FAYETTEVILLE -- Though some have argued the United States should adopt isolationist policies toward the Middle East, “that is naive, and not how the world works,” said Dina Kawar, Jordan’s ambassador to the U.S.
America “is a power, and that is part of the responsibility that comes with being a power,” said Kawar, who has served as ambassador of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the U.S. since June 2016. However, “the problems in the Middle East cannot be solved only by U.S. diplomacy and intervention” — the countries of the Middle East need to work together toward common goals.
American interest in the region remains very high, so "a partnership" -- like the one Jordan and the U.S. have enjoyed for decades --"is the best way to look at it," she said. The U.S. and Jordan have "72 years of very strong diplomatic relations, the U.S. is the highest donor of assistance to Jordan, and Jordan is part of an anti-terrorism coalition" with the U.S. and others.
A free-trade agreement established under former President Bill Clinton's administration continues to benefit both nations, and there's a substantial number of Jordanians who attend school in the U.S., while a growing number of American students also study in Jordan, where "Jordanians are very hospitable," she said. "There are an incredible amount of Jordanian doctors in the U.S."
And while citizens of many Middle Eastern nations have antipathy for the U.S, the opposite is true in Jordan, she said. Jordanians "love [American] culture, [from] food to movies."
They also recognize how valuable close ties with America are for Jordan, she said. "That relationship is vital and indispensable for us."
Kawar made her comments Tuesday on the campus of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville during a discussion moderated by Najib Ghadbian, associate professor of political science in the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.
Kawar "has had a long diplomatic career, and I met her when she was" Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations for two years prior to her current role, Ghadbian said. While leading the Jordanian delegation during Jordan's non-permanent membership on the United Nations Security Council from 2014 to 2015, she "made history" as the first Arab woman to ever preside over the council.
Kawar "is very well-respected in the diplomatic arena and for general global policy," said Tom Paradise, professor in the university's King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies and the Department of Geosciences. "We're very lucky to have her here."
'A VERY DIFFICULT NEIGHBORHOOD'
Bordered by Iraq to the northeast, Syria to the north, and the Palestinian West Bank and Israel to the west, Jordan is "in a very difficult neighborhood," Kawar said. "No country can live in a vacuum," and Jordan is "in the middle of everything," which -- among other things -- has inundated the nation with refugees.
By many estimates, roughly a third of Jordan's population is composed of refugees, more than 2 million from Palestinian-occupied territory and another million-plus from Syria, she said. "Jordan is a resilient country," but lacking in natural resources -- including water -- so succoring refugees further taxes the Jordanian government and its citizens, as refugees need education, health care and jobs to thrive.
Naturally, Jordan is keenly interested in peaceful resolutions to the Syrian civil war that started more than a decade ago, as well as a "two-state solution" to the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, she said. "We believe in [Palestinians'] right to land," and Jordan wants Syria "to come back to some sort of normality, [because] Syrian people are suffering, [and] the situation as is cannot" continue.
EDUCATION AND ECONOMICS
Though a constitutional monarchy, Jordan's king -- Abdullah II has been on the throne since 1999 -- wields considerable executive and legislative powers, and he's currently focused on improving economic prospects for Jordanians, she said. While it's very positive for Jordan to have such a highly educated population -- Jordan is considered the best-educated nation in the Arab World, and it has the lowest illiteracy rate among those nations -- those citizens also desire opportunities "they deserve."
Jordan's private sector needs "more investment from abroad," which is why the government is current working on altering investment and tax laws, she said. Tourism has long been "very important to Jordan, but tourism is very volatile" -- it all but evaporated during the pandemic -- which has led Jordan to examine its other "areas of excellence," such as a "very strong energy sector" and a film industry that is "getting stronger."
'A VERY OPTIMISTIC LOOK'
Among those interested in Kawar's perspective Tuesday was senior Fareed Al Farah, a Jordanian studying exercise science and Arabic who has been in the U.S. since 2014.
This university "becomes more diverse by the day, but it's definitely not every day we get an ambassador on campus like this, and I'm very grateful," he said. He appreciated Kawar highlighting the importance of education for Jordanians and the support the nation provides -- whether students study in Jordan or abroad.
He'd like to return to Jordan one day, but would need to see evidence of better employment opportunities in the nation, he said. "I think every [Jordanian] would love to come back, but the opportunities have to arise."
Freshman Shawn Sproles is "passionate about the Middle East, and I want to travel to Jordan," which helped lure him to Kawar's discussion, he said. "I'm interested in exploring other religions and meeting people who aren't like me."
Freshman Abdullah Asif is a member of the university's Arab Student Association, so Tuesday's discussion "is obviously relevant to us," and he took note of the way Jordan is "in much better shape than its neighbors," he said. That's due to an educated population, but also to the nation's close ties with America, and Kawar definitely provided "a very optimistic look at Jordan."