A panel of University of Wisconsin professors brought to the table their ideas regarding future potential interactions between presidential administrations and the Middle East with campus community members Monday.
Sponsored by College Democrats and Students for Obama, the panel featured University of Wisconsin Associate Director of the Center for Middle East Studies Uli Schamiloglu, political science professor Nadav Shelef, history professor Jeremi Suri and sociology professor Joe Elder.
The group discussed the upcoming race between Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, and how the winner will be involved in Middle Eastern conflicts.
Shelef said the involvement of the president in the Middle East will be determined by where the candidates stand on the spectrum between pragmatism and idealism and their degree of interest and expertise in the region.
"The idealist, McCain, will tend to see the issues in the Middle East as black and white," Shelef said, adding a more practical approach by Obama would accept that both good and bad actions must be taken to ensure security in the region.
According to Suri, there are extreme similarities between the two candidates' intent in the Middle East, but differences arise in the approach each candidate will take regarding the issues, especially in Afghanistan and Iran.
"McCain will make an argument for getting tough, drawing upon the military occupation in Iraq," Suri said. "Obama will encourage discourse, calling for a rethinking of previous policy."
Regardless of who wins, Suri said the next president will have no choice but to have serious involvement in the region, including overseeing the end to the Iraq war.
The four panelists agreed that Afghanistan, Israel and Iran will return to the spotlight after troops are removed from Iraq.
Elder said that despite the successful overthrow of the Taliban, security in Afghanistan has fallen apart as the U.S. has focused on the war in Iraq.
"Both McCain and Obama seem very uninformed and are instead playing the blame game with each other regarding Afghanistan policy," Elder added.
The panelists argued U.S. involvement in the Middle East was based primarily on negotiations rather than resources.
"If we were involved in the Middle East for purely resource reasons, our invasion of Iraq would completely go against this rationalization," Shelef said.
With world economies under strain, the panels agreed increased involvement throughout the world is necessary for the next administration's foreign policy.
"To be engaged in the world, we need to build multilateralism and partnerships," Suri said.
Shelef said "things will happen" in the Middle East for the next president, regardless of who is elected.
"These actions will occur soon," Shelef said. "They must occur during the first term."
Shelef went on to say the candidates' foreign policy debate is currently more of a rhetorical fight than actual policy, as has been common throughout recent history.