Princeton Community Forum: What’s Next in Iraq? Is War Inevitable?

Public Lecture and Discussion
Princeton University
December 11, 2002
By Carl Robichaud

On December 11, 2002 Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School hosted a Community Forum: “What’s Next in Iraq? Is War Inevitable?”

The Panel Discussion was moderated by Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter. Panelists included: Michael Doran, Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies; Jonathan Granoff, President of the Global Security Institute; Frank N. von Hippel, Professor of Public and International Affairs; Co-Director, Program on Science and Global Security; Paul R. Krugman, Professor of Economics and International Affairs. 

Download the full streaming video of the event (RealPlayer):
Princeton Iraq Forum

The panelists spoke with, and fielded questions from, students, professors, and community members in a filled-to-capacity Dodd’s auditorium.

Jonathan Granoff‘s comments focused on the importance of addressing Iraq with multilateral and legal solutions through the United Nations, rather than relying on the unilateral exercise of force.

“The great genius of the American system is the sense of humility reflected in the checks and balances and the rule of law,” said Granoff. “I think the biggest cost of a war on Iraq would be the militarization of the American psyche, and the articulation of security through the unilateral exercise of military force.”

He noted that within the current administration there are many who favor overthrowing the Iraqi government even if weapons inspectors find nothing.

“What we are saying to the world is: We are going to disregard our duties to get rid of WMD. We are going to continue to threaten the world with massive annihilation with nuclear weapons, which remain on hair-trigger alert. We are not going to abide by the International Court of Justice’s ruling that nuclear weapons are illegal. We are going to disregard the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the unequivocal commitment we made in the year 2000 to thirteen practical steps leading toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. We are going to disregard those duties, and then we’re going to tell people from other countries that they can’t have these weapons? It’s irresponsible, unsustainable, and its inequity is essentially immoral.”

Granoff also raised concerns about post-war Iraq, especially about the lack of an exit plan. “What happens if they have democracy there, and the people in Iraq say they want the better deal on their own oil? Do we leave?”

Granoff argued that it is still possible to avoid war. “There is a way in which the humility of checks and balances would lead to a non-violent solution, and if we were interested in this we would be pushing for very robust monitors that would ensure that Iraq could not acquire nuclear weapons.”

Frank von Hippel, Co-Director, Program on Science and Global Security, and GSI Advisor, emphasized that in terms of non-proliferation the US-Russia program to prevent the spread of nuclear materials is far more important than any intervention in Iraq. But “while the Bush administration has been obsessed about Iraq, it has actually been trying to cut the budget to help Russia secure its nuclear materials.”

“If we’re going to invade Iraq, I hope we can clarify tonight why. The present threat is to preempt Iraq’s acquisition of WMD. But I don’t see that there is a threat, at least not a threat that has changed significantly since the early 90s. The evidence that’s given is on the Iraqi nuclear threat. But the intelligence estimates that have been published by the US, Britain, and Israel do not see any near-term nuclear threat.” According to von Hippel, these reports indicate that even with no sanctions Iraq would be years away from domestic production of nuclear weapons.

“The caveat is that Iraq could acquire nuclear weapons materials on the black market, but if in fact nuclear weapons materials are available on the black market, then we have a lot more to worry about than Iraq.”

Our top priority, von Hippel argued, should be to secure Russia’s nuclear material. “We need to get some high level attention on this issue, attention which has been diverted by issues that have been wasteful, such as national missile defense, or counterproductive, such as Iraq. We are on one hand putting a flea under the magnifying glass, and on the other hand ignoring the elephant.”

Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist and Macarthur-award winning economist, focused on economic impacts of the possible war on Iraq. He began by noting that our best estimate, in a November paper by William Nordhaus of Yale, includes an incredible range of uncertainty: a war could cost between $50 billion to $1.6 trillion.

Krugman noted that the $76.1 billion price tag of the last war in Iraq was small compared to the size of the US economy, but that an extended occupation could drive the cost of a future war much higher. He cautioned that the only certainty is uncertainty, and “the one thing that is actually predictable is that Washington has always underestimated the cost of war, sometimes two to ten times more than what they said.” According to Krugman, the war in Iraq could also drive up federal debt and world oil prices.

Krugman also warned that if the US is seen as using the military to its economic advantage, it may create problems with current allies. He noted that the US share of the world economy is not nearly as dominant as US’s military dominance might suggest. The reason the US has gained such an advantage in building up its arms is “basically because nobody else is bothering to,” and that if the US is seen as using its military to its economic advantage it will face greater global opposition.

Michael Doran, Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies, focused his analysis on the politics of the Middle East. According to Doran, the US goals in Iraq are not primarily about non-proliferation, but about issues that Washington is less comfortable discussing–the balance of power in the Middle East.

“No president, Democrat or Republican, is going to pull out of the Persian Gulf. Oil is too important to the world economy,” Doran noted. “We have been involved, and we have responsibility. American order in Middle East is superior to the realistic alternative.”

In maintaining a presence there, the US has been forced into a policy of “dual containment” of Iran and Iraq, and relying upon Saudi Arabia which, because of its leverage, has been an “unreliable ally.”

The main goal of the current US policy in Iraq, according to Doran, is to alleviate some of the pressure on Saudi Arabia and to force it to “pay more respect to the desires of Washington.”

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