On November 3rd, H.E. Kairat Umarov, Ambassador of Kazakhstan, hosted the Institute for Education’s Media and Technology & Emerging Markets Roundtable Forum. A husband-and-wife duo, Jennifer Griffin and Greg Myre, were the special guests of this dinner, and the topic of discussion was “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant”, a subject area in which both Ms. Griffin and Mr. Myre are well-qualified to speak on, given their respective positions as Fox News Pentagon Correspondent and NPR International News Digital Editor.
The forum, which took place in the Embassy of Kazakhstan, started with brief introductory remarks by Ambassador Umarov and Coach Kathy Kemper. In attendance were members of IFE leadership team and fellows, representatives from the Embassy of Kazakhstan, as well as Presidential Innovation Fellows.
Ambassador Umarov extended his warm welcome to the guests of the roundtable forum by offering a taste of Kazakhstan’s award-winning Snow Queen vodka. Kazakhstan culture and achievements was a theme throughout the evening, including the sumptuous dinner of native cuisine.
Griffin and Myre began their remarks by recounting the story of their first meeting in South Africa whilst both covering the release of Nelson Mandela from the prison in 1990. From then on, the couple has lived in and worked from many frontier regions, first-hand experiences that have shaped their views and understandings on the focal issue of the evening – Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Griffin laid the groundwork for the discussion by outlining the historical context that led to the birth of what would eventually become ISIL as we know it today. Most people thought at the time that the fall of the Soviet Union marked the end of an era, Griffin noted, but no one expected that that would also usher in the dawn of a new of a new era – one in which organizations like ISIL would thrive. In addition, Griffin argued that the end of the Iraq War left much-unfinished business, including US-trained fighters who have then been sent home with this newfound knowledge in combat operations.
Containment of ISIL and the need for ongoing engagement in Iraq was a recurring theme during the forum, and then Myre highlighted the importance for the US government to develop a clear and coherent strategy on how to deal with ISIL and restore peace and security in the Middle East. However, Myre acknowledged the fact that containment is a challenging concept both to define and to operationalize. According to Myre, in order to achieve containment of ISIL, the U.S. would need to have partners on the ground as well as use creative thinking. In particular, Ambassador Umarov added that it is critical to prevent young people in the region and elsewhere from being “brainwashed” by ISIL. This, the Ambassador noted, would require a longer-term strategy that integrates youth integration and engagement.
Another interesting observation by our guest speakers was that ISIL possesses a level of unprecedented public savvy and sophistication enabled by new technologies, providing it a global audience reach that would not have been possible even a decade ago. Myre and Griffin discussed ISIL’s information operations, especially its strategic planning of the series of events that have been widely covered in the media. They argued that ISIL is supported by many fighters who hail from the US and Europe and are extremely knowledgeable about how the ISIL could generate attention in the West, including which actions would create most anger and outrage.
The speakers concluded by arguing that, going forward, those opposing ISIL will need a more integrated world rather than a segregated world to combat it successfully. The world needs a united voice and a collective force, and the United States has a crucial leadership role to play in advancing that united front.
Contributed by IFE Fellow, Joanne Ke