Last Thursday, April 1 at 6:00 p.m., St. Mary’s students and staff gathered in St. Mary’s Hall to listen to a lecture given by Bruce Riedel, an expert on political transition and counter terrorism and the former policy adviser to Barack Obama during his presidential campaign. The lecture was sponsored by the Center for the Study of Democracy, a non-profit organization that explores historical and contemporary issues related to democracy and provides presentations by government officials and scholars for undergraduate students.
At the beginning of his lecture, Riedel informed his audience that he was not a spokesperson for the United States government. He explained that a war that “should have been over in 2002 and 2003” is now the longest-lasting war in American history. Riedel stated that the problems in the Middle East have been “inherited” by President Obama, and that the United States’ relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan have tensioned. He discussed Al Qaeda and its battle with the U.S. According to Riedel, there is an “unprecedented degree of pressure on Al Qaeda—[the U.S] is killing their key leaders…drones are being fired on Al Qaeda to weaken it…and the battle is far from over.” Riedel added that “by the middle of next year we [the United States government] should be knowing if this [method of eradication of Al Qaeda leaders] is working.”
Riedel said he regretted to inform the audience of such a glum topic. He stated that, “[the U.S government] doesn’t know where Osama Bin Laden is…[we] haven’t known since November 2001.” He added that, “we [America] has let this war get away from us.” Fortunately, though, he explained that President Obama has begun a new operation. The amount of troops in Afghanistan has increased by 70,000 over the period of nine years (from 2001 to 2010), and the U.S government has “tripled economic assistance to Pakistan and has promised the same amount each year for the next five years” in an attempt to smooth the tensions between the U.S and Pakistan.
First-year St. Mary’s student and Political Science major Theresa Wambach enjoyed the lecture. She said that she has gained insight into the war on terror, and added that she didn’t realize the important role Pakistan has played, “in terms of how [the United States] is going to fight the war on terror in the future.” She believed Riedel was a good government official to host at the college because “he is someone who knows what is going on…the lecture was informative of what has happened recently [regarding the war] rather than a long time ago.”
Riedel concluded his lecture on a hopeful note. He stated, “with the right policy, the right resources, we [the U.S] can defeat [Al Qaeda and the Taliban],” especially because, “Al Qaeda is a minority in a minority in the Islamic world.”
Alex Walls, also a first-year student at St. Mary’s, is a Public Policy major who attended the lecture and believed that he “gained a better understanding of the problems facing both the Pakistani and Afghani governments and the United State’s role in the Middle East.”
Riedel received his B.A from Brown University and his M.A from Harvard University. In addition to his University studies, Riedel studied in London at the Royal College of Defense Studies. He is a former CIA officer, and, in 2009, he was invited by President Barack Obama to oversee an interagency review of policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan. He has been a Policy Advisor to three other U.S presidents.