On April 3rd, I attended a CIS lecture by John Glaser, Director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, entitled “What is America’s Interest in the Middle East?” I entered the event with a healthy dose of skepticism for the Cato Institute (a libertarian-aligned think tank) after some preemptive Google searches and personal disagreement with libertarian-ism in general. However, my final impressions were not all bad and I found myself agreeing with a couple of his stances on past US foreign policy moves in the region. However, I ultimately did disagree with what I gleaned to be his answer to the event’s title– he implied that the US does not possess any, or at least ought not act on, interests in the Middle East.
Mr. Glaser began by establishing the three biggest interests that have defined US Foreign Policy in the Middle East: oil, terrorism, and sticking to our traditional allies and foes. With each of these subjects, I agreed with his rather cynical view that the U.S.’s actions within these spheres have largely been harmful and self-interested; yet his opinion that the U.S., its businesses, and politics would ever allow for a complete end to our involvement within each of these spheres is unrealistic. For example, while the U.S. has launched wars in the name of oil(Operation Desert Storm and Sheild) and made excuses about protecting human rights as an excuse for its protection, it would be bad policy making to assume that the U.S. would ever not care about oil. Also, in regards to his last section about allies and foes, it would be foolish to completely reject the utility that ally-making in the region holds for the U.S.
Another element of his argument that I took fault with (or, rather, the lack of this element) was his disregard for the U.S.’s responsibility to correct or even acknowledge the problems it has created in the Middle East. His reasoning for wanting to decrease our presence in the region came off as “Well, whether or not we messed things up, we could mess things up more if we choose to continue to our involvement and fix their problems and accumulate high costs in the process, so let’s not even try!” This was insensitive to the great deal of harm we have caused and ignored the fact that if we leave the Middle East, another power will take our place: namely, Russia. I am convinced that the U.S. could do much more in the name of justice and help than Putin would.
So, while I may not have walked away from this event with a changed mind, it was still interesting and I found myself content and proud of the strides I have made in learning about the world since starting my IAS major– a few years ago, I would have accepted John Glaser’s lecture word for word. There is nothing better for your worldview than testing and challenging it against someone else’s opposing one!