Round-Up: The 2012 Presidential Election

With the presidential debates complete and the upcoming election only a day away, many voters still remain uncertain about whom to vote for.

ShelfLife@Texas’ political round-up offers shrewd governmental, political and historical insight on the current affairs, both domestic and international, that these candidates can expect to face as President of the United States of America. Topics range from presidential leadership in divisive times to the controversial topic of nation building to the development of a “presidential accountability system.”

“Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from The Founders to Obama,Jeremi Suri (Free Press, Sept. 2011)

12040417Nobel Fellow and leading light in the next generation of policy makers, Jeremi Suri, looks to America’s history to see both what it has to offer failed states around the world and what it should avoid. America’s earnest attempts to export its ideas of representative government have had successes (Reconstruction after the American Civil War, the Philippines, Western Europe) and failures (Vietnam), and we can learn a good deal from both.

The framers of the Constitution initiated a policy of cautious nation building, hoping not to conquer other countries, but to build a world of stable, self-governed societies that would support America’s way of life. Yet no other country has created more problems for itself and for others by intervening in distant lands and pursuing impractical changes.

Looking to the future, Americans acknowledge that our actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya will have a dramatic impact on international stability. Suri, provocative historian and one of Smithsonian magazine’s “Top Young Innovators,” takes on the idea of American exceptionalism and turns it into a playbook for the president.

“Presidential Power and Accountability: Toward a Presidential Accountability System,” Bruce Buchanan (Routledge, July 2012)

presidential-power-accountability-toward-system-bruce-buchanan-paperback-cover-artIn response to the belief held by many political analysts that the growth of presidential war power relative to Congress is irreversible, Bruce Buchanan identifies what would be required to restore presidential war power to constitutional specifications while leaving the president powerful enough to do what is truly necessary in the face of any emergency.

Buchanan focuses mainly on diagnosing the origins of the problem and devising practical ways to work toward restoration of the constitutional balance of power between Congress and the president.

Offering specific remedies by identifying the structure and strategy for a new think tank designed to nudge the political system toward the kind of change the book recommends, Buchanan shows how a fictional policy trial could take a practical step toward in rebalancing the war power.

This is a crucial examination of presidential power and the U.S. separation of powers system, with a focused effort on making a course correction toward the kind of power sharing envisioned in the Constitution.

“Democracy Prevention: The Politics of the U.S.-Egyptian Alliance,” Jason Brownlee (Cambridge University Press, Aug. 2012)

15842334When a popular revolt forced long-ruling Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign on Feb. 11, 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama hailed the peaceful demonstrators in the heart of the Arab World. But Washington was late to endorse democracy.

During the Egyptian uprising, the White House did not promote popular sovereignty but instead backed an “orderly transition” to one of Mubarak’s cronies.

Even after protesters derailed that plan, the anti-democratic U.S.-Egyptian alliance continued. Using untapped primary materials, this book helps explain why authoritarianism has persisted in Egypt with American support, even as policy makers claim to encourage democratic change.

Written for students as well as specialists, the book is the first to combine extensive archival evidence, including access to all of the Wikileaks cables and interviews with more than two dozen top Egyptian and American decision makers.

“The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace,” H.W. Brands (Doubleday, Oct. 2012)

13531850From New York Times best-selling author H. W. Brands, a masterful biography of the Civil War general and two-term president who saved the Union twice, on the battlefield and in the White House, holding the country together at two critical turning points in our history.

Ulysses Grant rose from obscurity to discover he had a genius for battle. After Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and the disastrous brief presidency of Andrew Johnson, America turned to Grand again to unite the country, this time as president.

In this sweeping biography, Brands reconsiders Grant’s legacy and provides a compelling and intimate portrait of a popular and compassionate man who saved the Union as a first-rate general and consolidated that victory as a resolute and principled political leader.

“The Triumph of Israel’s Radical Right,” Ami Pedahzur (Oxford University Press, Oct. 2012)

13689877To understand the seemingly intractable situation in Israel today, acclaimed scholar Ami Pedahzur offers a comprehensive account and an invaluable and authoritative analysis of the radical right’s ascendance to the heights of Israeli politics.

After dissection what they believe in, Pedahzur explains how mainstream Israeli policies like “the law of return” have nurtured their nativism and authoritarian tendencies.

He then traces the right’s steady expansion and mutation, from the early days of the state to today. Throughout, he focuses on the radical right’s institutional networks, how the movement has been able to expand its influence of the policy-making process.

His closing chapter is grim yet realistic: Pedahzur contends that a two-state solution is no longer viable and that the vision of the radical rabbi Meir Kahane, who was a fringe figure while alive, has triumphed.

Government Professor Wins Major Grant to Curb Violence, Urge Diplomacy in Egypt

lg Jason Brownlee, associate professor in the Departments of Government and Middle Eastern Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, has received a $109,484 grant to examine peace-building efforts in Egypt.

The funding, provided by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), will enable Brownlee to determine whether the rise in Egypt’s anti-Coptic violence comes from underlying social tensions or from lack of government interventions.

Nationally known for his expertise in authoritarian rule in the Middle East, Brownlee studies democratization and U.S. foreign policy. In his new book “Democracy Prevention: The Politics of the U.S.-Egyptian Alliance” (Cambridge University Press, September 2012), he explains how America’s alliance with Egypt has impeded democratic change and reinforced authoritarianism over time.

As Egypt moves forward in its effort to consolidate a democratic transition, this initiative will provide timely and informed guidance for nongovernmental organization workers, policymakers and officials in Egypt who are working to reduce societal conflict in a country pivotal to U.S. policy in the region, said Steve Riskin, the special assistant to the president for grants at USIP.iran_election1

“The study, which accords with USIP’s mandate to resolve violent conflicts and promote postconflict peace-building, will yield important insights for other Middle Eastern countries with religious minorities, including Syria and Lebanon with Christian and other minority groups,” Riskin said.

Created by Congress to be independent and nonpartisan, USIP works to prevent, mitigate and resolve international conflict through nonviolent means. During the past 20 years, the institute’s grant program has awarded more than 2,100 grants in 46 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and in 87 foreign countries. The grant program increases the breadth and depth of the institute’s work by supporting peace-building projects managed by nonprofit organizations including educational institutions, research institutions and civil society organizations.

Professor Evaluates Israel's Struggle Against Terrorism

Four years ago, Associate Professor of Government Ami Pedahzur investigated the use of human bombs in terrorist attacks around the world in the 2005 book “Suicide Terrorism” (Polity).

Now, after a decade of studying terrorism, he turns his attention to Israel’s battle in “The Israeli Secret Services and the Struggle Against Terrorism” (Columbia University Press, 2009).

In the book, Pedahzur argues that Israel’s counterrorism policy has not been successsful. To learn why, read the Austin American-Statesman’s interview with Pedahzur in the Jan. 18 story “UT expert questions Israel’s big stick.”

Pedahzur is a frequent commentator on global terrorism issues. For his insight about the recent attacks in India, check out the opinion piece he wrote for The New York Times, “From Munich to Mumbai.”

Professor Evaluates Israel’s Struggle Against Terrorism

Four years ago, Associate Professor of Government Ami Pedahzur investigated the use of human bombs in terrorist attacks around the world in the 2005 book “Suicide Terrorism” (Polity).

Now, after a decade of studying terrorism, he turns his attention to Israel’s battle in “The Israeli Secret Services and the Struggle Against Terrorism” (Columbia University Press, 2009).

In the book, Pedahzur argues that Israel’s counterrorism policy has not been successsful. To learn why, read the Austin American-Statesman’s interview with Pedahzur in the Jan. 18 story “UT expert questions Israel’s big stick.”

Pedahzur is a frequent commentator on global terrorism issues. For his insight about the recent attacks in India, check out the opinion piece he wrote for The New York Times, “From Munich to Mumbai.”

Grad Student Publishes Memoir of Growing Up in Iran

After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini’s secret police executed and imprisoned tens of thousands of dissidents in a sweeping attempt to destroy all opposition to the regime.

UT doctoral student Nastaran Kherad was one of many who were imprisoned after the revolution.

More than 20 years after her brutal incarceration and flight from Iran, she has decided to share her story in the memoir “In the House of My Bibi: Growing Up in Revolutionary Iran” (Academy Chicago Publishers, 2008).

Born in Abadan, Iran, Kherad was raised by her maternal grandmother, Bibi, a gifted storyteller and wise woman of the local community. But as she grows up, Kherad feels the pull of the modern world, represented in the ideals of her brother Mohammad, a political activist.

After her brother is imprisoned and placed on death row by the Ayatollah’s government, the secret police mount a search Kherad, accusing her of sympathizing with the anti-revolutionary movement.

At the age of 18, Kherad makes the choice to turn herself in, believing it will help reduce her brother’s sentence to life in prison.

Nastaran Kherad

Nastaran Kherad

Instead, Kherad was tortured and imprisoned for a year in the women’s cellblock of Adelabad Prison. Her brother Mohammad was eventually executed for his political beliefs.

“In the House of My Bibi” offers a powerful account of Kherad’s imprisonment, juxtaposed with the peaceful memories of her childhood that sustained her during her ordeal.

In the following interview, she reveals why she decided to tell her story, what it means to live in exile, and her hopes for the future of Iran.

Q: Why did you decide to write “In the House of My Bibi”?

A: “In the House of My Bibi” is a tribute to my maternal grandmother, and to my older brother, Mohammad, who was arrested for his liberal ideals, tortured and executed after 28 months of brutal imprisonment, at age 24.

All I left Iran with was my memories, which haunted me quietly wherever I went. When my grandmother died in 1996 and I wasn’t able to return to Iran and say my farewell, it seemed that suddenly the old wounds opened and the pain gushed through me all over again.

The only way I could cope was through writing, seeking, perhaps, solace and reconciliation. Writing, at that stage, was a form of mourning in ink. I had to write and tell my story on paper to keep my brother’s memory alive, and many people like him whose only crime was demanding the basic human right: freedom.

Q: What do you hope readers will learn from your story?

A: Today Iran is considered an Islamic country in the Middle East, a much controversial and misunderstood country in the West, yet one of the most ancient civilizations of the world. My hope is that “In the House of My Bibi” will help many curious readers who wish to explore Iran and to understand its recent history, its people, its culture, and its politics.

By telling my story of struggle and survival, I also hope to depict Iranians’ struggle for justice and democracy, especially women’s resistance against an oppressive regime, with the hope of furthering justice and liberty for those still suppressed and subjugated.

Q: What helped you get through your imprisonment? Did you always have hope you would be released?

A: Being imprisoned as a political prisoner who has no rights whatsoever, and under such tentative, horrifying conditions, one does not know what will happen next. With the thought of death hanging over your head at all times, one does not have much choice but to live life day-by-day and even hour-to-hour. Your verdict could change and be increased, for instance, from one year to 10 years if the prison guards were displeased with your attitude.

What kept me sane was seeing many others in prison who had to suffer much worse than I, and it seemed that my sufferings were nothing in comparison to theirs. By the time I was released from prison, in addition to my brother, six of my cousins and relatives, all under age 25, were already executed. So, maybe that had an effect on the prison official’s decision in letting me go. I guess God had mercy on my mother who had already buried her young son.

Q: What is your favorite memory of your grandmother?

A: What I cherished the most was our time spent over the rooftop under the stars on the summer nights. I loved and value so much her sense of compassion and respect for others regardless of what social class and background or ethnic group they belonged to. My grandmother was a natural storyteller who had a wealth of oral history, which she shared generously with so many around her.

There are so many beautiful memories, but what I always love to remember is her easy laughter and her chubby, high cheekbones and the way she always reminded me in her beautiful idiom: “babam, it doesn’t matter what others decide to do, you choose to be good!”

Q: You had a special relationship with your brother Mohammad—what do you cherish the most about his life and memory?

A: I don’t even know who I would have been without my brother Mohammad. I look back and feel so blessed to have known someone like him. He was very protective of me, kind to everyone, and compassionate and sensitive towards the deprived and the oppressed. He opened a new world of ideas to me and introduced me to literature and art.

He had such great sense of justice from early on. If my grandmother taught me to see the world with an intelligent eye, Mohammad taught me to stand up for justice and what is righteous. I am not nearly as brave as he was, and I always think of him when I find myself helpless in a situation and seek his strength.

Q: Do you consider yourself to be living in exile? If so, what does it mean to be an exile?

A: Since I cannot go to my native country, Iran, for fear of the government, I feel very much in exile. But even before leaving Iran, I felt marginalized and exiled in my own home country. Because of my political beliefs, and the fact that I was imprisoned, I was banned from attending the university or working in public businesses.

After my release, I felt the watchful eyes of Revolutionary guards everywhere. Before long, I among thousands and thousands of other dissidents, were forced to seek exile. Torn apart from my own culture and language, I began a new life in the West.

Since leaving Iran in 1986, I have experienced an unremitting life of migration and at times a sense of loss and displacement. But, I believe that living in exile has its advantages, it offers the individual a profound sense of growth, compassion for all, and a worldly outlook.

Q: What do you think is the future of Iran under the current regime?

A: I must have asked myself this question a thousand times. In the past 30 years the government has managed to eradicate the entire opposition groups, imprison and execute thousands of young people, and brutally crush the student movement. The Iranian people have become impoverished, and the Iranian government continues to violate human rights.

My only hope is that there would be concrete and constructive changes within the country through the young people, intellectuals, and academics. I also hope that Western nations will help the Iranian people achieve freedom and democracy, and hold the Iranian government accountable for violating human rights. The Iranian people deserve to live a peaceful, democratic life.

After fleeing to the United States in 1990, Nastaran Kherad earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree at California State University. She is now a doctoral student in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, focusing on Persian studies and exile literature.

Kherad will discuss and sign copies of “In the House of My Bibi” at 7 p.m., Jan. 14 at BookPeople. Visit for more details.

In Memoriam: Elizabeth Warnock Fernea

Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, professor emerita of Middle Eastern Studies and comparative literature, passed away earlier this week. She was 81. Read an obituary here.

Known as “B.J.” to her friends and family, Fernea was a noted scholar, filmmaker and author of several books on women’s issues in the Middle East.

Her memoir “Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village” (1965) which detailed her immersion into the lives of the women of Al-Nahra, was a national bestseller.

Did you know Professor Fernea? Leave a comment and share your best memories of the beloved author and scholar.