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Panelists debate what will come next for Iraq

Four distinguished scholars discussed issues pertaining to post-war Iraq at a forum Tuesday night.

James B. Duke Professor of Law and Political Science Donald Horowitz, James B. Duke Professor of Political Science Robert Keohane, Associate Research Professor of Religion Ebrahim Moosa and Professor of History John Richards each spoke briefly, then answered questions from an audience of about 60 people.

The panelists stressed different dimensions of post-war Iraq, while refraining from any significant disagreement. They were unanimous in questioning President George W. Bush's stated reasons for war and in asserting the complexity of resuscitating Iraq and maintaining a lasting peace.

Richards, an expert in South Asian studies, spoke first about the recent U.S.-led reconstruction effort in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban government.

The United States and its allies have done well by ensuring the survival of the Hamid Karzai government through military guarantees and monetary contributions but remaining somewhat distanced, Richards said. In the process of nation-building, he added, it is critical to establish credible institutions run by native people.

"If you intervene too visibly... the regime is deeply resented by the people of the society that you're dealing with," Richards said. "It's a delicate balancing act that somehow has worked."

Moosa, the next speaker, presented a worrisome picture of hidden U.S. motives for waging war in Iraq and an unhappy future for the Middle East.

He reasoned that the war was a form of revenge for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and was motivated in part by the "Puritan absolutism" of Bush and British prime minister Tony Blair.

The results of the U.S. "occupation" of Iraq, Moosa said, could be dire.

He said destabilization of the region is possible - though not in the direction of increasing democracy, but of increasing totalitarianism, as fear will prevent people of the Middle East from raising crucial questions.

He also said terrorism would not necessarily cease, but that the justification for such attacks might change.

"I think the language of 'terrorism' is going to go out, and it's going to be replaced with 'resistance' and 'liberation from American power,'" he said.

Keohane followed Moosa's remarks with a discussion of power, legitimacy, Iraq's transition to a new government and the future of multilateral institutions in light of the well-publicized rift between the United States and the United Nations on Iraq policy.

"The war was essentially about power, not about getting rid of weapons of mass destruction or tyranny, but imposing power in the region and restructuring the Middle East," Keohane said.

He said the war was illegitimate by the standards of international law, though he added that it was possible for an act of aggression to gain legitimacy after the fact. To accomplish this feat, he said, the United States will need to credibly find weapons of mass destruction, effectively rebuild Iraq and its infrastructure, administer the country effectively over a substantial period of time, create a valid Iraqi political process and show better results in the Middle East.

Keohane also advocated U.N. participation in transitioning to Iraqi self-rule, warning that the organization may return to its irrelevance of the Cold War period.

Horowitz outlined the major features of Iraqi geodemography, stressing that the nature of domestic politics in the country will influence how democratic institutions develop and eventually whether reconstruction works.

"Iraq is a more complicated place than the press reports it is," he said. Along with a concentration of ethnic Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south, he said there are a number of other ethnicities and that the groups are more dispersed than most Americans think.

"It's a very badly fragmented polity," he said. "There's a huge divergence in the preferences of all the actors."


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