Clinton and Trump’s Foreign Policies

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This is going to be an interesting post to make without getting political, but I’m going to try! I’m a fairly firm believer that most politics does not have much of a place on the internet outside of well-researched news articles. The digital screaming matches and name calling that I see so often, on both sides of the political aisle, are disheartening and largely unproductive.

In a perfect world, I think that we could have respectful political discourse online. But we are not living in a perfect world. It is so difficult to convey tone through text, and many people arguing their points and leaving empathy at the door spend most of their energy tearing into their “opponents,” willfully ignoring the fact that everyone, regardless of political orientation, is trying to improve our country and our world.

With the election coming up so soon and the truly bizarre and terrifying road that has brought us this far, it is easy to see why the country is in its current state of political frenzy. What’s more, most of the frenzy seems to be dedicated to the character of each of the two candidates, rather than to their actual policies. To combat this, I decided to go to a talk on the foreign policies of Clinton and Trump that was held on campus recently.

The talk featured five speakers, each of which focused on one aspect of Trump and Clinton’s policies. They each elucidated the positions of each candidate with as little bias as possible before including some of their own thoughts on the subjects. Their topics were all related to foreign policy – handling foreign policy is a duty that takes up roughly half of the president’s time, and as such, it is EXTREMELY important.

Foreign policy is a topic very close to my own heart – good international relations are one of my big goals for the U.S.. and because of this, I loved getting the chance to sit down and learn about each candidate’s views.

The topics discussed were oil and the environment, trade, China, relations with the Middle East and Russia, and Latin America. Each topic was presented by an expert in that topic, and I was glad to hear their thoughts. I like to think that I stay fairly well-informed about politics, and because of this, I knew the basics of each candidate’s position on foreign policy going into the talk, but I learned more information in greater depth in the course of this presentation, and it was great to hear. I also considered several topics from new angles that I hadn’t before, which was refreshing – I like to know exactly why I have the views that I do, and to frequently challenge my political opinions to make sure that they hold up to scrutiny. I never want to become complacent and start to think that I know it all – that seems like a dangerous game to play.

That said, there are certain views that I will always hold that I will leave you with now. I will always respect and admire the citizens of this country from all walks of life. To me, the diversity in the United States is our greatest asset, and it is cause for celebration, not fear. We have SO much to learn from each other, and to let fear-mongering get in the way of that learning and cooperation between diverse groups would be a tragedy. Especially now, in this tense political climate, respect and empathy are of the utmost importance. We must not allow ourselves to be driven apart by the divisive voices of an angry minority who seek to turn us against each other. We are greater than the sum of our parts, and I hope that we never forget it.

Arab Revolution: Four Years Later

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Hello all! This past Tuesday, I had the pleasure of attending Joseph Bahout’s talk on the Arab Revolution and how things have developed in the region over the last four years. It has been a while since I’ve attended one of these talks, and once again, I was struck by how lucky I am to attend a university that puts on this type of events. Completely free, I have the opportunity to listen to leading experts on some of the world’s most contentious current events discuss their views, and in doing so, become a better informed citizen and a more well-rounded person. It was definitely my kind of lunch break.

Bahout prefaced his talk with a request that we would not make hasty judgments about the events he would describe, as well as a warning that things were far from over. It was a sobering beginning, and one that prepared me well for the heavy truths he would impart upon us.

He began by describing the pillars and foundations of the Arab state system that had been demolished in the recent revolutions. The authoritarian leadership, and underlying economic system, had crumbled in recent years, and though Bahout said that both institutions might not be dead, they were definitely not alive. As a citizen of the United States, it is challenging to wrap my head around revolution on such a massive scale. Norms that people in the region had lived with their entire lives were suddenly turned on their heads, never to be the same. It is a terrifying prospect, and one that better explains why unrest has continued in the region to this day. Everything changed, and in the confusion, citizens didn’t know where to turn, and anyone who could grab power did.

Before this talk, I had a tendency to think of the Middle East as one big hotbed of conflict with things constantly in turmoil. While it is true that the region does have more than its fair share of conflict, it is distinctly untrue that everything is falling apart. Bahout described the events in each country according to three models: Tunisia, where the uprising went relatively well and things are looking up, Egypt, where after the uprising, a counterrevolution occurred, leaving a somewhat stable autocratic government but many unhappy citizens, and Syria, where nothing is going very well at all. I thought it was fascinating that the countless conflicts I have been trying for years to wrap my head around could be somewhat neatly described in a model of three. Granted, the model isn’t perfect, but it was an easy way to make the conflicts more easily understandable and accessible to the uninformed masses (read: me). It was very interesting for me to see it all boil down into something so simple.

Bahout went on to describe various factors that contributed to the success or failure of the states after their uprisings, but what struck me most about the remainder of his talk was his insistence that neither ISIS nor any other authoritarian regimes in power represent the Arab world. They are part of the Arab world, but by no means do they represent the majority. Rather, they often murder the moderate leaders and leave you to pick between the radicals and themselves. Bahout wanted to make sure we left the talk knowing that the majority of Arabs are people much like you and me, just trying to get by in a world that keeps throwing them curve balls.

It is devastating to me to see so much unwarranted anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment in America today, but it gives me hope that people like Mr. Bahout are helping to dispel ignorance and fear as much as they can by spreading their knowledge.

I absolutely loved Mr. Bahout’s talk, and I left feeling a bit more secure in my knowledge of Middle Eastern current events. There is still much to be learned, but I feel very satisfied having taken this first step.

Image from:  http://www.createwebquest.com/sites/default/files/images/image_middle_eastern.jpeg

Syria, the Rise of the Islamic State, and US Policy

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This lunch discussion was the very first international event I attended at OU, way back during the first week of school, and as a result, my memory of the specific facts discussed is a little bit shaky. However, I do remember how the talk made me feel, and I am happy to share those feelings with you. I remember entering the talk knowing very little about the actual events occurring in Syria; I knew there was a conflict, but I didn’t know why or how it was happening. I left the talk in a state of mild confusion, because, though I’d been provided with many facts about the conflict, they were many and they were complex, and it was all hard to make sense of. Dr. Landis told the crowd a great deal about the conflict, as well as his proposed solutions, in what I felt was an unbiased manner. However, after the talk, another man who apparently also knew a great deal about Syria and ISIS got into several arguments with Dr. Landis, proposing different solutions and reframing the problem in the way that he deemed correct. The discussions between the two men drove home for me the fact that conflicts such as this one cannot be explained in simple terms, and that people are always going to disagree about their solutions. This disparity of reactions to international conflict is I think what makes them so difficult to solve. It is also what makes going to talks like this one so important; everyone will never agree, but the more people who are staying informed about the conflict, the better. There will never be one correct solution, but acquiring knowledge and making an educated try is better than doing nothing for fear of failure. So, it is hard to say whether I learned more about Syria or about international conflict in general from this talk, but either way, I am glad that I attended it, and I hope to sit in on many more such talks in the future.

 

Picture: ISIS flag from http://www.pri.org/stories/2014-09-04/ever-wonder-what-black-and-white-isis-flag-means

Matt Barber and the Yazidis

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This is a reflection on another lunchtime discussion I attended recently. The talk I heard about the Yazidis of Kurdistan piqued my interest, and I hope it inspires you too look into it more as well.

 

On Monday, I had the privilege of hearing Matt Barber, a graduate student at the University of Chicago, speak about an issue for which I had little prior knowledge: the persecution and displacement of the Yazidi people in Kurdistan (specifically northern Iraq, as Kurdistan is not actually its own country). Before this talk, I had never even heard the word Yazidi, much less known that this group experiences some of the harshest punishments that IS (the name ISIS uses for itself) can dish out. These people are treated even worse than the Christians in the area simply because they are not “people of the book.” The Yazidis have no holy text, looking instead to shrines and to the seven incarnations of God that they believe in. It surprised me that IS made this distinction in its religious persecution; I had assumed that they disliked all non-Muslims equally, but apparently, there are degrees to which they disagree with people. I also found it shocking that Kurdistan, a self-proclaimed protector of minorities, is doing so little to help the Yazidis. More than most, the Kurdish people understand what it means to feel out of place and without support, but apparently this has not led them to do much in the way of helping other minorities. Mr. Barber was very adamant about finding help for these people, and I hope that he does, and that I can eventually help in some way. I like to think of myself as fairly well-informed, and if my prior knowledge is any indication, the plight of the Yazidis is being largely overlooked.

 

Picture from nbcnews.com

Rami Khouri Lunch

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Occasionally, the University of Oklahoma holds lunch discussions in the College of International Studies in which speakers come and give hour-long lectures over various topics (current events, advice for current students, and their own career histories, to name a few). I try to keep myself up to date on all major international current events, and I’m always trying to learn new things (that’s what college is for, right?) so these talks have given me some great insight into things I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. From now on, I’m going to try to post a reflection on each talk I go to, so that I (and you!) can remember the lessons I’ve learned. Oh, and not only do these talks give me insight into the world and life outside of OU, they often get me free food. What isn’t to like about this situation? (Nothing, that’s what.) Anyway, on to my first lunchtime discussion reflection:

 

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending Rami Khouri’s lunch discussion on finding your passion and achieving success in the future. This talk was especially relevant to me, as I am still undecided, major-wise, and I haven’t found the career I would like to pursue. This uncertainty in the face of so many important decisions that I’m making now is somewhat daunting, but Mr. Khouri’s talk definitely eased my mind. His simple advice (Do what brings you joy. Read. Ask questions. Be humble.) was wonderful for me to hear, because it helped me to realize that it isn’t impossible for me to narrow down my realm of possibilities into an actual decision. His keys to success aren’t grand or complex, but surprisingly simple. I can achieve simple. I thoroughly enjoyed his talk, both for his great advice that I will be employing in the future as I make some big choices and for getting to hear his amazing story. I can only hope to achieve even a fraction of the amazing international experiences he’s had, and it was a pleasure to hear him share his.