Ellison talks with grad students

Ellison discussed his recent trip to several countries in the Middle East.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) speaks about the political climate of Afghanistan with students and community members Monday at the Humphrey Insititute of Public Affairs .

Ian Larson

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) speaks about the political climate of Afghanistan with students and community members Monday at the Humphrey Insititute of Public Affairs .

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison met with a small group of graduate students on campus Monday to discuss his recent travel to the Middle East as part of his role on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Ellison, a Democrat, said the United States should look toward forming long-term relationships with the parliaments of the three countries he visited — Lebanon, Pakistan and Afghanistan — and that those relationships should not necessarily be military-related. “I think this is a good time for the United States to engage more so than in the past,” Ellison said. Ellison returned last week from a weeklong visit through his appointment with the House Democracy Partnership, a commission comprised of 20 members of the House of Representatives that seeks to support the development of democratic governments around the world. The focus of the trip was to give representatives a chance to meet with some of their counterparts in the Middle East and provide them the opportunity to work with them hands-on to ask, “What do you need, and how can we help?” said Ellison spokesman Rick Jauert. Ellison said that while there was a sense of stability in Lebanon, Pakistan seemed to be “creeping backward” from progress, and he said there were six bombings in the country the week the commissioners arrived. “We do not have a formalized relationship with the Pakistani parliament, but we want to investigate whether we should have one,” Ellison said, adding that the Partnership is trying to find reformers within the Pakistani parliament to work with. Ellison said there is the potential for real change to take place in the country, but he warned that rapid change can often be destabilizing and will have to take place gradually. Ellison also spoke briefly on President Barack Obama’s upcoming decision on increasing troops in Afghanistan. “The focus and fascination on the number of troops, I believe, is unfortunate,” Ellison said. “I think the real focus should be on strategy — what are we going to do with whatever troops are there? What is their goal? What is their aim?” Public policy student Liz Shaffer-Wishner, who attended the talk, said it’s “empowering” for students entering the field to be visited by public policy figures like Ellison. “There are students here who are on track to fulfill what [Ellison] is starting,” Shaffer-Wishner said.