Students and faculty gathered in the Jewish Religious Center on the night of Feb. 12 to listen to Salah Hassan and Yaseen Noorani discuss the problems facing U.S./ Iraqi relations. Assistant Professor of Philosophy Samuel Fleishacker, moderator of the Gaudino Forum lecture and discussion series, called this the first “critical forum” where students could respond to current issues.
Noorani, who holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Chicago, began with a summary of events thus far, and a point-by-point study of the cases for and against the bombing of Iraq. He explained that one of the conditions of the cease-fire after the Gulf War was that the United Nations should be allowed to inspect any site containing weapons of mass destruction.
Currently there are approximately 60 sites where the United Nations is denied access. “The United States demands full and unconditional access to any sites, anywhere, at any time,” Noorani said of the position of the United States.
Of the international community’s response, Noorani stressed that three members of the U.N. Security Council, as well as most other countries and most U.S. citizens are against bombing. The United States would, in his opinion, lose respect and garner disapproval from the world if it decides to follow this course of action.
“The goal of absolute elimination of Iraqi weapons is impossible,” Noorani declared. He explained that chemical and biological weapons are easy to acquire and relatively inexpensive. He strove to dismiss the idea that the United States’ motivation in bombing is to ensure that Iraq does not use these weapons in the future. He suggested that “full and unconditional compliance with U.N. inspection can never be expected… No country in the world would prostrate itself that way to a foreign agency.” Instead, he claimed that the United States’ aim is to bring down Saddam Hussein’s government and replace it with one that is “more congenial to the United States’ aims in the region.”
Hassan, also a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Texas, took a different approach with the goal of tracing media coverage of the Iraqi situation from Feb. 6 when the bombing story broke. “I’ll let the media talk more than I’ll actually talk,” he said. He had compiled a wide variety of clips and sound bites to watch and discuss.
The first general idea portrayed was that the bombing was part of the “wag the dog syndrome.” The media clips shown by Hassan suggested it was a technique used by the government to distract the U.S. citizens from the Monica Lewinski scandal. Other clips, however, acknowledged the government would not make a decision of this magnitude based on President Bill Clinton’s home popularity.
The next wave of information shown by Hassan seemed to indicate the United States was seeking a diplomatic end to the problems with Iraq and was exploring more peaceable options. However, Hassan pointed out that Madeleine Albright refused to meet with Tariq Aziz, clearly not interested in talking over the conflict. She was, instead, coalition-building in the Middle East. Hassan suggested that the United States is attempting to rebuild the Gulf War coalition so it has the legitimacy to bomb Iraq.
Hassan pointed out that the issue of the Iraqi people was virtually being ignored by the media. Noorani explained that because of the strict sanctions imposed by the United Nations, Iraq can import nothing. For provisions, it may sell two billion dollars worth of oil to the United Nations every six months. Even if every penny of this went to food and medical supplies for the Iraqis, the total amount available would be 25 cents per day per citizen, and as a result many people, most of them children, are dying.
The floor was then opened to questions. One student expressed amazement to hear the idea of assassinating Hussein tossed around so freely on television. Hassan and Noorani stated disapprovingly that this was not an unusual way for the United States to respond to a foreign government not suiting our personal aims. “The use of coups… is a bankrupt form of politics,” Noorani said. Hassan added that it sets a bad political precedent.
Another concern voiced was that the United States had no right to unilaterally decide to bomb Iraq, and the student wondered if the United States would suffer reprisal from the United Nations. Hassan and Noorani dismissed the idea of United Nations castigation, saying that the repercussion would be a loss of respect for the United States globally.
When asked what they felt the U.S. policy towards Iraq should be, Hassan and Noorani said they felt that it was more appropriate for the United States to work through the United Nations in dealing with Iraq rather than taking the decision upon itself. They emphasized the importance of a legitimate forum of discussion.