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Visionary Roy Gutman Gives Panel Discussion To Beloit College Students

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author, Roy Gutman gave a talk to students over zoom on Tuesday to discuss recent developments in Afghanistan in a contemporary and historical context.

Gutman, author of “How we Missed the Story: Osama bin Laden, The Taliban, and the Hijacking of Afghanistan, focuses his research on the ongoing crisis developing in Afghanistan.

The American intervention into Afghanistan happened at the dawn of a new era. The Cold War was over and the Soviet Union had collapsed. It was during these times that the state’s government was unable to provide order among its citizens or as Gutman describes it as a “security vacuum.” It was during these times that terror groups had become aware of this and saw this as an opening to set up territory and exercise their power. 

Gutman said Osama Bin Laden was among the first to notice these changes and saw an opportunity to set up “transnational terror.” It was around this time that a variety of operations were set to induce national harm among the United States; with the attack produced on September 11, 2001 being one of the most memorable as it operated on a whole different scale in comparison to previous attacks executed by terror groups. 

According to Gutman, the bigger problem for the U.S. was that the host government was allowing Bin Laden to set up a terror operation. The Bush Administration decided that these groups had to go. U.S. forces as well as the local government helped change the regime, getting rid of the Taliban. Although these forces were able to push out terror groups like the Taliban, the threat of Al-Qaeda remained during these times.

The U.S. forces had somehow let Bin Laden and his top aides slip away along with the Taliban moving towards the countryside and Pakistan. Gutman tells us about the strategies that U.S. forces were using during that time, specifically The Revolution in Military Affairs, something that is not even used anymore. The idea behind this was to use as little of our ground troops as possible therefore reducing our footprints as well as implementing the most high-tech weapons and communications, linking it to the best illegiance available at the time. 

Though on paper this sounds like the best option Gutman informs us that this was not the best plan executed. In 18 months, the U.S. decided to use American forces in two different regimes – the second being Iraq. 

“What is situational awareness?” Gutman asked. “It’s a concept you can use in everyday life, not just when you’re invading another country. What it means is, what are the politics of the place I’m in? What’s its history? How do I engage the people? How do they relate to each other?”

The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, argued that if an invading country goes into battle without grasping the concept of situational awareness, their forces will lose as a result of fighting the wrong campaign. Gutman says this is what happened in Afghanistan. Though over time the U.S. improved on grasping the concept it was too late.

As the world collectively watched the recent collapse of Kabul, Gutman was in Maine for vacation. “It didn’t surprise me but it sure did depress me,” he said.

Gutman has been called one of the 50 visionaries who are changing the world by the Utune Reader. Gutman was also the college’s Weissberg Chair in 2002-2003.

Gutman’s panel ended with a bigger lesson as he left the audience to ponder with this, “instead of acting triumphantly instead of being filled with self-congratulations every time your military goes out and performs some kind of operation we should have a measure of humility and recognize how difficult it is to get things right.” Instead we learn from our mistakes and have political goals if as a nation we result in using the military. 

Beth Dougherty, professor of international relations, was the moderator for this panel discussion.

The panel was proposed by director of International Education, Betsy Brewer as well as a group of alumni who were concerned about the current crisis in Afghanistan as well as the effects imposed on Afghanistan citizens who are living outside of the country. 

In response to the crisis Beloit College has joined the Institute of  International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund. The program helps fund threatened and displaced scholars around the world by providing safe academic environments and fellowships to such individuals. 

Joshua Moore, co-director of the program of human rights and social justice, said “this panel is part of our year-long focus on the theme of citizenship, migration and belonging. We didn’t expect it to be part of this year’s programming but it’s connected to this theme.” The series of panel discussions will continue next week on Tuesday at 7 p.m. as well as a showing of the film “Stateless,” followed by a discussion with the filmmaker Michelle Stevenson. 


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