Trudy Rubin, a Pulitzer Prize nominee and columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, called upon her personal experiences in the Middle East Oct. 4 when talking to Drexel University students about the wars at the lecture.
Titled “Who Lost Iraq and Afghanistan: A look backward and forward at what we will leave behind,” the speech was the first in a series of retrospective talks given at Drexel concerning the Obama administration. It was hosted by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Drexel Arabic Language Association in the Bossone Research Center’s Mitchell Auditorium.
Joel Oestreich, the director of international area studies, and Kate Hughes, the assistant director of international area studies, were the driving forces behind creating the lecture series focused on the Obama administration this year.
“Given the timeliness of it and that we’re going into election season, it’s a good chance to really reflect on how the current administration has impacted international affairs,” Hughes said. “We wanted to have a journalist. So someone who has really addressed all sides who has practical experience, and [Rubin] has written extensively on this region for a decade.”
Rubin, author of “Willful Blindness: The Bush administration and Iraq,” has traveled to the Middle East as recently as May and has been to Iraq 11 times.
“It’s important to know what’s going on in places where we still have around close to 140,000 troops,” Rubin said. “It’s easy for students to just focus on the here and now, but these are their friends that they went to high school with that are out there fighting.”
With close to 40 people in attendance, primarily students, the lecture was followed by a question-and-answer session between Rubin and audience members.
Robert Keyser, a sophomore international area studies major, decided to attend the event after hearing about Rubin’s lecture through an email he received from the University.
“I just wanted to generally get her take on what she thinks about the whole situation, and maybe it will change my opinion,” Keyser said. “I’ve read an article or two of hers before, and I agree with her position a lot.”
Jessica Cordisco, a sophomore at Drexel and an international area studies major, went to the lecture to support the Drexel Arabic Language Association, of which she is a member.
“I think it’d be interesting to get not exactly an educated person’s opinion but just something that’s not news slander,” Cordisco said. “She takes a different approach than everyone else.”
Rubin called upon personal experience for much of her lecture points.
“If you go there, you kind of tend to know more,” Rubin said. “I don’t think you could write about Iraq or Afghanistan without going there because both are so complicated that if you’re just sitting back here and trying to figure it all out from what you read, you just don’t have a feel for it.”
During the lecture, Rubin outlined the three main mistakes made by the United States in its dealings with the war in Afghanistan. She cited the United States’ first mistake as its inability to keep attention focused on the task at hand.
“As you may know, not long after we went into Afghanistan, the Bush administration was already planning the war in Iraq based on the mistaken premise that Saddam Hussein was building nuclear weapons and was harboring al-Qaeda, neither of which was correct,” Rubin said. “Because we shifted our attention so quickly, all of the intelligence assets and resources that would have allowed us to try to bury the Taliban leaders that still wanted to permit violence in the country were shifted to the Iraqi issue. Money was shifted. We basically lost our focus and didn’t pay attention.”
According to Rubin, the second failure of the United States was not “rebuilding the country with the billions we’ve poured into it.”
Citing a congressionally mandated commission on wartime contracting, Rubin explained that billions of dollars have disappeared into private contractors’ pockets when they were hired by the government to do jobs for which they were ill equipped.
Rubin said that, in her opinion, the third mistake made by the United States was its inability to foster good relations with Pakistan. According to Rubin, The United States needs the Pakistani army to cooperate with anti-terrorism efforts, or the effort will be a total failure.
“The reason that Pakistan is so central to whether or not we succeed in Afghanistan is because the Taliban leadership, who has reconstituted, who has come back, who is assassinating leaders, who is terrorizing people in the south so they don’t send their sons to the army, is all based in Pakistan right across the border from Afghanistan,” Rubin said.
Rubin’s answer to the lecture’s title question, whether or not the U.S. has lost the war, depends heavily on Pakistan.
“It depends on if U.S. pressure, which is finally now mounting on Pakistan, has any results,” Rubin said. “Unless Pakistan can be pressed to play a productive role, I’m afraid that when we pull out of Afghanistan in 2014, we are going to leave behind a country that will fall under Taliban control in the south and the east and will lapse into civil war between those areas and the north and will be an area into which terrorists come again to base.”
According to Hughes, there is no scheduled speaker as of yet for the next part in the lecture series, but the topic of choice will most likely focus on the global economy.
Additional reporting by Ariel Pollak.