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Gulliver's Troubles Revisited: A Perspective on the Future of the Middle East

Our next event for Wednesday was an event put on by the Cleveland Council on World Affairs (CCWA) at the Union Club titled " Gulliver's Troubles Revisited: A Perspective on the Future of the Middle East" in which the speaker was Mr. Aaron David Miller, Vice-President for New Initiatives and Distinguished Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. Formerly, he had a long career in the Dept. of State where he focused on Middle East issues.

We had seen Mr. Miller speak before on the Middle East at the City Club in March, 2015. At that time, his perspective was that the U.S. would not be able to "transform" the Middle East but, then again, we simply couldn't leave it. He urged that we concentrate on our core interests over there and be very careful when using military force.

At this time, he expressed very much the same viewpoint and contended that the Middle East is and shall remain, for the foreseeable future, "broken, angry and dysfunctional" and, despite the ambitiousness of President Trump's campaign rhetoric, Mr. Miller contended that he would, overall, pursue a very "risk averse" strategy which meant that the President would try to provoke as few people as possible.

What really interested us were some things that Mr. Miller said about Trump administration's policies regarding people being able to travel to the United States from Muslim countries. He seemed to believe that this was counterproductive because, since 9/11, the 13 terrorist attacks in the United States involving Muslims were committed by people who were either legally residing in the United States or were citizens. Of course, homegrown terrorism has the potential to be a very serious issue but in order to address it, the authorities need the cooperation of the Muslim community.

Mr. Miller seemed especially concerned about the number of hate crimes committed against those in the Jewish community and said that he didn't know why the recent Presidents of the United States have not given speeches devoted to denouncing anti-Semitism.

It has been our experience that CCWA events are quite popular and well-attended and this one was certainly no exception. Among the people that we spoke with were former U.S. Congressperson and State Board of Education member Mary Rose Oakar, Mr. David Schafer from the Maltz Museum, Ms. Beth Nagusky, from Leedco, Mr. Alex Machaskee, Judge Dan Polster, Mr. Steve Petras, Mr. Chris Davis (who we frequently see at CCWA events), Mr. Ian Zych and several other students of Hawken Upper Campus at Gates Mills, and Mr. Chris Deucher who used to attend St. Ignatius High School and is now a freshman at college. Mr. Deucher was also at the City Club Youth Forum that we attended earlier in the day and liked it a lot.

One last thought about Mr. Miller's talk; he acknowledged that over the years he had voted for both democrats and republicans but, according to his own experience, we need to stop seeing things through a left/right prism. Instead there are only two ways to go which are "dumb" and "smart" and between these two options, "smart" is preferable.

The non-partisan/bi-partisan factors also figured prominently in our next last event for Tuesday which was a "Happy Dog Takes on the World" presentation at its Detroit Avenue location which, as our friend Mr. Teddy Eisenberg from the City Club said, was about "local voices speaking topics of international importance."

Thus the topic for the night was "The Role of Art in International Relations" and featured Mr. Tony Ganzer of WCPN interviewing Mr. Thomas M. Welsh, the Director of Performing Arts at the Cleveland Museum of Arts; Ms. Lillian A. Kuri, Vice President Strategic Grantmaking, Arts and Urban Design Initiatives from the Cleveland Foundation; and Mr. Peter Herdich, Co-Founder of The Antiquities Coalition.

As the event description read in part, "by forming a conception of ourselves in an ever-changing world, the arts allow us to better define how we relate to and how much we share in common with people across the globe. The arts are used as a diplomatic tool precisely because we are at the root of cultural exchange. Initiatives by organizations both locally and nationally are a testament to this. The Cleveland Museum of Art has helped the world's great art reach the broadest possible audience since 1913. Since 2008, the Cleveland Foundation has worked to foster global learning and relationship building through the arts with their 'Creative Fusion' program. This year the program will bring Cuban artists to Cleveland for residencies while also sending some two dozen Clevelanders to Havana in the Spring. The Washington, DC based Antiquities Coalition also recognizes the cultural importance of our global identity by fighting against the criminals and terrorist organizations that endanger artifacts in cities from Aleppo to Mosul."

Some of the things said by the panelists included:

***Ms. Kuri mentioned that in recent years the Cleveland Foundation has arranged for 70 international artist to visit Cleveland and work on projects with local artists and the result has been an eye-opening experience for all concerned.

***Mr. Welsh recounted that since 9/11 it has been more difficult to bring international artists to Cleveland and there have been plenty of successes and failures along these lines. He has learned that the best course of action is to anticipate problems and be ready with solutions should the problems actually occur.

***Mr. Herdrich spoke of how the arts can serve as a way to help people, who wouldn't ordinarily get along, find commonalities. It seems like no matter what one's political preference may be, people are in agreement that the arts are a vital part of their cultural heritage and are alarmed when terroriststarget classical artifacts as a way of wreaking havoc upon societies.

***Ms. Kuri recalled that she once served as part of a team that was rebuilding downtown Beirut after the civil war and how paramount it was to rebuild the historical market there because that is where all the different factions came together. What's more, she was involed in the creation of "the largest mural in Ohio" which was "The Kings and Queens of Lakeview Terrace" which has generated a lot of discussion about the problems confronting this area; so much so that the mural might be termed an empowerment project.

***When it was brought up about how performers with the group "Shen Yun" spoke-up about the history of artistic suppression in China, Mr. Welsh said that it has been his experience that artists do like to express their political views in way or another but this gives us the opportunity to learn new and vital things that we would not ordinarily and demonstrate how the arts have the potential to bring the world to us.

***Mr. Herdich was quite worried, as were Ms. Kuri and Mr. Welsh, about DC rumblings which indicate that the Trump administration might make severe cuts pertaining to the National Endowment for the Arts and urged us to write U.S. Senator Rob Portman about this and ask him to oppose such actions.

We, ourselves, acted quickly when we leftthe CCWA event around 7pm to hurry over to the Happy Dog but the haste was worth it. Once we were there, we met some nice people from the Cleveland Clinic who invited us to share their table and order a vegan dog. When they heard about all of the running around we did on this day, they even gave us the last of their sweet potato fries and a tray full of tasty dips in which to dunk the fries if we wanted to.


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC