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Frank Church Conference Inspires Solution-Based Dialogue

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Stephen Schlesinger, author, foreign policy adviser and former director of the World Policy Institute at the New School University in New York, said the topic of this week's Frank Church Conference at Boise State University was, "not only timely, but probably the issue that makes or breaks any serious candidate for the U.S. presidency."

Schlesinger was one of an impressive list of participants at the conference, dubbed " Clash of  Cultures: The Middle East in Turmoil." Statesmen and -women, authors, scholars and representatives of the United States State Department took to the stage at Boise State's Student Center to deconstruct the chaos that has defined much of the Middle East, with particular focus on the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, crisis.

Schlesinger pointed to his recent Huffington Post essay, "Why ISIS May be On the Verge of Collapse," saying the Islamic State is showing "signs of weakness rather than a sign of strength."

Dr. Nader Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School, said the crisis that gave birth to ISIS would continue to boil "as long as the legacy of authoritarianism and political tyranny" holds sway in the Middle East.

"As long as those conditions still exist, ISIS will emerge somewhere else in some other iteration," he said.

Leon Panetta, former secretary of defense and director of the Central Intelligence Agency, will receive the Frank and Bethine Church Award for Public Service on Jan. 18. - FRANK CHURCH INSTITUTE
  • Frank Church Institute
  • Leon Panetta, former secretary of defense and director of the Central Intelligence Agency, will receive the Frank and Bethine Church Award for Public Service on Jan. 18.
Gerald Feierstein, former ambassador to Yemen and foreign service officer in Islamabad, Beirut, Jerusalem, Riyadh and Tunis and current principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, reminded conference attendees that this week marks the fifth anniversary of the Arab Spring.

"But the Arab Spring is far from over," said Feierstein. "In my opinion, we've come to the end of the first act and I believe there are at least three or four more acts to come."

Feierstein added, "We should still have reason for optimism for the region," but also quoted early 20th century historian and philosopher Isaiah Berlin who said, "Nothing straight ever came out of the crooked timber of humanity."

Perhaps the most telling commentary came from plainspoken Ambassador Thomas Pickering, former undersecretary of state for Political Affairs and former ambassador to Russia, India, Israel and the United Nations.

"There are only two types of diplomats in the Middle East," Pickering said. "Optimists and lunatics. I'm not yet ready to be certified."

The conference continues Monday, Jan. 18, when the  Frank Church Institute welcomes Leon Panetta, former U.S. secretary of defense and director of the Central Intelligence Agency.