Khalidi spoke to Northwestern University students and community members Thursday as the 2015 Richard W. Leopold lecturer. The lectureship was established by former students, colleagues, and many of the professor’s friends to honor contemporary and dedicated historians and educators.
“The impact of this nuclear accord with Iran, and its possible regional fallout, is as far-reaching for American domestic politics as it is for foreign policy,” Khalidi said. This is the first time in memory when support for a “key Israeli position” became an overtly partisan issue, according to Khalidi.
However, he said that the language used to describe perceived foreign policy threats in the Middle East, such as Iran, is too exaggerated, something that Americans should recognize.
“During the Cold War, the USSR posed a threat to the very existence of the United States as a society and a system,” Khalidi said, arguing that neither groups like ISIS nor other Middle Eastern nations pose this same existential threat.
“The hysterical rhetoric has also helped to engender cynicism on the part of many and needless fear on the part of many others, not to speak of some of the most absurd security precautions at airports,” Khalidi said.
He called on the United States to impose harsher and more critical policy on its main allies in the area: Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel. Saudi Arabia’s brutal treatment of Yemeni civilians, Turkey’s onslaught of the Kurdish population in order to sway elections, and Israel’s brutalities against Palestinians living in settlements are all things that should be highly criticized by the United States, according to Khalidi.
“I would suggest that we are thus looking at what might be described as a mild form of schizophrenia in U.S.-Mideast policy,” Khalidi said. He said that the Iran deal may very well go down in history as the “signature element” of Obama’s foreign policy record, but that the president’s reputation as a statesman will be far more dependent upon his ability to deal with the inconsistencies between the United States and both their allies and rivals in the Middle East.
Much of the crowd at the lecture consisted of community members rather than university students. Weinberg junior Kimberly Clinch, one of the few students who was in attendance, said she appreciated Khalidi’s effort to speak candidly on the issue.
“A lot of the discussion on campus sometimes feels like it’s not going anywhere. There’s a lot of tension. It was nice to hear him provide a lot of history and facts,” Clinch said. “I’m surprised more people involved in the Israel-Palestine discussion didn’t attend.”
Weinberg freshman Adam Chanes agreed with Khalidi’s idea that the United States should be held more accountable for its actions in the Middle East; however, he was critical of Khalidi’s message.
“Because of the U.S.’s intervention, a lot of these conflicts have been exacerbated, but he’s placing the onus on America to also be the interventionists who solve all of those conflicts," Chanes said. "He didn’t really address what the E.U.’s role is in this."
In terms of the speech’s relation to life on campus, Chanes said that Khalidi’s words played an important role. Chanes said that because of the inner tension that exists on campus especially regarding the Israel-Palestine issue, Khalidi served as an "academic voice who can discuss these issues from a nuanced, technical, objective perspective.”