The Middle Way
Margaret Scobey, a retired thirty-year veteran of the U.S Foreign Service who served as U.S. ambassador to Syria and Egypt, and held top-level diplomatic posts in Iraq, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, was featured at the fourth installment of BSU’s John Quincy Adams Foreign Affairs Distinguished Speaker Series.
Kathleen Reddy-Smith, BSU’s diplomat-in-residence, herself a veteran foreign service officer, introduced Ambassador Scobey to the audience, pointing out that she “holds the highest rank, career minister, in the U.S. Foreign Service, a rare designation.
In her remarks Ambassador Scobey said, “In the time of John Quincy Adams, the Middle East was the Ottoman Empire, and it was a hodgepodge of very loose sovereignties with countries that spoke Arabic and many other languages and contained many different ethnic groups. Our foreign policy really started in the Middle East – the first nation in the world to recognize our independence was Morocco. The first military base outside of this country was in North Africa. It’s a bit fitting, therefore, that 250 years later we are still involved in the Middle East.”
The region has, of course, changed dramatically, she said.
“The year 1979 is the year to remember,” the ambassador continued. “Almost everything we’re dealing with now – one way or the other – can be traced back to that year.” She listed several developments from that time: the Soviets invaded Afghanistan; the end of the Cold War, the Iranian revolution, the attack on the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the first true flowering of Islamic extremism in the region, the emergence of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, and perhaps the first chapter in the challenge to U.S. interests. “All of these events are still playing out very much in the region today,” she said.
The ambassador listed five “main issues” confronting the United States in the Middle East: the Iranian threat, how to deal with new and emerging governments, the challenge presented by failing states in the region that allow extremists to operate within their borders, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and how the U.S. promotes democracy, respect for human rights and respect for the rights for women and minorities in a region in which we are deeply engaged.
“Developing meaningful policies to advance these ideals is an ongoing process, Ambassador Scobey said. “In many ways, we are learning the hard way. We have discovered that the people of the region sometimes – oftentimes – resent and reject the appearance of interference from outside. Our actions in Iraq have informed our own understanding of the limits of what we can do.”
She added that “our past and current relationships with authoritarian leaders in the region also raise questions as to our sincerity and credibility. Our security requirements and our dependence on the energy resources of the region also shape the contours of what we do and say in support of democracy promotion.”
The lecture was sponsored by the Dr. Edward W. Minnock Center for International Engagement and was held in the Heritage Room of the Maxwell Library. (Story and photos by David K. Wilson, ’71, University Advancement)