Geopolitical hot spot simmers in the Red Sea region

Connor Severino

Transcript Correspondent

The area encompassing the Red Sea can be defined as a “puddle muddle” because of how the region’s economics and religion are intertwined.

That label was applied by Blake Michael, a Swan-Collins-Allen professor of religion at Ohio Wesleyan, who enlightened 77 Delaware residents about the geo-political disputes of the region Friday at the latest Great Decision lecture at Williams Street United Methodist Church.

The Red Sea is a part of the world not often acknowledged by Americans due to lack of involvement by the United States, Michael said.

Meanwhile, the region is responsible for nine percent of global trade and it is the second largest oil reserve in the world.

“My main point is (to see) the complexity of any geo-political situation, specifically an area such as the Red Sea that is complicated through elements I talked about, like for ethnicity and religion,” Michael said.

In terms of religious complexity, different cultural groups practice different forms of the Muslim faith. Those groups are settled in the countries that border the Red Sea, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti.

Economically, Japan, China, and countries from Europe depend on the Red Sea region for natural resources and materials. The most sought after resource is oil, which provides global economic stability, Michael said.

“It is an enlightening part of the world, but people are not aware of all that goes on politically,” he said.

Attendee and Delaware resident Wayne Moore said he enjoyed the presentation.

“It’s an area we don’t have much place in so it was fascinating to learn,” he said.

Another local resident, Roger Koch, said, “It added clarity to an obtuse part of the world.”

AI won’t erase need for human talent

Meg Edwards

Transcript Correspondent

Machines will only control the future if we let them.

That was the core message delivered by David J Staley, associate professor of history and director of the Humanities Institute at The Ohio State University, at the latest Great Decisions lecture Friday titled “Artificial Intelligence and Data: Augment or Automate?”

The 1982 Buckeye Valley graduate returned to Delaware to address a room of fifty to sixty community members, many retirees, at the William Street United Methodist Church.

Staley said the challenges which graduating students will face in the job market cannot purely be attributed to artificial intelligence.

AI “doesn’t have the consciousness to say, hmm, whose job should I take today,” he said, earning laughterfrom the audience. It will be humans, he said, who will make the decision to replace workers with artificial intelligence.

“If technology can do a job better and cheaper, technology replaces human beings every time,” he said.

AI is quickly replacing many jobs once thought to be safe from mechanization, such as skilled labor or desk jobs like accounting and editing, Staley said.

He also recommended the audience watch videos from the robotics company Boston Dynamics, which has developed robots capable of lifelike movement, which Staley imagines could be used to replace human troops in battle zones. Robots could remove the human cost from warfare.

Combining artificial intelligence with human intelligence is one way forward. For instance, Staley said cyborg chess, in which a human and a computer play together on the same team, allows mediocre chess players to defeat both master chessmen and the most advanced AI technology.

Some things AI can’t do include tasting wine, creating original works of art, adapting quickly to a new situation and imagining something that does not yet exist, he said.

Modern education must adjust to this new world and develop not only knowledge and skills for students, but also key human attributes such as flexibility, teamwork, communication, and creativity. Such skills will be necessary for determining ethics in a world in which robots have legal responsibility and AI can increasingly make decisions too complex for humans to understand, Staley said.

“Politicians should be engaged in regulation,” Staley said, adding that in few other fields are researchers allowed to run experiments without considering the long-term costs of their findings.

In biology, for instance, researchers are asked to consider the potential impact of their experiments, while technologists are permitted to explore anything in the name of progress.

Staley cited deep fake technology, which allows for realistic manipulation of video, as an example of a technology which was created without any prior consideration of its consequences.

Staley also said those interested in foreign or domestic policy become informed about artificial intelligence and its outsized implications for society.

Becky Cornett, an OSU Wexner Medical Center employee for 30 years, introduced Staley, highlighting his work and recommending his book, “Alternative Universities: Speculative Design for Innovation in Higher Education.”

Delaware resident Donna Jean Savely, a former secretary at Ohio Wesleyan, said this is the third year she and her husband have attended a Great Decisions lecture.

“Sometimes they’re too long and too detailed,” she said of the talks, but she said she is looking forward to this year’s series.

Petroleum production, policy hot topic

By Alanna Henderson, Managing Editor

Higher oil prices are at the top of Vladimir Putin’s Christmas wish list. A political cartoon of the Russian president sitting on Santa Claus’ lap is not far-fetched considering today’s policies on petroleum.

Community members gathered Friday for the final Great Decisions 2017 lecture presented by Michael Houlahan to discuss U.S foreign policy and petroleum, with many audience members hesitant toward the current administration’s plans.

Houlahan served 28 years in the U.S. diplomatic service with the state department. His overseas postings included Japan, Romania, New Zealand, Cyprus, Italy, India, the Philippines and Jamaica. Since 1997, he has been a resource speaker for the American Foreign Service Association’s community outreach program. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College.

“Foreign policy is complex and subject to a wide range of influences,” Houlahan said. “The most basic concerns in foreign policy are economic and military security although other domestic interests can extend and insert influence.”

The U. S. government develops foreign policy in ways that protect and advance its interests. Oil has been a topic of interest since the 1990s and remains an important instrument in U.S. foreign policy.

The United States is No. 1 in world production of oil, with ally Saudi Arabia second and Russia third.

Houlahan presented phases of petroleum’s’ impact that provided a review of United States’ petroleum production and policy. The phases were derived from the work of Jonathan Chanis, who was involved with the oil industry and foreign relations for more than 20 years.

The United States’ production has dominated for decades. In World War I, the U.S. supplied more than 80 percent of fuel to allies. However, World War II was launched in part because Germany and Japan needed to secure raw materials, especially oil.

The supply and demand of petroleum caused several shifts in the prices during the Cold War; U.S. manipulation of oil supplies remained a major part of foreign policy.

In 1974, a barrel of oil averaged $12. In 2003, unpredictable oil prices began to rise and peaked in 2012 at more than $100 per barrel with a short pause in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

“I am unoptimistic about the future as a result of this history,” said attendee Michael Casto. “I hope that next year, we will have a [Great Decision’s] session that will focus on renewable energy.”

The final phase of oil’s impact — supply surpluses, new opportunities or new dangers — raised a lot of questions from the audience about the balance of the economy and the environment.

Saudi Arabia remains in a state of transition

By Gopika Nair, Editor-in-Chief

If global warming becomes a major issue or alternate fuels are developed, Saudi Arabia’s economy will suffer, according to a former energy consultant.

To diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud drafted the Saudi Vision 2030, said Rand Guebert, a former Oilinvest B.V. consultant. The objective of the vision is for Saudi Arabia to be “a pioneering and successful global model of excellence,” according to the Vision 2030 website.

Guebert said Salman is trying to get Asian countries to invest in his country to diversify the Saudi economy, while helping Asian countries diversify as well. Guebert and Melinda McClimans discussed Saudi Arabia in transition as part of the Great Decisions lecture series March 3 at the William Street United Methodist Church.

Saudi Arabia faces many challenges, such as oil production, water scarcity and national defense issues, and has been in a state of transition for the past 60 years, according to Guebert.

Oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia in 1938, years after Iran (1908), Iraq (1924) and Bahrain (1932).

Before the 1960s, Saudi Arabia produced about 1 million barrels of oil a day because of low demand. But by the 1960s, the demand spiked. As a result, Saudi Arabia began producing 10 million barrels of oil a day, Guebert said.

In the early 1980s, Saudi Arabia competed with Russia and the U.S. and oil prices dropped dramatically.

“One of the things to remember about this production is it’s very cheap,” Guebert said. “Saudi Arabia is the lowest cost oil producer in the world and costs about $5 a barrel.”

In the 1980s, however, the price went up to nearly $40 per barrel.

“All of a sudden, [the Saudis] had huge amounts of money coming in,” Guebert said. “So this transformed what was still a desert society.”

Today, the price of oil per barrel is $53, but in the current economy, that price isn’t pro table but it is stable, according to Guebert.

Saudi Arabia spends almost 10 percent of its annual revenue budget on national defense, which is nearly twice what the U.S. spends, Guebert said.

McClimans, assistant director of the Middle East Studies Center at The Ohio State University, focused on Saudi Arabia’s religious perspective.

Saudi Arabia is the heart of Islam, McClimans said. Though Islam started as an Arab phenomenon, it has expanded to Persian and Turkish territories and is now a multicultural religion.

McClimans, who lived in Saudi Arabia for a few years, said the country’s government is grounded in “pure Sharia law.”

But there are caveats, McClimans said. For instance, during the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims are required to fast, if someone needs to take medication with food, that’s permissible.

“[What I found most interesting] is that Saudi Arabia’s under pressure to get into the modern world,” said Oluf Kongshaug, a local retired Presbyterian minister. “Now that the U.S. is producing more oil, what’s Saudi Arabia going to do if they don’t have us as a customer?”

Retired Army official warns of nuclear threats

By Liz Hardaway, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Though a nuclear bomb has not been detonated in 70 years, nuclear security still remains a strenuous and messy issue in foreign policy.

“Every nation forms their foreign policy and national security policy based on their own self-interest,” said retired Army Maj. Gen. Dennis Laich. “In the United States, I think we loose sight of this and we need to acknowledge that as we think about issues around the world.”

Laich spoke Friday about nuclear security at the second of eight sessions of the Great Decisions community series on U.S. foreign policy.

There are universal factors to foreign policy and national security, Laich said. Powerful countries have the ability to do as they please, he said, whereas weaker countries do their best to cope. For example, when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the world responded by using force to eject Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.

However, when Russia invaded Ukraine and took over Crimea in 2014, only sanctions were put into place and there was no military action.

Laich said nine nations, led by the United States and Russia, control thousands of nuclear warheads that can be deployed at any given moment.

“It is alarming to me that any one person on the face of the Earth can have the capability to order that these 1,830 deployed (U.S.) nuclear warheads be fired… with justification,” Laich said. “The president of the United States, whoever he or she is, makes one phone call.”

The United Kingdom and France have more than 500 nuclear warheads total, and China has 260.

“[China] relies much more exclusively on conventional arms to protect themselves, but…they have the capability to expand dramatically,” Laich said. “One of the things that China has demonstrated is their ability to… move national interests forward rapidly.”

India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea also have nuclear warheads. However, Israel officially has not acknowledged that it has the weapons. Israel is the only nuclear power in the Middle East.

“I had no idea the list [of countries with nuclear weapons] was so long, and that’s kind of scary,” said Delaware resident Michael Casto.

The only country in the world to ever use a nuclear weapon is the United States, twice during World War II.

In 2015, the five permanent members (U.S., Russia, Britain, China and France) of the U.N. Security Council, Germany and the European Union reached an agreement with Iran to suspend its nuclear programs, putting limits on centrifuges, enrichment levels, uranium stockpiles and plutonium production. Iran sent more than 90 percent of its existing uranium stockpiles to Russia for security.

“This treaty allowed us to put a troublesome nation’s nuclear program on hold for at least 10 to 15 years, without firing a shot,” said Laich.

Countries such as North Korea, Russia, India and Pakistan continue to challenge nonproliferation efforts.

Terrorist organizations, such as al-Qaida and ISIS, have been very explicit about seeking nuclear weapons, Laich said. They don’t necessarily need a nuclear warhead to do damage. A dirty bomb, which contains used nuclear fuel surrounded by dynamite, can have limited physical impact but contaminates a wide area of a populated city with nuclear material.

“I’m concerned because of the (Trump) administration and things beyond our control like nuclear terrorism,” said Lee Lybarger, a resident of Delaware.

The next topic for Great Decisions is “Saudi Arabia in Transition,” presented by Melinda McClimans, an associate director at the Middle East Studies Center at Ohio State University, and Rand Guebert, a former consultant.

Professor Goran Skosples says European finances uncertain

By Evan Walsh, Chief Copy Editor

Goran Skosples has an optimistic, but uncertain, view of the ongoing economic crisis in Europe.

An associate professor of economics at Ohio Wesleyan University, Skosples is a native of Croatia.

He paid particular attention to those ways in which international political economy, the Euro and migration have contributed to some of the region’s most pressing issues. Skosples was the first speaker in the annual Great Decisions lecture series Friday at the William Street United Methodist Church.

Skosples alluded to the sovereign debt crisis on several occasions.

He made it clear that the debt crisis is responsible for creating sovereign, localized crises that then led to the larger, international crisis. Greece, a European Union member, is one place where failed monetary policy had a crippling effect. It then had an impact on other member nations sharing similar currency.

Despite those failures, Skosples told the audience that this currency consolidation was intended to improve relations across Europe.

“It has brought a lot of positives … the idea was that the creation of the Euro was going to lead to prosperity through gains from trading which would then lead to greater European solidarity and the next steps in integration,” Skosples said.

Integration, however, seems elusive, as major European powers inspired by populist movements within their borders are questioning their commitment to that ideal.

This change in attitude has created a lot questions that have yet to be answered.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty in Europe,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen with ‘Brexit’ … and the problem is that when you’ve been so deeply integrated how do you just pull out?”

The reality is we don’t know right now, according to Skosples.

Jim Klepcyk, a retired pharmacist from Powell, spoke highly of the talk.

“I thought it was excellent. He offered a lot of insight and having that international perspective has clearly helped him under-
stand those realities,” Klepcyk said.

Skosples took questions from the audience, including from retired Maj. General Dennis Laich, who will speak about nuclear security at the next Great Decision talk at noon Friday, Feb. 24.

America’s oldest discussion series travels to Delaware to discuss foreign policy

By Anna Davies, Transcript Correspondent

The largest and longest-running grassroots politics education program is starting its 2017 series in Delaware on Feb. 17 at the Williams Street United Methodist Church.

The theme of this year’s Great Decisions series is U.S. Foreign Policy, according to an Ohio Wesleyan University press release written by former politics and government professor Corinne Lyman.

OWU professor of economics Goran Skosples is the first lecturer and will discuss the effect of Brexit on the United Kingdom.

Other lectures will include topics like Saudi Arabia’s political transition, the United States’ petroleum supply and nuclear security. The Foreign Policy Association, which runs the Great Decisions program, chose the topics in advance. Local groups then choose experts from their town that they want to see explore the Great Decisions topics.

The press release also said that at the end of each lecture, audience members will fill out surveys that will be sent to policy-
makers in Washington, D.C.

James Franklin, OWU professor and department chair of politics and government, will discuss Latin American political shifts. Franklin’s lecture will focus primarily on leftist populist leaders like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Rafael Correa of Bolivia and Evo Morales of Bolivia, he said.

These leaders fought against social elites and gained support from poor citizens who felt ignored by old political regimes.

“Recently, much of Latin America has experienced an economic slowdown, and there has been a shift back to the center-
right in some recent elections,” Franklin said. His lecture will explain this shift.

Franklin teaches courses at OWU about Latin American politics, which made him qualified to be the lecturer for this topic.

“I think the topic is relevant and interesting even outside of Latin America,” Franklin said. “There has been a rise of populist politics in Western democracies with the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump.”

“Learning is not a one-way street at these events,” Franklin said. “The Delaware community is very knowledgeable of international affairs, and they contribute to rich discussions of these topics. I encourage everyone to attend.”

The Great Decisions lecture series started in 1954 in Portland, Ore. According to the Foreign Policy Association’s website, it is now the largest discussion program on world affairs in the U.S.

Lecture series covers the rise of ISIS

Liz Hardaway, Transcript Reporter

When the Taliban launched the 9/11 attacks, the United States’ main goal at the time was to eliminate al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.

This tunnel vision prevented the recognition of an even more extremist jihadi group expanding in the shadows.

“We have just decided to go beyond crimes against humanity and label ISIS as genocidal,” said Michael Houlahan, a retired foreign services officer and the final lecturer at the Great Decisions lecture series held on March 18 in William Street United Methodist Church.

More than 75 community members gathered to discuss the origins and dynamics of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), with many wondering what the U.S. plans on doing to stop the violent group.

Houlahan emphasized that Arab countries need to put Muslim Arab troops on the ground, but if the U.S. pulled out altogether, ISIS could run rampant.

“There’s no clear road to … protect the country,” he said. “It is a patchwork.”

Due to the unsuccessful efforts of the Arab Spring (democratic uprisings that took place in several Arab nations in 2011), the appeal to join ISIS has grown.

Many longtime rulers were removed from power, such as leaders in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen, and citizens were hoping this would lead to improvement.

As time passed and violence increased, however, citizens have become increasingly drawn to the idealistic Islamic State that ISIS promises them.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi formed the first of many militant groups called Army of al-Sham in the late 1980s under the vision that ISIS has today, according to Houlahan.

The group was disbanded and Zarqawi was imprisoned in 1992, where he began attracting and leading other inmates.

When Zarqawi was pardoned, he came into contact with al-Qaida, which was initially wary and distrustful of Zarqawi. But the two cooperated so Zarqawi could form a training camp in Afghanistan to recruit new members.

Upon establishing a second group, Zarqawi ordered the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad as well as a dual car bombing outside of the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam, sparking a civil war between the country’s Shia and Sunni populations.

Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. airstrike in 2006, but his vision remained very much alive, Houlahan said. As the new commander, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi announced the establishment of an Islamic State.

Followers wanted to establish the state because they believed the apocalypse was imminent, but both Baghdadi and his head of state Hamid al-Zawi were killed in 2010.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who claims to be a direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad became the new head of the Islamic State and continues to lead ISIS today.

“It is true that we have to finish off ISIS,” said Hatim Taj, a Shiite man who attended the lecture. “They won’t listen … but after that … you have to find people who are willing to sit down and have a political discussion or it will just get worse.”

Competing interests overshadow India’s global potential

R. Blake Michael. Photo courtesy of
R. Blake Michael. Photo courtesy of

For India to take a lead role on the world stage it must overcome an assortment of competing sectarian influences that keep it from becoming a unified nation.

It’s a tall order, said Ohio Wesleyan University professor Blake Michael in the final event in the Great Decisions lecture series Friday, focused on the politics of India since it gained independence in 1947.

Michael took the podium in a last minute call to replace speaker Irfan Nooruddin, a professor at Georgetown University and an Ohio Wesleyan alumnus, who had to cancel his talk titled “India Changes Course.”

Michael also led last week’s Great Decisions lecture about sectarianism in the Middle East.

He began by describing the impact sectarianism has had in India.

“How do you build a nation that identifies itself as Indian when you have all these competing components — religious, linguistic, regional — that are pulling people to identify with smaller and smaller groups?” Michael said.

Convincing Hindus and Muslims to both identify as Indian has not been easy, he said. And the growing prominence in the last few years of the Bharatiya Janata Party has also impaired progress. That party wants India to become a Hindu nation.

India is similar in physical size and population as Europe and has “great potential for productivity on the world stage,” Michael said.

After winning its independence, India tried to become more united and it “swallowed up” some of its neighboring nations, he said.

India and Nepal. Photo courtesy of
India and Nepal. Photo courtesy of

One country that has remained mostly independent is Nepal.

“Being Nepal is like being a puppy dog sleeping next to an elephant,” Michael said. “India is monstrous and some of the nations around it are fairly small and have to be very careful which way they roll over.”

Delaware resident Connie Lybarger said she has been coming to the Great Decisions lectures with her husband since the series began. She said she liked that Michael emphasized India’s immense size and included information about Pakistan, where she and her husband were missionaries.

Richard Fischer, also of Delaware, said the lecture provided a perspective not found in the mainstream media.

“You’re hearing someone, who knows something well, tell you about a topic without an agenda,” he said.

Syrian refugees pose crisis for neighbors

An uprising three years ago against the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria dramatically increased the number of Syrian refugees and exposed an Ohio Wesleyan University student to a growing crisis.

OWU senior Brenda Gable talked about her study-abroad program and recalled her internship at the Syrian-American Medical Society as part of the 2015 Great Decisions Community Discussion series on Friday.

Gable traveled to Jordan last spring studying health and community development where she was able to see the refugee crisis first hand.

“We were able to go to a make-shift hospital and see how the government was responding to this influx of refugees. That’s when my interest increased in this crisis,” Gable said.

Nearly half of Syrian’s population has fled or lost their homes altogether, many of them crossing the borders of Turkey and Jordan.

“The infrastructure in the surrounding countries can’t really support this large influx. It was really interesting to see how Jordanians reacted to the movement into their country.”

The massive influx of refugees is straining the resources of host countries and the United Nations has about half of the amount of the money it needs to help. The lack of jobs, education and water has created conflict and competition between the refugees and host citizens.

Gable is a pre-medicine major and interested in studying global public health. She said she hopes to work in that field.

“There’s a lot that needs to be done, so I guess I’m attracted to that,” Gable said.

In front of a crowd of about 60, Gable dove into the history of Syria, what led to the uprising and the causes of the war.

“Syrians started protesting for basic rights, and the Syrian government wasn’t willing to negotiate at all,” Gable said. “People believed it was going to be a simple thing that was over in a couple months.”

Robert Tannehill, who attended Gable’s presentation, said there is a solution for individuals to help.

“It’s a whole mess, but individuals can contribute to organizations to help refugees that have fled from Syria.” Tannehill said.

OWU junior Lizzy Wynne, who came to support Gable, said she was jealous of Gable’s experience.

“I thought she did a great, she was calm and you could really tell that she knew her stuff,” Wynne said. “I wish I could go on a trip like that and see it first hand and try to help.”

“If all the violence stopped tomorrow,” Gable concluded, “it would still take around 30 years for the Syrian government to rebuild it itself.”

A three-member panel will discuss human trafficking in the 21st century at the next lecture of the Great Decisions series at William Street United Methodist Church on March 13 at noon.