Foreign Policy Experts Assess War on Terrorism, Saber Rattling Toward Iraq

September 11, 2002
Miller Center of Public Affairs Director Philip D. Zelikow speaks to a student after the forum.

Israeli security is the undiscussed factor that "dare not speak its name" in the United State's threats of war against Iraq, Miller Center of Public Affairs Director Philip D. Zelikow told a capacity crowd at the Law School's Caplin Auditorium Sept. 10 as a panel of University foreign policy experts assessed the effects of the 9/11 attacks and America's likely next steps in defeating the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

In the 1990s, when Iraq hardened its command bunkers against the communications-severing electromagnetic pulses associated with atomic blasts, it wasn't because it was contemplating a nuclear exchange with the U.S., Zelikow said, but the possibility of one with Israel. American analysts are concerned that Al Qaeda, battered and reduced, is now allying with anti-Israel terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah and may use Iraq's biological or chemical weapons for attacks on Israel, said Zelikow, whose views were strongly in favor of war on Iraq's despotic Saddam Hussein. U.S. policy has been to restrain Israel from acting preemptively in its own defense from fear that such actions would provoke a wider war across the Middle East, he said.

Panelists agreed that the U.S.'s first steps against Al Qaeda and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan were successful and bought time for America to prepare for later stages of the war on terrorism, but David D. Newsom and W. Nathaniel Howell, both former ambassadors to the region, lamented the clumsiness of American diplomacy since then. Newsom said the Bush administration's unilateralist style is alienating our European allies, who believe an attack against Iraq should not happen without U.N. authorization, a view that polls show is also widely held by the American public. Howell said the administration's conflating of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict with the global war against Al Qaeda has blurred the purposes of the anti-terror campaign and made a "mess" of U.S. Middle East policy. Arabs see the U.S. as not being an honest broker and insist that Palestinians are due fair treatment too, he said.

Zelikow was less alarmed at European dissatisfaction with the United States, calling the NATO nations "a single society with regional variations." Europeans don't feel "the gun sights trained on their backs" the way Americans now do, he said, and that deeper and more disturbing chasms between European and American views were present and overcome during the Cold War. Newsom said Europeans tend to oversimplify America and are ignorant of our political system, but nonetheless their objections should not be dismissed.

Zelikow called the debate over what to do about Iraq, which is long in violation of agreements it signed with the United Nations after the 1990 Gulf War, fundamentally dishonest and hollow. "If weapons inspectors can go anywhere, which is what's necessary, then Saddam Hussein is not running Iraq anymore."

He proposed that the U.N. Security Council form a "transitional regime" for Iraq that would replace Hussein, an idea that has precedents in Haiti, Cambodia and Yugoslavia, and go for direct regime change rather than the reinsertion of weapons inspectors. Two of the nations most skeptical about an American war on Iraq, Russia, which he said is worried over how billions of dollars owed it by Iraq would be repaid, and China, which is increasingly dependent on Persian Gulf oil and fears a disruption in its supplies, are permanent members of the Council and could thus guarantee that their interests would be accounted for in a new regime. Ambassador Howell likewise proposed a U.N. trusteeship for Iraq. Newsom supported the concept but said that it should not be brought forward for United Nations consideration by the UnitedStates.

Professor Ruhi Ramazani, former chair of the Department of Government and Foreign Affairs, disputed the case for attacking Iraq, saying "we don't have a realistic estimate of the situation [in the Middle East] despite all our expertise."

He noted that previous American policy has been to oppose regime change there in the interest of Israel's security and the stability of oil supplies. He considers the idea that a democracy could replace Hussein's regime a virtual absurdity and that in fact war against Iraq would "unleash radical anti-American forces" and perhaps extinguish the budding democratic reform movement in Iran, which he noted has already been damaged by President Bush's rhetorical broadsides earlier in the summer.

Ramazani said the Middle East has a long "tradition of authoritarianism" and a non-democratic culture stretching back into ancient times. Middle Easterners have typically looked for benevolent dictators to solve their social and economic problems and they will likely do so again should Hussein need to be replaced. He also cited the intellectual stagnation of Muslim culture since the Middle Ages as a factor in the region's resistance to modernity, a clash that he said is being played out in Iranian politics today. He called for a policy of peaceful incentives for encouraging democracy there.

Law professor John Norton Moore inventoried American military successes against Al Qaeda and stressed that the terrorist strategy is also to undermine world financial institutions and to damage Western economies. He called for a concerted war against terrorist drug lords in Columbia in which Latin American countries combine troops to decisively end Columbia's agony. Above all, he said, "We must expose the lie that the terrorists hold as an ideology." Al Qaeda has hijacked Islam in an attack on modernity, he said.

The panel was sponsored by the Center for National Security Law, the Miller Center for Public Affairs, and the Institute for Global Policy Research. Col. Rick Rosen, commandant of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's School, served as moderator.

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