By Connie Sage Conner for Island Eye News
To many, the Middle East is a quagmire of perpetual war and ISIS brutality with an endless stream of refugees fleeing to safety.
But Paul Hughes is an optimist who looks beyond the often gruesome daily news headlines. At the non-partisan U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., he and his colleagues work to prevent international conflicts, ease tension when war does break out, and once the dust settles, help people regain what they’ve lost.
Hughes will kick off the fall lectures series of the World Affairs Council of Charleston at 6 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Citadel Alumni Center. His topic: “War and Peace in the Middle East – the Many Challenges to Managing Conflict.” A reception is at 5:15 p.m.
The top issue in the Middle East today, Hughes said in a telephone interview, is that the region’s demographics are changing. The infrastructure of every country is being stressed as hundreds of thousands of refugees pour into neighboring countries. War, poverty and poor governance have uprooted 19 million people across the Middle East and North Africa, according to the Institute of Peace.
The Institute of Peace is a federal, independent agency created by Congress three decades ago. Its board is made up of both Democrats and Republicans as well as the secretaries of state and defense and the presidents of the National Defense University and the Institute. The board is prohibited by law from having more than eight voting members of the same political party.
“We have not prevented the outbreak of war, one of the major goals Congress gave USIP when it created the institute,” Hughes said. “However, because conflict is everywhere, we’ve helped mitigate and transform conflict.”
For example, the Institute has done work in Africa with various military and police forces to instruct them in how to follow the rule of law. In Iraq, a network of 40 volunteer facilitators was set up to teach them to mediate their own issues.
A woman’s theater group in Iraq went to neighboring villages to explain that women have a role to play in fixing schools and clinics.
“We don’t get into policy or the big fights; we’re restricted by our charter from engaging in policy issues and some conflicts are just too big for us to handle,” he said.
At the Institute, Hughes previously was the senior advisor for international security and peace building, chief of staff and director of Nonproliferation and Arms Control Program, executive director of the Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, executive director of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the U.S., and the director of Iraq programs in the Center for Post-Conflict Peace and Stability Operations.
Among his many active duty military posts, he was the Army’s senior military fellow to the Institute for National Security Studies of the National Defense University, a senior staff officer for the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance and later with the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. He developed several policy initiatives, such as the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of the Iraqi military.
The World Affairs Council of Charleston meets six times a year, from October to May, featuring speakers from the U.S. and foreign governments, academia and the business community.
Membership is $100 for an individual or $170 for two people at the same address. A one-time-only individual program guest fee is $20; no pre-registration is required.
The Council is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that was founded in the early 1980s. It existed for 20 years as the Foreign Affairs Forum and is one of 100 councils throughout the country.
A reception precedes the speaker’s presentation, followed by a question answer period. Meetings are held at the Citadel Alumni Center, 69 Haygood Ave., across from the stadium.
The Council’s mission is to foster a broad knowledge of world affairs and international events in an expanding global economy. Its members represent a cross-section from business, education, and civic backgrounds. High school and college students are encouraged to attend.
“The World Affairs Council is so valuable to America,” said Hughes. “The chapters I’ve spoken to are made up of a diverse group of Americans who believe America needs to remain engaged–we are interconnected.”
Elizabeth Ferris, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, will talk about “Europe’s Refugee Crisis” at the Nov. 9 World Affairs Council of Charleston meeting at 6 p.m. at the Citadel’s Alumni Center.