Echoing Wednesday’s triumphant headlines, Yale professors overwhelmingly agreed that Operation Iraqi Freedom is nearing completion.
Most professors said the main phase of the war — and the bulk of the casualties — is over. But professors disagreed on the degree of international involvement in Iraqi reconstruction and the prospects for the country’s future. Most think, however, that the United States will maintain control over further operations in the country.
History professor John Gaddis said the Bush administration may even be surprised by the recent turn of events.
“I suspect this has happened more rapidly than they expected it to,” Gaddis said. “I think what we have to say is that they knew what they were doing. It didn’t look like this 10 days ago, but in the end historians are going to say that this was a remarkable military campaign.”
But history professor Andrew Preston called the current state of affairs a “turning point,” noting the international press’s reticence in declaring the end of the war.
“Whether the war is over, or whether this is a new phase in the war, is a different story,” Preston said.
Hope and doubt
The Bush administration warned yesterday that there will be continued outbreaks of violence in Iraq. Political science professor Seyla Benhabib said she thinks the looting will continue and that there may be outbreaks of ethnic and other types of violence.
Professors said reconstruction and regime consolidation could be a long process. Military involvement in Iraq could continue long after the war is over, said political science professor Bruce Russett, who cited recent bombings in Afghanistan.
“The other experiences we’ve had — Kosovo, Afghanistan, most recently and most obviously — show that it will take a long time,” Russett said.
Some professors expressed doubt about Iraq’s democratic future, but others were more optimistic.
“My hunch is that Afghanistan was a neo-feudal, anarchic, failed state,” Preston said. “Afghanistan is even more splintered, even more Balkanized [than Iraq]. Iraq has the infrastructure to be prosperous. I think that speaks optimistically for Iraq.”
Gaddis said that at this point people should not despair about the prospects for successful reconstruction.
“It seems to me that what is clear today is that the Iraqi people are better off than they were yesterday,” Gaddis said.
Professors agreed the United Nations will play some role in further operations in Iraq. But many said the United States will most likely make the key decisions about the administration of the country, while the United Nations will play a more humanitarian role.
Preston said that though he opposes the war, he can understand the American position that it should have control over the country’s reconstruction.
“There’s a certain logic to that,” Preston said. “[But] I think that it’s a self-destructive logic.”
But history professor Abbas Amanat said America must take responsibility in order to bring credibility to the operation. Although he agrees that the United States must establish a new Iraqi regime, Amanat said he is ultimately pessimistic about the outcome.
“I don’t think any occupation or a military intervention will resolve the fundamental structural division in the Iraqi system or eradicate the tradition of authoritarian rule in that country,” Amanat said.
Repairing America’s image
For many, the question remains whether the United States will be able to regain a positive image in the eyes of those countries that originally opposed the war. Professors were more hopeful about the possibility of reconciliation with Europe than with the Arab world, which many said has a much deeper distrust of America.
Gaddis said France and Germany will be more likely to initiate reconciliation than the United States because the swift and positive outcome is embarrassing for those who opposed the war.
“If the coalition that they face now is the Americans and the British and the Iraqi people, that’s pretty hard to argue with,” Gaddis said.
Preston was less optimistic about America’s chances to regain support, although he said the reconstruction phase of the war will provide a chance to do so.
“I think there’s an opportunity, but I think it will be a fleeting one and I think it will be very difficult to pull off,” he said.
Benhabib said the outcome of the war — American victory — was never the question. She said the reconstruction phase will be an opportunity to glean true U.S. intentions in initiating the war.
“To some extent, we will find out what the war is about in the aftermath,” Benhabib said.