Professors discuss Mideast
By Alice Gilchrist
Professor of Political Science Lincoln P. Bloomfield compared US involvement in the Middle East to a rocket that was "launched in 1943 and is still cruising over, and sometimes landing in, the Middle East." His comments came as part of the first meeting of the MIT Community Series on the Middle East.
Bloomfield and Associate Professor of Political Science Charles Stewart III lectured at the meeting, which was held on Monday at 4 pm in Room 10-250. President Charles M. Vest moderated an open discussion after the speeches.
Bloomfield's lecture, titled "An Expanding Involvement," was a historical sketch of US-Middle East relations from 1940 to the present. Stewart's lecture, titled "Through a Glass Darkly," outlined the American attitude toward foreign policy and the reasons for that attitude.
"US involvement in the Middle East [can be limited] to three areas -- the Arab-Israeli conflict, oil, and the Cold War," Bloomfield said.
The Arab-Israeli conflict began when Britain put the Palestinian Mandate "in the hands of the United Nations," Bloomfield explained. He said the United States was the first country to recognize Israel, but that the French have also been highly involved with Israel. France kept Israel armed until the Six Day War, Bloomfield said, when the United States began supplying Israel with military equipment.
Bloomfield said the Arab states recognized the United States as the "only one who could talk to both sides" and make peace in the conflict. Still, the 1980s were filled with "competitive blundering" between the United States and the Soviet Union in attempts to solve the crisis.
The Cold War kept the United States and the USSR at odds in the Middle East, Bloomfield explained. He said that after the Suez War, the two superpowers began an "unedifying pattern of competition for influence in the Middle East."
Recent UN operations in Iraq changed superpower relations, Bloomfield asserted. He said the United States and the USSR were "holding hands and jumping over the cliff together."
Of the three main factors in US-Middle East relations, Bloomfield said that oil was the "least important until very recently," largely because the United States did not need the oil. He humorously noted that former President Gerald R. Ford's Project US Independence "increased our need for oil."
Currently, the United States is "almost dependent on Middle East oil," Bloomfield said. He said that if Iraq had captured both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, "half the world's oil would be vulnerable" to price increases.
Bloomfield ended his lecture by stating that the Middle East will become peaceful when a way is found to give the Jewish people a "homeland and legitimacy in the eyes of their neighbors."
Stewart: America was
"founded on isolation"
Stewart spoke on three aspects of American foreign policy: "the American public's inattention to things foreign, the Congress' inattention to things foreign, and the domestic political power of various groups."
The American public is largely uninterested in foreign policy, Stewart said. He said that United States is a nation "founded on isolation."
In a given year, only nine percent of Americans travel overseas, Stewart said. Furthermore, 80 percent of those who do leave the country go to the Carribbean, Western Europe and Japan, which means the Middle East receives very few visitors.
Israel is the only Middle Eastern country the US government keeps travel records for, Stewart said. The records indicate that only two percent of Americans who travel each year go to Israel.
Most Americans who follow the news are looking for "human interest stories," Stewart felt.
He argued that despite a Times-Mirror poll indicating that approximately two-thirds of the American public kept a close watch on the Middle East during Operation Desert Storm, the public was captivated by stories about individual soldiers and their families, not about foreign policy.
The American public's inattention to foreign policy has forced members of Congress to consider it "dangerous to be attentive to foreign policy," Stewart asserted. As an example, Stewart discussed Senator Jesse A. Helms' (R-NC) consideration of chairing the Foreign Relations Committee instead of the Agricultural Committee and the effect it had on his most recent campaign for reelection.
Finally, Stewart discussed various Jewish and Arab organizations and lobbies in the United States. He said the Jewish organizations were far more successful because of their broad political backing.
Jews are usually politically liberal, which appeals to Democrats, Stewart said. He also said that many "evangelical Christians," who are generally Republicans, support Jewish causes because they believe that a Jewish homeland is necessary for the Second Coming of Jesus.
Arab organizations, on the other hand, are not very successful in the United States because there are only 3,000,000 Arabs in America, Stewart said. In addition, Arabs represent many "different cultures and religions," making it difficult for them to bond together, he said.
Stewart concluded his speech by claiming that "most American citizens dismiss foreign policy
except in times of crisis." He
predicted that in a year, Americans would be "inattentive to the Middle East."