Speaking to a capacity crowd yesterday evening, Yale professors Seyla Benhabib and Charles Hill expressed their divergent views on the validity of the Bush administration’s justifications for the Iraq war in the context of the conflict’s broader historical and geopolitical implications.
The event, held in Davies Auditorium, was moderated by University Chaplain Frederick Streets. Benhabib, a professor of political science and philosophy, concentrated her lecture on the recent history of the Middle East before questioning if Bush’s policy is a path to peace. Hill, Yale’s diplomat-in-residence, supported the administration’s plan in Iraq as a necessary step to preserving international stability.
While criticizing Saddam Hussein’s despotic regime in Iraq, Benhabib said the American-led overthrow of his government destabilized the Middle East and undermined the international community’s attempts to find peaceful settlements in the region.
“I don’t see that the transformation of democratization can take place under these conditions,” she said. “We will have war in the Middle East for the next decade.”
Benhabib said the United States missed an opportunity to bring peace to the Middle East after Sept. 11, 2001. She said the course adopted by the Bush administration was unnecessarily belligerent.
Hill said the United States acted appropriately in overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Though not sharing the religious goals of Islamic fundamentalists, Hussein had joined terrorists in undermining the international state system, Hill said.
“What was taking place here was an assault on the system itself by those who were outside it,” he said, referring to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. “The system is in danger and has been for quite a long time — The danger comes out of the Middle East.”
He said the Bush administration’s intervention in Iraq not only removed a dangerous opponent but also resulted in mentalities changing throughout the Middle East. He warned that the United States would have to remain involved in Iraq and the region as a whole.
“We could see Pakistan and Saudi Arabia go into the hands of fundamentalists,” he said.
Audience questions ranged from asking how the Iraq war would affect Israeli policy to criticizing Hill for not paying enough attention to the human cost of aggressive foreign policy.
Despite questioning some of Hill’s arguments, Ned Hirschfeld ’08 said he benefited from hearing the pro-war position as well as the opposing one.
“The event definitely expanded my knowledge of the arguments on both sides of the issue,” he said.
Jared Malsin ’07 said he organized the event as an opportunity for experts to analyze the broader implications of the Iraq conflict without engaging in too much head-to-head debate.
“More events like this would be a good idea,” he said. “The situation in Iraq is quite dire and demands more political awareness, especially on college campuses. I hope that there will be more of a sense of urgency.”
Despite the wide differences of opinion articulated by the panelists, Benhabib said common ground was reached in the very existence of dialogue between the two sides.
“We have to talk to each other and find some clarity, some understanding,” Benhabib said afterwards. “I radically disagree with Professor Hill about the justifications for war — but I found a good deal of agreement.”