Gilmour lectures on the Middle East

by Samantha Stern | 1/27/16 7:41pm

Andrew Gilmour opened his lecture yesterday by joking that he had never before had the honor of speaking to a standing audience throughout his career in government. Students, faculty and Hanover residents crowded into the aisles and rear of Haldeman 041 yesterday afternoon to hear Gilmour, a senior analyst in the CIA’s directorate of analysis, provide a strategic perspective on the Middle East.

In the lecture, sponsored by the Dickey Center for International Understanding, Gilmour addressed key transitions underway in the Middle East and drivers of change for its future. He also spent time giving the audience an idea of how analysts think.

Gilmour began his talk by pointing out that the word analysis is a misnomer because it implies the breaking apart of information. Instead, Gilmour considers one of his main responsibilities to be synthesis, constructing a story that is logical and intelligible based on the evidence available.

He said that one of the greatest privileges of serving in the profession is that he must remain objective and seek to understand an issue in its entirety and without bias.

Due to Gilmour’s knowledge of highly sensitive information, he declined to comment on the specifics of his job, including the extent to which his work relied on qualitative or quantitative data.

The Middle East is in a period of transition that will affect the international system, Gilmour said. Gilmour noted three principal forces that are changing the nature of conflict and shaping the region today — a revolution in communication and information technologies, a deficit in widely accepted political ideologies and newly assertive actors.

The downward spiral of Arab politics has shifted the political center of gravity towards the Gulf States, which are playing a bigger role in the security environment than ever before, he said.

Gilmour said that one of the most notable features characterizing the region today is the absence of broad-based political institutions. He noted that unemployment and a burgeoning population in the Arab world are compounding instability. Another concern is that the idea of citizenship, something you can pledge your identity to, has never fully taken root in the Middle East, he added.

According to Gilmour, religion also complicates forecasts of the region. The Islamic revival has been complemented by an awakening of religious and ethnic identities, he said.

Being an analyst involves the challenge of understanding how religion, leadership, institutions and exogenous factors all interact, he said. Taking into account these multiple influences is a bit like playing the game of tri-dimensional chess in Star Trek, Gilmour added.

While Gilmour declined to comment on many questions posed in the question and answer session, he was able to offer advice to one student who asked what the best way is to learn about the world. Devoting time to learning languages is a prime pathway to cultural understanding, he said.

Marcus Blackwell TU’17 said that he found the way Gilmour reflected on the history of the region interesting.

“I’ve always been interested in the Middle East and [the lecture] was a really fascinating chance to hear from someone that has learned that much depth on the subject matter,” Blackwell said.

Brian Raymond TU’17, who formerly worked under Gilmour in the CIA, stressed the importance of Gilmour’s application of multiple disciplines to solve problems. He added that it was important to consider the history of the Middle East to understand the upheaval seen since 2011.

“The arch of history, particularly from the mid 20th century until today has been characterized by the failures of overarching ideological frameworks that structured order in the Middle East,” Raymond said. “Political parties and institutions to organize [political order] are absent, and in that absence, we see a revulsion against the existing order without necessarily movement in a unified direction, for example, towards democracy.”

Choosing which speakers to host at Dartmouth is an “informed but complicated calculation,” director of the Dickey Center Daniel Benjamin said.

Benjamin said that he looks for speakers who are captivating and can address particularly relevant issues.

“We try to remain topical, but also try to find people of real distinction, so we can bring the world to Dartmouth,” he said.

At the same time, Benjamin also seeks to ensure that all of the Dickey Center’s pillars of activity — the environment, gender, health, human development and security — are being addressed.

Benjamin, who met Gilmour during his time working in the U.S. State Department, said that bringing him to campus was an “irresistible possibility.” International affairs have been dominated by events in the Middle East, and a dramatically different world is emerging than the one that arose after World War II, he said. Gilmour can speak to these changes, Benjamin said.

Gilmour has approximately 31 years of experience working for the foreign intelligence agency. Among other senior positions, Gilmour has served as a fellow in the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence and as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia on the National Intelligence Council.

“Gilmour is at the pinnacle of the analytic world at the CIA,” Benjamin said. “I know him as someone who has deep stores of knowledge on every country I’ve ever asked him about.”

Benjamin noted that Gilmour is thoughtful, experienced and highly regarded. In an era in which religious identity is a central factor shaping events in the Middle East, Benjamin also thought Gilmour’s insight would be especially valuable, as Gilmour holds a B.A. in the comparative study of religion.

“Particularly at a time when we have a presidential campaign going on in which some candidates are saying the most outlandish things about Muslims and we have a rising tide of Islamophobia and others seem to almost be ignoring the problem, I think it’s terrific that Dartmouth students and residents from the Upper Valley can hear something that is based on facts and then take that and chew on it for a while before we all have to go to the polls,” he said.

However, Benjamin emphasized that he did not purposefully schedule the visit for before the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primaries.

Feyaad Allie ’16, a War and Peace fellow at the Dickey Center who attended the event, praised the decision to bring Gilmour to campus.

“I think it’s great because he’s currently in the CIA,” Allie said. “A lot of people that we’ve had in the past maybe had been in the CIA before or were in the later stages of their career. If you care about international relations and security issues, then it’s cool to be able to interact with people who work in that field.”