Deborah K. Jones, a former U.S. Ambassador to Libya, spent 37 years as a career diplomat, serving as ambassador to Kuwait from 2008 to 2011, and assuming various other posts throughout the Middle East, Africa and South America. In a lecture titled “Enduring U.S. Interests in the Near East,” held Wednesday afternoon, Jones also discussed how the United States can continue to maintain its strategic interests in the Middle East while cooperating with governments and rebel factions in the region.
Jones began by addressing the Trump administration’s approach to foreign policy. She said she found it ironic the current president was born soon after Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his famous “Four Freedoms” speech on rights any citizen of the world should enjoy — freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear — yet did not subscribe to those views.
“Isn’t it fascinating that in the first months of this presidency, we’ve already had fear, we had speech issues and we had talk that we were no longer going to be concerned with arms control,” she said. “If someone wants to get a nuke, great, get on ’em. Really? I don’t think so.”
Jones emphasized that bringing peace and stability to the Middle East instead of creating enemies would be beneficial to the United States and global interests.
“It is in our interest to have countries prosper economically because otherwise if they’re not, where are they going to go?” Jones asked. “What makes sense? It creates more jobs for everybody. A rising tide lifts all ships, as the saying goes.”
Jones said she believes pursuing U.S. interests does not necessarily have to damage other countries. Though it may not satisfy everyone, she said, diplomats need to first and foremost manage the risk that comes with tenuous international relationships.
“Our first obligation as a nation-state is to the American people, so hopefully it doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game,” Jones said in an interview after the lecture. “I think that all of these things are part of a dialogue … we can’t necessarily compel so we have to influence.”
When an audience member asked Jones about the 2012 Benghazi attack, she replied that issues with the security and communication at the scene — such as the unpreparedness of the new Libyan government and how American military help could not have reached the complex in time to arrive on the scene — defies the oft-repeated claim that the State Department neglected the victims.
“If you want to believe that the U.S. military can defy all laws of physics and arrive in a place within 15 minutes from Italy or another place just like it happens in the movies, believe it, but it’s not true,” Jones said. “When they’re in high readiness posture, it takes at least an hour to get ready and get on a plane.”
LSA senior Joachim Taieb said he was intrigued to hear a former government official’s account of the incidents that defies the simplistic narrative of U.S. intervention in Libya.
“It was interesting to have the viewpoint of an official from the United States … especially because as a French (international) student I didn’t know a lot about Benghazi and how it impacted so much the United States, and you have so much debate about that,” Taieb said.
After all was said and done, however, Jones said she still believed that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East will continue to be the same as the Trump administration finds out why such policies were enacted in the first place.
“Hopefully, we have strong relationships (with allies in the Middle East) and that those partnerships will continue as we look for ways to work to make sure that humans — people everywhere — can live and work in dignity,” she said.