War in Ukraine was the topic of a timely Zoom assembly for Middle Schoolers on Wednesday, March 8.
Hagar Hajjar Chemali P ’33, GA ’99, a national security expert and public affairs professional with a special expertise in sanctions and counter-illicit finance, spoke to boys about the history of the Cold War, the creation of the United Nations and NATO after World War II, and about recent events leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
She told the boys that NATO, even though it is organized as a defense organization, has always posed a problem for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“NATO says, ‘We are just the defense. We are just here to defend ourselves,’” she said. “But that’s not how Putin sees it. That’s always been a thorn in Putin’s side.
“These conflicts rarely come out of nowhere. They often date back, sometimes centuries.”
Chemali also discussed how she came to a career in international affairs.
She said she fell in love with Model UN while in high school, and moved to Washington, D.C., after college to work for U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut. From there, she moved to the U.S. Treasury Department as a Middle East Policy Advisor in the Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes.
“We hunted down the money of bad guys.,” Chemali told the boys.
From 2010–2012, Chemali served as Director for Syria and Lebanon at the National Security Council.
She ended her talk with a lively question-and-answer session; topics ranged from the potential use of nuclear weapons, the impact of the recently imposed sanctions, the role of propaganda, and the position and impact of other countries, such as Poland, Turkey, and China.
She told the boys that Ukraine is facing a unique kind of adversary in Putin.
“Dictators don’t think the way we do,” she said. “How they think and act is actually very different from democratic leaders. Their priorities are very different. Winning is the only option for them. For them, at the end of the day, power is everything.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen next. I can tell you world leaders are all working to put an end to this conflict.”
Hagar is founder and chief executive officer of the strategic communications group Greenwich Media Strategies, LLC, as well as a TV commentator and writer on national security.
She is the host of the YouTube show Oh My World!, a weekly 10-minute recap of world news that “exposes the activities of tyrants and human rights abusers” around the world while also “sharing the stories of those doing good.”
“This conversation could go on and on,” she said as she closed the assembly. “If you see me on campus or at an event like ’Wick Walk Run, ask me a question!”