By Joe Stubel for The Island Connection
The world today is a different place than what it was when we were growing up.
In fact, our world has changed dramatically in just the last few years given the escalating instability in the Middle East, significant disease and pestilence outbreaks, massive immigration flows as a result of cultural/religious divides and wide ranging acts of terror. This has resulted in large-scale loss of life, compromised personal liberty and ongoing fear in our daily lives. These threats to world stability present serious challenges to leadership both in the US and elsewhere and fully understanding the larger picture remains challenging.
Last week, The World Affairs Council of Charleston, a regional thought leader in presenting and discussing events that impact our world, hosted Mr. Andrew Peek, a Fellow in Middle Eastern Affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington D.C., at The Citadel Alumni Center in downtown Charleston. Peek came highly qualified to present an overview of the continuing volatility in the Middle East and ISIS: The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In addition to his affiliation with the Middle Eastern Affairs group, he teaches at American University and at the school of Advanced International Affairs at Johns Hopkins University where he is a candidate for his PhD. Peek also previously served as a strategic adviser to the top US and NATO commanders in Afghanistan.
Peek asserted that there is no one terrorist organization more feared or with a greater global reach then ISIS, which now controls a landmass roughly the size of Massachusetts. ISIS’s primary objective is to erase the existing borders in the Middle East and create an independent Sunni state that practices strict allegiance to Islamic law.
The complexity of the various religious factions involved, new and emerging alliances with Russia, combined with a lack of a meaningful presence of Western forces today, all contribute to the ongoing challenges in the region. Peek believes that this growing conflict will not be resolved quickly and certainly not without sustained cooperation with a multitude of regional and international partners.
While the presentation content was sobering, Peek effectively supported WAC’s charter that getting the best information out to the widest group of people is a key starting point toward effective resolution.
The World Affairs Council of Charleston was founded in the early 1980s and operated for many years under the name Foreign Affairs Forum. When I sat down with Chuck Bensonhaver, president of WAC, he explained that the council is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization serving as an informational/educational resource for people interested in a broader and more in depth understanding of world events.
Membership in the organization is comprised of individuals from all walks of life and typically includes people who have worked or served abroad. There are currently 286 active members in the Charleston chapter with the majority of members equally represented from Mt. Pleasant/IOP/Sullivan’s Island, the Charleston Peninsula and John’s Island, Seabrook and Kiawah islands. Bensonhaver proudly pointed to the partnership with The Citadel and the contribution made by Al Thibault, the retired foreign services official who now serves as head of Programs for WAC, for ramping up the quality of subject matter and speakers.
Memberships in the council run from the fall to spring, with a total of 6 events in each season.
Prospective members are welcome and encouraged to attend a meeting. Prospective members may attend one meeting as a guest for a nominal charge of $20 per person and no preregistration is required. The $20 guest fee can be applied towards the membership fee. In addition to the above, WAC also offers a program to members called Great Decisions. Several groups of eight to 14 are organized in January of the new year and starting soon thereafter, the group meets twice a month through May. Before the discussion series begins, GD group members receive a current briefing book published by The Foreign Policy Association. The book highlights eight of the most thought-provoking foreign policy issues currently facing America. It provides background information, current data and policy options for each of the eight issues. Led by one of the group’s members, each discussion focuses on one of the eight topics.
Bensonhaver, Thibault, and other members of the executive committee are rightfully proud of the programs that WAC offers and look forward to growing their membership. Visit their website at WACCharleston.org and learn more about an interesting and timely program right here in the Lowcountry.
The final speaker of the 2015/2016 season is Chris Day, Assistant Professor in Department of Political Science at the College of Charleston. His talk, scheduled for May 2, will be on “The Conflicts of Africa: New Forms, New issues, New Worries for the United States.” It begins at 6 p.m., at the Citadel Alumni Center, 69 Hagood Ave., Charleston. A reception starts at 5:15 p.m.
Day spent many years in conflict environments in South Sudan, Liberia, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Uganda and other countries as an aid worker, with the UN, Doctors Without Borders and other humanitarian groups, and also in India and Sri Lanka, before pursuing an academic career which brought him to the College of Charleston.