MESC continues its Lunch and Learn series
The Middle East Studies Center will continue its Lunch and Learn series on Thursday, Feb. 23,with a focus on the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq. Speaking at the Lunch and Learn event will be Evergreen State College professor Dr. Steve Niva.
Niva, who teaches international politics and Middle Eastern studies with a focus on the Israeli Palestinian conflict, also appeared as a panelist for a previous luncheon on the United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood.
In his presentation, Niva plans to explore the reasons why the U.S. withdrew from Iraq in December. Both sides of rhetoric that have been given by news outlets, in Niva’s opinion, are wrong. His talk will also address how critics of the withdrawal have said Obama has “cut and run” from Iraq, while proponents claim that the U.S. has left behind an emerging democracy.
“The invasion of Iraq will go down in history as one of the worst foreign-policy mistakes of the past century, and it is time for us to face up to it. Most likely, Iraq is the pivot point for marking the decline of American global power, especially in the Middle East. While this may have happened earlier, the disastrous Iraq war has certainly accelerated this process. Although the U.S. still has major assets in the region, it is now largely trying to salvage what it has lost from this colossal mistake,” Niva said.
Spotlighting the rising power of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has been accused of targeting and killing opposing Sunni leaders, Niva will give his view on how Maliki is expertly playing off Iran and the U.S., and is also creating a new regime that bears similarities to Saddam Hussein’s.
“Iraq is still a fragmented and violent state now increasingly ruled by a confident autocrat who works as closely with Iranian interests than he does American. Thus, in the larger picture, I would claim that there is little in what has happened in Iraq that could count as redemption, let alone any kind of victory, resulting from our initial invasion,” Niva said.
The topics that are addressed in this informal discussion series are contentious by nature. But according to MESC Outreach Coordinator Elisheva Cohen, the discussions are more academic than political. “Although these conversations address issues of current events, our speakers are all scholars and academics and tend to focus on that. They aren’t overtly or even covertly political, they offer more an analysis of the events. Because [the speakers] are good facilitators they are able to keep politics out of the conversation,” Cohen said.
The lunch events are generally an informal discussion where students, faculty and community members are treated to a 30-minute presentation from a speaker, followed by dialogue and questions. They have been so popular that they have outgrown their original 40-person capacity. Feb. 23’s luncheon will be held at the Cascade room in Smith Memorial Student Union.
“We’ve been fortunate to have really great speakers, both knowledgeable and able to facilitate a conversation among the participants. People informally engage with faculty; really think about and process the current events that take place in the Middle East,” Cohen said. “[Most] people don’t have the opportunity or time to think about what it actually means. We’re often bringing in experts who are coming from the field or have done significant research and can really talk about what’s happening on the ground.”
Willy So, a communication major at PSU, is familiar with the MESC events. Growing up in Hong Kong, China and attending boarding school in Britain, he believes that students in America can benefit from a wider view on the world.
“I am familiar with European politics but don’t feel I have a strong perception of the Middle East. With all the changes happening I don’t see why any student wouldn’t want to learn more than just what the news says,” So said.
The event will begin at noon and is free. Participants are encouraged to bring their lunch while the MESC will provide tea and coffee. Due to the large outturn of participants it is recommended that students RSVP for the Lunch and Learn by emailing Cohen at [email protected]