Government organization holds forum on possible war in Iraq

Josh Coffman

As President George Bush tells the nation that time is running out for diplomacy with Iraq, hundreds of thousands of American troops stand ready to wage war in the Middle East.

Back on the Hill, the debate over whether the conflict is necessary seems as hot as the Saudi desert sun.

Western’s Government and Politics Society gave students a channel to debate and learn more about the situation.

GAPS sponsored a forum Thursday in Downing University Center?to increase student awareness on the pending war in Iraq and the issues intertwined with it.

The event also allowed students to?express their views on the current threat of war and its possible outcomes in a question and answer session.

Brownsville senior Scott Wolfe, GAPS president, helped organize the discussion. Wolfe said GAPS is a non-partisan group designed to increase the political awareness of students.

“We’re not here to say the war is bad or that the war is good,” he said before the event. “We’re just here to talk about it and raise awareness.”

The forum featured speakers from the government, history and journalism departments.

“The reason we’re here is the war on Iraq,” Wolfe told those in attendance at the beginning of the forum. “We all know it’s coming, but we may not all know why.”

History professor Marion Lucas said Americans historically have been divided about going to war. People lose basic civil rights as the government restricts the freedoms of speech and press as it plans for war, he said.

“The government has to marshal the population in favor of war,” Lucas said before his presentation. “Usually to do this, it attacks freedom of press and freedom of speech … The government uses fear.”

Soleiman Kiasatpour teaches International Government Affairs at Western. Kiasatpour, originally from Iran, spoke about a post-war Iraq. He said he recently talked with an unnamed high-ranking official in an unnamed Iraqi group opposed to Saddam Hussein.

He said the official he talked with is pessimistic about a U.S.-controlled, post-war Iraq, citing shortfalls in the Kurd-controlled northern no-fly zone in the country.

“If the U.S. can’t get northern Iraq on track, how can they ever get all of Iraq?” Kiasatpour asked.

GAPS faculty adviser Roger Murphy talked about why the United States has failed in building an international coalition against Iraq, as done the Persian Gulf War in 1991. He also discussed what the split means for the effectiveness of the United Nations Security Council.

Murphy said France’s opposition to the war is not unusual.

“France is worried about U.S. power,” Murphy said. “The French see themselves as an independent voice.”???

Murphy said past foreign policy indicates why Britain is supportive of the United States.

“The British felt that their role is to be the trans-Atlantic bridge between the U.S. and Europe,” he said.

Journalism professor Harry Allen spoke about the role of the media in covering wars.

Allen said the press has not been doing an adequate job covering recent war protests. He blamed newspapers for focusing on what sells before reporting on what is important. But the U.S. free press is still better off than any other country’s, he said.

“We still live in the freest society,” he said. “We still have the freest press.”

There was not much debate at the forum. Students mostly asked questions and listened.

Elizabethtown junior Clay Larkin was among the approximately 50 people who attended the forum.

“It was pretty informative — fairly interesting,” he said. “I think it’s pretty important for people to hear this.”

Upton freshman Nicole Hawk agreed that the speeches were informative, but she said she was hoping for more of a debate.

“I wish there had been a devil’s advocate,” she said, “Something to clash with the group.”?

Reach Josh Coffman at [email protected]