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High School Symposium
Ambassador Richard Fairbanks
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Cadets help youths learn about Arab Spring

Posted 10/14/2011   Updated 10/14/2011 Email story   Print story


by David Edwards
Air Force Academy Public Affairs

10/14/2011 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- With its usual assist from the Air Force Academy, the Colorado Springs World Affairs Council's annual high school symposium drew a record turnout this year.

More than 450 students from Springs-area high schools filled the auditorium at Colorado College at the end of September for a slate of activities related to the Arab Spring.

The symposium is one of the signature events for the Political Science Department at the Academy and a shining example of the ongoing collaboration between local civic organizations and premier academic institutions.

"The Department of Political Science has had a longstanding relationship with the Colorado Springs Council on World Affairs, (which) seeks to promote citizen education on international relations," said Dr. Fran Pilch, a political science professor and longtime Academy representative at the event. "CSWAC has run the high school symposium for many years, but with tremendous support from both Colorado College and USAFA."

Several Academy cadets led discussion groups following the keynote address by former Ambassador Richard Fairbanks. In addition, members of the Academy and CC forensics teams debated the provision of military aid to Yemen, Bahrain and Syria.

Fairbanks was the star attraction, and he seemed to relish what many might consider an unenviable task: holding the sustained attention of hundreds of teenagers at 8:30 a.m. while talking about events halfway around the world.

His overview of the domino effect of successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt was well received and set the tone for the students' plenary discussions that followed.
"When you say 'The Arab Spring,' you're talking about shards and pieces in a kaleidoscope," Fairbanks said. "You can't generalize; you have to be specific."

And that means country by cowuntry. The conflicts in Syria and Libya were precipitated by the downfall of Egypt's ruler of 40-plus years.

"I first dealt with Hosni Mubarak when he was vice president, so that makes me older than Methusalah," Fairbanks said. "We were always pretty happy with him. The problem is the people weren't always happy with him. I don't blame the administration for not having a policy because nothing like this has ever happened."

He also described his dealings with former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, whom he called "a vicious killer." The presidency passed to Assad's son Bashar, who is accused of cruelly repressing the ongoing uprising in Syria.

Coinciding with the Arab Spring has been a renewed push for Palestinian statehood. Fairbanks said the rich Arab states have done very little to help the Palestinians and have used them as a ploy to divert the world's attention from their own outrageous conduct.

The great change that precipitated the Arab Spring, he said, was a technological one. When the Cold War ended, so did state control of access to information. Satellite dishes sprouted on rooftops all over the Middle East, putting the Arab World in touch with all of the outside world.

Fairbanks would not prognosticate, however. The implications of the successful uprisings and unfolding events in Libya, Syria and elsewhere are not going to be immediately clear, he said.

"There's a saying in the Middle East that the optimist is always wrong," Fairbanks said. "I'm skeptical; the game isn't over. Has the Arab Spring been successful? Ask me in 10 years. Is it good for us? Ask me in 20 years."

After the keynote address, the debate and the plenary discussion, the students went to lunch and then returned to the auditorium to close the day with a screening of a film about the fall of Mubarak.

In years past, the Academy has had a more visible presence at the symposium. Pilch was the keynote speaker two years ago, and last year it was her political science colleague Dr. Schuyler Foerster.

"In the past, the high school symposium followed the Academy Assembly, retaining the assembly's topic as the symposium topic," Pilch said." However, that changed a couple of years ago, and the symposium now picks its own topic."

The Academy Assembly is only a few days away. Delegates and guests will start arriving Tuesday, and the major events will take place Thursday and Friday.

This year's assembly topic, "Power and Influence: Global Dynamics in the 21st Century," doesn't directly dovetail with the symposium's theme, it is likely that parallels will emerge.

And if attendance at the assembly resembles attendance at the symposium, it will be a busy week indeed and another feather in the cap of the Political Science Department.

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