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Professors Torn On U.S. Policy Toward Iraq

As deadline approaches, experts fall on both sides of question

Dillon Professor of the Crivilization of France STANLEY H. HOFFMANN says the U.S. policy on Iraq is detrimental to future foriegn relations.
Dillon Professor of the Crivilization of France STANLEY H. HOFFMANN says the U.S. policy on Iraq is detrimental to future foriegn relations.
By Jessica E. Vascellaro, Crimson Staff Writer

On the eve of President Bush’s deadline for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to back down, Harvard’s professors stand divided.

Some steadfastly back Bush, while others remain categorically opposed to a war.

Most though fall somewhere in between, with complex views that aren’t easily predicted by discipline, experience or even past political position.

“We think about it all the time, we talk about it, but it’s hard to encapsulate,” says Professor of History Cemal Kafadar, an expert on the Middle East.

At the Kennedy School of Government, though Dean Joseph S. Nye has openly stated his support of the war, his colleagues—many of whom have been traversing the country consulting on the conflict—are divided.

“The debate over war is split right down the middle,” Michael Ignatieff, director of the Carr Center of Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School says of the likely war.

And over in Harvard Yard, the war has been equally polarizing, with opinions over the precedent of unilateral American action largely determining on which side of the conflict professors fall.

Disgust with what they perceive as “American imperialism” is among the most voiced reasons for opposition.

“Bush has managed to transform a debate on how to deal with Iraq into a debate on how to deal with American power,” says Stephen M. Walt, an academic dean and Belfer professor of international affairs at the Kennedy School. “This is an enormous failure of American diplomacy.”

Professor of the History of Science Everett I. Mendelsohn, a member of the Faculty Initiative for Peace and Justice that was formed a month ago to combat the war through diplomatic means, is equally critical of American tactics.

“The fundamental issues of diplomacy have been overlooked,” he says. “[The administration] has no idea what diplomacy means.”

Dillon Professor of the Civilization of France Stanley H. Hoffmann also says that the impending intervention is unnecessary and will prove devastating to America’s international reputation.

“We are passionately poisoning our relations with the world,” Hoffman says. “It is a complete violation of international law.”

Yet many of those in support of the war argue that invoking “international law” is no longer a legitimate means of confronting Saddam’s regime.

“If someone is so egregiously in violation of 17 U.N. resolutions, the notion of international law or world opinion is a joke,” said Winthrop Professor of History Stephen A. Thernstrom.

Thernstrom, who supports the war, says history is full of examples of international organizations that have failed to respond effectively to military crises, such as the League of Nations and the Triple Alliance that failed to contain Hitler.

And some who support the war argue that it will in fact bolster the international reputation of the U.S.

Ford Foundation Professor of Science and International Affairs Ashton B. Carter, a former assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, says the country will be “vindicated when we are able to hold up and show the chemical and biological arsenal that is the cause of this war.”

He adds that the moment is right for the U.S. to assume its responsibility as a world leader.

“It will not be seen that we did it without the U.N. Security Council, but that the Security Council did not have the fortitude and appreciation to see it done,” he says.

“The world desperately needs a policeman and we are its only candidate,” Thernstrom adds.

Ignatieff, who says he supports the war “with his heart in his mouth,” says no one nation is entirely to blame for the current crisis, pointing to the fact that had France not vowed to veto any use of force, the U.S. would have had more alternatives.

“This has been the worst display of international leadership in my lifetime,” he says.

Dictating Democracy

Just as many professors disagree over the precedent this war will set, so too do they argue over the feasibility of one of its primary aims—establishing democracy in the Middle East.

Even those who think it is possible question whether it is the U.S.’s prerogative to carry it out.

Kafadar, who says he would have supported a U.N.-sanctioned war, says that military intervention, not Iraqi self-determination, is the only means to abolish Saddam’s regime.

“Self-determination of people sounds good, but you rarely find one people ruling over one place,” he says. “The principle in itself does not explain such complicated pictures.”

But Assistant Professor of Government and Middle East specialist Eva Bellin says that it is absurd to think that U.S. intervention can install democracy in a region of the world where it has never existed and where anti-American sentiment is rising by the hour.

“You can’t dictate democracy from the outside,” she says. “[It] defies political science.”

‘Treading on New Ground’

While it’s hard to predict how strongly a U.S. attack on Iraq will reverberate on campus, many believe Harvard is sure to live up to its legacy of wartime tumult.

Some, such as Ignattieff, are already quick to compare campus sentiment to that of the Vietnam era, sensing deep disquietude that is “very profound.”

And others see the potential for even more agitation.

“There has been more anxiety than there was at the beginning of Vietnam,” Hoffmann says.

But not everyone who was around for the infamous protests of the 1960s are looking to revive that legacy.

“I am not sure now of the wisdom of my opposition to the Vietnam War,” says Thernstrom, who led a Harvard teach-in against the war in the 1960s. “There was a naivete among those of us who opposed the war but did not foresee how terrible the [alternative] regime would be.”

Today, uncertainty over the future of the war is nearly all that unites Harvard’s divided campus.

“There will be a good many unintended consequences and the longer the war, the more it becomes unpredictable,” Kafadar says.

And Ignatieff says it is extremely difficult to predict the type of war this will be.

“[The result] does not depend on American shock or Blitzkrieg, but if Saddam has people willing to go down with him,” he says.

And as the nation readies itself for war, Harvard professors concede that the current situation is unprecedented.

“This will be the first of a different kind of war, one in which America as a sole superpower will intervene to test a doctrine,” Owen said. “We are treading on new ground.”

—Staff writer Jessica E. Vascellaro can be reached at

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