Coming up with an Oregonian more politically influential than Nicholas Kristof is damn-near impossible. The Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist continually hacks through the darkest corners of the human spirit, often times the lone voice for those living through hell on earth. His politics are impeccable and his reporting damn-near heroic, making those local roots ring that much sweeter. Indeed, it's nothing if not inspirational to think that a farm-boy from Yamhill could go on to become one of the world's most prominent journalists.
Kristof spoke to a near-full Arlene Schnitzer concert hall Monday night. The event was the fourth and final in a series put on by the World Affairs Council of Oregon, who reveled in presenting their hometown boy.
The series centered around the Arab Spring, which Kristof covered from the astonishing gatherings in Tahrir Square to the bloody crackdowns in Bahrain.
Kristof seemed speak mostly off the cuff. Basically he went down a list of Middle-Eastern countries, sharing reporting, analysis, and anecdotes of his recent travels in the region. To those familiar to his columns, there were no surprises here—it was basically a game of inside baseball for New York Times devotees.
Indeed, the lecture was not for the uniformed, nor was it especially surprising or gripping. While his many tales of on-the-ground reporting are astounding, Kristof is not as dynamic an orator as he is on paper. Unlike his colleague Tom Friedman, I'd venture to guess that Kristof doesn't spend a lot of time giving such speeches, which is all well an good. (Also unlike Friedman, Kristof was wasn't foolish enough to support the invasion of Iraq.)
Kristof believes the steps towards a more prosperous, peaceful middle east—and really the model for building more just nations everywhere—hinge on the following: improving education, particularly for girls, and empowering women in society. A truncated version of his final remarks:
For notes on Kristof's country by country breakdown, follow along after the jump.
Intervening militarily in Libya was the right thing to do, Kristof said, in part because the Libyan people wanted us to. That's not the case in Syria, Kristof added.
He suggested that the non-violent revolutions Egypt in and Tunisia should be candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize. And although he was inspired by the protestors' courage and determination, Kristof figures the Egypt will remain a nation with military acting as a central power.
In the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Kristof suggested that the Palestinians could benefit greatly from implementing such forms of non-violent resistance. Had the Palestinians had a Martin Luther King-like figure, he mused, they might have achieved statehood by now. Instead of men and boys leading the charge, Kristof believes Palestinian women would be far more effective, imagining scores of them standing peacefully in the way of settlement construction.
In Sudan, Kristof saw a violent crackdown limit the effects of the Arab Spring. Keep your eyes on a town called Kadugli, where he said signs of ethnic cleansing were beginning to appear.
Realistically, Kristof argued, state-sponsored violence has the ability to curb a potential uprising. A crackdown's effectiveness hinges not so much on a leader's willingness to turn arms on the public so much as his ability to convince the military to pull the trigger. In Egypt, Kristof said, Hosni Mubarak was unable to do so. In Syria, however, Bashar al-Assad has inspired such bloodshed. As such, Kristof says, the outlook there is bleak. And though he witnessed some astounding courage in the face of near unwavering violence, the situation in Bahrain appears much the same.
Iraq, Kristof said, is "astonishing in its quiet." He wonders more about relations between the Kurds and the rest of the southern population more so than the clash between Sunnis and Shiites.
Kristof figures Saudi Arabia and Iran will remain mostly static. And though he fears Iranian development of a nuclear bomb could trigger a tumultuous arms race in the region, Kristof says that of all countries in the Middle East, the popular will of the Iranian people is by and large the most pro-American.