Profs square off over Iraq war

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Two foreign affairs experts with opposing views on war debated the legitimacy of war in Iraq Thursday evening and also discussed American colonialism and diplomacy.

University of Chicago professor Rashid Khalidi was critical of American foreign policy while Yale history professor John Gaddis argued in favor of the war. The debate, which took place in Luce Hall, was sponsored by the Yale Coalition for Peace and the Yale College Students for Democracy.

Gaddis began his argument by cutting down arguments against the war in Iraq.

“Some say, ‘War never solves anything, and the use of force is never justifiable,’” Gaddis said. “Not true.”

Gaddis emphasized the vaguely defined nature of threats to national security and the need for pre-emptive strikes.

“We face a new situation in which containment and deterrence are no longer enough,” Gaddis said. “The Bush strategy of pre-emption comes in. We have to anticipate where attacks will come and how to deter them.”

Characterizing the war as an attempt to establish Iraq as a model of democracy, Gaddis said Iraq’s example will permeate throughout the world.

“Some of our allies in that part of the world are also authoritarian — Serbia, even Israel — so is the Bush strategy aimed at them?,” Gaddis said. “Yes, I think it is, but not all at once. If you can establish some semblance of democracy in Iraq, its ripples will spread everywhere else.”

Gaddis said the war would ameliorate the quality of life for Iraqis, and is not merely a capitalist, oil-related venture.

“Oil is part of the picture, but so too is security and humanitarianism,” Gaddis said. “What does this mean for the Iraqis, the Middle East, the U.S. and other parts of the world? It means a better life, not a perfect life, but one that is freer.”

Khalidi, professor of history and Near Eastern languages and civilizations and the director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Chicago, responded to Gaddis’ presentation by attacking the pretenses under which the war was declared.

“Look back at the pretenses of war in Southeast Asia, and see how hollow they seem today. This war will look equally hollow, equally specious,” Khalidi said. “There was, is, and will be no demonstrable threat from Iraq.”

Khalidi decried the Bush administration’s tactics, which he said have alienated the rest of the world.

“Look at any other publication in the world, and you will see we stand alone in this,” Khalidi said. “In the long run, this is disastrous.”

Khalidi also doubted the long-term viability of democracy in Iraq.

“I predict for you modestly, that there will be no democracy in Iraq,” he said. “It will remain only as long as U.S. soldiers remain to preserve it. As a Middle East historian, I can tell you Iraq has a long history of resisting occupation.”

Lastly, Khalidi warned that the war in Iraq is only part of a larger American plan to reorganize the world.

“Iraq is only part of a plan, part of a bigger war,” Khalidi said. “This is why other countries opposed it, not because they like Saddam. They wanted to establish a new international dynamic. It is profoundly wrong.”

Tensions ran high in the room, but by the end, students said they were impressed with the depth and breadth of the debate.

“I thought it was a very balanced and informative debate,” Ariane Lotti ’06 said. “There’s been a call for such a debate, and a debate with strong voices.”

Yale history professor John Gaddis argues for the war in Iraq in a debate with Rashid Khalidi, a professor at the University of Chicago. Khalidi opposes the war.
Kate Lawson
Yale history professor John Gaddis argues for the war in Iraq in a debate with Rashid Khalidi, a professor at the University of Chicago. Khalidi opposes the war.

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