Representatives from across the political spectrum gathered yesterday for what was pegged as a "town hall" style debate on the question "how should we support our troops in times of war?" The event, sponsored and organized by the Cornell Political Coalition and moderated by Everet Yi '08, brought together representatives from the College Libertarians, Cornell College Republicans, Cornell Democrats, and the Ithaca branch of the International Socialist Organization.
Although the blackboard behind the panelists described the event as "a reaction to Cindy Sheehan's protest and yellow ribbons," the conversation quickly strayed to more general issues of patriotism, pull-out, and the Pentagon.
In his opening remarks, Brian Kwoba '04, representing the International Socialist Organization, accused the Pentagon of lying to get people to join the military.
"The Pentagon lies in terms of the justification for war and it lies in terms of what joining the military entails," he said. This sentiment was later echoed by Cornell Democrats president Mitch Fagen '07.
The Democrats and Socialists also agreed on the need for greater spending on equipment for soldiers and benefits for veterans. But they differed on the issue of how best to support the troops.
While Kwoba argued that "The best support is to bring our troops home - to make sure they don't die," the Democrats supported a continued presence in Iraq.
The only other support on the panel for immediate withdrawal from Iraq came from Andrew Loewer '09, the College Libertarians representative. Loewer presented the example of someone coming into your home, making a mess, breaking your things and killing your goldfish, then offering to stick around and clean up.
"Now do you want them to stay around and do that or do you want them to get the hell out of there?" he asked.
The question of pull-out, then, made odd bedfellows of the Democrats and Republicans sitting on the panel. Cornell Republican representative Nitin Chada '06 said that U.S. troops should only leave when "the Iraqi people have the capacity to protect themselves." He also dismissed the Democratic panelists' support of the occupation, saying that "We have here the anti-DNC DNC."
In fact, the Cornell Democrats did take a somewhat surprising course of attack. In his opening remarks, Democrats representative Mark Coombs '08 pushed aside the question of supporting the troops and turned instead to the issue of patriotism.
"I'm only gonna condemn one thing," promised Coombs, "and that is condemnation of other people's patriotism." Coombs told the audience that not only does he hail from Texas, but "I've got my daddy's Vietnam jacket over there in the corner."
Coombs returned many times to the issues of patriotism and his personal roots in Texas. When Nick Baldasaro grad, the other Cornell Republican representative, questioned whether most Northeast Ivy Leaguers could relate to troops largely drawn from places like Arkansas and Texas, Coombs said, "That's regionalism," to which Baldasaro responded, "Right, but it's also factualism." After the event, Coombs still expressed frustration with what he called the right wing's use of regionalism.
"I hear the language of alienation," he said. However, he was not surprised that the discussion had degenerated into personal attacks. "You get a whole bunch of guys in a line like this, and they go into full partisan throttle," he said. Coombs called for more non-partisan discussion on campus in the future.
Kwoba also criticized the format of the panel, and said he would have preferred a traditional debate format that stayed more focused on "the politics of war" instead of allowing for "personal attacks and nitpicking about stats."
But Chada was pleased with the level of discussion.
"I think people said the things that they came here to say, and it became a very intelligent exchange of ideas," he said. "I wish Congress looked like this."
Archived article by Samantha Henig