Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith, a primary architect of the war on Iraq, addressed an eager audience of University students about the U.S. strategy for the war on terror Wednesday afternoon.
Speaking at the Max Palevsky cinema, Feith defended the Bush administration's approach to the war on terrorism 13 months after hundreds of U of C students protested the war by walking out of class and participating in a rally downtown.
Feith referred to the September 11th attacks as the turning point of U.S foreign policy. This damaging and horrendous event, he asserted, forced the government to reevaluate its defense strategy.
"The pressing, most basic decision after 9/11 was how to think about the attack," Feith said. "The U.S. government's response in [previous terrorist] cases was to use the F.B.I. to investigate, to look for individuals to arrest, extradite, and prosecute at law courts. President Bush broke with that frame of mind when he decided that 9/11 meant that we're at war."
The President's decision was a proper comprehension of the problem, according to Feith. It allowed mobilized armed forces to strike al Qaeda terrorists and their state supporters before another attack on American citizens.
Feith claimed that the U.S. strategy is to lead the international community in preventing terrorism from gaining safe haven, money, weapons, and more indoctrinated followers. These fears also motivated the Bush Administration to liberate Afghanistan from the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, capture or kill the leaders of al Qaeda, and topple the government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
"Our stakes in success in Iraq are large," Feith said. "Operation Iraqi Freedom has so far eliminated a safe haven for terrorism in Iraq, eliminated a source of financial support for terrorists eliminated a possible source of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, technology, material or training for terrorists."
Feith also addressed the Fallujah insurgency and the rising frequency of soldier deaths as signs that violence in Iraq may be escalating. "There's no cost-free option for America in Iraq," he said. "The mission there is as important as it is complex and dangerous."
During a question and answer session after Feith's speech, students came forward with questions skeptical of the Bush administration's rationale behind the Iraq war. Walter Lamberson, a first-year in the College, asked if President Bush had taken into consideration the harm that the war on terrorism has brought to citizens of other nations.
"I was wondering if you could quantify for me how many people really have died in result of the conflict?" Lamberson said.
Feith responded that the administration has taken into account the issue of how the war is affecting the civilian populations of other countries and how it affects immigration to and from the United States. He said it was inevitable that there are civilian deaths, but that the United States did not choose this war. When pressed, Feith could not give an estimate of how many people have been killed in the war.
Second-year in the College David Siffert asked how deep the connection was between former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and al Qaedathe basis for much of the argument to invade Iraq. Feith responded by saying that though there is no implication Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks, the former Iraqi leader did have high level contacts with al Qaeda for ten years. He added that given Hussein's erratic behavior, his want of WMD, and his hatred for the U.S. and its allies, it would have been an oversight to ignore his future threats.
Ronald Suny, a professor in political science and history at the College, introduced Feith, but still had doubts about the war. "I felt a little bit like an anthropologist listening to an informant from another world," Suny said. "I'm trying hard to understand faith-based foreign policythe policy in Iraq which looks like it is based on fantasy and self-delusion."
The event, however, fulfilled the desire of the Political Union to sustain a debate on the issue of war from both sides. Gregory Pesce, a first-year undergraduate and chair of the Political Union, said the questions may have been confrontational, but the event allowed students to hear the opinion of an actual policymaker, which is often lacking at other forums.
"This was the challenging debate that the Political Union was looking for it," Pesce said. "It brought students and faculty in contact with an important policy maker and enabled them to question him. Many of the questions were also very tough and compelled Mr. Feith to defend the Bush administration's policy in ways that more visible members, including the President himself, have not in the past."