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Experts discuss future of war-ravaged Iraq

Marcela Berrios | Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Almost three years after the United States overthrew Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in Iraq, three Notre Dame scholars with opposing viewpoints met again in the auditorium of the Hesburgh Center for International Studies Tuesday to address the question “Iraq: What Now? Should the U.S. withdraw, stay the course, or engage more deeply?”

The panel of experts included the commanding officer of Notre Dame’s Army ROTC program, Lt. Col. Kelly Jordan, Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies faculty associate and assistant political science professor Daniel Lindley and senior fellow for the Kroc Institute and political science professor George Lopez.

Jordan spoke in favor of the United States’ present strategy concerning involvement in the reconstruction and democratization of Iraq.

Lindley argued in favor of a firm yet more analytically studied American presence in Iraq.

Finally, Lopez suggested the incapability of the Bush administration to fully comprehend Iraq’s current state of political turmoil, and argued a continued involvement in Iraqi affairs would not facilitate or hasten the war-torn country’s transition into democracy.

Each panelist was given 10 minutes to explain and defend his respective viewpoint.

Jordan stressed the importance of understanding that a secure, politically stable and democratic Iraq is a long-term goal, and that through the current condition-based policies being implemented, the United States is helping Iraq slowly move toward that state.

He emphasized the United States’ close monitoring and study of statistics and figures – such as the number of car bombs diffused every day and the country’s growing GDP – to understand the Iraqi political and economic situation.

Jordan also urged the general public to realize that a nation emerging from decades of oppressive authoritarian rule cannot be rebuilt overnight, and a lasting victory in Iraq will not come with one decisive event, but rather slowly with time’s passing.

“There will be no battleship Missouri in this war,” said Jordan, referring to the site of Japan’s formal surrender to the United States after World War II.

Lindley, the second panelist to take the podium, followed Jordan’s remarks by also urging the general public to realize that a precipitated withdrawal of American troops from Iraq would only propel the Middle Eastern country into a complete civil war.

He stressed the significance of a secure and politically stable Iraq in a global setting.

“When countries feel insecure about their neighbors, they want to sleep with bigger guns under their pillows,” said Lindley, regarding the international response that might follow if Iraq’s present internal conflicts continue to escalate.

Lindley suggested that to maintain order in the region, the United States must restructure its forces and concentrate on key locations, such as oil-rich areas, to avoid fighting sporadic battles that do not substantially advance the effort to maintain peace in the country.

He predicted, however, that the steadily declining approval rate of the American people towards continued involvement in Iraq will force the Bush administration to withdraw some of its armed forces – though he said it is clear Iraqi nationalism is still not strong enough to hold the country together on its own.

Lopez took the podium to refute Lindley’s argument that a persistent American presence in Iraq could considerably facilitate the country’s democratization.

Lopez argued the United States should not send any more troops to the region because its intelligence and strategy fail to fully grasp the reality of the Iraqi people or recognize that the country has entered a phase in its history that will now run its course regardless of any military interventions to end the conflict.

He compared the Iraqi turmoil to that of Afghanistan and Colombia, where deep divisions between different groups have led to decades of violence, kidnappings, daily attacks and unrest within the countries’ respective borders.

Lopez said the United States armed forces are not able to contain the daily violence, which has not substantially decreased despite achievements such as the constitutional referendum and the recent democratic elections.

Like Lindley, he said the current strategy toward Iraq is not an effective one – but chiefly because it fails to understand the complexity of the country’s political state and because the motives that drive decision-makers in Washington are entirely political.

“We’re in a political war, my friends,” Lopez said. “This war is not about the safety of Iraq anymore, but about our coming elections.”

Students and professors who attended the discussion applauded the eloquent and well-researched arguments of the three panelists.

Kroc Institute graduate student John Filson said he thought the discussion had certain limitations to take into consideration.

“One thing that I think really limits this debate, and that we must all recognize, is that we cannot speak on behalf of the Iraqis,” Filson said. “A lot of people here today spoke about what the Iraqi people want and need, but this is speaking from a perspective we can’t possibly have.”

Other students said the topic of the panel should be important to all citizens, especially students.

“Each viewpoint exposed was very well defended, and only makes us all realize that regardless of whether or not you originally supported the war, it is crucial that we all think about the position in which we’ve put our country, and the Iraqis’ country as well,” freshman Michael Angulo said.

“What will happen next with Iraq is everybody’s concern, and not just that of politicians and legislators in Washington,” sophomore Joe Murphy said. “I believe students need to become involved in our country’s decision-making process now more than ever, because the stakes are really high.”