The Crisis the Arab East and the Limits of U.S. Power
On Wednesday, November 5th, we went to the Union Club in Cleveland for "The Crisis in the Arab East and the Limits of U.S. Power" a program put on by the Cleveland Council on World Affairs (CCWA) featuring Ambassador Ted Kattouf who has had a very notable career starting in 1973 when he was the economic and commerical officer to Kuwait. According to the program notes, Mr. Kattouf's accomplishments included "serving as Deputy Chief of Mission in Baghdad, then returning to the United States to be the Deputy Director and subsequently the Director of the Office of Lebanon, Jordan and Syrian Affairs. In 1992 he returned overseas to serve as the Deputy of Mission in Damascus and from 1995-1998, he served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Riyadh." He was confirmed by the Senate to be Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates in 1998 and was again confirmed by the Senate in 2001 to be Ambassador to Syria. For us, his qualifications indicated that he was a person who would be well-qualified to speak about the Middle East and Dr. Wael Khoury, Chair of CCWA, introduced Mr. Kattouf as "one of the ultimate diplomats". We found the viewpoint of Mr. Kattouf to be similar to that of Dr. James J. Zogby of the Arab American Institute, who spoke at the CCWA in September, which is that many of the problems that the Middle East is having were brought about by our ill-advised invasion of Iraq in 2003 which tore down existing power structures, as unsavory as the people involved with them were, and set the stage for radical groups like Isis to become as powerful as they are now.
Mr. Kattouf believes that the best thing that the United States could do at this point is to urge our Middle Eastern allies to take charge of the ground fighting and not to use American troops at all except to protect vital U.S. interests. Mr. Kattouf said that this is the best path that the United States could take because further military involvement on our part would only intensify the struggle due to the unpopularity of things that we have done in the past (i.e. the Iraq invasion) and many "misperceptions" about our motives in that area of the world (i.e. we want to take over/conquer the region).
He went on to say that we should not provide humanitarian/economic aid to any government that does not "respect its own people." He suggested that Tunisia might be the best place for our involvement because, as a result of its rebellion, free elections did occur. On a hopeful note, he said that he believed that for now Isis must be "contained" but eventually "it will burn itself out" just as other movements of this nature have. What really worried him was that the United States might grow so fearful of Isis and the prospect of more terrorist attacks that we might needlessly and unwisely sacrifice our civil liberties in order to protect ourselves.
In 2003, Mr. Kattouf became President and CEO of AMIIDEAST which is, according to its website, "a leading American non-profit organization engaged in international education, training and development activities in the Middle East and North Africa." Its goals are to "build cross-cultural understanding, expand educational opportunities, prepare individuals for jobs in the global economy, strengthen institutions and communities, and empower women and youth." These goals seem entirely consistent with the values expressed by Mr. Kattouf.
We met quite a few nice people at the program including Ms. Marjorie Shorrock who once worked for Resource Careers which helped corporate people relocate all over the world and received a lot of help throughout the years from Margaret W. Wong. Ms. Shorrock introduced us to her friend, Ms. Sally Ebling who also knows Ms. Wong due to her involvement in the City Club. Mr. Leroy Parks and his wife, Mrs. Maria Parks were there because they travel a lot and like to learn. They were also at the program at the Happy Dog which concerned Isis and the Middle East. Mr. Parks served on the board of the Beck Center for many years with Ms. Wong's brother, George.
We spoke several people who were concerned about the election on Tuesday and how the results will affect the chances for immigration reform like Ms. Lise Moulton, a community activist who is involved with Friends of Euclid Creek and knows our friend Mr. Marty Gelfand, and Ms. Marcia Neundorfer who was there with her husband, Mr. Mike Neundorfer. Ms. Neundorfer told us that they had discussed Burmanese refugees several times with Ms. Wong.
Another person we met said that Ms. Wong was quite prominent in the community and asked if she was preparing to run for political office. We answered that we didn't see it on the horizon but we appreciated the compliment.
Everyone at the Union Club seemed to like Mr. Kattouf and quite a few of us walked over to personally meet him after the program. As we were leaving we heard one man say that the Middle East is certainly a timely topic but, unfortunately, it is a timely topic all of the time.