Former U.S. ambassador to UN discusses Middle Eastern politics at UC Berkeley

Lianne Frick/Staff

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More than 100 students filled Morgan Hall on Tuesday night to hear Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, discuss his rise to U.S. diplomacy and his insights into the future of the Middle East.

The event was organized by Oliver Ma, external vice president of Delta Phi Epsilon, and was co-hosted by students of Delta Phi Epsilon, Kappa Alpha Pi, UC Berkeley Model UN, Berkeley Model UN, Amnesty International, Sigma Iota Rho and the Alexander Hamilton Society.

“Since many of our members are political science majors or otherwise involved in politics-related spheres, we knew that partnering with Delta Phi Epsilon for this event was going to be extremely beneficial to not only our own members, but to pre-law and politically engaged students in general,” said Katherine Liu, legal events and planning committee chair of Kappa Alpha Pi, in an email.

Ma said he invited Khalilzad to speak on campus because of his influential role in shaping the Middle East and his knowledge about the future of Middle Eastern politics and ISIS. Ma also noted Khalilzad’s status as the highest-serving Muslim in American history.

During the moderator question-and-answer session of the event, Kappa Alpha Pi member Leah Weaver asked Khalilzad what impact his religious identity had on his role.

Khalilzad said at the event that while he identifies as Muslim, he has always related more to his Afghan roots, feeling a stronger national rather than religious identity.

While serving as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Khalilzad said he found his Afghan roots to be “a great asset.” Knowledge of Afghanistan and ties to the region opened doors that might have otherwise remained closed, Khalilzad added.

When asked by moderator and Delta Phi Epsilon President Chris Seeley how Iraq’s governmental body might change if ISIS were defeated, Khalilzad said if ISIS is militarily overthrown, preventing it from rising again will be dependent on cooperation between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. According to Khalilzad, Shiite oppression of Sunni Muslims has led to extreme circumstances of poverty and abuse, which ultimately allowed ISIS to gain power.

“Winning the war is not that consequential if you can’t win the peace — you just end up with another war,” Khalilzad said at the event.

Through his experience growing up in a small town and ultimately achieving one of the highest diplomatic positions in the world, Khalilzad said at the event that he learned a great deal about successes and failures.

“To be successful, you need to be persistent, be pragmatic and have goals. Persistence is the most important because if you gave up every time you encountered a setback, you could come to a judgement that the world is against you,” Khalilzad said at the event. “Always be prepared to adjust in the face of obstacles — a straightforward path will not lead you to success.”

Contact Amber Tang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ambertang_dc.