'America's Role in the World' conference presents a convergence of ideas

Bipartisan teamwork was a theme for the panelists tackling global issues

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Asma Afsaruddin, right, IU professor of Near Eastern languages and cultures, discusses a point with a fellow scholar after a session about the crisis in the Middle East.

In opening statements about the United States' relationship with East Asia at the Indiana University School of Global and International Studies on Thursday, panelist Mireya Solís had words of caution for the audience.

"Credibility is like oxygen -- you know when you don't have it," said Solís, a senior fellow on foreign policy at the Brookings Center for East Asia Policy Studies.

Credibility was certainly not missing from the "America's Role in the World: Issues Facing the New President" conference, which featured bipartisan and esteemed speakers sharing their thoughts on global issues.

Solís' fellow panelists in the "East Asia and the World" session were Evan Feigenbaum, vice chairman of the Paulson Institute; Adam Liff, assistant professor of East Asian international relations at the School of Global and International Studies; and John Yasuda, assistant professor of East Asian languages and culture at the School of Global and International Studies. David Bosco, associate professor of international relations at the School of Global and International Studies, moderated the discussion.

During the discussion, Feigenbaum noted that nationalism, military-building and territory disputes -- situations once thought "frozen in time" -- were now at the forefront of East Asian relations. Panelists agreed that Pan-Asia will advance regardless of the United States' preferences and policies, though they had differing views on how to approach the situation.

Half of the panel, and half of the audience, questioned how the United States may influence policy in China, Korea and Japan. The other half questioned whether the U.S. should even try.

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Mireya Solís, center, of the Brookings Institution, makes a point during a discussion about East Asia. She is joined by David Bosco, left, IU associate professor of international studies, and John Yasuda, IU assistant professor of East Asian languages and cultures.

A similar pull between opinions on interventionism was apparent in the following session, "The Crisis in the Middle East." At the opening of the discussion, moderator and associate professor of international studies at the School of Global and International Studies Ron Sela reminded panelists and audience members of the complexity of the issues.

"It's important to remember that these crises did not begin overnight," Sela said.

Panelist Asma Afsaruddin, professor of Near Eastern languages and cultures at the School of Global and International Studies, opened with suggestions for how the United States can help the Middle East, including halting the support of authoritarian regimes in the name of short-term stability.

Fellow School of Global and International Studies faculty member Asaad Al-Saleh, assistant professor of Near Eastern languages and cultures and author of the book "Voices of the Arab Spring: Personal Stories of the Arab Revolutions," warned that previous support of oppressive governments by Western countries has created a culture of distrust of Western intervention in Middle Eastern countries.

Afsaruddin added that it is the responsibility of the current administration to curb Islamophobia in the U.S. to make a difference in distrust abroad.

Panelists Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations and Steven Simon, former assistant to the president, offered the view that the U.S. has little interest in the Middle East, complicating efforts for relationship building and domestic mending of xenophobic rhetoric.

Both sessions included statements of caution from both sides of the aisle, as their subject matter had no clear answer. Bipartisan teamwork was a theme of the conference, whose diverse panelists mirrored audience members with varying opinions and purposes for attending.

Conference attendee Barbara Carlson, minster emerita of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington, said her takeaway from the conference was that there is no easy solution.

"I attended because I've had a longtime commitment to justice, and I appreciate the opportunity to attend events like this at the university," Carlson said.

She added that she appreciated, particularly in the session covering the Middle East, that viewpoints expressed by some panelists focused on the search for peace.

IU graduate student Daniel Lopez attended both days of the conference. Lopez is pursuing a master's degree in public affairs through the School of Public and Environmental Affairs and said he attended the conference to broaden his knowledge of policy in preparation for a future career in policy analysis.

"Conferences like these have a twofold purpose," Lopez said. "First is having a gathering of all of these different, very important and very prestigious people to come together and debate policies. Second is for students like me who haven't yet started their career to see what people are capable of."