Middle East

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

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.

Harris Zafar, author of “Demystifying Islam,” spoke Thursday night at the #StoptheCrISIS event held in Welch Hall.
Photo Credit: Michael Baez | Daily Texan Staff

To better understand the threat ISIS poses, a UT professor and guest lecturer explained how they believe United States action during the Persian Gulf War contributed to the formation and spread of the terrorist group.

ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, is an extremist terrorist group that controls territory in Iraq and Syria and has a presence in other areas of the Middle East. The group adheres to a medieval ideology, and the beheadings it regularly carries out often go viral on social media after promotion on ISIS-operated Twitter accounts.   

Journalism professor Robert Jensen opened the discussion with a reading from the Bible verses in Matthew 7:1–5, which are about having a plank in one’s eye. Jensen said this concept is important to recognize hypocrisy inherent in United States military involvement in Iraq. Jensen referred to what he calls the crucial point in the Persian Gulf War history in 1990 and 1991.

“In 1990, [the history] got very clear,” Jensen said. “The regime of Sadam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The United States secured a resolution to authorize the use of force. In 1991, the U.S. drove out the Iraq force, but there are questions about whether coalition forces engaged in war crimes when firing on retreating Iraqi troops.”

Jensen said there are clear records of U.S. military leveling much of the infrastructure within Iraq.

According to Jensen, the U.S. military used force against the civilian population, which technically constitutes as a war crime.

“If a civilian’s infrastructure is decimated, that means the population is suffering, and you can exert more power,” Jensen said.

Jensen said further issues were fueled by the Middle East’s oil, which greatly complicated the politics of the situation. 

Harris Zafar, a guest lecturer and author of “Demystifying Islam,” said the group’s actions do not show the true values of Islam.

“Some will make this a religious matter that those joining ISIS are deeply religious,” Zafar said. “Can a group whose primary tool is chaos, destruction, disorder, mayhem be inherent of Islam?”

Sarah Khan, a religious studies and government sophomore, said she appreciated the discussion because of her own background. 

“My dad is Muslim … he wants to lay low and not run into trouble,” Khan said. “My main thing [is looking for] a solution for Islamophobia … Through moving forward in this problem, there are solutions, but we have to be willing to come together.”   

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.   

If you ask leaders in Australia, Israel, Denmark, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand or Norway, they would agree that there are women who can serve as a part of infantry units. Each of these countries has opened up their combat arms and, more specifically, their infantry branches, to women. The United States Armed Services should be next to allow women to compete for a spot in the infantry. However, the standards for a combat infantry soldier should not be lowered for women trying to get a slot. Those leaders and politicians concerned with “political correctness”, or those afraid of backlash from equal-opportunity advocates, should take into consideration the cultures of some of our opponents in current conflicts in the Middle East, and need to realize that for a country that prides itself on freedom and equality for all, our stance on female combatants is dangerously flawed. In order to truly embody the values of equality and equal opportunity on which it as a country prides itself, America needs to open up the opportunity to compete for an infantry slot to its women, but also base it on the same qualifications required of male candidates.

Opponents of female integration have fabricated an almost standardized list of reasons why a women would not be able to “cut it” physically as a member of an infantry platoon. The most common of these seems to be the “I don’t want to have to worry about her not being able to buddy-drag me out of combat if I get injured, her weakness makes her unreliable.” Admittedly, a weak battle buddy is a cause for concern. But is that same issue brought up when a 5’5”, 130-pound airborne infantryman goes to combat? No. Is he expected to be able to move the largest soldier in the platoon? Again, no. So why should it be expected of a woman of the same size, if she can pass the same physical tests as him?

That being said, a woman in the infantry should be able to pass physical tests to the same standards that are expected of their male counterparts. Yes, the regular physical fitness tests administered to the rest of the military are scaled per gender — but for support branches like logistics or intelligence, the primary mission is not necessarily a physical one. There will always be a physical fitness and warfighting readiness requirement of all soldiers, but the only context in which a gender-scaled physical fitness test does not make sense is that of the combat infantryman, where physical capabilities are what can make or break every mission.  

Another argument that is frequently used to justify keeping women out of combat arms is the inconvenient need for separate quarters. Both the French and Danish armies incorporate women into their infantries without having to cordon off separate areas for their women, yet the American military has not yet figured out that neither hygiene limitations nor the possible sexual aspect of sharing sleeping space should be barriers. The former issue tends to be brought up in connection to a woman’s menstrual period, with the reasoning that it is too messy to deal with in the field. However, modern advances in birth control generally limit the degree to which this become a problem; and for those times that it does occur in the field, baby wipes can solve the rest — and get buried in the same hole that conceals other human functions while in the field.

Arguing against opening infantry opportunities to women because of a fear of “distracting” the men is by far one of the least modern viewpoints an American soldier can have. As a military that prides itself on discipline and that fights for freedom of all peoples, how can we openly admit that our troops do not have the self-control to abstain when presented with the (rather unappealing) image of a female in baggy camouflage pants? This point become especially absurd when we consider some of the oppressive cultures with which we are currently in conflict — cultures that deny women basic rights, and require them to cover themselves in extreme manner in order to make sure that their men need not exercise any self-control in the face of temptation. While refusing to have females in an infantry platoon due to fear of distraction is not on the same level of injustice as is treating women like property and forcing them to hide their entire bodies behind swathes of dark cloth, it does still speak to the same principle of enabling a lack of self-discipline and encouraging an attitude that justifies following physical urges. 

Opening up infantry opportunities to women might not change much about its composition, if the standards are not lowered in accordance with gender; there are not that many women that can meet those standards as there are men. However, the equal opportunity issue does not concern how many women are accepted into the infantry after testing, or what percentage of women make up the front-line force — it is only a matter of opening the door to any female that wishes to train to the standard of a combat infantry soldier and giving her that opportunity. This open door not only proves the nation’s adherence to its ideals of freedom and equality, but also serves to discourage the oppressive treatment endured by the women of the Middle East. America’s presence in the Middle East has protective and humanitarian motivations as well as strategic ones; in order to manifest the ideals to which it adheres, America must prove them to those that are not free by leading by example in equality matters.

Stoop is an Arabic senior from Rockville, Maryland. 

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Fighting terrorists never works out as we hope. The threat of violent extremists is not new to this millennium. Fears of small, organized groups undermining authority at home and abroad go back at least to the 19th century in Europe, North America and other continents. The fears of harm usually exceed the realities of danger, but the dangers are real nonetheless. Although terrorists have never brought down a major power, they have caused major dislocation and suffering in countless societies (including Russia, Germany and China.)

The contemporary Middle East has endured decades of terrorism since at least the early 1970s. The extremism has silenced moderate voices and the violence has splintered governing institutions into tribal tyrannies. The disintegration of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Yemen and other countries, and the rise of al-Qaeda and ISIS, among others, are recent manifestations of this historical process. The terrorists have hijacked the region’s politics and replaced civil society with gang warfare. Citizens are defined by the group they belong to; disloyalty is punished with death.

Recognizing that terrorism in the Middle East threatens the broader international community, Americans have spent decades trying to fight it. The nature of American counter-terrorism has shifted in regular fashion between two schools of thought.

One school, the “development” approach, has emphasized investments in education, health and economic growth to encourage citizens of terrorized societies to embrace good government. The goal has been to build a grassroots constituency for civil authority and a broad cohort of citizens with the skills to run a prosperous, open society. The Peace Corps, the World Bank, USAID and many other American-sponsored organizations pursue this approach of treating the poor conditions that appear to produce terrorism.

The second school, the “combat” approach, defines terrorists as foreign armies that must be defeated. Proponents of this approach deploy overwhelming force to kill and capture terrorist leaders, destroy their resources and punish their supporters. Through aggressive intelligence work, including the torture of suspected terrorists with valuable information, the combat school aims to grind terrorist organizations to dust, making them more pathetic than threatening. Unmanned aerial vehicles (“drones”), Army and Navy Special Forces and CIA covert operatives are the lead actors for those who seek to go in hard and fast to defeat the extremists.

In our long history with counterterrorism, Americans have alternated their emphasis between these two schools, experiencing the frustrating limits of each. In the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War, the United States focused on development in the Middle East, encouraging investments in business enterprises, the rule of law and education throughout the region. Each of these areas of development showed some progress, but powerful actors (including the oil-rich leaders of the Gulf states and wealthy individuals like Osama bin Laden) also expanded their support for terrorist groups. While regional development contributed to a new generation of entrepreneurs, it also inspired a new generation of extremists among those who turned to religious fundamentalisms rather than more cosmopolitan ideas.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, Americans decisively favored force over development. That seemed necessary to stop the groups that had shown a desire and a capability of killing thousands of citizens. Force also appeared to produce results in the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. After 2003, when insurgencies in both countries exposed the limits of this strategy, Americans accepted that they could not totally destroy the terrorists, but they hoped to keep them scattered and under heavy pressure. Even as he withdrew American forces depart from Iraq and as troops withdraw from Afghanistan, President Barack Obama held to this strategy through the use of increased drone attacks on terrorist leaders, and special covert interventions, including the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011.

Of course, the use of force against terrorists has not proven more successful than prior development efforts. Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen are more dominated by terrorists today than they were in late 2001. The United States has spent billions of dollars training counter-terrorist forces in the region and bombing from the air, but it is not clear if these actions have killed or inspired more terrorists.

There is no proven solution to terrorism in either the development or the combat schools. Ignoring the problem, as many Americans might prefer now, is no solution either, especially when the fate of an economically vital region like the Middle East is at stake. The future of American counterterrorism policy will involve new innovative ways to mix the promise of development with the power of combat. The United States has failed to strike the correct balance in recent decades. Finding the pathways to civil order between corrupting handouts of foreign aid and alienating attacks from the air – that is the supreme challenge for a new generation of policy-makers. It is an intellectual opportunity for our best minds to help bring some order to a violent, fragmenting world.

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

Daniel Ritter, assistant professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham, discusses his upcoming book, “The Iron Cage of Liberalism,” in the College of Liberal Arts Building on Monday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

In a talk hosted by the Department of Sociology, a visiting politics and international relations assistant professor said revolutions were associated with violent actions for many centuries. But a shift occurred in the 1970s when nonviolence became the popular course of action.

In a lecture in the College of Liberal Arts Building on Monday, Daniel Ritter, a UT alumnus and University of Nottingham assistant professor, talked about changes in revolutions and previewed his upcoming book, “The Iron Cage of Liberalism: International Politics and Unarmed Revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa.”   

Ritter addressed two theories of revolution: The first focused on domestic and international politics, and the second was nonviolent action, which focused on voluntarist actions and strategies. 

However, when friendly interactions and unarmed violence occur, Ritter said the underlying concept is sociologist Max Weber’s “iron cage of rationality.”

“This relationship between dictators and democrats inadvertently traps both these authoritarian and democratic states by holding them accountable to the shared liberal discourse of democracy and human rights,” Ritter said.    

Ritter said he shows in his book the positive side of the movements in Iran in 1979, Tunisia and Egypt. He said the countries where the movements failed were Libya, Syria, and Iran in 2009. 

Ritter discussed the movement’s implication in Egypt. As Egypt began to shift from a socialist government to a capitalist system, President Hosni Mubarak used the term democracy as a catch phrase. According to Ritter, it was not until after September 11, 2001, when the U.S. became engaged in the Middle East, that the Egyptian government was forced to behave more democratically.

Sociology associate professor Mounira Charrad, who worked with Ritter when he was a doctorate student, attended the event. 

“[Ritter] is my friend and former student,” Charrad said. “I had the privilege to serve as his advisor during his dissertation, which is a small piece of what is now a fascinating book. I am immensely proud of what he has accomplished. You make us proud, and you make me proud.”        

Sociology graduate student Adrian Popan was intrigued by how Ritter pieced it all together. 

“It is interesting how [Ritter] has taken these different variables of structure, cultural and individual variables to describe this situation,” Popan said.  “This can be liberating but also dogmatic and frightening.”    

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said leadership in the U.S. is not effectively solving issues in the Middle East at an intelligence conference held in the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center on Saturday.

“America has invited aggression by stepping back from the world stage,” said McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

UT’s Clements Center for History, Strategy and Statecraft and the Strauss Center for International Security and Law hosted the “Intelligence Reform and Counterterrorism after a Decade: Are We Smarter and Safer?” conference to look back at the 10 years since the passing of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which restructured U.S. intelligence. McCaul gave the closing address Saturday about what he still believes are threats to national security, as well as what should be done in the future.

“The lack of leadership has fueled the rise of extremists and terrorist safe havens,” said McCaul, who is currently serving his fifth term representing Texas’ 10th District in the U.S. Congress.

McCaul said he believes the Obama administration is falling behind in national security and foreign relations. He said in 2013, weeks after President Barack Obama declared that the “War on Terrorism” was over, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the formation of the Islamic State group.

“The rise of ISIS should have come to no surprise, and was certainly not to me,” McCaul said. 

According to McCaul, the creation of reforms, such as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and National Counterterrorism Center, identified the Islamic State group as a threat more than a year ago.

Greater stability in the Middle East is the only way to combat the radical ideologies of Islam, according to McCaul, who also said the “moderate Muslim” ideology is the most effective tool in combating extremists.

“I think it is a little naïve to think that we can take a Jeffersonian democracy and put it in to some of these Middle Eastern countries,” McCaul said.

Plan II senior Mark Jbeily, who attended the conference, said he believes that threats such as the “War on Terror” have been distracting the U.S. from missed opportunities outside of the Middle East.

“The entire time that I’ve been politically aware of the world, its been the ‘War on Terror,’ it’s been Islamic extremism [and] it’s been trying to combat all of that,” said Jbeily, a member of ROTC and Clements Undergraduate Fellow. “The Middle East is an issue we’re just going to have to deal with. I don’t think we’re ever going to solve it, especially in our lifetime.”

Now is the time to recognize Kurdistan

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of weekly blog posts designed to build on Professor Jeremi Suri's foreign policy column, which runs every Tuesday.

Professor Jeremi Suri wrote last week that the U.S. needs to adopt a new approach towards fighting terrorism. Instead of applying punitive sanctions or military force, he argues, the U.S. should promote economic development and education.

Indeed, as Suri wrote, American interventions in the Middle East have been absurdly ineffective. Overthrowing Saddam Hussein led to eight years of Nouri al-Maliki and a sectarian conflict that enabled the rise of ISIS, neither of which benefits human rights, democracy, or America’s commercial interests. And despite having spent over a decade fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the U.S. hasn’t come any closer to eradicating the spread of Islamist extremism. Clearly, Suri is right that there is a better way to promote democracy, cultivate free markets, and defeat the hydra of fascistic terrorism.

That being said, there’s no need to plunk billions of dollars in aid and investments into unstable countries with untrustworthy leaders. The European Investment Bank has been doing exactly that for years with zero success, and America’s financial support for Iraq and Afghanistan has only managed to prop up kleptocrats like al-Maliki and Hamid Karzai. Instead of trying to build up failed states, the U.S. should empower those that have already laid the foundations for a free and prosperous society. To that end, creating an independent state in Iraqi Kurdistan should be America’s top priority in the Middle East.

Iraq’s Kurdish region is situated in a tinderbox of insurgency, nestled between the country’s border with Syria and its ISIS-controlled western provinces. Yet in spite of its tenuous location, it has become a safe haven for ethnic minorities like the Yazidis and the Circassians, many of whom have been displaced by Iraq’s inner turmoil. It has a strong and American-armed security force that has played a critical role in the war against ISIS. Its capital, Erbil, is a thriving and rapidly developing metropolis. It supports other crucial U.S. allies in the region, including Armenia and Israel. And, most importantly, its democratically elected government fiercely rejects any form of religious fundamentalism or ethnocentric extremism.

In light of these virtues, an independent Kurdistan would become a beacon of hope for the region. It would provide military and diplomatic support to counterterrorism efforts, and its success could even motivate movements in favor of secularism and democracy across the entire Middle East—a true Arab Spring. But in order to do so, it must first achieve full sovereignty over its internal affairs and full representation in international agencies like the U.N. and the WTO.

Fortunately, granting Iraqi Kurdistan that sort of legitimacy is a far simpler proposition than it was in the past. The Turkish government was once resolutely opposed to Kurdish independence, as Kurds claim sovereignty over a large part of eastern Turkey. However, in recent years, Turkey has come to view Iraqi Kurdistan as a potential homeland for its own Kurdish minority, and it recently established a consular office in Erbil to promote deeper diplomatic ties between the two nations. Similarly, the U.S. resists recognizing Iraqi Kurdistan on the grounds that Kurdish secession would kill its dream of forming a multiethnic democracy in Iraq. That goal has clearly failed, as Iraq has only become more fragmented and lawless since the U.S. invasion in 2003.

For Kurdistan to languish in stateless purgatory while Syria and Iraq have collapsed and ISIS runs amok is an affront to human decency and an indefensible failure of American foreign policy. But Iraq’s current circumstances and Turkey’s declining recalcitrance have given President Obama the perfect opportunity to rectify this injustice. Whether or not he takes it will have major consequences for the future of the Middle East.

Shenhar is a Plan II, government and economics sophomore from Westport, Connecticut. He is a research assistant to Suri.

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

The United States possesses more force and money than any other country in the world, yet it does not seem to be enough. Over the last decade our society has deployed the best-trained soldiers and the most advanced weapons across the globe, but challengers — state and non-state — are multiplying. Over the last decade the United States has spent billions of dollars to build governing institutions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Pakistan and other nations, yet they all appear to be falling apart. It is hard to argue that we have not done enough. It often looks like we have done too much — perhaps making regions like the Middle East worse by our efforts.

These observations are motivating a new isolationism movement/sentiment among both Republicans and Democrats. According to this argument, the United States should tend its own garden, using its force and money exclusively at home to address domestic needs. We have tried to change the rest of the world, isolationists claim, and we have failed because too many foreign societies cannot be changed. We should accept their tyranny, poverty and violence and simply build walls to insulate ourselves. We have, of course, literally done this on our southern border with Mexico. Americans fought the Cold War to tear down the Berlin Wall; now they are building walls of their own.

The problem with isolationism is not the criticism of American foreign policies, but the suggested alternative. Walls fail to insulate and they weaken those living within them. Walls also abandon the possibilities for improving international conditions and helping people suffering from the worst forms of repression. Isolation falsely assumes that if force and money cannot get us what we want, then nothing will.

There is another way, and that should be the true agenda for innovative policy-making in the next decade. American force and money have focused primarily on punishment and prohibition. We use our weapons to kill terrorists and intimidate possible adversaries. We use our money to support individuals that enforce order in foreign societies. For all the talk about “development” and “nation-building,” the vast majority of foreign policy resources go elsewhere. We have spent the last decade throwing our weight around, shooting first and asking questions later, buying the friends we think should be in charge abroad.

As one would expect, this bullying behavior has made us feel strong — it always draws cheers from frightened American citizens — but it really makes us weak. Too much force turns potential friends into enemies. No one likes to be pushed around. Too much money encourages selfishness and corruption. No one works hard for their community when a foreign patron places millions of dollars in their pockets. The paradox is that American force and money have contributed to the failed states, extremism and terrorist violence that threaten us today.

What if we used our force and money differently? The missing ingredient is persuasion. We have allowed American bullying to make the United States appear unlikable, even threatening, to many people who could be persuaded otherwise. This is evident from the thousands of young citizens throughout the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Latin America and even Europe who want the kind of wealth and freedom that Americans flaunt, but believe that Americans will never let them have it. We appear too self-centered, too disrespectful and too hypocritical in the eyes of precisely those people who demand real democracy abroad.

Isolationism will only reinforce this view of the United States. More effective policy requires the deployment of force and money through institutions that actually make people’s lives better: law-abiding police officers, uncorrupt state institutions, local businesses and effective schools. The United States has, of course, tried to fund these kinds of institutions in the past, but they have always received far less attention and support than the direct applications of force. Washington has also allowed local dictators — Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan and Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq, as two examples — to distort these efforts for personal gain.

It does not have to be that way. If the American military can kill with precision, civilian agencies should be able to direct our knowledge and money into the hands of citizens who really want to make their lives better, working as our potential partners. This has never been easy, but we have done it with some success after the Second World War and in the years immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The time has come to re-examine these experiences and think long and hard about how we can make our force and money more persuasive abroad. We cannot abandon the punishment of terroristic enemies, but we must get better at helping potential friends. If we abandon this mission, we will soon run out of the force and money necessary to defend ourselves.

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