Scholars criticize, defend war against Iraq

As hostilities continue in the Middle East, Penn scholars gathered in Houston Hall to weigh in on the motivations and consequences of the war on Iraq.

“Iraq: The End of the Beginning?,” a symposium cosponsored by the Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict and the School of Arts and Sciences, took place April 3 in front of a capacity crowd.

At times, it seemed as if the scholars were waging their own battle as they voiced sharply divided opinions. Nubar Hovsepian, associate director of Penn’s Middle East Center, asked the audience to consider the real reason America was at war. He pointed out that the engagement could have easily been called Operation Iraqi Liberation or OIL.

But Arthur Waldron, professor of history and international relations, disagreed. “It can’t be about oil because you can just buy it, but we don’t buy it from Iraq because we can’t swallow the regime.”

Waldron said America’s involvement can be explained by the intersection of three things: the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the threat of terrorism, and states that support terrorism. Brendan O’Leary, professor of political science and director of the center, depicted America in a less benevolent, more aggressive light, likening the Bush administration’s foreign policy to Roman imperialism.

Professor of Political Science and Associate Director of the Solomon Asch Center Ian Lustick criticized America’s “chronic tendency to trade significant problems for really horrible problems. …[U.S. foreign policy is] planting the seeds of hundreds of al Qaedas,” he warned.

Lustick also had strong words for the media’s war coverage, which he said dispensed “pseudo-information” because it ignores political context and history. He lambasted media outlets like CNN and Fox News for reducing the war to a spectator sport in which there are clear losers and winners.

Originally published on April 17, 2003