Profs weigh risks, benefits of Iraqi war
By David J. Craig
Do liberal activists who oppose war with Iraq inadvertently subvert the progressive values they tout? Richard Landes thinks they do, and he uses a phrase to describe a related phenomenon he sees at work in the current war debate -- “the mobius strip of cognitive egotism.”
People act with cognitive egotism, the CAS associate professor of history argued at a BU panel discussion on an Iraqi war on March 4, when they naively project their own values onto others, such as when American opponents of war assume that nations attempting to block U.S. military action do so for benevolent reasons. The logical flip side of that conviction, said Landes, who is also the director of BU’s Center for Millennial Studies, is to attribute entirely malevolent intentions to the Bush administration.
“I’m ashamed to be a progressive right now because the progressive camp is selling everybody down the river by looking at our government with the most extraordinary suspicion, while projecting goodwill onto everybody else,” he said. “But if we were to turn on France the kind of critical laser eye that some intellectuals train on the United States, what reasons might we find to explain why the French are leading the pack against war? Maybe because they don’t want us to find the books that show that they’ve been selling arms to Iraq for the last 10 years? . . . I don’t believe France opposes war out of concern for the Iraqi people.
“Saddam Hussein is the one making the Iraqi people suffer immeasurably,” Landes continued. “If we don’t respond and if we’re not willing to accept the possibility that we will hurt innocent people, far more innocent people will be hurt in the future.”
The panel discussion, entitled War in Iraq: Justified? also included David Mayers, a CAS political science professor and department chairman, Robert Zelnick, a COM professor of journalism and department chairman, and Betty Zisk, a CAS political science professor. Andrew Bacevich, a CAS international relations professor and director of BU’s Center for International Relations, moderated the event, which was cosponsored by the University Chaplains and the Office of Residence Life.
Mayers began the evening by insisting that while Americans “are right to shudder” at the prospect of a well-armed Iraq, “a containment policy involving arms inspections and tireless, tough-minded diplomacy” eventually will bring the rogue state back into the international fold. He reminded the 200 audience members in the George Sherman Union ballroom that the United States and its allies kept the Soviet Union in check without resorting to war for more than 40 years, which “worked out wonderfully.”
Mayers also offered a litany of reasons why it is politically unwise to strike at Iraq, including the international opposition to military intervention, the shallow U.S. public support for war, the credibility problem a U.S.-backed regime in Iraq would face, and the destabilizing effect that a shattered Iraq would have on the Persian Gulf region. Moreover, he argued, the Iraq situation distracts America from more pressing security problems. “Osama bin Laden and his ilk constitute the clear and present danger,” he said. “Secondly, the problems centered on North Korea’s atomic development program are urgent and demand diplomacy now. That situation poses difficulties for international security much more dire than Iraq.”
Zisk, identifying herself as a Quaker, an antiwar activist, and a member of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Green Party, stressed her moral opposition to violence and war in general. She said that she was particularly alarmed by the prospect of the United States launching a preemptive war, which she considers at odds with America’s deepest principles -- a sentiment echoed by Mayers.
Zelnick, however, said the United States risks being viewed as weak and indecisive if it does not attack Iraq. “Events of the past 20 years suggest that terrorists and rogue states go to school on the failure of the United States to forcibly defend its interests,” he said, noting that this country failed to retaliate for several terrorist attacks in the 1980s and ’90s. “After each, save the last, the terrorists celebrated the weakness of the United States, its irresolution, and its unwillingness to take casualties.”
Zelnick took direct issue with several of Mayers’ statements,
arguing, for instance, that the threat posed by Islamic extremists and
Saddam Hussein are one and the same. “Stateless terrorists and the
states that support terrorism are a common enemy in the post-9/11 world,”
he said, pointing to North Korea as “a model of what happens when
a state with a desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction is allowed
to proceed unchecked.”
Mayers reiterated, however, that it is unrealistic for the United States to expect to “shove down the throats of a people” a democratic government. “No one likes to be bombed and invaded, and the Iraqi people will blame their wartime suffering on the United States,” he said. “Then they will attach their bitterness to whatever group of leaders replaces Saddam.”
Asked by an audience member to comment on the popular antiwar slogan
“No blood for oil,” Mayers, Zisk, and Zelnick agreed that
the accusation that the United States wants to occupy Iraq in order to
control its oil resources does not hold up to economic analysis, partly
because of the dilapidated condition of the Iraq oil industry’s
infrastructure. “There’s a very awkward situation that will
arise, however, when under an American occupation, Iraqi oil is in American
control,” said Mayers. “It could be extremely embarrassing
for the United States to have to explain.”