In the small but packed Kresge Room in Edman Chapel on Thursday, Sept. 11, the former United States Ambassador Ryan Crocker gave an address on foreign affairs to the students and faculty of Wheaton College. Having spent seven years in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan after the tragic events of 9/11, the former ambassador spoke with great knowledge and wisdom of these countries, their inner workings and how they are the way they are today in his address entitled “Lessons from a Long War: the U.S. vs. the Middle East.”
Crocker began his address where all conflict starts: in the past. In 1798, the French ordered Napoleon Bonaparte to seize control of Egypt, making Egypt a part of the Ottoman Empire and no longer an associate of the Middle East. The former ambassador reflected on this, saying that this event is what “marked the beginning of a period of history that continues in the Middle East today.”
Crocker went on to say that the U.S. often “tends toward impatience” and that it is the commonality of this country to be “ahistorical” and “not worried about the past.” He said the United States is often driven forward, looking toward the future, and it does not concern itself with what has already happened.
“Other countries do care,” the former ambassador said of past events as he stood at a wood podium in the front of the room, adding that if the U.S. does not take the time to study the culture, history and language of the Middle East, then it will never be able to make any sort of lasting difference in that part of the world.
“We are the antithesis of imperialism,” he continued, speaking of the United States. “Our motives are good. We go to other countries for reasons of principle,” he said. Crocker said that Americans want to be the heroes, but the problem in this is that the Middle East “sees us as the next successor of imperial rule.”
Crocker brought up two key points midway through his address, warning, “This is what I learned in the Middle East. First, be careful what you get into. You must ask yourself if the cost is worth it. Second, be even more careful what you propose to get out of it. Once you’re in, you’re in.”
Crocker added, “You don’t win wars by simply leading the battlefield. Neither lesson was followed particularly well in 2003, and now it’s happening again (with ISIS).”
The former ambassador ended his address by answering several questions on ISIS, saying that “like Al Qaeda, ISIS is remarkable coherent … and nothing succeeds like success. They have to start to feel some pain.”
Afterwards, students reacted to the speech. “It was amazing how much foreign diplomats have to sacrifice for our country,” sophomore Georgeta Boanca said. “For them, it’s not a job; it’s a lifestyle.”
Jordan Embree, a freshman who attended the address due to his interest in international relations said, “I thought that Ambassador Crocker’s lecture helped address the lack of knowledge that the American public routinely exhibits. His analysis was accurate and his calls to action and thought were timely.”
Sophomore Sophie Dickinson shared her thoughts as well, saying, “I liked how he really emphasized knowing the people that you’re getting involved with, because a lot of people won’t bother once they’re there. Especially once people start fighting, they just think, ‘Oh, these are the people that we’re fighting.’ It’s not really like trying to understand another culture.”
Crocker served as an ambassador in six different countries over the course of his 37-year long career, all of which were a part of the Greater Middle East. He retired from his position as Ambassador in 2009 and was the recipient of many honors including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award given in the United States. He currently works as the dean and executive professor at Texas A&M University’s George Bush School of Government and Public Service.