The United States’ ambassador to Libya gave reasons behind the rising tensions in the Middle East, citing U.S. policy and decision-making, at an event hosted by Stanford in Government at Paul Brest Hall last Thursday.
Deborah Jones has served as a diplomat for 33 years, including tenures as ambassador to Kuwait and foreign service officer in Turkey, Istanbul, Argentina, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Syria and Iraq.
Jones stressed that her statement reflected her own views before opening discussion on U.S. strategies for involvement in the Middle East.
Jones argued that part of the problem with rising tensions in relations with the Middle East is U.S. bipartisan foreign policy, which historically has lead to war and strained relations with other states.
“We have always had a relationship with the Middle East that is fraught because we are a revolutionary, ideological country,” Jones said.
She explained that revolutionary and ideological countries like the U.S. are leaders in rapid global change, strength and growth, which makes Middle Eastern nations nervous.
Jones claimed that part of rapid change is due to technology, saying as technology improves, illicit communication is easier across borders.
“We spend a lot of time in the virtual world,” said Jones. “Never forget we live in a physical world, we bump into things, they hurt.”
Jones added that as technology improves rapidly, it hurts the human side of the political process, straining international relations. She explained that the government is run by humans and that “humans don’t come in the iOS version.”
Jones also stressed that people are physical beings that interact in a physical world, which is why “geography matters” in regards to trading relations and government policy. Land barriers increase difficulty in the Middle East for foreign relations and stable government enterprises, she claimed.
Geography and resources make Middle Eastern nations such as Saudi Arabia feel like a “big country with tiny doors” when it comes to involvement in international politics. Jones specifically cited oil, given the Middle East’s economic dependence on oil sales. She explained that a large amount of money goes into the oil business, and that the U.S. often accuses Saudi Arabia of conspiracies on oil prices.
She continued that the U.S. does not leave much room for negotiation, as the government functions in personal interest. Jones specifically mentioned Cold War issues in controlling the spread of communism.
Jones also spoke to the current political regimes in the region, saying that it is the government’s role “to protect our right to be happy.” She said this happiness comes from Freudian theory, stating “human beings require two things: to work and to love with dignity.”
“Historically, when young men – especially – cannot work in love with dignity, they have either a crusade, they conquer or they go out,” she said, explaining why young men join terrorist groups.
In dealing with terrorist organizations such as ISIL, Jones stated, “nothing we’ve seen with ISIL is new,” explaining, “it’s designed to shock. It is not unique.”
Jones continued by stating that the government could work to remove ISIL through military force or ignore the group, but the best way to remove ISIL is to reduce incentives for joining. She said if disenfranchised men thinking of joining terrorist organizations have “work and love with dignity,” they will not join ISIL.
She concluded her talk by noting that the government needs “as much help as it can get.”
Robert Chun ’16, chair of Stanford in Government, said that it was an honor to have Jones speak, especially at a crucial point in international relations with the Middle East.
“Libya is obviously one of the most pressing foreign policy conversations that we’re having as a nation and when the opportunity to have Ambassador Jones came up, we knew that it was something that we wanted to do for the community,” said Chun. “It is critically important that Stanford students understand American foreign policy.”
Jayaram Ravi ’19 also found the event engaging.
“She was definitely a very funny speaker, but also so knowledgeable in history and current events,” he said.
Contact Gillian Brassil at [email protected]