Amid protests, six hundred people crowded into Miller Theatre last night to hear a panel of conservative intellectuals speak about the fight against terrorism and the potential war in Iraq.
The nationally-advertised event, entitled "America, Iraq, and the War on Terrorism," was headlined by William Bennett, former Secretary of Education and current chairman of EMPOWER.org and Americans for Victory Over Terrorism.
Other members of the panel included Frank Gaffney, the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C. and former Assistant Secretary of Defense; James Woolsey, former CIA Director; and Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, former Ambassador-At-Large for Counter-Terrorism. Another scheduled panelist, Middle East scholar, author, and Florida Atlantic University professor Walid Phares, was unable to attend because of a family situation.
The panel drew crowds that necessitated a change in location. Originally the panel was to be held in Rennert Hall of the Kraft Center, but at the last minute the room was deemed too small to hold the expected 600 attendees and members of the press, and the event was moved to Miller Theatre.
The panelists discussed their efforts to help sustain and strengthen the fight against terrorism and the war against Iraq.
According to Bennett, the "war on Iraq is a congruent part of the war on terrorism". Bennett said that the situation in Iraq requires immediate action, including the disposal of weapons of mass destruction and the replacement of Saddam Hussein's regime.
The event was organized by The Students United for America. Co-sponsors for the event included the Columbia Political Union, the Columbia College Republicans, LionPAC, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the Columbia College Conservative Club, and AVOT, a private, off-campus organization.
The panel at Columbia was the second in a series of teach-ins and lectures on university campuses across the nation, including George Washington University and the University of California at Berkeley.
Scott Zakheim, CC '05 and vice president of SU4A, acted as moderator during the forum. He said the panelists were present "to share their vision of America's future" and field questions from the Columbia students.
The forum began with Bremer distinguishing past terrorism from the terrorism present today.
In the past, terrorists practiced self-restraint in their efforts to gain public support for their causes, Bremer said. Now, however, the actions of terrorist groups like al Qaeda are more violent and involve religious extremism.
"They are motivated by hatred of everything Western," Bremer said. Bremer contended that it will be necessary to take a tough stance with Iraq because the current regime is collaborating with and could possibly funnel weapons of mass destruction to groups like al Qaeda.
Gaffney agreed with Bremer and said that ever since the end of the Desert Storm operation, Saddam Hussein "has been acting on his expressed desire for revenge on us."
Gaffney also said that Iraq was involved on the attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993 and 2001, as well as the Oklahoma City Bombing, citing that the "evidence is not conclusive, but is there." He added that because of the danger that Hussein's regime presents to the rest of the world, no amount of deterrence or inspections will work to replace the regime.
"The next attack could involve--in fact, will involve--the use of weapons of mass destruction on the United States," Gaffney said. Gaffney also expressed concern for the Iraqi people, asserting that bringing democracy to Iraq will liberate the population and serve as a model for the rest of the Middle East.
"I think this is something that [the Iraqi people] deserve," Gaffney said.
Woolsey spoke next and said the war on terrorism was the next world war and will require patience and sacrifices on the part of the American people, including tough decisions reconciling security issues and civil liberties.
Making comparisons to the current conflict with past efforts for regime change since the end of the first World War, Woolsey said there were approximately 12 democracies in the world in 1917, compared to over 120 today, and expressed hope that democracy in Iraq is possible. He added that the US has had success ending fascism in Europe and dictatorships in South America, for example, through the combination of influence, allies, and political efforts.
"We were at war with their domineering dictators," Woolsey said. "We have to do the same thing in the Middle East. This is not a war against Islam. We're on the side of those that the regimes most fear: their people."
After Woolsey's concluding statements garnered loud applause and "bravos" from the audience, Bennett said of Woolsey: "Give him tenure if you like him so much." The audience erupted in laughter.
Following the speeches, the panel fielded questions from the audience.
When asked why the United States should act now, Bremer said that Iraq has been allowed to violate United Nations Security Council resolutions for too long to disarm and permit inspectors to investigate its nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons capabilities.
"It is absolutely vital that the UN carries out its resolutions," he said.
Bennett added that not acting would lead to an impossible moral conclusion.
Woosley spoke in response to concerns of how the rest of the Middle East will react to an invasion of Iraq.
"We are not popular in all of the Middle East countries, except for Israel and Turkey. ... We have to approach this gradually. ... We have to focus on countries where we can made a difference, a positive difference," he said.
He spoke hopefully of the possibility that Iran "will be engulfed by a democratic revolution," saying that the current regime is losing support from its students, women, and "even the Ayatollahs." Once Iran and Iraq are liberated, he added, the rest of the Middle East will follow.
After the panel ended, Columbia students expressed their reasons for attending and their opinions on how the panel went. Clay See, CC '04, said that after hearing anti-war views from his retired naval officer father, he wanted to hear all sides of the debate over war on Iraq.
"I just wanted a perspective that I could have as my own," he said. "I thought that most of the speakers offered some very interesting sights," said Seth Anziska, CC '06. "I was disappointed by certain members of the audience that heckled and hissed."
Prior to the event, protesters had also gathered outside the theatre to express their opposition to the strong views of the panelists. Approximately 30 student protesters shouted at the attendees as they lined up outside the theater.
Pointing to themselves, the protesters shouted, "This is what democracy looks like!"
Those lining up returned the shout: "This is what hypocrisy looks like!"
Protester Jonah Birch, CC '05, defended his position. "I don't think the US should be involved at all in the Mid-East. The money would be much better served helping people here," he said.
He added that going to war would exacerbate anti-Americanism and would cut budgets for important domestic causes such as Social Security, education, and health-care programs.
But those involved in the event were undeterred by the protests. "The success of the event was more amazing that I could ever dream," Zakheim said.
He said there was a strong interaction with panelists on the part of the students and that the event as a whole went smoothly despite logistical problems.
"Miller was so gracious in the last minute in providing this facility," Zakheim said, also expressing his thanks to the Columbia administration for its support.
The move to Miller Theatre and the increased number of attendees required additional costs to provide more security for the event. According to Yoni Appelbaum, CC '03 and the chair of the Student Governing Board of Earl Hall, the Columbia administration paid for the extra costs.
"The administration tonight put out all the stops to ensure that students' safety was preserved and to make sure the event went smoothly," Appelbaum said. "The willingness of the administrators was sensational."