CENTCOM’s Lt. Gen. Allen, former Tehran hostage Limbert to lecture at Nov. 3-4 event.
By Vickie Chachere
USF.edu News Manager
TAMPA, Fla. (Nov. 3, 2010) – Thirty-one years ago, the storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran was for many Americans the first brush with Islamic extremism and the complicated political and religious terrain in that region of the world.
Decades later, the landscape is more treacherous, more complex and more costly in American blood and treasure.
In 1979, Jonathan Limbert was a new Foreign Service officer just 12 weeks into his post in Tehran. John R. Allen was a few years into his career as an officer in the U.S. Marines. And Roger Cohen was a young journalist working in Europe.
Today, they are now a former ambassador and leading expert on U.S. policy toward Iran; the deputy commander of U.S. Central Command; and a leading voice on international affairs for The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune.
And all three are presenting key lectures in a two-day conference at USF aimed at bringing clarity to the complex region – an event which falls on the 31st anniversary of the taking of the American embassy in Tehran.
Limbert will speak at 1 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 4, delivering a lecture titled: “Iran and the U.S.: Endless Enemies.” The event will be held the USF Embassy Suites, 3705 Spectrum Blvd., and is free and open to the public. A full schedule is available here.
The conference opened on Wednesday with keynote addresses from Cohen and Allen, who in hour-long talks traversed the long history and challenging present-day situation in the region.
Cohen - who reported from Tehran during the brutal June 2009 election crackdown - said Iran and the U.S. remain stuck in a cycle fueled by Iran’s “maddening” and strategically provocative posturing and America’s reliance on sanctions, which have not been effective in bringing about change.
But inside Iran are millions of young adults yearning for true elections and contact with the west, Cohen said, and who do not harbor the anti-American vitriol of their leaders. Continued sanctions do not allow young Iranians interaction with moderating influences, he noted.
In vivid words, Cohen described the days after the 2009 vote when 2 million to 3 million Iranians took to the street to protest what they believe had been Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s stealing of the election and denouncing of his political opposition as “dust.”
“We may be dust, but we will blind them,” Cohen recalled an Iranian man telling him as he traversed a Tehran street in a sea of protestors stretching in every direction.
Cohen has continued to advocate for diplomatic efforts to engage Iran, which has made the journalist a target of international criticism. But he contends that progressive Iranians living under the brutal regime want their country to be more than it is.
“I feel that isolation in the end only serves the hardliners,” Cohen said. “Iran needs contact with the world in order to change.”
Allen, a former commander in Iraq who was credited with turning the tide of insurgency in Anbar province into a model of engagement, opened his lecture on a somber note: the memory of presiding over the funeral of Marine Capt. Matthew C. Freeman – the son of Allen’s close friend and one of the 1,250 U.S. service members who have died in Afghanistan since the war began.
Allen said despite the grief of the young captain’s parents and his bride of just three weeks, they have not “damned the Afghan people” but instead have channeled their grief into collecting school supplies for Afghan children.
It is efforts like that – along with the U.S. military’s focus on building “enduring” partnerships in the region and multilateral efforts to bring security which is making incremental progress. Allen lauded the U.S. military’s relationship with its counterparts in Pakistan as slowly helping bring stability to that shaky nation as well.
Calling the deliberate, thoughtful rethinking of war strategy the “art of the possible,” Allen said there are encouraging signs in some of the most dangerous areas of the region.
“Violence and progress will often exist in one space,” Allen said. “Violence will sometimes blind us to the progress we are achieving.”
The conference is the brainchild of Mohsen Milani, chair of USF’s Department of Government & International Affairs, who knows the convoluted issues of the region well as one of the nation’s leading experts on Iran. Milani recently penned an op-ed column for The New York Times examining Iran’s payments to Karzai, a development which will figure prominently in the conference’s discussions.
“There are no other four contiguous countries in the world that pose a greater challenge to American national security than do Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran,” said Milani. “Although they have profoundly different histories and political systems, elections have been playing an increasingly important role in all of those countries.
“This symposium will discuss the commonalities and differences among the latest elections in these countries, as well as explore the relationship between elections in these countries and American national interests in that troubled region of the world. Ultimately, we want to provide our community with a comparative perspective about these four countries. There is much wisdom in the statement, ‘If you only know one country, you know no country.’”
Conference discussions are exploring the interplay of electoral politics, religion, social conditions and democratization efforts in the volatile region as the United States enters the 10th year at war in Afghanistan and has concluded its combat mission in Iraq.
Other confirmed speakers include: Professor Nazif Shahrani (Indiana University); Dr. Amin Tarzi (Marine Corp University); Ambassador Feisal Instrabadi (Indiana University); Dr. Marina Ottaway (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace); Mr. Shuja Nawaz (The Atlantic Council); Karim Sadjadpour (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace); and Dr. Babak Rahimi (University of California – San Diego).
The event carries forward the university’s on-going focus on politics, war, health and humanitarian issues in the region, which were the focus of a three-day conference in March which drew leading authorities on Afghanistan and Pakistan and featured a lecture by then CENTCOM Commander Gen. David H. Petraeus.
Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.