Fares Lecture

Former president holds out hope for Middle East peace

There can be a just war, former President George H.W. Bush told a Tufts audience at the 2003 Issam M. Fares Lecture. And such a war may be necessary to eliminate the threat Iraq poses to the United States and the rest of the world, he said.

Former President George H.W. Bush says the United States must make clear its respect for Islam. At right is Tufts President Lawrence S. Bacow. © Mark Morelli

"After the horror of September 11, we want to protect our country and other countries against weapons of mass destruction," Bush said, speaking to crowd of almost 5,000 February 26 at the Gantcher Family Sports and Convocation Center on the Medford/Somerville campus. "The United States must do what it can to protect itself and its friends against weapons of mass destruction."

Bush, who delivered the Fares Lecture just hours before his son, President George W. Bush, addressed the nation on the Iraq situation, said that while these are "difficult and defining days" in the Middle East, he has faith that peace eventually will be achieved throughout the region.

"The 21st century will offer leaders throughout the Middle East a real chance to build a brighter future worthy of their peoples," Bush said, introducing the refrain of "hope over hate" that punctuated much of the speech.

The lecture series is supported by an endowment from the Fares Foundation and was first conceived by Fares I. Fares, A93, a trustee and member of Tufts' International Board of Overseers and the Board of Overseers for Arts & Sciences, who continues to be active on the lecture committee. It is named in honor of Fares' father, Issam M. Fares, the deputy prime minister of Lebanon and a trustee emeritus of the university.

Bush's talk touched on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the status of Lebanon, in addition to the confrontation with Saddam Hussein. He also discussed the legacy of the 1991 Gulf War.

And, while rebutting some of the criticism that has been leveled at his son, he made it clear that he did not have any special knowledge about what the administration would do next in regard to Iraq.

"I try to stay out of the president's way; I try not to complicate his life. I don't go around giving advice to the 43rd president of the United States," he said. "Now, all bets are off when it comes to Barbara," he added, to appreciative chuckles from the audience.

'Honor-bound duty'
Bush's appearance was marked by tight security at the Gantcher Center and surrounding areas. About 300 protesters turned out on campus, and 10 people—including students from Tufts and other Boston area universities—were arrested on disorderly persons charges by Medford police, according to Capt. Mark Keith of the Tufts University Police Department.

Inside, the former president's speech was twice interrupted by a handful of protesters, who were escorted from the Gantcher Center by police.

As the United States proceeds in the current crisis, there are three vital messages, Bush said: The United States needs to make clear its respect for Islam; it must continue its "honor-bound duty to defeat small bands of extremists who seek to harm our country," and it must "make clear that the new world order is not a code for American imperialism."

And, he said, the charge that the U.S. attempt to disarm Iraq hinges on the need for oil "is simply not true." During the Gulf War, "it was about liberating a sovereign nation," Bush said. "Now the talk is that Saddam has crossed another line, one that is deadly.

"It is illogical that the United States would go to war to get oil," he continued. "We have oil. We are not seeking hegemony. This is about weapons of mass destruction. The United States is not looking for an opportunity to hurt the Iraqi people … what we want is compliance with a wide array of UN resolutions."

'Clear choice for peace'
In the early '90s, Bush said, the success of Operation Desert Storm helped re-energize the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians and helped lead to the Madrid Conference in fall 1991 that was co-sponsored by the United States and the then-Soviet Union.

One of the keys to that success, he said, was the U.S. decision not to invade Iraq or attempt to depose Hussein at the war's end.

Former President Bush shown on a video monitor during the 2003 Fares Lecture. © Mark Morelli

"I'll never forget walking into that peace conference [in Madrid] after Desert Storm and seeing Israelis with Arabs, side by side, seeing Arabs and Israelis beginning to talk about peace. It was very emotional.

"And, it never would have happened if the [U.S] had exceeded the UN mandate and had gone on. We would have lost all support from the coalition," he said.

"My point is that if only for a time, we saw hope surmount hate in the Middle East. We saw the people of the Middle East lift their own eyes to the horizon and make a clear choice for peace.

"Today," Bush said, "the peace process requires the parties to take the road less traveled; it requires courage to rise above violence and recrimination." The Israelis and Palestinians must sit down and talk to each other; the talks must be renewed, he said. And, each side must "forget misperceptions and false stereotypes and build harmonious relations."

Dangerous stereotypes
The danger of stereotypes does not only extend to those in the Middle East, Bush said. In the wake of 9/11, many in the United States are perpetuating harmful images of Arabs and Muslims. For example, he said, "there are certain ugly stereotypes concerning Saudi Arabia that have emerged from September 11, and they offend me and concern me."

Because most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, there has arisen the idea that the Saudi government and citizens are also anti-American, Bush said. But, he stressed, "there is a small fringe that exists in every society," citing Timothy McVeigh, one of the Americans responsible for the Oklahoma City bombings. "The Saudis are our staunch allies."

And, he said, those in the Middle East "must reject false stereotypes and distorted perceptions of the United States of America.

"We should be proud of what we're doing to help people [in the Middle East]," Bush said. "I want to see every child in that region grow up with a chance to succeed.

"I share the dream that the Eastern Mediterranean can once again be a beacon of progress and prosperity," Bush said. "Before I die, I want to see Lebanon united and living in peace. I think that can happen. I want to see it return to its former glory as a peaceful land on which outsiders don't try to put undue influence."

'High-minded ideals'
This was Bush's second appearance as a Fares speaker; he gave the lecture in 1994. Bush spoke of his friendship with Issam Fares, who was first elected to the Lebanese Parliament in 1996 and was named deputy prime minister in 2000.

"The things that really matter to Barbara and me are friendship and family. In Issam Fares, I feel blessed to have a very good, very close friend," Bush said.

During his opening remarks, Issam Fares touched on some of the same points Bush would stress in his lecture, including the need for the West to revamp its image of Arabs and Islam and to avoid misplaced blame for the events of 9/11.

"The misguided few must never be seen as representatives of Arabs or Islam," Fares said. The U.S. media, he said, needs to abandon its "simple, cartoon" image of the Arab world and accord it a "greater, deeper and more serious treatment than it has received in the Western world."

And, he challenged the American and Arab business communities to do more to promote understanding between the two cultures.

Bridging that gulf is the mission of the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at Tufts, which was dedicated in March 2002. The center, headed by Leila Fawaz, the Issam M. Fares Professor of Lebanese and Eastern Mediterranean Studies, was founded to provide an academic environment for the promotion of greater understanding of the rich heritage of the Eastern Mediterranean and of the significant challenges the region faces. The center sponsors academic programs, seminars and conferences throughout the year.

"I have great respect for the Fares Center," Bush said. The mission of the Fares Center, he said, is similar to that of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, which was launched in 1997 with the "idea that society is best served when there is an informed citizenry."

"I know the Fares Center was founded on high-minded ideals," Bush said, "strengthening understanding in an often-misunderstood part of the world."