Lecturer on Syria Questions U.S. Policy

On Wednesday, February 8, Moshe Ma’oz from the United States Institute of Peace spoke about the Syria’s current conflict with the United States and Israel. The lecture, sponsored by the Department of Political Science, covered the current standing of Israel, and the Bush administration’s relation with Israel and Syria.

“The current conflict between the U.S. and Syria is the worst ever,” Ma’oz said.

Ma’oz spoke of Syria’s opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Syria has publicly criticized the U.S.

Ma’oz received a doctorate in history of the Modern Middle East from St. Antony’s College, Oxford and a Master’s degree from Hebrew University. Ma’oz is a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he specializes in Syria, Palestine and Arab-Israel relations. He served twice as Director of the Harry S. Truman Institute for Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University and has twice been a Visiting Professor of Political Science at Colgate.

Ma’oz has also served as an advisor to Israeli Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and as a member of the Knesset Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense. He is the author of seven books and over 50 scholarly articles.

Ma’oz noted that the main interest the U.S. has in Syria is related to terrorism, which is the prime focus of Bush’s national security policy.

The Bush administration believes that imposing democracy is one solution to the problems in the Middle East, Ma’oz said. He said that the policy is very “Jeffersonian” and very unlike that of his father, former President George Bush and that of former President Bill Clinton.

Ma’oz stated that forcing democracy on the people is taking away from other issues that need to be addressed in Syria.

“[Bush’s] new idea is a superficial approach to a more complex problem,” Ma’oz said. He commented that the U.S. might be motivated by religion and should work out problems with the country peacefully rather than imposing a new government.

A common theme of the lecture was, “Why does the United States have the power to tell Syria it is wrong?” Ma’oz told the audience to reflect on the question. Ma’oz proposed that Bush’s view of Syria as a terrible country might be incongruous with the one found in the country.

“What if a dictatorship works better for them?” he questioned.

Some of the audience had mixed feelings about his argument.

“I thought the Ma’oz lecture was interesting because I knew very little about Syrian-Israeli politics before,” Associate Director of Alumni Affairs Pat Buckley Buckley said. “But I found it difficult to figure out what all of his points were and where he was trying to go with his points.”

Jones had a similar opinion.

“I thought that Moshe Ma’oz pointed out some interesting information that I was unfamiliar with before, but I think that his discussion lacked one critical area,” he said. “The domestic situation in Syria was not discussed enough. He discussed domestic Israeli politics and public opinion to a great extent, and even dealt with American opinions in the same issues, but domestic Syrian politics were all but forgotten.”

Ma’oz made his audience think and ended the lecture with laughter.

“The United States should consider or reconsider negotiating with Syria by hugging and by embracing,” Ma’oz commented with a grin.