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AUK Center for Gulf Studies (CGS) Hosts Lecture by Ambassador Daniel Benjamin

In collaboration with the Department of International Relations and the Department of Communications and Media, the Center for Gulf Studies (CGS) at AUK hosted a lecture by Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, a distinguished diplomat, journalist, and the Director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College. The talk, entitled "Navigating the Storm: US-GCC Relations in an Era of Disruption" addressed the dramatic shift in US policy towards the Persian Gulf region and the steps regional players may take to strengthen their voice in the American government's regional deliberations. The lecture was held in the AUK auditorium, and attracted many of the AUK community and the public.

Director of CGS, Dr. Farah Al-Nakib, kicked off the event by introducing Dr. Shareefa Al-Adwani, Assistant Professor of Political Science at AUK, as the new Acting Director of CGS, who in turn introduced the center's inaugural event of the semester and the Ambassador.

During his talk, the Ambassador designated President Trump's alternative title as "disrupter-in-chief," exploring how his sometimes extreme and often unpredictable approach to his position is changing the role of the presidency, particularly as he is challenging established alliances by focusing on big states and taking sides against longtime partners in regional disputes. This has led to the escalation of major political issues such as nuclear threats from North Korea, his silence on Russia's actions in intervening in the U.S. elections, in menacing the Baltics, and in being unforgiving towards Syria.

Taking Saudi Arabia as another example, he discussed how President Trump's approach can be particularly problematic due to the emergence of a newly energized Saudi leader who has a more confrontational approach to Iran, intervened in Yemeni and Lebanese politics, and has shifted the internal power dynamics of the Saudi royal family. In his own actions, the President's approach shows little regard for the views of most regional actors, resulting in tension in foreign policy and has compromised American's role as a Middle East mediator.

Regarding how he foresees the consequences of President Trump's actions, the Ambassador maintained that his view is closer to Stewart Patrick, the Director of the Program on International Institutions & Global Governance in the Council on Foreign Relations-the global liberal order has not collapsed, but President Trump certainly threatens its existence through his embrace of isolationist and nationalist policies. As such, the Ambassador sought to reassure the audience that government agencies will work to mediate these policies. Further, the speaker encouraged increased engagement with the US by Middle Eastern countries to build values through communities and universities, expressing particular pride on behalf of Dartmouth to have had a longstanding link with AUK.

"I think it is important that the people in Kuwait and the Gulf hear voices that are not the same as the official ones coming out of Washington, and I hope that is reassuring", said the Ambassador. "I wanted to urge our friends in the Gulf, in an appropriate way, to make their voices heard, because they have big interests and a longtime relationship with Washington, and it is important that they are understood." He also commented, "I was also happy to be here on behalf of Dartmouth to get to meet with the faculty, students, and the leadership and I am delighted we have this relationship with AUK. It is a great institution and I hope our ties grow better and better."

Towards the end of the lecture, the audience was invited to engage in a lively discussion with the speaker where they tackled their concerns regarding the volatility of Trump's tweets, whether we should expect a third World War, and Washington's controversial stance on Palestinian affairs. The overarching response was that it is an unpredictable time in Washington and that the framework on which they used to operate is currently being challenged.

Following the Ambassador's segment of the lecture, Dr. Al-Adwani made sure to end on a high note by recognizing Dr. Al-Nakib's consistent and successful efforts in contributing to the Center's growth, and her ability to bring together various communities in Kuwait. After Dr. Al-Nakib obtained her PhD and joined AUK as Assistant Professor of History, she became Director of the CGS the same year. Over the last seven years, Dr. Al-Nakib has become an Associate Professor of History and has contributed to making the Center a key academic institution in the region.

In commenting on the significance of CGS's scholarly interaction with the students, Dr. Al-Adwani said: "We were very lucky to have a frank discussion with Ambassador Daniel Benjamin on the various topics of the American presidency, the White House, and its relationship with the GCC. A lot of us do appreciate honesty in understanding the strategies of the US because it can help us best plan here in Kuwait."

Ambassador Daniel Benjamin is the Director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College. He previously served at the U.S. State Department as Secretary Hillary Clinton's principal advisor on issues related to terrorism. He also directed the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, and served as a foreign policy speechwriter and Special Assistant to President Bill Clinton. Benjamin is co-author of the award-winning book The Age of Sacred Terror (2002). He writes frequently for the New York Times, Politico, TIME Magazine and many other publications.

The Center for Gulf Studies is a research center under the College of Arts and Sciences at the American University of Kuwait. The center aims to promote greater cultural understanding of and increased intellectual interest in the Gulf, by facilitating free and open academic discourse on a range of issues that both shape and challenge this critical region of the world. Their goal is to enable scholars as well as political and civil society actors both within and outside the region to contribute and add value to the burgeoning field of Gulf Studies. To this end, the center seeks to encourage, support, and cultivate interesting and original research on the Gulf, and to create an environment in which AUK students and faculty can interact and collaborate with researchers and activists from around the world in creative and engaging ways.

Ambassador Daniel Benjamin

Audience Q&A with Ambassador Daniel Benjamin

(From left to right) CGS Director Dr. Farah Al-Nakib, CGS Acting Director Dr. Shareefa Al-Adwani, Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, AUK President Dr. Tim Sullivan, AUK Provost Dr. Rawda Awwad, AUK Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Dr. Ali Charara

Released by the Office of Public Affairs on the 13th February 2018

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