Thoughts from the Loo

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Saturday, February 22, 2003

[E][P] US Academia on Gulf War II

I recently got into posession of several interesting bits of correspodence on and around a mailing list for professional diplomats, run by a prestigious US university (I am not a member, and I am not sure what their, er, reposting policy is, so I will not tell you the source)*:


A 'moderated-out' post:

"It is no reflection on American universities that sometimes a person of minimal intelligence slips through a decent university and walks away with a sheepskin that is -well- somewhat inaccurate. It happens everywhere. But it surely is a reflection on the educational system, when the vast majority of American academics sit silently while a President, claiming to speak for the free world, speaks the way Mr. Bush does. With all dues respect this man's rhetoric - cant really - and hypocrisy or rank ignorance embarrasses and puzzles.
More particularly, is it unreasonable to ask a supposedly educated man who wishes to speak about evil that he at least be aware of the problematics of such language? Was it evil when the United States used a weapon of mass destruction to destroy two Japanese cities, when it was fully known that the government was seeking to end the war and after the United States told the Vatican to stay out ? Was it evil when the United States made widespread use of Napalm and fragmentation bombs against one side in a civil war? Is it evil when the United States helps arm Israel to the hilt and then turns its back on the way Israel uses those weapons and the purposes to which it applies them ? If it was evil for Hussein to attempt to seize Kuwait, was it evil when President Polk marched his armies into a sister republic and stripped away the most valuable half of its territory? I do not claim to have the answers, but if you do not have answers to such questions, then should you be using that language ? I can't imagine any university letting a student graduate without at least alerting him to these questions.
Then there is the problem of the President's consistency. If what goes on in Iraqi prisons is criminal why does he refuse to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to inspect the holding pens at Guantanamo ?
If Iraqi generals are to be tried as war criminals, why does this President oppose the establishment of an international war crimes court ? Then there is the question of this President's "love" of every people whose leader marches into the oval office for ceremonial obeisance to the President. The epistemology of his welcoming remarks puzzles me. To "love" has always implied some knowledge and understanding. How did he acquire this knowledge of so many people of so many different cultures, enough so that he is moved, in everything he does, by love of them ? It's not much better when one examines the President's use of the term "friend".
Then there is question of his peace rhetoric. Why does he always say war will keep the peace, and never once has said that diplomacy will keep the peace ?
If American intellectuals do not have the intestinal fortitude to speak up and ask that he clean up his rhetoric, fine, but should American intellectuals be surprised and hurt when the rest of the world respects American power and only American power ?
Or to put this matter more succinctly: Might as well have Archie Bunker as President. (This comment is meant to be a reflection not so much on the man but on the society and more particularly on that society's educators.)

Moderator's response:

"Dear B.- As you probbaly suspect, this message may cause a storm on the list, which is OK, but I have some reservations about large scale generalizations about national populations. [This list] has many critics of Bush-ite policies, so at least some academics and intellectuals are trying to stand up to Washington. Maybe it would be better to indict Yale rather than the entire US education system? Maybe too it would be better to give some examples of intellectuals as examples of those who have failed in their duty- who in your opinion are some of the worst talking heads from TV? (Note that David Frum is particularly shameless in his arguments, and he is a product of the UofT). It might also be good to pay heed to the anti-war movement in the states (which is trong on campuses). In short, some more details and qualifications to generalizations, and we have game."

To be fair, the moderator is right when he says that the list contains some decidedly 'non-gung-ho' views on prospect of war. For example, a post almost six months old:

"Colleagues: I have decided (not that any of you are interested in my inner turmoil, or should be) that the detachment I have tried to retain visavis [the list] debates in general is irresponsible in regard to the current one on Iraq. No discussion on [the list] will influence the course of American policy, yet anyone who feels as I do that this decision for war would represent a decisive turning point for our nation and the world has the responsibility to try to use every available means to influence it, even in a local and peripheral way.
That said, I felt David Silbey's most recent intervention as a current of fresh air. What his particular points do more broadly is suggest various points not being made in the current national debate (precisely what historians and other academic analysts are supposed to look for): (1) that Saddam Hussein is homicidal, not suicidal, which means that he is in principle deterrable; (2) that he has actually been deterred from aggressions he could conceivably have launched over the past decade, which means that the West's policies of deterrence and containment have essentially succeeded, not failed; (3) that Iraq, as everyone knows, has been drastically weakened by eleven years of drastic sanctions and Anglo-American attacks under UN sanction and that UN inspectors, as a Carnegie Endowment report of last March established,. did find and destroy far more of Iraq's weapons than the Gulf War did,. so that Iraq is simply not the menace it once was and the policy of sanctions,. though extremely brutal in its effects, has in power-political terms been working, not failing; (4) that even paranoid sociopaths, which Saddam Hussein is, may have real enemies and will naturally try to find ways to deter them--indeed Hussein would be crazy not to recognize that he is threatened--and that therefore everything they do must not automatically be interpreted as a preparation for aggression; and (5), that to deal with a problem politically, as opposed to using mere brute force, requires one to presume a minimum of purposive rationality on the part of one's opponents sufficient to enable one to use their own calculus of interests to convince them not to do the actions one wants to deter. Therefore to assert categorically as a first principle that this presumption of minimum purposive rationality cannot hold for one's opponent in this case is simply to rule out a negotiated settlement or management of a quarrel from the outset and to reduce the possible outcomes to either total surrender by one side or war--which of course is exactly what the Bush administration is doing.
I may have gone further in exegesis of Silbey's arguments than he would agree with. In any case, the list of important considerations that are not being talked about but treated like the crazy aunt in the attic can and should be extended. A constant theme of the administration case, its centerpiece before the UN and the world,. is that Iraq has for 11 years defied UN resolutions and got away with it, and that if the UN and the world community do not wish to be permanently discredited they must act now to bring Iraq into full compliance. No one mentions that there is another state in the Middle East that has defied UN resolutions for 35 years, that unlike Iraq it has never been punished at all for this, and that unlike Iraq it has grown considerably larger and stronger as a result of this successful defiance. The central argument for war on Iraq for domestic consumption is that it is necessary to prosecute the war on terrorism. Never mind the innumerable weaknesses and contradictions in that argument, which have been repeatedly pointed out without deterring the administration and its supporters from continuing to assert it. What is not being said is that there are currently two grave conflicts, in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza and in Kashmir, both of low intensity but huge potential danger, both involving terrorist activity, and that the administration is studiously avoiding both in order to push for war on Iraq. A key argument made by Colin Powell is that only regime change in Iraq can bring peace and stability to the region, and that every one of Iraq's neighbors would breathe easier if Hussein fell from power. No one mentions that there is another state in the region whose leader has a record even longer than Hussein's of reliance on force as a solution to problems, and that every one of that state's neighbors would be relieved if that leader fell, except for their justified apprehension that he would only be replaced by someone worse. Finally, the absolutely central, indispensable element of the administration's case is the contention that Iraq might be (according to some, certainly is) developing weapons of mass destruction and that Iraq might (certainly would, according to these same prophets) use them under certain circumstances. No one mentions that another state in the region certainly possesses nuclear weapons and both biological and chemical warfare programs, and that no one doubts that this state would under certain circumstances use them.
To mention these unmentionable facts is to invite the charge of being anti-Israeli and even anti-Semitic. Believe it if you like; I am confident that the latter is false. As for the former, since for years I have believed and said that the first thing the United States should do to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to negotiate a full, formal military security alliance with Israel, including a territorial guarantee of an extent to be negotiated, I rest easy on the former count as well. But both are irrelevant. This debate is not mainly about Israel or what its government and its hawkish American supporters are trying to do, though that factor cannot be ignored. It is about what the American government is really trying to achieve in its relentless drive for war on Iraq, and what can be inferred as to its real agenda both from the arguments it uses and the considerations and arguments it ignores or sweeps under the rug. Analyzing this is what historians and other scholars are supposed to do on the basis of their special knowledge, and this, I contend,. is what they have not by and large done in this debate, either generally or in [the list].
But actually we no longer need to in this case. The administration has spared us the trouble of inferring from various statements, actions, and other indicators what its real agenda is and laid it out openly in a 33-page report to Congress on the Bush administration's foreign policy strategy and goals. Read the story on it by Peter Sanger in today's NY Times [Friday]. I will not try to summarize it; that would only weaken its impact. I will say only that I have spent a long lifetime being frequently dismayed, worried, and even frightened by things our government has proposed--often, in retrospect, needlessly--but have never encountered anything quite so terrifying as this. This represents a frank, clear statement, rationale, and program for American world domination now and into the indefinite future, and for a system of international law and practices designed specifically to maintain and enforce that American empire.
This statement of goals and strategy must therefore become the focus of any discussion of the war on Iraq or any other administration foreign policy stance and action. In April 2001, well before 9/11, Lawrence Kaplan published a lead article in the New Republic, a liberal journal, entitled (approximately-[-I am giving this from memory), "The Missile Defense Initiative is not About Defense'; It is About American World Domination--and That is Why We Need It." He was simply being admirably frank about the obvious, and endorsing it. We need that same candor from everyone, especially from supporters of the war on Iraq, right now. This war is not about the defense of America and its allies. It is about American world domination - those who believe in the war must do so with the understanding that they are thereby endorsing that goal. The administration is being admirably frank in making clear that it seeks a new world order and system with drastically changed rules and practices, all designed to achieve that end--which of course it insists will bring benefits to everyone. Its rationale for this revolutionary agenda can be summarized in two words: terrorism and technology. These have so changed the world and made it so uniquely dangerous that the old rules and measures will no longer do. They form a sufficient ground for discarding five centuries of the evolution of the current international system, and ignoring millennia of experience on what bids for universal empire usually lead to. Debating this central point must be what historians and other scholars now concentrate on. We know that active politicians under the gun of electoral campaigns, polls, and constituent pressures will not do so (the pitiful failure of the Democratic party to do so in this case proves it); we know that the broad public, and even the educated lay public, simply are not equipped to do so.
I confess to feeling a certain passion on this subject (though I try to keep a sense of humor and proportion about it--a sister of mine reminds me that righteous indignation is the family curse). But historians have a long, abysmal record of failing even to try to curb national passions in times of crisis, even and especially in democracies; all too often they aid and abet them. I think we have a chance to do a little better this time. --
Paul W. Schroeder
Professor Emeritus of History and Political Science
University of Illinois (Urbana)"

*) I am not sure should I attribute those posts or not, given that I reporoduce them without permission. On balance, I probably should, so I do (except for the moderator).

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