October 23, 2003

Strauss '74 Debates Katzenstein on Bush

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Prof. Barry Strauss ’74, history, and Prof. Peter Katzenstein, government, engaged in a political debate titled “The Bush Administration’s Foreign Policy Strategy and Iraq: Pro and Con,” sponsored by the Cornell Political Forum in McGraw Hall yesterday.

An audience packed with students and fellow colleagues eagerly anticipated the discussion as Strauss began the debate by expressing the gains he feels the Bush administration has made in Iraq thus far and also responding to critics that have claimed the Iraqi conflict is reminiscent of the Vietnam War.

“You’ve been told that this war represents everything bad — that it is illegal, immoral and racist. I’m not persuaded by any of this for a minute — we’ve made the people of Iraq more free,” Strauss said.

“Slowly and surely we are winning this war — Iraq is not like Vietnam,” he added.

According to Strauss, Saddam Hussein was not a threat to the United States because of the possibility of nuclear weapons but because of his overall plan. Strauss stressed that Hussein wanted to outwait the nuclear inspectors in Iraq until they were forced to leave with no credible evidence of destructive weaponry, and in exorcizing the Western oppressors, proclaim himself the champion of the Arab world.

Conversely, Katzenstein claimed that although nearly everyone in America thought weapons of mass destruction were available to Iraq, the link to al-Qaida and Iraq was and continues to be weak. According to Katzenstein, these two points were deceptively overstated in order to garner popular support for the war.

The professors later touched on the contentious issue of the legitimacy in the global context of waging war on Iraq. Strauss observed that the United States attempted to seek approval from the United Nations before intervening in Iraq, but that the U.N. is simply too outdated — that it is stuck in a 1938 mentality where France is seen as a major power but Germany is not, he said.

Katzenstein refuted Strauss’s argument, stating, “I believe firmly that the President would have gotten a majority of the U.N. Security Council.”

The foreign policy error that President George W. Bush made, according to Katzenstein, was that he rushed into war and did not wait at least six to eight months to let inspectors exhaust their duties.

“In terms of legitimacy, this foreign policy is a disaster. It is wrong to fight right away with military arms and it is wrong to wait for too long,” Katzenstein said.

According to Katzenstein, it is no surprise that the States were unable to establish more bases of support in Europe for the war on Iraq because terrorism is not uncommon in Europe. He claims that America, not the world, changed when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked and a commercial jetliner crashed onto a field outside Pittsburgh; the U.S. merely experienced a taste of what the rest of the world has suffered through for centuries, he said.

Conflict ensues, according to Katzenstein, when a superpower unilaterally forces the rest of the world to conform to its views, in this case, the U.S. attacking Iraq partially in response to Sept. 11.

To Strauss, the issue for the U.S. in relation to global politics is not forced conformity but self-defense. He staunchly defended the U.S. position in Iraq as not only a keeper of the peace and liberator for the Iraqi people but also as evidence to terrorist networks that the U.S. will react with as much force as necessary when it is attacked.

While Strauss claimed that the use of force would deter future terrorists, he also warned, “The terror networks have been set back but not put out of business.”

On the home front, the Iraqi campaign was not a result of companies like Halliburton seeking protection of highly remunerative oil contracts, but about the realities of war, according to Strauss. War is simply a fact of life, he said, and sometimes, “there is no choice — Iraq was one of those times.”

Katzenstein pointed out what he said was an oft-overlooked consequence of the Bush administration’s decision to take the warpath: the opportunity costs to third-world nations. In Africa, 3,000 children die each day from completely preventable malaria while the U.S. spends two-thirds of its economic aid in Iraq. This is not to say, according to Katzenstein, that the U.S. should not help the Iraqi people build a legitimate government, but that the Bush administration should not have engaged in an expensive battle without examining the global consequences.

Strauss rebutted that perhaps Europe should invest more in the welfare of Africa, to which Katzenstein pointed out that Europe currently spends two to three times as much there as does America.

There were points during the question-and-answer session following each professor’s opening statements when passions flowed freely from the audience to the debaters, particularly when Strauss claimed that the Iraqi people are jubilant to have the “Yankees” assist them in achieving democracy.

An audience member exclaimed in disagreement to Strauss’s assessment of the Iraqi populace, and the audience rustled with commotion.

Daniel Braun ’04, president of the Cornell Political Forum, was the moderator of the debate.

Archived article by Clark Merrefield