Scholars and experts assess the reverberations of the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan on international relations, regional security and stability in the Middle East, Central and South Asia.
Funds from the US Department of Education and UCLA enabled the Von Grunebaum Center for Near Eastern Studies to convene an international symposium entitled "Road to Peace, Path to Ruin? The Middle East in 2005." Attended by 18 scholars and experts, the program was organized by CNES director and political science professor Leonard Binder.
Four elections later—the American, the Iraqi, the Afghan and the Palestinian—and despite assists from Yasser Arafat, Ariel Sharon and Bashar al-Asad, the Peace Process, the War on Terrorism and the Democratization of Iraq have all become bogged down or set aside. The facts on the ground have proven to be obdurately resistant to both the military force and the political rhetoric that have been brought to bear upon them. The Road Map has been set aside and replaced by an intricately complicated disengagement process. The War on Terrorism has become obscured in a fog of color-coded and vaguely worded warnings. And the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq has ground to a halt as a result of the disconnect between the simpleminded electoral system and the multi-layered complexity of Iraq's identity politics.
Before the American elections, many had come to the conclusion that staying the course meant going nowhere, but an abrupt change of course might have had have serious consequences on the outcome of the elections. As it turned out, there were no October surprises, and the illusion of military steadfastness was maintained. Since the elections, however, elements of doubt and a hint of greater realism have begun to appear. The reaffirmation of popular support for the Bush administration has provided an opportunity for the winner, and for the rest of us, to reconsider American national interests in the region, to reassess our capabilities and our priorities, and to revisit the strategic preconceptions that led us to disregard the political, social and cultural characteristics of those whose cooperation we seek.
We are now at the point where the renewed administration is faced with the option of setting aside the fantasy of remaking the Middle East in our own image. Attention must now be given to an analysis of the current state of play, taking into account such things as ethnic geography and demography, grassroots power structure, the differences between diaspora terror and the violence of jihad in Muslim majority states, the complex relationship between the solidarism of religious identity and the actual dispersal of religious authority, and many other matters which have drawn the attention of regional specialists. It was with a view to encouraging the reopening of the dialogue between policy makers and regional specialists that the Von Grunebaum Center for Near Eastern Studies organized a symposium focusing on three of the most challenging problems facing the United States. The Center called upon a number of distinguished specialists to consider the regional contexts of the three major issues of US policy in the Middle East:
The symposium extended over a three-day period, with one day devoted to each problem area. The program opened on May 19 with a discussion of the situation in Iraq. Participants discussed the Israel-Palestine peace process in morning and afternoon sessions on May 20, and considered Afghanistan and its impact on Central and South Asian affairs on May 21.
A complete program as well as introductory remarks, detailed summaries of the proceedings and photos of the participants and the audience are available via the links on top.
Published: Saturday, June 25, 2005
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