William Darrow, Jackson professor of religion, and James McAllister, associate professor of political science, drew a large crowd to Griffin 3 last night with their “Discussion about the War on Terrorism and the Prospective War in Iraq from Competing Perspectives.” The session was presented by the student-founded Anti-War Community Taskforce (ACT), and by a coalition of College and community organizations.
The discussion was the first in a series of events designed to spark awareness and debate about the pending crises in the Middle East. It focused on the question of “whether or not a war in Iraq is a necessary gamble.”
McAllister argued that war is necessary to achieve stability for the region in the future, while Darrow maintained that the potential negatives pose too great a risk.
The two also disagreed on whether the international community should perceive Saddam Hussein as a “madman” and what difficulties might be involved in creating democracy in Iraq.
Despite the point-counterpoint format, neither professor was comfortable with framing the event as a debate. According to Darrow, “the range of disagreement between James and I is not total.” Indeed, the professors’ two competing perspectives came together at several points during the evaluation of American interests and motivations in the region.
McAllister opened with a strong criticism of Saddam Hussein, and reiterated that there would be no pending war if it were not for Hussein’s post-Gulf War refusal to eliminate Iraq’s weapons programs. According to McAllister, as recently as 1998, key members including former chief Scott Ritter of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) reported that Iraq posed an immediate threat.
McAllister answered criticisms of the Bush administration’s lack of concrete evidence by arguing that the “burden for proving that Saddam Hussein does not have weapons of mass destruction is on Saddam.”
He firmly argued that the international community should side with President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in condemning Saddam’s weapons programs and commit to ending the threat, if necessary, by war.
“Saddam Hussein’s job is to pretend he doesn’t have weapons and force inspectors to roam about a country the size of California to prove that he does,” McAllister said. “He’s counting on the international community staying opposed to war.”
McAllister also characterized Hussein as delusional. “His whole career is a series of massive miscalculations and erroneous gambles,” he said. While McAllister is “dubious that war will be avoided,” he offered several alternatives, suggesting that the US rely on a strong international coalition that would pressure Hussein to give in.
Darrow, recently returned from a sabbatical in the Middle East and southern Asia, opened his argument by rejecting McAllister’s belief that the Iraqi people want a war.
“I feel it is difficult to believe that the Iraqi people will be cheering as they crawl out of bomb shelters,” Darrow said, reminding the audience of the attacks of 9/11 and the destruction and casualties inherent in war.
Darrow argued that allegations that Hussein has weapons programs and distinct plans to use them may not hold true. He claimed “we have been held prisoner for decades of the image of a Middle-Eastern madman.” He said that this image is a problem of understanding and that Americans are often “too concerned that we are not liked.”
“Saddam is certainly a monster, but he is neither a habitual aggressor nor a suicidal madman,” Darrow said. “He has never been particularly restless, and his miscalculations have been fairly modest â€“ if egregious â€“ and not at all irrational.”
Darrow contends that the only way to make Hussein a reckless actor or to compel him to use any weapons is by demanding unconditional surrender. “In all likelihood, when push comes to shove, we are in danger of creating what we most fear,” he said.
Darrow closed his primary arguments by casting doubt over the success of any war effort. “The consequences of a war now are different than in 1990: it will be bloody, and the casualties â€“ even if lopsided â€“ will be heavy on both sides,” he said.
He also made it clear from his experience in the Middle East that any attempt to establish democracy in Iraq would fizzle before it was successful. Even if democracy succeeds in Iraq, he said, “it will be an Islamic democracy,” and not necessarily the type of democracy that Americans are accustomed to.
“There is a certain arrogance and danger in trying to impose our will in the region that is not the mark of a superpower,” Darrow concluded.
McAllister firmly disagreed with Darrow’s point that Hussein is rational in action. “Saddam Hussein is a madman in fact, not the result of some fevered imagination â€“ it’s that simple,” he said. “His heroes are Hitler and Stalin and he strives to live up to them every day.”
McAllister reiterated that there is no reason why the international community should back down on the issue of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
“Saddam is violating international law,” he said, and argued that stopping Hussein immediately would send a message to other dictators, alluding to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il. “Any real solutions have to confront the problem,” he said.
Answering Darrow’s challenge that democracy in Iraq would be extremely difficult, McAllister pointed to the example of Germany in 1945. At first, he said, the challenge of democracy in that country seemed futile, but today it thrives. McAllister contended that the oppressed Shiite population of Iraq would openly welcome the shift to democracy and had more faith than Darrow in the will of Americans to support an extended effort to achieve democratic rule in Iraq.
“I think Americans do have the will to stick it out in Iraq,” said McAllister.
“Democracy took root in Germany and I see no reason it can’t work in Iraq.”
Darrow’s rebuttal focused first on the issue of containment in Iraq, that is, eliminating the threat without eliminating the regime. McAllister had earlier rejected such an idea on the grounds that though such a policy might work on a rational dictator, it wouldn’t work on Hussein.
Darrow cited National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice’s claim that containment of weapons programs has been successful in the past, and thus could be fruitful in the future.
Darrow also claimed that internally inspired changes in Iraq would be more valuable and more successful. He then challenged McAllister on the issue of North Korea, suggesting that a war to prevent Kim Jong-Il from obtaining and using weapons of mass destruction was a likely corollary to an Iraqi war, though “a war [in North Korea] would be even more bloody and unreasonable.”
McAllister originally attempted to deflect the issue, contending that North Korea was dangerous for a variety of reasons outside the scope of the discussion, but argued that the issue should be decided on a regional level. He advocated removing all troops from South Korea and allowing area powers to handle the situation at their own discretion.
Later, the crowded floor was opened to questions, most of them challenging McAllister’s position. Many of the questions tried to elicit a way to remove Hussein without a full-scale war, perhaps through an indictment from an international war crimes court.
Both professors agreed that Hussein was certainly deserving of such an indictment, but that feasibly, the decision wouldn’t have much of an effect in controlling the dictator.
“Let’s remember what we’re talking about â€“ what Bush Sr. refused to do a decade ago â€“ street to street fighting to capture one person,” Darrow said.
McAllister said that if Hussein could be induced to give up his power, it would be in the best interests of all parties involved to forgo any war crimes investigations.
In response to a question about United States hypocrisy in its past support for Iraq, McAllister said, “If Americans have any responsibility toward the creation of Saddam Hussein years ago, it may be that we have a similar responsibility to get rid of him now.”