May 6, 2003

Iraqi Relief Fundraiser

Is it better to be feared or loved? Machiavelli's question has been resonating throughout our policy towards the Middle East for the last two decades. Under Reagan and Bush I, fear seemed to be the preferred way of doing business; under Clinton, it was being loved.

Unfortunately, winning the war on terrorism will require more than just cowing or destroying those who might attack us. It will also entail building bridges to the Middle East and convincing people there to support democracy.

While much has been made of the fear and mistrust that has sprung up between the West and the Near East, most available evidence says that it is neither recent nor one-sided. We've never befriended Arabs and Muslims. This is partly why Osama bin Laden could pass off the war on terrorism as "us vs. them."

While many people agree that we need to win hearts and minds, there isn't much consensus on how to do it. Many conservatives, especially at the Pentagon, subscribe to the Lyndon Johnson quote that "If you've got 'em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow." Others defer to the "Arab Street."

Neither approach will work by itself. The former can lead to us being hated, the very outcome Al Qaeda is seeking. The latter depends solely on love and goodwill, which, as Machiavelli points out, are "preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage."

Our invasion of Iraq has certainly done a lot to strike fear into our enemies and potential enemies. But there has not yet been a counterbalancing act to show that we are good people who care about the welfare of the Iraqi people. While we will eventually bring democracy to Iraq, that will take some time. There is an immediate need for food and medical supplies. Hospitals are still crowded with casualties of war. Widespread looting (before and during the war) has removed most supplies. As conquerors of Iraq, it is up to us to provide the counterbalance. As a recent New York Times letter to the editor pointed out, "Democracy has little meaning for the dying and no meaning for the dead."

At this University, several students--myself included--are working on a project called the Iraqi Hunger Relief Fundraiser. The goal of the project is to provide financial assistance to CARE, a relief organization providing food in areas of Iraq where the economic infrastructure has not been fully restored. This is neither a liberal nor a conservative undertaking. It has support from, among others, the College Republicans, the UC Dems, Chicago Friends of Israel, the Muslim Students Association, and several anti-globalization RSOs.

Our fundraiser is Thursday at 8 p.m. in Hutch. It will feature an auction, a raffle, and a rummage sale. We still need people to donate clothes or books for the sale. There are also collection tables in Bartlett and the Reynolds Club where you can leave donations.

I believe that this fundraiser is a small battle in the larger war on terrorism. We may not be able to go on the front lines, but all of us can show the people of Iraq our charitable side.