October 15, 2004

11 CU Profs Sign Letter Criticizing Iraq Policies

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The group Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy released an open letter to the American people this week which criticizes the Bush administration’s policy on the war in Iraq. The letter, written by Prof. Stuart J. Kaufman, international relations, University of Delaware, was signed by more than 700 experts on international relations and national security including 11 Cornell government professors.

“Significant improvements are needed in our strategy in Iraq and the implementation of that strategy,” the letter stated. “We call urgently for an open debate … informed by attention to the facts on the ground in Iraq, the facts of al-Qaida’s methods and strategies, and sober attention to American interests and values.”

“I think that the war in Iraq is just a major foreign policy disaster,” said Prof. Nicholas van de Walle, government, who was among the 11 at Cornell signing the letter. “Even if sincere, honest people could have believed there was a need to go to war… you [have to admit that] the situation is getting worse now. A change of course, and a change of military strategy has been necessary for over a year.”

Both van de Walle and Prof. Jonathan Kirshner, government, who also signed the letter, were impressed that so many scholars agreed on the letter’s contents. Kirshner said that he was “very surprised” at the “cross-section of international relations scholars” who signed the letter. Considering the frequent disagreement over policy issues within the international relations community, Kirshner said, “650 international relations scholars is not just a large number — it is shocking that they all agree on this letter.”

Some University scholars, including Prof. Barry Strauss ’74, history, disagreed with the letter’s central contention that the Bush administration’s foreign policy was in need of change.

“The Bush administration’s strategy on the war on terrorism is fundamentally correct,” Strauss said. “We have to stay on the offensive.”

Six of the last seven presidents of the American Political Science Association signed the letter, as did several former staff members from the Pentagon, the State Department and the National Security Council.

But Prof. Jeremy Rabkin ’74, government, was unimpressed by the long list of signatories. He questioned whether many of the scholars really had much relevant expertise in “Arab or Islamic politics.”

“They might as well have rounded up professors of comparative literature who were against the war,” he said. “In evaluating military tactics in Afghanistan or political consequences in the Arab world, they have no special authority at all.” Rabkin also suggested that the letter’s authors were driven by political motives. “This has nothing to do with policy-making, this is electioneering,” he said. “I don’t think that this adds to the credibility of university professors which was not all that high to begin with.”

Kirshner, however, drew attention to what he said were “a good number of pretty conservative names on this list.”

One of the letter’s main contentions is that the Bush administration offered many justifications for the war, particularly in relation to Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction programs, which it stated, “have been proven untrue by credible studies.”

Kirshner emphasized that he did not think the Bush administration knew about the lack of WMD in Iraq when they made the case for war.

“I do think that the Bush administration acted in good faith when they anticipated that we’d find WMD’s in Iraq. The intelligence failure leading up to the war was unambiguously bipartisan, dating well back into the Clinton administration,” he said.

Van de Walle agreed with Kirshner that the Bush administration sincerely believed that Iraq posed a threat, but faulted what he called a “rush to war” by the administration.

“I don’t think they were hypocritical, I just think they were naive and ideologically driven,” he said. “It was laughable that Cheney and others were saying that the U.S. would be treated as conquering heroes. That was impossibly naive.” Another topic addressed by the letter was American respect within the Arab world: “American actions in Iraq, including but not limited to the scandal of Abu Ghraib, have harmed the reputation of the U.S. in most parts of the Middle East and, according to polls, made Osama Bin Laden more popular in some countries than is President Bush,” the letter stated.

Strauss acknowledged that “it’s probably true that Osama is more popular than President Bush in some countries,” but argued that “wars are not just popularity contests.”

“One of the questions is whether America will have a better reputation by helping Arab states create democratic regimes or with a hands off policy,” he added.

Rabkin agreed that the question of America’s reputation within the Middle East was a difficult one. But Bin Laden was popular in the Arab world even before the war in Iraq he said. He called suggestions that “there would have been some alternate way to do [the Iraq war] which would have kept us popular” both “very misleading,” and “a little disingenuous.”

The full text of the letter and a list of the signatories is available online at www.sensibleforeignpolicy.net/letter.html.

Archived article by Elijah Reichlin-Melnick
Sun Staff Writer