As American troops entered Baghdad last week, signaling the symbolic end to Saddam Hussein's regime, two panels met on campus to discuss the war and its broader ramifications for the Middle East. Participants from the Institute for International Studies (IIS) and the History Department focused on different aspects of the conflict and its aftermath, but a consensus emerged that the U.S. invasion of Iraq could have a deep, lasting -- and troublesome -- impact on the region's politics and security.
Abdulkader Sinno, a Middle East expert and a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), told about 35 people gathered at the IIS forum on April 9 that the war will shake the Arab world as much as the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, rocked the United States.
"The longer the occupation of Iraq, the more unilateral the enterprise, the more pro-Israeli the imposed regime, the more concessions are given to U.S. companies, and the more resistance the U.S. meets -- the more likely that Iran, Syria and normally pro-American Saudi Arabia will intervene to impede the U.S. attempt to establish a client regime," Sinno said. "Also, the more likely that militants will flock to Iraq from across the Muslim world to resist what will undoubtedly be described as a colonial project. The rise of militancy in the neighborhood will not only make Iraq a miserable place for U.S. troops, but will also threaten the traditionally pro-American rulers of Egypt and Jordan."
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, a CISAC senior research scholar and former deputy assistant secretary of defense during the first Clinton administration, said that while the United States may be the world's only remaining superpower, it still needs allies and partners. "Even when we can achieve our military objectives alone, we encourage opposition to U.S. policies, we give strength to those who seek to obstruct us and we energize anti-American extremism," she said. "If winning the peace is essential to winning the war, and I believe it is, then allies and partners are essential to winning the peace."
Sherwood-Randall said that the administration's current message, which she described as: "If you weren't with us when we went into Iraq, we don't need your help now," is a huge mistake. "Now, more than ever, we should use this opportunity to repair the damage done by the diplomatic train wreck that took place before the war began," she said. "We should secure international support for what will inevitably be a long and very costly effort that we, as American taxpayers, should not have to shoulder alone."
IIS Senior Fellow Don Emmerson said losing the peace will de-legitimize the winning of the war. The war was based on the shaky premise that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, he said. While these have not been found so far, the regime's record of abuse and cruelty toward its own people is conclusive, he added.
"A way of warranting this war is not to disarm Iraq on the basis of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, but to democratize it," he said. "Winning the peace by democratizing Iraq has become a crucial priority in order for Americans to justify the war."
For Stephen Stedman, an IIS senior fellow and CISAC's acting director, the most difficult part of the operation in Iraq is yet to come. "If, in five to 10 years, there is a functioning, responsive, participatory government, we can say it was a victory," he said. "But things can go so badly so quickly. We are going to try to create a government where we don't even have a sense of who should be a part of this government. Nobody has a really good clue of how to do this."
Stedman warned that the war's military success "will increase the hubris of the guys in the Pentagon. It's not a victory yet."
The following day, a teach-in at the History Department organized by a national group called Historians Against the War attracted about 90 students, faculty and community members. After the group presentations, participants met with the speakers in breakout sessions.
George Fredrickson, the Edgar E. Robinson Professor of U.S. History, Emeritus, said the war in Iraq is not the United States' first unjust war. "What is new is a lack of any serious effort to make our action seem at least to conform to criteria for a just war," he said. This new doctrine of unilateral preemption undermines any possibility for world peace through international cooperation and enforcement of international law. Referring to a recent statement by South Africa's Nelson Mandela, Fredrickson said, "Bush is a greater threat to world peace than Saddam Hussein." He added, "Everything must be done to rein in this would-be imperialist dominator of the world."
Ahmad Dallal, associate professor of Middle Eastern history, said the war is a conflict based on choice, not necessity. "Because of this war, Americans will now be at greater risk because of widespread anti-Americanism all over the world," he said. "The invasion of Iraq will likely serve as a recruiting banner for Al Qaeda."
A U.S. military victory in Iraq was never in question, Dallal continued. "What was surprising about this conflict is the extent of the resistance," especially because of the dislike most Iraqis harbored for Saddam, he said. "Even though [Iraqis] knew they would perish, they kept coming out to fight. Most people chose to fight and die because they were fighting for their country. This is the telling reality."
From the Bush administration's perspective, the war "was always ideological and driven by broader questions than oil," said Joel Beinin, professor of Middle Eastern history. Neoconservatives associated with the administration want to use the overwhelming military power of the United States to confront any potential enemy, he said, adding, "There is very little likelihood that the war in Iraq will further peace and democracy in Palestine and Israel."
The teach-in also included Paul George, director of the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center, which is not affiliated with the university. He said the war represents "a sea change in how the U.S. acts toward the rest of the world. We find ourselves present in a country that will attempt to become the latest empire. It falls on us as residents of this country to see this doesn't happen."
George, a longtime activist, said the U.S. peace movement's most pressing role is to act as the nation's sole source of debate. "We can no longer rely on the political system as it currently exists in this country," he said. "U.S. aggression is now on the table as the policy of this country. That's the policy we're struggling against. If we allow ourselves to be silent, there will be no debate and the administration will proceed unstopped."
Referring to the mass demonstrations worldwide on Feb. 15 and 16 that opposed an invasion of Iraq, George said the successful mobilization represents much more than an anti-war movement. "This is the one thing that gives me hope for the future," he said. "These people are truly frightened for the future. They were marching against the entire agenda of this administration. What happened was more than a global peace march, it was a global rebellion."