Scholars, professors question Bush’s military action policy

Libby George

As the clouds of war loom over the nation, a growing number of scholars at the University and across the country are refusing to accept action against Iraq as inevitable.

Thirty-three international relations scholars released a statement to appear as a $30,000 advertisement in The New York Times denouncing the push for war with Iraq.

In the statement, the principal authors – University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer, Harvard University’s Stephen Walt and Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland at College Park – contend “war with Iraq will jeopardize the campaign against al-Qaida by diverting resources and attention from that campaign and by increasing anti-Americanism around the globe.”

Martin Sampson, University graduate studies director and international and foreign policy professor said he agreed with the scholars’ opposition.

“I think there is a deep concern held by a lot of people who have disagreements over what this war will mean Ö and are dismayed by the lack of discussion,” he said.

Sampson was also one of the 230 University faculty members who signed a petition against the war earlier this month, which has since spread to other universities and received 7,427 signatures.

Specifically, The New York Times advertisement has four main arguments against war: No evidence proves Iraq is in league with al-Qaida, or that Iraq would use nuclear weapons.

The ad also said the cost of war with Iraq could cause regional instability, and that governing a post-war Iraq would be difficult.

Republican U.S. Rep. Gil Gutknecht, who supports action in Iraq, said he does not see the scholars’ opinions as reason to halt the war debate.

“I would just ask them, how much proof is enough?” Gutknecht said. “History teaches a pretty valuable lesson that sooner or later democracies have to deal with despots. If you wait for all the lights to be green, we can wait forever.”

The scholars of the petition – key figures in the “realist” school of foreign-policy, which advocates a practical analysis of power and skepticism of liberal claims – argue that they advocate force only when necessary.

“There’s this conception out there that because realists believe that force must be used, and that war is sometimes inevitable, that therefore we support every war. That’s completely erroneous,” Telhami said in an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The scholars also reported they limited the signers of their advertisement to those who believe that it’s sometimes necessary for the United States to defend itself through war, so as not to be labeled “left-wing” or “dovish.”

Sampson said he agreed that politicians are attempting to label opposition as unpatriotic.

“9/11 prompted a grassroots kind of patriotism Ö in ways we haven’t seen in a long time,” Sampson said. “A president can use that for constructive things or for things that turn out not to be a good idea in the long run.

“Politicians from both major parties seem to be pushing to just get the issue out of the way before the next election cycle,” he said.

Gutknecht said that argument was unfounded as well.

“There is a misguided notion that President (George W.) Bush is trigger happy and wants to go to war,” Gutknecht said. “The president and every member of Congress weigh these matters more than anyone can imagine. It’s a huge emotional drain.”

Issues bitterly debated between the two sides include not only whether Saddam Hussein has obtained nuclear weapons, but also whether he would use them.

“Is this a regime that is prone to commit suicide? It doesn’t look that way,” Sampson said. “It’s something of a stretch to say once Iraq has nuclear weapons it will use them.”

Telhami also said Iraq possessed chemical weapons capable of killing thousands during the Gulf War that it did not use because “it would have been the end of Baghdad.”

However, Bush and other war supporters have stressed that Saddam Hussein is an imminent threat.

“They are not a suicidal nation,” Gutknecht said. “But we have a pretty good profile on Saddam Hussein, and he is not a rational person. There are people in the world whose wires are not connected in the same ways ours are.”

Sampson said one of the biggest concerns among University professors is where a war would lead. He explained he feared a war with Iraq might prompt Israel to greater action in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.

Geology professor David Fox, author of the faculty petition that began at the University, agreed.

“I think that the potential for this spawning other attacks is very high,” Fox said. “Only by stopping (Bush’s resolution) now and starting diplomacy can we begin to see a solution to this.”

Although he said he didn’t think scholars could directly influence the Bush administration, Sampson was optimistic they would prevail over time.

“I don’t see the administration shifting its policy,” Sampson said. “The influence may be long run. Ö The longer things drag on, the more you begin to have questions.”


Staff Reporter Elizabeth Dunbar contributed to this report.

Libby George covers national politics and welcomes comments at [email protected]