The Santa Fe World Affairs Forum aims to broaden and deepen understanding of world affairs through small, interactive, professionally led sessions on international issues for a membership of informed individuals.

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  • Al Jilali Fort, 1587 Muscat photo by Linda Pappas Funsch

Sultanate of Oman: Beacon of Hope in the Middle East

 August 17, 2018

 Linda Pappas Funsch

Few Americans know much about Oman, a small sultanate located on the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Yet Oman hosts American military forces on three Omani bases through a Facilities Access Agreement and its unbroken alliance with the US dates from 1790.

The majority of Omanis are Ibadhi, an early offshoot of Islam and a third tradition within the Islamic mosaic.   This small but strategic country at the mouth of the Persian Gulf is ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said – who has been in power since 1970 after engineering a bloodless palace coup against his father.

Although Omani society is historically tribal, Sultan Qaboos has been able to construct an effective national consensus, in which Omani loyalty transcends tribe. Oman is also now highly urbanized and since 2014, foreign migrants represent over 43% of the population working primarily in the oil industry.  Yet in addition to encouraging the growth of the petroleum sector, the Sultan has also initiated a program of “Omanization,” aimed at reducing the country’s reliance on hydrocarbon production, increasing private investment, and replacing expatriate labor with trained Omanis.

Linda Pappas Funsch, author of Oman Reborn: Balancing Tradition and Modernization (2015, Palgrave Macmillan), will discuss the history and modern transformation of the Sultanate of Oman, a little known, but vitally important, country of the Arab Middle East. The story of Oman is compelling – a maritime power that prospered as the global hub for the frankincense trade in antiquity. Its unique world view and international relations of today are a reflection of its lengthy interaction with diverse cultures. Oman’s foreign policy today is a product of its history, values, and realistic appraisal of 21st century dynamics.

Ms. Funsch is a career specialist in Islamic and modern Middle Eastern history and cultures with experience in academia, publishing, consulting, tourism and travel writing.  Following undergraduate study at Marymount College, Tarrytown (NY) and the American University in Cairo, she was awarded an M.A. in Near Eastern Languages and Literature at New York University.  She has served as editor of The Arab World magazine in New York, consultant for the League of Arab States’ office to the United Nations, project specialist for the Ford Foundation, both in Beirut and New York, and US Director of the American Research in Egypt consortium in Princeton, NJ.

She has taught at several colleges in New York and Maryland, including Iona College, Mount Saint Mary’s University, Hood College and — for  15 years and currently   —  at Frederick (MD) Community College’s Institute for Learning in Retirement. She has guest lectured at Georgetown University, the World Affairs Council, the World Bank, the National Defense University, Mary Washington University, and Baylor University, among others. She has also been interviewed on the Voice of America. In addition, she is engaged in a number of ecumenical outreach activities, aimed at fostering an understanding and appreciation of the shared values among the Abrahamic faith traditions.

Location TBD

Past Event

Annual Symposium 2018

April 9 – 10, 2018

Values, Myths and Interests: Debating American Foreign Policy in an Unstable World

American foreign policy since World War II has relied upon soft power – the ability to influence others based on key human values. Since World War II, the US goal has been to project its image as a nation that is not only strong, but also “good,” drawing on the idea of American Exceptionalism to persuade others that the country is the “shining city on the hill” and a democratic “beacon of freedom” in a troubled world.

Yet U.S. foreign policy has also been guided by national self-interest. This pursuit has at times conflicted with our aspirations and led to less than admirable policies implemented through counter-productive means that diminished America’s standing in the world.

Today a debate over fundamental values rages within the U.S. and abroad. The world’s view of America is no longer favorable. Forty-nine percent of the globe views the United States and President Trump’s “America First” slogan unfavorably. Yet Americans themselves are still admired by fifty-nine percent according to that same Pew “gold standard” poll of international opinion. Can we change this increasingly negative view of our country overall, or if not, will it spread to individual Americans? What can we do to regain the world’s trust?

Barack Obama’s 2008 election was a source of hope at home and overseas. While his administration fell short of expectations, the U.S. did regain and retain much of the international community’s respect. But in the past year, many question if the United States’ foreign policy is guided by its aspirational values.

Are there fundamental human values that all nations and cultures can agree upon or are they idiosyncratic? How are such values interpreted in U.N. documents and organizations of which the U.S. was an instrumental drafter?

Many American aspirational values are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. Do democracy, human rights, the rejection of tyranny, equality for all, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, constitutional government, freedom of the press and worship continue to call for respect domestically and internationally? How can we maintain a free media but deal with concerted efforts to undermine this bedrock of democracy? What about the value and importance of scientific inquiry, which has underpinned economic, health, national security, educational, social and technological foundations of the American success story since before the founding of the Republic?

Finally, can America still be influential on the international stage, or have we yielded that role to others through an “America First” form of isolationism that has diminished US stature with allies to the delight of our competitors and adversaries? What options do we have to navigate today’s unstable world?

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