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This blog offers thoughts about conflict and collaboration from noted thinkers, scholars and practitioners. Continue Reading »

by Mehrzad Boroujerdi and Louis Kriesberg

At the very time remarkable progress is being made in negotiations with Iran to prevent the emergence of a new nuclear-armed nation in the most militarized and dangerous region in the world, many members of the Senate are supporting legislation that would irresponsibly undermine this progress. The authors of S. 1881, seemingly without any recognition of the implications of this move, propose new unilateral demands, buttressed by enhanced sanctions and threats toward Iran.

While the Iranian and the U.S. governments have had legitimate, historical grounds for mutual mistrust and grievances since 1979, it would be imprudent for policy makers not to also acknowledge the growing shared interests and concerns of both parties.

It is a fact that the U.S. and Iran have a common enemy, al Qaeda, and the two states also have shared concerns about escalating and spreading disorder in the Middle East. A successful completion of negotiations would avert an Iran armed with nuclear weapons and would open the possibility of normalized relations with a country that is larger than Iraq and Afghanistan combined in population and landmass. A sustained nuclear deal could also lead to cooperation on other extremely important matters in the region, starting with the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

Five months into his term, President Rouhani has proven himself to be a leader who both has the aspiration and the aptitude to engineer a better relationship with Western powers. In 2003, Iran first signed the additional IAEA protocol while Rouhani served as its chief nuclear negotiator. Anyone who doubts his willingness to compromise on Iran’s nuclear program should read his 1,000-page Persian-language book, National Security and Nuclear Diplomacy, published just a year before he was elected president.

Within, he provides a remarkably detailed insider account of Iranian nuclear strategy, along with a frank discussion of the strategic and tactical thinking and policy disagreements among Iranian political elites. Rouhani, who served for 24 years as secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, laments problematic features of Iranian foreign policy such as its insecurity complex, infinite sloganeering, inability to distinguish tactics from strategy, and the belief that admitting to a mistake is tantamount to acknowledging defeat. His corrective vision outlines an approach that American leaders are more likely to understand and be able to engage. Rouhani may be a cleric, but his formidable policy experience and legal education have taught him that foreign policy is distinct from theology and course correction and flexibility are essential.

President Obama, unlike some senators, appreciates the nuances of dealing with Iran and understands the gravity — and promise — of the current situation. After three decades of enmity, we are finally witnessing some synchronicity between the leaderships in Washington and Tehran. Yet, the President is being challenged by vested political interests bent on a malicious campaign to torpedo the agreement that the P5+1 grouping of countries put together in Geneva.

Iran and the U.S. have had movements toward better relations at times in the past, short-lived to a significant degree due to U.S. actions and inactions. Significant progress was made during President Clinton’s second term, especially after the August 1997 Iranian presidential election when the reformist Islamic cleric Sayyid Mohammad Khatami was elected. Iran ended support for Hezbollah terror attacks against the United States and helped the U.S. overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan, allowing passage of humanitarian aid and supporting the creation of the interim Karzai government.

Alas, George W. Bush dismissed Iranian cooperation after the 9/11 attacks and counterproductively called the nation part of an “Axis of Evil,” equating Iran with Iraq and North Korea. This may have seemed bold rhetoric at the time, but it made no strategic sense and destroyed the chances of improving Iranian conduct, especially at a moment when developments in Iraq and elsewhere were making Iran more inclined to work cooperatively with the United States. With Iran now a crucial player in the Syria conflict, pointlessly sabotaging relations at this moment of compromise would replay the harmful effects of the “Axis of Evil” declaration.

We must remember that Iran has its own internal politics, and putting excessive demands on a proud nation could backfire. This is a crucial moment; everyone should think hard about the consequences of rash action.

Mehrzad Boroujerdi is professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School and Director of the Middle Eastern Studies Program. Louis Kriesberg is Maxwell professor emeritus of Social Conflict Studies.

By requiring all federal agencies to be more transparent, collaborative, and participatory, the Obama Administration’s Open Government Initiative promised to bring watershed changes to government. While much progress has been made since the release of its first National Action Plan, advances in the arena of public participation have been disappointing. Champions of public participation had high hopes for the second National Action Plan, which was released by the White House on December 5, 2013. While the second plan has numerous commendable and important commitments that increase transparency and collaboration, it falls flat with regard to public participation, perhaps with the exception of its promotion of participatory budgeting. Continue Reading »

The voices calling for universities to reinvigorate their significance to local communities are growing louder. Renewed interest in community-centered teaching and learning is being driven by an increase in campus engagement offices, and students and academic staff committed to connecting their studies with community engagement.  All this is driving universities to find new ways to work with their communities in the 21st century. Sometimes, that means redefining their relationship to the local community. Imagining America is a consortium of artists and scholars opening pathways for these new forms of engagement and scholarship in community. Continue Reading »

The tragic Israeli Palestinian relations and the many failed U.S. attempts to mediate an end to their violence-prone conflict does not appear to provide much hope that the new effort will succeed. Nevertheless, there are new circumstances within the United States and the Middle East region that open a window for an effective broad American role in transforming the painful Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Continue Reading »

Determining U.S. policy toward Iran and its nuclear programs should begin with considering the way the Iranian leadership and people regard their effort to develop nuclear power and nuclear weapons.  The current leadership wants to remain in power, but they differ about how that is best accomplished.  Ahmadinejad does not determine policy.  To what extent it is ultimately shaped by Ayatollah Khamenei or by the high military leaders is widely debated.  There is also widespread Iranian disaffection with the ruling regime.  The U.S. should be wary of unifying the divergent groups within the country.

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When problems are complex, solutions are imperfect.  Actions taken in the face of complexity inevitably come to be associated with a hard to separate mixture of gains, losses, and ambiguities.  These gains, losses, and ambiguities, furthermore, are understood and experienced from a variety of perspectives, none of which can justifiably claim to command a total view.  Thus, not only are solutions to complex problems imperfect, there are no definitive criteria by which to interpret or evaluate the imperfection. Continue Reading »

Political Subjectivities and Local Nationalisms in Postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

By Azra Hromadzic  

One of the most commonly heard “complaints” about postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), made by policy-makers and academics alike, is that “ordinary Bosnians” vote for nationalists and, in that way, allow them to stay in power. While it is true that the nationalist parties have been dominating the political scene in postwar BiH, these facts and statistical data are used to make two very important and problematic claims: The first argument is that since Bosnians and Herzegovinians massively support the nationalist parties that started the war, this must mean that the majority of Bosnians and Herzegovinians are themselves nationalists (for an insightful critique of this position see Kurtović 2011). The second assertion is that any broader, cross-ethnic political and social articulations of common Bosnianhood are apolitical, nostalgic, invented and over-romanticized visions of Bosnianhood and/or are reflections of “impaired insights” on the side of “subjective” academics (see Hayden 2007).  These two claims problematically accept statistical data as “true” reflections of political and social beliefs. Furthermore, these positions rest on a primordial, essentilizing and totalizing view of Bosnian and Herzegovinian “ethnic groups rooted in ethnic territories” (for a powerful critique of this rigid vision of multiculturalism, see Campbell 1999; Chandler 1999, and Gagnon n.d.). Continue Reading »

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