Elliott School hosts Gelber Prize winner

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Sir Lawrence Freedman, a distinguished historian and 2009 Gelber Prize Winner for his non-fiction book “A Choice of Enemies: America Confronts the Middle East,” appeared at the Elliott School Thursday night in a discussion with Foreign Policy magazine Editor in Chief Moisés Naim.

“I can still remember reading one of his first books, ‘U.S. Intelligence and the Soviet Strategic Threat,’ back in the 1970s, and I remember thinking at the time, first of all, how did this British guy learn all of our secrets?” said Elliott School Dean Mike Brown, when introducing Freedman.

Naim led Freedman in a conversation about his prize-winning book, which dissects three decades of U.S.-Middle East relations, and the Gelber Prize, a prestigious award given for the world’s best non-fiction book in English that seeks to deepen public debate on significant global issues.

“A Choice of Enemies” looks back at U.S. history in the Middle East, starting from 1979 during the Carter administration and continuing to present day. The title is meant to be ironic, Freedman said, and refers to President Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address, where he identified several potential Middle Eastern enemies of the United States.

“After Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt knew who was behind it, whereas after 9/11, there was more uncertainty,” Freedman said.

While discussing the Iraq war, Freedman said that too many decisions were influenced by the aftershock of 9/11 and the notion of making Iraq an example of American power.

He noted, however, that the military leadership seems to have learned from the experience and that the situation seems to be improving under President Obama.

“Military leadership can be honest and candid on where it went wrong; there is more of a realism now in America,” Freedman said. “I don’t think there are so many illusions now.”

Freedman emphasized that one “can’t overstate the impact of Obama. He has star quality and is allowing Americans to recover with allies.”

As a past juror for The Lionel Gelber Prize, Naim recognized the hard work that goes into the decision making in choosing the winner.

“I never read more in my life,” Naim said. “You get boxes of books that you have to read, and I learned a lot, and then I decided I would never do it again.”

Judith Gelber, chair of the Lionel Gelber Prize Board and niece of Lionel Gelber, attended along with an audience of more than 200 students, faculty and scholars.

At the close of the discussion, both Naim and Freedman were presented with gifts, a crystal paperweight inscribed with the Elliott School of International Affairs’ official seal.

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