Computer science professor David Gelernter defended the Bush administration’s decision to wage war in Iraq in a talk Thursday, arguing the war was Bush’s pragmatic duty in a post-Cold War period and the moral responsibility of the United States in a post-Holocaust society.
In his talk, which was hosted jointly by the Middle Eastern Forum at Yale and Yale College Students for Democracy, Gelernter focused on why he thinks Bush was, and still is, right in his removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Gelernter, who suffered permanent injury when he opened a package from the Unabomber in June 1993, spoke to an audience of about 15 students, faculty and community members at Linsley-Chittenden Hall.
“I’m one of many Republican writers who believes that the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq is absolutely right,” said Gelernter, a strong Bush supporter and a contributing editor to both The Weekly Standard and National Review magazines.
Even though after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 the al Qaeda terrorist group was Bush’s main target, Gelernter said he thinks Bush ordered troops to invade Iraq on pragmatic and moral grounds. Gelernter likened the invasion of Iraq to an old army training rule — when one is faced with multiple reasonable targets in combat, one should choose the easiest target to attack and follow through with the mission.
“Hitting any reasonable target is better than not hitting any,” Gelernter said. “Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were basically the same sort of people. They had the same enemies, the same methods, and when one did well, the other profited. Clearly, [Iraq] was a reasonable point of attack if we wanted to win the war against people who hate us and want to destroy us.”
Gelernter said that although the Bush administration has not been particularly articulate or forthcoming about their reasons for sending American troops to Iraq, the president was justified in taking action. Gelernter argued that media placed too much emphasis on the presence of weapons of mass destruction, and that led many Americans to believe Bush had no legitimate reason for sending troops to Iraq.
In defending the moral aspects of fighting in Iraq, Gelernter gave numerous examples of Hussein’s abuses against his people. He said a Shiite man was forced to watch Hussein’s officials rape his wife and was subsequently murdered by having nails driven into his head. He also described an instance where a mother watched her child choke to death on poison gas. Gelernter said these crimes against humanity were cause enough for the United States to invade of Iraq.
“It is not merely that we were right to destroy inhumane regimes,” Gelernter said. “But that we had no right not to.”
Audience members criticized Gelernter for being too black-and-white about the situation in Iraq — for not considering the morality of the United States’ actions and the impact the war could have on international relations.
“I think he’s an effective speaker,” Chris Connelly ’06 said. “But that he oversimplifies a more complicated issue.”
David Goldenberg GRD ’07 said he thinks Gelernter missed part of the picture, trying to speak intelligently based on incomplete information.
“It’s like someone who walked into a movie late,” Goldenberg said of Gelernter’s argument. “If you walk in in the 1960s, we haven’t done anything wrong. But if you look at root causes, we’re not completely right with what we’re doing.”
But Gelernter said the United States has an obligation to fight terrorism, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or any other portion of the world.
“When someone attacks in cold blood, you hit back,” Gelernter said. “You have no choice. Otherwise, you’re saying ‘Hit me again.'”