The rhetoric on campus is stale and misguided. Generations ago, Yale students rallied behind worthy causes in this country, such as racial equality before the law, the extension of civil liberties, and economic opportunity for all. Today, however, many in the Yale community ignore human rights abuses and injustice abroad and continue to focus on the so-called evils of the American government. They fail to recognize the vulnerability of the United States and other democracies in the face of despotic, intolerant and illiberal regimes and terrorist organizations.
Yale students instead should dedicate themselves to the protection of liberal democracies and the expansion of those universal rights and liberties we exercise here in the United States.
Rather than impulsively opposing the Bush administration’s proposals and policies, we should critically examine their contents and consequences. If we reach different conclusions, we should seek alternative solutions. Some organizations even hold political positions as criteria for membership (e.g., opposition to war in Iraq); such requirements are premature and intellectually restraining. As an alternative, let me offer some guiding principles for future debate and activism:
That targeting innocent civilians is an unjust act;
That governments are established to uphold justice and serve their citizens;
That human dignity demands respect for people of every religion, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation;
That the rule of law and self-determination are necessary to protect these rights from an arbitrary authority;
And that democratic countries, including the United States and its allies, have the right to vigorously oppose those despotic regimes and terrorist organizations that threaten international security.
Much of the protest on campus has distorted the truth, degraded American and Yale traditions, and delayed progress.
Some have expressed concern over the human rights abuses resulting from the Bush administration’s proposed war in Iraq. Although the potential for inadvertent civilian casualties deserves grave consideration, Saddam Hussein’s misrule over the Iraqi people is too great for those of conscience to ignore. We should recognize the execution and torture of political dissidents, the genocidal ethnic cleansing of the Kurdish people, and the withholding of food from families that fail to offer their children to Saddam’s military apparatus. History has not been kind to those who have appeased such regimes in the past.
Some have expressed disdain for war by organizing a “die-in” in the Woolsey Rotunda. This melodramatic charade debased the space that memorializes Yale students and alumni who sacrificed their lives in the fight for democracy and freedom. Though we must never take war lightly, it is sometimes necessary in order to protect life and those values we cherish.
Some have expressed skepticism by accusing Bush of “imperialism” by declaring “No Blood for Oil!” But such claims overlook Saddam’s exploitation of oil to fund the development of weapons of mass destruction and his previous acts of eco-terrorism. It is a cruel irony that French and German opposition to war is partly based on their well-documented lucrative oil deals with the dictator.
However we should be grateful for the attention paid to oil. The United States’ dependence on foreign oil not only supports tyrants and terrorists; it also undermines American foreign policy by granting OPEC countries leverage over our economy. As former CIA Director R. James Woolsey LAW ’68 has argued, the United States ought to implement policies that increase energy efficiency. Thus we should remain critical of President Bush’s recently announced plan to provide tax incentives for the purchase of sport-utility vehicles. At the same time, we should also encourage policies that promote greater efficiency and the use of alternative energy sources.
Yesterday, Secretary of State Colin Powell presented evidence of Saddam Hussein’s defiance of the international community. Hopefully, the Yale community will respectfully consider his case with an open mind.
Matthew Louchheim is a junior in Berkeley College. He is the president of Yale College Students for Democracy.