Martin Kramer may not know how to fix the Middle East, but he knows how not to do it.
At Monday night's Columbia University International Relations Forum, Kramer, the president of Shalem College in Israel, and Jack Snyder, Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Relations in the Columbia political science department, talked about United States foreign policy and the Middle East. The professors offered counterpoints to their theories of American power in a panel called "How Not to Fix the Middle East."
Rajiv Lalla, CC '10 and director of programming, said that CUIRF had been looking for a dialogue between two scholars who could present alternative views about current U.S. foreign policy with regards to the Middle East. While Snyder's area of expertise includes, among other things, U.S. military engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan and Kramer has studied Israel and Palestine for decades, the two could still go head-to-head in a discussion of American policy in a post-Bush America. Snyder and Kramer, Lalla said, seemed perfect for a back-and-forth on the modern balance of power.
While Kramer feels that America's power is shrinking at a crucial time—evidenced, he said, by President Barack Obama's recent statements asserting that no nation should be elevated over another in the world order—Snyder asserted that the use of force in certain nations had the potential to backfire on the U.S., especially as increased civilian deaths may spur animosity in people who could otherwise have been allies.
To Kramer, it seems that the latest problems with U.S. engagement in Middle Eastern countries have been met with less interest than post-Sept. 11 invasions, which seemed to galvanize Americans.
The current military and policymaking abroad appeared to him to be extremely remote from college campuses—especially as the connection with Sept. 11 becomes more distant, he said in an interview after the event.
Vice President of CUIRF Cate Barrett, CC '12, said that she was glad to see that Kramer steered away from discussing Columbia politics, of which he has been a vocal critic in the past. Kramer spoke out against Columbia's tenure of controversial Middle Eastern studies professor Joseph Massad as well as the Middle East and Asian languages and cultures department.
Instead, Barrett said, his presentation had a broader appeal, and both Snyder and Kramer made strong cases on how foreign policy theory plays out in the Middle East.
"It was less controversial than I expected," added Stephanie Bradford, BC'12, who anticipated that Kramer would be "really be more critical of MEALAC."
Kramer said that he steered clear of extensive Columbia criticism because it seemed inappropriate for the venue and event topic. While he noted that he felt he had the credentials to speak on some of the University politics, both as a longtime scholar and a Columbia alumnus, Kramer stressed that University decision making needed to come from the inside and not be influenced by outside pressures or opinion. "Discussion should very much be started from within," he said.
Still, he called the letter sent to University President Lee Bollinger by professors and faculty several months ago—a letter that called into question whether proper procedure had been followed in granting tenure to the polarizing professor Massad—a "positive sign" for the cause.
But Monday evening, Kramer said he was glad to see students interested in the broader issues. About 50 students attended, and many participated in a question-and-answer session after the discussion.
And for organizers, the dialogue between Kramer and Snyder was largely a success.
"Look," Lalla said at the end of the event. "They're still talking."