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Former Ambassador Addresses Middle East Situation

Gnehm Class
Former Ambassador Skip Gnehm visits a political science class at MHU prior to his evening lecture.

As the global superpower, the United States has a responsibility to lead the world in seeking solutions to the rise of radicalism and violence in the Middle East, as well as acting in its own national interests, according to former ambassador Edward "Skip" Gnehm, who spoke September 18, 2014, at Mars Hill University as part of the Presidential Lecture and Performance Series.

Leadership in seeking those solutions does not necessarily mean resorting to war, but it does mean working with the regional states to confront the threats to the world posed by radical groups and centuries-old feuds, he said.

"While the situation appears grim today, there are reasons to see a better future," Gnehm said. "Regional states appear ready to act together with outside support to confront the radicalization that has taken place…The U.S., if it remains steadfast and attentive to regional sensitivities, can be an important catalyst in the global effort to address the ISIS and radical Islamic threat."

Gnehm's lecture was appropriately titled, "The Middle East Cauldron," and touched on numerous interlocking historical, cultural and religious tensions throughout the region that have led to the brutality and violence the area is experiencing.

"The Middle East today is a seething cauldron – a kaleidoscope of disorder, instability, and turmoil. From North Africa and the fractured state of Libya, to Egypt under military authority, to Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, one finds a collapse of political systems in some cases to such an extent that it even threatens the existence of the regimes themselves," he said.

As a former ambassador to Jordan, Australia and Kuwait, Gnehm is an expert on the Middle East region, both from academic and personal standpoints. He had a long and distinguished career with the Foreign Service and served under seven presidents, attaining the rank of career minister.

Gnehm received the Presidential Distinguished Service Award in 2000. In 2004 Secretary of State Colin Powell awarded Ambassador Gnehm the Secretary of State's Distinguished Service Award for his work in Jordan. He also received two Presidential Meritorious Service Awards in 1990 for his public service as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, and in 1991, for his service as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. During his career he received a number of other State Department awards, including Superior Honor Awards for his service in Kuwait and Riyadh, in Washington as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, and in Taif, Saudi Arabia, as Special Envoy to the Kuwaiti Government, and Meritorious Honor Awards for his work in Damascus and Beirut.

Since 2004, he has been a member of the faculty of the George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs. He is the Kuwait Professor of Gulf and Arabian Peninsula Affairs and the Director of the Middle East Policy Forum.

According to Gnehm, Americans must be aware of what the U.S. can and cannot do in the Middle East. He quoted author Shibley Telhami from his book, The Stakes, in saying, "The U.S. has the power to reshuffle the deck in the Middle East, but not to determine how the cards will fall."

That uncertainty means that the U.S. must engage and lead in the region, but with a spirit of cooperation.

Gnehm said: "The U.S. has enormous resources and fantastic capabilities to affect and influence regional developments; but we do not control all factors and actors on the group, and we never will. Hence, it becomes crucial that, if we wish to advance our interests, we must work with the governments and peoples in the region."

In addition to the lecture, Ambassador Gnehm spent the day on Thursday going to several classrooms at Mars Hill, speaking with students and answering questions.

Mars Hill University's Presidential Lecture and Performance Series complements the university's emphasis on the liberal arts by bringing distinguished and knowledgeable individuals to lecture on a wide range of topics and to provide high quality performances in the cultural arts.