Dexter Filkins shares his experience covering international conflicts at Northwestern. Photo by Amy Ouyang / North by Northwestern.

Starting with a hard question on the Trump administration’s latest decision to pull out of the Middle East affairs, Dexter Filkins, foreign affairs writer with The New Yorker, had a conversation with Medill professor and New Yorker contributor Peter Slevin Wednesday night. He also shared his experience covering foreign conflicts with the Northwestern community.

Having covered several conflicts zone in the last 20 years, Filkins started the conversation with a discussion on the current administration and its approaches to foreign policy. Filkins said covering the Syrian conflict made him especially sympathetic to the Kurds and hoped that they could receive more help from the United States.

“Just like us, the Kurds want democracy,” Filkins said. “They trusted us and they depended upon us.”

During his trip to the Middle East, Filkins had the rather rare opportunity to interview Syrian President Bashar al-Assad face to face. Filkins said the president never directly responded to any of his questions, regardless of how scathing they were.

“We were basically slinging a baseball bat at his head to get him to react, but nothing was happening.” Filkins said.

Filkins also specifically touched on the long-existing tension between the Pentagon and the White House in foreign policy creation. Filkins said that according to one of his friends in the military, President Trump tends to think aloud and doesn’t enjoy an extremely friendly relationship with the military officials.

“According to an admiral, when presidents tell you to do something, you can either act on it, or you can treat it as part of a larger conversation,” Filkins said. “And they always prefer the latter.”

Although the tension always existed even during the Obama administration, the increasing passive aggression from the Pentagon to the White House still seems rather alarming to Filkins. He said he worries whether such an attitude would linger into the next administration after Trump.

The conversation with Dexter Filkins kicked off the launch of the new international center at Northwestern. The center aims to support teaching and research on international and regional studies in Weinberg. It will also become the new administrative home for undergraduate programs in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, International Studies and Middle East and North African Studies.

“The research groups in the center will reflect the globe-spanning scholarship of Weinberg faculty, and will include units on important contemporary topics ranging from global capitalism and law to forced migration, to politics and religion, and beyond,” said Ian Hurd, professor of political science and director of the center.