Kenneth Pollack | Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy

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Kenneth Pollack, Senior Fellow at Brookings Institution discussed his new book, Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy on October 7, 2013 at the SMU Tower Center.

“The Tower Center’s relevant and interesting roundtable discussion was perfectly timed. On the heels of Iranian President Rouhani’s visit to the UN General Assembly, we were able to hear from the author about U.S. policy towards Iran, as well as discuss several other policy puzzles in the Middle East.

I think we all left better informed and with an improved understanding of the region, which we can now share with our SMU students.”

- Diana Newton, Senior Fellow, Tower Center


pollackKenneth M. Pollack is an expert on Middle Eastern political-military affairs, with particular emphasis on Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the other nations of the Persian Gulf region. He is currently a senior fellow in the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. He served as the director of the Saban Center from 2009 to 2012, and its director of research from 2002 to 2009. His most recent book isUnthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy. Pollack received his B.A. from Yale University and a Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His dissertation was titled The Influence of Arab Culture on Arab Military Effectiveness, 1948-1991.

 

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Peña Nieto’s Debut: The First Days of the Mexican President

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Another successful program at the SMU Tower Center for Political Studies featuring two prominent Mexico scholars and intellectuals on September 12th, 2013 – former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, the Honorable Antonio O. Garza, and Director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, Dr. Duncan Wood. The program was moderated by Tower Center Senior Fellow, Lee Cullum, noted international journalist, and offered a dynamic discussion about the current Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and his reforms.

The discussion focused on a couple of major topics: energy and fiscal reform, the Pacto por Mexico, and the return of the PRI to power. Both speakers were candid about the problems and opportunities facing México and left the audience hopeful that the country is moving in the right direction with a more open economy and a more transparent political process. The current President is spearheading efforts to improve sectors of the Mexican economy, such as energy, telecommunications, … that were lagging but rule of law and corruption continue to hamper reform efforts.

– Luisa del Rosal, Program Director, SMU Tower Center

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“What a first rate program!  I scrambled to find my note pad and record the information and anecdotes the speakers shared. (And what they were hesitant to share, Lee managed to extract!) Well done, Tower Center!” – Pia Orrenius, Senior Fellow, SMU Tower Center

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Student Fellow Presentation | Julien Teel: Territorial Disputes in the East China Sea

Julien Teel, senior SMU student and student fellow at the John G. Tower Center for Political Studies, gave a presentation on “Territorial Disputes in the East China Sea and Its Implications on the China-Japan-U.S. Triangular Relationship” at the Tower Center boardroom on September 17, 2013.  More than 20 students, faculty, and Tower Center members attended and had a lively discussion.

teel presentationTerritorial disputes in the East China Sea are complex, involving many different interests and issues—which made it the perfect subject for Julien to study considering his deep interest in national security, and maritime security in particular.  In addition to building on his studies at SMU these past years, his internship at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. this past summer also allowed him to work with scholars from Japan who are experts on security and foreign policy in Asia and to attend events at various research organizations in the national capital.  Having just 30 minutes to talk about a highly complex issue and to an audience beyond his peers in a typical classroom setting made him a little nervous at first.

teel presentation2Feedback from the audience indicates he did a fantastic job.  Julien said he learned a lot from this experience: from thinking critically about how to present information and analysis to gaining confidence in public speak and skills in interacting with audiences.  He urges other students to seize opportunities to present their research to broader audiences, and hope the Tower Center and other forums will give students more opportunities to showcase their research.

 

– Anny Wong, Tower Center Fellow

* This activity benefitted from the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Public Education for Peacebuilding Support Initiative.


Teel, JulienJulien Teel is a senior majoring in Political Science and International Studies, while also minoring in Chinese and Asian Studies. His research encompasses security and defense issues in East Asia, as well as analyzing the trilateral relationship between the U.S., Japan, and China. Currently, Julien is in the process of applying for Officer Candidate School in the Navy with the intention of entering as an Intelligence Officer. He eventually hopes to become a Foreign Area Officer in the Navy, formulating and promoting American foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region.

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Tower Center Student Fellow: Hughes Trigg outreach

teel2Julien Teel, senior SMU student and student fellow at the John G. Tower Center for Political Studies, planned, built, and conducted an education outreach at the Hughes Trigg Student Center on September 16, 2013.  Between 11.00am and 1.00pm, Julien, along with junior student Julianna Bond, presented information on territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas, answered questions, and encouraged students to learn more about rising tensions in these two regions and implications for U.S. national security.  About 30 students stopped by and half engaged in in-depth discussions with Julien and Julianna.

teel3In a chat with Julien after the event, he said he found that most students were surprised to hear that there are decades-old conflicts in the region.  Most were keen to learn more and remarked they wish the media would do more to educate the public on complex issues like these and not only report when crisis or violence occurs.  Asked what he values most from this experience, Julien said it was eye-opening to see that fellow students are keen to learn more about world affairs and he believes such education outreach is important to raise awareness among young people and prepare them for their careers.

– Anny Wong, Tower Center Fellow

* This activity benefitted from the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Public Education for Peacebuilding Support Initiative.


Teel, JulienJulien Teel is a senior majoring in Political Science and International Studies, while also minoring in Chinese and Asian Studies. His research encompasses security and defense issues in East Asia, as well as analyzing the trilateral relationship between the U.S., Japan, and China. Currently, Julien is in the process of applying for Officer Candidate School in the Navy with the intention of entering as an Intelligence Officer. He eventually hopes to become a Foreign Area Officer in the Navy, formulating and promoting American foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region.

 

 

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Tower Center Received Support from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP)

The Tower Center has been selected to receive support from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) Public Education for Peacebuilding Support initiative to examine rising tensions over disputed territories in the South China Sea and the importance of peaceful, non-violent solutions to U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific region. Public Education for Peacebuilding Support is a new initiative of USIP, administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE), which seeks to support American colleges, universities and public libraries in advancing public education on international peace and conflict resolution.

The funding provided by USIP will enable the Tower Center to hold an expert roundtable (click here to register), a film show with commentary (click here to register), and student-driven research and presentations (click here to register) to expand understanding of how regional conflicts in Asia are intimately tied to U.S. national security, diplomatic, and economic interests in the region.

USIP is the government’s only national security and foreign affairs institution created by the U.S. Congress to professionalize the field of international conflict management and peacebuilding, implement conflict management operations abroad, and generate new tools for conflict management and prevention. As part of its congressional mandate, USIP makes awards to organizations that will advance its mission of supporting national security by funding alternatives to violence around the world.

The Tower Center appreciates the federal support provided by USIP for its important work.

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The John G. Tower Center Faculty Fellowships

The John G. Tower Center for Political Studies offers faculty fellowships to support and enhance research and undergraduate instruction and to provide seed monies to conduct preliminary research that may lead to outside funding. The award limit is $2500.

These fellowships are open to members of the SMU faculty whose work broadly bears on international and comparative politics, political economy and institutions. The project should be described in a 3 to 5 page proposal outlining the goals of the research to be undertaken, the methodology to be used, a time schedule to be followed, and a detailed budget.

Tower Center Faculty fellowship funds are generally not awarded for domestic or international conference travel as such funds are available elsewhere in the University.  The funds cannot be used to purchase computer hardware or supplement salary.

The application should include a current CV and a list of other agencies or institutions to which the applicant has applied or from which the applicant is receiving funding.

The proposal should include plans for disseminating the results of the research (including the results of previous fellowships if prior grants have been awarded) or for offering the course or curriculum to be developed. This is essential for applications made less than three years since receiving a prior grant.

The award recipient will be asked to present the results of the research in a Tower Center seminar.

The deadline for application is October 20, 2013

This Fellowship will be awarded after a competitive review of the proposals by the Fellowship Committee of the Tower Center, chaired by the director and to include two members of the Faculty Board.

Fellows are asked to cite the Tower Center for Political Studies at SMU in any publications resulting from work done during the grant and to provide the Tower Center with copies of the work.

Please submit application and direct inquiries to Ray Rafidi, Associate Director of the Tower Center, 233 Carr Collins Hall.

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The Colin Powell Faculty Fellowship

The John G. Tower Center for Political Studies offers the Colin Powell Global Order and Foreign Policy Fellowship. The purpose of this award is to increase research and scholarship and to provide seed monies that may lead to outside funding.  The award is up to $5000 for individuals and up to $10,000 for teams.

This fellowship is open to members of the SMU faculty whose work broadly bears on issues such as the structure of what former President George H.W. Bush called the New World Order and the role of the US in this New Order.

In addition to individual projects, the Tower Center encourages applications from research groups or teams that are seeking seed money for a larger project with the prospect of external funding. Team projects will be evaluated on the basis of their potential for matching grants.

Applications must include a 5 to 10 page proposal outlining the goals of the research to be undertaken, the methodology to be used, a time schedule to be followed, and a detailed budget.  Powell Fellowship funds are generally not awarded for domestic or international conference travel as such funds are available elsewhere in the University.  The application should be accompanied by a current C-V or C-Vs in the case of group applications.  Applications for research support should include a list of other agencies or institutions to which the applicant/s has/have applied or from which the applicant/s is/are receiving funding. The award cannot be used to purchase computer hardware or to supplement salary.

The proposal should discuss plans for disseminating the results of the research. Each award recipient will be asked to submit a final report at the end of the project, and to present the results in a Tower Center seminar.

The deadline for application is October 20, 2013

This Fellowship will be awarded after a competitive review of the proposals by the Fellowship Committee of the Tower Center, chaired by the Director, and to include two members of the Faculty Board.

Powell Fellows are asked to cite the Tower Center for Political Studies at SMU in any publications resulting from work done during the grant and to provide the Tower Center with copies of the work.

Please submit applications and any inquiries to Ray Rafidi, Associate Director of the Tower Center, 233 Carr Collins Hall.

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Help Wanted: Hackers

This news story first appeared on May 8, 2013. For more information click here.

By Rena Pederson, KERA News; May 8, 2013

Google.  Bank of America. The U.S. Treasury Department.

They’re just a few of the victims hit by cyber-attacks that stymied their computer operations.

Before he left office, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned the U.S. is facing a “cyber Pearl Harbor.”  He said  “An aggressor national or extremist group could gain control of critical switches and derail passenger trains, or trains loaded with lethal chemicals.  They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country.”

There is already plenty of evidence of the national security danger:

In a single intrusion, hackers stole 24,000 files containing Pentagon data. Before that, hackers stole plans for a $300 billion fighter jet. And penetrated the Air Force’s air traffic control system.

To make matters worse, we may not have the talent graduating from our public schools to out-hack the hackers who are stealing into our government offices and financial institutions. We need software coders who can build better firewalls to protect us and we need the equivalent of cyber Navy Seals who can penetrate threatening systems.

James Gosler, a cyber security specialist at the Sandia National Laboratory, estimates there are only 1,000 people in the United States with the ultra-sophisticated skills needed for cyber defense. He says we need 20,000 to 30,000.

While we have been inching along, other countries have been racing ahead to develop troops for information warfare.  Iranian hackers recently were able to capture one of the Pentagon’s RQ-170 drones.  They tricked the unmanned aircraft into thinking it was landing in Afghanistan.  Cyber attacks traced to China have become so frequent and alarming that President Obama mentioned it in his first congratulatory call to the new Chinese President Xi Jinping.

What are these countries doing that we aren’t?  In China, Iran, and Russia, young hackers are scouted like the star athletes that are recruited here for sports teams.  They are groomed to become cyber warriors.  You can see the results in global cyber competitions: In the World Finals of the International Collegiate Programming Contest, which is sponsored by IBM, the top medal awards for the last five years have gone to China and Russia. Only one American university was in the top ten this year – Harvard placed seventh. MIT was 18th.

It’s time for America to get in the game.  We have to start by training more teachers who can inspire students to study algebra.  A program created at The University of Texas in Austin recruits college students brainy enough to major in math and science to become classroom teachers. More than 6,000 students are now enrolled in UTeach programs at 34 campuses, including – the University of North Texas, U-T Arlington and U-T Dallas.

But more universities and more students across the country need to sign up.  The White House estimates the U.S. will need as many as 100,000 more math and science teachers in the next five years.

We need to support grassroots efforts such as “Commit” in the Dallas School District, or charter schools like Uplift and KIPP Academy, or the National Math and Science Initiative, headquartered in Dallas.  We need to spend more money on education, not less. And expand Advanced Placement programs in math and science so more of our students will be college ready.

We shouldn’t have to wait until our ATMs or the gas pumps or the lights aren’t working because another country hacked in. It’s time to build up our supply of human talent just like we build up our supply of planes and tanks when we need to.  The planes and tanks aren’t going to do much good if the Pentagon computers are shut down.

Rena Pederson is a Dallas journalist and former communications advisor at the U.S. State Department. Ms. Pederson also serves as a member of the board of directors of the Tower Center.

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Rahfin Faruk: A Muslim child of immigrants, but always an American first

This news story first appeared on April 23, 2013. For more information click here.

By Rahfin Faruk, The Dallas Morning News; April 23, 2013

Over the past week, the Boston Marathon tragedy has consumed my life. The old story has repeated itself: Dissatisfied with some element of society, religious extremists have attacked America. And, as a response, many have blamed the religion of Islam.

The comments on social media have been vile and hurtful. Many have told all Muslims to return home. Others have ostracized the prophet. The most extreme have called for total war on all Muslim people.

I was born in Bangladesh — a nation of farmers and fisherman — which became Muslim in the 12th century. Like many other Muslim areas in Asia, Islam came to Bangladesh via Arab traders and merchants.

Following the footsteps of millions of other economic migrants, my parents migrated to the United States in search of better education and employment. And, just like migrants from all over the world, my parents brought their cultural and religious traditions with them.

I was two and a half years old.

My religious development continued into my teens as I fasted during Ramadan and visited the Dallas Convention Center downturn for Eid Prayer with thousands of other Muslims.

In the past few days, the most surprising thing is the questions I have received from my peers: How could someone who grew up in America attack my country? Is it because they were Muslim?

For the first time in the war on terrorism, Muslim American immigrants who grew up here have attacked the United States.

The story of my American experience does not end at my local mosque. It does not end with my religious teaching or my experience with religious organizations.

At the same time that my parents taught me about their religion — like millions of other Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh and Hindu parents — they introduced me to American society.

They signed me up to play soccer with the Garland Soccer Association. They made me volunteer at Habitat for Humanity. They let me have non-Muslim friends. They even let me learn and read about other religions. Next to the copy of my Qur’an sits the Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica and the Upanishads.

My interactions allowed me to understand, appreciate and embrace American culture.

Too often, new immigrant groups remain insular — either because of a perceived conflict of cultures or because of a failure of the larger community.

I offer my American experience — something that allows me to call America my country — as an example for what we should do as a society.

As scholars have argued, the failure of a nation to integrate its immigrants points to a failure of its civil society. Not only does it create socioeconomic disparities in society but it also creates an isolated population — an unhealthy outcome for any democracy.

What America needs now, more than ever, is understanding between its diverse groups. Christians and Muslims, Hispanics and Africans and Democrats and Republicans can all meet at the table of understanding.

Too often, we have allowed our religious, social and cultural differences to separate us. But, in this new century, we must turn a new fold.

Francis Fukuyuma, a Harvard-trained political scientist, differentiates between European and American society in his 2006 Identity, Immigration and Liberal Democracy article. America has done a better job of creating a universal national identity among all of its citizens. In America, first generation immigrants can proudly call themselves “American.” In France, Moroccans remain Moroccan, and in Italy, Somalis remain Somali.

My identity is composed of many strata: I am a male, a Muslim and a Bangladeshi. But, more than anything, I am an American.

Let us live up to the American ideal so others can also make the statement “I am American first.” Islam and America are not — and have never been — mutually exclusive.

SMU sophomore Rahfin Faruk is the editor in chief of SMU’s The Daily Campus and the media relations chair for Muslim Students Association (MSA) National. Rahfin is also the Tower Center Edwin L. Cox Undergraduate Fellow (2013-2015). 

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Silenced no more

This news story first appeared on February 5, 2013. For more information click here.

By , Washington Post; February 5, 2013

When Burma’s Zin Mar Aung was placed in solitary confinement in 1998 for trying to organize students, Bill Clinton was president of the United States.

When she was released, Barack Obama was in the Oval Office.

Zin Mar Aung says she had never heard of George W. Bush or his wife, Laura, who used her own bully pulpit to push for liberation of Burma’s most famous political prisoner, democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, then under house arrest.

Aung San Suu Kyi is known to many now because of the largely unacknowledged work of the Bushes, as well as of Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Since her release, Aung San Suu Kyi has risen to public office, accepted her Nobel Peace Prize and been the subject of a movie (“The Lady”).

Less well-known are four rising female leaders with whom I met, including Zin Mar Aung, who are visiting the United States this month for leadership training. The Burmese women’s delegation is sponsored by Goldman Sachs’ “10,000 Women” program, in partnership with the George W. Bush Institute, the McCain Institute and the Meridian International Center.

What does all this mean?

Start here: Imagine living under a military dictatorship where free speech is punishable by incarceration, torture or worse. Imagine sitting in an 8-by-8-foot cell alone for 11 years with nothing but a small water jug, a “sink” for waste and a 15-minute daily break for a cold bath in a communal tub. Throw in a lack of any amenities (shoes) or even necessities, such as sanitary napkins.

This was Zin Mar Aung’s life for 11 years. How did she hang on to her sanity, I asked. She says she accepted that her existence consisted of those 64 square feet; wishing otherwise would do her no good. Meditate on that for a few seconds, while keeping in mind that her crime was publicly reading and distributing a collection of revolutionary poems she and her fellow students had written. Zin Mar Aung says she focused on those poems to get her through more than 4,000 days.

Then one day, she was free.

What does one do next? How does one navigate freedom in a nation relatively new to democratic reform and find the voice to speak when one has been silenced? Second and third thoughts further crowd the spirit in a country where, despite admiration for The Lady (as everyone refers to Aung San Suu Kyi), women are not universally embraced in the political process.

It takes courage to put one foot in front of the other, much less to become an activist, as Zin Mar Aung and her colleagues have done. For her part, Zin Mar Aung picked up where she left off, earning a degree in botany and pursuing an international law degree. In the meantime, she established the Yangon School of Political Science and co-founded Rainfall, an organization focused on women’s empowerment.

The accomplishments of the four Burmese women also include helping political prisoners, providing education and training to underserved girls and young women vulnerable to trafficking, and advocating for victims of domestic violence. The name of one of the organizations they help suggests the urgency and breadth of their challenges: Stop Sexual Harassment on the Bus Now.

The other three women are: Hla Hla Yee, a mother, attorney and former political prisoner who counsels marginalized women and provides paralegal training in orphanages and elsewhere; Shunn Lei Swe Yee, who mobilizes young people to work for a more civil society; and Ma Nilar OO, who worked for the International Red Cross for 18 years, advocated for political prisoners and personally provided some of those aforementioned necessities to Zin Mar Aung and Hla Hla Yee when they were imprisoned. More recently, she has been training and finding jobs for at-risk girls and young women (ages 13 to 35). She recently lost two teenagers from her program when their parents sold them for $100 each. They were of high value, apparently, because they were virgins, the sundering of whom is crudely termed in Burma “to open a new envelope.”

Some of these struggles sound familiar, even in our relatively advanced democracy. What is different for these women is the absence of democratic traditions in their country and a lack of familiarity with the instruments of freedom. Everything — from how to build a feminist movement to how to create a political party — has to be invented from scratch. What is the message? What is public opinion? How does a person get elected?

Imagine that. And then meditate about — or pray for — the safety and success of these four brave women.

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