NEWS

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January 25, 2005

Mearsheimer, others discuss "democratic intervention"

Armchair politicians not joining the aspiring revolutionaries for the University counter-inauguration last Thursday packed the International House's Assembly Hall for a panel discussion featuring four prominent scholars of international affairs.

John Mearsheimer, political science professor, headlined a list that included Richard Shweder, professor in Human Development, Andrew Arato, professor in political and social theory at the New School for Social Research, and Moishe Postone, associate professor of history.

As President Bush touted America for its "great liberating tradition" during his inauguration address, Mearsheimer attempted to shine a different light on what he called the "shortcomings of the Bush doctrine."

"The United States is about to suffer a catastrophic defeat in Iraq," the West Point graduate said. "We invaded Iraq as liberators, but have become occupiers because of Iraqi nationalism. The occupied peoples turned to insurgency—turned to terrorism; because terrorism is the weapon of the weak."

Mearsheimer, drawing many laughs from the audience with several poignant witticisms, outlined the role of American foreign policy since the Cold War to the rise of terrorism in the 1990s to the present struggle in Iraq, which he said has been fraught with mismanagement.

"Paul Wolfowitz argued in the aftermath of 9/11 that we should go after Iraq before we go after Afghanistan, because that was where the ‘low hanging fruit was,' " he said. "But me and my realist buddies said, ‘that's not the way the world works…' Now they're talking about the election (set for January 30 in Iraq) doing this or that; that's a bunch of poppycock."

Mearsheimer, a noted realist and subscriber to the theory that individual nations seek to maximize their power relative to other nations, noted the irrationality of believing that the United States could successfully invade Iraq merely to topple the regime.

"[The Bush administration's] theory of victory was that we had to bring civilization, or better, the American way of life, or better still, democracy to the Arab world…because these people are just different than us," he said. "Our basic goal in this was to effect regime change all over the Middle East…We expected that (Iran, Syria, Lebanon) would just throw up their hands and join our bandwagon."

Shweder was harsher in his assessment of Bush's foreign policy, alluding to the illegality of the American invasion of Iraq.

"There is something wrong when our nation starts to look like the Empire and not like the Federation in a Star Wars movie," he said. "George Bush should not be surprised by the resistance that his ‘moral missionaries' face in Iraq."

While Shweder cried foul in the Bush administration's decision to go to war, Arato posed the question of how "intervention," as it has been implemented in the past five years, has taken the form that it now has.

"The United States is an unbalanced hegemon," he said. "It does not need allies and cannot be checked with military power. What they call intervention is actually a democratically-justified confiscation of lands."

Arato appealed to the development of a "strong China and a strong Europe" to counterbalance the effect that America has in international relations.

Postone said that the response of the Bush administration to the World Trade Center attacks has formed and will continue to form a good deal of policy in international relations in the coming years. He noted the politicization of the Arab world in response to the American military presence in the region, and tried to describe the role of terrorism in international politics in less-than-mainstream terms.

"Osama Bin Laden's vision of the world is global, not local," Postone said. "9/11 was a direct reaction to American politics in the Middle East and to American politics with respect to Israel…Terrorism is a political, not an irrational, act."

The slight digression to the topic of terrorism hindered the speakers only for a moment before they returned to the topic of democracy and its perils at home and abroad.

"We cannot stay in Iraq and we cannot fix the problem," Mearsheimer said. "Those boys and girls in Iraq are up to their eyeballs in alligators… But if we leave, civil war will break out. The thought that the United States went into Iraq, decapitated the regime, and bloodbath resulted, is kind of a sickening thought."