Students cautious over war with Iraq

It is all about U.N. approval in the eyes of Williams students, a poll conducted last week for the Record indicates. Students support going to war in Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein from power if the United Nations gives its approval, but the student body is opposed to such action if it does not.

With U.N. approval, 60 percent of students would endorse action aimed at removing Saddam from power with 31 percent against action. If President Bush does not win the United Nations’ approval, however, those numbers swing dramatically to only 24 percent of students favoring action against 68 percent who would oppose the war.

These findings are the result of a poll of the student body conducted between Feb. 11 and Feb. 14 exclusively for the Record. The margin of error is 5.6 percentage points.

It reveals a split between the student body and the nation’s population as a whole. On the issue of going to war without United Nations’ approval, for example, a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll reveals the country is evenly split as to whether the U.S. should take action. The poll found a slight 50-47 majority favored the action, but that split is within the poll’s margin of error of three percentage points.

Brigitte Teissedre ’03, the president of the Williams Anti-War Community Taskforce (ACT), said it was good to see students hesitant about acting without the U.N.’s approval, but said she hopes students are informed before they express a point of view.

“The fact of the matter is the media tends to be overwhelmingly pro-war, though that’s been changing a little bit in recent weeks,” Teissedre said. “ACT likes the fact it has some involvement in getting the other side of the issue to the campus.”

The Record poll also indicated Williams students are split as to how long President Bush should give U.N. weapons inspectors to continue their work in Iraq before making a decision whether or not to attack Iraq. More than two-thirds of the student body believes the administration should not wait longer than a few months, with 31 percent saying the decision should be made in a few weeks. Eighteen percent of students think weapons inspectors should be given more than a few months.

In comparison, the nation as a whole would like to give weapons inspectors a much tighter deadline, with 59 percent in favor of giving inspectors a few weeks and 87 percent in favor of giving inspectors no more than a few months.

The administration’s case against Iraq also received mixed reviews from the student body. It is convinced that Iraq is not cooperating with weapons inspectors, as 60 percent of students believe the United States has made a strong case on this point. Only 25 percent reported they did not believe the case was strong.

The student body is far from convinced of a tie between Iraq and al-Qaida, however. While 17 percent report they believe the United States has made a strong case that such a tie exists, 63 percent believe the case has not been strongly made. Additionally, 48 percent of students believe the United States has shown strong evidence that Iraq has chemical or biological weapons, with 37 percent disbelieving the Bush administration’s allegations. However, the results were split regarding the claim that Iraq is trying to develop nuclear weapons, with 38 percent believing it is and 41 percent against.

Many more Williams students claimed to have “no opinion” than in the national poll. On the question of whether the United States had shown strong evidence that Iraq was trying to develop nuclear weapons, for example, 21 percent of Williams students have “no opinion” compared to only 5 percent nationally.

“If ‘no opinion’ means ‘it’s because I don’t have enough information,’ then I think that’s sad,” Teissedre said. “Maybe the reason why the national opinion has more definitive answers is because people outside Williams College watch TV more and are more up-to-date.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the log, 210 Williams staff, faculty and administrators signed a “statement of resistance” to a war on Iraq. The statement was organized by Ed Epping, professor of art.

“We. . .call on the people of the United States to resist policies increasingly at odds with the principles for which the United States stands, and which pose grave dangers to both the United States and to much of the rest of the world,” the statement reads. “[W]e are calling on all Americans to more actively resist a war which a majority of Americans question.”

According to the Post/ABC poll, two-thirds of Americans support the United States taking military action against Iraq to force Saddam from power.

The statement endorses giving persons detained or prosecuted by the United States the right of due process, valuing and protecting criticism and dissent and opposing injustices done by a government in the name of its people. The signers call on Americans to hold their government to greater accountability in its foreign policy position. “[We] remind our government that our use of a preemptive strike force will provide others a model that will threaten a future we wish to protect,” the statement continues.

Of the 210 signatures, 123 are faculty members affiliated with academic departments and 76 are staff or administrators not affiliated with an academic department. Only five members of the athletic faculty signed the statement. Epping also said there were also a few signatures he was “unable to decipher.”

While Dean Roseman signed the statement, President Schapiro, Vice President Helen Ouellette, Dean of the Faculty Thomas Kohut and Provost Cappy Hill were not listed as having signed.

The statement notes that “[a]lthough all of the above signers are staff, faculty and administrative members of Williams College, the views they represent are their individual positions and not necessarily those of the institution.”