War and diplomacy

Richard Siegel

Talk of going to war with Iraq fills the pages of newspapers, radio talk shows and TV broadcasts. Looking for some perspective on questions of our country’s international relations, I recently interviewed Dr. Richard Siegel, professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno, who replied to my questions via e-mail. I’m in Siegel’s world politics class this semester.

What is your position on the possibility of U.S. military involvement with Iraq?

It is foolish to expect anything except war, but it remains possible that the American and British threats will lead to at least partial disarmament of Iraq without additional armed conflict. The present effort by President Bush has been muddled by its incorporation into the 2002 Republican election campaign, the demonization of even moderate critics and the confusion concerning the goals that should be pursued. I support armed action against Iraq only if voted by the Security Council as a means to fulfill U.N. resolutions that Iraq has ignored. I oppose a war for the sake of a partisan election goal or for revenge against Iraqi insults to the President’s father and others, and I oppose one that is separate from the United Nations and in violation of international law.

Will Middle East relations be better served by American diplomacy or American military involvement?

There is good reason to refer to war as the last resort. Nothing destabilizes a country and a region as much as war, and the consequences are largely unpredictable. The United States has stopped being helpful to a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and will drastically change the world order if it attacks Iraq without NATO or Security Council support.

American diplomacy is increasingly a captive of domestic political opportunism and is not consistently directed to the achievement of world stability, justice, arms control or the “war” on terrorism. We embrace the role of imperial hegemon if we move largely alone against Iraq. On Israel-Palestinian relations, we have given Prime Minister Sharon the green light to strangle both Arafat and the Palestinian people. This serves neither Israel’s or our own long-range interests.

How are the increased security measures going to affect civil liberties in our country?

A war against civil liberties and the rights of aliens in America has proceeded since Sept. 11, 2001. It has included the authorization of increased FBI surveillance of individuals and groups, the use of the CIA for domestic investigations, a push for random surveillance by our mailpersons and truck drivers (the TIPS Program) and the attempted removal of the most basic due process rights for aliens and American citizens who are arrested in relation to alleged terrorism. Such approaches may be necessary in some cases but are wholly unacceptable when basic aspects of the Bill of Rights are violated on a broad scale. The U.S. courts have stood up for civil liberties in most cases decided so far, but our basic rights are clearly in jeopardy.

Many other countries have followed or led the U.S. in taking steps restricting privacy and liberty. Most do not have the kind of check on executive power offered by the U.S. federal judiciary and the strong opposition organized by the American Civil Liberties Union here. Israel has reduced privacy and liberty, but it does face great dangers in the face of Palestinian opposition to military occupation that will not be subdued by military power alone.

What books best explain the Israel-Arab issues?

I recommend Avi Shlaim’s The Iron Wall, Benny Morris’ Righteous Victims, David Shipler’s Arab and Jew, Tom Segev’s One Palestine, Complete, and Zeev Sternhell’s The Founding Myths of Israel. All but one are written by Israelis, but they all offer the reader a critical perspective that challenges conventional viewpoints.