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Campus forum: Audience question-and-answer session

This a transcript of the concluding question-and-answer session from the forum of UC Berkeley faculty experts convened at Zellerbach Hall on April 1, 2003, to discuss the war with Iraq. The forum was moderated by David Leonard, dean of International and Area Studies, and the participants were Nezar AlSayyad, Chair of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies; Thomas G. Barnes, history and law professor; David D. Caron, law professor; Laura Nader, social cultural anthropology professor; Steve Weber, political science professor; and Janet Yellen, economics and business administration professor.

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Leonard: The first question that we have here asks for a comment on the legality of this war according to the U.S. Constitution. Did Congress write a blank check with its October resolution? David, perhaps this is your department.

Caron: If I can just intercede, I do need to make a comment on the very helpful remarks by Steve Weber, who raises a very central issue of our time, which is where are we going as a matter of world order? It's clear that changes are needed. He mentioned these three pillars to this new order, and if I could just focus on that for a second because there's a tone to this order that is very important to catch. It's tough people thinking, making hard choices, doing what's best for everybody. They may be Wilsonian . I think they would also say they're realists. I think most realists would say that it's hard to be a realist, it's hard to see what's really important in any moment. A basic tenet of realism is that ideologies, whether it's a commitment to the United Nations or commitment to a certain political ideology can blind one to what is in international interest. I would assert that this current group of realists are blind to the value of cooperation, of persuasion, of listening. And in doing so they are hurting our national interest. To me, the gratuitous injury that has been done to alienate allies is rather astounding.

Read the complete remarks by:
Chancellor Berdahl
Nezar AlSayyad
Thomas G. Barnes
David D. Caron
Laura Nader
Steve Weber
Janet Yellen

The second point was, the third pillar of this new order was to reconfigure the multilateral institutions. I totally agree - they are aging. I myself have looked at progressive reform and radical reform. What is startling again is there is no proposal, none - to the extent we withdraw, we withdraw and offer nothing. Whether in some cases it's minor, and it's totally understandable in my view to withdraw from the Kyoto process of climate change, it is unforgivable to not offer an alternative.

I in no way attribute this to my colleague Steve Weber, as I know it would be totally inappropriate to attribute this to him - he is quoting others when he says it is somewhat ridiculous on the Security Council that Gabon and Angola should be holding some sort of veto. First of all, we never had even a majority vote in that council. But what's more important is that those statements, particularly singling out the African countries, has come from a number of conservative thinkers. I find it very startling. That statement would not be made about South American countries equally small, about Asian countries. The way the voting works, if Africa wishes, if a continent of millions of people wishes, to put several countries by their own internal decision-making on that council, that is their choice.

This radical transformation, and I totally agree with Professor Weber, is Wilsonian. It is an engagement in the world that in one sense is to be admired and welcomed. But I would raise that it must be recognized that our nation is somewhat bipolar in this century, and far more time has been spent in isolationism. We have had a tendency to lurch from one to another. I am not altogether sure that we are ready in making such a committed course that they are anticipating, that the course will in fact reverse quite dramatically over the coming decade.

The question was about the legality under the US Constitution and whether what the President has undertaken is legal. There was a resolution from the Congress supporting it. I would say, and I suppose the Administration would argue, that it didn't even need that, but they did get it. What I think is striking is the breadth of the original resolution that was requested. The resolution that's given is broad. And it is always dangerous to give too much. There's an old saying that I would hesitate to commit if I did not watch what I committed to. In this case the original resolution would have led into potentially Chancellor Berdahl's questions about what wars might we look forward to. This one is more directed but it does give the President a great deal of discretion.

Leonard: Professor Caron commented on several things that relate to the next set of questions and I think I'm going to use this opportunity to draw on other opinions here. There are questions asking about the future of U.S.-European relations, about the future of NATO - whether it will play a role in good governance and development - and what will be the role of Europe in this postwar era? Most of Europe has opted out of this particular conflict, but it's a large and powerful continent. What will be its role in the future? So with Europe as the focus of our thoughts, what do we see in the shape of a postwar set of institutions and relations? Professor Weber has already urged upon us that it will be different, but how? Professor Barnes?

Barnes: Yes, I'd like to take a crack at that. I think that the present discontent with Europe from the American perspective and the Administration's perspective are probably pretty short term. That is to say, there will be a great deal of business as usual in all of those sorts of areas in which the United States and most European nations interface. I think where there are three probable important changes, one of which has to do with the crack that [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld made which brought down a great deal of public approbation on him, speaking of the "Old Europe." France's policy, from at least the Second World War, certainly in spades at the beginning of the Fifth Republic and since the expulsion of American military forces from France in 1963, has been to try and reduce American influence on the continent of Europe as far as possible, in great part to facilitate the rapprochement between France and Germany, and of course the growth of the European Union under French and German auspices. And France, in this respect, has no intention in fact of playing second fiddle to Germany.

The problem is because of the fissure within the NATO order. Because of French opposition, largely, and also secondarily Germany, the peripheral states of Europe - and they are west and east, they include the old Warsaw Pact countries, they include Spain and to a very large extent, Italy, to some extent the Netherlands, and I'll skip over Belgium, and Denmark, as well as Britain, no matter how you want to look at it - that opposition has tended to press those nations to look more and more to the United States for its particular interests, protecting its interest against a Franco-German hegemony. Now whether this translates into problems within the European community or not, who knows. One notices that the day before yesterday, the so-called European military force, 300 strong, is now taking over peacekeeping duties in Macedonia, relying very heavily on the French, who provided the 300 troops. Whether or not there will be any substitute for NATO, insofar as NATO is still important, primarily to protect Germany from the Russians and to keep Germany under control, what the future holds for NATO is very unclear. And I think the French helped to make it less clear.

The relationship between the United States and France is going to be bumpy for a bit, but I don't think this is a matter of falling out with great allies. France is going to look out for its own interests and almost inevitably this is going to conflict with American interests, especially insofar as America is a major power in the world,

Leonard: What would happen if the U.S. stops the war or loses it?

Nader: If the U.S. stops the war, we could use the money for education and national health insurance!

Barnes: Let me take a counter to that. Fundamentally something happened on September 11, 2001. I spent a lot of time talking to Canadians, you know those guys up there. I was impressed that people who so closely identify with us, and they really do, came out with their hearts and arms open in the aftermath of 9/11. Their Prime Minister even voiced the sentiment, "Friends, neighbors, family" - very few nations say that about another. Even the Canadians don't realize how fundamentally changed U.S. has been by 9/11. Our vulnerability is clear and evident. That is what the preemptive doctrine is intended to do, to make it less vulnerable. That's why American security is indeed involved in whether Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. And North Korea also. I think Bush understands this. I think a great many Americans understand this, at least implicitly. I don't think yet anybody else in the world does yet - maybe Tony Blair. But I really wonder if other people do.

This is what is going to drive American foreign policy for a very long period of time. It's what makes even the thought of losing this war unthinkable.

Leonard: Any other comments in response to this question?

Caron: If you travel to the East Coast or Washington, I totally agree with what Tom Barnes said. The perception of risk is very strong, and I would link it to what Professor Weber was saying, that the radical transformation that's taking place makes the risk greater, particularly for the U.S. There's sort of an irony here that in moving away from multilateralism it is the United States that acts, it is the United States that in multilateral circles is the one most at risk; the others don't feel it in the same way. It's hard to convince them of the risk. So the perception of risk, no matter how real, is felt very strongly in Washington.

Nader: I think we need to remember that the term blowback was invented by the CIA in the 1950s, if the US continued to do the kind of things it was doing abroad some of it eventually was going to come back to haunt us. Chalmers Johnson, the political scientist who used to teach here at Berkeley, wrote a book the year before 9/11 called "Blowback," in which he again elaborated why a 9/11 might happen because of U.S. foreign intrigues abroad. So if we're vulnerable, we can't act like we had nothing to do with having created that vulnerability.

AlSayyad: Nobody really wins war. I think what prevails in the end is a particular vision of a world order in which supposedly the victors wanted, and are going to enforce. I actually worry about winning a war that while it may be justifiable, is unjust. What will it do to us, to win such a war? (applause)

Leonard: The next question is what does the failure of the U.S. to win full Turkish support tell us about the future of our relationships with the Muslim world?

Nader: The Turkish issue is complicated. Most of us want to think they turned us down for good reasons, that they don't want the Americans on their land. But there's some worry that maybe the Turks don't want us in Turkey because they want to do what they want to do with the Kurds. It's unclear what Turkey's turning us down means today.

Caron: One thing I find striking about the old arrangement, the effort to get Turkey to vote for that was the willingness of this Administration to push one of the few democracies of this region to the very limit of that democracy.

Leonard: I think there's another side to this question that I don't want to ignore, which is asking more broadly about basically whether we're gong to be able to have real allies in the Muslim world as a consequence in this war.

Weber: I think that has to do more with what project or what institution they're being asked to sign up for, and in this case, because that project is so extraordinarily ambitious and risky, the price goes up, up, up, up, up, and it may be that what happened in Turkey was that the United States simply couldn't afford to pay that price: $18 billion might not have been enough.

Barnes: I'd like to be able to say that I agree with Laura Nader, David Caron, and also Steve Weber on this one all the way around! I think Turkey is in fact not involved with this because of the Kurds, at the same time I think it's quite a testimony that Turkey is sufficiently democratic that it would so refuse our, how would one say, blandishments. That doesn't mean the blandishments were wrong, that's not the point.

AlSayyad: I'd like to address the issue of what this will do to our relationship with the Muslim world. [Egypt's President] Hosni Mubarak, another Middle Eastern dictator of sorts very much supported by our government in Egypt, made a statement which I find to be very, very true. So despite who he is, I will repeat the statement. He said, "Before 9/11, there was one Bin Laden. After the attack on Iraq, there will be a thousand Bin Ladens." I think that's a very true statement. It's a very negative consequence of this war.

I think the fact that we did not anticipate that the Iraqis would resort to suicide bombing tactic was a grave error. It has something to do with the fact that the wars of the 21st century are no longer going to be the same kind of wars that we were used to in the 20th century. And that is mainly the case because people don't value their lives anymore. They have gotten to a point where there's absolutely nothing to lose. So in a sense suicide bombers are essentially weapons of mass destruction. What do we do with them? Do we go and decimate an entire people because all of them can be suicide bombers at any given time? I fear that that is precisely where we are headed because of our relationship with the Muslim world. We didn't take into account how ordinary Muslims would react to this war against a country that is fundamentally Muslim, despite the fact that Saddam Hussein is as secular as they come. But Baghdad occupies a major place in the history of Islam and of the Arab world.

All these are important elements to take into account when you start the war. We were so impatient, it was very important for us to start the new world order and the new American empire that none of these things counted. We as citizens of this country unfortunately have to pay that price. It won't be the Bush Administration; it won't be there to pay the price.

Leonard: Next question cites AlSayyad's statement that this war should have been pursued by the Iraqi people and not by the U.S., but asks could we in fact ask the Iraqis to rise up against Saddam Hussein when dissenters are jailed, tortured and executed?

AlSayyad: That's a very good question, and it's a question that's often actually asked in the Arab world. To what extent can we actually talk about a population that is under extremely oppressive regimes exercising any degree of free will or control. There are forms of resistance in the sense the Iraqis today are engaged in suicide bombing to defend their country. One could argue that they should have rebelled equally against the regime of Saddam Hussein. You often hear the argument that in the 90s, partic after the first Gulf War, we failed to help them, we failed to help the Shiites of the south. I don't believe we failed to help the Shiites of the south. It was not necessarily to our advantage to help them strategically. The Shiites of the south, a considerable number of them still owe their allegiance to the Ayatollah regime in Iran. And that specific connection is very dangerous for us. We could not take the risk of supporting a group of people that if, in a sense we'd manage to make the Kurds a somewhat independent state up in the north, could we also have another state in the south that we would not have equal control over as we do technically with the Kurdistan of Iraq.

So I think that basically our effort - I cannot imagine that as a powerful country, we did not have the means to remove Saddam Hussein from power, I just cannot imagine that. I cannot imagine that the entire American military establishment and the entire operation of intelligence, could not identify or locate him and his sons. If that's what we're after now, why weren't after them in the last 12 years?

Barnes: The answer to that is very simple. We did not pursue Saddam Hussein to the end as we should have, I think, in 1991, I say that only on retrospect because I didn't say it at the time. President George Herbert Walker Bush took the sanctions, etc. etc., took us to war to expel the Iraqis from Kuwait, to protect Western interests to be sure in terms of oil and two other points, all enunciated in November of 1990, and once we had accomplished that after five days of ground action, correctly we ceased and desisted. We had done exactly what we were supposed to do.

We got into a bad situation with respect to the Shia rising in the south, precisely because we were not careful enough to get the ground rules straight at the time of the armistice that allowed Saddam Hussein to continue to use helicopters and other aircraft, in fact to shoot up anybody he wished to in the south. We did encourage the Shia to rise, we did not come to their aid, and I think in one sense for perfectly good reasons, but it wasn't a matter of policy, it wasn't with the intention of not strengthening our relationship between the Shia and the Iranians, it came I'm afraid through some very ghastly and tragic mistakes, some that were totally inadvertent, especially the deal that [General Norman] Schwarzkopf cut with the negotiators for the armistice of the five-day war.

Leonard: Got a question for you, Professor Yellen. Is there a dollar amount that can be placed on the benefit of having a stable Middle East?

Yellen: I certainly would hate to place any dollar amount on that, but Steve Weber said in his presentation that this war is about oil. I wouldn't agree with that in any narrow sense, such as the sense that our objective is to plunder Iraq's oil or to help American oil companies or reduce our dependence on Saudi Arabian oil, but I do think that increased stability in the Gulf region, where 30 percent of oil production is based, is a strategic interest of the United States. Oil is very important, I tried to give an example of the impact it has on economies, and it's not just our own economy, it's also Europe's economy, Japan's, the economies of Asia and China. Oil is something that has the potential to disrupt economic activity across the globe. So no, certainly I can't put a dollar figure on it, but I do agree that increased stability in the Gulf region is a motive, and that it is seen as a strategic interest and that it has economic effects that are important.

Leonard: We've kept you the audience for nearly two ours now, and therefore I'm going to turn to my colleagues and find out whether any of them have any burning last words of wisdom that they feel they must unburden themselves of before we release you to the cool evening.

Nader: I find that both the discussion and the questions interesting because they're so self-centered in a way. The questions are centered on the U.S., Europe, the future economic situation here and so forth, and not much curiosity about the people that we're presently bombing. Who were referred to my friend Mr. Weber, as a sideshow.


Leonard: Well apparently you have witnessed a world-shaking event, which is a group of seven professor who have nothing more to say. And with that, we thank you all very much and bid you good evening.