Govt. professors spar on invasion of Iraq

by Jenn Coffey | 5/24/02 5:00am

Government professors Allan Stam and Daryl Press debated the appropriateness of a U.S. invasion of Iraq Thursday night to a packed crowd at the Rockefeller Center.

Although both agreed on the necessity of reducing resentment toward the United States in the Middle East, Press argued for a policy of containment, while Stam affirmed the need for an American attack.

Stam focused on the possible gains that might follow the switch in Iraq from a "brutal dictatorship to a liberal regime," which would presumably occur in the wake of a U.S. victory.

Such a victory, according to Stam, would create an example of a liberal regime in a region where there are none, allow the United States to more credibly pressure Israel to abandon their settlements in the West Bank, help bring Russia into the western alliance and reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

While Press agreed that there could be substantial gains in the event of a U.S. victory over Iraq, he cautioned that there might also be substantial losses.

An Iraqi invasion "raises risks that are disproportionate to the gains," Press said.

Stam disagreed, saying a war begun now would be a war to protect U.S. national interests, which he believes justifies the costs involved.

While these interests were also threatened prior to the Persian Gulf War in 1991, Stam argued that many problems have yet to be solved.

"On every issue, aside from liberating Kuwait," the United States lost the Gulf War, Stam said.

Economic sanctions and military presence in Iraq have also failed to alleviate concerns and have even emboldened Saddam Hussein in his attempts to develop nuclear weapons.

According to Stam, the United States must act because Iraq is now a threat to material interests in this country in addition to being "an ongoing threat to our interests in the Middle East."

Press divided his own list of possible risks into two categories -- likely short-term risks and likely mid- to long-term risks.

Among his list of short-term risks was the possibility of high U.S. military casualties.

Press admitted that the United States has "no reason to fear the bulk of the Iraqi army," but warned that this war would be different from the Gulf War and might result in more American deaths.

He also pointed out that there would probably be at least one civilian casualty for every military one, meaning that somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 Iraqi civilians would also lose their lives.

In response to this, Stam drew an analogy between the current situation and the attack on Pearl Harbor that resulted in World War II.

Press replied by pointing out that Japan attacked the United States, but on "September 11 somebody attacked us -- but it wasn't Iraq."

For Press the answer to the Iraqi problem is to let the corrupt regime collapse under its own weight by following a policy of containment.

"It's not sexy. It's not quick ... but it worked 50 years ago with the Soviet Union" and it would probably work in Iraq, Press said.

Stam disagreed, pointing out that many of the world's current problems are a result of the Cold War policy of containment and the brutal dictatorships that remained in existence under that policy.

The debate was sponsored by the Dartmouth World Affairs Council.