As the June 30 deadline for the return of sovereignty to Iraq draws near and unrest escalates in cities such as Fallujah and Basra, debate over the United State’s role in the occupation has intensified in the American media — and among Yale professors of history and political science.
Experts in their respective fields, Yale professors publish their opinions on current affairs on the editorial pages of the country’s leading newspapers and have the opportunity to influence policy making. And as is the case on most liberal university campuses, the majority of professors are critical of the current administration’s international policies.
Many Yale professors agree that the grim headlines of the past two months indicate a situation ill-handled by the administration of President George W. Bush ’68. However, they are skeptical that the upcoming presidential elections will have any substantial effect on the United States’ involvement in Iraq.
Insurgents are expected to increase violence in Iraq leading up to the June 30 deadline, but history professor Abbas Amanat cautioned that June 30 may not mark the end of uprisings.
The transitional government that will be installed in Iraq will be pro-American, Amanat said, resulting in increased anti-American sentiment and continued religious tension between the Sunni and Shiite sects.
“The chances for disaster are very, very realistic,” Amanat said. “This is a problem I doubt that is going to disappear, because there’s a religious division in Iraq … The clash is inevitable.”
While he believes the Bush administration’s big-picture strategy heading into Iraq remains commendable, history professor John Gaddis said he thinks the administration failed when it came to the details of the occupation. Gaddis criticized the administration for not acknowledging that it made mistakes.
“The overall diagnosis of the problem and the overall strategy is broader and more valid than the immediate situation, which has been a screw-up,” he said. “I was distinctly unimpressed by [Bush's] press conference the other day.”
Diplomat-in-residence Charles Hill retains more faith in the administration’s oversight of the transfer of power. He thinks the creation of a provisional government in Iraq is not an unreasonable expectation, he said, and does not expect an increased rate of American casualties unless American troops proceed with a possible attack on the Iraqi city of Fallujah.
“By [the deadline], I believe that we will have a provisional assembly in place, and they will choose a provisional government,” Hill said. “We’ll hand over sovereignty; I think it will work reasonably well.”
Hill and Gaddis said they do not expect the fact that the United States is entering presidential campaign season to have any substantial effect on the United States’ involvement in Iraq. If U.S. Senator and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry ’66 gains office, he will not pursue any vastly different approach to the situation, they said.
But a change of presidential administration is necessary for the United States to gain back its good standing in the international community, political science professor David Greenberg said. Spain and Honduras, two of the United States’ allies in the war in Iraq, have recently ordered their troops to withdraw.
“From the beginning, this administration has deliberately thumbed its nose at the U.N.,” Greenberg said. “I think in order to get some legitimacy in the eyes of the world, we would need a new administration.”
The Kerry campaign, while calling for greater involvement of the United Nations, will inevitably support most of the broader policies of the Bush administration in Iraq, Hill said.
“I don’t see any formal bipartisan agreement, but it seems to me that the Kerry campaign is going to have to stay pretty much in line with the current administration,” he said.
Although the current situation in Iraq has been called by many a “quagmire,” professors cautioned against comparisons with the Vietnam War.
The analogy does not work in part because the number of casualties of the war in Iraq is nowhere near the number of casualties after one year of the Vietnam War, Gaddis said.
Greenberg agreed that the analogy is a faulty one, but he stressed the impact of the Vietnam War’s legacy on current policy.
“The people around Bush were very much influenced by Vietnam,” Greenberg said. “They felt that America became too afraid to exercise power, and they see this war as a way to kick the ‘Vietnam syndrome.’ Historically, it set us on a path toward today.”
Despite the fact that casualties in Iraq have yet to reach the level of those in the Vietnam War, Gaddis said, this war is more significant in terms of possible impact upon the world powers.
“It’s more important than Vietnam ever was because this really is a balance of power situation,” he said.
— Staff reporter Neil Katsuyama contributed to this report.