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Middle East, Central Asia of 2020 Focus of USF Conference

One of the most powerful questions that can be asked is "What if?"

What if America lowers its troop presence overseas? What if there's another Arab Spring? What if a new country or even terrorists get their hands on a weapon of mass destruction?

As Dr. Mohsen Milani explains, those kind of scenarios are the focus of a conference, The Greater Middle East and Central Asia in 2020 and Its Implications for American Foreign Policy, taking place at the University of South Florida next Monday and Tuesday.

"The purpose of this gathering is to encourage our guests to discuss where they think the Middle East and Central Asia will be in the year 2020,"  Milani, the Executive Director of the USF Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies, says. "Rather than discussing what is going on in the Middle East and Central Asia today, we are going to focus on the future trends, we will examine which trends are sustainable and which ones are not."

Milani adds that considering all possible outcomes - including those not expected - can help people be ready for the future, no matter what happens.

"We were surprised when the Soviet Union collapsed, we were surprised when the Arab Spring toppled Mubarak's regime in Egypt, we were surprised when the Russians invaded Ukraine. The purpose of this is to discuss different possibilities, so that hopefully, we are less surprised of the events in the future," Milani says. 

"We are going to be surprised anyhow, but the question is how surprised we are going to be, and I think this conference is an attempt to prepare us for all kinds of possibilities. We have encouraged our speakers to think out of the box in order to prepare us for any eventuality."

Roger Cohen, columnist for The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune, will deliver the keynote address, "Let the Dice Fall Where They May: The Post-America Middle East," Monday at 9:15 a.m.

Other scheduled speakers include:

  • Paul R. Pillar, former Executive Assistant to Director of National Intelligence; former National Intelligence Officer for Middle East & South Asia; non-resident senior fellow at Brookings Institution and a contributing editor to National Interests.
  • Juha Kahkonen, Deputy Director of Middle East and Central Asia Department, International Monetary Fund.
  • Gary Samore, Executive Director for Research at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
  • Dr. Augustus Richard Norton, Professor of International Relations & Anthropology at the Boston University, author of several books on the Middle East and an internationally-recognized expert on Lebanese Hezbollah.
  • Kenneth M. Pollack, Senior Fellow at Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings Institutions and author of Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy.
  • Dr. Frederic Wehrey, Senior Associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
  • Dr. Emad Shahin, Professor, Department of Public Policy and Administration, School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at The American University in Cairo and Editor-in-Chief of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics.

The conference is free to the public, but reservations are encouraged. Contact Beth Beall at (813) 947-5481 or bbeall@usf.edu. For more information about the conference, visit http://global.usf.edu/csds/index.php.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.