Perspectives on the Middle East from Taşpinar and Aslan

By Nick Murley
Staff Writer

How is Barack Obama doing in his first term of presidency? What does the Middle East think of Obama’s policies on the Middle East? Omer Taşpinar, Ph.D. of the Brookings Institute, and Ali H. Aslan, from the Turkish newspaper, The International Today’s Zaman, Washington D.C. came to Marywood on March 24th to provide their insight on how Obama is doing.

The first question of the night proposed by Aslan was:  “Is Obama pushing hard enough for results in the Middle East?” Taşpinar responded with his own thoughts on Obama. The level at which Obama came to power as President in the United States set the bar high for expectations and results. The Bush administration was forceful against the war on Terror which leaked over to the people of Islam. The moment Obama came to power though, the tone change was immediately present. Obama is popular in Europe and the Middle East, but there are limits to what he can do due to the 2 party system of Democrats and Republicans.

The issue brought up by Aslan that the United States is negatively perceived due to its apparent bias towards Israel and therefore it is believed that the United States is dishonest and cannot be trusted.  Taşpinar responded that Israel is only one lobby in the governmental system. The oil lobbies of Saudi Arabia have as much influence in Washington as the Israeli lobbies. Why is it that the US is still friendly with Saudi Arabia when most of the 9/11 hijackers were from that country? Do not believe the conspiracy theories that state that it is the Jewish faith against the US. The US has wide influence in Israel and visa versa. However, as a consequence of that relationship Palestine becomes the immediate underdog and therefore a point of contention between the United States and Muslim world.

Aslan then brought up the increasing tension between Israel, the US, and Iran and asked “Can there be a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis and soon?” Taşpinar responded that the problem is the theocracy (a government with a religious base) of Iran. The country is not stable and is ruled by a leader talking about having peaceful nuclear power and simultaneously talking about wiping Israel off the map. In this situation Israel now becomes extremely agitated and with its history of acting unilaterally against threats perceived and real, a Middle Eastern war becomes a real and terrifying possibility. Iran should become the the number one foreign policy issue for the Obama Administration.

Aslan then turned the conversation towards the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan, something he called, “The War of Necessity.” The original reason for this war was to route out Al Qaeda fighters and those who attacked us on 9/11. The reasons have morphed to include the maintenance of stability in Pakistan. What happens in Afghanistan will affect what happens in Pakistan due to their porous border that has allowed Taliban and Al Qaeda forces to cross back and forth with virtual ease. As a nuclear armed country, stability in Pakistan is of the utmost importance lest unguarded nuclear weapons fall into the hands of Al Qaeda, a very alarming concern.

Aslan then pointed out the need for the US to distinguish between Radical Muslims and normal Muslims. The past US failure of not recognizing this vital difference has led to the alienation of many moderate Muslims. Taşpinar responded that the moderate, silent majority, of Muslims has so far been agreeing with the violence. But with Obama reaching out to these peoples by going to and then speaking with them, this moderate group has shown a willingness to give Obama a chance to push for a peace solution. Looking at Europe and the US, there is fear and resentment towards Muslims due to the fear of the unknown. Obama can be a bridge between the countries and there are high expectations for it. These expectation are why he was given the Nobel Peace Prize. Alsan mentioned that polls of Muslims regarding how they perceive the United States show there has not been much improvement from the Bush to Obama era. Taşpinar responded that the problem is that the US wants immediate results. There needs to be time given for US policy to take effect. Remember how long the wars have been going on in the region; thousands of years. If you were to judge Obama’s results at this time on Israel it would be a failure at this point. But give it time and think of the alternative; McCain. McCain’s rhetoric implied that he would be fighting at this point and not encouraging peace. Taşpinar even hinted at the possibility that under McCain, a nuclear strike would have already happened in Iran by now.

Aslan and Taşpinar both provided dialogue that can change perspectives. If the United States would give it time and approach the situation peacefully, peaceful solutions can be reached. As the discussion for the night ended an important view of the Middle East was bestowed upon the audience of Marywood students and faculty. A perspective and viewpoint that is often missing or misinterpreted in America. A perspective, that if understood, can bring peace.