Ambassador discusses U.S. role in Middle East

Brian Scalise

A year after the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the Feb. 14 lecture by Ambassador John Kelly began with a mention of the late Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, a contemporary whom Kelly came to regard as a friend during his diplomatic service for the United States in Beirut, Lebanon.

At the present, Kelly is the head of an Atlanta-based consulting corporation, assisting U.S. companies with overseas marketing strategies, while also holding a position as an ambassador-in-residence with the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Delving into his lecture, entitled “Iraq and America’s Role in the Middle East: Challenges on Every Front,” Kelly first demonstrated his knowledge of the region in question by describing how its established name is incorrect.

In fact, the term ‘Middle East’ only came into usage after it was erroneously used by the British government in referring to its military command based in Cairo, Egypt, during World War II.

Kelly introduced the factors that engendered the “Western world’s involvement” in the region widely known as the Middle East. Historic and religious ties played a role, followed by the 1948 proclamation of the State of Israel.

He also acknowledged energy concerns with regard to reserves in the region that comprise 60 percent of the world’s oil and gas supply.

Kelly then pointed toward U.S. policies that have contributed to outside involvement in the region. In moving to explain present conditions in Iraq, he recognized that U.S. soldiers will not be the solution to the “security woes” of that country.

While denying that the Iraqi government in place at the moment is a puppet of the United States, he affirmed that U.S. soldiers are a “foreign occupation army” and as such they cannot assert the authority of an Iraqi army or police force.

On the topic of Iranian nuclear capabilities, Kelly favored diplomacy, rather than the preemptive strike that he stated that Israeli politicians have advocated. His prediction is that it would still take ten years for Iran to develop weapons of such capacity. In discussing the recent electoral victory of Hamas, Kelly expressed optimism in that the organization “has not sponsored bombings or rocket attacks since the Gaza [Israeli] withdrawal.”

One of the more memorable quotes of the lecture, was when the ambassador claimed that “the genie of democracy is out of the bottle” in the Middle East.

“It is coming,” he continued, “not because of the United States, but of its own accord by way of an information revolution.”

He also informed the audience that Osama bin Laden and fundamentalism only constitute “a sliver of Islam.”

Still, the fact that bin Laden remains elusive, despite a bounty of at least $25 million offered by the U.S. State Department, speaks to an immense amount of support and loyalty from the Muslim world. Kelly denied bin Laden as the champion of the Arab streets, and posed the hope for an emergence “from within Islam [of] a Muslim Gandhi.”

“The story of Islam will be written by Muslims – not Washington,” he concluded.