Northwestern Prof. Will Reno discusses situation in Iran, Suleimani assassination


Caroline Megerian/Daily Senior Staffer

Prof. Will Reno speaking at an event co-hosted by Northwestern College Democrats and the Northwestern University Political Union. Reno explained the current state of United States-Iranian relations and evolving American foreign policy.

Isabelle Sarraf, Assistant Campus Editor

Political science department chair Will Reno discussed past and present United States involvement in Iran and the Middle East at a moment of instability and uncertainty.

Reno spoke in Kresge Centennial Hall at a Wednesday night event co-hosted by Northwestern College Democrats and the Northwestern University Political Union. A foreign military researcher, Reno applied his knowledge of the evolving United States military presence in the Middle East to explain how the country arrived at its present relationship with Iran.

Reno said the key to understanding the Trump administration’s foreign policy is to delve into the United States government’s Cold War objectives. He said relations between the United States and foreign powers were previously arranged to advance national interests regardless of the countries’ undemocratic practices. This realist worldview, Reno explained, shifted after the Cold War into a human rights and regime change agenda.

“If democracy is the inevitable outcome of human development,” Reno said, “then relations with countries in the Middle East should be based on trying to coax them into having a system of government that’s like our system of government.”

Reno said President Trump’s election, however, marked a repudiation of the modern pro-democracy agenda that fueled American military action in the Middle East.

He said the Trump administration’s worldview is more similar to America’s Cold War-era foreign policy through its “America First” ideology and competition between global superpowers. Trump, he added, identified that the American political establishment didn’t understand it’s own political system anymore.

“In the foreign policy realm, this strategic shift — primarily in the Middle East — was not something that most Americans were interested in,” Reno said. “(Trump) had identified a considerable amount of anger about the costs of regime change to our society and the extent to which the outcomes were different from what politicians told people.”

Reno added that the Trump administration’s primary tactic to defend its controversial foreign policy decisions has been timing them to align with domestic political disorder. The assassination of Iranian general Qassim Suleimani was a major distraction, therefore, from Trump’s impeachment, he said.

Bienen and Weinberg junior Sarah Bryant, who is also Political Union’s director of external events, said the organization decided to host the event because they had previously held a debate on the ethics of the Suleimani assassination. She said they thought it would be a good idea to get a professor to clarify certain issues, such as the impact of the killing on the future of U.S.-Iran relations.

“It gave me a lot to think about,” Bryant said. “He was really good at getting me to think about (the situation) from a lot of different angles.”

Medill junior Brianna Bilter said she attended the event because she typically enjoys attending Political Union’s discussions on global politics moderated by informative speakers like Reno.

She said she has focused on the Middle East and North African region in her undergraduate coursework, and frequently seeks out learning opportunities in a time of ever-changing foreign policy.

“It’s so easy to ignore a lot of it and not be an educated global citizen,” Bilter said. “My best advice is to read the news. It goes a long way.”

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