United States Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad called for the country to play an active role and to work with moderate forces in order to stabilize the Middle East in a speech Wednesday in Gaston Hall.

Khalilzad, who has formerly been both the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and to Afghanistan, said that the world, and especially the United States, cannot show indifference toward the future of the iddle East. “Therefore the rest of the world has a profound interest in helping the Muslim world come out of this crisis in a good way,” he said. “This is especially true for the United States, given our global interests and responsibilities.”

To strengthen the United States’ internal capabilities, Khalilzad said, steps should be taken toward lowering homeland security risks and reducing the country’s dependence on Middle East resources – for example, the United States should develop petroleum substitutes.

“At the same time… all our institutions need to be renewed, shedding counterproductive rules and procedures that thwart creativity and ossify structures,” he said. He noted that military forces must start specializing in fighting “modern irregular warfare.”

In addressing the United States’ need to remain alert to extremist groups that use terrorist tactics, such as al-Qaeda, Khalilzad said that it is important that the country “make life as dangerous for our terrorist enemies as possible.” Khalilzad said that the United States should focus on preventing terrorist organizations from finding sanctuaries, as they have already done in Sudan and Afghanistan and are trying to do in Pakistan.

He urged the United States to partner with local actors in preventing these groups from finding havens in other regions. “It was this model that toppled the Taliban,” he said. “It is also this model, using Sunni Arab tribes as our partners, that has helped to stabilize the al-Anbar province and devastate al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

Khalilzad also said the United States must marginalize extremist operations and forces in the Middle East if a lasting peace is to be obtained in the region. He said that although al-Qaeda leaders want to spread their Muslim ideology, they are not afraid to use force to do so.

At the same time, he said, the United States and its allies have many advantages in fighting against the al-Qaeda forces in the region. “The majority of the people in the broader Middle East do not wish to live under extremist, tyrannical regions such as that of the Taliban,” he said. “They do not want to become like the West, but they want to enjoy the benefits – social, economic and intellectual – of modernity.”

Khalilzad said the United States can take three steps toward achieving his desired offensive operations: it can stabilize countries outside the Middle East with a Muslim majority, it can form coalitions with friendly states in the region and it can work toward building the area’s civil society.

“There is a temptation, when confronting the challenges of the iddle East, to fall back to the option of walling off the region or building a fence to keep the region’s problems away. This is an illusion, as we tragically discovered on 9/11,” Khalilzad said. “We need to mitigate the threat, but we also need to ready ourselves for the generations-long effort to help our friends in the Middle East transform their region.”

The lecture was the 26th annual in the Iden Lecture series, named in honor of Oscar Iden (SFS ’24). It was sponsored by the Institute Study of Diplomacy and the U.N. Association for National Capital Area.

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