Bodine Offers Perspective on Policy in MidEast

Barbara Bodine, former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Yemen, addressed the Phillips Academy community about her experiences in the Middle East, highlighting the ongoing efforts to rebuild in Iraq. Ambassador Bodine spoke this Wednesday as part of a series of All-School Meeting speakers, which Head of School Barbara Chase said serves to “illuminate all the issues during this year’s presidential campaign.” According to Instructor in History and Social Science and Head of the ASM Committee Derek Williams, the committee invited Ambassador Bodine to campus in order to “represent the current Republican administration.” However, Ambasssador Bodine, who is former ambassador under the current Presidential administration, expressed her disappointment with the administration’s policies in Iraq. She said that the administration’s goal of leaving a self-sufficient, sovereign Iraq within a year of the invasion was unrealistic. Over a year after the estimated completion time, these goals have still not been achieved. “[As] someone who has clearly been on the inside of President Bush’s administration, [the ASM Committee] assumed that she would enlighten us about the current administration’s foreign policies,” Mr. Williams said. However, given Ambassador Bodine’s words on Iraq, Mr. Williams said that he was “surprised” by the anti-administration tone of her presentation. “In the end, however, what it all comes down to is that [Ambassador Bodine] represented herself,” said Mr. Williams. Ambassador Bodine’s address was part of what some believe to be the second ASM in which the featured speaker did not present the political perspective anticipated by the ASM committee. During last week’s ASM, the first of the four with speakers about the 2004 presidential elections, Evan Thomas ’69, was expected to “lay out the issues without a partisan spin,” said Mr. Williams. However, some students felt that Mr. Thomas, who is the Associate Managing Editor of Newsweek, spoke more favorably of President George W. Bush ’64 than of Senator John Kerry. In spite of these reactions, Mr. Williams said that he believed that “Mr. Thomas didn’t take a position and presented a broad overview of the political issues surrounding this year’s presidential election.” Mr. Thomas said he had not yet decided which candidate to support in November. The ASM committee has worked this year to bring equal numbers of Bush and Kerry supportersto speak to Andover students. Next week, Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government Professor Roger Porter will be, “presenting the case for the Bush Campaign,” said Mr. Williams. The following week, Vanessa Kerry ’95 will round off the series with a speech on behalf of the Kerry/Edwards campaign. Ambassador Bodine said that a senior member of the Bush administration said that “[the U.S.] did not need a plan” for post-war Iraq and that “[the U.S.] would go in…appoint an interim government, hold a constitutional convention, draft a constitution and a leave a sovereign land by August [of 2003].” She also said that this senior official believed that the removal of Saddam Hussein as Iraq’s head of state would solve much of Iraq’s problems and that after installing “a set of processes” in Iraq, the US could then just “leave [the achievement of democracy in Iraq] on autopilot.” “Democracy is an ongoing work in progress, the result of evolution and not revolution,” she said. Ambassador Bodine also touched on several other issues regarding the Middle East, explaining that the “Middle East has been in turmoil for most of the 20th and 21st century” and is subject to a “turbulent history both in the present and future.” She said that, having previously been in a position of much more dominance, the region’s position today carries among its governments such sentiments as being “left in the dirt,” and “neglected,” by the United States. The Middle East currently plays the role of being “acted upon,” but would much rather play the role of the “actor,” she said. In terms of the US’s position on the Middle East, Ambassador Bodine said that the “US opts for change as change is good.” However, Ambassador Bodine continued that although change is something that the Middle East wants, “change would also be received with uncertainty and discomfort.” “One way to success is through focusing on education,” she said. Another is through “focusing on an area’s businesses.” Ambassador Bodine said that “although change in the Middle East isn’t taking place as fast as it should, it is not stagnant.” She characterized the region as having a “large and burdening young population,” and the challenge of “corrosive corruption.” In 2003, Ambassador Bodine served as the Coordinator for Post-Conflict Reconstruction for Baghdad and Central Iraq.