April 19, 2004
Campus experts discuss Iraq debacle
By Jennifer McNulty
It was a sobering discussion that took place last week when four UCSC
professors gathered to discuss the role of the United States in the
Middle East in the wake of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
The four panelists, who warned at a similar event more than a year
ago that a U.S. invasion would enrage the worlds Muslim population
and could degenerate into a military quagmire, shared a deep despair
as they discussed U.S. political and military options in the Middle
We should have understood what we were getting into, said
history professor Edmund Terry Burke. Nevertheless,
for those of us who opposed the war, it has now become our war. Just
pulling out is not a solution, even though it might make us feel a lot
better about what weve done.
Burke was joined by sociology professor Paul Lubeck, environmental
studies professor Alan Richards, and politics professor Ronnie Lipschutz
for the discussion, "After the Iraqi Debacle: Toward a New U.S.
Foreign Policy in the Muslim World," sponsored by the UCSC Center
for Global, International and Regional Studies. About 100 people attended
As Iraqi resistance to the U.S. military presence grows, the Bush
administration must seek a negotiated settlement that will keep Iraq
from disintegrating into civil war, the panelists agreed. But there
is no backing away from the consequences of an ill-conceived invasion
that has enraged Muslims around the world, they emphasized.
The Bush administrations rationale for the invasion--the notion
that the United States could democratize the Middle East--was deeply
deluded and profoundly dangerous, said Richards, who was invited
to give a presentation during spring break to 300 uniformed officers
at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania.
Hearing no dissenting views, Richards told the UCSC audience that,
There are a lot of people in the U.S. armed forces who understand
exactly how crazy this thing is.
The incendiary demographics of the Muslim world include a population
of more than 300 million people, two-thirds of whom are under 30 years
old, and little economic opportunity. Unemployment levels are high,
urban living conditions are deplorable, and government leaders are incompetent
and corrupt, said Richards. Against this backdrop of social despair,
horrific wartime images of American bombing and Iraqi civilian casualties
are being broadcast around the world, fomenting hatred.
Throughout the region, everything we do is in a fishbowl,
said Richards. Every U.S. action threatens to antagonize the largest
population of young Arabs the world has ever known--a population that
is very deeply angry.
Our actions fuel their anger, he said. It is delusional
to think that outsiders can fix the problems inside their society.
Echoing Lubecks comment that the U.S. invasion was a move right
out of Osama Bin Ladens playbook, Richards cautioned that
a generation of young Middle Eastern men with very little to lose
are turning to Islamic fundamentalism and embracing its anti-American
This problem is political, not military, Richards said
of the chaos in Iraq. There is no such thing as a military solution.
We cant dictate forms of governance to other parts of the world.
For the Bush administration, the deterioration of the situation in
Iraq could have dire political consequences in Novembers presidential
election, observed Lipschutz. American troops are at risk, and
the Bush administration cant afford an upsurge in casualties,
All four speakers agreed that chances are slim that the U.S. will meet
the June 30 deadline to hand over power in Iraq to a sovereign government.
The best scenario I can come up with is to find a credible, legitimate
intermediary to establish negotiations with representatives of the various
groups in Iraq, said Lipschutz, floating the possibility that
the European Union could play such a role. But because of the
Bush administrations unwillingness to admit mistakes, I think
it would be extraordinarily difficult for them to agree to something
Establishing elections in Iraq wont be easy either, cautioned
Richards. Elections require security, but you cant have
security without a legitimate government, and you cant have a
legitimate government without elections, he said.
This is not the first time Iraq has been occupied by a foreign power,
noted Burke, who recounted the period of British rule that preceded
Iraqs 1958 revolution and the political, social, and economic
convulsions that accompanied the subsequent booming oil years.
Despite the medias focus on Iraqs ethnic cleavages, class
conflicts are at least as important, if not more important,
said Burke. When you combine the real deprivations of 10 years
of sanctions, plus recent U.S. actions, you see that their society is
in real difficulty. We should not be surprised by the major social movements
that are emerging.
Calling for a return to U.S. foreign policy based on multilateralism,
Lipschutz quipped, It wasnt very exciting, and I had trouble
teaching it to my students, but it was a serviceable foreign policy.
Yes, lets dust that off, responded Richards.
The panel discussion was sponsored by the Globalization and Islamic
Social Movements working group of the UCSC Center for Global, International
and Regional Studies.
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