With military advisors deployed to Iraq to help thwart the growing threat presented by the terrorist group ISIS (now calling itself “The Islamic State”), Americans are understandably concerned the U.S. could be pulled into another long military engagement in the Middle East. But Ryan Crocker, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and now dean of the Bush School of Government & Public Service at Texas A&M University, says America has a responsibility to aid the Iraqi people in the struggle for democracy and the fight against extremism.
“Democracy is very difficult to attain: you don’t just snap your fingers and say ‘we removed the dictator and now you’ll be the perfect Jeffersonian democracy.’ We have to keep our hand on the throttle,” says Crocker, a career diplomat who also served as ambassador to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
He likens the battle for democracy in the Middle East to its establishment in America’s infancy. “Democracy didn’t blossom overnight in our own country,” he notes. “In the years between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, we beat each other bloody. We couldn’t reach agreement on slavery, on state’s rights, and that failure nearly destroyed our country through civil war.”
In the Middle East, he says, democracy must be borne from its peaceful citizens in partnership with the U.S. “Democracy has to be home grown, but we can, through our own experience, facilitate it. And especially in places where we’ve had military interventions, we have the obligation to see that process through.”
Crocker says he’s been pleased so far with the White House response to the Iraq conflict, including the decision to send 300 military advisors as well as Secretary of State John Kerry to consult with Iraqi leaders. “Diplomacy is critical,” he asserts. “The Iraqi security forces, like Iraqi democracy, are not ready to stand completely on their own. A small number of advisors are critical to be the backbone of this effort, to give advice and mission direction. I’m glad the president has committed these advisors. I don’t know what the right number is. But I do know that we can and must play a critical role to ensure the Iraqis do the fighting for themselves and for their country.”
The growing tide of “Islamophobia“ in America and beyond, especially after 9/11, is a sore spot for Crocker who spent almost four decades in the Muslim world and says, “It is terribly wrong to come down on Islam for the actions of its most extreme members. I know Islam, I know the Quran, I know Muslims. They are us and we are them. We stand together against an extremist enemy.”
Although Crocker has retired from the Foreign Service, he continues to serve the nation both as an expert consultant in foreign affairs, granting interviews to national and international media outlets, and in leading the Bush School faculty and staff to train public servants of the future.
Crocker says he was first inspired to pursue a career in service by his father, a career military officer and veteran of WWII, Korea and Vietnam. “Go to hard places, do hard things,” he says is a lesson he learned from his father. “Put your hand up when they ask for people to step forward.”
He notes a particular affinity with Texas A&M, an institution whose members he says are guided by devotion to service.
“Service is never about you,” he explains. “For me it was about the people who looked to me for guidance, some of whom were literally getting shot at. And sometimes you have to step outside yourself; you’d really rather not be there, but you are there and you are in command. And that is why I’m so grateful to be at Texas A&M where that spirit of service, from Earl Rudder to the Corps of Cadets, is so vital to the culture. So I’ve followed a personal family legacy but also now to have a career at an institution such as Texas A&M, I like to think I’ve tried to embody the values of our great university.”
Crocker notes Texas A&M’s unique and continuing contributions to the fight for democracy worldwide, but particularly in the Middle East. “The Borlaug Institute, for example, has been in the region for a long time, building foundations to help grow democracy,” he points out. “Conflict & Development and the Bush School are actively engaged in promoting peace and democracy in the area. Texas A&M-Qatar is also positioned to further the cause, providing top-quality education in the Arab world. Texas A&M is helping to build a basis for international peace through democracy.”
Media contact: Lesley Henton, Division of Marketing & Communications at Texas A&M University; 979-845-5591, firstname.lastname@example.org