This post includes both the written transcript and the video of this expert panel discussion on the Iraq War and the various exit strategies. This Town Hall Forum was recorded in Northbrook, IL on January 7, 2006.
Co-sponsored by: Tenth Congressional District Democrats – www.tenthdems.org
North Suburban Peace Initiative – www.nspipeace.org
The Democracy Cell Project – www.democracycellproject.net
Aaron Freeman is a popular radio personality, talk show host, actor, journalist, and comedian. He is Chicago’s favorite comedian and one of America’s brightest comedy stars. Mr. Freeman is host of Chicago Public Radio’s popular “Metropolis” and host of the television talk show, Talking with Aaron Freeman on UPN – Channel 50. He is an adjunct professor of telecommunications at Columbia College in Chicago and was the first African-American essayist on PBS’s MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. He has been nominated for four Emmy Awards. A frequent contributor to the op-ed pages of The Chicago Tribune, he has written articles for Playboy and Chicago Magazine and is a contributor to the online blog The Huffington Post (www.huffingtonpost.com) . He is the author of Confessions of A Lottery Ball — The Inside Out World of Aaron Freeman. He also performs his one-man comedy shows, “The Aaron Freeman Show” and “Kosher Chitterlings,” for groups and associations.
Aaron Freeman: www.aaronfreeman.com/
David Cortright is a research fellow at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and president of the Fourth Freedom Forum in Goshen, Indiana, and co-founder of the Win Without War Coalition. He has co-authored dozens of policy reports and studies and has served as consultant or adviser for various agencies of the United Nations, the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, the International Peace Academy, and the governments of The Netherlands, Denmark, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland.
Fourth Freedom: www.fourthfreedom.org/Applications/cms.php?page_id=147
Joan Kroc Institute: www.nd.edu/~krocinst/faculty_staff/faculty/cortright.html
Ron Miller, PhD has lectured at hundreds of churches, synagogues, and mosques throughout the United States. He is the chair of the Religion Department at Lake Forest College and co-founder of Common Ground, an adult education group for interfaith study and dialogue since 1975. Miller is the author of many books and articles, including Healing the Jewish-Christian Rift, Dialogue and Disagreements: Franz Rosenzweig’s Contribution to Jewish-Christian Dialogue (University Press of America), and Wisdom of the Carpenter (Ulysses Press).
Ron Miller’s World www.ronmillersworld.org/
Common Ground: www.cg.org/
Robert G. Gard, Jr., Lt. Gen., U.S. Army (ret.) A 31 year United States Army veteran, Robert Gard’s military assignments have included combat service in Korea and Vietnam, as well as a three year tour in Germany. He has served as executive assistant to the Secretary of Defense, the first Director of Human Resources Development for the U.S. Army, and Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. General Gard also served as President of the National Defense University in Washington D.C. and was a fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and holds a Masters of Public Administration and a Ph. D. in Political Economy and Government – both from Harvard University. He is currently the Senior Military Fellow at the Center for Arms control and Non-proliferation in Washington D.C.
Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation: www.vvaf.org/about/staff-bios/robert-g-gard-jr.html
Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation: www.armscontrolcenter.org/archives/002029.php .
David Borris of NSPI provided the introduction to this event stating that a Dec. 22 poll saying that Iraq War is the number 1 issue for the 2006 elections and the most critical issue facing us today: How do we leave Iraq and when? David noted that there were over 200 people in the auditorium, about 100 others in the adjacent room watching the event on a live video feed, and about 100 people who were turned away we had reached capacity. David stated that this was one of over 150 town hall meetings being held this weekend all over the country. In Virginia, Rep. Jim Moran and Rep. Jack Murtha held a town hall meeting that drew 500 people and had to turn away at least 500 people.
Five 2006 candidates for local offices and five elected officials were present at the event. Congressman Mark Kirk from the Tenth Congressional District was invited to add his unique perspective to this outstanding panel, but declined.
As moderator, Aaron Freeman set the guidelines for the question and answer period and vowed to censor discussions on how we got into Iraq; instead, we were there to discuss how we move forward in Iraq.
About This Document
This document is, for the most part, a verbatim transcription of the question and answer portion of the event, as transcribed by Marianne Wood of the Democracy Cell Project. Any changes made to the comments stated by the moderator, panelists, or questioners have been to present the information in a format more conducive to a document. Text that appears in square brackets [ ] are editing comments or additional information that was not stated directly by the individual speaking. I apologize in advance for any errors or misinterpretations of the information. If you find errors or misinterpretations that require correction, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions & Answers
How do you support troop withdrawal when others argue that this will cause civil war and a permanent presence of Al Qaeda in Iraq?
Question: I was wondering how you can best respond to a fellow progressive friend of mine when I suggest we start withdrawing our troops, he said, “But now we’ve broken it; we can’t pull out yet. If we pull out now, then there will have full scale civil war in Iraq & Al Qaeda will have a permanent presence in Iraq.” How do you think we can best respond to that?
Dr. Cortright: The basic problem we now increasing understand is that our military presence is the problem; we’re the problem, not the solution. Much as we would hope and can to try to find ways in which we could fix the problem that we’ve created, it’s simply not possible. We do have obligation to Iraq. We owe Iraq morally; none of us want to see the US leave in such a way as to make the situation worse. We don’t want to leave with a cowardly withdrawal. But we do understand that what we have done has gravely damaged that country, and imperiled the region and imperiled ourselves.
I think the way to go forward is not to withdraw “immediately.” We want to get out as soon as possible. But the position that I’ve argued, that Win Without War and lots of us have been arguing, would be that we begin withdrawal now. We have a timetable over a year or two or something like that in which we plan to get out. At the same time as we do that, we convene an international process in which we try to bring together countries from the region, NATO allies, the UN to the extent possible and have international process to try to support the stabilization of Iraq. I personally think – and one could debate the specifics – that we need a stabilization force, an outside military force to assist with process for a short time hopefully, similar to what we have in Bosnia and Kosovo. But unfortunately it can’t be run by the US; we are the invaders, we are the occupiers. Any force we put in there will be put seen as an occupation force and will be attacked.
The last mention of how we proceed seems to me is to provide a major program of economic assistance. We do owe Iraq, in the sense of providing economic assistance and development programs in cooperation with allies – Germany, Japan and other states, with the countries in region to have a sustained program of economic development in Iraq and in the region, as much as possible so that we can do everything possible to help stabilize Iraq. We cannot do it as a nation by ourselves, as an occupying force. We have to get out and vow that we will not leave behind any military bases, that we will not try to dominate their oil, that we will not tell them how to reconstruct their own country. We will provide economic assistance, but they have to do the work, they have to be in charge. We have to get out and work with the international allies to stabilize Iraq.
Moderator: Dr. Miller, as a person well schooled and well seasoned in interfaith dialog, can you tell us about the useful way to talk to people who hold differing political views on this issue.
Dr. Miller: Recently, I heard a Muslim scholar, Reza Aslan who has written an excellent introduction to Islam called “No God but God”, speak in nearby Winnetka. (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4557220)
He said he feels that if Osama Bin Laden had a wish list, at the top of that list would have been “Please invade Iraq.” He feels that as long as we’re there, it’s a rallying point and really a recruitment tool for the more radical Islamists. That’s one motivating reason to move towards a speedy removal. That presence itself is a prime irritant in trying to set up any kind of dialog because it continues to present us in a sort of crusader image that radical Islam can do a great deal with. I think in terms of communicating with people of any belief in any part of this, the chief principle is to try to do what Martin Buber called, to feel the other side, to try to understand what others are feeling and why they are feeling it and then to respond within that context. I think that if we do that, we find a lot of reasons to remove ourselves as speedily as we can do so in a manner that would be safe for all the parties involved.
Moderator: Gen. Gard, I assume that the military guys would be adverse to pulling up and leaving. How do you talk to them about this notion that we should get out as soon as possible?
Gen. Gard: It is true, that once committed, the US military, which exists for purpose of reinforcing US security, wants to succeed in whatever operation it’s put into. Gen. Casey, our senior commander in Iraq, last June said that our military efforts reflect what he called the “Pillsbury Dough Boy” idea: “Pressing the insurgency in one area only causes it to rise elsewhere. The political process will be the decisive element” and that’s one that our military forces of course cannot control. The chief military spokesman in Iraq, not surprisingly agreeing with Gen. Casey, said, “I think the more accurate way to approach this right now is to concede that this insurgency is not going to be settled through military options or military operations. It’s going to be settled through the political process.” I didn’t hear much more about that from Gen. Casey; I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he was told that not to dwell on those sorts of subjects. But as you know very recently – just last month – there was an announcement of a 7000 troop reduction coming this spring. That gave Gen. Casey an opportunity to reinforce the administration’s position by saying, “The fewer troops, the better. It reduces the notion of occupation; it doesn’t lengthen the time for Iraqi self reliance. It doesn’t feed culture of dependency and it reduces the risk to coalition forces.”
The point of the exercise is, and I agree with David’s point, that the US military occupation has become the principle recruiting tool for the insurgents. There’s an implicit assumption in the argument that questioner raised that somehow the insurgency will get worse not better if we leave. Look at what the leaders say. OBL: “Americans wants to occupy Muslim lands, steal their resources, and destroy Islam.” al-Zawahiri, his deputy’s letter to al-Zarqawi, the chief Al Qaeda operator in Mesopotamia: “Muslim masses do not rally except against an outside, occupying enemy, especially if the occupying enemy is firstly Jewish and secondly American.” And al-Zarqawi himself in writing back to al-Zawahiri in January 2004, said to him and to Osama, “When Americans disappear, what will become of our situation?”
Now all of this suggests the opposite of what is often alleged, namely that our departure will trigger a civil war. It seems to me it will take the motivation away from the insurgents and indeed things might be much more peaceful if we were gone.
How do we convince our government to withdraw from Iraq?
Question: As for terminating what has been called Operation Iraqi Freedom, how do we get our government to commit to stay in Iraq with troops & influence not one day longer than the Iraqi people want us there and how to get our this government to wean itself from its dependency on foreign oil? (It was determined that the second question is way too big to address in this forum.)
Dr. Cortright: We have good reason to believe that Iraqi people themselves want us out. There have been a number of polls and I don’t have all the recent data, but British government forces in Iraq commissioned a poll and found that 70-80% of the people would like to see the foreign troops out. You may have seen that recently the Iraqi political leaders were at the Arab League Conference in Cairo and there they also adopted a statement that they wanted the American troops out.
In terms of their new parliament that’s likely to take office in the coming weeks in Iraq, almost all of the Sunni representatives have already indicated that they wanted the Americans out. A good number of the Shia alliance – especially those associated with al-Sadr – have also indicated they want us out. So it’s probable that about one half – at least – of the new parliament members in Iraq will want the US out. The Kurds, of course, have a different position. They want Americans to stay, and they have been in favor of our occupation, although their patience will no doubt run out as well before too long. The point being that there is a significant portion of the Iraqi opinion, probably a majority, certainly a majority almost universally in the Sunni region, probably a majority in the Shia region who want us out.
A colleague professor at Manchester College has talked about why we should allow the Iraqis to have a referendum. If we could allow the Iraqi government and its various political groups to conduct a public referendum on this question, I think we might find that certainly in the Sunni and Shia areas there would a majority in favor of our exit. I think this would be helpful to legitimize the political position that we’ve all been arguing. One of those points about how we can frame our message is to say that this is what the Iraqis want and certainly what they need for us to get out.
Gen. Gard: The statement made at the Arab League Summit was even worse than that. It not only indicated that they wanted us out, it said that resistance against the occupation was legitimate. Now these were the Iraqi leaders in the temporary government meeting at the Arab League Summit saying that resistance against our occupation was legitimate. They didn’t talk about terrorists as such, they talked about the resistance itself; they did not legitimize what al-Zarqawi was doing. The only legal authorization of US troops in Iraq comes from UN Security Council Resolution 1546 (www.un.org/Docs/sc/unsc_resolutions04.html): “Authorizing presence of multinational forces only until the transitional process is complete.” When a new cabinet is formed as a result of the 15th December elections, there will no longer be an international legal basis for that occupation.” Then it will depend upon whatever negotiating we may do with the then existing Iraqi.
Moderator to Dr. Miller: I’m curious about this notion that Gen. Gard brought up about the legitimacy of resistance to the occupation and how should we think about that morally in terms of people who believe they have a legitimate right to attack US sons and daughters because they are wearing uniforms?
Dr. Miller: There’s no easy response. I guess what’s involved here is the various “just war” theories that are fairly similar as they’ve been evolved by Jewish, Muslin & Christian scholars. When you’re dealing with some sort of the just war theories – either entering the war or your conduct in it – some of the principle things you’re looking at would be the question of proportionality. In other words, the damage that’s going to be caused, how does it relate to the good that you want to pursue? And secondly, how important is the justice issue that’s motivating you, how central is this to your life? How much would you be threatened by the absence of it? And thirdly, very basic to all just war thinking, is this the only means that’s available? Have all other means been exhausted? It’s hard to do a short summary of that in any particular case, but at least those are the kind of guidelines that have to be looked at. If we consider it from the viewpoint of the Iraqi people, how would these sorts of things apply? How is their life being threatened by this foreign presence? How is it being interrupted? How has it been affected, with the many thousands of deaths that have occurred? Can this be handled any other way than by some sort of militant opposition? Is the damage that’s going to happen going to be in any way proportionate to the good that they’re trying to pursue? Those at least are some of the issues.
Will increased diplomatic dialog with Sunnis & insurgency forces help end the war?
Question: [edited for clarity] Will increased diplomatic dialog (using an independent party to represent the US) with Sunnis & insurgency forces help bring things along significantly?
Dr. Cortright: Very good question. In fact, there are some efforts underway now to have such as dialog. I think it was in yesterday’s or today’s New York Times that some American commanders and political officials are in touch with some of the political groups in the Sunni community that are known to have associations with the insurgents. So obviously that is a worthy and necessary process. One of the things they’ve found in some of these discussions is that the Sunni political groups have said, “We welcome the dialog, but our bottom line demand is that you have to commit to withdraw your forces.” The American officials have been unwilling to do that. It’s a discussion that’s nice to get together but there has to be some negotiated bargain. The bargain to end this insurgency must be that the US will withdraw its forces by some deadline and that we will not leave behind any permanent military bases.
So dialog is certainly critical and a major diplomatic initiative is necessary, not only with the insurgent factions, although they need to be the primary interlockers. But we need to talk with the neighbors, and especially we need to have a political dialog with Syria & Iran. However odious the new president of Iran may be and the statements that he has made that we all condemn, we understand that there will not be a political solution in this part of the world unless we have dialog and some kind of communication with Iran, and certainly in the same way with Syria and all the neighboring states. Again, the president’s statements must be condemned. Iran as a political entity, the processes underway in that nation are very complex. There has been a very significant reform movement in that country. Iran does not in any way support the Al Qaeda agenda; they actually provide some support and they have a parallel agenda to what we have in Afghanistan in terms of trying to keep the Taliban out and to suppress the elements of Al Qaeda. There are bases upon which we can have a cooperative relationship with Iran. We need to negotiate with them as well on nuclear options. We’ve got lots of issues to put on the table. A coercive hard line action toward Iran so far has had no positive results. It seems to be only strengthening the hard line position. I’ve heard analyses that this new president came into power in part from a kind of reaction among some people in Iran to this increased pressure from the outside. So I think dialog is necessary with all countries in the region.
Dr. Miller: Dialog is a major issue for me. It’s been a major issue for my work. Tomorrow I begin a series with a church, a synagogue, and mosque. Dialog is difficult; dialog doesn’t happen often and it’s not easy. One of the preparatory steps for dialog is an examination of language, I think it’s very important in these situations how we use term how like terrorists, suicide bombers, freedom fighters, martyrs. Oftentimes, we use language in a way that privileges our own perspective. One person was talking to me once about the evil of the suicide bomber. I said, “The first suicide bomber I know about was Samson,” who was a hero of many of our childhood Sunday school stories. We heard about Samson down there in the Philistine prison while his hair grew and then they brought him up when there was a big party going on with a bunch of Philistines – men , women and children, I presume – a number of innocent people. He prays to God to be able to bring down the roof on them, killing himself and all of them. He was for many of us a Sunday school hero. But I don’t think that chapter was not called “Samson the Suicide Bomber.”
When we enter the dialog, we have to be very careful about the way we throw terms around because once we set up the situation in terms of a certain terminological definition, in a way the outcome is almost pre-cast. One of the first disciplines before one enters into dialog is that examination of the language by which one defines the other. That’s why the first step in dialog is to have each person define himself/herself. “I’m so-and-so; I’m a Jew.” What do I want to say about myself as a Jew, or as Christian or as a Muslim? How do I define myself?” It’s very important that we really listen to how the parties define themselves and not just fall into this habit of defining them in terms of a particular perspective, like this is the Axis of Evil or the Coalition of the Good or some other slogan.
What has happened to the money for Iraqi development/reconstruction?
Question: The comment was made about economic development. In April 2004, Mike Fleischer [name?] while working on the Coalition of Provisional authority was putting together a $100 million to a $1 billion loan fund for Iraqi businesses. Do you know what has happened to that money?
Gen. Gard: I don’t know what has happened to that specific particular some of that money. Over half of the funds of the $18.4 billion that was reallocated for reconstruction has gone for other purposes. It is very difficult to conduct economic operations of a reconstruction nature in the midst of terrorist attacks and insurgency. But it’s very clear there has been rampant corruption in 2 temporary governments that were set up by US, and it’s created tremendous resentment within the country. In fact, over ½ Iraqis claim they have not seen any evidence whatever of any reconstruction. We know that’s not true, but that kind of perception can net you support for the people that are conducting the insurgency because from the perspective of the population of Iraq, they see no particular progress. They see lawlessness. There’s an incredible number of kidnappings that are going on in Iraq. 425 foreigners as of Christmas Day have been kidnapped and 30 Iraqis a day on average, with the average ransom of $30K. The place is anarchy. We initially allocated $2.4 Billion for the reconstruction effort in April, just as Baghdad was about to fall. That was all. Our promises, at least from the Iraqi standpoint, simply have not been fulfilled. Corruption is rampant. The country is in virtual state of anarchy, particularly on Sunni triangle.
Dr. Cortright: There’s a very important question here, and certainly what Bob Gard said is right. We don’t know the exact statistics, but the unemployment statistics are variously estimated that 40-70% of Iraqis are unemployed. A telling statistic was released the other day. The oil exports from Iraq in December were down to a little over 1M barrels/day; that’s one half of what they were exporting under Saddam with sanctions. Most of money that we supposedly put into reconstruction has not been spent. That’s why I think that a major component of a responsible exist strategy must be a commitment on our part and hopefully with our allies to assist Iraqis themselves to rebuild their country. Remember the Marshall Plan at the end of WWII. Our country made a very generous commitment to assist Europe and Japan in the reconstruction and it proved to be a tremendously successful program. We need something like that now, not only in Iraq, but in the region. It doesn’t need to be a long term program; after a few years, Iraq’s oil industry will kick in and they will pay for their own development. Now we spend $5B/month on Iraq; if we spent even one half of that on economic development so that Iraqis themselves spend it on reconstruction purposes that they have. Other reconstruction money is channeled through American contractors, cronies and buddies of Dick Cheney, who have pocketed huge amounts. We have contractors over there who are getting $1000/day for security forces. It’s incredibly corrupt. We have to pull all of that out, make a substantial sum available, maybe broker it through an international agency (perhaps the UN can play a role here), make it an incentive fund that can used for any purposes Iraqis themselves want so long as it’s civilian only and hopefully it’s cooperative so that the communities work together – Shia, Sunnis and others – on reconstruction projects. Something like that could easily be done. The model of the Marshall Plan could be thought of and get our allies together. This is a necessary component of a program for responsibly withdrawing from Iraq militarily while we increase our economic and diplomatic support for stabilization of Iraq’s future.
Is there successful historical precedent for our ground approach in Iraq?
Question for Gen. Gard: My understanding is that at West Point and other venues for military leadership, a significant amount of time is spent learning from military history and from world history in general. Given for the moment that you have an input for this plan that we’re currently following in Iraq, that’s had contributions by both the military and political arms of our government, is there historical precedence of any type for this approach being successful. If not, how is that dealt with in a constructive way in terms of what’s going to work and what’s not going to work and what is the next step in terms of political and military innovation in that context?
Gen. Gard: Your premise is correct. There is a required military history course at West Point. When I took it, it was not what you would call a very broad gauged course that took into account a number of other factors. It was much more operational in nature. What you’re suggesting raises one of the principle problems that we have in the US government and that’s interagency cooperation. The way our intervention in Iraq has been conducted, it was given as a responsibility to Department of Defense as essentially of civilian leadership. The social contract between military institution and American society and government is that the military complies with orders of duly constituted political authority. The other half of that social contract is that the Commander in Chief will commit military forces in the legitimate interest of US national security without subterfuge and will do what he can to enlist the support of the American public. I would say that most of military input into planning for the Iraqi operation was simply ignored. Initially, CENTCOM (Central Command) had proposal to send in about 350K troops; the opening gambit from the Secretary of Defense was 40K troops. It’s no secret that we were inadequately manned, nor did we in any way prepare for immediate post conflict situation. You may recall the lighthearted comments when all the looting took place in the beginning – establishing an atmosphere for continued lawlessness. I don’t say that the civilian political authority should not do precisely what military advice that it receives advocates but I do believe that it’s incumbent upon an administration not to totally ignore a year long study done principle cabinet agency responsible for US national security, namely the Department of State. The president, in an unprecedented move since WWII, gave post conflict responsibility to Department of Defense. Lt. Gen. Jay Garner who was initially sent to try to cope with fall of Baghdad had asked that head of that State department study that had been done for about a year be a member of team; he was not allowed to take that individual along with him. Interagency process in this country is not well.
Moderator: In defense of the president, there was a genuine plan to capture and occupy the capital of Iraq and that plan as presented actually worked, right?
Gen. Gard: Yes, that’s Phase 1. You go into a military operation for a political purpose! There were warning signs aplenty of the possible pitfalls. Let me read one of those to you and see if you can tell who said it. “Once you’ve got Baghdad, it’s not clear what you do with it; it’s not clear what kind of government you would put in. To have American military forces engaged in a civil war inside Iraq would fit the definition of a quagmire. And we have absolutely no desire to get bogged down in that fashion. How many casualties should US accept in that effort to try to create clarity and stability in a situation that is inherently unstable?” Who said that? Our vice president when he was Secretary of Defense during Gulf I.
Will increased diplomatic dialog with Sunnis & insurgency forces help end the war?
Question: With the emphasis on trying to reduce US forces, I read that there will be a concurrent increased use of airpower. Will this result in indiscriminate civilian casualties?
Dr. Cortright: We do know that airpower and the number of air attacks is already increasing. Apparently, the scenario is that as we slightly draw down some of troops, the number of air attacks will go up. Inevitably, this will cause additional civilian casualties and actually worsen the political/social problem we face now of causing violence and damage to people who are otherwise innocent. This relates to Ron’s questions about the moral principles of war and any just war doctrine. Airpower obviously is indiscriminate. We do have precision targeting, but it depends on someone being on the ground and identifying the target. We don’t have that guarantee in this situation; in fact, there’s a big argument because some of Iraqi forces say, “Well, we’ll be your spotters.” But the problem is that is might be a Kurd who wants to attack a Sunni or vice versa. So we might be getting involved in their communal civil war through this increased used of airpower. It’s a dangerous policy and it will increase this image of American military technology killing civilians; houses with civilians will be destroyed and that’s only going to worsen the problem.
Gen. Gard: You’re absolutely right and I agree with what’s been said. The number of air strikes – and this tactical aircraft, not helicopter gun ships — In Jan. 2005 it was 25. In November it was 120, almost 5 times. We do have precision munitions. The smallest precision guided bomb we have is 500 lb. (We have 1000 – 2000 lb. variety if you really want to blow up something.). The trouble is we’re using these in urban areas. Frequently, the insurgents use mortars. We have something called counter mortar radar that breaks the beam so we know exactly where it came from. Artillery were shooting into urban area field artillery. If any of you have had any experience in the military know, you know that’s a large probable error. The casualty producing radius of the 500 lb. bomb is 400 meters; 10% of them do not hit within the 20 foot probable error of circle, due to electrical & mechanical failures. When you use precision bombs like this in urban areas where people live, you’re inevitably going to kill more civilians than you do guerillas. When you’re dealing with a tribal society that has a tradition of revenge and you kill or humiliate a member of that tribe – and in particular a member of that family – the individual is duty bound to get revenge. That’s why the strength of the insurgency, even though we’ve claimed to kill them by the 10’s of thousands, hasn’t gotten any smaller. They’re going to get revenge when you use firepower in an indiscriminate manner and kill innocent civilians. I don’t have to tell you that virtually every day in the paper you read an account, “Well we took out a safe house; they pulled out 12 family members; women and children were killed, zero insurgents.”
Moderator question to Dr. Miller: [edited for clarity] My editors at NPR have told me on numerous occasions that you cannot compare the bombing that the US does with anyone else’s because we’re doing it while trying to kill terrorists. Don’t your intentions count if you’re trying to kill terrorists?
Dr. Miller: I think you know the adage about good intentions. Intentions are product of conscience. Conscience has to be either informed or not informed. The information that we are getting here is about the information about conscience. An uninformed conscience based on an uninformed intention does not make for a moral judgment. We’re duty bound to use information we’re getting right here about the accuracy of these attack to form our intentions because I don’t think your intentions stand up in face of the facts.
Moderator: [edited for clarity] Israel will say, “We bombed an apartment building but we knew there was one terrorist in there. So those other twelve people who died in the building – we’re sorry, but it was really important that we allow no safe haven for those who would wreak terror on innocent people.”
Dr. Miller: But there you’re at the principle of proportionality again. Every person who is killed isn’t just one person. You’re talking about, as Bob was saying, is a whole network of people that are affected. For anyone in this room who would die today, there would be 40-50 minimum people whose lives would be seriously affected by this. So when you get to a principle of proportionality, you’ve got to look at what that means to take out these other people, to kill these other people. That’s why all the traditions will say – you’ll find it in the Jewish tradition, in the Muslim tradition, in the Christian religion – that if you kill one person, it’s as though you destroyed the whole human race, because of ramifications of that death as it spreads through the larger human community. I don’t think we can be too facile about the accidental casualties of war.
Gen. Gard: This is a serious dilemma, there’s no question. We’re brought up in the military to try to take care of our troops and minimize our casualties; we are encouraged in principle to make use of fire power rather than frontal assaults. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
But the problem is in an insurgency in urban areas, in a crowded Arab community with winding streets, sniper shooting killing your buddy next to you is a really tough situation. The theorists of insurgency warfare will tell you that search & destroy operations to kill terrorists/insurgencies is not a sensible strategy. On the other hand, it’s our policy.
I don’t know if any of you had the opportunity to read the most recent National Security Council publication, the public version of which was released at the time of the president’s speech in Annapolis. Let me tell you what that document says. Now this is the president trying to shore up support after his ratings dropped off. The title is “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.” (www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/iraq/iraq_strategy_nov2005.html) “1. Our mission in Iraq: win the war. Iraq is the central front in the global war on terrorism. Our strategic objective: defeat the terrorists and neutralize the insurgency. The principle task of our military is to find and defeat the terrorists. The security task, being somewhat broader, is to develop the Iraqi capability while carrying out a campaign to defeat the terrorists and neutralize the insurgency.” Now you remember the old slogan, “As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” You got a new version just a month and a half ago. “As the Iraqis stand up, US operations will be targeted at the most vicious terrorists and leadership networks.” Now you go in and search these folks out, try to find them, have a predator see three people go into a house – this was just a couple days ago – bomb the house and kill a family of twelve and no insurgents. Bush’s speech at Annapolis, coincident with release of this document said, “In fighting the terrorists in Iraq, we will never accept anything less than complete victory. When our mission of defeating the terrorist in Iraq is complete, our troops will return home.” (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/11/20051130-2.html ) Vice President Cheney: “We will not relent; we will hunt down the insurgents one at a time, if necessary.” Partly for the reason of the previous question, when we’re conducting those kinds of operations inevitably in urban areas and alienating the very population whose support is essential to defeat the terrorists, I don’t see how we’ll achieve victory in the lifetime of anyone in this room with those goals.
Is it the administration’s intent to permanently stay in Iraq?
Question: We’ve just heard in the beginning about ways to get out of Iraq. According to the analyses I read and the news reports, I’m more certain that admin wants to stay in there of course with the 14 military bases they have not come clean about.; given that, if they intend to stay (according to Gary Hart in Financial Times just a few days ago), do you doubt that they have more tricks up their sleeves, in order to accomplish their goals? What would their complete victory be? According to Naomi Klein in Harpers Magazine, it’s economic. Now they’re talking about reforming economy of Iraq to make it easier for American corporations to come in and to lay off Iraqis workers (which they regard as a death sentence).
Moderator: I think you’re looking for someone to address this whole notion of the desire of the administration to permanently stay there, according to what the administration believes.
Dr. Cortright: Their intention is to remain long term, and their intention is to privatize the economy and make it friendly to western investment. We could have a long conversation about the oil issue; I’ve was one who has always said it wasn’t only about oil, but certainly it was partly about oil. There’s a new study on web called “Crude Designs” that outlines the strategy of bringing in western companies to develop Iraqi oil – and of course, they’ll take a huge part of profit out. All of that is part of the strategy. (http://www.carbonweb.org/crudedesigns.htm for the .PDF file or http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/oil/2005/crudedesigns.htm for the online text) A colleague of mine, one of the military commanders in the ROTC program at Notre Dame, was asked this very question: “What’s the US military scenario?” His expectation is that the US is going to consolidate down to a few large permanent bases over there, he thought maybe four. He said, “They’re pouring an awful lot of concrete over there.” They would be down to perhaps few tens of thousands of troops, but it would be a long term, indefinite deployment; that’s what’s in mind for US strategy in order to control. I think that the most important part of your question is: What can we do and what position can we take to foil this design and to encourage our government to take a responsible position for exit and support for Iraqi stabilization? I hope we can discuss this more and more; I think that’s the big question before us. Partly it’s a matter of language and how we frame it. I know we have all these buttons “Out Now.” But to win the political debate, that’s not the demand. We know the polls show that’s still a minority position. But if question is asked: “Should we get out over the next year or two?” Then I think we have the majority support on that. “Should the US work with other countries to provide stabilization process for Iraq as we exit?” Then I think we can get support.
I think the challenge before us is to craft our language when we’re speaking outside our circles, when speaking to the public in ways that articulate position for responsible exit and support for stabilization of Iraq and for security of our country, and to distinguish between the insurgence and the resistance inside Iraq and the broader international struggle against terror. All of us are in favor of defeating terrorism, of smashing Al Qaeda and making sure they never attack our country again. That’s the War on Terror. What we’ve done in Iraq has nothing to do with that and unfortunately, it seems to me has made the danger greater. Bring it to our candidates. This year it may be the political stars are lining up pretty well right now. There are all kinds of scandals out there. Hopefully in a few months, many of them will be in jail. We have a chance, but we need to have our candidates articulate a position which is responsibly for a military disengagement from Iraq.
What’s the difference between insurgents vs. terrorists? What’s the moral & political attachment to these terms?
Question: You have all addressed the question I’m about to ask while I’ve been standing in line, but perhaps a bit more clarification would be helpful. It’s the issue of insurgents and terrorists. Gen. Gard just quoted a few moments ago that the goal is to defeat the terrorists and neutralize the insurgency. Whenever we talk about Iraq, we talk about the insurgency. It’s not the same as talking about the terrorists. I don’t think there are many people who would be uncomfortable trying getting rid of terrorists post 9/11, to a certain extent. What’s the moral line, what’s the moral and political attachment to those terms? When we talk about an insurgency, I’m thinking of someone who was born and raised in Iraq. When you talk about terrorists, I think of someone who has been bussed in from the outside.
Gen. Gard: That’s a timely observation. To give the National Security Council November 2005 “Victory in Iraq” document (www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/iraq/iraq_strategy_nov2005.html )its due, they do classify the problem of the insurrection, if you want to use that term; they don’t. They say the components are Saddamists, rejectionists, and terrorists – and they do make the distinction..
The terrorists are those affiliated with or inspired by Al Qaeda and in this case, al-Zarqawi
The Saddamists are those who want to reestablish the Baa’thist government.
The rejectionists are those that oppose our presence and the political process.
They do divide them up into three areas. Of course, we’re trying to woo the rejectionists to convince them there is something in it for them, and that accounts for some of the discussions we’ve had.
I don’t believe that every suicide bomber in Iraq has come from outside the country. I think that technique has kind of caught on a bit. It’s awfully hard to be as discrete in these categories as that document suggests, but I think it’s useful to make the distinctions because presumably, you can you can get some rejectionists and perhaps some Saddamists on board. Because so many of the terrorists are killing fellow Muslims, there’s a possibility you can get a majority of Iraqi people who simply won’t tolerate that any more.
The cleric Sistani – the Shiite who has been so influential and whom Paul Bremer paid far too little attention to when he ran the political authority we had in place – has really done much more to dampen the possibility of civil war than all 150K coalition troops when he keeps telling the Shias not to retaliate against the Sunnis because of what terrorists are doing to the Shias. That hasn’t been totally successful because there are killer teams within the Shia military and police organizations who are taking out some Sunnis in retaliation too. But so far, it hasn’t gotten anywhere.
Dr. Cortright: Just one little factoid about this question of distinguishing between the resistance – I think in the Arab world, the common phrase is resistance – vs. terrorists. The US military has been capturing many thousands and putting them in jail. As they’ve gone through [the jailing process], they’ve tried to measure and determine how many are external foreign fighters. I think the figures have been consistently around 5% [confirmed by Gen. Gard] and below 10%, in any case. About 5% of those being captured in the fighting are external forces. By far and away, most of them are domestic and Iraqis who are resisting the occupation.
Moderator: Dr. Miller, it does make a difference to me who I am fighting. Tell us a little a bit about the difference it makes to us about how we speak of our opponents.
Dr. Miller: It’s preliminary in any kind of dialog and any kind of action to take a little time to think first and to ask ourselves how we’re using terms. I’ve addressed it with different terms in some writing I’ve did on the idea of fundamentalism. I talk about 3 types of fundamentalists:
– An unchallenged fundamentalist who lives in what sociologists call an enclave culture and simply divides the world up that way.
– A militant fundamentalist who has a cause because that enclave is being challenged, but works within the laws of the land or within moral traditions of his/her own religion.
– The third category, which I think constitutes the greatest threat to our world today, is what in this conversation are called supra-moral fundamentalists. These are people who believe their cause is so worthy that any means is justifiable to achieve that end. This puts them beyond the parameters of the laws of the land; it also puts them beyond the parameters of the moral codes of their own traditions. In other words, clear statements in the Koran, for example, state that you can’t kill civilians in a justified defense of war. These are the people I think who are most dangerous. So we’re going to have different ways of framing or labeling or talking about these, and I think it’s important to reflect on that. I think the supra-moral terrorists have to contained or somehow eliminated because they are a threat to any kind of civil society.
What do we do as individuals or organizations including – but not limited to – the 2006 Congressional election?
Question to David Cortright: [edited for clarity] In addition to being a scholar, David is also a great organizer. A lot of people here are from organizations and other groups around the country are doing the same thing. What do we do as individuals or organizations including — but not limited to — the 2006 Congressional elections?
Dr. Cortright: Tough question. I was going to cut to you for that . I don’t really have all the answers. I can say that at Win without War we have been discussing this and our focus is – to the extent that we can within the laws of electioneering – really try to look at 2006 election as potential turning point. We’re doing several things. First, [we’re doing] a careful process of political targeting. Let’s look at the races now, and as I mentioned, I think the political wins look more favorable for Democrats now. Look at the races where we think we have a chance, where there is some possibility of a competitive race. Then do some careful message development in terms of how we frame this, and really test it out. “Out now” is a great slogan; it’s probably not going to win when we’re out there with swing voters, persuadable voters, people who may have voted for President Bush now and are now disappointed and upset about this war and are looking for alternatives. Find the right language. I think we work with candidates who are willing to take that language and who are coming forward and willing to take a chance and really turn our movement that has been doing demonstrations and vigiling into voter registration, voter turnout, mobilization campaign.
If we can win even ½ dozen seats in ‘06 race on the message that says, “Candidate X has won against a republican who is a supporter of the war. Candidate X has said that we need to get out with a responsible exit strategy.” I think that will politically help turn the tide, in a way that we’ve already begun to see. When John Murtha, the great hawk – who has now become is now our friend – made that extraordinary statement last fall that was a powerful sign, that the political winds are starting to change. Bush has made some efforts to try to recoup a little ground in the last month; the ground will continue to erode under his feet and it will shift in our favor. November 2006 is the demonstration, the rally and vigil we all need to be focusing on. Have a political strategy that’s smart in terms of the message and mobilizes us and all of our friends in favor of candidates who take a position for a responsible exit.
Are we perceived by others as terrorists by doing state terrorism? What is the definition of terrorism?
Question: [edited for clarity] Any discussion of terrorism should be balanced with discussion of state terrorism. Chalmers Johnson in recent publication talks about how we have over 400+ bases around the globe and he spent some time talking about how those bases are perceived in the local neighborhoods. We all know that we have corporations all over the world who do environmental damage in local communities. There’s a lack of discourse in the media about state terrorism and how other people are going to view what we do. Terrorism is defined as striking fear in the hearts of the other. We have to start to look at home about how we are perceived by others as terrorists by doing state terrorism if we are going to have a fair discussion of this concept.
Dr. Cortright: It’s very good point. At the UN, I’ve been doing a lot of consulting with various governments and with the Security Council. The UN is tied up in knots on this issue of defining terrorism. In a lot of countries, they see state actions as terrorism. I think that we would all agree that war itself is terrorism. Our war has killed tens of thousands of innocent civilian Iraqis. That’s a form of terrorism.
Moderator: What’s a good workable definition of terrorism?
Dr. Cortright: The Secretary General’s high level panel “Threats & Solutions” report in December 2004 proposed a definition that terrorism is the intentional killing of civilians, with the intention of selling fear and disorder – the intentional killing of civilians. As Ron mentioned earlier, “What is intention?” There lots of degrees of that. Informed intention, as you mentioned, says that when you bomb or fire artillery into an urban neighborhood, you will kill innocent people.
Moderator: By that definition, when the US government drops a bomb on a building where they saw terrorists go in, that would not be terrorism.
Dr. Cortright: It’s a question of intention. We had this phrase “Shock & Awe” that we were going to destroy and terrorize – literally — the population that they would somehow bow down and welcome us as their liberators. I think that shows a terrorist intention, I’m sorry.
Dr. Miller: One thing I find in the inter-religious dialog I do is that the conversation almost immediately moves among groups that are largely Jewish and Christian to what the Muslims need to do to clean up their act. What I find so rare is that ability of self-reflection to ask what we need to do, to begin with an examination of one’s own conscience. You can bandy that word “terrorism” around, and as is being said, the whole of thing of intentionality. One can be very naïve about the intention – “We’re not intending to kill anyone innocent” – but I think that becomes very disingenuous if one is not aware of the facts of what the forms of military intrusion is trying to accomplish. We have to do an examination of ourselves. The first time I spoke of this was the day after the attack 9/11 at a panel at the college. I said I see this struggle as two forms of supra-fundamentalism: one that has emerged in the Muslim world and one that has emerged in the Judeo/Christian world, precisely in terms of our own administration. These are similar in structure. If someone could step back and look at it with some objectivity as Karen Armstrong (www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week602/armstrong.html) says in a recent interview. (Some consider her perhaps the most outstanding spokesperson on religion in our world today.) She said, “I think that if GB & OBL could sit down together in a room, they would understand each other.” To step back the way she can and look at it that way – I think that’s an important thing to examine.
Moderator: Osama Bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, John Murtha, Robert Gard, and David Cortright are all on the same side; you are on the side of the terrorists and you want to us to leave Iraq. How do you defend being on the side of the terrorists?
Dr. Cortright: I don’t think that al-Zarqawi and extremist Al Qaeda militants really want the US to leave. Our being there has been a big boon them; the recruits are pouring in. Their image of us is being played out in the newspapers and newsreels every day. I actually think that one of the main reasons for a responsible exit from Iraq is so that we can weaken the position of Al Qaeda and the extremist terrorist element that’s out there that is a real threat to our country. You could use this argue this a very nationalist, conservative perspective: our responsibility is to protect our country and our interests from this global terrorist danger. Going into Iraq has worsened that danger. The way to reduce it now again and to disappoint Bin Laden & Co. is to have a coherent alternative policy which says, “We’re going to help Iraq; we’re going to help stabilize that country in a way that reduces and then eliminates completely our military presence.”
Dr. Miller: Certain linguistic formulations are philosophically misleading. In sociological studies that have done of supra-moral fundamentalists have been titled “They’re Just Like Us.” Just to take a simple example — “They love their children; I love my children.” So what? To put these two together and say, “Oh my gosh, you love your children and Osama Bin Laden loves his children. Isn’t that horrible?” No, it’s absolutely meaningless. It’s simply a verbal type of facile equivocation that doesn’t address any of these issues that are operative. We may both enjoy a good meal. What does this prove? We have to watch formulations of this type because they’re really vacuous and say nothing.
Moderator: But Gen. Gard, al-Zawahiri wants US to leave and when the President and the Secretary of Defense talked about troop withdrawals, they got on national television and say “We win! They’re negotiating with Mujahadeen!” And so, you’re on the same side, you want him to be able to say “we drove them out of Iraq.” If we follow your policies, he’s going to be able to say we drove them out.
Gen. Gard: If you are engaged in an operation under erroneous pretenses, even if somebody with whom you have basic disagreements happens to agree with you on that particular element, so be it. Pulling the combat troops out of Iraq, reducing the motivation for the recruitment of insurgents and indeed terrorists, both I would argue — and even the president has admitted that the supposition that Saddam and the terrorists were in cahoots before we attacked and that perhaps Saddam had something to do with 9/ll — he has repudiated that. But now, indeed, Iraq is the kind of central front — at least for the moment — for the war on terror because we’ve attracted so many terrorists to come in as a result of our invading, which OBL has said, “These Americans want to occupy Arab lands and particular Muslim holy places, exploit their resources and destroy Islam.” As pointed out by one of my two colleagues earlier, we couldn’t have issued him anything I can think of that would have helped his cause more. The French left the Algerian insurgency deciding it was no longer worth the cause, and France was the better for it. I think that it’s going to take a lot of courage even as obvious as it may be. The excuse we use for going into Iraq as Paul Wolfowitz said – the one we could get everyone to agree on was WMDs, and of course he had other objectives. The one we publicized was WMDs and their being in cahoots with Al Qaeda turned out to be false. We just ought to admit that up front. We went under pretenses that proved to be wrong. We have discovered that after being there that we’re not helping Iraqi people, we’re killing them in large numbers and we’re destroying their infrastructure and we’re attracting terrorists into their country who are killing fellow Muslims. And it might be helpful to the security and well being of Iraq if US combat troops were withdraw, and you make that explicit as David Cortright was saying. It doesn’t mean you no longer have an obligation to Iraq, because indeed we do. We have created a situation in Iraq that we, I think, have the moral obligation to try to rectify, to some degree to assist in getting some stability and some degree of prosperity back in the country. We can still do that. And sure, in this case, al-Zawahiri and I agree.
How can we get Bush out of office?
Question: I’ve heard everything that has been said, and it all makes sense and I’m very impressed with the knowledge. But I’m with Murtha and I’m an inpatient person; I don’t want to wait until 2008. How can we just get Bush out of there now?
Dr. Cortright: He did violate the laws. Is driving this administration out of office the most reasonable way to end the war?
Question: [edited to remove “speechifying”] Why is it not the most reasonable thing, the most reasonable way to bring about an end to the war to drive Bush out?
Dr. Cortright: We as a movement, as the people who are right about this war – and let’s remember that – and what we said has been proven by the unfortunate balance. We have a responsibility to push the debate. Yes, we should demand that the US gets out; we should demand that we start the withdrawal as quickly as possible and move as fast as we can to get out. The point I was making earlier about a political position was one that our candidates that we would support would bring in to the vote in ‘06. But it’s still important for us to push the envelope, to demand that our political leaders get out as fast as possible. I agree with you on that
Dr. Miller: No great cause is served by a lack of patience. I think the good plans are plans that are made within circumstances that can produce effective results. I think what we’ve heard about the coming elections is the place to focus. The rest, I think, unfortunately is just a product of our ego. We’d like to gratify our ego, but I don’t think that’s what really helps the world. I think if we want to do something useful, we have to put aside the frustration of the ego and try to focus on what at a deeper level is really going to be helpful. That’s just part of any spiritual discipline is to not respond to the ego in us. It’s why we live in a democracy. Democracies are made to respond to egos. Democracies are made to serve reasonable purposes of reasonable people and I don’t think we want to lose that. I don’t think we want to lose living in a democracy to salve our egos. I think we have to listen to all the spiritual wisdoms that tell us to put aside the ego and focus on what is real and what is doable and what the prospect of success.
How can we resolve the Iraqi situation with our current media suppression & control?
Question: There was a reference early that when we go out in public to speak, one problem I have is that people I talk to in public have different information than I do. How can we possibly reach a sane and just resolution to the situation in Iraq under the current environment of media suppression & control?
Moderator to Gen. Gard: I assume that in any war, you’ve got to have a propaganda strategy. Our government has a propaganda strategy and according to this gentleman, it’s working pretty well.
Gen. Gard: The problem is it seems to me is to get sufficient proportion of the body politic concerned enough in a democratic society that you no longer tolerate a policy that is getting our troops killed for no legitimate purpose that I can perceive at this time. People are busy with their own lives, they’re too busy to dig into all of this stuff that’s out there. I kept a file on Iraq, through a lot of stuff in it. When David asked me to come out, I grabbed the file and a lot of the data and the quotes that I have here is important so I have it on file, but I don’t read it every one of those papers every day when they came in. But by and large, the facts are there. The fact that in the fall of 2005 there were more people killed per day, half again as many as in a comparable period in 2004. It’s getting worse. But the only thing you can do — and I think this is what Ron meant about a democratic society and patience, we have processes. Unfortunately, the way our Constitution is written, our president has a lot of prerogative and authority as Commander in Chief, and the balance is of course the Congress, if elects to exercise that balance with it can do through the appropriations process. There’s some balance in the courts, although that’s been by and large ignored. How do you people in our society to pay enough attention? In the last election, where did Iraq rank in order of the issues that concerned the electorate? Pretty far down. In fact, Kerry got more favorable ratings on dealing with Iraq than the president did. The president got the favorable ratings for dealing with terrorism and that was the preoccupation of personal safety of the American public at the time. Now I heard earlier and I’m glad to hear it that Iraq has become issue #1. That’s big time.
What impact will Democratic control of the House in ’06 have on an administration that supports this war?
Question: Assuming that Democrats can take back the house in ’06, how will that affect and what benefit will that be on this issue if we have an administration that still believes in this war?
Dr. Cortright: This is a political process that we’re involved in; it’s going to be one that will take time, unfortunately. I see this question and the previous one as related. The tide of events has started to shift in our direction, I believe. Unfortunately as this terrible war goes on, as, Bob said, it’s getting worse, the violence is great, and the dangers in that part of the world are greater. But in terms in the views of the American public, they now agree with us that we should never have gone in there, the war is wrong, and when asked if we should get out in a year or two, we have majority support. So we need to be persistent in continuing to emphasize this argument, hope we can win politically in ’06 and keep up the pressure and then especially develop leadership in our own Democratic party, people like Obama and others who need to take a better position on this and take a leadership view on this that says “We can get out militarily but we can support and we will support Iraq as it tries to stabilize. So I think we can make progress. To the previous question, we have more power sometimes than we know and we in this room have power. All of you have been involved and I see you taking notes, and you are being empowered by developing this information. Persistence means that we continue to try everything that’s within our power to do. We all put in whatever time we have a week to continually press forward this debate. We write LTES, we try to get on talk shows, we go to those vigils, we put on events like this. And every time we put on an event, we try to reach out to the press and we keep a focused and careful message on responsible exit, helping Iraq to stabilize. And over time, I’m convinced we will win. America will leave this horrendous war. Hopefully it will leave in a way, as we’ve tried to argue, that will be more responsible, that will give Iraq some chance of recovering from this disaster that we’ve created and that will diminish the overall terrorist threat. That’s our goal, that’s our vision. I think we can accomplish that. And ’06 will be a step along way, but it’s not the solution; it’s just one small step. We have to keep on fighting, bring in a new president in ’08 and hopefully get this country back on the right track.
To what extent does the US have a plot to rule the world?
Question: To what extent is the approach to Iraq by Bush and the neo-cons part of a larger bad assumption, namely that because the USA has enormously capable tactical weapons that we have the ability, the might, and that might makes right, to rule the world?
Dr. Cortright: It’s not necessarily a plot, but there is a mindset. Let’s be honest. Our country is trapped in an imperial mindset. We’ve been in this as a country for a long time. Remember that our country was taking over Nicaragua and Mexico in the 19th Century. And certainly since WWII it certainly has become an illness, a disease in our society. That notorious peacenik and leftist, Dwight Eisenhower, warned us about the military industrial complex. And this is part of what’s driving us down on Iraq in terms of a solution. And even some of us progressives and liberals would say, “We have the power, we can fix it somehow. It was a mistake to go in there, but we figure out a way and we’ll do the right thing with our troops and our power.” I’m sorry, it’s not going to work out that way. We have to have a bit more humility as a nation and recognize that our power doesn’t give us the right to invade militarily against these countries and we have a responsibility to use that power in a cooperative and constructive fashion, which means to assist Iraq and the people of that region to recover.
Gen. Gard: While I might not have used the same terms, I think it’s very clear that since the end of Cold War, there was a group of people we have come to call Neo-Conservatives and “Neo” because conservatives tended to be fairly cautious about international involvement. This particular group saw the US as the sole preeminent super power. What an opportunity now, as long as we ensured that no other power was allowed to rise to challenge us — that we could shape the world in our own interests and in terms of our own values to improve the security of the country. And a part of that of course was a US presence in a key part of the Middle East because of the criticality of oil. We are dependent on foreign oil for more than ½ of our supply. And let me tell you, if the God-given right of the American public to drive the automobile is challenged in any way… Some of you may remember the early ‘70’s and the gasoline lines and the violence that took place. That’s a fact and so that was high up on the priority list of these people to make sure of the flow. And this goes back to Carter. When the Russians went into Afghanistan, he decided that they weren’t really quite as easy to deal with as he had thought and he stated flat out that our access to oil resources was of critical national interest of the US and we would allow nothing to challenge it. So it comes from that tradition. I have essentially agreed that this is wrong-headed. During most of the Cold War period, we did cooperate with our allies, we did restrain ourselves to playing by a set of rules we helped to establish, many of which we have thrown out in recent years because of our preeminent military position that we’re trying to take advantage of, to our long term detriment.
Dr. Miller: In a recent visit to Germany where I have done some of my studies, I was with some university students in Grogzwig and they were saying, “The arrogance of power led our country into two disastrous wars that brought great tragedy not only on us, but also on the whole world. What we’d like you to take back to your countrymen is to meditate deeply on the temptation of the arrogance of power.”
What policy positions & rationales can Democratic candidates take to convince swing voters that we can fight terrorism?
Question: In order to something about this, we have to take back the Congress in ’06 and the presidency in ’08, and keep the Congress in ’08. In order to do this, as was mentioned earlier, one of the reasons why we didn’t in the last election was excessive concern among swing voters about whether democrat positions would be effective in combating terrorism. What policy positions and rationales therefore can democratic candidates most effectively take in the next elections to convince swing voters that we are serious on terrorism and that we have plausible and effective practical policies for combating them?
Dr. Cortright: We should probably have a whole forum just on this. I think we as a progressive and liberal community of democrats need to have a better and tougher strategy against terrorism. I personally think this should be a huge priority of ours. Briefly, the conflict against terrorism has to be seen on two levels. Ron mentioned that there are the ultra militants, the extremists who are responsible for these terrible attacks like 9/11, London, and Madrid, and so many places around the world. Those people deserve a forceful and military response, if military force can be effective. But there is a broader, second level, if you will, the outer circle, which are all those people in mostly the Muslim world who could be convinced to sympathize with and support these militants because of policies like our own in Iraq. There our task is to engage with Muslim societies to take away the political causes and irritants which would motivate people to join the ranks of the hard core militants. One of the interesting and important facts that we have to keep in mind is research that Robert Pape at the University of Chicago (http://political-science.uchicago.edu/faculty/pape.html) that has undertaken on the question of the phenomenon of suicide terrorism. He has found that 95% of all incidents suicide terrorism are motivated by the desire to end military occupation. That says that military occupation is the principle cause of suicide terrorism. That reinforces our argument for ending our own occupation in Iraq. There’s a lot more to it, but we need to be tough on fighting terrorism and recognize that that’s quite separate from the war in Iraq and the fact that we can advance the struggle against terrorism by reducing and eliminating our military profile in Iraq.
How do you repudiate the “war on terror” as an approach to Iraq & response to terrorism?
Question: The question is about the so-called “war on terrorism” in Iraq. We have a metaphor of war. We have the war on poverty which was a peaceable war. We have the war on drugs, which got quite militant. Now we have this so-called “war on terrorism” and Iraq has gotten sucked into that, like it or not. So I’m asking the three of you, as public intellectual leaders, are any of you ready to take on and repudiate this concept of the so called “war on terrorism” as an approach to Iraq and responding to the terrorism in general?
Gen. Gard: You can’t have a war against a technique. That’s like a war against frontal assaults or envelopments. Terrorism is a technique. You can have a war against organized terrorist groups with a global reach. That’s where we started. Now you don’t have to have a global reach. It can be strictly local. You so can wrap Hezbollah, Hamas, people in countries that offer no threat to the US whatsoever and say, “Well, we’re going to take them on too.” It makes absolutely no sense to claim that you’re fighting a war against a technique used by people who are employing violence to reach their political end. I would agree with that. It’s asinine. There was an attempt to rename that: GSAVE (Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism) and ELIG – Enemies of Legitimate Iraq Government. When Rumsfeld tried GSAVE, the president said, no, he liked war on terrorism. And so Rumsfeld quit saying GSAVE.
Dr. Miller: I think this language is important. One of the things I’ve urged from the beginning is that I have preferred a response to terrorism. It’s very important to keep this distinction in mind between the supra moral folks who really do need to contained or eliminated and there’s a large group where we face the extraordinarily challenging problem that I think for the most part that we are ignoring and that is recruitment. I think what is at stake here is the recruitment of this large group that could swing one way or the other. When you define it in terms of the war, it’s too tribal it’s to simplistic it lumps everything together. If we could say response, we could talk about various kinds of responses to various kinds of groups and various kinds of tactics and various kinds of people. I think that would broaden this effort so that we could face this idea of recruitment because that is where the battle will ultimately be won or lost.
Dr. Cortright: I agree. This term “war on terrorism” is a political metaphor. But in reality it’s an absurdity and counter productive. What’s really needed are cooperative non military strategies to the extent that this terrorist threat is a global phenomenon and is aimed at mass destruction. There has to be a global response. There have been a number of things done. The US has done a few things the right way; we have been working through the UN with the counter terrorism program there. The idea of better homeland defense – I don’t like Homeland Security as a phrase – more protections here at home is a good one. There again, here’s where I think we can be tougher. They’ve actually short changed many of things we can do here at home by pouring money down a rat hole in Iraq. As we think about our strategies going forward as Democrats and progressives, we can be tough in terms of seeking better protections here at home and more cooperative effective strategies internationally.
Knowing what you know today, would you enlist in the military?
Question for Gen. Gard: Jack Murtha this week made another statement that I thought was powerful when he was asked by the media today, given what he knew, he would enlist. And as we all know he has had a long history with the military. And he said “No.” And in doing so he has become one of our strongest advocates in the counter recruitment movement here in this country. So my question to you, Lt. Gen., knowing what you know today, would you enlist?
Gen. Gard: Oh boy. Probably not at this time were I an 18 year old. At the time I committed toward a military career, WWII was going on. I always felt that the main purpose of the military was to try to deter aggression and in that sense, I wasn’t looking for the joys of combat, but hoping it could be avoided if we were responsible politically and maintained sufficient strength to deter any power that may want to work against our interest.
Can we affect the powerful corporations that profit from war?
Question: I strongly believe in the power of people to affect politicians and if our voice is strong enough, and there is the election, I think they’ll listen. But for those corporations – Halliburton and whatever – who profit by this war, is there any way we as people, as voters, as consumers affect them?
Dr. Cortright: Unfortunately, I’m all in favor of boycotts; it’s one of the great tools of non-violent social structure. But most of these companies have only one customer and it’s the US government and not really susceptible to consumer power. With these kinds of Halliburton, big contractors, and big arms manufacturers, our only recourse is this political process to change the government.
Gen. Gard: One thing we haven’t touched on at all is the whole purpose for which wars are fought. What were we looking for in Iraq? Well, originally, it was to turn Iraq into a model nation for the region; a democratic, secular, market-oriented government sympathetic to US interests, a home for US bases, and a country not hostile to Israel. The most recent national strategy for victory in Iraq, the National Security Council paper that I’ve been calling to your attention to says, “Help build national institutions that transcend regional and sectarian interests and protect individual and minority rights.” I don’t know how many of you had a hard look at that constitution that has been written by that interim Iraqi government and was passed by referendum, but it doesn’t meet those criteria – certainly not the first and by no means the second. What you got in that constitution is a con-federation. Back in the early days of the US before we had a constitution, we had a confederation. The only two functions that are the sole responsibility of the central government according to that [Iraqi] constitution are defense and foreign affairs. [According to conversations with Gen. Gard, the Iraqi constitution lacks federal control over critical areas like commerce and human rights.]
Dr. Miller: The major contribution of the great religious traditions is consciousness and conscience. And conscience follows consciousness. The way we act in the world depends on the way we think about the world. As Americans, I think we have a tendency sometimes to be overly pragmatic – to do first and to think later. I think it would be helpful to us to focus a little bit on our consciousness. How do we put our mind around these issues? How do we name them? How do we frame them? How do we speak about them? I think that with this kind of patient reflective examination of consciousness is an important preliminary step to the actions of our conscience. And in that sense, I would encourage that sort of examination on the part of all of us.
Dr. Cortright: And with that conscience, then to persist with our political action and to understand that we do have power and that we have the arguments now. We know that the majority of the Iraqi people want us to leave and that there is a strategy for responsible military exit. We start to withdraw immediately, we’re out over a year or two, we pledge publicly and definitively that we will leave behind no permanent bases. We will not try to take over their oil. We will engage internationally with other nations in the region, with NATO and the UN, to really put together an international process that helps to stabilize Iraq as we withdraw. We then make a major commitment economically and financially to assist Iraq and the region and we tie that into a substantial effort to combat this threat from Al Qaeda and global terrorism.