As tension surrounding possible American action in Iraq continues to build, James O’Brien LAW ’88, an adviser to the Secretary of State during the Clinton administration, addressed the situation at a Morse College Master’s Tea Thursday.
During his talk, entitled “Going to War? A Former Insider Tries to Demystify the Process,” O’Brien, a former special presidential envoy for the Balkans, discussed fundamental principles of American foreign policy, American hegemony and the Bush administration’s management of the Iraq situation.
“I’m not altogether certain about how to approach the problem in Iraq,” O’Brien said at the onset of the talk.
Nevertheless, he said that if Iraq presents a real threat to Americans, the United States must take action immediately.
However, he said that for both political and logistical reasons he does not believe Iraq currently presents a serious threat to the United States. O’Brien said that while Saddam Hussein probably has chemical and biological weapons, he does not have the capability to deliver them.
After raising the question of whether Iraq’s leader could join with terrorist groups to use these weapons on Americans, O’Brien said that Hussein traditionally has not had connections with such organizations because of ideological differences. However, it is possible that this could change in the future, O’Brien added.
“Pariahs always find each other,” O’Brien said.
Criticizing the Bush administration’s handling of the situation, O’Brien said the White House has used tough rhetoric against Iraq in the international community, generating resistance from other countries and making them less willing to cooperate with the United States.
O’Brien said the Bush administration should first have focused on conducting a rigorous inspection program, instead of addressing the issue of an invasion. An inspection program would severely impair Hussein’s ability to develop and deliver weapons of mass destruction in the future, as well as lessen chemical and biological threats, he said.
“He could probably retain some biological and chemical weapons capability under an intrusive inspection system,” O’Brien said. “Could he deliver it? Probably not.”
Sarah Izfar ’03 said she enjoyed O’Brien’s speech because he supported his views with logical arguments.
“I thought it was refreshing to hear a political commentator discuss rationally and reasonably why there was a minimal credible threat for going into war with Iraq,” Izfar said.
After his discussion of the complex issues surrounding Iraq, O’Brien also stressed the world health crisis and said that tackling health problems — not invading Iraq — would be a better way for Bush to create a legacy.
“This is an issue that I really think the United States government should be leading on,” O’Brien said. “It would be a great example of the U.S. living up to our own values,” O’Brien said.
Hannah Farber ’05 said she thought O’Brien’s ideas were original.
“I found it very informative,” Farber said. “The international opportunities that he talked about are very exciting.”