Bart Pogue, US Department of State Foreign Service Officer for USAID, discusses his posting in Guatemala.
By Emmanuel Agyemang
“September 11”, a date, that is burned into the consciousness of every American. Many wish this date did not come with the horrible events that occurred at the World Trade Center in New York. For some, the screams of people being burned alive and the sight of fellow Americans jumping from the tower to certain death still haunts them. Yet such was the plight of the denizens of New York on that day. 20 years after, as we remember those who lost their lives that day, and those who ventured into danger, armed and cladded with terrifying courage to rescue victims, Americans still ask “are we safe”?
This year’s vigil in remembrance of the tragedy 20 years ago hits different. And why not? Recently President Biden made the decision to remove American troops from Afghanistan. Many Americans support the decision, others do not. As Americans reminisce and pledge to defend their country from another September 11 event, America is presented with a dilemma; whether to defend America from home soil or from abroad.
In the wake of September 11, the world was reminded that terrorism was never too far from our doorstep. But also, from that tragedy emerged an enraged United States that was desperate for revenge and to send a message to the lands that housed the terrorist groups. So enraged was the United States that it refused to heed the warnings of the United Nations and descended into Iraq in 2003 with the excuse of disarming Saddam Hussein off his weapons of mass destruction that he did not even possess. In 2001, the United States attacked Afghanistan, aiming to destroy the Al Qaeda, the terrorist group responsible for the September 11 attack. 20 years after this invasion, Al Qaeda still remains largely unperturbed and the United States is withdrawing, having left Afghanistan almost desolate.
Having taken the responsibility of guarding world peace and democracy, the responsibility did in fact fall on America and its Western allies to respond in kind to the September 11 attack. But such a response ought to have been well-thought and meticulously planned, bearing in mind the long-term consequences of such an attack, for both America and the innocent denizens of Afghanistan. President Bush told the former U.N. Secretary General, the late Kofi Annan in October 2001, “During the presidential campaign, I said I would not use the military for nation building, and I intend to keep that pledge” (Interventions, pp 304). Consequently, as the United States and its allies were making clear their plans to leave Afghanistan by 2014, history looked much as though it would repeat itself, leaving the Afghanistan people once again pawns in games, great and small (Interventions, pp 304).
As vigils are held across the country, with American people standing in the dark with candles burning bright in remembrance of those who fell on September 11, we are reminded of the hope that burns in the darkness; hope of a better and a safer future. Yet we are also reminded that we must protect that hope from the swirling winds and darkness like we would protect the little light on our candles with our hands. We must protect reason when impulsiveness attempt to compel us to make ill-planned decisions. We must protect the hope and peace not only of America but the denizens of Afghanistan too, for America’s role as a guardian of peace extends to them as well. Remember them.
Annan, Kofi A., and Nader Mousavizadeh. Interventions: A Life in War and Peace. Penguin, 2013. Print.
by Ashlee Ingersoll
Welcome Back to Peoria: Annual Membership Meeting
This past Sunday was a historical day for our Peoria Area World Affairs Council. It was the first time the organization has been able to meet in person since February 2020. Sunday was the Annual Membership Meeting at the Peoria Riverfront Museum where we discussed committee sign-ups, board elections, awards, the budget, and the announcement of the new website.
The first topic was the board elections where we thanked Brian Curtis, Mimi Ball, and Shelly Epstein for their outstanding service on the board. Then we moved into our board elections. The slate included President Elect Julia Ghantous, Edith Barnard, Michelle Eaton, Gregory Wilson, Joshua Zulu, and Don Samford. This slate was passed. There are also returning Executive Officers and Board Members this year. The returning Executive Officers include Octavian Gabor as President, Mike Giles as Treasurer, Connie Tomczyk as Secretary, Kathryn Eissfeldt as Immediate Past President, and Angela Weck as Executive Director. The returning Board Members from 2019-2022 include Anne Fox, Paul Resnick, and Beatriz Ramirez. The returning Board members from 2020-2023 include Conrad Stinnett and Dr. Beverly Ketel.
The next topic was the budget. This year’s budget was increased to compensate the interns and Executive Director. This budget was presented and passed.
After the budget we moved on to the Founders Circle and awards. The founder’s circle is to “honor and recognize those who founded the Peoria Area World Affairs Council fifty years ago with their forward thinking, and to honor the individuals whose donations of time, talent, and treasure have grown and sustained the organization.” I am proud to announce that we gained an additional three founders this year. The class of 2021 includes Barbara Drake, George (Mac) Pogue, and John Rathbun. Congratulations to our new founders! Our next award goes out to Kathryn Eissfeldt who had the honor of being in the Class of 2021 25 Women in Leadership. Congratulations Kathryn! Lastly our organization has won the 2020 Kurt W. Field Award for Outstanding Service from Bradley University.
January 6, 2021, was a day that should have represented the highest achievement of our republic.
It should distress us all that the day turned out very differently.
For those of us who value discourse over discord, persuasion over coercion, and democracy over authoritarianism, know that you are on the right side of history, of humanity, today and always. The voices of reason ultimately prevailed in the early hours of this morning, and these voices of reason must be supported and amplified.
The world shows us many examples of people who let passion overrule their judgement, who follow leaders more bent on their own glory than on the goodwill of their own people. We, in this republic, are not like those other places in the world, but yesterday showed that we could be.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer spoke to the WACA conference in 2018, observing that that many countries, in fact most, have constitutions and laws. The difference between the United States and places like Russia or China is that we believe in our Constitution and have agreed, as a society, to follow the rule of law. It seems so simple, but that observation is profound.
Join me in renewing your commitment to education, engagement, and civil discourse. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” The emphasis is mine – be thoughtful, be informed, change the world with reason and goodwill.
Tonight, we found ourselves in China and Russia as we discussed events such as the expulsion of journalists from China and the opposition in Belarus. With the help of special guests Phil Hoffman, a former foreign service officer, and Angela Weck, our very own Russian specialist, we dove into these topics.
As one can imagine there is some tension when it comes to journalism within China and its connection to the global world. With the expulsion of two Australian journalists we are left to wonder if China is making a move to restrict the world from gaining information on itself. In response we see the US following suit and failing to renew visas for Chinese journalists. Our discussion was not limited to this and included issues at the Chinese-Indian border, where the US urges that peaceful negotiation should occur, and the ongoing Hong Kong demonstrations. As Peoria natives we might see the effects of such events on business.
During the second half of the program the focus was on Belarus, where after the election there have been significant protests. Weck expects that a solution for this problem will likely end up being more violent as there is not a clear opposition figure to stand behind. Lukashenko still has a power base that will allow him to hold on to power, and with the blessing of Putin’s help it seems even less likely that there will be a change. Russia’s issues do not only lie within Belarus but also with the creation of the Nord Stream pipeline that would take natural gas straight to Germany. The question was asked whether Germany could hold the agreement hostage in retaliation to the assassination attempt on another political opponent but this seems unlikely as it would in the process cut off a German lifeline.
Dr. Hasan Youness, University Lecturer and Strategic Advisor for UN Global Compact Lebanon
August 28, 2020
Submitted by Angela Weck
Lebanon faces seemingly insurmountable challenges right now. However, the country has demonstrated its resilience and ability to heal deep divisions within its borders. But will the massive explosion in the port on August 4 be the final straw?
Dr. Hasan Youness is the face of a new Lebanon. He is young, well-educated, and dynamic. He loves his country, and is committed to working toward a positive future. But even this dedicated professional feels his resolve wavering as he considers the compounding impact of the destruction in Beirut on the shaky political and economic situation in Lebanon today.
Professor Youness offered a historical perspective that illustrated Lebanon’s ability to rise above the ashes of civil war, border conflicts, and foreign occupation. He noted that the power-sharing system of their parliamentary democracy government is designed to minimize internal conflict between the major religious groups in the country (Maronite Christian, Sunni, Shi’a and Eastern Orthodox Christians), but that there are at least 18 religious groups represented in Lebanon’s government. The very system designed to deter conflict has more recently become the source of that conflict as demographics and political priorities have changed. Moreover, political parties do not cut strictly along religious lines, leading to additional challenges that have both positive and negative impacts. In fact, religious differences, in many cases, have given way to common calls to end government corruption and stabilize the economy. Adding 1.5 million refugees from the conflict in Syria and the Covid-19 pandemic hitting the country, the country seemed resigned to collectively work to avoid a humanitarian crisis across the country.
The explosions in the Beirut port threw everything back into disarray, to say the least. The Lebanese people immediately jumped into action to help each other in ways large and small. But when the extent of the destruction became clear in loss of life, property, and essential grain stores, and that its cause could have been prevented by a government that should have been doing its job, the tensions within the country have risen again. Worse, the direction of the next steps is not clear. The entire cabinet of President Michel Aoun has resigned, but they have taken on the role as a “caretaker” government until another can be appointed in negotiations between the president and the parliament. Since many in the country view the entire government as corrupt, frustrations have mounted, and the momentary unity in the face of adversity has given way to social divides and economic crises.
Can Lebanon find its way again? For people like Dr. Hasan Youness, there is still hope. But even he is uncertain how deep the well of hope goes for his countrymen.
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Blog post by Barb Katz
Accomplished and timely! PAWAC does it again.
On Monday September 16, 2019, PAWAC brought in a fantastic speaker, Mr. Stephen Orlins. He is (and has been for the last 15 years) the president of the National Committee on United States-China Relations, and before this he held numerous important positions in communications and banking firms, served in the Office of Legal Advisor of the US Department of State, and was part of the team to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China 40 years ago.
He started his talk by pointing out that we, the US, should be celebrating the fact that we have had good relations with China for the past 40 years and that no US soldiers are dying on East Asian battlefields. Unfortunately there are no celebrations. Instead, we are embroiled in a much more strained relationship that is seemingly unnecessary.
Mr. Orlins believes that it is certainly within the power of the US and China to fix our current problems: all it takes is “political will,” the type that Jimmy Carter and Deng Xiaoping had 40 years ago. He is both “deeply pessimistic in the short term, and optimistic in the long term” about the relations between our two countries: pessimistic now because of our current “ill-conceived trade policy” that is hurting our farmers with loss of trade now and potentially in the future. Mr. Orlins notes with some irony that the policies that our government is demanding of China will actually help them in the long run if they implement them (i.e. stopping their subsidies, ending their state monopolies and protectionism, even ending intellectual property theft—all will make their products better in the long run).
Furthermore, Mr. Orlins believes that the US is focusing too many resources on China as a strategic rival and threat, that those dollars would be better spent investing in our own education and infrastructure. He believes that we have forgotten that China helped to stabilize the world economy in 2008, and that if we work with them as partners we can work on threats that we have in common, like countering pandemics and the effects of climate change. Mr. Orlins ended with the optimistic hope that the movie The Martian, with Matt Damon, exemplified, with the Chinese helping to save Damon’s character after he gets stuck on Mars. “We need this spirit in real life. The US and China will need to work together” to combat the major problems affecting us all.
Finally, while answering very good audience questions, especially those posed by students, Mr. Orlins noted that the US should use its partners—acting multilaterally—to get things done. Imposing the tariffs unilaterally only sent China to our allies’ markets, thus hurting our economy. Also, while yes, Chinese policy towards the Uyghurs is horrible, Mr. Orlins wanted us to all understand that life itself for most Chinese is so much better than it was in any earlier period. Forty years ago, Chinese citizens were told by the government where they would work, everyone needed internal visas to travel the country, and judges were untrained military officers. Ordinary Chinese citizens now have the freedom to choose occupations, travel in, around and out of China, and actual trained judges sit on the benches of Chinese courts. Yes, we should strive to hold China to “universal values of human rights”; but we should also see the bigger picture of China’s incredible growth as a modern country.
Blog Post by Barb Katz
According to Dr. Hadi Esfahani, a U of I Professor of Political Science and Economics for the past 35years, the answer is probably no! He immigrated to the US from a small town in the NE of Iran in 1978 and visits his home twice a year. On these visits he certainly talks with family but also with members of his greater community and various campus communities to get a feel for their thoughts and feelings about various matters that he shared with PAWAC on August 15, 2019.
Dr. Esfahani started out with probably the most “known” issue: that most Americans believe there are only adversarial feelings between the Iranians and the Americans. US news coverage often highlights Iranian chants of “Death to America,” but does that mean what we think it means? Apparently not! Dr. Esfahani believes that only a tiny minority of Iranians say this AND, more importantly, what they mean is they do not like the US government, not the American people. Furthermore, he believes that the chant has become far more of a ritual than something people actually believe, other than targeting the current occupant of the White House and his top national security advisor John Bolton. Secondly, Dr. Esfahani believes that many Iranians actually believe that America is the best place in the world to come to and that every survey of Iranian people shows that most Iranians care most about how to make relations between our two countries better. He and a PAWAC audience member who traveled to Iran both shared anecdotes supporting their contention that even Iranian Revolutionary Guards and others on the street, post-chant, after finding out that he and others are American, ask questions about how to come to the US and how to get green cards.
Another myth dispelled by Dr. Esfahani was about how free Iranian society is. Most Americans probably feel that Iranians are living in a completely closed society. Again we would be wrong. Dr. Esfahani grew up under the Shah of Iran when there was real daily threat from the secret police. Today, he believes that there is much more freedom. He assured us that while Iranians are monitored by the government, they are allowed to talk and have opinions. “One can even talk to taxi drivers!” And Dr. Esfahai noted that he often gives talks about politics while he is visiting Iran. Iranians do not feel too restrained to ask hard questions. Egyptians, in comparison, Dr. Esfahani believes, are currently scared to death to say what is on their minds. This is not true in Iran. The Iranian government is looking for groups who might want to bring down the regime, not those who have accepted the regime; and acceptance of the regime is now much greater than in the past.
Finally, another interesting point that undermines most typical American beliefs is that the current ‘get tough’ US policy is not helping to reform the Iranian regime. In fact, current US actions have helped to strengthen new feelings of legitimacy among Iranians for their government! The Iranians are now rallying around their government in the wake of US sanctions, instead of moving to “civilize” their government, a movement that Dr. Esfahani believes the Iranian people have engaged in on and off during the past 1000 years. In the past Iranians were ruled by outsiders who were not Persian and little by little the ruled reformed the ruler. Dr. Esfahani was hopeful this would happen again, but it is put off by the current heightened tensions.
However, the situation in Iran is certainly not all sweetness and light. The non-elected religious parts of the Iranian government do pay people to beat up demonstrators. There is “rent and pork” to those who support the regime and who silence opposition. This is “an unfortunate problem” that the Iranian people are aware of and know is wrong. A hopeful sign is that this same non-elected parts of the government seem to want popularity too. They don’t want to be hated. So they are engaging in a “charm offensive” and they are going after those who are corrupt, responding to popular demand—something that most Americans probably would not have known if they had not attended Dr. Hadi Esfahani’s excellent PAWAC talk on August 15, 2019.
In spite of the title, it is still difficult to make sense of what is happening in Venezuela. Dr. Canache explained the history of the democracy in the country and its progression to an authoritarian state. However, she pointed out that there is a solid portion of the population that clings to the hope of restoring democratic practices. Since she has family who still reside in Venezuela, she knows first-hand that there are many elements within Venezuelan society that are willing to fight to restore the fragile democracy of its not-so-distant past.
However, Dr. Canache also pointed out that the path to the restoration of democracy is rife with economic roadblocks. Once a thriving economy that enjoyed growth from its vast oil reserves, the leadership of Hugo Chavez and his successor, the current president Nicholas Maduro, led to corruption along with nationalization of the major industries in the country, including the energy resources. With several figures in the upper levels of the military among this privileged group of leaders, it is not surprising that socialism has not produced the egalitarian state it once professed, but rather an authoritarian state where the political power and economic wealth rest in the hands of a few who are supported by the military.
With ten million percent (!) inflation projected for this year, it is not surprising that a growing number of people have fled to neighboring states. The chronic lack of food and medicines and extended electricity outages have raised the rate of infant and child mortality and reduced life expectancy. In addition, the level of political unrest continues to mount. Juan Guaido, leader of the National Assembly, has attempted to use a clause in the Venezuelan constitution to assume the post of president, but he has not yet been successful. The potential for full civil war is unmistakable, and the potential regional unrest caused by mass migration bears watching.
Dr. Canache addressed questions about the influence of Cuba and Russia. She noted that while relations with Cuba are long and deep, Cuba is not in a position today to offer the kind of support they did in the past. Russia’s connection is more nebulous as it is difficult to say whether they have real interests in assisting Maduro or whether they merely want to deter US involvement. While a US invasion would be welcomed by a large portion of the population in her country, she commented that financial assistance would likely be better received by the broader region.
Dr. Canache remembered the way Venezuela used to be in the 1970s and 1980s. She concluded that a great deal of work and time will have to pass before the country of her birth will be able to restore its political and economic footing, but that it is not impossible.
Wunderbar Together! The State of Transatlantic Ties with Her Excellency Helga Barth, Minister of Political Affairs at the Embassy of the Republic of Germany, DC
The Wunderbar Together program, sponsored by the Goethe Institute and the government of Germany, was a terrific format for recognizing the breadth and depth of ties between Central Illinois and Germany. Her Excellency Helga Barth had a full schedule meeting with the Friends of Friedrichshafen Sister City Organization, the German American Central Society, along with business and agricultural leaders with German heritage.
Madam Barth stressed the unique nature of relations between the United States and Germany. She expressed deep gratitude to the US for “liberating” Germany in 1945 after WWII. She also stressed the significance of the development of democratic political systems and market economics with the support of the US. In addition, mutual security agreements, including the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, have allowed Germany to thrive without causing fears about their renewed military strength. The growth of common values and interests have made the partnership between Germany and the United States truly valuable to our mutual benefit.
She did point out a few areas of contention between our states. First, Germany prefers a more aggressive approach to climate change than the United States. Second, Germany argues for greater engagement with Iran to reduce fears of nuclear proliferation rather than isolation, as the US prefers. Finally, while tariffs are a tool employed by all states to accomplish trade objectives, Germany finds the use of tariffs against allies and trading partners to be ineffective, and even counterproductive.
Madam Barth answered questions about immigration by noting that the nearly million immigrants to Germany are good for the workforce and are being integrated quickly through educational programs. She acknowledged that there is resentment for this immigration in some parts of Germany, but that the majority of Germans welcome the immigrants and recognize their value for the workforce. She discussed Brexit and the challenges posed by the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union. She noted that, instead of posing a threat to the EU itself by encouraging other states to leave, there has been a rise in popular views of the EU and the benefits of belonging to the “family of European states.” She was also asked about UK residents who may wish to apply for German citizenship by noting that they are welcome if they have followed all of the rules for citizenship in her state.
Traditional German food, including schnitzel, red cabbage and spaetzle, German beers and wines, and music provided by accordion and Alp horn players created a delightful evening appealing to the senses and the mind. Although Madam Barth will move onto her next posting at the end of July, we hope we will see her again, either here in Central Illinois or in Berllin.
While the conclusion of the United Kingdom’s goal to leave the European Union is still very much up in the air, the history of the decision and the politics of the arguments are worth learning. Dr. Cleeton enlightened us all at this program at Barrack’s Cater Inn on May 16.
With slides that showed the course of the decision, including the influence of outside voices inserting their influence, Dr. Cleeton sorted out the confusion surrounding the original vote. However, he was clear in pointing out that, once the referendum was held and the Leave campaign won, the deep confusion over what that actually meant and what would follow was as clear as mud to the people of the UK and the rest of us!
Largely as a reaction to the immigration crisis caused by the large number of people from the conflicts in Syria fleeing the warzone, the Leave campaign promised Brits the opportunity to reclaim the right to make all decisions for themselves concerning their borders, their monetary policies, and their lives in general. But the reintroduction of hard borders and customs are not to their liking. In particular, the so-called “soft border” with Ireland is a major hurdle for the hardliners in the UK to cross, and it’s not negotiable from the EU side.
Dr. Cleeton pointed out that the on-going battle to define how the UK will eventually leave the EU is a battle happening within British politics. It is the various political entities within the UK that are keeping them from finding consensus on how they want to leave, in particular because the majority of people and their politician want to dictate the terms of the withdrawal, keeping all the benefits of the common market without any of the responsibilities. That position is unrealistic in light of the need to negotiate with all of the other members, the other 27 states, who also want to protect their union.
The European Union has negotiated with Prime Minister Teresa May, and the terms of Britain’s departure have been set. As far as they are concerned, it is up to the British parliament to ratify the deal, not to renegotiate it. The deadline for that to happen has been extended to October 31, and as a result, the UK is obligated to fulfill their commitments to the EU until then.
But will the UK crash out of the EU on October 31, or will they be able to iron out the way they will leave by compromising on policies within the British parliament? The EU has said they will be out on October 31. The Brexiteers have said they want to leave, no later than October 31. But it remains to be seen HOW they will leave. Or will another referendum to undo it all be held? Cleeton says that is unlikely.
Where you can find summaries of our past events and interviews with members. We have more to come in the future, so stay tuned!
Peoria Area World Affairs Council | 1501 W. Bradley Avenue, Peoria, IL 61625
(309) 677-2454 (phone) | (309) 677-3256 (fax)
Photos copyright Joe Couri/Kristin McHugh/Kristin McHugh for The Stanley Foundation
(309) 677-2454 (phone) | (309) 677-3256 (fax)
Photos copyright Joe Couri/Kristin McHugh/Kristin McHugh for The Stanley Foundation
In affiliation with the World Affairs Councils of America