By Emma Buchman
The Alexander Hamilton Society allied with the Institute for Religion, Politics, and Culture to host a debate on Thursday, Oct. 2. The debate, entitled, “Iraq and Syria: Debating the Past and Planning for the Future,” outlined US conflicts with Iraq, Syria, and other countries in the Middle East. They also discussed more recent threats like the terrorist group ISIS.
The debate was held between two experts on the Middle East with opposite party affiliations: Michael Rubin for the conservative side and Brian Katulis for the liberal side. Both came well prepared with an impressive amount of expertise.
Rubin is a former Pentagon official and political advisor. He has spent extended periods of time in post-Revolution Iran, as well as pre- and post-war Iraq.
Katulis has been an advisor to various organizations, both governmental and independent, on projects in over a dozen countries. He lived in the West Bank of Palestine, the Gaza Strip, and Egypt while working for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.
Washington College Professor Joseph Prud’homme, who is also the director for the Institute for Religion, Politics, and Culture, moderated the debate. Reflecting on the debate, Prud’homme said, “The event was a great success. The debaters, top policy analysts…expressed a wide range of views and insights, all of which were well presented and supported with considerable evidence… I was honored to have moderated it and delighted that the Institute for Religion, Politics and Culture was asked to co-sponsor the debate.”
The debate opened with an introduction from co-president of the Alexander Hamilton Society senior Kevin Lair. Lair introduced not only the debaters but also the goals of the Society. He said, “International developments such as ISIS and conflict in the Middle East understandably do not fit into classes that do not focus on the Middle East or terror groups. That is where our chapter comes into play: we want to expand knowledge on contemporary international issues, ones that we are unaware of outside of the educational New York Times headline…”
Lair’s co-president junior Aydan Sultanova elaborated further on the importance of the debate. She said, “I think that this debate was important for the WC community to hear and be a part of because the events that occur internationally affect us in several ways. Specifically ISIS threatens US national security by posing a threat for all US embassy personnel in Iraq and the Kurdish territories.”
After Lair’s introduction the debate began. Despite the potential for argument that comes with opposing parties, the debaters agreed on most of the subjects proposed to them. They discussed matters like US involvement in various countries in the Middle East, factors that made Middle Eastern conflicts what they are today, and gaps in knowledge between the US and the Middle East. The debate also covered US involvement in destroying the terrorist group ISIS.
Both debaters stressed the importance of knowing the Middle East on a more personal level. Each drew from their own experiences to explain how crucial it is, no matter what future position the US takes with any part of the Middle East, to know the motivations of every party in play here. The US needs to understand governments, civilians, and terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. US officials need to know how they feel about certain actions in order to know how best to help civilians and predict the movements of our enemies.
The debate then moved to a question and answer section when various members of the audience were given the opportunity to ask any questions they had on this issue. Hands went up all over the room. Prud’homme said, “It was…wonderful to have had such engaged interaction with the speakers by the audience.”
Sultanova was glad to report great acceptance of the debate from the WC community. She said, “I think the debate went extremely well. We received positive feedback from students, faculty, and the speakers themselves.”
The debate concluded with a parting note from Lair. He said, “I think that we’ve all learned a lot tonight, and I think we’re all better off knowing more about what exactly ISIS is [and] what’s going on in the region than when we got here…”
The Alexander Hamilton Society will be hosting other events throughout the semester, so be sure to keep an eye for more of their informative events.