Last Thursday, the Foreign Affairs Symposium held a panel discussion in Shriver Hall entitled "U.S., Iraq, and the War on Terrorism." The discussion featured three prominent authorities on the issue of Iraq, including a former U.N. weapons inspector and an ambassador to Iraq. The controversial discussion focused on the issue of U.S. foreign policy toward Iraq in light of economic sanctions, Saddam Hussein and the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. Following the lectures, the floor was opened for a panel discussion which quickly escalated into a heated debate between the speakers and members of the audience.
Scott Ritter, former U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector to Iraq, began the discussion with a lecture entitled "Understanding the Roots of Terrorism: Iraq as a Case Study." In his lecture, Ritter identified the Bush administration's intent to remove Saddam Hussein from power as a "cornerstone of American policy in regards to Iraq," and the continuation of a political process that began with America's involvement with Iraq during the Gulf War.
Ritter criticized the U.S. government for instigating and maintaining a subversive attitude toward Hussein after the invasion of Kuwait in the early 1990s. "Although the rest of the world went to war against Iraq in 1990, 1991 to achieve the liberation of Kuwait, the United States went to war to confront evil, personified by the person of Saddam Hussein." This attitude, claimed Ritter, has been the basis of U.S. foreign policy toward Iraq for the past decade. The former Bush administration, he stated, "defined victory terms to the U.S. as a state in which evil is eliminated."
Regarding the current issue in Iraq, Ritter described the U.S. foreign policy toward Iraq and the economic sanctions imposed after the Gulf War as a policy of containment. Over the past decade, he said, these sanctions simply have become a means of containing Hussein until a way can be found to remove the dictator from power. As a former weapons inspector, Ritter testified that weapons inspections in Iraq "were only convenient to the United States so long as they supported its policy of containment, its policy of isolation, its policy of subversion of Saddam Hussein."
In regards to the disarmament of biological and chemical weapons in Iraq, Ritter criticized the Bush administration's policy of rejecting anything less than 100 percent disarmament as an unfair and unrealistic goal. "One hundred percent of anything is almost impossible. Ninety to 95 percent is very good."
The second speaker, Ambassador Edward Peck, heartily supported Ritter's stance towards the U.S. policy and Iraq. In a lecture entitled "Doing It All Wrong in the Middle East: An Effort to Provoke Thought, Not People," he asked the rhetorical question, "Why aren't we talking to Iraq?"
In his lecture, Peck referred to the American people as practicing what he called "dynamic hypocrisy." Citing the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, he reflected on the U.S. policy of isolationism in regards to Iraq in light of its involvement in the diplomatic issues of other nations. "We're not asking them to intermarry or go to each other's cocktail parties. We're here to say, 'Hey, talk.' Because if you talk, there's a chance that you will find your way out of the box."
Peck's lecture quickly turned to the more serious issue of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. "Iraqis want to get out from under the economic sanctions which have resulted in unparalleled disaster for the Iraqi people." He cited Leslie Stahl's on-site recording of destroyed sewage plants and water intake facilities in Iraq that was released in the 1990s; the health problems caused by the destruction of these facilities indirectly led to the deaths of thousands of Iraqi children. Peck recounted the response of Madeleine Albright when she was presented with Stahl's video.
"The world looks at this video and sees that the American ambassador to the United Nations does not quibble about the numbers and accepts responsibility when they recognize that we are doing savagely nasty, unforgivable crime."
In the final lecture, Erik Gustafson, Executive Director of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center, further discussed the implications of the humanitarian crisis due to the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq. In placing the blame, Gustafson pointed to the U.S., Iraq, and the U.N. security council, stating that the economic sanctions that prevented Iraq from selling oil in turn denied Iraq needed revenue and led to catastrophic suffering among the Iraqi people.
In light of Sept. 11, Gustafson expressed concern over U.S. involvement with Iraq. "Security concerns will always trump humanitarian aid," he warned, stating that the Iraqi people are not a factor in policy-making decisions.
Following the lectures, the floor was opened for questions and a panel discussion. The discussion reflected the emotional tensions that surround the issue of Iraq, especially in light of the Sept. 11 attacks and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One audience member asked a question regarding recent payments by Hussein to the families of suicide bombers; the issue quickly escalated into an intense emotional drama between the speaker and the panelists. At one point, members of the audience were on their feet, yelling at the speaker, who was quickly escorted out of the auditorium by security to shouts of "Get out!" from the audience. "The gentleman reflects some of the difficulties in these issues," said Peck, "because they become extremely emotional, and while there's nothing wrong with emotion, they do tend to cloud rational dialogue.