Congressman Explores Diplomacy

Brad Nguyen | Staff Photographer

Brad Nguyen | Staff Photographer
Peter Kovach, a public diplomacy specialist and diplomat-in-residence at UCLA, reads a speech about by Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, at the World Affairs Council of Orange County’s 2008 Spring Gala last Friday.

Peter Kovach, a diplomat-in-residence at the University of California, Los Angeles and Ed Royce, the Republican congressman of California’s 40th District, spoke as part of the World Affairs Council of Orange County’s 2008 Spring Gala. Aimed at creating a discussion forum for topics of international interest, the Gala was held at the Balboa Bay Club and Resort in Newport Beach on Friday, May 2.
Although Kovach served as the keynote speaker of the event, the speech recited was actually written by Zalmay Khalizad, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, who was originally scheduled to speak at the event. However, due to mechanical difficulties, Khalizad’s flight from Washington, D.C. to California was canceled at the last minute.
Still, Kovach emphasized that filling in for Khalizad at such short notice was not a problem for him as public diplomats are conditioned to have loose schedules.
“The foreign service flexibility is kind of a hallmark. You roll with the punches. … It’s kind of fun; I was kind of wondering what I was going to do tonight,” Kovach said.
Prior to the speeches, Dr. James Coyle, the chairman of the World Affairs Council of Orange County, announced that his organization would be donating $5,000 to UC Irvine’s international studies program.
Deborah Avant, director of the international studies program at UCI, was there to accept the donation and stated that she was pleased by the gesture as her program is continuously growing.
“We are doing so many things in international studies. … I could spend this money four times over,” Avant said.
As the focus of the night switched from the World Affairs Council’s efforts to the broader topic of global issues, Kovach took center stage.
Reading Khalizad’s words, Kovach stressed that the development of the Middle East is not simply an important international concern, but is the central subject relevant to this generation.
“The future of the broader Middle East is geopolitically the defining issue of our time—the same way that managing the European balance of power was geopolitically the central challenge of the 19th century and the early 20th century and that managing the Cold War was the focus of a generation,” Kovach read.
Kovach went on to express that, though the future of the region is important, whether or not the region will progress remains questionable. According to Khalizad, the reason that the Middle East remains in a state of uncertainty is largely due to its vulnerability to terrorists, who only make up a fraction of the region’s population but remain a powerful force.
“These extremists are a minority … in the region as a whole and that’s important to remember, but they dominate parts of it. … The overall goal of our American policy remains to contain the league of extremists, to cultivate and empower moderates and to encourage the globalization of this region,” Kovach read.
In order to accomplish these goals, Kovach recited eight general pillars outlined by Khalizad. First, the United States must reduce the capabilities for destructive events to take place in the area. Second, the United States must stay on the offensive in reaction to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. Third, Americans must reduce regional conflicts such as those existing between Arabs and Israelis. Fourth, the country must limit regional hegemony such as that practiced by Iran. Fifth, the United States must strengthen its relationships with friends in the region to marginalize extremism. Sixth, the United States should help to promote economic opportunities in the Middle East. Seventh, the nation should work to create cooperative efforts in the Middle East as a central organizing principle for major international alliances. Lastly, the nation must reform its policies to make these challenges less difficult.
Following the speech, Kovach told the New University that he agreed entirely with Khalizad’s words and would not have recited it if he had a difference of opinion.
“I loved the speech and it was beautifully written,” Kovach said. “You know [the Middle East] is my part of the world, too, even though I’m not an ethnic and you know I’m definitely not a Muslim. But I think he really gets it. That speech is sort of a slam-dunk overview of the American idea.”
Kovach further interpreted the speech, believing that, though the United States can have a significant role in aiding development of Middle Eastern countries, it cannot aid the area by itself.
“[The speech] had a few words of caution about the limits. We cannot embrace reform or support a civil society because … in a lot of these countries, there’s a culture of some degree of political paranoia and if we’re seen as a hidden hand it completely undoes the effort. That’s why sometimes an international democracy promoting organization is a lot more effective,” Kovach said.
Although also touching upon concerns pertaining to the Middle East, Royce’s speech following Kovach’s extended to a greater variety of international concerns, specifically stressing the issues of global communication and U.S.-North Korea relations.
In terms of the Middle East, Royce believes that there has been a tremendous amount of progress in such countries as Afghanistan, which was democratized through U.S. involvement. Royce illustrated this by showing that 48 percent of the University of Kabul in Afghanistan is made up of female students.
Addressing the issue of global democratization, Royce made reference to Radio-Free Europe/Radio Liberty – a U.S.-created communication organization – as a model of success in spreading free speech to hostile areas of the world. Royce particularly emphasized the efforts of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan in giving speeches through this entity to communist nations. Royce went on to theorize that Afghanistan could be democratized in the same fashion.
“Reagan was onto something with the radio broadcast that he used to do … that went into Eastern Europe and went into the Soviet Union to give people the kinds of preparation for democracy … that is going on in Afghanistan today and it is having an effect,” Royce said.
John Altick, a second-year political science graduate student, found Royce’s comments intriguing, particularly as they concentrated on making radios more widely available.
“I was interested to hear the congressman’s take … on encouraging this idea of disseminating cheap radios,” Altick said.
Royce turned his focus to North Korea, a country currently absent of any democratic presence. While Royce believes that diplomacy is the ideal way to deal with any country, he stated that if diplomacy fails with North Korea, there is a fallback method that has proven effective.
“The strategy to have impact on North Korea is a strategy in which we should follow the rule of law. … When North Korea counterfeits our currency, when North Korea violates international laws on the high seas, simply enforce the law and choke off funds to the regime,” Royce said.
Royce cited an example of this strategy in action when following North Korea breaking international law and counterfeiting U.S. currency, diplomatic relations fell apart. However, after the United Nations enforced sanctions and closed a Chinese bank account being used by North Korea to launder money, North Korea became incapable of paying for its military. Subsequently, the North Korean regime quickly re-entered diplomatic negotiations with the United States.
Although Royce’s speech was largely hopeful, not all attendees felt the same way on all topics, such as Colin Moore, a fourth-year political science graduate student.
“[In analyzing] the variety of subjects covered … [Royce] looked a little too optimistic … I didn’t share his optimism,” Moore said.
As the night wound down, Coyle thanked all attendees for coming and invited anyone interested to the World Affairs Council of Orange County’s next event featuring the British Consul General Bob Peirce on June 7 at The Village Crean, a venue overlooking Back Bay in Newport Beach.