Faculty debate war in Iraq and its consequences

March 24, 2003, 6:50 p.m.

While their opinions differed about the justification for the U.S.-led war with Iraq, panelists in a March 24 discussion at Princeton University agreed that it is crucial to look ahead and focus on the consequences.

Several Princeton faculty members presented a range of perspectives in Dodds Auditorium, Robertson Hall, prompting several questions from a capacity audience. The discussion, sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, was simulcast to other rooms in the building.

The panelists were Michael Doran, assistant professor of Near Eastern studies; Paul Krugman, professor of economics and public affairs and New York Times columnist; Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School; and Deborah Yashar, associate professor of politics and international affairs. The discussion was moderated by James Trussell, the John Foster Dulles Professor in International Affairs and associate dean of the Woodrow Wilson School.

Doran opened the discussion, explaining that he is in favor of the war, which he said was "nearly inevitable" due to the "strategic interests of the United States and the moral imperative" to act.

"Since the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. has been following a policy of dual containment in Iran and Iraq," he said. "After Sept. 11, the idea of weapons of mass destruction being in the hands of a dictator came more to the forefront."

An expert in international law, Slaughter said that she had "hoped against hope that we'd get a U.N. resolution to not use force. I wanted the diplomatic process to play out." In the face of this failure, Slaughter nevertheless argued that while the war is illegal, she agreed with Doran that it might still be legitimate for strategic and moral reasons.

For the war to be "potentially legitimate," Slaughter explained that it would depend on "how we win." She said this would entail being consistent about values such as minimizing civilian casualties, providing evidence of weapons of mass destruction, being greeted as liberators and then turning back to the United Nations to renew the multilateral process. "If we can still legitimate the war politically -- we can't do it legally -- then the institution (the U.N.) will not be broken," she said.

Introducing herself as a "supporter of democracy but not of the war," Yashar said that while it is "laudable" to aim for democratization in Iraq, the expectation is not "credible." She described a deficiency in Iraq of the three key conditions that scholars pinpoint as necessary for democracy to take root. The first is that Iraq is not at a level of modernization to suit a democratic process; second, it does not have "players on the ground" to push for change; and third, it is divided into many groups with conflicting interests.

Yashar said that working to install democracy in Iraq would not eliminate the threat of terrorism, but that the war instead will inflame it. "I fear that this war will generate more terrorism and more instability in the region," she said. "I fear that the short-term consequences will be more complicated than what has been promoted by the Bush administration."

Krugman began his presentation focusing on two economic aspects of the war: the overall price tag and the availability of oil.

He estimated that the war, the occupation and the ensuing reconstruction could cost up to $80 billion a year, perhaps reaching a total of $400 billion. "This is a big government spending program," he said. "And it is an oddity to be having tax cuts at a time of war."

Krugman downplayed the importance of Iraq's oil supply to the U.S. economy, but noted a "big concern if upheavals spread to other Muslim countries." "We do have a looming fiscal disaster," he said. "This is only part of it."

After the presentations, the panelists responded to questions from the audience, which focused on how the United States could regain credibility after the war as a member of the international community.

Doran admitted that he "does not share the respect of the U.N. that the other panelists have," citing the conflicts there as stemming from broader issues about the balance of power and different countries advancing their own agendas. "France, Russia and China are interested in the balance of power; they have a set of concerns that go beyond Iraq," he said.

Slaughter disagreed with Doran about the value of the United Nations, saying that "it is other nations' only shot at containing the U.S." She stated that "there is still a chance to move the U.S. and the U.N. together to be able to face a serious threat multilaterally." She also noted that the United Nations must realize what role it can play when a major power (the United States) feels threatened.

Responding to a question about the public relations fallout from the war for the United States, Slaughter said it is "important for the world to see Americans in the street opposing this war." She reminded the audience of how, at the end of World War II, the United States was also the "biggest kid on the block," but was embraced by the world. She said that now this country is still the "biggest kid on the block," but the international perception is vastly different.

Yashar said that, for many in the international community, the perception is that the "fight against terrorism has been put on the backburner." She said that there "need to be policies and even media campaigns to effect beneficial change" in perception.

In closing, Krugman emphasized the "need to have an accounting afterward. The war with Iraq may be a fait accompli, but the next two, or three or four may not." He warned that "in trying to democratize Iraq, we do not undemocratize ourselves."

Contact: Karin Dienst and Evelyn Tu (609) 258-3601