Scholars Consider A Post-War Era

Harvard and the Gulf War

Just over two weeks ago, U.S. planes began an air offensive that launched the country into its first major conflict in two decades. Inside and outside Harvard, the shock of war was immediate.

In the days that followed, the University's Middle East experts were bombarded by calls, requests and pleas from the media to answer initial questions and analyze the primary impact of the situation.

But since the first wave subsided, Harvard scholars from a wide range of area studies and disciplines have begun to reflect beyond the conflict and into the future of the region itself.

Second in a four-part series on the war in the Gulf.

Although professors disagree about the course of U.S. policy, most Middle East experts here are unanimous in their sense that the war will have serious consequences that may not have been fully considered. Most say they cannot even begin to predict what a post-war Middle East will look like.


"We are concerned about what kind of power balance will exist at the end of the war," says William A. Graham, director of Harvard's Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

Although most media attention has centered on the strategic and economic dimensions of the conflict, Graham and others in his field say policy makers must begin to examine the effect the war will have on the long-term balance of power within the Gulf. Once Hussein loses, they ask, who or what will replace him?

"It is most likely that Saddam Hussein will fall," says Laurie A. Mylroie, associate professor of government. "The question is what will happen next? We are talking about a country that was once apolitical. Now there is a lot of political activity. New people, new faces are ready to emerge."

U.S. Role

Looking beyond the region's political questions, Nur O. Yalman, professor of social anthropology and Middle Eastern studies, says the U.S. must define its own role within the post-war reconstruction. That is, he asks, will U.S. troops remain in the Gulf as they did in Korea?

Despite Bush's initial objectives in this conflict, many observers have speculated that the President may want to broaden these goals, as the war becomes more serious. Most scholars at Harvard, however, caution against this approach.

If Bush were to expand his game plan to include Hussein's downfall after the release of Kuwait, some experts say this would only aggravate tensions between the U.S. and Arab nations. It would further damage an American reputation among Arabs already suspicious of the war's motivations, they say.

"The U.S. would face serious problems within the larger Muslim world in terms of our credibility as an even-handed defender of just causes," says Graham, who is also professor of history of religion and Islamic studies. "This [talk of broadening the war] does not help the previous distrust any."

Amid the scholarly discourse at Harvard, debate over the ethics of the Gulf War brings a emotional charge to typically sedate academic commentary. Some professors say they feel all other options should have been exhausted before going to war, others say that the U.S. had no other alternative. But all say they agree that the war should end quickly.

"People would like to see this problem dealt with quickly," says Yalman. "If it goes on too long, people will question the ethicality of the war."