As coalition forces move closer to Baghdad and as casualties continue to mount, Yale professors offered varying perspectives on the war to an overflow crowd at a teach-in Wednesday night.
History professor John Gaddis moderated the panel, which included political science professor Ellen Lust-Okar, diplomat-in-residence Charles Hill, and history professors Paul Kennedy and Donald Kagan. Hundreds of students packed the Yale Law School auditorium and spilled over into area classrooms to watch the panel on live feed television.
Yale President Richard Levin organized the teach-in, which he said followed a tradition from the Vietnam War era and is an integral part of a liberal arts education.
Citing varying levels of international support and popular opinion –particularly in the Middle East — and the world impression of U.S. aggression, Lust-Okar described the differences between the Gulf War in 1991 and the current war in Iraq.
“Rather than a war in the region, this is a war for the region,” Lust-Okar said.
Hill, who said the future of the international system rests on the war’s success, expressed his disappointment in the United Nations.
“It has disgraced itself,” Hill said. “It will be a long time until any issues of security will be put before it.”
When Gaddis asked the members of the panel to discuss what surprised them in the last few days, Kennedy responded with a slew of responses critical of the American leadership, provoking laughter from the audience.
“Was I surprised by Halliburton getting the first contract for the reconstruction of this society?” Kennedy said. “Well, quite frankly, I wasn’t.”
But Kennedy said he was surprised by lack of debate in the U.S. Congress about war policy and the “rosy” opinion the American public has of the war. He said the public is not prepared for the massive casualties, prisoners of war and missing soldiers that normally come with war.
“Tell me a war that didn’t have that,” Kennedy said.
Kagan pointed to the media hype leading into the Gulf War in 1991 as making the war — or “half-war” as he called it –anti-climactic when it only lasted 100 hours. But he said the current war in Iraq has set a very different tone.
The war will be a long, tough battle, he said. Kagan said he found the swift advance of coalition soldiers unexpected and was surprised that America is “holding back,” not using its full military power in an attempt to limit casualties.
Kagan said he was surprised by Turkey’s decision not to offer coalition troops military assistance. He said he did not know how the “battle of Baghdad” will play out, but he said he was certain it would be decisive.
“The Defense Department shouldn’t have led people to believe that there will be a quick surrender,” Kagan said. “There must be a military victory for this to come to an end. We need to be prepared for a long war.”