OPEN LETTER TO THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY
AU’S SUPPORT FOR THE ILLEGAL OCCUPATION OF IRAQ
July 10, 2003
Dear AU Colleagues:
I am writing to ask for your help in ensuring that American University does not support the illegal U.S. occupation of Iraq, in the form of an Agency for International Development (AID) contract to help operate the Iraqi school system. Please join me in asking that this contract be delayed until power in Iraq is transferred to the United Nations or to a freely and democratically-elected Iraqi government – two options that the Bush administration has firmly resisted to date.
How can helping operate the Iraqi school system be a bad thing for AU professors, staff, and graduate students to do? The answer lies in the fact that at present all decisions about public services in Iraq, including the school system, are being controlled by the United States. In both practical and moral terms, this reality of U.S. rather than Iraqi control presents daunting challenges to the AU project.
In practical terms, the war is not over. Paramilitary attacks are being directed against the occupying forces and their local security forces. Looting and sabotage of public services, including schools, are serious problems, and are likely to continue until a legitimate Iraqi authority is in place. There have been 1300 U.S. and British casualties since the start of the war, including 260 dead. An average of one U.S. soldier has died every day in Iraq since the declared end of major combat on May 1, and two more died just today after four separate assaults. Roughly 145,000 U.S. troops are on the ground, far too few to reduce Iraqi attacks by establishing tight security in critical areas. It is clear that President Bush, for a variety of political reasons, will not increase this number, and other nations, such as India, have been deferring requests for significant numbers of troops until the mission changes from one of occupation under U.S. control to one of peace-keeping under United Nations or Iraqi authority.
The U.S. command authority in Baghdad appears to have little grasp of Iraqi politics, to be unable due to security problems to mix with Iraqis, and to have no intention of permitting forces it cannot control, like elected Iraqis, the United Nations, or some other multilateral authority, to replace it. Having ruled out elections whose results it might not like, the United States is hoping that an undefined process of “self-selection” will bring councils of popular Iraqis to positions of prominence, if not authority, in major cities. True national self-government is not on the agenda at present, and may not be for five to ten years. In this context of extended, increasingly unpopular military occupation, AU’s work with schools will be potentially lethal for personnel actually traveling to Iraq, and also will be unlikely to be of much benefit to the Iraqi people.
In moral terms, helping the occupying force set up schools would support the hegemonic foreign policy being carried out in Iraq by the Bush administration. This would violate crucial tenets of universities in general and AU in particular, and pose a far more fundamental threat to AU’s mission than the hotly-debated decision in the 1980s to name a building after Iran-Contra arms dealer Adnan Kashoggi.
(A note on vocabulary: The word “hegemony” just doesn’t ring right for me. Nor do other words one might use -- empire, super-power, hyper-power, neocolonialism, global primacy -- to describe the behavior of the Bush administration in invading Iraq. I would love to find a new word, one without connotations from previous drives for dominance, but I think we all know the phenomenon I am describing: the illegal use of threats and force by a nation with overwhelming military might to determine the government of another country.)
AU wishes to be a “values-based institution, emphasizing long-held university commitments to such values as human rights and dignity, social justice, environmental protection, diversity, and individual freedom.” How are these goals consistent with setting up a school system in which the U.S. Government, through its armed occupation force, is the ultimate decision-maker on the version of history portrayed in curricula and textbooks, and picks teachers and administrators not on the basis of their ability, but on an assessment of their ties to the Baath party or to a particular religious doctrine, or to a particular public figure who advocates a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq? What happens to universities’ hallmark of academic freedom, the freedom to express views antithetical to those of a ruling power, in such an arrangement?
AU prides itself on “turning ideas in action and action into service.” In this case, our service would be to the benefit of a hegemonic power that asserted and demonstrated a radical concept, illegal under the U.N. Charter, of “preventive war,” and that baldy used exaggeration and fraud to incite domestic support for it. According to a compilation of credible news reports (see www.iraqibodycount.net for methodology), there have already been between 6,055 and 7,066 Iraqis killed as a result of the invasion and occupation. The sharp deterioration in public services and income will inevitably result in the early deaths of tens of thousands of people who are in the subpopulations most vulnerable to disease and hunger, primarily infants and the elderly.
During the build-up to the ongoing war in Iraq, I counseled students and faculty not to go on “strike” against AU in protest, arguing that the university was not supporting the war. With this contract, I can no longer make that case. AU will be enabling this war, and the wars to come, by coming in behind the U.S. invasion and administering the battlefield. We would be a crucial element in the war strategy.
In the 1800s, Oxford and Cambridge trained their students in foreign affairs, knowing that they would join the British foreign service or armed forces and take part in the conquering and occupation of areas we now know as India, Nigeria, Iraq, and other colonies. In the 1960s, the finest universities in America delivered expert analysis of Southeast Asian politics, cultures, and languages to the CIA, Pentagon, and AID to assist them in the prosecution of war in Indochina. After the first draft lottery of the Vietnam War, in 1969, mathematicians and statisticians noted the disproportionate probabilities of certain months being selected, due to insufficient rotation of General Hershey’s lottery drum, and devised procedures to ensure that the next draft was truly random. I believe that these uses of university resources were acts that, while at times resulting in short-term moral benefits, generally served immoral hegemonic power. I believe the same will be true for AU’s decision to assist in the occupation of Iraq.
I note that AID, although chartered as a development agency, has a history of being pressed into service as a component of military strategy. In Vietnam in the 1960s, AID collaborated in the “strategic hamlet” and other military civic action programs, and indirectly funded the war by covering the South Vietnamese government’s entire non-military budget (allowing it to use all its tax revenues to pay its army). In El Salvador in the 1980s, AID supported a brutal counter-insurgency campaign in military-ruled departments, and again provided economic aid that covered the entire non-military budget.
Now effectively absorbed by the State Department, AID is again charged with assisting in an ill-advised military occupation, in this case, of Iraq. I hope it will not do so with AU’s help until AID’s contracts are negotiated with a freely-elected Iraqi government. In addition, Iraqi oil revenues are now being administered by the U.S. Government. It is possible that AID will be the recipient of these revenues at some point in the future. Then, either directly or indirectly, AU would be taking from Iraq wealth over which Iraq has no control.
I have expressed my concerns to the AU faculty and staff who planned the contract and the administrators who approved it. Project leader Professor Abdul Aziz Said of the School of International Service and the Center for Global Peace has responded, in part, as follows:
we may agree on how Iraq came to be in this current tragedy, and share the same
view on the need to oppose militaristic responses to conflict, your concern
appears to be that our efforts to help Iraqi reconstruction may acknowledge,
encourage or abet a policy of empire. From my point of view, however, it is
equally deplorable to possess the skills and the training needed to improve
conditions and alleviate suffering and not use them, whether out of protest for
policies we were unable to prevent, or out of concern of how motives may be
interpreted. In either instance, the
Iraqi people continue to be denied the assistance they desperately require, as
they are enduring more than military occupation, but also decades of
uncompromising authoritarianism and over ten years of grueling sanctions which
have cost the Iraqi people and society deeply. The past leading us here is
indeed unfortunate, but I am also convinced that helping Iraqis to achieve
their own social goals by providing resources and training for them – in
the present, for the future - is what the Center for Global Peace can,
and should do.
Post-conflict reconstruction is an essential component of empowering groups and individuals to identify the means of advancing their own social well-being by ending cycles of violence, revitalizing and creating new structures and institutions which are inclusive and provide for open and sustained dialogue, as well as the structural conditions needed to transform the conflict and move society forward. In the Center's project, it is the Iraqis themselves that undertake the process of devising their own curriculum – we are sharing general methodologies and approaches on how these can be done from a perspective of inclusiveness and nonviolence (educational approaches that the Center has become known for, and an important point of our program focus).
I greatly respect Professor Said’s work and his goals in this taking on the project. What I doubt, as I have argued above, is that the environment of U.S. occupation will permit “the Iraqis themselves” to make the decisions needed for a successful effort.
Museums throughout Europe display remarkable geocentric machines built by the finest scientists and philosophers of the period before Copernicus’ model of the solar system was accepted. As the sun and the planets revolve around a stationary earth in these machines, the tracks of the planets are quite complex. While the planets generally follow a repetitive pattern of movement around the earth, they must make all sorts of irregular circuits and journeys to coincide with astronomical observations. The equations of the planets’ motions made decent predictions of the planets’ future locations, but their illogical complexities and their small but unexplained errors in prediction led to the eventual rejection of the geocentric model in favor of the simpler heliocentric one.
As with science, so with social science. In any age, the conventional wisdom about the system governing human relations limits our ability to move to a deeper understanding, until illogical complexities and failed predictions force us to do so. The need for monarchy and slavery, the benefits of empires and colonies, the genetic superiority of the Caucasian race and even the scientific concept of race itself are but a few of the relics of the past, geocentric models with a favored group at the center, that were once promoted by court sycophants as obvious and inevitable.
Today we face the task of making moral choices within our own geocentric model of international relations, the comforting conventional wisdom that American dominance is benevolent. In this model, U.S. alliances with dictators are temporary necessities on the way to democracy, U.S. economic power, as expressed through the Bretton Woods institutions and more recent globalization pacts, operates for the greater good, and even this most radical act of illegally invading and occupying of Iraq can be turned to the good of the conquered people through reconstruction by the occupier, rather than by a government chosen by the Iraqi people themselves. AU’s work for the occupier will be unsuccessful because the model is fundamentally flawed, and will lend credibility to, rather than challenge, the illegal invasion and occupation.
Let me close by stressing that many of the important concepts I have addressed in this letter (such as the illegality or immorality of a war or occupation, democracy, academic freedom, and human rights) operate on a continuum, and are not absolutes. We all assess the status, the direction, and the interplay of these concepts in a given situation differently. I am sure that in planning and approving this contract my colleagues had sound motivations in estimating that the potential good that can come from the contract outweighs the potential bad. I hope that nothing in this letter can be construed as being critical of their motivations, as opposed to their decision on this complex matter.
Caleb Rossiter, Assistant Professor, SIS