Professor sees conflict in U.S. role in Mideast


— With live footage of the violent strife in the Middle East on television seemingly every night these days, it's not difficult to get the latest news. But, as far as one local expert is concerned, the mainstream news media often falls short in helping people really understand what's going on.

George Tolles, a professor emeritus at Colorado Mountain College, has taught college students in Steamboat Springs about the Middle East for the past 18 years. He believes that watching the mainstream news media for information about the region can lead to misconceptions.

Tolles, who has been to the Mideast numerous times throughout his career, said United States has less of an influence on the peace process than people may think.

"Primarily, the big misconception is that the U.S. is a non-interested party in these talks. In other words, an honest broker," Tolles said. However, "in the eyes of most of the world, there's no difference between U.S. policy and Israeli policy."

President Clinton was meeting with Israelis and Palestinians in Egypt Sunday. But Tolles believes that, due to its obvious allegiances, the U.S. cannot be counted on to effectively broker a peace between the two sides. It will take a disinterested third party, such as the pope, or a neutral nation like Norway to bring the warring sides together at the bargaining table, he said.

Last week, the United States got involved in the conflict beyond its role as a peacemaker. A group of suicide bombers in a small boat blew a 20-foot-by-40-foot hole in the side of the USS Cole on Thursday. The ship was refueling near Yemen. Seventeen Americans died in the explosion and dozens more were injured. The State Department issued an alert to U.S. citizens at home and abroad. The attack was identified by Clinton and his advisors as a probable act of terrorism.

Tolles said he fears that the Middle East will end up much like Ireland, where terrorist attacks became commonplace for decades.

"In the absence of any peace settlement we're just going to have terrorism forever," he said.

But, the professor doesn't believe that means the U.S. has to suffer without responding.

"We will have to develop military tactics to combat terrorism," he said.

Other than potential terrorist attacks, U.S. citizens may be affected by the conflicts in the Middle East in a number of ways. Oil prices, for instance, skyrocketed last week after news of the heightening of the conflict. Moreover, if Americans have friends or family members living in the disputed areas, as do some members of the Steamboat Springs community, their lives have been dramatically shaken.

Tolles recommends reading Thomas Friedman's "From Beirut to Jerusalem," which, though outdated, gives a good overview of the historical issues behind the fighting.

To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203

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