On March 17, 2017, the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center hosted a discussion with Congressman Adam Kinzinger to discuss America’s role in the Middle East and the world. Ambassador Frederic C. Hof, director of the Hariri Center, moderated the event.
Kinzinger began by emphasizing that self-governance should be one of America’s mission statements for the world. He said that the Soviet Union’s dissolution was mainly due to the change in ideas among its citizens: the Soviet people saw Western life as a model and started to demand their freedom from the Soviet government. Kinzinger noted, however, that unlike during the Cold War era, there are now multiple “iron curtains” such as ISIS, authoritarian regimes, and discrimination. He explained that another mission statement of America should be to recognize those curtains and pull them down, and underscored that America’s most important goal in the Middle East should be to bring freedom.
In the moderated discussion, Hof asked about the Congressman’s vision for dealing with ISIS and what he tells his constituents who are war-weary and do not view the Middle East as a priority. Kinzinger responded that America now must fight the next generation of the war on terrorism. Kinzinger agreed that Americans have a war fatigue. However, he argued that if America leaves the Middle East, the region will be in worse shape in ten to fifteen years. Turning to the question of what the United States should do about the conflict in Syria, he stressed that people who believe Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is bad but ISIS is worse are misinformed. He added that it will be challenging for authoritarian regimes to remain in power in the era of the new technologies and social media like Twitter that offer citizens a platform to organize and rise up against them. Kinzinger said that he does not advocate US intervention in every conflict around the world, but cases like Syria are unique. He went on to argue that those who say Libya is an example of why American interventions are problematic miss the point that Libya today is in far better condition than Syria. Kinzinger stated that he believes that the Syrian conflict should be resolved without Assad remaining in power, and then, Syrians can return to their country and re-build.
Kinzinger also spoke about US relations with other countries. Hof asked for Kinzinger’s reaction to Secretary Rex Tillerson’s statement about “all options” being on the table against North Korea. Kinzinger responded that the United States has a sworn duty to defend its allies neighboring North Korea, and that “all options” to him runs the gamut from diplomatic to military. He added that the answer to the North Korean problem is relying on Russian and Chinese pressure on North Korea. In response to a question from the audience about Yemen, Kinzinger said that the new administration will do more to solve the conflict and that he hopes to see Iranian influence diminish in Yemen in the future. At the end of the discussion, Kinzinger responded to a question about the United States’ NATO allies. He stated that the relations between the United States and Turkey are important to sustain but the disagreements, including the Kurdish issue, between the two countries should be discussed openly. Kinzinger also emphasized that Germany has to pay its share of two percent gross domestic product (GDP) to NATO.