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Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

As unrest continues to spread throughout the Middle East, American officials must re-evaluate relations with longtime allies in the region. Perhaps the most important of these, Saudi Arabia, has taken military action in neighboring Bahrain this week, leading to tensions in the U.S.-Saudi relationship. To learn more about this perilous situation, read this article by WorldAffairs 2011 keynote speaker David Sanger, Chief Washington Correspondent for The New York Times.

Sanger will give an address titled, “Obama’s Dilemma: When Big Uprisings Hit Big Allies (and a few Adversaries)” at the conference this Saturday at 1:15 PM PST, which will be webcasted live. The conference webcast is free to watch. Find out more about the conference and the webcast here.

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In a live address from the Oval Office last night President Barack Obama declared the end of the US combat mission in Iraq. The president thanked American military personnel for their dedicated service, while also restating his firm belief that the entering the conflict was a mistake. “We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home,” Mr. Obama said. Watch the president’s entire speech here.

Some of those sacrifices are chronicled in The Good Soldiers, by David Finkel. He will be speaking at the Council on Thursday, September 9 about the eight months he was embedded with the 2-16 infantry battalion deployed on the outskirts of Baghdad. Finkel, a reporter for The Washington Post, will also discuss the cognitive dissonance between the violent reality of the ground war and the abstract policy debates back in Washington. Register for the program here.  While another perspective of the war will be provided by Georgetown professor Derek Leebaert on Thursday, September 16. Examining the missteps of wartime foreign policy,  Leebaert argues that the cause of many of America’s foreign policy mistakes lies in “magical thinking” – the idea that the US can manage the world through well-intentioned force. Register for the program here.

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Last night”s guest on the Colbert Report, author David Finkel, will be speaking at the Council on Thursday, September 9. Finkel spent eight months embedded with the 2-16 infantry battalion deployed on the outskirts of Baghdad and his newest book, The Good Soldiers, details the successes, struggles and psychological traumas of those soldiers serving on the front lines. Register for the program here.

Watch his conversation with Stephen Colbert here:

Vodpod videos no longer available.
David Finkel, posted with vodpod

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This week the European Union announced new sanctions against Iran. The sanctions are one part of the EU’s strategy to pressure Iran to resume negotiations on its nuclear program. The United Nations imposed a fourth round of sanctions on Iran last month, but the EU’s go farther, affecting the energy, transport and finance sectors. While American investment in Iran has decreased in recent years, the EU is Iran’s largest trading partner and the new sanctions could have a significant impact on many European economies.

The United States also imposed new sanctions on Iran this month, with the goals of halting financing for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that oversees missile and nuclear programs as well as curbing even further investment in Iran’s energy sector. They also target federal contractors that do business with Iran.

Learn more about the sanctions on Monday, August 2 when the Council hosts Jillian Burns, the Acting Director of the Iran Office of the State Department. She will discuss U.S. policy towards Iran, offering insight into the effectiveness of current sanctions and exploring Iran’s role in the region.

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“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.” This famous quote from Albert Einstein is the best way of describing US foreign policy in the Middle East, according to author and journalist Stephen Kinzer. He believes that our approach to the Middle East is stuck in a Cold-War mentality and that the US must find a new set of partners in the region. Kinzer feels that when Americans can put aside their emotions, and look for countries that have similar long-term goals and societies, “we see that [Turkey and Iran] are the two countries that are our logical partners going forwards.”

To listen to the entirety of Stephen Kinzer’s June 18 program at the World Affairs Council—‘Reset: Turkey, Iran and America’s Future’—please visit our online audio archive.

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Today’s second hour of KQED FM’s Forum with Michael Krasny featured a conversation about women and Islam in the Middle East. The guests included Isobel Coleman, author of Paradise Beneath Her Feet, who is speaking tonight, Tuesday, May 18, at the Council; and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an outspoken critic of Islamic fundamentalism, who will be with the Council on Wednesday, May 26 in conversation with Jane Wales.

For more information about the Forum program, click here. To register for either Council program, please visit our website.

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In his new book, Negotiating with Iran: Wrestling with the Ghosts of History, Ambassador John Limbert examined four case studies of United States-Iran negotiations to see what can be learned from them. Limbert joined the Council last Monday to present his findings and explained that any negotiations entered into by the United States with Iran must deal with two realities: the need for realistic expectations and the need for high expectations. He cited former Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker‘s belief that negotiations will always be harder, take longer, and that, no matter how well they might seem to be going, someone will always come along and mess it up. Limbert said that if this is true in Iraq, “it is doubly true in Iran.” Limbert believes a primary goal should be to begin negotiations with Iran, whether we like its government or not, because there are countless issues to discuss. Referring to the subtitle of his book, “Wrestling with the Ghosts of History,” he said he hopes he can be a “ghost-buster” of sorts and clear away the ghosts of the past so we can move forward in the near future. A former hostage himself, held at the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979, Ambassador Limbert has recently been appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iran in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the Department of State.

The entire program can be heard on our online audio archive here.

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This Monday, November 16, Ambassador John Limbert will join the Council to discuss the US approach to negotiating with Iran. Limbert, who has a distinguished history with the US Foreign Service, was just named to the post of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Iran. The announcement came thirty years to the week of his being taken hostage at the US Embassy in Tehran.

To learn more about the appointment and Limbert’s experiences with Iran, read Laura Rozen‘s blog on Politico or visit the website of the National Iranian American Council, on whose Board of Advisors Limbert recently served.

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Why are women treated poorly in Islam? And, why don’t moderate Muslims denounce jihad? Tamim Ansary, author of Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, offered his perspective on these two most frequently asked questions at the Council last Thursday. Ansary describes himself as a storyteller and has recently focused on the story of the Islamic world, how it differs from Western history and how the two are beginning to cross paths like never before. He spoke about the Muslim idea of “ummah,” or community, and the ways it has changed over many centuries. Ansary closed by speaking on the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and said that the way to diffuse this threat is to address underlying issues, such as land ownership and water rights, that drive Muslims to fundamentalism and jihadist actions.

To hear the full program with Tamim Ansary, visit our audio archive here.

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October has been a busy month at the Council. We’ve had programs about issues ranging from the resource curse of oil to the ways game theory can be applied to national security challenges. There was one region, the Middle East, which was given particular attention as we strove to provide the community with multiple perspectives of the region, its people, and the challenges they face.

On October 15, we welcomed Ambassador Hossam Zaki, Senior Political Advisor to Egypt’s Foreign Minister. He spoke about the Arab-Israeli conflict as well as Egypt’s work to aid peace and stability in the Palestinian territories. Dalia Mogahed, Senior Analyst and Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, joined us on October 21 to discuss the results and findings of Gallup’s recent survey of 50,000 Muslims from more than 35 countries.

Then, on October 22, we hosted a conversation between the former Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Olmert and Council CEO Jane Wales. Olmert responded to questions about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza, but particularly focused on the peace proposal he made to the Palestinians in September 2008. We concluded our Middle East perspectives series on October 27 with a program featuring Ambassador Maen Areikat, PLO Representative to the United States. Areikat discussed the ongoing hardships that Palestinians endure under occupation as well as how the Palestinians must heal internal divisions between Hamas and Fatah in order to secure a Palestinian state.

If you missed a program, check our online archive. To learn more about Gallup’s survey of Muslims, go to MuslimWestFacts.com. You can also read an editorial by Maen Areikat from the SF Chronicle here.

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Next Wednesday, October 28, the Council will be joined by Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari. In 2007, Esfandiari was imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison because the Iranian government believed her to be a part of an American conspiracy for “regime change” in Iran. Her arrest sparked international outrage and protests from the likes of Barack Obama and Madeleine Albright. She will present her story and a view of Iran today and how it came to be.

This week Iran sentenced a friend of Esfandiari’s, Iranian-American academic Kian Tajbakhsh, to a 12-year prison term on account of his alleged involvement in the summer’s election demonstrations. Esfandiari spoke on NPR’s All Things Considered program this week about the case. You can listen to the interview or read the transcript here.

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This month the World Affairs Council is dedicating three programs to the Middle East peace process with the intent of providing three very different perspectives. The first will come from Ambassador Hossam Zaki, Senior Political Advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt, Ahmed Aboul Gheit. The Council will welcome Ambassador Zaki this Thursday, October 15 at noon. Egypt has been a primary member of peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, and has also been serving as an intermediary between Hamas and Fatah with the goal of forming a Palestinian unity government.

Our second event will feature former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on October 22 at 6:30 PM. The Council will also host a counterpoint perspective with PLO Representative Maen Areikat on October 27 also at 6:30 PM. The BBC published an interview yesterday with Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Foreign Minister, who discussed the prospects of an early solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You can read it here.

In addition to these programs, the Council will also welcome Dalia Mogahed, Senior Analyst and Executive Director at the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, on October 21 at noon. She will present findings from Gallup’s largest study of Muslims. The results challenge conventional wisdom and shed greater light on what motivates Muslims worldwide, whose population is now measured at 1.57 billion.

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