Symposium at Penn State University

I’m traveling to State College, Pennsylvania today, in order to participate in a really interesting symposium being held at Penn State University, and organized by Professors Flynt and Hillary Leverett.
Flynt and Hillary have a new book out, called “Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran.” I recommend this book as a very valuable and thought provoking work, and one the essential argument of which I certainly endorse.
Below is a bit that Flynt and Hillary wrote up about the conference and their book. I’ll be presenting on a panel with Ambassador Richard Butler, the former head of UNSCOM.  Note that the conference will be webcast live:

We wrote our new book, Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran, out of a conviction that how Washington deals with Iran over the next few years will largely determine America’s standing as a great power-in the Middle East and globally-for at least the next quarter century. More specifically, if the United States continues its counterproductive quest to dominate the Middle East by intensifying economic warfare, cyber warfare, and covert attacks against Iran and perhaps even launching another war to “disarm” yet another Middle Eastern state of weapons of mass destruction it does not have, the “blowback” against the U.S. position and U.S. interests will be disastrous. If, on the other hand, Washington abandons its delusionally self-damaging quest to dominate the Middle East-and accepting the Islamic Republic as a legitimate entity representing legitimate national interests and “coming to terms” with it is essential in that regard-the United States will be much better able to protect its real and legitimate interests, in the region and globally.

We also believe that the course of U.S.-Iranian relations over the next few years will have enormous implications for the rules-based legal frameworks and governance mechanisms that shape international order in the 21st century. So we are pleased that, using our book as a “launch point,” the Penn State Journal of Law and International Affairs will sponsor a day-long symposium, “The U.S.-Iranian Relationship and the Future of International Order,” on Friday, February 15 see here <> , at Penn State’s main University Park campus in State College, PA.

Both of us will give keynotes-Flynt will open the proceedings by discussing “The Iranian Nuclear Issue, the End of the American Century, and the Future of International Order,” and Hillary will conclude by addressing “How Precipitous a Decline? U.S.-Iranian Relations and the Transition from American Primacy.” There will also be panels on “Iran and the Future of Nuclear Nonproliferation” and “The Iranian Case and Use of Force Doctrine as a Constraint on State Behavior” with outstanding participants, including David Andelman, Editor of the World Policy Journal; Ambassador Richard Butler, A.C.; Vice Admiral James Houck; and Professors Daniel Joyner, Tiyanjana Maluwa, and Mary Ellen O’Connell.

For anyone in or near Pennsylvania who would like to come in person, you would be most welcome. For everyone else, a live webcast <>  of the symposium will be available.

-Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett,


9 Comments on “Symposium at Penn State University”

  1. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    Dan, I hope you don’t mind if I view this as an opportune occasion to let folks know about my English-language bibliography on religion and politics in modern Iran. Knowledge of Iranian society and its recent history remains fairly poor in this country, even among those one would expect to possess some rudimentary knowledge on this score. Please see:

  2. yousaf says:

    have fun at the symposium…
    wanted to make sure you saw that Ban Ki Moon (of all people) is getting impatient with Iran talk — he just hasn’t given the “or else” yet over non-existent WMDs:

    • Dan Joyner says:

      That is unfortunate. Note that he just assumes that Iran’s case is identical to NK, and that their motives are the same. And he keeps saying that both he and the West are not convinced of Iran’s peaceful nuclear intent. Ooohhhkkkaaayyy. And why is that Iran’s problem? Nowhere in any relevant legal document is the onus placed on Iran or any other NNWS to “convince” the UN Secretary General, or the US, or the IAEA of anything. Being convinced is a purely subjective determination. You can’t place an obligation on anyone to convince someone else of something. That’s why the IAEA CSA is structured in an objective fashion – the NNWS produces a report declaring all fissile material and related facilities. The IAEA makes sure the declaration is accurate. Unless there is some demonstrated inaccuracy, the state is in compliance, whether Ban Ki Moon or anyone else is convinced or not.

      • yousaf says:

        I agree with you. I am disturbed that the UN Secretary General evidently does not have time for diplomacy, especially since 16 US intelligence agencies and the Mossad concur that there in nuclear weapons development work in Iran at the moment.

        I am more worried about the possibility of nuclear weaponization in East Asia right now.

      • yousaf says:

        correction: “concur that there *is no* nuclear weapons development work in…”

  3. yousaf says:

    Oh, and maybe someone wants to tell WaPo that there are other applications for ceramic ring magnets:

    aluminum tubes all over again!

  4. Ban is a US puppet, just like Amano. All of these “diplomats” are just front men. They have no authority themselves, no power, and no capability of affecting historical outcomes. They do what they’re told.

  5. Solon says:

    Former National Security Agency Director Lt. General William Odom discussed “the international system” in this “major policy speech- America’s Strategic Paralysis, at Brown University for the Watson Institute for International Studies. ” Audio is here:

    As I recall from the Live webcast, Flynt and ??? tossed back and forth critiques of the “realist” school and the way that Hans Morgenthau and Ken Waltz have cast the study of international affairs in a dangerous and delusional fashion.

    In his talk, Odom lists the goals of the “international system” post-WWII, and asserts that the Bush administration completely misunderstood the use of military power, therefore upset the International System that had, Odom said, brought prosperity and peace to a great number of people for a long time, without violence.

    The focus of Odom’s speech, and the “Bush” that I think he was referring to, was Bush 43, and the great blunder of the invasion of Iraq 2003.

    However, a speech by Jeffrey Engel, recently appointed Director of Bush 43’s Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University, suggests to me that Bush 41’s decision to “liberate” Kuwait (and save all those incubated babies) was, in Engel’s own words, the “transformational point” in US foreign policy. It pinpoints that moment in time when, as Flynt and Hillary Leverett argue, the US succumbed to the seduction of imperialism.

    Engels’s speech & the Q&A afterward are remarkable for several reasons — this being Mr. Joyner’s blog, I’ll just post the link and keep my own thoughts & notes to myself —

    Why post this on Dan’s article about Syria? Because Bashir Assad — and the Iranians — are the last holdouts for Islamic/Arab/Middle East self-determination:

    -WWI was, after all, a contest between Britain, France, and Germany for who would slice off the biggest chunk of the Ottoman empire. Arabs were promised “self Determination” by Wilson’s 14 Points, but that promise was betrayed. Zionists and the US won that war.

    -WWII was a contest between Britain and Germany over who would control financial affairs and essential resources & technology. Zionists and US won that war, too. Iran, not a party to the war. lost in several ways. KSA sold its soul to ARAMCO; Syria’s government was overthrown for the sake of ARAMCO pipelines, US and UK stood behind the zionist project in Israel rather than follow through on self-determination for the remnants of Ottoman empire.

    -Bush 41’s Gulf war was a major and deliberate humiliation of Arabs, for the purpose of defending with the last drop of Arab blood, US hegemony. Two major–tho inadvertent– themes in Engel’s talk were the persistent efforts of Arabs to persuade Bush that Arabs could and should manage the situation among themselves; and the equally persistent efforts of Gorbachov to intervene nonviolently to save lives and even US honor. Both bids for a peaceful resolution were overwhelmed by Bush 43’s manic — even psychotic — urge to get into a bloody war in order to assert US control.

    -This past week, two reports have crossed the ‘nets: Assad has declared that Syrians will rule Syria, and — this is significant — EU is dithering on whether to intervene militarily in Syria. The Bush “coalitions” are no longer as bribeable as they once were; Russia is definitely off the reservation — over a year ago Sergei Lavrov announced Russia’s principled policy toward Syria — similar to what Gorbachov tried to convince Bush 41 to pursue in 1990.

    This is a remarkable turning point — a pivot off of the “transformational moment” that Engel describes as having occurred in August 1990.

    It may just be the case that 100 years after the war that destroyed the Ottoman empire, Assad, with Iranian support, and Russian support, but against the agenda of fellow Arabs, will achieve self-determination for Arabs.

  6. Fiorangela says:

    Mary Ellen O Connell’s 2006 paper on proportionality re the Israel-Lebanon war makes these two statements:

    1. “These rules are found in the law regulating resort to force (jus ad bellum) and the law regulating the conduct of force (jus in bello). The most important rule in either category may well be the principle of proportionality.”


    2. “The liberation of Kuwait after the invasion by Iraq in 1990 is the textbook case. Pushing
    the Iraqi army out of Kuwait and creating a buffer zone was what was necessary to defend Kuwait. Going all the way to Baghdad was not necessary and would have involved, therefore, a disproportionate use of force.”

    Resort to force (jus ad bellum) must be only a last resort, after all other means of resolving the situation have been exhausted. According to Jeffrey Engel in the speech and book noted above, King Hussein of Jordan and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt repeatedly told George H W Bush that they, Arab leaders, knew how to resolve the situation and how to manage Saddam Hussein. They insisted to Bush that Arabs were able to- and entitled to- manage their own affairs. Bush told the Arabs he would “give them a chance to try,” but he simultaneously had his team compose the measures that he ultimately — and quickly — took.

    As well, Mikhael Gorbachev made so many phone calls to George Bush, some lasting two hours and more, that Bush became annoyed with him. In some of the phone calls, Bush “yelled and yelled and yelled and yelled” at Gorbachev, according to Engel. Gorbachev’s message in all those phone calls was to make efforts to resolve the situation without violence and without the use of military force. Bush “became very angry with Gorbachev” and “yelled at” the Soviet president “because he was tired and anxious.”

    In addition, Gorbachev made at least two attempts to intervene directly in the situation and prevent the use of force “hoping to save lives, hoping to save his former ally in Baghdad. . .and . . . hoping to keep the world from seeing too vivid a demonstration of American potentially hegemonic power.”

    It seems obvious that all means of resolving the situation without the use of force were NOT exhausted, thus the resort to force was not within the rule of jus ad bellum.

    Moreover, according to Engel and his research in the archives,

    “: it was not the argument that Kuwaiti independence itself mattered much at all.
    . Neither was it that Saddam’s particular brand of evil and tyranny required an American response. Nor was Bush immediately persuaded that Iraq’s aggression was of strategic concern, nor that Iraq might some day turn its oil wealth into dangerous weapons of mass destruction.”

    Rather, as Bush explained to Gorbachev,

    “there would not be an early end to the Gulf war . . . Just as there would be no ongoing soviet intervention. Because the Gulf war wasn’t really the issue.

    At stake was the world to come, the better world, the post cold war world, the world in which aggressors learned not to invade, where the UN looked over sovereignty. The United States and its allies, the Soviet Union potentially included, looked out for the peace.”

    The question that this non-lawyer poses is this: if the rule of jus ad bellum is not followed, as I would argue it was not, in the Gulf war in 1990, is any use of force disproportionate and a violation of jus in bello?

    Whatever the legal determinations may be, the policy implications of the Bush administration’s goals and actions are important.

    The Bush administration may have deployed military force to liberate Kuwait (illicitly), but a nuanced understanding of the administration’s motives demonstrates that their goal was not to “defend Kuwait;” Kuwait was a pretext for a larger agenda. O Connell’s determination that “the liberation of Kuwait is a textbook case” for proportionality may be correct in the legal arena (depending on the legitimacy of waging a war without exhausting all other means of resolving the conflict), but in the policymaking sphere, the reasons why Baghdad was not attacked are important and pertinent to current decisions and actions that the US government is taking regarding Iran.

    Jeffrey Engel discovered surprising answers to the question, Why did the Gulf warriors not continue on to Baghdad in 1991, that support Flynt and Hillary Leverett’s argument that collective punishment whose goal is to incite the public to overthrow their government does not work. Unfortunately, Engel made the opposite interpretation of the facts. Here’s what Engel discovered in the archives:

    QUOTE: “[Going on to Baghdad] was not a discussion within the White House for a very important reason: the ultimate goal — one of the ultimate goals beyond the liberation of Kuwait was the removal of Saddam Hussein from power.” END QUOTE

    And here is how “high level officials” thought Saddam would fall, without a military march to Baghdad:

    QUOTE: “There was 100% certainty on the part of high level American officials that this was going to happen anyway. Saddam Hussein had been embarrassed, his people were rising up against him, his own army was out to get him; if he lived weeks instead of days it would be a shock. 999 times out of a thousand, I think that’s exactly how things would have played out — that Saddam Hussein would not have survived. Unfortunately, from the Bush administration’s perspective …Saddam rolled the dice and made it. But given the question and those odds again I suspect they would take the same bet again.” END QUOTE

    The Leveretts are right on target in calling US foreign policy makers “delusional.” “100% certainty” was wishful thinking by an administration drunk on the prospects of the brand new unipolar moment.

    Something more deeply embedded in the human psyche is responsible for the ascription to luck — a “roll of the dice” — the reality that Saddam survived for not just “days and weeks” but for over thirteen years — years in which the Iraqi public was collectively punished but still did not rise up against him.

    Flynt Leverett put his finger on the deeply embedded ideology that causes “high level officials” to fail to recognize that it was not luck but the will of the Iraqi people at work in supporting their leader and their state, right or wrong, that allowed Saddam to survive. In comments at the East West Institute, Flynt noted that after the Soviet constraint on an innate imperial impulse was removed by the ending of the Cold War,

    “the United States embarks on this 20 year project to remake the Middle East, to coerce political outcomes that will basically remake it in line with American preferences.”

    This imperial turn leads the US to “keep troops on the ground after the Gulf war; by imposing sanctions on Iraq that killed more than a million Iraqis … It has not worked.”

    Dr. Leverett assesses that this impulse

    “is both culturally and politically so overdetermined in the United States. Culturally we have thought at least since Woodrow Wilson that unless we can basically make the rest of the world or at least critical parts of the world we can’t really be safe or secure. We also think that basically all people deep down really want to live like us so deep down we are actually doing humanity a favor by doing this. And when there’s ample evidence mounting that this is not working, that this is not congruent with reality, we have a very, very hard time correcting course. Because correcting course is going to mean ideational change, cultural change for us, and that’s really really hard to do. And I think that’s why people keep coming back to the same experts who are wrong on Iran time after time after time after time. But they say the right things; they say the culturally and psychologically comforting things, and so we keep coming back to them.” ;http www dot c-spanvideo dot org/program/310506-1

    Jeffrey Engel keeps himself and his audience in their psychological comfort zone by assuring them that “999 times out of a thousand,” it does work to coerce a people to overthrow their government — even if it hasn’t worked in the last 20 years; and that he and they should rest assured that because America is exceptional, its leaders will continue to pursue failed policies that feel good, even if the facts belie their effectiveness and the policies kill thousands and erode American prosperity and well-being.

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