The labels "pro-war" and "anti-war" are too broad to accurately describe the stances of some professors in the history and political science departments with regard to an armed conflict with Iraq. Though the majority of these professors interviewed do not support a war with Iraq, most do not fall singularly into the "anti-war" camp.
These professors, however, are definitely vocal. Over the past year at Columbia, there have been more than a half dozen panels conducted on the subject of war with Iraq. Few professors shied away from an opportunity to share their views on the subject. Questions about the nature of Iraq's chemical weapons usage in its war with Iran, the stability of the Pakistani government, and American economic interests in Iraqi oil are all issues that are central to a discussion of whether a war with Iraq is a good idea or not, as many professors noted.
"I don't think that the proposed war with Iraq is motivated by oil, or at least primarily by oil. I don't think it's just George W. Bush fulfilling a family grudge," said History Professor Alan Brinkley. "I don't think all of the polemical arguments against the war attributing motives to the administration are very persuasive. I think the administration does believe that Hussein is a danger to the world and the United States and it is necessary to overthrow him to secure our security."
While Brinkley said he opposes a war with Iraq, the reasons for his opposition derive from his fear that a war would destabilize many Middle Eastern countries. Brinkley stressed that his opinion that the war is not a good idea does not rely on polemical arguments.
Other professors echoed this insistence on engaging in a detailed examination not only of the current situation, but also the history behind it.
"I think Iraq's threats to American interests are grossly exaggerated, and I think the fruits of a military victory in the war, which I think is coming, will be most uncertain and may well be bitter. I slide past the point that when Iran asked to have Iraq branded as an aggressor in the U.N., [the United States] refused," said Political Science Professor Emeritus Warner Schilling at a School of International and Public Affairs panel on Sept. 23. The notion that a war with Iraq would produce negative results for the United States, possibly in the form of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapon attacks, recurred often in the words of professors who said they did not support a war with Iraq.
"If we're going to send [Saddam Hussein] to trial next to Milosevic in an International Court where he's going to be killed, or if he's going to be exiled to a place where he's going to be vulnerable to his old enemies, what's he got to look forward to? If he thinks he's going down, I imagine he'll lash out with anything he has," said Richard Betts, director of the Institute of War and Peace Studies. Professors who oppose a war also expressed what they see as a problematic precedent that they say would be established in international law.
"More importantly, I think, this doctrine of what they call preemption or preventive war is a complete repudiation of the whole notion of international law, of the international rule of law. It takes us back to the notion of the rule of the jungle," said Dewitt Clinton Professor of History Eric Foner.
"It's a throwback to the days before the United Nations, before notions of international standards of conduct. This is exactly the same argument that the Japanese used in attacking Pearl Harbor. This is exactly the justification they gave for the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was a preemptive strike against the United States because the United States was becoming more and more threatening to Japan," Foner said.
Many professors criticized the U.S. administration's suggestion that that there is a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq. As this is a central justification for the war given by its proponents, the issue is a major sticking point for professors who do not support a war with Iraq.
"I can't tell you for sure that they don't believe that there's a link. But they have been unable to present any evidence that there is a link and it makes me wonder whether they care whether there's evidence or not," Brinkley said. "I think they want the public to believe there's a link."
The role of universities in the debate about a war with Iraq, the professors said, is to educate rather than propagate. Foner stressed the need for professors to teach students about the history of the situation so that they might arrive at informed conclusions, rather than knee-jerk reactions.
Faculty said that the creation of informed opinions leads to intelligent decisions.
"The role of the University is to empower others with knowledge, with understanding, with insight," Foner said. "The role of the University is to cut through the simple dichotomies which politicians are very comfortable with."