Policy expert lays out framework for understanding Middle East activities

Amulya Yalamanchili, Reporter

Activity in the Middle East should be viewed through several frameworks, said James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative think tank.

Carafano, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the think tank, spoke to about 30 people during an event hosted by the Northwestern chapter of the Alexander Hamilton Society and College Republicans on Thursday night at the Buffett Institute.

A professor, author and 25-year Army veteran, Carafano is known for his expertise on national security and foreign policy.

Carafano began the talk by discussing the importance of the Middle East to the rest of the world, which is due in part to the region’s oil and trade routes. External powers like the United States aim to maintain peace in the Middle East because destabilization would be disastrous even to nations outside the region.

“Our chief interest in the Middle East is that it remain an area that is peaceful and stable, and that the freedom of commons and transit is maintained,” he said.

Second, the region is composed of nation-states concerned with the affairs of their own territories. This, Carafano said, opposes the simplistic notion that the United States should move troops to the region without concern for the desires of the local governments.

He said an ideological war between modernity and fascism has been occurring in the Middle East for over a century, which is reflected in groups like ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood.

“To deny that this intellectual struggle exists, is to be ahistorical and unrealistic,” Carafano said. “This growing divide and diametric opposition is matched in few other places.”

The Sunni-Shia sectarian divide, which transcends the scope of external powers, nation-states and ideological warfare, is a significant force in the region, he said.

“Particularly in areas with resource scarcity, tribal influence is strong,” Carafano said. “Water has always been a scarce resource in the Middle East. The tribal structures are very dynamic across the region.”

Carafano stressed the necessity of utilizing multiple lenses to view the Middle East.

“It’s a fascinating and important part of the world, and will remain to be in our lifetimes,” he said. “Unless we truly understand it in all its marvelous depth and complexity and wonder, we will never play a positive constructive role in that region.”

Weinberg freshman Sean Conway, AHS member and organizer of the event, said Carafano is among few academic experts actively involved in policy creation.

“It was a great opportunity to bring in a speaker who knows foreign policy firsthand,” said Conway, a Daily staffer.

Attendee Seongmin Ahn, a Weinberg sophomore, said she hoped to gain inspiration from political speakers like Carafano.

“Recently, I’ve been attending as many political talks as possible to see what I might want to do in the future,” said the political science major. “I want to hear as many perspectives and ideas as I can.”

With the event, AHS aimed to expose students and other members of the Evanston community to current American policies and interests, said AHS member Wilson Shirley.

“I hope attendees get a broader understanding of what America’s foreign interests are and gain a better understanding of the complexities that must be taken into account in foreign relations,” the Weinberg senior said.

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