INTERVIEW WITH DR. CHRIS FERREROPOSTDOCTORAL FELLOW, POLITICAL SCIENCE


Dr. Ferrero completed his PhD in Foreign Affairs at the University of Virginia in December 2011. His dissertation, entitled “The Iran Narrative: Ideas, Discourse, and Domestic Politics in the Making of US Foreign Policy toward Iran, 1990-2003,”  examines  the  extent  to  which  popular  American  characterizations  of  Iran as a fanatical terrorist state have constrained presidents from more vigor-ously pursuing engagement with the Islamic Republic. He is developing a book manuscript based on this research. 


Tell us a little about your dissertation research:

I examine the role of ideas and discourse in the formulation of American foreign policy toward Iran. I have long found our visceral disdain of Iran to be a fairly interesting phenomenon. There are a lot of bad actors out there but for some reason we reserve a particular animus for Iran. I look at the situation in the Middle East through a geopolitical lens and I find a lot of reasons why we may want to cooperate with Iran. Starting with the end of the Cold War, Iranian leaders offered successive opportunities to not necessarily become friends but to achieve some kind of détente and to cooperate with the US, possibly leading to a rapprochement. Now this goes against the idea that Iran is intrinsically anti-American, that its ideology and legitimacy is com-pletely dependent on anti-Americanism. Evidence of Iranian gestures – done however quietly – suggests that they believe they can preserve the Islamic Republic while maintaining a cordial working relationship with the United States, if not an alliance. For my dissertation, I decided to just focus on the US side. I ask why, since the end of the Cold War when there have been pragmatic incentives to cooperate and when Iranians have reached out, have American policy makers failed to make the most of the situation and the opportunities? I posit the significance of what I call the “Iran narrative,” which is this collection of frames, myths, themes, expert opinions and analyses, and story lines about Iran that dominate our nation’s public discourse about that country and make it very hard for leaders to make bold gestures towards the Islamic Republic. Either because they themselves have absorbed these narratives and truly believe that Iran is untrustworthy and be-yond the pale, or because they just recognize that it’s a political landmine and there’s no political incentive to engage in thorough outreach to Iran. I want to update my research by taking a systematic look at the Obama administration, particularly with regard to the nuclear issue.


What is your current research on? 

I am interested in alternative frameworks for peace in the Middle East. I like to think outside the box with regards to the two-state solution versus the one-state solution. As I look at the variables to be negotiated in that conflict, one thing that stands out as missing is: What is the nature of the Palestinian State? Coming at this from a constructivist perspective, a future peace between Israel and Palestine depends very much on what it means to be Palestinian. Is what it means to be a Palestinian to still harbor irredentist ideas about the broader land of Palestine? To want to carry the war on after a ten year truce like Hamas suggests?  Is it to be an Islamist? Is it to be a secular and democratic? What does it mean? I think it is worth consideration how outsiders who are deeply involved in these negotiations, such as the US, can structure negotiations in ways that first favor the emergence of Palestine, and second help make sure that the Palestine that emerges is favorably inclined towards peace with Israel in the long term. The Palestinians have presented us with a unique opportunity by dividing themselves between Hamas in Gaza, and Fatah, the secularists, in the West Bank.  My idea, albeit very controversial, is what I call the two-plus-one solution whereby Israel would agree to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank only, governed by Fatah and related parties – parties that do not have as their platform the complete reclamation of all of the land of Palestine or the destruction of Israel. Simultaneously Hamas would be isolated in Gaza and the humanitarian community would do the best it could to handle the situation for the common people there.  What this potentially does is force Israel to acknowledge whether it’s bluffing when it claims security as its main concern.