WILLMAR -- When it comes to foreign policy, few people voice their opinions as candidly as St. John's history professor Nick Hayes.
He was the featured speaker Tuesday afternoon at the Kiwanis Noon Club in Willmar. In a mere 30 minutes, Hayes identified what he considers the biggest problems facing U.S. foreign policy and offered his own academic views on international affairs.
"I want to spread the message to ordinary citizens that foreign affairs is not rocket science," Hayes said in an interview after his lecture. "Sometimes you have to speak candidly. I'm often afraid that people will take something as offensive when it wasn't meant to be at all."
During his presentation, Hayes tackled three hot-button issues facing the United States: Iran, Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism.
Iran, he said, has the most to gain from U.S. involvement in Iraq, and the country hopes to become a leader of radical Islamic forces in the Middle East.
"(Iran) emerged as a more powerful country because of the war in Iraq, but more importantly, it emerged as a radically Islamic, nuclear-armed state," Hayes said. "The problem of Iran is complicated. At the moment, most of the cards are held by Iran."
Despite the threat Iran poses, it will be Afghanistan, Hayes said, that determines the legacy of President Obama's foreign policy.
"He will really be judged by the outcome of the war in Afghanistan," he said.
Lastly, Hayes spoke about the threat of terrorism in the United States, arguing that it will be "virtually impossible to totally eradicate the terrorist threat."
Of the two solutions posed by the government to fight terrorism, counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency, neither will be nearly as effective as it needs to be, he said.
"The problem is, both have only limited prospects of success," Hayes said, pointing out that counter-terrorism will only stop a particular base of terrorists, not the global threat, and that counter-insurgency will not prevent the radicalization of other terrorist groups.
Kiwanis member and longtime friend John Lindstrom had invited Hayes to speak at the club's weekly meeting.
"It's important to hear him speak because what he says is so much more knowledgeable than just a five-minute newsbyte," Lindstrom said.
"Not many of us have the time to delve into the areas that are his expertise."
Hayes has taught at St. John's University for 10 years and is currently the university's chair in critical thinking. He recently published a book, "And One Fine Morning: Memories of my Father," and he has written for a range of publications, including the "Star Tribune," the "Slavic Review" and the "Moscow Times."
After his presentation, Hayes said he knows some people might not agree with his beliefs, but that it's important to speak openly about these issues -- he doesn't mince words when it comes to Iraq. He said the war in Iraq is an example of a foreign policy decision gone terribly, terribly wrong.
"The Bush administration has left a very tangible anti-American sentiment," he said. "The war in Iraq is the single greatest disaster in American foreign policy in at least a half a century. The consequences of it will be even more disastrous than Vietnam."