college campuses is an important one.
“There’s a massive shift in the generations,” Scire told students. “I gave you the history, but going forward, the government and you have to say, ‘What are we gonna look like 10 years from now, 20 years from now?’ If you ever get the chance to talk to a politician, have a [political] discussion with them.”
Sharp is in agreement, and although the College Republicans and his organization hold starkly different values, bringing the two groups together along with a diverse group of students could open doors to more intellectual conversations.
In light of the ongoing election cycle, Sharp believes that a more in-depth conversation can help students and young voters make better decisions when it comes to electing a new president and new Congressional representatives.
“It’s going to push students to realize the president has a huge amount of power in foreign policy,” Sharp said. “[Students] have to look at what can actually be obtained and what will actually work.”
The choices voters make and the choices elected officials make will dictate more than just solutions to internal issues in this country. During a closing interview with Scire, he gave an ominous message about the future of each of the world’s superpowers if unstable countries were allowed to implode further.
When asked if he could foresee war on a worldwide scale taking place in the near future, Scire told one student the chances are as high as 60 percent in terms of possibility within the next three years.
“If we elect a president who’s very belligerent and intervenes on one side or another whether it be Israel or Palestine or Saudi Arabia and Iran, that will increase instability,” Scire said. “It wouldn’t take much to cause more chaos to spread.”
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as a possible state sponsor to terrorism also remains a significant worry for Scire. He says the catalyst for war could be an all-out battle between the Sunnis and Shiites in the area caused by some act by the Korean leader or a group like ISIS.
The potential for greater chaos remains one of the world’s most notable dilemmas as the Middle East continues to resemble a ticking time bomb.
Marcus Lavergne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @mlavergne21.