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Photo by Jim Graham

 

Two days after the September 11 attacks on the United States, Dr. Harvey Sicherman G’67 Gr’71 wrote a brief, trenchant analysis of the “Bleak New World” facing the United States. Sketching the new geopolitical landscape in the Middle East, he wrote: “As for Iraq (or the Taliban in Afghanistan), only hot lead and cold steel are likely to make any impression.”

It was a characteristically blunt and tough-minded appraisal by Sicherman, who has served as director of the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) since 1993. It was also apposite: Unless something changes quickly (I write this in early February), Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is about to get a harsh taste of those metals.

Sicherman is in a sense the intellectual heir of the late Dr. Robert Strausz-HupÈ Gr’46, the legendary Penn political-science professor, diplomat, author, and theorist who founded the FPRI in 1955—and who, in private conversation, often referred to Sicherman as “brilliant.” (Originally connected with the University, the FPRI went its own way in 1970; a number of Penn faculty are still connected with it.) Though he earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at the University—and is guest-teaching a political-science course here this semester—Sicherman is hardly the stereotypical Ivory Tower scholar. He served as a special assistant to one secretary of state (Alexander M. Haig, from 1981-82); on the policy-planning staff of another (James A. Baker, 1991-92); and as a consultant to a third (George Schultz in 1988), as well as to former Secretary of the Navy John F. Lehman, Jr. Gr’74 (1984-97).

A prolific writer, Sicherman recently co-edited (with Lehman) America the Vulnerable: Our Military Problems and How To Fix Them, and is the author of Palestinian Autonomy, Self-Government and Peace (1993), along with innumerable essays for the FPRI on such disparate subjects as “Judaism and International Relations,” “From Russia Without Love,” and “China’s Three Ifs.”

On January 21, Sicherman sat down to talk about Iraq and other matters Middle Eastern. Although it was still a week before President Bush gave his State of the Union speech, Sicherman had no doubt that a war was indeed on its way.

“The President is very shortly going to show what he’s made of,” he said firmly. While readily conceding that war is a “lousy option”—he quoted the 19th-century Prussian General Helmuth von Moltke’s maxim that “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy”—Sicherman maintained that “all the other options have been tried,” and failed.

“The sanctions didn’t work,” he said. “The attempted overthrow from the inside or by rebellion from the outside didn’t work. Saddam is not being contained. Everybody’s cheating on the sanctions. And he’s buying weapons. And we have no proof that he’s not developing weapons of mass destruction, he having kicked the inspectors out” until recently.

As for why it should be up to the United States to go after Saddam, his answer was simple: “There is not a single other major power in the world that can send a decisive military force to the Persian Gulf.”

And so to war.

What follows is an edited version of our conversation.

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© 2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 02/28/03