Profs teach Iraq 101

As U.S. forces were battling half a world away for control of the capital of Iraq, a group of Chico State professors gathered at a university auditorium to talk about the conflict.

There was no fiery anti-war rhetoric, no calls for civil disobedience, and only the slightest condemnation of U.S. policy. Instead, the approximately 100 people assembled in PAC 134 last Thursday listened politely and attentively as professors shared dispassionate doubts and subdued warnings about the inevitable consequences of war.

After a brief rundown of the Arab and Muslim worlds supplied by Prof. Nasim Jawed, Prof. Beau Grosscup took a look at the murky state of relations between the U.S. and Europe.

“The fact is that the fissures that now exist between the U.S. and our allies in Europe are not new,” he said, offering that it was only “the glue of anti-Communism” that kept the powers on the same page since the end of World War II. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, that bond has been severely weakened, Grosscup said.

Adding to that problem is a “new conceptual environment” among Washington policymakers that holds that the U.S. is now willing to act unilaterally to promote its own interests. This perception has alarmed world leaders and threatens to erode the role of the United Nations as a mechanism for maintaining security, Grosscup said.

“The U.S. has a long history of obstructionism in the U.N,” he said. “We have a group of people in the Bush administration that are not committed to the United Nations.”

With NATO seeming to many Europeans to be “an instrument of American hegemony,” Grosscup said, the utility of the alliances that have kept the Western world relatively stable for the last half-century is being questioned on both sides of the Atlantic.

Samir Nissan, of Chico State’s College of Business, gave a brief summary of the history of Iraq, noting that it has been invaded and to varying degrees conquered by nearly every major empire in the history of civilization. It was only in 1979 that Saddam Hussein assumed dictatorial powers.

The heaviest condemnation of the current U.S.-Iraq war came from religious studies Professor Jim Anderson, who laid out several conditions for deciding what is and is not a “just war.” Among the factors that could be considered grounds for a just war are: that the purpose of the war ultimately be to better people’s lives; that it be declared by a legitimate authority; that it be winnable (and thus not futile); that the means of prosecuting the war be proportional to its aims; and that it be a last resort.

After cautioning that these conditions were “not a simple checklist,” Anderson declared that the U.S. government had failed to make a case for just war.

“There has not been a substantive discussion by our elected representatives. … The urgency of the U.S. position, I think, is not convincing,” he said.

Anderson was warmly applauded, but as the evening wore on audience members began to trickle out. Celeste Jones next talked about the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on civilians and soldiers who witness combat. She was followed by archeology Professor Bill Collins, who warned that the antiquities and artifacts of Iraq are in danger of being lost to science.

“There is a booming market in black-market antiquities,” Collins said. “Thousands of artifacts have been lost. If you just look on eBay you’ll find these things.”

Closing out the forum before what had become a sparse crowd was environmental-sciences Professor Dave Brown, who warned about possible war-related damage to Iraq’s already stressed environment. Brown said burning oil fires, chemical spills, ordnance explosions and residue from U.S. ammunition might have major adverse effects on people, animals and plants in Iraq.