Iran

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Perhaps more than anything else, what is troubling about the potential US-Iranian deal is that there are no indications that it will make the Middle East a more peaceful region. More likely, the deal will only escalate the conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites as well as help Iran establish hegemony over the region and dominate the other countries.

Supporters of the deal cite the fact that both the U.S. and Iran are currently fighting against the Islamic State as a central reason to support the deal, but that objective is shortsighted. What happens after we defeat the Islamic State militants? The ugly reality is that there are few common goals for the U.S. and Iran to work together on because we are on opposing sides in virtually every other conflict in the Middle East.

This deal doesn’t force Iran to give up its nuclear enrichment program. This deal doesn’t change the fact that Iran is supporting the Houthi Rebels in Yemen, the terrorist organization Hezbollah and the genocidal dictator Bashar al-Assad in Syria. What the deal does do is lift decades of sanctions off Iran, giving it the opportunity to grow even more powerful (economically, militarily and politically) and better fund their terrorist, rebel and genocidal allies.

I would argue that the U.S. made this mistake once in the past already, when it normalized relations with the People’s Republic of China. At the time, the goal was to play the weaker China against the more powerful Soviet Union, but what we ended up doing was letting the enemy pawn become the enemy queen. Today, China is our biggest geopolitical foe, and in hindsight, the Soviet Union probably would have fallen without normalizing relations with China. This time, the mistake could be more catastrophic, as the Middle East is in a greater state of turmoil and chaos.

By suspending the sanctions on Iran, we will see similar results; there will be no peace and stability in the Middle East. A more powerful Iran is a more dangerous Iran. In particular, the potential deal would only limit Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons for 10 years. A limit that Iran is in a better position to violate once other countries start investing in them, because it would be a lot harder for the international community to come together and re-impose sanctions retroactively. Iran also has a history of lying, deceiving and violating international agreements. 

The terms of this deal are felt as a betrayal by our allies and a threat to their very existence. First-year law student and former Texans for Israel President Ben Mendelson summed up this sentiment. 

“If there’s one thing the Jewish people have learned in 2,000 years, it’s that if someone says they want to kill you, believe them,” Mendelson said. 

I do not believe that diplomacy should be off the table with Iran, but there should be a few more conditions that are met for such a deal: Iran must foster peace in the Middle East, give up its nuclear enrichment program and stop supporting terrorists, rebels and dictators.

These conditions are not something I came up with. In fact, President Barack Obama stated in a 2012 presidential debate and in numerous other instances that Iran needs to end its nuclear program before sanctions can be lifted. Democrats and Republicans, as well as the United Nation, have supported these conditions. Once these conditions are met, I would be the first to write in favor of a deal with Iran. But they weren’t met.

Under the current deal, Iran would pose an even greater threat in the future. This is because they are allowed to keep their nuclear weapons program at a level conducive to the development of nuclear weapons within a year. In addition, there can be no peace in the Middle East as long as Iran continues supporting terrorists, rebels and dictators, as it regularly does.

We should not be making a bad deal only to accomplish short-term objectives, such as defeating the Islamic State. We should not be making a deal that does not set the foundation for long-term peace and stability in the region. At minimum, we should never make a deal that leaves the region worse off than before, which is precisely what this deal does. This is not a question of deal or no deal, but rather terrible deal or no deal. Though it might be tempting to accept any deal as better than nothing, we are just getting ripped off and swindled here.

Hung is a first-year law student from Brownsville.

Photo Credit: Jessica Lin | Daily Texan Staff

One of the great accomplishments in recent American society was the recognition, during the 1960s and 1970s, that the “personal is political.” For civil rights activists; this meant that racial prejudice was not just a matter of individual preference but a national issue requiring government intervention to protect the entitlements of citizenship and civilization.

For women, “the personal is political” meant that mistreatment at home and in the workplace was no longer acceptable but instead a topic for intensive debate and correction. For gays, lesbians and transgender citizens, “the personal is political” became a foundation for exposing suffering and claiming equal access to public institutions and privileges.

Making the personal political opened American power to people long denied access. It created a national dialogue about fairness, equality and the nature of a free society. During the 1960s and 1970s; intensive debates about rights and identity disrupted American society, with countless protest movements on city streets and across college campuses. The intensive debates and protests made our country more diverse, more open, more innovative and ultimately more successful. We would never want to reverse those accomplishments.

In recent years, however, the personalization of politics has turned in a new, destructive direction. Instead of opening opportunities for expanded participation and exposing the mistreatment of individuals, the contemporary focus on personality denies serious political analysis.

Too much of our rhetoric is “anti-Obama” or “anti-Bush” without real discussion of what matters: their policies. For all the shouting about the Affordable Care Act, for example, there has been very little public discussion about the problems of our terribly costly and inefficient health care system and the possibilities for improvement. For all the controversy about the recent agreement between the United States and Iran, there has been limited analysis of productive alternatives, if this deal is not accepted.

Instead of policy, talking heads pronounce strong judgments around positive and negative portrayals of personality — why we should “support” or “distrust” President Barack Obama. Overwhelmingly, citizens are told to decide on policy based on strong judgments of the leader’s personality, not the other way around. If you hate Obama, you hate the Affordable Care Act and the U.S.-Iran agreement. If you love Obama, you support those policies.

This is not how democracy should work. The complexities of policy should inspire people to embrace different and inconsistent positions on various issues.

In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, many thinking citizens supported rapid civil rights reforms (a largely Democratic position) and hardline Cold War foreign policies (a traditionally Republican position). Many who hated President Lyndon Johnson for prosecuting the Vietnam War also revered him for promoting more equality among citizens.

The same in reverse: Many who supported President Richard Nixon on Vietnam differed from his expansion of the federal government at home. Our society made progress, because citizens debated the big issues of fairness and foreign intervention on their own terms, not purely around the personality of the president. That is, of course, how both Johnson and Nixon were able to elicit bipartisan support for big, new initiatives. The opposition to them was also bipartisan, at times.

In earlier decades, the “personal is political” opened discussion of long-ignored issues, and it created opportunities for creative solutions. Today, the “personal is political” means that personal judgments of people are so deep and so vengeful that we cannot discuss anything else. All evidence is filtered through the question of who proposed a given policy, not what they proposed. Imagine, just for a minute, how partisan statements would flip on Iran if George W. Bush, not Obama, negotiated the current agreement — very similar, in fact, to the Bush administration’s pursued agreement with North Korea in 2008.

The personal is really political because our life choices are largely determined by political decisions made far from our families and our homes. Educational policies determine the kinds of schools we attend and what we learn. Zoning and transportation policies influence where we live and how we travel. Economic policies shape the jobs we hold and the money in our bank accounts. Policing and defense policies determine our safety and the protection of our rights. All political policies have deep and enduring personal effects. Personal needs demand political attention. That is the positive lesson of the 1960s and 1970s.

Attention to the personal, however, is not a substitute for serious policy analysis. Since the 1970s we have gone much too far in that lazy and simplistic direction, contributing to the stagnation, hyper-partisanship and public ugliness of our current day.

It is time to return our concentration to the personal effects of policy. Do not support the presidential candidate you “like,” please, but research the issues you care about, and follow the figures who offer the best ideas. Who will improve our educational system and open better opportunities for young people? Who will make our society more humane, prosperous and safe?

When you answer these questions, then you know which candidates to support and how to make the personal truly political for a new era of democratic accomplishment.

Suri is a professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the Department of History. Follow Suri on Twitter @jeremisuri.

What is the real goal in Iran, democratization or denuclearization?

Democracy can be seen as a process or as a product. The product does not always follow the process. It’s possible for a country to vote a radical, oppressive regime into office democratically. This is an idea that characterizes American diplomacy. The question is always, will this foster a democratic outcome?

America has a past of providing financial, technical and arms support to undemocratic governments and guerillas to protect its national security or economic interests. This doesn’t necessarily mean that America is the antagonist. It’s more complex than that. Mutual benefit is necessary for sustainable diplomacy.

The nuclear deal with Iran, the focus of Jeremi Suri’s most recent column, sounds simple: Iran will stop (or limit) its production of nuclear weapons if we trade with it. This means more economic opportunity for Iran and the protection of American national security interests.

Both sides benefit, but the implications of this agreement must be considered. It’s not just about opening markets; it’s about changing the relationship between the United States and Iran. The United States can use this economic relationship as a carrot to encourage greater transparency in the Iranian government. It could also use it as a tool of coercion. The agreement opens a possibility for Iran to become dependent on trade with the U.S., or vice versa. This entanglement is likely to happen and will influence our actions and reactions to Iran.

So then, through increased cooperation with Iran, are we trying to quell potentially dangerous nuclear activity or foster democratic values in the country? If the latter, are we concerned with the process or the product? We are walking a fine line between cooperation and control. Many times, we, as a country, have not been able to answer these questions, and as a result, we have seen undemocratic outcomes.

The bottom line is, we need to cooperate with Iran. This deal marks a huge geopolitical realignment in the Middle East. It’s important, but in the right context. Western “moral self-righteousness and military force,” as Suri puts it, have produced unsatisfactory results before. We should maintain that U.S.-Iran “cooperation” remains just that — cooperation. And we can do so by being careful not to affront Iranian sovereignty in the future.  

Shah is a business and government sophomore from Temple.

Photo Credit: Jessica Lin | Daily Texan Staff

It is always easier to shout in anger than to talk calmly and reasonably in moments of maximum pressure. It is always easier to condemn than to compromise with adversaries. It is always easier to fight than to negotiate, especially when you are strong and your enemies seem weak.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the United States has done a lot of shouting, condemning and fighting. This is particularly true in the Middle East, where we have fought a long, inconclusive war, declared an “axis of evil” and demanded rapid “democratization” on our terms. None of these actions has accomplished very much. Our counterproductive foreign behavior has seeped into our domestic politics — also dominated by shouting, condemning and fighting today. We are stymied at home and abroad because we have become unable to work through differences without personal attacks and government shutdowns.

Historic progress with Iran

Thursday’s dramatic announcement that the United States, Iran and five other nations have reached an agreement to curtail Iran’s threatening nuclear weapons program, in return for a lifting of international sanctions, is an example of what diplomacy, negotiation and compromise can accomplish. After more than 35 years of conflict, dating back to the Iranian Revolution, representatives from Washington and Tehran sat across the table from one another for intensive discussions aimed at improving relations between the two states.

The agreement announced on Thursday, if enforced, will open Iran’s nuclear program to the West, just as it reopens Western trade with Iran. Tehran will not assemble a nuclear weapon, and Washington will end its efforts to isolate a vibrant Iranian society. The truth is that Washington and Tehran are already working closely together in fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and last week’s agreement will allow the two states to find further opportunities for strategic cooperation.

Many critics correctly identify the Iranian state as a continuing sponsor of terrorists in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, the Palestinian territories and other areas. Leaders in Tehran refuse to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. They also deny the Holocaust and subscribe to numerous racist conspiracy theories about Jews and Christians. The Iranian government is not the most authoritarian or repressive regime in the Middle East — our friends, the Saudis, take that award — but the leaders of Tehran are clearly dangerous and antagonistic to many of our most deeply held values. We should not pretend otherwise.       

Misplaced priorities?

The point of diplomacy is that nations and peoples must learn to live with countries they do not trust, even ones that they despise. The world is a very diverse and dangerous place. The United States does not have the power, the knowledge or the moral claim to right the wrongs of every region and deny recognition to every government it disdains. Time and again, overreliance on military force and moral self-righteousness has produced unsatisfactory results. Just think of Vietnam, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya — all places where the United States deployed extensive force and spent billions of dollars over the last 40 years. It is very hard to argue that the United States achieved any enduring democratization in these countries, despite all the costs. Some of these countries, including Iraq and Libya, are more violent now than before American intervention.

Force is a necessary component of international relations, but it is not sufficient. Nor is financial assistance effective when local leaders are able to confiscate resources for their own purposes rather than the needs of a country’s population. The recent historical record shows that American force and money, although deployed widely, have delivered very little value in reforming societies.

President Barack Obama, elected to office in the shadow of the Iraq War and the 2008 economic recession, recognized these historical facts, as did many of the millions of Americans who voted for him. Mainline Republicans, including James Baker, Brent Scowcroft and Henry Kissinger said similar things. The United States needed to improve its foreign policy results by investing more heavily in negotiations and compromise with powerful adversaries, especially Iran. President Ronald Reagan had tried to do exactly that in the 1980s, and the time had come again to build a working relationship between Washington and Tehran for stability in the Middle East.

A powerful step in the direction of stability

The agreement reached last week was a powerful step in that direction and everyone, regardless of political party, should support it. Iran is still a threat to many American interests, but a working relationship that limits Iranian development of nuclear weapons and increases American access to Iranian society is good for the United States. We still cannot trust Iran, but an agreement that provides a basis for verification allows for some testing of suspicions. The Iranians would, of course, say similar things about the United States. The two adversaries need to start somewhere in building cooperation to replace escalating conflict. The negotiators of the recent agreement deserve praise for creating some reasonable hope.

Shouting, condemning and fighting always sound more righteous and pure, but politics is not about righteousness or purity. Talk to any veteran of the Iraq War and he or she will make this point through the countless stories of suffering, among all belligerents, witnessed firsthand. Effective politics turn on the ability to work with adversaries and construct agreements that make circumstances a little better.

The burden on critics of compromise, at home and abroad, is to offer a more promising alternative. If all you can offer is chest-thumping about the evils of the adversary, then get ready for more of the warfare abroad and stagnation we have seen at home during the last decade. Democracy is ultimately about getting things done by working with groups we love and hate, and with whom we share the planet.

Suri is a professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the Department of History. Follow Suri on Twitter @JeremiSuri.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire speaks at the Blanton Museum auditorium on Thursday afternoon. Ayotte gave her take on Iran’s agreement to limit its nuclear program and stressed the importance of trust between Iran and the United States.
Photo Credit: Mariana Munoz | Daily Texan Staff

Iran’s agreement to limit its nuclear program is crucial to American foreign policy, according to U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire). At an on-campus event Thursday, Ayotte said nuclear inspectors must be able to perform unannounced inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities at their own discretion to restore trust in the America-Iran relationship.

“The history between us is not one of trust,” Ayotte said. “We need to have unfettered access. We need to be able to go into Iran -— the national nuclear inspectors — without notice, and [the inspectors] need to be able to go wherever they want, whenever they want.”

Ayotte spoke at an event hosted by the William P. Clements, Jr. Center for History, Strategy & Statecraft. Ayotte is a member of the Senate’s armed services committee and the chairwoman of the subcommittee on readiness.

Ayotte said U.S. policymakers have had difficulty trusting Iran because of Iran’s hostility towards the U.S.

“Iran’s navy conducted a simulated attack against a mock U.S. aircraft carrier in the vicinity of the Strait of Hormuz,” Ayotte said. “They have previously said that they would like to wipe Israel off the map, and, even as recently as March 21, Iran’s supreme leader has declared ‘Death to America.’”

Ayotte said the U.S. president should sign a bill allowing Congress to review any agreements with Iran, including the ability to impose congressional sanctions on Iran within a 60-day period.

“It was the Congress on a bipartisan basis that actually put the toughest sanctions in place,” Ayotte said. “Before they are removed, we have a constitutional role in ensuring that the agreement is one that we think really protects the interests of the United States of America.”

Plan II senior Mark Jbeily, who attended the event, said pressure from sanctions, combined with President Barack Obama’s willingness to work with Iran, are factors that contributed to Iran’s preliminary agreement to limit the nuclear program. 

UT System Chancellor William McRaven, who also attended the event, said building and verifying details of the negotiations with Iran are the keys to moving forward.

“We need to be able to trust, but verify before we can move forward on anything with Iran,” McRaven said. “Their past has not shown that they are always very trustworthy. If we can build a framework, get an agreement in place and make sure that we can verify all the details of the agreement, then I think we can move forward.”

Negotiate with Iran? Bad idea

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and former EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, from left, are on their way to a meeting during their nuvlear talks on Iran, in Vienna, Austria, Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Joe Klamar, Pool)

 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and former EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, from left, are on their way to a meeting during their nuvlear talks on Iran, in Vienna, Austria, Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Joe Klamar, Pool)  

Sometimes, America’s enemies are easier to read than “Dick and Jane,” which should make policymaking fairly straightforward. We knew that the Nazis planned on conquering Western Europe, so we fought Germany once Japan drew us into World War II. We know that Venezuela wants to maintain its centrally planned economy and authoritarian political system, so we draw closer to neighboring Colombia. And yet, even though we know that Iran wants to empower its strain of Shia fundamentalism by building a nuclear weapon, American diplomats have shown a troubling willingness to engage with Tehran, a topic Jeremi Suri took on in his column last week.

Now that the second negotiation deadline has come and gone, a few points have become abundantly clear. Iran is not willing to abandon its uranium enrichment program, which it claims it will use to develop nuclear energy — a position that makes no sense for an oil-rich state with its eye set on regional hegemony. It won’t let international monitors inspect its facilities to prove they’re being used for peaceful purposes. It has shown its religious intolerance by hosting several anti-Semitic conferences in recent years, and its state-run PressTV station regularly publishes anti-American propaganda on subjects ranging from Vladimir Putin to Sept. 11. Simply put, Iran is not a friend.

But no matter how clearly Tehran articulates its intentions, the Obama administration insists that the U.S. can stop Iran’s nuclear program through negotiations. Worse still, the U.S. is throwing away its most significant bargaining chips, calling into question how much it can really gain through diplomacy. When Iranian civilians took to the streets in protest during the Arab Spring, the U.S. did not lend its support to the secular revolutionaries, even as it promoted their more religiously motivated counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia. American leaders have also refused to tighten economic sanctions and have taken military action against Iranian rivals like ISIS,  This appeasement of the autocratic Iranian regime is a dangerous move on President Obama’s part.

The problem isn’t limited to Iran, either. For decades, the U.S. has supported the repressive monarchy of Saudi Arabia in spite of its support for militant groups and its abysmal human rights record. This close relationship has torpedoed American credibility in the Middle East, for good reason. After all, how can a Pakistani woman take solace in America’s fight against the Taliban while the U.S.-backed Saudi monarchy still bans women from driving, testifying in court, or appearing in public without abiding by a strict religious dress code? Similarly, why should a Shiite in Syria believe that America cares about his civil liberties while Saudi Shiites can be stoned for apostasy? When so many Middle Easterners consider the U.S. meddling and hypocritical, fighting terrorism becomes challenging and maintaining close ties with democracies virtually impossible.

It stands to reason, then, that the U.S. must take a harsher stance if it has any hope of halting Iran’s nuclear program. There are a few solutions that stop short of military threats while still placing greater pressure on the Iranian regime. Given the role that economic sanctions played in getting Iran to the negotiating table in the first place, tougher penalties might motivate its leaders to make some critical concessions. The U.S. could also threaten to scale back its war against ISIS, which benefits both Iran and its closest regional ally, the Syrian government. And as long as Iran continues its freeze on uranium enrichment during negotiations, the U.S. could try stalling until more agreeable leaders take control in Tehran. Iranian religious elders will likely select a new Supreme Leader in 2016, and it’s worth monitoring whether they choose another anti-Western fundamentalist like the incumbent Ali Khamenei or a reformer in President Hassan Rouhani’s mold. There’s also hope that with a little international support, popular uprisings against the regime could succeed in secularizing Iran’s government.

Supporting repressive regimes might promote American interests in the short run, but it’s a deeply unreliable long-term tactic. Fortunately, those allies that eschew openly anti-American positions like Egypt and Saudi Arabia don’t pose a direct threat to American civilians. But Iran is a different story. Negotiating with an explicitly hostile Tehran does little to bolster America’s homeland security. From a more regional perspective, trusting Iran to comply with an agreement places millions of innocent lives in the Middle East in the hands of a fundamentalist government with clearly stated genocidal goals. As Suri wrote last week, trust between the U.S. and foreign governments is paramount to achieving American goals. But it’s better to go it alone than to put blind faith in an untrustworthy partner.

Shenhar is a Plan II, government, and economics sophomore from Westport, Connecticut. Follow Shenhar on Twitter @jshenhar.

Photo Credit: Connor Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

Editor's note: An earlier version of this column ran with a cartoon which inaccurately stated the name of the cartoonist. The correct cartoonist is Connor Murphy. 

In the world of international politics, allies and adversaries seem static for long periods of time, but then they shift quickly and decisively. American relations with Russia are an excellent example of this phenomenon. The countries were Cold War enemies in the 1980s, strategic partners in the 1990s, and now they are antagonists again. Iraq is another prime example. In the 1980s Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was an American ally, in the 1990s he became a strategic threat, and in 2003 Americans labeled him an enemy in the “Global War on Terror.” Britain’s great nineteenth century prime minister, Lord Palmerston, put it best when he observed that countries do not have permanent allies or adversaries, only permanent interests.

During the 1970s, Iran was one of the United States’ most important allies in the Middle East. Under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s dictatorship, the government in Tehran used its vast oil wealth to build a modern state that imported technology from abroad and contained both communism and Islamism in the region. The United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia worked closely with Iran to protect the flow of oil and maintain political stability.

When the Islamic Revolution in Iran overthrew the Shah in 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days, the United States and Tehran became mortal enemies. Iran’s new leader, the Ayatollah Kohmeini, called America the “Great Satan.” Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan labeled Iran a “terrorist state” and they worked to overthrow the regime. Carter and Reagan also negotiated with the Iranian government when they felt the regime could facilitate the release of American hostages in Tehran and other parts of the Middle East. These negotiations, however, did not reduce the enmity between Washington and Tehran.

Iran’s effort to develop nuclear power, and an accompanying weapons capability, crossed both periods, before and after the 1979 revolution. Encouraged by the United States, the Shah used his wealth to purchase capabilities and resources from foreign suppliers, including France, Germany and the United States. Cut off from many of these suppliers after 1979, the Islamic government turned to other sources, including the illegal network run by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan. During the two periods Iran’s partners changed dramatically, but its nuclear ambitions remained consistent.

This often neglected history brings us to the current moment in relations between the United States and Iran. Years of sanctions and isolation have taken their toll on an Iranian society that struggles to access foreign supplies and technology. Internally, citizens have shown frustration with an Islamic regime that is unable to deliver an improved standard of living for its growing population. The Arab Spring began in Iran in 2009 with street protests against an election stolen by the Islamic leaders. In 2013, Iranians elected a foreign-educated president who promised reforms and an opening to the West, despite the continued domination of religious mullahs in the country’s politics.

The United States remains firmly committed to both the denuclearization of the Islamic government in Iran and democratic reforms. As it negotiates for these goals, Washington has found itself cooperating, at least informally, with the Iranians on a number of common strategic challenges. In Iraq and Syria, the United States and Iran share a strong interest in defeating the radical Sunni Islamic State. Washington and Tehran have shared intelligence and cooperated on the battlefield. The United States and Iran both support the new Shiite government in Iraq, and they are both training the new Iraqi military. Of course, the two countries are on different sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Iran continues to support Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad; but in the struggle for Middle East stability, Washington and Tehran find themselves frequently working together. 

The current negotiations between the United States and Iran on nuclear non-proliferation and economic sanctions reflect these circumstances. After months of intensive discussions, the two sides seem so close to agreement. Iran needs international trade and Washington is keen to offer that. Washington is determined to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb, and many in Tehran seem to recognize that a nuclear capability is not worth the overwhelming costs. 

What keeps the two sides apart is something other than the details, but a bigger question of trust. Can Washington and Tehran find a way to trust one another? Trust does not come overnight. It requires a sustained relationship, consistent goals and clear expectations. More than anything, it requires the personal outreach of leaders who are willing to put themselves on the line.

After more than 30 years of hostility, relations between the United States and Iran can and will shift when the leaders of these two powerful states commit to work together. Such a commitment will make the details fall into the place and the common interests rise above all else. To insure that outcome, we must maintain our toughness but also reach out. Americans want better relations with Iran, and we must show that, as we also show that we will not tolerate the extremism that brought us to conflict in the first place.   

Suri is a professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs.   

In addition to diplomacy, America needs a stronger hand

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry leaves Palais Coburg where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place in Vienna, Austria, Sunday, Nov.23, 2014.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry leaves Palais Coburg where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place in Vienna, Austria, Sunday, Nov.23, 2014.

In “21 Jump Street,” a former nerd played by Jonah Hill and former bully played by Channing Tatum return to high school as undercover narcotics officers, expecting the world to look exactly as it did in the 1990s. Instead, they find a completely different social hierarchy, in which Tatum’s particular species of villain is virtually extinct. The modern high school still has jerks and ruffians, but none quite so callous and meatheaded as the archetypical alpha male jock.

While a movie called “21(st) Century International Relations” might not pull in the same quantity of box-office receipts, it would probably have a similar premise. Throughout the 20th century, brutal autocrats played a starring role in shaping global conflicts. From the regal kaisers and sultans of World War I to the fascist strongmen of World War II to the communist despots of the Cold War, the U.S. always had a crop of enemies it could easily label as villains.

But in recent years, those types of dictatorships have started to die out. American invasions toppled dictators in Afghanistan and Iraq. Local revolutions brought democracy to Tunisia and ejected two autocrats in a three-year span in Egypt. Governmental reforms have started to slowly liberalize Vietnam and Cuba. With a few exceptions, like North Korea’s enigmatic Kim Jong-un and Zimbabwe’s geriatric Robert Mugabe, there aren’t a lot of unabashed tyrants out there in the world today.

And now that its more ideological enemies are mostly insurgent groups, America’s battles with other states have become increasingly driven by competing self-interests. Figures like Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani often label themselves democratic or capitalistic, but neither is a trustworthy leader, and both stand resolutely opposed to America’s international agendas.

That’s what makes recent U.S. foreign policy so dangerous. The Obama administration is currently negotiating a compromise with Iran that would hopefully lead to a freeze on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, and the American response to Putin’s aggressive warmongering in Eastern Europe has been nothing more than harsh rhetoric and a weak set of sanctions. George W. Bush didn’t do much better. The former president famously said of Putin in 2001, “I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy … I got a sense of his soul.”

These missteps can delude the American public into a false sense of security. Because no rational state would launch a major attack against the U.S. right now, it’s easy to conclude that maybe softening up is a good approach after all. While the U.S. takes its time to forge amenable solutions with its adversaries, its allies in the Middle East live in constant fear of Iran’s violent puppets, which include the likes of Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Syrian regime. Similarly, Poland and the Baltic states have good reason to fear Putin’s incursions into Eastern Europe, and neither the U.S. nor the EU is alleviating their concerns. Plus, the amount of respect other countries hold for American power is far from constant, and changes in their political climates can be subtle and gradual. Just as Austin’s unusually chilly November doesn’t disprove climate change, the lack of an imminent war with Russia or Iran doesn’t make them harmless.

Close diplomatic ties with rival states aren’t impossible, and trust among opposing leaders is one of the most powerful forces for change in international politics. But a brash and increasingly power-drunk Putin is no Mikhail Gorbachev, and not even a moderate rhetorician like Rouhani can overcome Ayatollah Khomeini’s grip on Iranian policy. Appeasement and diplomacy can work, but in these particular cases, America needs a stronger approach, either through full trade embargoes or a credible threat of NATO action. Playing nice might maintain a stable status quo, but it won't keep America or its allies safe in the long run.

Shenhar is a Plan II, government, and economics major from Westport, Conn.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, spoke about topics including Iran, Edward Snowden and the U.S.’ role in international affairs at the Blanton Museum of Art on Tuesday afternoon. 

Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said the United States should use its influence to intervene in conflicts overseas, in a speech addressing foreign policy topics on campus Tuesday.

Rubio, who also addressed topics such as Iran and Edward Snowden, said he believes wherever people are suffering, dying, being invaded and persecuted, there is a tyrannical government behind the conflict. Rubio, who began his political career in the Florida House of Representatives and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, said the U.S. government needs to become more involved.

“In the real world, there is only one nation on this planet still capable of rallying the free people of this world for the great causes of our time, and that nation is ours,” Rubio said. “That is not my opinion. That is fact.”

Rubio said he would support the use of force against Iran if diplomacy and economic sanctions fail because he believes Iran to be a serious threat.

“Despite these crippling international sanctions, Iran continues to spend millions of dollars a year supporting terrorism all over the world,” Rubio said. “America, if you want peace and prosperity, one of the best ways to ensure it is to have a military that no one will question.”

After being asked a question regarding Snowden leaking out government information in 2013, Rubio said his actions were the most damaging revelations of secrets in the country’s history.

Economics freshman Walker Smith, who said he is already pursuing a career in politics, said he was inspired by Rubio and believes more students should attend these kinds of events.

“Everything he said are issues that affect us, so it’s important that we are engaged and understand,” Smith said.

Almost 300 people attended the event, which was held at the Blanton Museum of Art. The Clements Center for History, Strategy and Statecraft helped organize the event. The center’s executive director, Willam Inboden, said the event was intended to inspire UT students to get involved in politics.

“Having someone like Sen. Rubio here … is a great way to inspire students about their future possibilities,” Inboden said. “They were college students too. I hope that, among our UT students, we have some future senators as well.”

Horns Down: ZBT replaces lewd mural with... another lewd mural

On Friday, the Daily Texan reported that the fraternity Zeta Beta Tau, commonly known as ZBT, painted over lewd murals depicting women performing sex acts on members of the military after recognizing, according to the national chapter, that the murals were a “poor decision.” On Monday, this newspaper reported that ZBT had made another poor decision: painting over said murals with only slightly less lewd depictions of women in sexual positions. The new murals, for example, “included a woman clothed in a bra and jeans bending over with an armed gunman firing a missile toward the woman to the words “REP ANAL.”” Another charming pictograph scrawled on the walls of the party’s set pieces included the words “Chinese Whore House.” 

ZBT’s decision to “remedy” the situation by adding a bra to a bent-over woman in a blatantly sexualized position is absurd. It’s no wonder the murals’ offensiveness is lost on the brothers of Zeta Beta, who can’t seem to understand that the explicit sexuality of the murals isn’t the problem — it’s the explicit misogyny and disrespect of the military that has everyone up in arms.

Horns Up: New committee to ensure judicial impartiality

Last Thursday, a group of concerned citizens met to hash out the possibilities for reforming judicial selections in Texas, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The conversation, which was dominated by talk of concerns with the current judicial selection system, will continue over the next year as a special legislative committee tackles the question of how to best select judges in Texas. 

Texas is one of the few states that require its judiciary representatives to run in general elections. As a result, concerns of the judiciary being sold to the highest campaign donor are perpetual. And judges often worry about the implications of asking for campaign money from wealthy donors they may later meet in court. 

While the problem of judicial corruption has taken a backseat in Texas, this might not be the case if the political landscape in Texas shifts to that of a more two-party state. The judicial branch of the government, both historically and theoretically, has been the one of great integrity and even greater impartiality. We must be confident that our judges can make decisions based on the facts of the cases in front of them, rather than on who the prosecuting counsel is or whose business is at stake. We’re glad the legislature will start to brainstorm ideas on how to keep the integrity of the system intact.

Horns Down: More revisionism from the State Board of Education

On Thursday, members of the Texas State Board of Education singled out a Pearson Education biology textbook, questioning the book’s assertions on natural selection and the theory of evolution. The board voted to have three of its members pick outside experts to scrutinize the book, despite the fact that the book in question is already being used in more than half of U.S. classrooms. While a 2011 state law gives school districts the authority to choose their own books, most adhere to the recommended list suggested by the Texas Education Board. In addition, Texas is so large a state that the textbooks selected by Texas are often also the ones marketed nationally. We think the comments of the board’s vice chairman, Republican Thomas Ratliff, sum up our views on the issue: “I believe this process is being hijacked, this book is being held hostage to make political changes. … To ask me — a business degree major from Texas Tech University — to distinguish whether the earth cooled 4 billion years ago or 4.2 billion years ago for purposes of approving a textbook at 10:15 on a Thursday night is laughable.” 

Colleagues, on the other side of the debate, shot back that they “weren’t laughing.”

Horns Down: Why we should keep Ted Cruz out of U.S.—Iran negotiations

On Sunday, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz openly criticized the deal struck between President Barack Obama and the Iranian government, in which Iran agreed to halt its development of nuclear weapons in exchange for relief of $6 to $7 billion in economic sanctions for the next six months. The deal, which is the first diplomatic accord between the two countries since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, could be a major step toward a larger, more comprehensive agreement still to come, and it is at least a temporary reprieve from the escalating tensions in the region.

But Cruz argued that the deal didn’t go far enough in our favor: “According to the interim agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program that was reached this weekend in Geneva, not one centrifuge will be destroyed. Not one pound of enriched uranium will leave Iran. Not one American unjustly detained in Iran’s notorious prisons will be released. But Iran will start to receive, in a matter of days, $7 billion in relief from international economics sanctions. … The administration has gotten it backwards, and it is time to reverse course before any further damage is done.”

All the facts Cruz cites are correct, but he ignores the key point that Iran has frozen its capability to enrich uranium to the level needed for nuclear weapons, which is the greatest diplomatic success on this issue in decades. Moreover, it is clear that in foreign policy, as well as domestic governance, Cruz doesn’t understand what a compromise is. Instead, his unrealistic foreign policy goals bring to mind President Harry Truman’s naive and ill-fated 1945 assertion that, although he couldn’t expect to get 100 percent of what he wanted in negotiations with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, he did expect to get 85 percent. With hubris like his, we’re glad the person leading American negotiations with hostile foreign governments is anybody but Cruz.