Teach-in looks at legacy of Iraq war

As the atmosphere on campus surrounding the war in Iraq became more contentious Thursday, a group of professors continued a recent series of Yale-sponsored teach-ins on the war, discussing potential repercussions in the Middle East, the United States and throughout higher education.

Three of the panelists — economics professor Gustav Ranis, international studies professor Bruce Russett, and emeritus history professor Gaddis Smith — offered mostly negative predictions. They expressed a variety of concerns about the viability of democracy in Iraq and worried that the conflict would set a precedent that sanctions preventive war. But a fourth panelist, political science professor Steven Smith, praised what he termed a “war of liberation” and said he was optimistic about its consequences.

Steven Smith urged an overflow crowd in Luce Hall to put partisanship aside when judging American actions.

“The war needs to be evaluated on its merits and not as a knee-jerk reaction to whether we approve or disapprove of Bush, Connie, Rummy or Wolfy,” he said. “I support this war because it is the right thing to do — not because of, but despite, George Bush.”

Steven Smith said he thought the United States might see positive results from the war — and, most importantly, that the country had acted with the correct intentions.

“The current war in Iraq is not about the West Bank; it is not about oil; it is not about settling family grudges,” he said. “It is an effort to rid the world of a vile dictator — There is no reason why the people of the Middle East must be compelled to endure the brutal thugocracies that now pass for regimes.”

Ranis said the most serious repercussion of the war may be potential security risks to the United States. Citing Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s recent declaration that the war will create 100 new Osama bin Ladens, Ranis said the Arab world’s overall reaction to the American campaign is “still to be determined.” He and Russett also shared concerns about the war’s effects on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, global opinion of the United States, international institutions like the United Nations and other countries’ inclinations to launch similar pre-emptive strikes.

“There is a threat that other countries will decide this is a new international law,” Ranis said. “Any country which feels it needs to act in self-defense can attack someone else who it identifies as its enemy.”

Russett focused on obstacles to creating a stable Iraqi democracy. He noted that Iraq lacks most of the characteristics typically associated with democracy — such as a high national income, a previous history of democracy and democratic neighbors. Russet said the United States has “not had a good track record” in its recent rebuilding efforts in other countries. He also expressed doubt about how the United States will involve international institutions in the creation of a new Iraqi government.

“There will have to be some role for the U.N., but what kind and how much?” Russett asked, adding that the United States is unlikely to agree to give the organization a political say in Iraq’s rebuilding.

Diverging from the international scope of the other presentations, Gaddis Smith focused on the war’s repercussions for institutions of higher education, particularly Yale, and made historical parallels to the effects previous wars have had on intellectual freedom in the United States.

Gaddis Smith said he doubted Americans would see restrictions on freedom of research, free expression and civil rights comparable to those in the wake of World War I. But he said higher education may still expect some tightening of governmental controls in the academic sphere.

“There have been strong voices speaking out against the ‘Big Brother is watching’ repercussions of this war, and I hope they will continue to speak out and maintain free expression in this country,” he said. “But if this war intensifies and spreads, defending free expression will become very difficult.”

Professors Gaddis Smith, left, and Bruce Russet discuss the legacy the war in Iraq will leave while contemplating the future of democracy in the country.
Emmanuelle Massicot
Professors Gaddis Smith, left, and Bruce Russet discuss the legacy the war in Iraq will leave while contemplating the future of democracy in the country.

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