When GW professor Steven Livingston visited Iraq two months ago, he became the first American professor to visit the nation under the auspices of the U.S. Embassy in Iraq’s American visitor program.
In the next several weeks, he plans to return to the war-torn country.
Livingston, a professor of media and public affairs and international affairs at GW since 1991, went to Iraq to educate journalists and both American and Iraqi officials on the importance of relations between the press and the government.
“What I’m doing informs what I’m teaching,” Livingston said. “I’m writing about these ideas, teaching them in classes and implementing them in the real world when I go to places like Iraq.”
Livingston received this exclusive invitation based on his past involvement with similar overseas activities and his reputation at the State Department. He has previously worked with the governments of Rwanda, Kenya and most recently Lesotho, which he visited this past December.
Livingston said the visitor program is a “particular mechanism available for the State Department to sponsor Americans.” The program usually sponsors visits to areas of peace, but he said the State Department permitted his trip due to a six-month cease fire in Iraq.
From Feb. 28 to March 2, Livingston met with Iraqi government officials, journalists and U.S. Embassy officials to discuss strategic communication tactics.
“The government of Iraq has a pressing need to be more open and transparent with the people of Iraq,” Livingston said.
The workshops aimed to teach Iraqi government officials and press. “How a government can offer information to journalists and how a journalist can then utilize that information to help inform the citizens,” he said.
This relationship is often taken for granted in the U.S., he said.
“In the places I’ve been, such as Iraq and Lesotho, these systems are sometimes missing or not fully developed,” Livingston said. Changing the current institutions will empower citizens with knowledge, he said.
“Wouldn’t it be great for good investigative journalism to tell the Iraqi people about the human rights abuses various Iraqi forces have been involved with?” Livingston said.
Having spent time in the military in the past, Livingston said safety was not a primary concern while visiting the Middle Eastern war zone. But he added that real danger does await journalists who cover Iraq.
“Iraq is the most dangerous place in the world right now for journalists,” Livingston asked. “My heart went out to them.”
Livingston said if the security situation in Iraq holds, he will be able to return to Iraq with a team of academic professionals in about a month to “continue the work begun in February.”
Despite the progress made, Livingston said the Iraqi government and press are still struggling.
“Change will happen, but in the larger picture, I’m not terribly optimistic,” Livingston said. “Over the long haul, what I want for the Iraqi people is accountability of their government.”