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Scowcroft is keynoter at conference on 10th anniversary of Gulf War
By Hope Green
Ten years ago this winter, Americans were transfixed by television footage of Baghdad rumbling under a barrage of U.S.-led air strikes. A ground war shortly afterward drove Saddam Hussein's forces out of Kuwait, and President George Bush boasted of how coalition forces had successfully "drawn a line in the sand" on the Arabian Peninsula.
Today as Bush's son enters the Oval Office, Hussein continues to step over the lines of international law. The Iraqi leader has reportedly built up his stash of chemical and biological weapons and has refused to allow visits by UN arms inspection teams since 1998.
What this defiance means to President George W. Bush's administration, and as well, how the Persian Gulf War has affected world history and American politics, will be pertinent questions at a two-and-a-half-day conference at Boston University from February 20 to 22. The event is sponsored by the Center for International Relations and the International History Institute, both at BU, and the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.
Entitled Reassessing the Gulf War, the conference falls near the 10th anniversary of the massive 100-hour ground offensive in Kuwait City, which began on February 24, 1991.
Brent Scowcroft, a retired Air Force general who served as national security advisor under presidents Ford and Bush, will deliver the keynote address on February 20. Scowcroft is the founder and president of the Forum for International Policy, a nonpartisan foreign-policy think tank.
"The passage of a decade allows us to evaluate the Gulf War with some historical perspective," says Andrew Bacevich, a CAS professor of international relations and director of the Center for International Relations. "It allows us a bit more detachment than we could have when the war was unfolding or even in its immediate aftermath.
"We're not just interested in events that began with the invasion of Kuwait in August of 1990 and ending in February 1991 with the cease-fire," Bacevich adds, "but also with the larger origins of the conflict and its legacy and implications as they have continued to play themselves out."
The conference agenda consists of six panel sessions, with ample time allotted for questions from the floor. The first three panels, on February 21, will reflect mainly on political events in the Middle East that preceded Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, such as the Iran-Iraq War. Speakers in the concluding day's sessions will look toward the future, focusing on U.S. foreign policy and military strategy.
There are 19 panelists in all, including academics from Iran and Israel, a human-rights advocate, and military experts, along with representatives of several U.S. universities.
"We have tried to come at this from virtually every point of view," says Cathal Nolan, CAS associate professor and executive director of the International History Institute. "The conference is intellectually and ideologically eclectic. There is no particular point of view that is being endorsed as definitive, and we have, in fact, gathered a highly diverse group of voices.
"Our hope," he says, "is to put them all together and throw the cat among the pigeons."
Two members of the BU faculty are among the scheduled panelists: Bacevich and Hermann Eilts, UNI professor emeritus and former chairman of the CAS department of international relations, who served as U.S. ambassador to Egypt during the time of the Camp David peace talks.
Eilts will discuss several aspects of U.S. policy in the Gulf, including the conundrum of how to deal with Hussein. He also will speak on U.S. relations with Iran.
"Our policy on Iran has had no success," he says. "I suspect the new administration will have to look for a means, however difficult it may be, to begin a dialogue with the Iranians."
As for Iraq, Eilts predicts that Secretary of State Colin Powell's idea of reenergizing economic sanctions against that country "is going to be a very tough thing to do, because there's a growing Arab public sentiment, and even a government sentiment, that the sanctions are hurting the people of Iraq while failing in their objective of removing Saddam."
Bacevich will address, among other issues, how the Gulf conflict shaped America's perception of itself at the close of the 20th century.
"I think the war really changed the way Americans view the past and the future," he says. "The Persian Gulf War, combined with a favorable conclusion to the Cold War, made it possible to believe once again that America's rise to global dominance and the triumph of American values formed the central themes of the century that was coming to a close. It allowed many of us to forget how problematic and tragic and violent the course of the 20th century actually had been."