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April 3, 2003

“Teach-in” argues against U.S. war in Iraq

According to a Pitt legal expert, the United States’ March 19 strike against Iraq clearly violated international law.

“The principles that have defined world order since World War II are contained in Section 2 of Article 4 and Article 51 of the United Nations charter: A country cannot go to war, cannot use force against another country, except under conditions of self-defense or with the authorization of the U.N. Security Council,” said Pitt law professor Jules Lobel. “In this case we have launched what is clearly an aggressive, illegal war, that is not in self-defense as defined by the charter, nor has it got the approval of the Security Council.”

One of two panelists, Lobel spoke at a March 26 assembly titled “How Did We Get Here? The International Community and Iraq,” which was sponsored by the Global Studies Program at Pitt’s University Center for International Studies (UCIS).

Billed as a “teach-in,” the event presented only arguments against U.S. actions in Iraq.

Panelist William Keller, professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA), pointed out that opinions of the American educated elite, which he said the audience by and large represented, did not reflect opinions of the majority in the country.

“I seem to be the only one on my block not to be flying an American flag. I have a sign on my lawn that says, ‘I’m not buying this war.’ I’m thinking of taking the sign down. There are a lot of guns in this country,” he said, only half-joking.

Keller agreed with Lobel that the war was illegal and expounded further on the long-range negative consequences of the Iraqi war.

“I have no doubt that our forces will prevail, but what concerns me is the aftermath,” said Keller, who also holds the inaugural Wesley W. Posvar Chair in International Security Studies and is director of the Matthew B. Ridgway Center for International Security Studies at GSPIA and UCIS. “Weak states have got to be asking, ‘Who’s next? Is it whoever crosses the United States?’ If we’re going to pre-emptively attack Iraq because we think they might be developing nuclear weapons, or might use weapons of mass destruction, there have to be some pretty frightened regimes in the world, including North Korea, which probably already has nuclear weapons.”

Following the two speakers, about a dozen audience members participated in a question-and-answer session, but none of them defended the war in Iraq. One audience member asked for a show of hands: ‘Who supports the U.S. actions?’ Fewer than a dozen of the 150 in attendance raised their hands.

“Most Americans are not thinking about this the same way I am,” Keller said. “Any political scientist you talk to will tell you that in time of war there is always a rallying around the president; so I’m not surprised that polls show 70 percent of Americans support the military action [as of March 26].”

Both Keller and Lobel said that American opinion has been swayed by the Bush administration’s fostering of a climate of fear that has succeeded in linking Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with the Al Qaeda network’s Sept. 11 terrorism strike, “despite there being no evidence linking the two,” Lobel said.

“It’s a very effective strategy,” Keller added, “to pair terrorism with Saddam. It rings like a bell, repeated so many times that polls now show that 50 percent of Americans believe Saddam was responsible for Sept. 11.”

Keller added that media coverage of the war has been “co-opted, whether the media realize it or not. This is the first war that is a media event. It’s become a form of entertainment and with embedded correspondents, it’s human nature to have biased reporting. They’re living and traveling with the troops. The reporters are in peril themselves,” which stifles their objectivity, he said.

But both Keller and Lobel said that popular opinion can change if the war drags on. “Americans have very little tolerance for [U.S. casualties],” Keller said. “And there is a myth that modern war is clean, it’s like a video game. But all war is a nasty, dirty business, and if it’s drawn out, there could be much stronger resistance.”

He added that, on the other hand, “if there’s another 9/11 or Saddam uses chemical weapons, there could be increased support for the war.”

As for the war’s legal justification, Lobel referred to the Bush administration’s “quite Orwellian claim that in 1990 when the U.N. security council authorized an attack on Iraq to get them out of Kuwait, it in effect authorized this attack to remove the Iraqi government and occupy Iraqi territory.”

He said resolution 678 was nullified by resolution 687 that declared a cease fire and set conditions for Iraqi compliance. “Even though the Iraqis are not in compliance, the U.N. said clearly that any determination about the enforcement of [resolution 687] will be done by us, the security council.”

Furthermore, he said, the oft-cited resolution 1441, passed unanimously by the Security Council last fall, did not authorize the use of force, despite the Bush administration’s assertions. “The French, the Chinese, the Russians have made it clear this doesn’t authorize force. The resolution says [the U.N.] is supposed to get a report from inspectors and further actions are supposed to go back to the Security Council, which refused to authorize [force].”

Moreover, the United States and Britain, by withdrawing a proposed second resolution, acknowledged that they didn’t have even a majority of the votes in the Security Council to back it.

“This is not about France’s veto [threat]. We’ve tried to bribe six poor countries, little nations, all relying heavily on U.S. economic aid, and still couldn’t get nine votes. So the U.S. action cannot be made on the claim that it had the support of the majority of the Security Council,” Lobel said.

“The reason that world opinion is so against us, including Russians, French, Germans, Chinese, is not simply that people are anti-American or because the Russians are recalcitrant or the French are petulant as some commentators suggest, it is because this basic norm that a nation should not be able to go to war except in self defense has seeped into the world consciousness over the last 50 years,” Lobel said.

Keller pointed to possible consequences of the war:

• Due to significant resistance from the Iraqis and the unknown length of the war, the cost in human lives, including Iraqi civilians and American soldiers, could be great.

• The war could result in political instability throughout the Middle East.

• The effect on the American economy, already facing a $300 billion deficit, could be large due to the war’s cost.

• The United States will lose the support and friendship of long-term U.S. allies. “It may be a big joke to have ‘freedom fries’ in the House of Representatives, but I can assure you the French don’t take this lightly and neither do our NATO allies, and our diplomatic relations are very strained because of this,” Keller maintained.

“So the Bush vision, which I think we have to call naive now, that this will be a quick, easy victory, with mass Iraqi defections, with a short occupation and with a flourishing democracy in Iraq, is every day looking more and more like a pipe-dream.”

• There is the potential for an increase in terrorism. “This is the kind of thing that promotes a recruiting ground for organizations like Al Qaeda, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see terrorist episodes in the future against U.S. forces, property, embassies and here in the United States,” Keller said.

—Peter Hart

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